Wednesday, April 26, 2017

La flûte à six schtroumpfs/The Smurfs and the Magic Flute (1976)

Note:  There are two English dubs.  The most notable difference is that in one, Peewit is called William and McCreep is called Oily Creep.

Many years ago, there was a man named Pierre ’Peyo’ Culliford.  In 1952, Peyo introduced the world to Johan and Peewit.  Six years later, The Smurfs made their debut.  Long before the Smurfs got their current CGI/live-action movie franchise, there was an animated film called The Smurfs and the Magic Flute.  First released in 1976, it was based on the comic stories of Johan, Peewit and The Smurfs.

It starts with a competition Johan winning a competition and Peewit subsequently demonstrating what a horrible musician he is.  When a traveling merchant shows up with his wares, the king immediately sends the merchant away.  It isn’t until a few minutes later that he and Johan realize that a six-holed flute has been left behind.  The king tries to destroy it, but ends up attracting Peewit’s attention.  He discovers the flute, which he washes off and starts playing.  It’s soon discovered that the flute can make people dance until they collapse of exhaustion.

Enter Matthew McCreep, who has been looking for the flute.  He comes to the castle and soon manages to get the flute from Peewit.  You’d think that this would be a good thing, as Peewit is having fun making people dance.  The thing is that McCreep is a thief.   It’s McCreep’s intent to use the flute to steal people’s valuables.  They can’t resist if they’re sleeping.  Right?

The king sends Johan and Peewit off to find and recover the flute.  The problem is that when they do find the flute, McCreep is able to use it to foil them.  So, Johan and Peewit visit Homnibus, a wizard who is able to send them to the Smurf’s village.  Since the Smurfs built the flute, they may be able to find some way of counteracting its powers.  It turns out that there’s no way to negate the effects.  For this reason, they have also been looking for the flute.

The Smurfs can, however, build another flute with the same powers, so as to put Johan and Peewit on equal footing with McCreep.  The bad news is that Johan and Peewit are now on a schedule.  Word is that McCreep is going to fund an army to take over the king’s castle.  They manage to track him to an island, where McCreep and Peewit engage in a flute battle with Peewit just barely winning.

There’s a certain nostalgia factor in watching this movie.  The video quality of the version Netflix has isn’t particularly good.  (I don’t know if a good transfer even exists, as the film is from 1976.)  I remember the Smurfs primarily from the Hanna-Barbera cartoon in the 1980s.  I also remember having seen the movie.  I don’t recall how good the quality was back then, but I do remember having liked the movie.

The story is appropriate for younger children.  (It has a G rating.)  I don’t recall any violence onscreen.  (The worst would be the vendor being chased out of town.)  The story is simple and easy to follow.  It’s fairly entertaining for a child, although I don’t know if most children will put up with the animation.  There’s a pretty big disparity between what was available in 1976 and what’s available today.

The animated series ran for several years.  I’m not sure I’d watch it if it became available; it’s clearly meant for children without much regard for adults.  This is basically the kind of movie a parent of the 1980s would leave their child to watch for an hour and a half without worrying about it.  What vague memories I had of the TV series were the same.  It was a very basic plot meant for children.  I don’t know that it would hold much entertainment for me as an adult.  I’d probably get bored with it after the second or third episode.

As for today’s children, I think it’s going to be hit or miss.  If you can still get it streaming on Netflix, it’s worth a shot.  I don’t know that I’d recommend buying it on DVD, though.  I don’t know how many children will take well to it, as it has a very dated feel to it.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sausage Party (2016)

The first time I heard the term ‘sausage party’ was a Law & Order episode.  A character was using it to refer to a party with an undesirably high ratio of men to women.  (It may take you a moment to get that.  I’ll wait.)  I don’t recall having heard the term much since then.  That’s why, when I came across Sausage Party, I was curious.  I had to wonder how far the writers had gone with the concept.  It looks like they went all out.

The self-aware food items at Shopwell’s grocery store all want to go to The Great Beyond.  A sausage named Frank has plans to unite with Brenda, a bun, in the next life, if only he can stay fresh long enough.  They revere customers as gods.  The gods have the power to take produce to a wonderful life where they’ll be treated well.  They have only a honey mustard squeeze bottle to tell them otherwise.  So convinced is the honey mustard that he commits suicide, imploring Frank to seek out a bottle of Firewater as his last act.

Brenda and Frank are accidentally ejected from their respective packages.  A douche is damaged, meaning he‘ll never be useful.  Brenda and Frank set out an adventure around the grocery store with Douche as the main antagonist.  The sausage and bun find that most of the other food items tend to behave like the stereotypes of their respective countries of origin.  (A German product wants to kill all the Juice, for instance.)  Frank and Brenda meet up with Sammy Bagel, Jr., who sounds like Woody Allen and speaks of his people being displaced.  There’s also a lavash called, I believe, Lavash.  He’s distinctly Arab and doesn’t do much to hide his contempt for Sammy.  (However, both Lavash and Sammy are friends with the hummus.)  Rounding out the party is Teresa del Taco, who is a lesbian.

Frank eventually meets The Immortals, who are all nonperishable foods.  They invented the story of The Great Beyond to keep the other food from freaking out.  The Immortals tell Frank to go to the frozen section to find proof, which Frank eventually has to do alone.  It takes some time and some help, but Frank is able to get the other groceries to revolt against the humans.

The movie might be more appropriately titled Gods and Generalizations.  When you’re trying to play on that many stereotypes, it’s easy to have an epic misfire.  The same goes for the movie’s religious references.  The Great Beyond is little more than a way of placating the population of the grocery store.  I was wondering if a review would even be appropriate.  What would you expect from a movie called Sausage Party, anyway?  This is meant more as a warning to people who want some sort of confirmation.

I mean, you have an literal douche named Douche acting like a figurative douche.  He juices up by basically going down on a juice box.  The female characters don’t seem to hold back on the sex appeal, such as it is.  Oh, and if you were put off by the opening barrage of language, you are not going to want to sit through the final scene with your parents and/or children.  I’m a little hesitant to embed the red-band trailer here due to restrictions by AdSense, but you can easily find it by searching for “Sausage Party Red Band Trailer”.

Most people know what their tolerance is for offensive humor.  This movie will probably push that limit.  I was entertained, but I tend to have a somewhat high tolerance.  It was only the last scene that made me at all uncomfortable.  A few of the other references were unsettling.  I doubt very much that you will be seeing on a broadcast network.  Basic cable, maybe late at night.  This was not intended to be family friendly.  Do not take your children (or parents) to see this movie.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Gremlins (1984)

WARNING:  This movie gives away some details.  I don’t feel that they’ll ruin the movie-going experience, but not everyone might agree.

There was one scene I remember from Gremlins more than any other from that movie.  Kate Beringer (the love interest) is telling Billy about how her father died on Christmas.  She even goes into detail about how he was found a few days later, ruining the holiday for her.  Apparently, there was some controversy when the movie was first released, but it encapsulates the feel of the movie pretty well.  What can be joyous for many can be horrible for a few.  We’re not even talking alone for the holidays horrible.  Christmas is about to get very scary for one small town.

The movie starts with Randall Peltzer looking for the perfect gift for his son.  He finds it in a gift shop in Chinatown.  Alas, the furry little creature, called a mogwai, is not for sale.  Mr. Peltzer manages to get the shop owner’s grandson to sneak the mogwai out the back for a few bills.

There are three rules that the shop owner imparted to Randall.  First, no bright lights.  Sunlight can even kill them.  Second, don’t get them wet.  Third, do not, under any circumstances, feed them after midnight.  The mogwai comes to be known as Gizmo.

Billy is somewhat careful about the first rule.  Gizmo reacts to almost any light, so Billy is always being reminded to be careful.  It doesn’t take long before the second rule is broken.  Billy’s friend spills some water on Gizmo, causing Gizmo great pain.  A few second later, five hairballs pop off, with each forming a new mogwai.  If Gizmo is a well-behaved angel, the five new mogwai are those demon-spawn children you come across every so often.  They always want attention and are harassing Gizmo whenever the get a chance.  It isn’t long before they trick Billy into feeding them after midnight.

Billy’s mother is able to kill four of them, but the group’s leader, named Stripe, manages to escape.  Stripe manages to find his way to the local YMCA where he finds a pool filled with water.  Now, Stripe has an entire army of little troublemakers to help him wreak havoc on Kingston Falls.  They take over a bar, where they drink and smoke and make trouble for Billy’s girlfriend, Kate.  They eventually gather in a movie theater to watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, thus leading (hopefully) to Billy’s endgame.  If you know anything about comedies or horror movies, you know it can’t be that simple.

There are several clichés in the movie, although I’m not sure if they were intentional or not.  The most obvious, of course, is the disregard for rules.  Given some of the dialogue, this is commentary on the human tendency to want to be defiant.  Tell someone not to do something, and they’ll have an uncontrollable urge to do it.  There’s also the tendency to have one of a group of antagonists escape and cause more trouble.  Stripe does this twice.  I’ll admit that there was a larger group of Gremlins the second time; it was impressive that Billy managed to get as many as he did.  Still, why always one?

I’ve always found it odd that timing is always so precise.  You can’t feed a Gremlin after midnight.  What if your clock is off?  Am I supposed to take time zones into account?  If Mogwai predate modern timekeeping, how did people know exactly when to stop feeding them?  For that matter, when can you start feeding them again?  Isn’t it really always after midnight?

It’s also strange that they reproduce by getting water on them.  How did a species evolve like that?  For that matter, when a little fur ball pops off, how do we get the sudden increase in mass?  Where does the extra matter come from?  Also, are we to assume that the water is consumed?  When Stripe enters the pool, could we have ended up with an infinite number of Gremlins?

I suppose that might not have been a bad thing, plot wise.  The Gremlins are the main draw here. The humans are mostly caricatures.  You have the hopeless inventor for a father.  There’s the well-meaning kid.  There’s even the mean old lady who threatens to have Billy’s dog put down.

This is not a movie for young kids.  It was part of the first batch of movies to get a PG-13 rating because it was worse than PG, but not quite R territory.  Much of the proposed violence was taken out, but it’s still pretty scary.  I could see some of it giving small children nightmares.  (Consider the story I led with.)

The movie is a solid horror movie.  I imagine a few people, like myself, will watch it because it’s a classic.  If you haven’t seen it before, you might want to watch it anyway.  The effects are pretty good and the storyline, such as it is, works.  I don’t remember much of the sequel, but word is that a third installment is in the works.  It’s supposed to be a continuation of the same storyline rather than a reboot, so you might want to head over to Netflix while you can get streaming.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Skinwalkers (2006)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Sometimes, I start watching a movie knowing full well that it's a stinker.  Sometimes, I go in thinking that I have a winner.  Usually, though, it's the former.  In this case, I ordered the movie free on demand.  I knew that this was going to be a stinker.

There are several groups of werewolves.  Some try to be good and avoid eating human flesh whereas others get a rush off of the power that chewing on people brings them.  The good werewolves are hiding a child that could bring an end to all werewolves, but it's not clear how this is to happen.  Not even the main characters really know what the boy is supposed to do.  All anyone knows is that on his thirteenth birthday, he'll be able to do something that ends all of werewolfdom.

The movie was a big letdown, even for someone not really into werewolf movies.  I'd imagine that if you're a big fan, you're going to really regret the day you watched this.  The movie has nothing.  It starts with the bad werewolves capturing someone and pumping him for information on the boy.  They want him dead before his thirteenth birthday, which is in four days.  As you might expect, the bad guys figure out where the kid is hiding.  Gunfights ensue.  People get hurt and/or killed.  We end up with a big fight with one good guy taking on three or four bad guys.  Then, the movie ends with a whimper.

It's not that the movie is really hard to watch.  It's just that you're always expecting more.  Like, how did the werewolves originate?  It's implied that there are more of them, but it's not really shown how or where they live.  The boy and his mother seem incredibly unaware of what the boy is.  They're getting a lot of the major facts as the audience is.

The big fight scene at the end is also a big let down.  The mother and son are put in a cage as a means of protection.  It locks from the inside, therefore it must be safe.  It's so safe that one of the bad guys is able to jump through the roof and attack the mother, despite the fact that the boy, who's standing not ten feet away, is the main target.

When the werewolf finally decides to stop attacking the mother, the mother is given the opportunity to blast the werewolf with a shot gun that doesn't seem to need to be reloaded.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't shotguns normally need to be reloaded after only one or two shots?  The mother is able to get off something like four or five shots.  Even if she is reloading, I don't recall her getting any more ammo with the gun.

From the onset of the big final battle, you know that it's going to come down to the last minute.  The party enters this big warehouse and we're told that there's an hour until midnight.  At midnight, the child turns 13 and he'll be able to do whatever it is that he's able to do to get rid of all werewolves.  Conveniently, there's a clock tower nearby that lets everyone know that it's midnight.  The kid's now 13, but he's not doing anything.  Yes, his power is revealed, but in a very mundane way.  I was expecting some big light show or explosions or something.  Instead, it just happens.

There's a reason that free movies don't cost anything.  We have no character development.  There are no real plot twists to speak of.  We have a gun fight where one person gets shot.  It's not even really clear where the name skinwalker comes from.  It sounds like some bad fetish porn movie.

Also, I find it hard to believe that in the entire history of werewolves that this is the first kid to come along and pose a threat.  The child's ability to affect werewolves seems to come from the fact that he's half human.  You're telling me that no werewolf in the history of werewolves had a kid with a human until now?  Again, we're not really presented with much back story here.

If you're looking for a way to waste a few hours, this is your movie.  Otherwise, don't waste your time.  There are many other, better movies out there.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Stranger Things (Season 1)

There’s always going to be a market for nostalgia.  With Netflix, I have access to all manner of TV shows and movies that I watched as a child.  In fact, I just watched The Smurfs and the Magic Flute, a movie almost as old as I am, thanks to the fact that I could stream it through their service.  That’s another story, though.

Netflix has been producing original content for the past few years and one of their original shows takes place in the early 80s, back when Atari was still new and  Dungeons & Dragons still had a non-advanced version in production.  Stranger Things revolves around a group of four boys:  Dustin Henderson, Lucas Sinclair, Will Byers and Mike Wheeler.  They’re normal 12-year-old kids going to school during the week and playing D&D on the weekend.

The town of Hawkins, Indiana, is your normal, albeit fictional, small town.  They only notable exception is a secret-research facility that you might find in an episode of The X-Files or The Twilight Zone.  The town doesn’t know much about what goes on there.  That’s about to change.  First, Will goes missing.  When I say missing, I mean he actually disappears.  Around the same time, a girl escapes from the secret facility and makes her way to a local diner where the owner tries to help her.

The girl manages to find her way to Will’s three friends, who take to calling her Eleven from a tattoo on her arm.  Meanwhile, Will’s mother, Joyce, is distraught to the point of thinking that Will is trying to contact her from the other side.  I don’t know what you may have seen in coming attractions, but Joyce’s actions may seem like those of someone who doesn’t handle stress well.  Who can blame her?  Her son is missing and she can’t do anything about it.  I doubt I’d be able to remain calm.

The local police chief, Jim Hopper, tries to help her deal with her loss as best he can.  He tells Joyce to take some time to accept and deal with her grief.  The chief has enough to worry about.  Over the course of his investigation, he comes to realize that she might not be far off about what happened to Will.  He was willing to take the evidence at face value, but begins to wonder when he starts to dig deeper.

Chief Hopper also tells Will’s friends not to try and investigate.  (As if that ever worked.)  Dustin, Lucas, Mike and Eleven find that Will is trapped in some sort of alternate dimension, which Eleven calls The Upside Down.  The boys are out of their element, but Eleven was part of some strange experiments and at least knows what they’re up against.

One of the difficulty of dealing with a story like this is balance.  You’re probably wondering if this is full-on out there.  It’s very easy to have Joyce be this over-the-top grieving mother, but she’s not.  Winona Ryder is able to keep it to a believable level.  (After all, you’re not paranoid if they’re really out to get you.  Right?)  There’s also a temptation to go overboard with the 80s stuff.  The series is reminiscent of a lot of things, but doesn’t try to cram all manner of references into each episode.  (The one big product placement seems to be D&D)

It doesn’t look like Netflix is one to release its original content on DVD.  My understand is that it commissions content in hopes of driving subscriptions.  This may not be a bad thing, given the cost of DVD season sets compared to the price of a month of Netflix.  You might be better getting Netflix, especially if you’re not one to rewatch TV shows constantly.

Netflix does have a lot of original content, which makes paying for a month or two worth it.  (If I’m not mistaken, they’re currently offering a free month.  Check the Web site for details.)  This is definitely one of the series I’d recommend checking out if you’re in to shows like The X-Files and Twin Peaks.  It definitely has a similar feel to it.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Star Trek The Next Generation - Episode 100 (Redemption: Part 1)

Note: This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  This review gives away major details, up to and including the ending.  If you’re not in to that, you may want to stop reading.

The season cliffhangers tended to be problematic.  The first two seasons didn’t use them.  When the third season ended, we had a cliffhanger where Captain Picard had been assimilated by the Borg.  The last scene is Commander Riker giving the order to fire on the Borg cube containing the captain.  The forth season begins with it not working at all.  The resulting episode ended up not being that good.

Here, we have a similar situation.  This is the final episode of the fourth season.  Captain Picard is on his way to finish his role as arbiter of succession when he’s met by Gowron, the man he’s supposed to be installing as leader of the high council.  Gowron informs him that things aren’t going so well.  Before Gowron leaves, Worf makes a proposition:  My brother, Kurn, and  I will support you if you restore our family honor.  Gowron tells Worf that this is not how a Klingon gets his honor back.

Just before Picard is able to install Gowron, a challenger appears in the form of Toral.  Toral is the illegitimate son of Duras, the man who challenged Gowron for the position of chancellor.  With Toral are his two aunts, Lursa and B’Etor.  They ask Picard to consider Toral’s claim.  He does and, while the lineage is not in question, Toral hasn’t done anything to prove himself.  Toral can go take a flying leap for all Picard cares; Picard completes the ceremony.

This leads to Lursa and B’Etor to start a civil war with the Romulans backing them.  There’s also that shadowy female Romulan from a few episodes ago.   Gowron does end up needing help and Worf does help, leading Gowron to restore his family honor.  Gowron then uses this as leverage to get Worf to lean on Picard for Federation support.  When Picard doesn’t want to get involved in an internal Klingon matter, Worf resigns and joins Kurn on his ship.  In the final scene of the episode, we see the shadowy woman step out into the light…and it’s Denise Crosby playing a Romulan!

As you can imagine, there are certain continuity issues for people just coming in to the series.  Denise Crosby, for instance, played Chief of Security Tasha Yar for most of the show’s first season.  She returned for an episode called Yesterday’s Enterprise which will serve as the basis for her appearance here.  (More on that in the next episode.)  Also, the whole story of Worf’s discommendation took up much of this season and the last.  He took discommendation knowing that calling out Duras might split the empire.  Apparently, it delayed it rather than preventing it, although this is never mentioned in the episode.

I do have issues with the episode.  First, Toral doesn’t realize what a huge tool he is.  This is in addition to being your typical arrogant, self-important teenager.  Lursa and B’Etor have to handle him.  The Romulans want to deal with him as little as possible.  Everyone else seems to recognize him for what he is.  We get the impression that this is the Duras Sisters' last, desperate hope at not seeing Gowron as chancellor.  If it weren’t for the fact that Toral is such a twerp, I’d feel sorry for him.

By other big issue is when Denise Crosby comes out of the shadows.  It seems that this is played for effect.  When the episode first appeared, we had to wait three months for an explanation.  Who was this woman?  She has a Romulan haircut, but she’s a blonde.  How is she related to Tasha Yar?  This will be answered in the season-five premier.

This episode and the next one are probably the most continuity-dependent episodes so far in the series.  For this reason, I’d recommend not getting the VHS, but getting the DVD season sets instead.  Unfortunately, the two episodes will be split.  This will be on the last episode on fourth-season set while Part II will be the first episode on the fifth-season set.  (This shouldn’t be an issue for those that have Netflix streaming, though.) 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 99 (In Theory)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

The Original Series had a Vulcan named Spock as the outsider looking in at humanity, denying that part of himself. The Next Generation had an android named Data as an outsider looking in at humanity wondering if he could ever achieve that. “In Theory” is Data’s attempt at romance.

He and Lieutenant Jenna D’Sora are working on illuminating a dark-matter nebula. Lt. D’Sora is just out of a bad relationship and appreciates Data’s help in keeping her from going back. It isn’t long before the two are start to think of themselves as a couple. Meanwhile, strange things start happening. Data’s cat Spot gets out of his quarters and things fall through tables. It becomes a problem when someone falls through a floor and is killed when they become stuck between decks. (For some, this might prove to be a gross-out moment.)

Data figures out that the dark matter is causing ‘normal’ matter to phase in and out. This was the good part of the episode. The trouble with the episode is that it isn’t as easy for Data to figure out romance. The relationship didn’t really work for several reasons. First, Data wasn’t really trying to get into a relationship; he was being himself and Lt. D’Sora couldn’t get enough of it. She was misreading his behavior as interest. Also, Data very often incorrectly read the situation, himself. He would start yelling at Lt. D’Sora, thinking they were having a lover’s quarrel. (This was a particularly painful scene; I think it was too far out of character for Data.) It was ultimately a rebound relationship on Lt. D’Sora’s part and, as a result, wasn’t likely to work out anyway. The whole thing didn’t seem like a real relationship. It was more like it was a way for Data to be involved in a human activity.

Although there were several times that Data spoke of the possibility of a relationship, this is his only actual attempt at one. (There was that incident with Lt. Yar, but that’s another story.) I think the aspect of Data in a relationship could have been handled much better. This episode wouldn’t have been so bad if Data had at least tried it again and gotten better, but the entire story like is so out of place and mishandled that I really can’t give this episode more than two stars.

It isn’t even the acting. The episode was well acted and well directed, but was poorly written. Not even the other story line can bring it up past that. Don’t buy this episode. If it comes on TV or if you get the season on DVD, watch it, but it’s not worth paying $3 for the rental.

IMDb page

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 98 (The Mind's Eye)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

One of the reasons I’ve chosen to rewatch the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation is that, after 20 years, I have a very vague memory of them.  Case in point is The Mind's Eye.  I remember Geordi being abducted and eventually reporting to a Klingon, who was giving him an assignment to do something bad.  I didn’t really remember getting it the first time around.  Upon rewatching it, it turned out to be a solid episode.

It starts with Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge going to a conference on Risa.  Being that Risa is a vacation planet, he’s ordered to go a few days early so that he might have some time off.  En route, he’s abducted by Romulans and subjected to torture.   (An imposter is sent in his place.)  The Romulans are apparently looking to have La Forge as a secret agent onboard the Enterprise.

When he returns, he acts like he had a good time.  He tells everyone about things that happened, like attending conferences or going for a swim.  Also on board is a Klingon ambassador, Kell.  He’s being transported to a Klingon colony to look into a rebellion.  Supposedly, the Federation is supplying the rebels with weapons, which is something the Federation denies.

Governor Vagh has proof in the form of what appear to be Federation phaser rifles.  Further inspection reveals them to be of Romulan origin.  However, he intercepts a delivery of supplies from the Enterprise…which La Forge tried to beam down to the surface.  He was smart about it, erasing the logs, but this is further proof that the Federation may be involved.  Of course, La Forge heads up the investigation, eventually figuring out which transporter was used.

When he figures out everything that he did, he tells the Captain that he’s one of four people on the ship that could have done it and the only one without an alibi.  (I find it odd that no one questions that he was alone in his quarters.  No one even tried to ask the computer to verify this.)  It’s eventually revealed that the Ambassador is in on the whole thing.  He orders La Forge to kill the governor and take credit for everything.

There were a few points that I did wonder about.  I can see using a Federation ship to transport a Klingon ambassador to a Klingon colony.  Starfleet would want one of its own captains to be there to answer charges. It took me a while to understand a scene where La Forge deliberately spills a drink on someone.  (It’s a message to the ambassador that La Forge is good to go.)

The big cliché is that Geordi almost gets away with it.  Data manages to pull off the last-minute save, even though he figures out enough that he should have warned someone.  We have these E-band spikes that look suspicious.  Data ties them to someone using a VISOR (meaning La Forge) but doesn’t contact the captain or security or anyone.  Instead, he goes to the shuttle and examines it, then walks the entire distance to the cargo bay, contacting someone on the way.  La Forge walks up to the governor and is able to lift a weapon to him before anyone does anything.

Also, while La Forge is on the Romulan ship, we have a mystery woman in the shadows.  I’ve always hated this.  Wouldn’t you find it a bit odd if someone you were working with stayed where you couldn’t see them?  It’s eventually revealed who this woman is in the season finale two episodes later.  I understand that they may have wanted to save the surprise for the final scene of the season.  (It occurs to me that there is a legitimate reason, but I can‘t really explain without major spoilers.)  Still, it is a bit annoying.

The big thing for me is that the events of this episode are never mentioned again.  The chief engineer of Starfleet’s flagship is taken by Romulans and he’s not removed from his post, even temporarily?  He sees Counselor Troi about it, and they do make some progress, but you’d think that he’d be given a lighter workload or something.  I don’t recall it ever being mentioned again.

Much of the episode sets up the season finale.  This is where it’s hard to recommend VHS.  You’re better off getting the season set or watching the series streaming though Netflix.  It is a good episode overall, even if it took me time to realize certain things.  I’d recommend watching it, at least.

IMDb page

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 97 (The Host)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Within any TV series, if it runs long enough, facts will change.  Sometimes, the changes are explained, even if halfheartedly.  I remember when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine first aired, one of the characters was Trill.  She had spots down the side of her head, which was in contrast to the only Next Generation episode with a Trill, The Host.  In this episode, a Trill ambassador is being transported by the Enterprise to negotiate a peace treaty between a planet and two of its moons.  Rather than have the spots, he has ridges on his forehead.

The episode centers around the ambassador, Odan, and the chief medical officer of the Enterprise, Dr. Crusher.  In the ten days that he’s been onboard, they’ve hit it off.  They think it’s their little secret, but everyone seems to know.  (That is, with the notable exception of Lt. Cmdr. Data.)  He refuses to use the transporters on the grounds that he doesn’t like being taken apart and reassembled.

This isn’t entirely true.  He hasn’t told anyone that the Trill are a joined species, meaning that Odan is actually a slug inside the humanoid host.  This fact is exposed by an attack on the shuttle carrying Odan to the surface.  The host is critically injured, but Dr. Crusher is able to save the slug and eventually able to implant it in Commander Riker.

Much to her surprise, Odan is willing to continue their romance.  This is no big deal for the Trill.  Apparently, they change bodies like we’d buy a new car.  It is a big deal for Crusher, who isn’t used to her boyfriend changing bodies like that.  (The issue of the ship’s executive officer hitting on her isn’t really brought up.)  After a while, she overcomes this.

The final blow comes when Odan’s new host finally arrives.   His new host is actually a female.  Crusher politely informs the new Odan that humanity isn’t ready for gender-swapping lovers yet, even though we’ve had that capability for centuries at this point.  There are cases where a married couple has to deal with one partner having gender reassignment.  (One article on the New York Times details this.)  You’d think that our species would have gotten a little more used to this by the 23rd century.

Yes, I suppose that Crusher doesn’t want to admit her own personal bias, but I’m not the first person to note that the show dropped the ball in this regard.  It seems that the issue that the show tries to deal with is how much we love the person for who they are rather than for what they are.  In this version of the Trill, the symbiont takes over the host personality.  You have the same personality in a new body.

It is a little awkward to have this be a superior officer.  Crusher never brings up the issue of looking Riker in the eye after the new host arrives, even barring the issue of the new gender.  The two of them never have that awkward moment at the start of the next episode.

For that matter, no one mentions that they’d potentially be giving Odan access to  Riker’s working knowledge of the Federation’s flagship.  In this regard, they really should have had a guest actor play the new host.  I understand this was probably done because there was some risk to Riker, not being from Trill.  There were way too many issues that were just glossed over.

It’s a shame because the story feels rushed here.  Poor Dr. Crusher falls madly in love with a man only to have him change bodies on her twice.  Part of this was that he was an ambassador.  You know it’s not going to last either way.  She’s not going to leave the ship and he’s not going to stay.  I get that the Trill were supposed to be a one-off species.  This is the reason for the inconsistencies regarding Deep Space Nine.

I really think that this should have played out over several episodes.  I’m sure there was some other way a Trill could have been written into the story, perhaps as an advisor.  The show really could have explored so many issues.  To have Odan written in and out so quickly is a shame. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 96 (Half a Life)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Lwaxana Troi can be a bit grating.  She likes to live to the fullest and often imposes herself on others, particularly Captain Picard.  I’ve often wondered if the character was meant to appear just once, in Manhunt.  However, she has appeared in several Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes.  The character did seem to grow over her appearances.  In Half a Life, the character’s fourth appearance, she gets passage on the Enterprise and meets Dr. Timicin.

Tinicin is trying to save his planet, or rather the dying star which his planet orbits.  His race is rather reclusive, meaning little is known about them, but Lwaxana takes a liking to him, which he politely refuses at first.  Eventually, he admits to liking her, as well.  There’s just one catch:  His people commit suicide at the age of 60 and he’s just four days shy.  This is done to prevent children from having the burden of taking care of deteriorating parents.

Lwaxana doesn’t understand.  He’s in perfect health.  In fact, he may even save his entire race.  And why 60?  It’s conceivable to live to be 80 without problem or to get some horrible disease at 50.  (Timicin points out that it would be more cruel to make the family decide the age.)  He eventually seeks asylum on the Enterprise, but reconsiders when he realizes that his planet stops answering his hails.  Even if he does find a solution for his planet, it won’t matter.  Eventually, Lwaxana realizes that she won’t be able to change anything and accepts his decision.

This is one of those episodes that changes with time.  When the episode first aired, I was 15.  I had never really had to deal with the issue.  However, I’ve come to realize that having to take care of a dying relative isn’t easy.  If there is more than one family member taking care of a dying parent, it rarely ever seems like it’s fair.  That’s not even mentioning the cost of medical care or having to put them in a nursing home.

On the other hand, it is arbitrary to have a set cutoff.  Tinicin has a grandson that won’t have any meaningful recollection of him.  It will take time for another scientist to take over his work.  It seems rather rigid not to allow an exception.  It also seems equally as horrible to know that your loved one will die on a particular day.  Even if it were culturally engrained, I don’t know that I’d want to deal with knowing I’ll die on my sixtieth birthday.

Given the situation, there is no easy answer.  Tinicin comments that things might have been different if they had met years earlier, but would it have been?  He still would have had to deal with his “Resolution,” as it’s called.  There’s no mention when people normally retire on his planet.  (Yes, Tinicin is working days before his Resolution, but he is trying to save a planet.)

This is one of those episodes where it would be interesting to have some change occur and revisit the planet a hundred years down the line.  There’s a reason that the Federation isn’t allowed to interfere in the development of other worlds. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 95 (The Drumhead)

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Sometimes, an episode of a TV show airs long before it becomes relevant.  It may have dealt with a topic in a general sense, not realizing that a specific instance would capture national or even world attention.  I first saw The Drumhead when it first aired in April of 1991.  It was about a former Admiral that comes onboard the Enterprise, flagship of the United Federation of Planets, to investigate an explosion in engineering.  It’s discovered that a Klingon exchange officer had just stolen some specifications.

It just so happens that the part that exploded happened to be one of the designs that he managed to steal.  Of course, he denies everything, but the admiral in question, Nora Satie, and her staff catch him in the lie; she has an empathic betazoid male working with her.  He admits to stealing the blueprints, but denies anything to do with the explosion.

It turns out that the explosion was an accident.  During the ship’s last repair stop, they were given a defective part.  This doesn’t stop Satie from continuing with her investigation.  Why let something as simple as facts stop her?  There could still very well be a conspiracy, which is exactly what she finds.  There’s a medical staff member, Simon Tarses, that’s one-quarter Vulcan.  Except, he’s not.  His paternal grandfather is actually Romulan, making him one-quarter Mortal Enemy of the Federation.  Is it coincidence that the Klingon was working with the Romulans?  Probably, but Tarses’s career is ruined.  He lied on his application to Starfleet and that’s what matters.

When Captain Picard calls Satie on her witch hunt, she turns the spotlight on him, questioning him about being assimilated by the Borg.  He also helped a Romulan spy back into Romulan space.  It’s not exactly fair, as his time with the Borg was beyond his control.  Also, the Romulan spy was posing as a Vulcan ambassador.  Everyone was working in good faith, as apparently no one with Starfleet Command caught this little detail.  Eventually, the proceedings are called to an end when Satie is exposed for what she really is.

When the episode first aired, it was just another cautionary tale about not getting ahead of ourselves.  Just because you’re one-quarter Romulan doesn’t mean you’re guilty of anything.  It wasn’t until September 11, 2001 that the episode showed how right the series got it.  Suddenly, anyone that was Middle Eastern was one of ‘them’.  We’ve become so scared of the next attack that we still have to take our shoes off at the airport.  (Would someone please remind me why I have to take my laptop out of its case?)

I do remember thinking that the episode was interesting.  The message was just as clear then as it is now.  We can’t let something bad be used to take away the rights of those that weren’t involved in it.  Despite being part Romulan, Tarses didn’t do anything wrong other than lie.  (I’m not sure what the repercussions were, as the character wore the Starfleet uniform throughout the rest of the episode.)

If you’re thinking of using this episode as a teaching tool, there are some references to previous episodes, such as Worf being kicked out of the Klingon Empire.  It’s nothing that would keep someone from understanding the episode, but it’s something to consider if you’re thinking of watching the series.  There will be things that will make more sense if you view the episodes in order.

Overall, it’s an outstanding episode.  Being that VHS is all but a distant memory, I’d advise spending your money on the DVDs.  (Even back when they were first being sold, I didn’t consider the VHS tapes to be a good investment.  $14.99 times 178 episodes was a lot of money.) 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 94 (Qpid)

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Most of the episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation were relatively serious.  There would usually be some serious point about the rights of a minority or arranged marriages.  Sometimes, the message was subtle.  Sometimes, it was glaringly obvious.  There were a few episodes that seemed to be more humorous.  (Somehow, silly doesn’t seem like quite the right word, but they probably get called that.)

Q is back and claiming that he owes Captain Picard a debt stemming from the events of Déjà Q.  Q had been kicked out of the Continuum and stripped of his powers.  Without Picard’s help, Q never would have been reinstated.  Q desperately tries to think of something to do for Picard.  The ship is in orbit of a planet, Tegus III.  Q offers to take him to the planet’s ruins, which are off limits to outsiders.  Picard refuses that and any other suggestions, simply wanting Q to be gone.

Also on board is Vash, a former love interest of the captain’s from the episode Captain’s Holiday.  Apparently, he’s never mentioned her to anyone, despite having told her about all of the crewmembers.  Q sees an opportunity.  As Picard is starting his keynote speech for an archaeological convention on the ship, Q changes the clothing of the bridge crew, who are all sitting in the back row.  Worf gets a red outfit.  Data is changed to look like a monk.  Picard is also given a new outfit before the bridge crew is transported to a planet.

They quickly figure out that everyone is supposed to be a character from Robin Hood, with Picard taking the main role.  (Data is Friar Tuck, Worf is Will Scarlett, Riker is John Little and so on.)  They eventually realize that Vash is presumably Maid Marian.  They can’t tell for certain, as she’s being held by Sir Guy of Gisbourne.  Q inserts himself into the story as the Sherriff of Nottingham and informs the bridge crew that they’re to rescue Vash.  Eventually, she’s saved and the bridge crew is sent back to the ship.  Q drops in later with Vash and informs Picard that they’ll be traveling the galaxy together.  All is right again.

The episode seems to be written to bring the characters of Vash and Q together.  It seems odd to me, first off, that Q would want to repay a debt to Picard, since it was really Data that seemed to show him the most compassion.  At the end of the episode, Q even says as much, telling Data that he acted more compassionate than most of the humans did.  Shouldn’t Q be more focused on Data?

Also, Q goes through all this trouble to show Picard how much he really cares for Vash.  Then, Q and Vash go  running off together.  Picard points out that the two have a lot of similar traits and makes Q promise to ensure her safety, but it does seem like a rather selfish thing to do.

I always remember thinking that it was strange that Picard went through all of the trouble to write his speech, then had to miss it.  What strikes me as odd having watched it recently is that it didn’t seem like anyone missed the bridge crew.  Yes, Riker says that he’ll tell everyone that Q is around, so whoever took command of the Enterprise probably figured out what was going on, especially considering that the conference members witnessed the bridge crew leaving the ship.  Still you’d think someone would want to alert the bridge that they were back.

There were several scenes that were memorable, including Worf’s line, “Sir, I protest!  I am not a merry man!”  I remember referencing this for many years.  The other was Worf smashing a lute against a rock, apologizing immediately.

The episode is kind of hard to take seriously.  I don’t even get what the point was supposed to be, as Vash and Q both leave the ship at the end of the episode.  Nothing really changes.  Since Q is known for tormenting the bridge crew, it could very easily have been another one of his games.  It’s hard to recommend buying the episode on VHS, as it references so many of the previous episodes.  You’d be better off spending your money on the DVD set or watch streaming through Netflix.

IMDb page

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 93 (The Nth Degree)

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Despite the fact that Star Trek: The Next Generation had a good deal of continuity, there were still a few episodes that came from nowhere and went nowhere.  In The Nth Degree has a little of both.  The Enterprise finds a probe that it’s never seen before, doesn’t seem to like to be scanned and has a nasty habit of taking down computers.  In fact, the reason that they come across it is that it’s disabled the computers on the Argus Array, which may cause the nuclear reactors to go critical.

Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge goes in to investigate with Reginald Barclay.  Yes, this is the Reginald Barclay who would rather hide in the holodeck than deal with other people.  While scanning the probe, Barclay is knocked unconscious by a strong pulse of light.  (He and La Forge have to beam back to the Enterprise since their shuttlecraft has been disabled.)  At first, everything seems fine.

However, as he’s leaving sickbay, Barclay comes up with an idea to cut the turnaround time on a test.  His intelligence grows exponentially, as do his social skills.  His acting goes from fumbling to brilliant.  He teaches someone to play violin, despite never having been able to play, himself.  He even debates quantum physics with a simulated version of Einstein.

When the array is just about to go critical and explode, Barclay rushes to the holodeck and basically hooks himself directly to the computer since having to say stuff is too slow for him.  He’s able to shut down the array’s reactors, but can’t unhook himself; all of his higher brain functions are now handled by the ship’s computer.  If he were to leave, he’d die.

Having been in only one episode before this, it’s entirely conceivable that Barclay might not make it out, but there’s still the question of what’s going on.  What exactly happened to Barclay?  He’s seen as enough of a threat now that the crew has to try to get him out of there, whatever the cost, as has access to the ship’s internal sensors, meaning he can see and hear what everyone does.

Before anything can be done, Barclay takes the ship near the center of the universe to meet a race called the Cytherians.  Rather than build expensive ships to go around the galaxy, they build probes that show space-faring races how to come to them.  They’re able to get Barclay back out of the holdeck so that he might explain everything to the bridge crew.

All we get to see of the Cytherians is a disembodied head floating in front of the bridge’s view screen.  He makes a few comments about humans, but that’s it.  The closing scene starts with Captain Picard making a log entry about how long it will take scientists to figure out the new technology.   We then get to see Barclay maybe a little more confident after his ordeal.  He’s back to being his old self.

The episode ends with Barclay (presumably) helping someone in a game of 3D chess, hinting that he may have kept something.  This doesn’t prove to be the case.  Barclay makes three more appearances on The Next Generation.  There’s no mention of him doing anything special, even unrelated to the influence of the Cytherians.  He doesn’t write any papers or get a promotion.  It would have even been funny to have the person he helped at chess make a snide remark about how he was wrong or something.

For that matter, the Cytherian technology and information is never mentioned again.  Barclay is able to take the Enterprise 30,000 light years in a short period of time.  This is never brought up again.  You’d think that at some point during Star Trek: Voyager’s seven-year run, someone would have looked into it, considering that they were stranded 70,000 light years from home.

One thing I remember finding odd was that the Cytherian technology was so incredible incompatible with Federation technology.  I understand that they must come in contact with a lot of different races and varying technologies, but this is what they do.  I suppose that’s why they’d start with an unmanned piece of technology.  If the array had blown up, at least there would have been no one onboard to be hurt.  If they were successful, someone would have eventually been contacted, or at least come looking when the Argus Array stopped transmitting.  I find it hard to believe that the Cytherians nearly blew something up because of compatibility issues.

Ultimately, the episode seems a bit rushed.  It might have been interesting to have buildup over several episodes.  Maybe we could even learn a bit more about the alien race, especially considering that the Enterprise is on a mission of exploration, sent out to meet new races.  The rush is especially noticeable in Barclay’s advancement.  The crisis seems to be there just to get Barclay to either use his super intelligence or to get him into the holodeck.

I’d advise against getting this on VHS.  It’s fun to watch, but has little replay value.  Instead, I’d say get the season on DVD or watch it streaming on Netflix.

IMDb page

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 92 (Identity Crisis)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

I have a pretty good memory of most of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes.  I’ve been rewatching them mostly because I might have forgotten details.  Also, the show originally aired roughly 20 years ago.  My perspective changes.  A 37-year-old will pick up on things that a 15-year-old won’t.  Identity Crisis is case in point.

When the episode first aired, it was a pretty straight-forward story,  Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge was serving on the U.S.S. Victory.  He, Susanna Leijten and several others were part of an away team investigating the disappearance of the crew of an outpost on Tarchannen III.  It looks like everyone deserted said outpost.  Now, Leitjen has come onboard the Enterprise to help investigate three stolen shuttlecraft.  The other three people on that away mission all stole shuttlecraft and went back to the planet.  The third guy apparently forgot how to pilot; the shuttlecraft was destroyed in the atmosphere.

On the planet are the other two shuttlecraft and the uniforms of the missing people, just like the outpost’s crew.  Susanna immediately starts exhibiting strange behavior.  She wanders off and freaks out when Geordi tries to bring her back.  Back on the ship, she keeps insisting that she be allowed to go back to the surface.  Pretty soon, she starts turning into something.  Her fingers fuse together and her veins start showing.

After some major scanning, Dr. Crusher finds that she has these small parasites (actually, spores, but whatever)  inside of Susanna that are converting her DNA into its own.  This is apparently what happened to everyone else…and Geordi’s next.  Not content to wait around, he’s allowed to continue the investigation alone.  He discovers a shadow that can’t be explained, but starts turning into whatever Susanna is turning into.  Of course, a cure is found and Geordi and Susanna are both saved.  As for the others, it’s too late.  To avoid conversion of anyone else, a probe is left and the Enterprise is off to its next mission.

When I first saw the episode, it was entertaining.  We have some suspense, even though we know that we’re not going to lose a major character.  Looking at it now, it’s a concept that’s rather poorly developed.  First, how would a species develop in such a way that it would have to use another species for new members?  It was never established that there wasn’t another humanoid species, but it was never said that there was.  (How hard would it have been to say that the outpost was there to study ruins?)  The species would have to either use this as a backup method or do it slowly enough that another humanoid species could survive alongside it.

Another thing that caught my attention was that three of the infected people managed to go back to the planet…after five years.  Why have a five year incubation period?  You’d think it would be easier to have the people not leave the planet rather than have to instruct them to come back.  For that matter, how and why did they come back at all?  It’s rather complicated to have the person come back to the planet of infection.  With that kind of waiting period, you’d think that the infected people would have stayed on their ships and infect everyone else.

This would be a very dangerous thing if it ever fell into the hands of an enemy like the Borg.  It could start the assimilation process, then direct them to a set of coordinates for the Borg to complete the process.  Or, it could be used by a race like the Romulans or Ferengi to compel people to pass along information or valuables.  It’s one of those things that has potential.  It’s a shame to waste it on an episode like this.

IMDb page

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 91 (Night Terrors)

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There are some episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation where I wonder if someone lost a bet.  I’m not saying that the episode was horrible.  I’m also not saying that each of the 178 episodes has to be great.  It’s just that you know at some point, they were falling behind and desperately needed a script.  Night Terrors should not have ever seen the light of day.

The story begins with the Enterprise finding the USS Brittain.  (Yes, that’s how it’s spelled.)  It’s been missing for about a month.  When an away team beams over, they find most of the 34 on board dead.  There’s one survivor:  a science advisor named Andrus Hagan.  He’s catatonic and not saying much.  Interestingly, he’s a Betazoid.  The Enterprise’s counselor is half Betazoid.  Coincidence?  Probably, but it will be important later on in the story.

From what the good Doctor Crusher can tell, the other 33 people killed each other or committed suicide.  There are no apparent reasons, like disease or poisoning.  Everyone just suddenly went crazy.  The mystery of the Brittain is so interesting that no one notices that everyone’s not getting any sleep.  Well, almost everyone.  Data is unaffected, being an android that doesn’t need sleep.  Troi, on the other hand, is sleeping.

Not only is Troi sleeping, she’s having nightmares.  She’s floating towards two points of light.  A mysterious, disembodied voice is going on about a moon and two eyes in the dark.  She tries to ask what the blazes they’re talking about, but she can’t get an answer out of them.  They just keep going on about a moon in the dark.

By the time anyone realizes that there might be a danger in most of the crew not getting any sleep, it’s too late.  The ship is caught in what they call a Tyken’s rift, which drains power from the ship.  It was named for a captain that figured out that a large-enough explosion would get the ship out of the rift.  The thing is no one ever talked about sleep deprivation, hallucinations or nightmares associated with a Tyken’s rift.  This is something else entirely.

When Hagen finally does start talking, he mentions something about eyes and moons and orbits and stuff.  Troi realizes that there must be another ship caught in the rift.  They must somehow be sending out a telepathic message that’s received by Betazoids, but interfering with the sleep cycles of any other humanoid that sleeps.

The two eyes must be the binary stars they’re close to.  But what’s this crap about one moon orbiting?  It takes some work, but Troi and Data realize that it might be hydrogen, the most common (and volatile) element in the universe.  Since it’s a distress call, it would stand to reason that they’re asking for hydrogen to be released, which the Enterprise does.  It takes a moment, but the aliens hold up their end of the bargain and a large explosion frees both ships.  We’re left to assume that someone will be back for the Brittain.

I didn’t particularly care for the episode when it first aired.  Now that I know more, I’m better equipped to pick apart the episode.  First off, isn’t it odd that each of the Federation ships had exactly one person on board that could receive the telepathic transmission?  You’d think that there would be a few more Betazoids on board.  Add to this that most of the rest of the crew can’t sleep because they’re on a different brainwave set.  Data is immune purely by luck of not needing sleep.  All other people on board started going crazy after ten days.  Interesting.

Oh, and did the aliens know that Betazoids used that frequency?  I suppose it could be something common to telepaths.  I suppose the aliens may have simply assumed that all humanoids operated on that REM frequency.  I have to wonder if the aliens were monitoring the Enterprise or if it was some sort of automated transmission.  If not, it would have been cruel to continuing transmitting knowing the effect it was having on most of the people.  (An automated transmission kind of makes sense.  The Brittain was there for a month and the aliens would have been there longer.  It’s possible that they went into suspended animation to conserve life support and food.)

Speaking of the transmission, the only reason I can think of for using riddles is to draw out the episode.  It would have been way too easy to have the aliens just say what they needed the Enterprise to do.  (“Smithers, release the hydrogen.”)  Instead, they go with this one-moon thing.  Don’t say, well they didn’t know if we knew what hydrogen was.  Any race capable of space travel should know what hydrogen is.  We used hydrogen and oxygen as rocket fuel.  If a science advisor didn’t pick up on it, what hope does Troi have?

In the end, everyone just goes their separate ways.  We don’t hear what happens to the aliens.  No one from the Enterprise asks the aliens about their method of communication.  It isn’t even shown if the Brittain was destroyed in the explosion.  The episode has no replay value.  Don’t buy this on VHS.  Even if you get the DVD set, you may want to consider skipping this episode unless you’re set on watching all the episodes. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 90 (Galaxy's Child)

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It’s always amazed me how one ship could get into so much trouble practically every week for seven seasons.  It seemed like the Enterprise was getting the snot kicked out of it by some alien race or the crew was trying to get out of some bizarre trap.  In the third season, the crew found itself ensnared in an ancient alien booby trap.  Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge managed to get out of it by recreating the woman who designed the ship, Leah Brahms.  It was a pretty ingenious move, even if it should have taken a lot of energy.

In Galaxy’s Child, the real Leah Brahms comes on board to inspect the ship.  Geordi is asked if he’d like to greet her, which he eagerly accepts, expecting her to be like his holographic recreation.  Right off the bat, she’s rude and dismissive.  Two things should be evident:  Geordi is going to fail miserably at getting her to like him and, at some point after his accepting and acknowledging said failure, she’ll find the holodeck program and it won‘t look good.

Geordi comes off kind of like a stalker.  Because of the holodeck program, he knows things, like her favorite dish and design upgrades for the next class of ship.  After a series of awkward scenes of the two of them interacting, Brahms lets Geordi in on a little secret.  She’s married.  She has no idea how he missed it, but there it is.  Talk about embarrassing.  How could he have missed that?

Before Geordi can go off and sulk, the ship gets into some trouble.  The Enterprise encountered a space-dwelling life form that attacked the ship.  (Not a life form in a ship -- a life form that is as big as a ship.)  The Enterprise managed to kill the creature with minimum phasers, but discovered that the creature was pregnant.  Just as quickly as the crew can dub it Junior, the baby creature attaches itself to the ships hull and starts draining energy.

Captain Picard isn’t too keen on playing wet nurse, but he doesn’t have much of a choice.  He was willing to abandon the creature and only now realizes how defenseless it is.  It’s up to Geordi and Leah to come together, find a solution and maybe bond a little.  When all is said and done, they both have a laugh about it and Leah is on her way.

Several things occurred to me while watching this episode.  The first of which was how unlikely it is that an alien would live in space like this.  How could something evolve in the vacuum of space?  Is there really that much material between the planets?  Also consider how long it takes us to go between planets.  It takes us several days to get to the moon.  How long would it take an alien to move between orbits?  What if one of those things got too close to the gravity well of a planet?  Most importantly, how does a species overcome all these issues, only to be killed by the lowest setting of phasers, especially when it has a similar capacity?

I also noticed how quickly Picard got over the death of the alien mother.  When I say briefly, we’re talking a moment before and a moment after what was the commercial break.  Granted, it would have seemed much longer when aired on TV, but it is a very short time.  I know we don’t want to see the crew moping around, but they do at least try to redeem themselves by saving the baby.  Speaking of which, they were pretty quick to leave.  I realize that there aren’t really any space hospitals where they can just leave Junior on the doorstep, but still…

On a similar note, I find it odd that Junior was able to feed off the ship at all.  Wouldn’t it seem more likely that it would electrocute itself?  How embarrassing would that have been?  Instead, it drains power and basically cries out when the crew tries to dislodge it.  That’s when we get an angry mob of space-dwelling aliens, minus the torches and pitchforks.  (How do those things move in the vacuum of space, anyway?)

My biggest issue with the episode is that it’s one long, slow train wreck for Geordi.  Every interaction with Leah is her berating him and asking what kind of idiot would make these kinds of modifications.  He’s trying to be Mr. Happy and she’s beating him over the head with every little detail she finds.  And yes, she does find the holodeck program and watches the whole thing.  (Why the heck did Geordi save a recording of it?  I think she had a right to be upset about that one, personally.)

I’d say don’t buy this episode on VHS.  Put your money towards the season set.  There’s limited replay value and it’s not particularly good.  I hate episodes where it’s one bad break for a character after another.  Then again, that’s just me. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 89 (First Contact)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Starfleet, while ostensibly military, is ultimately motivated to explore space and meet new civilizations.  Some of those civilizations aren’t yet aware that they’re not alone in the universe.  They’re just creating warp drive to start exploring their own immediate neighborhood.  Normally, the Federation sends in people to covertly observe the culture.  You can learn only so much from radio transmissions and remote sensors.  Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem except that Commander Riker is caught in a riot and hospitalized.

It doesn’t take long for the Malcorians to figure out that Riker is a little different.  The prosthetics are meant to fool only at a distance; closer inspection reveals what they really are.  His organs aren’t where a Malcorian would expect them to be, either.  The doctors agree not to say anything until they can figure out who and what their patient is.  When Riker awakens, he gives a fake name and bio, which don’t check out, of course.  (You’d think by the 24th century, we’d have mastered doctoring an identity, or at least identity theft for covert purposes.)

Meanwhile, Captain Picard is looking for his missing officer, who was only there to check in on their operatives.  Since Riker lost his combadge, there’s no way of locating him or getting a message to him.  (This confused me, as the Enterprise’s sensors should be able to differentiate Malcorian from non-Malcorian life signs.  I don’t imagine that there are too many human males on the planet.)

This necessitates premature first contact.  Picard first contacts Science Minister Marista Yale, who he figures will be more receptive to aliens.  She agrees, as their security minister, Krola, is her philosophical opposite on the matter.  After meeting with their leader, Chancellor Durken, Picard is able to smooth things over, but finding Riker isn‘t going to be easy.

There are a lot of hospitals in the area where Riker was last seen and Yale doesn‘t think it would be a good idea to tell Durken for fear that Krola will find Riker first.  Eventually, Riker is located and he’s treated to a last-minute save.  It’s ultimately decided that the Malcorians should wait until they’re ready.  Their culture hasn’t caught up to their science and there are too many people like Krola for them to be venturing that far out just yet.  Yale does ask Picard to take her with them.  Durken tells Picard that she won’t be happy, as he’ll have to put restrictions on her.  Picard agrees and has quarters assigned to her.  This is, of course, the last we see of her.

I don’t know why I don’t remember two first-contact stories back to back.  Yes, they ended differently, but it’s odd how The Next Generation did this.  You might have five or six family episodes in a row.  You might have a few episodes centered around technology gone bad.  I even noticed six consecutive episodes in the third season that started with “the” in the title.  (Three of the five before that streak also fit the pattern.)

Overall, it was a good episode with a few minor points.  It’s always been a peeve of mine when an alien planet simply has directional continents.  I know we have places like North Dakota and West Virginia.  However, Malcor III has, simply, The Southern Continent.  What are the odds of an alien culture even having the same concept of direction as us?  I wonder if the writers ever get too lazy to come up with names.  Have you noticed how many characters are named after something?  (Sometimes, they at least spell it backwards.  Notice that this episode has a character named Dr. Nilrem.)

Another thing that got me was the 29-hour days.  Hours themselves tend to be arbitrary.  Our units of time are based on the vibration of the cesium atom.  The Malcorians could have used anything.  Ultimately, though, you’d probably want to pick a number of hours that are divisible by some other number.  24 is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 12.  At least the Bajorans have 26, which can be divided into two 13-hour halves.  29 is prime.  I’m sure that there’s a good reason for it.  We’re left to wonder what that is.

One thing I liked was that the crew took Marista Yale with them.  It would have been so cruel to reveal the existence of alien life, only to leave her on Malcor III.  Even without the restrictions, could you imagine being the only one that had that kind of prolonged contact with aliens?  There would be a limited number of people you could discuss it with.  You’d also spend the rest of your life knowing that they’re out there enjoying themselves while you’re stuck on some backwater planet that probably won’t get its act together within your lifetime.  I would have at least liked to have seen her again, just to see how she’s adjusting to life in the Federation. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 88 (Clues)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details including the ending.  This will probably ruin the episode if you haven’t seen it, but it wasn’t a particularly good episode to begin with.  Read at your own risk.

When you have a TV show that spans 7 seasons and 178 episodes, you’re going to have a few good episodes that stand up to the test of time.  Everything comes together to make something that’s memorable and can be watched over and over again.  Sadly, this isn’t one of those episodes.

The Enterprise is going about its business when it comes across a nice looking planet.  While the crew is investigating it, a wormhole appears and sucks the ship through, depositing it about a day’s journey in a few seconds.  Most of the crew is knocked out.  The only exception is Lt. Cmdr. Data, an android.  He tells the crew that they were out for thirty seconds.  At his insistence, a probe is launched.  (The original suggestion is to go back, but Data doesn’t seem to want that to happen.)

Over the course of the next day or two, people begin to notice strange things.  Lt. Worf’s arm is broken.  Dr. Crusher’s Dromedian scarlet moss has grown an entire day over those missing 30 seconds.  The probe sends back a totally different planet than the one initially observed.  Data tries to tell lie and fails miserably at it.  The more Data is pressed on the issue, the clearer it becomes that he’s holding something back and that he’s not going to tell.

Eventually, the ship goes back to investigate despite Data’s protests.  However, without any explanations, Capt. Picard has no alternative.  He needs answers which Data isn’t giving.  When they arrive, they find the planet that they initially came in contact as well as a race of aliens that are extremely xenophobic.  They call themselves the Paxans.

Usually, they stun any approaching crew and move the ship far enough off that no one returns.  Data presents a problem as his positronic brain wasn’t affected.  He revives the crew before the ship can be moved, necessitating the revelation of the aliens, who reluctantly agree to wipe the memories of the crew and continue with their plan, trusting that Data will take their secret to his eventual grave.  Picard tells the aliens that they made mistakes and that this should count as a practice run.  The aliens agree to try again, this time successfully.

The reason this episode has limited replay value is that once you know the secret, there’s little point in watching it again.  I only watched it to see if I didn’t remember anything.  I spent the entire 45 minutes knowing how it was going to end.  The first time around, there is some mystery as to why Data’s acting so peculiar.  Once you know, it’s just a matter of the story playing out.

There were a few things I wondered.  Part of the problem in passing off the cover story was 24 hours passing in 30 seconds.  I’d imagine that the imaginary wormhole was supposed to deposit the crew a day later, but this was never clearly explained.  There were a few lines about synching the ship’s clocks.  This problem would have been greater since the crew had to do it twice.  A day passed for the original encounter, a day or two for everyone to figure out what had happened and another day for them to do it all again.  This would mean that the crew lost three or four days.  Wouldn’t anyone find it odd that they lost so much time?

Also, I get the impression that this isn’t the first ship that the Paxans have encountered.  You can’t tell me that their little ruse has worked every single time they’ve encountered an alien race.  It should have taken them several tries to get it right.  Even then, there would probably be the occasional mishap or new brain pattern.  (“Oops.  Looks like we lobotomized that one.  Sorry.”)  It seems like the ruse always works, but they made enough mistakes this time that the crew came back.  Yes, it was because Data screwed everything up.  It’s possible that they have some alternative (like blowing the ship up) when they fail, but Picard mentions that destroying the Enterprise will bring other Federation ships.  I’m amazed that the Paxans have remained hidden for so long. 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 87 (Devil's Due)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are a lot of episodes that I remember fondly from when they first aired.  Many have held up over the past 20 years or so while others haven’t.  Devil’s Due was one of those that haven’t, even though I didn’t particularly like it the first time around.

The episode starts with the Enterprise getting a distress call from a science station on a planet called Ventax.  There’s tons of looting and vandalism and whatnot and the station is in danger.  Legend has it that Ardra (their version of the devil) granted the planet 1,000 years of prosperity.  After the thousand years are up, she’ll be back to take possession of the planet.  Guess when the thousand years are due to be up.

The planet’s leader, Acost Jared, is pretty certain that she’s coming back.  The earthquakes and visions that were foretold are coming true.  He’s even seen a vision of her.  Picard tries to reassure Jared that this is all superstition.  Jared is at least able to free the hostages in the science station, but matters aren’t helped when Ardra shows up.

Picard quickly realizes that this can’t really be Ardra.  Yes, there may have been someone a thousand years ago claiming to be Ardra or it may all be a work of fiction.  Either way, it looks like someone’s trying to take advantage of the legend.  So, Picard and Ardra go through mediation with Data as the mediator.  Data objects, as he may be forced to rule against Picard and the planet.  Picard points out that as an android, Data can‘t be intimidated by Ardra.

Since the ship, the crew and an entire planet are at stake, I think we all know that Picard and crew are able to save the day.  They manage to find Ardra’s ship in orbit using a cheap knockoff of a Romulan cloaking device.  She’s been using technology to impersonate the legend, after all.

When I first watched the episode, I didn’t particularly like it.  There was something off about the whole thing.  It was awfully convenient that the Federation happened to have a science station on the planet.  If they hadn’t had an outpost, the planet would have been screwed.  Had it not been a science station, Ardra may not have been found out so easily.

Then there’s the issue of the leader rolling over so easily.  If someone came to Earth claiming to be some deity or god or whatever, I think I’d want a little more than parlor tricks.  Why not have some sort of special code handed down through the generations that only the leader would know?  Yes, she’s powerful, but the Enterprise is there, also.  Why not ask for help?

From what I understand, there was a writers’ strike at the time and the show had to pull a script originally intended for Star Trek: Phase II.  This may explain some of the shortcomings, but it’s still not a great episode.  I wonder what would have happened if the science station hadn’t been there.  How many planets have fallen to a similar fate because no one else was there to notice?

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