Tuesday, August 29, 2017

First Squad: The Moment of Truth (2009)

I’ve read that Adolf Hitler had a thing for the occult and the supernatural.  I’m not sure how much of what I’ve seen is true, but it has served as the backdrop for fiction.  In First Squad, we find that the Schutzstaffel, commonly referred to as the SS, are trying to raise Baron Von Wolff from the dead.  If successful, it could turn World War II in Germany’s favor.  If not, it would tend to favor the Soviets.  (The movie takes place late in 1941, going into 1942, when the Soviet Union would have been at war with Germany.)

The story follows Nadya, a member of a group called First Squad.  Each has special abilities which would allow them to fight on equal footing.  In fact, Nadya is able to see into the future.  She can even see the crucial moment that would turn the tide of the war.  This gives her the ability to stop Von Wolff and help defeat the Nazis.  This is all assuming she can figure out who the other people are in her vision.

The story is somewhat underdeveloped.  It seems like the movie is part two of a trilogy.  Little of Nadya’s story before returning to Moscow is shown.  All we see are flashbacks showing us  what life was like for her before.  Once the story is concluded, the movie ends and the credits roll.  Are we to allow our knowledge history to fill in the aftermath?  Is this a setup for a sequel?  It seems more like we caught an episode of a miniseries than a full film, especially considering that it was just over an hour in length.

Nadya seems more like a McGuffin than a main character.  She’s used to explain what First Squad is, or was.  She’s necessary to get the spirits or her former teammates back in action.  Since she has amnesia, she acts as a surrogate for the audience to have many of the important details explained to us.  She also has the visions necessary to bring about the final resolution.

The animation style is distinctly CGI.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  The movie seems to be going for an edgier look and the animation fits that.  Sometimes, though, it seemed maybe too edgy.  The end credits seemed like something out of a student project with professional music overlaid.  The main movie was at least done well and wasn’t distracting.

All things considered, it’s not a horrible movie.  It just feels like it could have been developed a little more.  The story is complete, but it’s not subtle or complex.  It seems more like a rough draft than a finished project.  I’d say that this movie is going to be for viewers that don’t go for traditional movies.  If you’re looking for something a little different, this might just be your movie.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Spaceballs (1987)

Some movies are timeless.  You can watch them and they seem to speak to you the same no matter what.  If there is any political message, that message can be true regardless of how old the movie is or how old the viewer might be.  Spaceballs doesn’t seem to be one of those movies.  To be fair, I remember it being funny when it came out.  It parodied Star Wars and I knew enough about it to get the jokes.   The problem is that 30 years later, the jokes seem dated.

The story goes that Princess Vespa is about to be married to the last prince.  It’s her duty to marry royalty, even if there’s no love.  She runs away and is subsequently captured by Lord Helmet aboard the space ship Spaceball 1. President Skroob intends to hold her hostage so that her father, King Roland, will give the code to their shielding, allowing Spaceball 1 to take all their air.

King Roland calls up Lone Starr and Barf to rescue the princess, which they do.  Unfortunately, they crash on a planet when they run out of gas.  On this planet, they meet Yogurt.  Yogurt is able to help them out, mostly by providing gas.  He also plugs the movie’s massive merchandising, including lunch boxes and the like.  (Do they even still sell lunch boxes like they had in the 80s?)  Being a comedy, Lone Star saves the day and the bad guys get what’s coming to them.

Someone not born in the 1980s probably isn’t going to get all the references.  Some, like Star Trek and Star Wars are somewhat obvious.  Others, like having Michael Winslow as a radar technician, might go over someone’s head.  Even to someone that grew up in the era, the jokes may seem old.  This is something that definitely reeks of the 80s.

The humor itself isn’t necessarily offensive.  Much of the objectionable material would be some cursing and sci-fi violence.  (Think people shooting at each other with laser beams.)  There are a few off-color jokes.  Vespa’s planet is called Druidia with the demonym being Druish.  You get stuff about people looking Druish.  It’s not over the top, but similar jokes are used a few times.

For those familiar with the works of Mel Brooks, I don’t think you’ll have a lot of surprises.  Consider that you have Brooks staring as both President Skroob and Yogurt.  John Candy is Barf and Lord Helmet is played by Rick Moranis.  You’ll also catch Joan Rivers as the voice of Dot Matrix.  Bill Pullman is the only one that I thought was cast against type as Lone Starr.  (Daphne Zuniga is one of the few main actors that I didn’t recognize from another movie.  So far as I know, I‘ve only seen her as Princess Vespa.)

It’s difficult for me to issue a binary recommendation here.  It’s possible to enjoy it on the first viewing, but I wouldn’t recommend buying it.  Instead, rent it or wait for it to become available on a movie channel or through streaming.  I was able to catch the movie on Starz, although I could see it easily coming on basic cable or a broadcast channel.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Carmencita (1894)

Sometimes, curiosity gets the better of me.  I’ll click on Wikipedia links until I end up looking up information on a movie, and suddenly I’m reading about useless buildings.  While looking at IMDb, I got curious about the seven-digit number assigned to each title.  Was there a title number 1?  Apparently, there is.  It’s called Carmencita.

This is one of those unusual cases where I’m not really reviewing a title.  Instead, this is more to point out something of interest.  This is probably a title that you’d never come across in your usual routine.  IMDb has it listed as both a documentary and a short, both of which are correct.  (I’m not sure what to call it other than a documentary, as it’s documenting the dance routine.)

Carmencita is only about 24 seconds long and is produced by the Edison Manufacturing Company.  William K.L. Dickson was the man who made the motion picture camera for the company and subsequently produced and directed a few short films.  One of these films was of a dancer named Carmen "Carmencita" Dauset Moreno, who demonstrated one of her routines.

It’s difficult to really go into any detail, since it’s such a short routine.  There is some significance in that Ms. Moreno is the first person to appear in an American film.  (Edison Manufacturing Company was called "America's First Movie Studio”.)  It has also passed into the public domain due to its age, meaning you can find several copies on YouTube.  It’s not the kind of thing that’s difficult to come by.  I write this more in the hopes that someone will read this and find it at least mildly interesting.

 IMDb page

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

WARNING:  I give away major details about the movie here.  If you haven’t seen it and don’t want the movie spoiled, you may want to wait before reading.

I’ve found that there is a direct correlation between the quality of a sequel and the proximity of planning of said sequel to the writing of the original material.  There are exceptions to the rule.  Back to the Future was planned as a one-off movie, although the sequels were done well.  (This did give rise to a few issues, like Jennifer being brought along for the ride, despite there not being much room for her in the DeLorean nor there being much for her to do.)  When the first Matrix ended, we were left with a bit of a cliffhanger.  We know that Neo is supposed to fulfill a prophecy, but we don’t know much about it.

Here, we get all the details.  The movie takes place six months after the original.  Morpheus, Neo and Trinity are awaiting word from The Oracle.  Agent Smith, who had been destroyed at the end of the first movie, is back and he has a new ability.  He sends Neo a message in the form of his earpiece, indicating that he’s no longer an agent of the system.  When Neo meets The Oracle, Neo realizes that she’s a program, herself.  She also confirms that Smith refused to be deleted, making him a rogue program.

It’s Neo’s mission to find The Source, as in where The Matrix came from. To do this, he has to find The Keymaker, who is held by the Merovingian.  The Merovingian doesn’t want to let The Keymaker go, leading to an epic battle.  The Keymaker is able to give Neo the necessary key before dying.  This allows Neo to meet The Architect, the one that designed the Matrix in the first place.

It’s revealed that there have been other iterations of The Matrix.  The early ones were unsuccessful.  The version seen in the movie was stumbled upon by accident.  It’s nearly perfect with the only flaw being a cumulative set of errors resulting in The One.  It is the purpose of The One to prevent a catastrophic failure of the system.  When the time comes, The One will return to The Source, allowing his code to be used to reboot the system.  (Neo is the sixth such failsafe.)

The Architect gives Neo a choice:  Return to The Source and save humanity or go back to the Matrix and allow the system (and, with it, humanity) to crash and burn.  Neo, of course, returns to the Matrix to save Trinity.  He tells Morpheus of what he’s learned.  The only hope to save humanity now is to destroy the machines en route to destroy the liberated human population.  Alas, that’s for the third movie.

The movie is, for the most part, an action movie.  While it does advance the mythology considerably, much of the story is spent on fighting.  (For instance, Neo has to take on several dozen copies of Agent Smith.)  It’s really this that I found a little odd.  The sole purpose of The One is to reset The Matrix.  Why make it difficult for him?  You might say that The Merovingian is fighting to get The Keymaker back, but The Merovingian comments on having to fight Neo’s predecessors, meaning that this is probably part of the plan.

It’s necessary for Neo to return his code to The Source.  I don’t know if he can do this if he’s dead, so why use deadly force?  The only explanation is something that The Oracle’s guardian said: You never really know someone until you fight them.  Had Neo not been the one, it wouldn’t have mattered.

For that matter, why kill The Keymaker?  Wouldn’t he be necessary for the next Neo?  I suppose that another Keymaker could be created.  As The Oracle said, programs get replaced all the time.  Still, why make it difficult?  If The Keymaker had died before making the key for Neo, Neo would have no way to meet The Architect and presumably return to The Source.  If Neo had died in battle, there’s no guarantee that he would be of any use in rebooting the system.

One big question, though:  How did humans survive deep under the Earth’s surface?  It’s got to be pretty hot there.  Furthermore, if the machines can dig that deep, can’t they access and utilize the heat from the Earth’s core?  Wouldn’t that be easier?  I know I’m not the first to point out the inefficiency of using humans as batteries.  Being that Neo is the sixth One, this means that the machines have probably had several hundred years to find and implement a better method of getting energy.

It’s still a good movie.  I feel like that annoying kid that keeps raising questions.  The movie is meant to be an story about man versus machine.  There are bound to be issues, some of which resolve themselves.  Like some machines, maybe they’re even necessary.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Dead Again (1991)

Wouldn’t it be great if you could get the details of a 40-year-old murder by talking to the victim?  Mike Church is about to stumble in to just such a case.  A woman finds her way to an orphanage run by Catholics.  She’s mute with the sole exception of screaming when she has nightmares.  Father Timothy won’t let the woman stay, but knows just the guy to handle it: Private Detective Mike Church.  Father Timothy lays on the guilt and Mike accepts.

Mike takes her back to his place for the time being and starts calling her Grace.  He has his friend, Peter, to run her picture in the newspaper along with his contact information.  An antiques dealer named Franklyn approaches him soon after, claiming to be an amateur hypnotist.  Mike says up front that he can’t pay, but Franklyn says he’ll do it in hopes that her loved ones might.  Under hypnosis, Grace recounts her life in the 1940s.  We see a couple, Roman and Margaret, who bear a striking resemblance to Mike and Grace.  (Mike and Roman are both played by Kenneth Branagh whereas Grace and Margaret are both played by Emma Thompson.)

Grace recounts the Roman and Margaret meeting through work.  She played in an orchestra and he was a guest conductor.  They eventually married and live in his house where he was working on an opera.  She was killed one day with him as the prime suspect.  It comes as no surprise that he was convicted, as this is revealed early in the movie.  (The movie starts with headlines to that effect.)

Mike wants a second opinion on the whole thing.  Past lives sound a little crazy to him, so he meets with Cozy Carlisle.  Cozy used to be a psychiatrist until he was caught sleeping with a patient.  He’s able to tell Mike that past lives are a real thing and that karma can be cruel.  What we do in our past lives can haunt us in the present one.  We may be doomed to forever suffer the consequences of our past misdeeds.

Since this is a thriller and the suspense is a good part of the movie, I’m not going to give you any of the twists and turns.  I will say that the buildup takes up a good part of the movie.  We spend a lot of time hearing the story of Margaret and Roman and their life together.  Even under hypnosis, Grace doesn’t remember her current identity; Peter finds her information late in the movie.

The movie does require suspension of disbelief.  We have a hypnotist that can send people back to past lives.  Even the psychiatrist believes; he cured a patient by finding a hundred-something-year-old trauma.  At least it doesn’t seem forced.  The movie is able to use it effectively.  I’ve always thought that using the same actors for the past lives was a bit odd.  Even if we accept reincarnation, what are the odds that you and your spouse will both look the same in the next life?  With only two reincarnated characters, it wasn’t really necessary.

It’s definitely a 1990s movie.  The tone and plot are about what you would find in other movies released around that time.  There were a few aspects that I thought were over the top, but it was overall a good movie.  Fans of Seinfeld will recognize Wayne Knight as Peter.  I instantly got a feeling that that Franklyn, played by Derek Jacobi, looked familiar,   Sure enough, he was Professor Yana on Doctor Who.   I was able to watch the movie when my parents rented it from Netflix.  I’m not sure I would have rented it myself, but it is something I might have watched streaming.  If you’re into the whole past-life murder-mystery thing, I’d say go for it.

IMDb page

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Phenomenon (1996)

George Malley is an ordinary man.  He has a job as a mechanic and has trouble understanding how a rabbit keeps getting in his garden.  The night of his 37th birthday, George sees a bright light approach and engulf him.  He gets knocked to the ground, but appears unhurt.  In fact, he’s able to beat someone at chess.  That night, while lying awake, he figures out his rabbit problem.

George is able to read and retain increasing amounts of information.  He learns Spanish quickly, for instance.  He builds an engine that runs on (and smells of) manure.  He learns functional Portuguese in 20 minutes so he can help find a boy.  He even cracks a code used by the government, which gets him in trouble.  It comes at a terrible cost, though, and I’m not just talking about being ostracized.

The movie is a cross between Forrest Gump and The Twilight Zone.  It’s not too heavy on the science-fiction aspect.  It’s not really explained how he’s able to do stuff like telekinesis.   everyone attributes it to the aliens that George saw, but George insists that he never said anything about aliens.  Even with the learning, there’s not so much as a mention of the 10%-of-your-brain myth.  His abilities just grow.

Instead, the movie is more about the relationships.  His friend, Nate, is also interrogated when the FBI brings George in.  George’s cracking that code was impressive and the government wants to tap that ability, but George wants no part of it.  Instead, he wants to go home.   He wants to go back to his repair shop.  International espionage isn‘t really his thing.  When he gets back to the repair shop, George finds that Hell really is other people.  Since they won’t come by, he can only imagine what they must think of him.

This is one of those movies that I kind of forgot about after it first came out.  It’s not the kind of thing I would see on the basic-cable channels.  If it hadn’t come on Netflix, I might have gone anther ten or twenty years without watching it.  I think the problem is that it tries to appeal to two audiences without doing either really well.  It’s not pure science fiction and it’s not anywhere close to what I would expect with romance.

It almost seems like someone’s idea for a TV show that couldn’t quite make it a full season.  This is the kind of story I could see spending the pilot episode on George fixing up his farm.  We could have an episode or two dealing with the espionage angle.  We could have one about the earthquake.  Instead, the movie tries to pack all these amazing feats into a two-hour film.

It was entertaining the first time, but that was because you didn’t know what to expect.  Once the story has played out, there’s no replay value other than to pass the time.  I might watch it again in a decade or two, if we’re still using streaming.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hidden Figures (2016)

A lot of things happened before I was born.  I’ve always known small computers that could do calculations at a rate impossible for a human.  Before iPhones, there were machines that would fill a room.  Before those machines were human calculators like Katherine G. Johnson.  She, along with Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, worked for NASA when NASA was trying to put a man in orbit.

Everyone knows John Glenn.  He’s the man that America put into orbit.  Not everyone knows the team that put them there.  There were buildings of scientists trying to figure out the math necessary to not only put John Glen in orbit, but get him back safely.

There was a very narrow window with which they had to work.  Too steep and angle and he’d burn up on reentry.  If his descent was too gradual, he’d bounce off the atmosphere and go back into space.  There was also the issue of making sure he landed in the ocean.  Given the magnitude of what they were doing, the smallest of errors could be catastrophic.  This is assuming they can even figure out the math necessary to do the calculations in the first place.

Being that the movie is based on historical events, I’m not ruining anything by stating that John Glenn completes his mission safely.  Being that it’s a movie, I don’t think I’m giving away anything by stating that some liberties were taken.  Yes, Glenn specifically requested that Johnson be the one to verify the computer’s calculations.  Word is, though, that this was actually done well before his mission.  You don’t risk someone’s life like that unless you’re certain.

The movie isn’t so much about the history that everyone knows.  It’s about the people that never really got the credit that they deserved.  Johnson was both a woman and a person of color when culture didn’t favor either.  It still doesn’t necessarily favor either, but the movie shows Johnson having to run to a separate building to use the ladies’ room.

Jackson wanted to become an engineer, but had to go to court just to be allowed to take the courses necessary to even be considered.  Likewise, Vaughn was trying to become a supervisor.  She was already doing the work of a title that she was repeatedly denied.  She also saw the writing on the wall when the IBM computers were being installed.  She took it upon herself to learn FORTRAN for the job security.  (She also took it upon herself to get the machines working.)

All three women have to go above and beyond just to get noticed.  They are all fortunate to have superiors that eventually listen to reason, or at least recognize that the women are correct.  Vaughn might not have been taken seriously had she not actually gotten the computers to actually work.

The movie, like the women, walked a tight rope.  In several scenes, they have to curtail their anger.  Instead of getting mad, they get better.  There are moments when they’re told no, but they’re also eventually told yes.  They do make permanent progress, not only for themselves, but for others.  The one scene that may best exemplify this is Jackson telling a judge that she wants to be the first female engineer, just as he was first in a lot of respects.  The judge is impressed enough to grant her request.

I’d recommend watching it if only to learn who the people were.  I find it odd that it took more than fifty years for a movie to be made about this.  The Apollo and Gemini missions have been shown in film.  Those instances have usually focused on the people who went up into space.  There’s so much more to the story.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Darkman (1990)

When a movie is released straight to video, that’s not a good sign.  What does it say, though, when a movie has a theatrical release, yet spawns sequels direct to video?  Another ominous sign is when main actors and/or  production staff don’t return for the sequels.  Take Darkman.  What little I remembered of it was good.  When I watched it again recently, it was still entertaining.  I’m not sure if I’m viewing it as Sam Raimi envisioned it.

The movie is about Peyton Westlake, a scientist trying to create artificial skin.  It would be great for burn victims to have their face again.  Or any face, for that matter.  Peyton can generate a synthetic version of any face, provided he has pictures of the entire face.  There’s one drawback  The faces last only 99 minutes.  One second longer, and they disintegrate.  He and his assistant come to realize that the synthetic skin is sensitive to light.  It has an indefinite shelf life, provided you keep it in a dark place.  Peyton keeps at it having to use a series of faces isn’t good enough.

Fortunately, his attorney girlfriend, Julie Hastings, is understanding.  She has problems of her own.  She’s found evidence that a developer hasn’t been playing fairly.  That evidence ends up at Peyton’s lab.  Somehow, the developer finds out where it is and burns Peyton’s lab to the ground, leaving Julie to assume that both her boyfriend and her evidence were lost in the fire.

All that was found of Peyton was an ear.  That’s because the rest of him washed up on shore.  With no ID and an inability to speak, he’s labeled John Doe and assumed to be indigent.   He has a brief stay in a hospital, at least in movie time, where we find out that he was experimented on.  The nerve allowing him to feel pain was cut, leading to greater strength.   The emotional toll is too great for any human to bear.  It drives him crazy, setting up the rest of the movie as a revenge story.

Peyton is able to reestablish his lab well enough that he can create a synthetic face for himself from old photos.  He’s also able to impersonate those that wronged him and their associates well enough that he can get back at them.  He visits Julie, but comes to realize that he may not be fit for polite society any more.  (All he wanted was a pink elephant for Julie.)  Will revenge be enough?

The story goes that Sam Raimi wanted a superhero movie, but couldn’t get the rights to an established character.  The solution was to create his own.  Darkman doesn’t have x-ray vision, but he does have increased strength and the ability to change faces 99 minutes at a time.  (I found that odd.  Why exactly 99 minutes?  Is anything in nature that exact?)

It also wasn’t clear how the document get to Peyton’s place.  Maybe I missed it.  I think it’s implied that Julie left it there accidentally.  If so, how was the developer (or his henchman) so certain that Peyton had it?  A lot of the story seems like it’s just there to move the story along.  The evidence is little more than a plot device meant to hurt Peyton.  The explosion and Peyton’s work feed in to the revenge story.

Many of the scenes were very dark.  In one scene, a man is thrown out of a window with the express wish that he enjoy his flight.  This is in addition to people being brutally tortured and killed.  You know how some movies get an R rating and you’re not sure why?  This isn’t one of those movies.  It deserved an R rating.

In that regard, I don’t know how many of the scenes were meant to be humorous.  I’m hesitant to say it’s dark humor because I don’t know if it was intended as such or if I’m just viewing it that way.  The movie was released decades ago, so the context has changed a bit.  I have to wonder what it would look like if it were made today.

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Matrix (1999)

Plato’s cave is an allegory about how perception versus reality.  A group of people facing a wall in a cave can only think in terms of the shadows.  It isn’t until they turn around that the realize what’s going on.  However, people will be reluctant to turn around, as they have no real reason to.  The people in the cave will continue to think in terms of the shadows until they break free.

Likewise, a person living in a computer simulation would have no means by which to conclude that there’s any other reality.  If we were living in a computer simulation, as Elon Musk has said is probable, we would have no means by which to even question a higher existence.   This is the start of the premise for The Matrix.

Thomas A. Anderson, better known as Neo, is a regular guy in a regular job, or so he thinks.  He’s contacted by a group of people who know the truth.  Everything around him is a construct of computers.  It’s all a simulation.  If he takes one pill, he can go back to his normal life and forget everything.  Take the other pill and he can exit the simulation and start to fight it.

Neo takes the second pill and finds himself violently disconnected from the system.  He finds himself on a ship, surrounded in part by the people that rescued him, including Morpheus, who runs the ship, and Trinity.  Most of them have been disconnected from the simulation, although a few were born outside The Matrix.  They mostly fight the system, but also find others to disconnect.

Normally, someone is only disconnected as a child.  Most adult minds can’t handle being separated from The Matrix.  Neo is a special case, as Morpheus believes Neo to be The One, as in the one who can bring down the entire system and free everyone.  It’s a heavy burden to carry, but Neo seems up to the task.  He seems to be able to assimilate most of the training materials in short order.

The hard part is learning that the laws of physics mean nothing in a simulation.  After a while, you can leap between rooftops and run up walls.  This, of course, leads to all sorts of special effects on steroids, a few of which have long since passed into the public awareness.

The movie does seem to be driven mostly by effects, but does have enough of a story to bring them all together.  I was recently looking at some of those basic story lines that are accurate in a very vague sense.  If I had to apply that here, I’d say that it’s a futuristic movie, set in the present, about humanity having been beaten back into the stone age.  This movie sets up the trilogy.  We get an explanation of what happened to humanity that it ended up like this.  We also see Neo’s transformation from an office worker to possible savior of the species.

I should warn those that haven’t seen the movie that it is kind of dark.  It seems like the entire movie was shot at night.  Even the office scenes are somewhat dark.  I’d put the age level in the mid-teens.  High school and up should be able to handle it.  Yes, there is some killing and it’s not pretty.  Consider that the movie is rated R.  To say it’s because of the violence would be an understatement.

One thing that occurred to me is that many of the real people, like Neo and Trinity, seem to use fake names.  I think Neo is the only character to be given what we would consider a real-sounding name.  Likewise, many of the ‘fake’ characters, like Agent Smith, seem to have real-sounding names.   The only exception to this is The Oracle.  If I recall, this holds true more for the first movie than the sequels.  It was just something that occurred to me while watching it recently.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 152 (Descent: Part 1)

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

Distress calls tend not to be good. When the Enterprise responds to one on Oniaka III, a landing party finds everyone dead. There’s also a mysterious ship in orbit. After a little bit of investigation, Data finds something surprising: a Borg drone. However, these are no normal Borg drones. The Borg are part man, part machine. Normally, drones are part of the Borg collective, directed by the hive mind. They are intent on assimilating individuals and, eventually, entire races. The drones that the landing party encounters on Oniaka III are intent on destroying individuals and actually refer to themselves as ‘I’ and to each other by name. (Drones usually have numerical designations and refer to themselves in the plural.) What’s really bothersome is that Data has an emotional reaction. On Oniaka III, he kills a drone in anger. This is his first reaction of his android life. (If my memory and math are good, Data should be in his early thirties.)

The Enterprise is able to follow the ship through a transwarp conduit. (With a transwarp conduit, they’re able to travel many times the speed that they would be able to normally accomplish with normal warp drive.) When they arrive on the other side, the Borg ship beams two drones over, which allows the Borg ship to escape. One is killed, but the other survives.

Data has himself relieved of duty until he can figure out what caused the emotional reaction. When Data sees Counselor Troi about killing the drone, he asks her if having a negative emotion makes him a bad person. She insists that there is no negative or positive when it comes to emotions. It’s how we react to an emotion that determines our worth. Data also reveals to her that he actually felt pleasure in killing the drone, which worries both of them.

After returning to duty, the first thing Data is assigned to do is to study the surviving drone, who goes by the name of Crosis. Crosis seems to have a power over data. Using some sort of transmitting device, Crosis allows Data to feel emotion. In his moment of weakness, Data helps Crosis to escape. The Enterprise follows them to an uninhabited planet, where almost the entire crew of the Enterprise is beamed down to look for Data, leaving Dr. Crusher in charge of a skeleton crew.

Troi, Captain Picard, Chief Engineer La Forge, and an unnamed officer make up a team that eventually finds a building. Upon entering it, it appears uninhabited, but the lights are on. La Forge can’t find any power sources, despite the lighting, which indicates a dampening field. Before they can discuss it, several dozen Borg drones rush in, surrounding the search party. (And eventually killing the unnamed officer.) An android walks out and Picard thinks it’s Data, but it’s not. It’s actually Data’s brother, Lore. Data walks out a few moments later, telling the search team that he’s joined his brother in leading the renegade Borg. Here ends part one of “Descent”.

Several prior episodes are necessary for full understanding of the episode. The renegade drones are the result of actions taken in the episode, “I, Borg” where the Enterprise found a crashed Borg scout ship with one survivor. Instead of using the survivor as a weapon, they allowed the drone to develop a personality. Picard figured that this would be a better weapon against the collective than any program or virus could be. In this episode, we see the results of that action, although the extent isn’t revealed until the second part. “I, Borg” is referenced a few times, although you probably won’t be able to understand a lot unless you’ve seen it.

Those that view this episode also will need to know who Lore is. Both Data and Lore are androids created by Dr. Noonian Soong. (All three characters are played by Brent Spiner, hence the confusion when Lore walked out.) Lore was given human-like behavior, but wasn’t popular among those that he lived with. He was deactivated and replaced with Data, who was found by Starfleet officers approximately 30 years ago. (He being found by Starfleet officers was what led him to join.) Lore was eventually found by the Enterprise in the first season and reactivated. Lore later stole an emotion chip designed for Data, which is what allowed Crosis to manipulate Data. I think that’s all of the history you’ll need to understand the episode. (I could be wrong, though.)

This was the cliffhanger episode for the sixth season. (Part two is the beginning of the seventh and final season.) We get to see a great performance by Brent Spiner, who has to deal with Data’s emotions for the first time. Data questions his emotions and their role in his personality. What if anger is the only emotion that he’s capable of? If it’s not, what does it mean that anger is the first thing he experiences?

We also get to see Dr. Crusher in command of the Enterprise. Normally, the captain of a starship doesn’t go into dangerous situations. (At least, not in The Next Generation.) However, Picard does beam down to look for Data and is put in harm’s way. From what I’ve read, this was to see how audiences would react to a woman in command of a starship. (I’d like to reference TV Tome for that. You can find a link to it on my profile page.)

Even though I like continuity, it does have its problems. You have to know quite a bit to understand episodes in the later seasons. I wouldn’t recommend making this the first episode of the series that you see. As I said, there’s too much background information. This episode comes at the end of the sixth season. Even knowing what I’ve told you, you may not fully understand the episode.

I did like the episode. This episode, along with part two, ties up a few loose ends. I give it four stars. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 151 (Timescape)

There are some movies and TV episodes that are best enjoyed when you don’t think about them too much.  When I first saw Timescape, it was a great episode.  It hasn’t aged so well upon repeated viewings.

It begins with Captain Picard, Counselor Troi, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge and Lt. Cmdr. Data returning from a symposium.  They’re supposed to meet the Enterprise at a set of coordinates, but don’t find the ship when they arrive.  Instead, they find temporal distortions.  While Troi is talking, Picard, Data and La Forge all freeze for a few seconds.  Moments later, Troi is the one to freeze for a few minutes.  When they go looking for the center of the anomalies, they find the Enterprise ostensibly engaged in battle with a Romulan ship.

La Forge is able to send Picard, Troi and Data to the Enterprise, where they see Romulans boarding the ship.  The catch is that the Enterprise seems to be helping them rather than fending them off.  It also looks like the Enterprise is sending power to the Romulan ship rather than the Romulan ship using disruptors on the Enterprise.  Regardless, the Enterprise is in the middle of a warp-core breach.  Nothing can be done to prevent it; the ship will be destroyed.

After beaming back to their runabout, Picard remains while La Forge, Troi and Data examine the Romulan ship.  The find what appear to be a life form in the Romulan ship’s power core.  They also accidentally send time forward.  Picard witnesses the Enterprise explode before time resets.  So, now they have all the clues they need to fix things.  Since the show goes on for another season, it’s safe to assume that they do so.  The question is how.

One of the things that didn’t stand up is that the physics seem to be a little off.  For instance, those on the Enterprise or the Romulan ship need special armbands.  Without them, they’re integrated into the time frame.  If this is true, how do they displace the air where they’re beaming in?  For that matter, how do the transporters or communicators even work?  Wouldn’t any signal have to go through the air?  Speaking of which, they have to breathe that air.  How are they inhaling it?

One thing that caught my attention the first time I saw the episode was that La Forge had his armband deliberately removed.   Granted, He was in danger, but they didn’t beam him back to the runabout first.  He was left to be integrated into the timeframe, hoping that he’d be safe.  After that, time reverses and goes forward again.  Wouldn’t this have been to a time before La Forge was integrated into the time frame?  If they change the course of events, would La Forge still appear or was he there all along?

Also, why didn’t they call for help?  I get that they have nine hours.  The probability of another ship being in range is low, but they didn’t even send out a message advising anyone of the situation.  If not a call for help, at least a warning to stay away.

We find out that the entire thing is caused by aliens from another time continuum who need black holes to incubate their young.  Don’t they have black holes where they’re from?  Why do they need our black holes?  It’s never really explained what time continuum even means.  I’m assuming it’s an alternate dimension or something.  We don’t get much information out of them.

It’s also awfully convenient that the four of them went to the symposium.  Troi was recently abducted and held on a Romulan ship for a few days, where she apparently happened to pick up exactly enough information to tell everyone what they needed.  This is impressive, considering she was helping dissidents and had no apparent contact with engineering.  What would have happened if they hadn’t gone?  Would the two aliens have been able to fix the problem on their own?

Another thing that bothered me was that both ships were fully engulfed in same time distortion.  I realize that the Romulan ship is the epicenter, so this one is at least plausible.  However, what would have happened if part of the Enterprise wasn’t caught it in?  Could you imagine some poor guy stuck at the tail end of the ship, too scared to go into the affected areas?

It’s one of those episodes that’s enjoyable, assuming you can suspend disbelief.  If you don’t think about it too much, it’s at least coherent and evenly paced.  However, you probably will find a few things that don’t make sense.  You don’t really need to have seen previous episodes, but there are a few references.  Picard references things that happen in Time’s Arrow.  They also mention Troi’s time aboard a Romulan ship.  I still enjoyed watching the episode, even if there were a few issues.

IMDb page

Friday, August 11, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 150 (Second Chances)

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

Could you imagine being stranded on a remote planet for eight years? The Enterprise goes to a planet that Commander William Riker visited eight years prior while he was serving on the Potempkin. They want to retrieve data, but something in the planet’s atmosphere only allows use of the transporter every eight years. Commander Riker was the last one off the planet and he barely made it. So far as he knows, there shouldn’t be anyone down there. However, after beaming down, the landing party hears someone approach. The person is someone that looks exactly like and even claims to be Lieutenant Riker.

The other Riker is beamed back to the Enterprise to be examined. Genetically, he’s identical to Commander Riker. Brainwaves are nearly identical, which is impossible to fake. So far as Dr. Crusher can tell, Commander Riker and Lieutenant Riker were the same person up until eight years ago when a transporter accident created the other Riker, who was beamed back down to the planet.

The information from the planet still needs to be retrieved and since Lieutenant Riker made a lot of modifications to the planet, he is the only one that knows how to get at it. Lieutenant Riker and Commander Riker don’t get along. The lieutenant is late and often argumentative. Then again, how do you boss yourself around like that?

Fortunately, everything works out, even though there are a few tense moments. I think it would have been too easy to have Lieutenant Riker die. From what I’ve read, one idea was to have Commander Riker die, have the necessary promotions and have Lieutenant Riker join the ship. However, those in charge didn’t like the idea.

It was kind of confusing for the crew to have two Rikers. Riker and Troi had a romance going right about the time of the transporter accident. Since Lieutenant Riker doesn’t know what happened, he’s still interested in pursuing something with her. There was also the issue of what to call Lieutenant Riker since their ranks won’t always be different. (Lieutenant Riker decides to go with their middle name.)

The effects were pretty good. Usually, in an episode like this, there’s a tendency to avoid shots where the actor has to play both characters at the same time. (Usually, we see one of the two characters and a stand-in, if necessary.) However, in this episode, we get a lot of shots of both Rikers looking at each other. There were only one or two scenes that didn’t quite look right, but it was done well, overall. I suppose it helps that this isn’t the first time that one actor has had to play two roles or himself twice. There was an early episode where Picard gets to meet his future self. There were also times when Brent Spiner had to speak to himself when Lore, Data’s ‘twin brother’, or Dr. Soong, Data’s ‘father’, appeared.

I just had a few questions about the episode. I have to wonder why the station was built in the first place. If they knew that the opportunity to transport occurred every eight years, that would mean that there have been several cycles. Why would you build a station on a planet that was so hard to evacuate? Also, I don’t recall anyone mentioning the idea of using shuttlecraft. You have to admit that it was convenient that an evacuation attempt was necessary right when the transporter window was available. What would have happened if evacuation was necessary one month earlier or later?

I’d give this episode four stars. (Actually, I’d give it a little less, but I’ll round up.) Lieutenant Riker will appear in a Deep Space Nine episode, so we will get to see what happens to him. Despite the issues I had, it’s an interesting episode.

IMDb page

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 149 (Rightful Heir)

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

Worf has always tried to be a model Klingon. It wasn’t easy having to grow up among humans. When it becomes apparent that Worf needs time off, Captain Picard insists that he go on leave and visit Boreth, a Klingon outpost. This isn’t any outpost, though. This is an outpost on a planet that’s orbiting a star that holds significance to Klingons.

Kahless founded the Klingon Empire 1,500 years ago. Kahless pointed to this star and promised to return there. Worf is about ready to leave the outpost when one of the caretakers convinces him to stay. Shortly thereafter, Kahless appears.

Kahless’s position is roughly equivalent to that of Jesus in Christianity. Kahless’s appearance is something that reinforces Worf’s faith a great deal. At first, he’s skeptical. He wants to scan Kahless with a tricorder, which only reveals that he is a Klingon. (However, it does rule out some sort of artificial life form.) All other tests would seem to indicate that Kahless is who he claims to be.

The Enterprise is called to Boreth to escort Kahless to the Klingon home world. There, Gowron, leader of the high council, comes on board with a genetic sample of the original Kahless. It’s a perfect match. Gowron is scared, though. The Empire has strayed from what Kahless laid down 1,500 years ago. He could unite the Empire, but he could also divide it. Not all is as it seems.

You don’t really have to have seen any other episodes to appreciate this one, but it does help. Worf has always been sure of himself. However, events in Birthright led him to have doubts. Michael Dorn is great in this episode as Worf. He has a lot to work with, going from someone who doubts to someone who’s sure of what’s going on to someone who’s taking charge of the situation.

Gowron, played by Robert O’Reilly, is a great character. Again, there’s a lot of history in the series with that character that a casual viewer might not pick up on. This is the only actual appearance of Kahless in the series. However, there were certain episodes that led up to this and he will be mentioned in later episodes. (There was actually an episode of the original series with Kahless, but if I recall, a good deal of imagination went into that.)

I’d give the episode four stars. It’s an interesting story with a few plot twists. (I don’t want to ruin the ending for you.) It’s possible that someone could watch this episode without having seen the rest of the series, but this is near the end of the sixth season. I’d recommend this more for people who have seen more of the series.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 148 (Suspicions)

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

The episode begins with Dr. Crusher packing. Guinan comes in, asking for some medical assistance. (For those that don’t watch regularly, Guinan runs a lounge called Ten Forward.) Unfortunately, Dr. Crusher has been relieved of duty and is on her way to a starbase for a hearing.

The first two thirds of the episode is spent in retrospect as Dr. Crusher tells Guinan what happened. The story begins with Dr. Reyga, a Ferengi scientist, wanting to test something called metaphasic shielding. It’s supposed to let a ship fly into a corona of a star. Others have tried and failed, but Dr. Reyga believes that he’s done it. Dr. Crusher invites several others, all experts in the field, to meet Dr. Reyga and to witness a test. One of the other scientists volunteers to fly the shuttle.

All goes well until the scientist appears to collapse. Fortunately, the shuttle is able to make it out, but the scientist is dead. A study of the body reveals that there wasn’t possibly enough radiation to kill someone, but she’s never actually met the pilot’s race before. After studying the ship, no one can figure out what went wrong. Dr. Reyga is insistent that the shielding must have worked. He’s can’t understand what could have happened.

Then, Dr. Reyga turns up dead. Dr. Crusher doesn’t think that it’s suicide. After asking around, she can’t figure out who did it. She wants to do an autopsy, but the family won’t allow it. Seeing no alternative, Crusher performs the autopsy anyway and finds nothing; that’s what gets her dismissed.

Guinan pushes Dr. Crusher to go a little further. Dr. Crusher eventually figures out that there is sabotage involved and that the shielding does work. To prove it, she takes the shuttle into the sun and succeeds. That’s when the real killer is revealed. There’s no real point in spoiling it for you. You’ll have to watch it to see who it is.

I have only one major question: What is it about Dr. Crusher’s personality that wouldn’t let her let Worf handle the investigation? I realize that Dr. Reyga was her friend, but medical doctors don’t normally go around asking questions about a murder. Also, Dr. Crusher shouldn’t have been performing an autopsy on a friend. Even if the family did allow it, she should have gotten someone more detached from the situation to do it. The fact that she couldn’t ask anyone should have told her not to do it.

I also tend not to like episodes or movies that are told in retrospect. I don’t think that it’s necessary in most cases and uses the storytelling scenes as filler. In many cases, it also tends to ruin the story. You spend the entire time wondering how a character got where they are and if the next mistake is the one that derailed them. Since there is more of a story after Guinan’s visit to Dr. Crusher, nothing is spoiled. It also is important to the storyline. Dr. Crusher needs to tell the story to someone so that they can give her the necessary push to get things going. Granted, Dr. Crusher could have gotten a visit from Guinan in the middle of the episode, but why have her in just one scene? It would have robbed the viewer of Whoopi Goldberg’s performance as Guinan.

Overall, I give this episode three stars. It’s a good story, even if it’s not a great one.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 147 (Frame of Mind)

Star Trek: The Next Generation tended to show a bright version of the future  Sure, we all had problems, but the episodes were usually pretty light.  Even the more moderate episodes weren’t that scary or much of a downer.  Then comes Frame of Mind.  In it, Riker is starring in a play that Dr. Crusher is directing.  (The play happens to be called Frame of Mind, as well.)  The play seems to be about a man trying to prove his sanity to a psychologist.  We only get to see the last scene of the play, but it’s pretty intense.  Riker’s character is yelling at the doctor about how he’s being yanked around.

The Enterprise is called to Tilonus IV. The government is in disarray after the assassination of a  leader.  Normally, the Federation wouldn’t interfere, but they’ve got a research team there and they want Riker to rescue them.  (While this isn’t Riker’s first solo away mission, it’s never been clearly stated why Riker is the one to do this sort of stuff.)  Before they get there, Riker will be performing in the play.  He gets a standing ovation to which he bows several times.  On the last bow, he arises to find that he’s in the psych ward of the play’s set.

He can’t remember the details of his life on the Enterprise, like his name.  However, Riker is told that it’s all a delusion.  He’s been imagining it all and that Starfleet has no record of him.  Is he crazy?  Riker still looks human.  He still behaves like you’d expect Riker to behave.  Since Riker goes on to finish the series, it’s not spoiling anything to say that Riker’s not crazy.  The question then becomes what’s really going on.

I remember being entertained by the story when it first aired.  It’s odd since we just came off of another episode dealing with layered reality, Ship in a Bottle.  Here, it appears to all be in Riker’s head.  He alternates between the Enterprise and the psych ward, each time thinking that his current location is reality.  It isn’t until Dr. Crusher shows up at the psych ward that things start to get confusing.

The problem, of course, is that you know Riker will work it out.  It would be an interesting way of writing someone out of a show.  How would that even work?  Would there be a real Will Riker?  How would our Riker have known?  Maybe he got mission reports or something.  It’s not the kind of plot device you can realistically use to write an actor out of a show.  Even doing it as a finale is kind of frowned upon by fans, having the entire show be a delusion.

This is probably one to have small children stay away from, or at least have the parents watch it first to decide.  There are some intense emotions shown.  It’s safe for teens and above, who should be able to understand what’s going on.  I don’t know that it would be scary, per se.  I didn’t find it that scary, but like I said, there’s the understanding that it’s not real, even in the context of a TV show.   To see someone yelling and slowly going crazy may be a bit much.

I don’t think I’d recommend this episode as an introduction to the series, mostly because it’s so atypical.  You could watch it without having seen any previous episodes.  You might even enjoy it.  If you were trying to do an abbreviated run, I’d recommend this episode as one that you watched, as it is well written and well acted.

IMDb page

Monday, August 07, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 146 (The Chase)

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

While out exploring the galaxy, Captain Picard is paid a visit by an archaeology professor of his. It turns out that the professor wants Picard to come along on a really important quest, but he won’t give Picard any details. Professor Galen only says that this could be the biggest thing yet. Picard thinks about it, but can’t bring himself to leave the Enterprise. Upon being turned down, Galen leaves the ship. A few hours later, the Enterprise receives a distress call from Galen; a ship is attacking him. The Enterprise arrives and inadvertently destroys the alien ship. They transport Galen to sickbay, but it’s too late.

Upon inspecting Galen’s shuttlecraft, the crew discovers a series of numbers. Without context, there’s no way of knowing what those numbers mean. However, they narrow it down a little and come to find out that the numbers represent genetic codes. Galen was gathering certain genetic sequences. He had gathered 19 of them, but it wasn’t complete. Galen was putting together some sort of puzzle that could have profound implications. Picard takes up the quest, putting off an order to mediate a situation.

The Cardassians, Romulans and Klingons are also interested. Eventually, despite bickering between the other three races, Picard and Dr. Crusher are able to complete the puzzle. The final genetic code reconfigures the tricorder that Dr. Crusher has so that it can project a holographic image. The image is of a humanoid woman who tells everyone that her race seeded several planets that were just beginning to develop life so that each would develop a race similar to hers. Some of those present to witness it are disappointed and can’t believe than they have anything in common with the other races. However, Picard feels satisfied that he was able to complete Galen’s work.

The episode requires a good deal of suspension of disbelief. Genetic code drifts. Granted, some code doesn’t drift as much as others, but it’s hard to believe that the genetic code that was ‘implanted’ in all of Earth’s life had survived unaffected for so long. Also, you have to believe that DNA can be used to encode a program that a tricorder would instantly recognize. Once the tricorder does recognize it, you have to believe that the tricorder can and will reconfigure itself to emit a hologram. At the very least, it’s a stretch.

The episode attempts to explain why so many species in the Star Trek universe look so similar. The concept of the preservers had been mentioned in the original series and used in a few of the books. The truth is that Star Trek and its subsequent spin-offs had to use human actors. The alternative is to use computer graphics, and that can be such a difficult process that it’s simply not worth it to use on a regular basis. The writers apparently felt compelled to offer up some sort of official explanation. (There are supposedly other races that don’t look human at all, but many such races have only been mentioned on the TV series or appeared in books.)

I have to wonder what would have happened if all life on one of the planets had been destroyed by natural causes. The Enterprise was lucky enough on the last planet; life there had actually almost disappeared. Had that happened, no one would have found the appropriate code. Also, the Borg or some other hostile and dangerous could have claimed the planet, thus making it inaccessible. I have to wonder what would have happened if all of the planets had developed humanoid life and someone had been descended from all of those races. They could have contained all of the genetic sequences. In the Star Trek universe, there have been a few characters that were of both human and alien heritage and the DNA was supposed to direct life on those planets towards a humanoid form, so such a thing is not unthinkable.

There weren’t any repercussions from this episode. I’d imagine that Picard was reprimanded for disregarding his mission, but the events of this episode were never mentioned again. I don’t know what I expected, but I don’t think that a discovery of this magnitude should go unmentioned. However, as I’ve pointed out in other Trek reviews, major discoveries have a way of fading into obscurity.

I think that the episode is worth four stars. I may not think that all of the details were worked out, but it does have those interesting implications. I really don’t think that a non-fan would enjoy this episode as much as a fan. That’s not to say that it’s totally unenjoyable or inaccessible. It’s just that there’s too much history that someone would have to know to fully appreciate the episode. 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 145 (Lessons)

Throughout Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s been said that Captain Picard is a very private man.  I suppose you have to.  As captain, he doesn’t have the luxury of getting too close to his crew.  He seems to do things, like attend plays or fence.  He was best friends with Jack Crusher, late husband or Dr. Beverly Crusher.  A romance between the two seemed off limits.  Suddenly, along comes Lt. Cmdr. Nella Daren.  She’s intelligent.  She’s attractive.  She even shares a few interests with the captain, such as music.

In fact, it’s after a concert that the two hit it off.  Pretty soon, they’re spending a lot of time alone.  Before they know it, everyone has noticed that they’re together.  It’s not hard to miss, as Picard is much happier.  In one scene, Picard is more playful with Commander Riker.  Riker isn’t quite sure how to handle himself in the scene.

Unfortunately, that starts to become the norm.  Daren is in charge of stellar cartography, meaning she has to run requests through Riker.  Many are legitimate requests, but he doesn’t want to appear to be doing favors.  On the other hand, does he necessarily deny her simply to save face?  Picard tells Riker to simply do his job.  It doesn’t take a regular Trek viewer to see where this is going.

The Enterprise is called to evacuate a planet facing severe weather.  Holding off danger requires several teams to beam down to the planet and Daren has to be one of those people.  She’s the most qualified to pull it off, so it only makes sense to send her to the planet.  She and a few others are forced to ride out the storm, putting Picard in the position of having to worry about her.

She doesn’t die, but it forces them to reevaluate their relationship.  They basically have two options.  One of them can resign and follow the other around or one of them can transfer and settle for a long-distance relationship.  Neither is willing to resign, so Daren agrees to transfer.

I’ve always hated stories that were fated to last one episode.  Crusher has a relationship with a character that leaves that same episode.  Come to think of it, Worf is the only main character to have a love interest return for a second episode.  True, Geordi La Forge fell for Leah Brahams, but the first time was a holographic version of her.  The real Leah Brahms shut it down pretty quickly.  The point is that Daren is going to leave by the end of the episode.  I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that.  The shame is that she’s never mentioned again.

It’s also kind of sudden to have Picard in a relationship that lasts only one episode.  If Daren had appeared in previous episodes, we could have a more-natural buildup.  Five seasons of nothing only to have a love interest drop by late in the sixth season.  Then, we’re thrown back to Picard not having much of anything.  He does show interest in Dr. Crusher in the seventh season, which makes me wonder if this was a way to build up to that.

On that note, I have to ask:  Am I the only person who notices a striking resemblance between Nella Daren and Beverly Crusher?  I think even Crusher noticed it.  In one scene, Crusher is treating Daren and has to restrain herself, lest her jealousy show.  It’s possible that this was a way of testing to see if a Picard/Crusher relationship would work without risking any awkwardness.  It’s also possible that it’s a coincidence or that I’m imagining things.  Seriously, though.  Has no one else noticed this?

Complaints aside, it is a good episode.  It was nice to see Picard get some romantic attention.  It seems like he’s the last bridge officer to have that.  (La Forge had become a running joke in that he couldn’t get a date to save his life, but at least he made attempts.)  It’s definitely worth watching.

IMDb page

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 144 (Starship Mine)

Note:  This review gives away some details, including the ending.  If you don’t like spoilers, you might want to wait until viewing the episode to read the review.

When a good movie comes out, you get copycats.  You can’t have one alien-invasion movie without five other movies trying to steal there thunder.  It’s been noticed, for instance, that after Die Hard came out, a bunch of movies were pitched as Die Hard with a Twist.  You had Die Hard on a plane or underground or in a parking garage or whatever.  They might as well have called this episode Die Hard on the Enterprise.

The Enterprise is docked to have maintenance done due to baryon buildup.  What’s a baryon?  No, it’s not slang for a Barry Manilow fan.  It refers to subatomic particles made up of three quarks, such as protons and neutrons.  Apparently, the Enterprise has too many of these or something.  (I think the writers may have misused the term, much like people tend to misuse ‘chemical’.)

Either way, no one can stay onboard.  The first few minutes of the episode, Captain Picard is answering questions.  Dr. Crusher, for instance, is worried about some genetic material she’s running tests on.  The station didn’t make the right kind of accommodation.  Interestingly, no mention is made of Data’s cat or Picard‘s fish.  I’m assuming that the station has some sort of kennel or pet spa or something for crewmembers with pets.

Data is trying to make small talk with the captain to no avail.  As an android, he doesn’t have the same instinct for it as humans.  Picard recommends that he talk to the base’s commanding officer, Commander Hutchinson.  Hutchinson is hosting a reception for the ship’s senior staff.  It turns out that Hutchinson (you can call him Hutch) tends to corner people and bore them with inane trivia.  It’s kind of funny in that no one likes it.  In fact, Worf is able to get himself excused.  (Picard shuts down La Forge’s attempt, saying that he can’t have the entire senior staff miss out on the party.)

When Hutchinson mentions trails on the planet, Picard takes the opportunity to excuse himself.  He goes back to the ship for his saddle, as no serious rider would be without one.  (I’ll bet if Picard had a horse, he’d name it McGuffin.)  Picard plans on leaving the ship before the maintenance starts, but is delayed by one of the workers.  It seems that its taking longer than expected.  In reality, the crew is trying to steal some trilithium resin.  They’re not terrorists, per se.  Instead, they’re mercenaries that are going to sell the stuff to terrorists.

Oh, and the people staffing Hutchison’s party have guns.  When La Forge notices the unusual heat signature the guns are putting off, the staff takes everyone hostage, firing on La Forge and Hutchison.  Why?  I don’t know.  I don’t imagine the terrorists foresaw the need for hostages.  It was entirely unnecessary, as Data was doing a great impersonation of Hutchison.  It was amusing to see the two of them talk to each other.

Picard is able to subdue the terrorists and Data is able to incapacitate the captors.  In the end, Data is able to shut off the baryon sweep at the very last minute.  (Actually, the only reason for the bridge crew to be taken hostage is to draw out Picard’s pleas for help.  I never noticed that, even after several viewings.)

There are a few things I don’t get about the episode.  First, I never understood the title:  Starship Mine.  Is it a way of saying that the mercenaries are mining trilithium resin?  Is it because Picard is acting in a possessive manner towards the ship?  Picard does look longingly at the ship before he leaves.  It’s not like the ship is going anywhere.  Picard didn’t even look at the ship like that in Chain of Command, and he had been relieved of command in that episode.  Here, it’s just a little weird.

Another thing I didn’t get was what the point was supposed to be.  Many of the episodes have some hidden meaning.  It might deal with addiction or having to step up and take charge.  Not all of the messages are that obvious.  From what I can tell, the producers decided to go with an action episode.  There doesn’t even seem to be a strong crime-doesn’t-pay message.  It’s just Picard crawling through the ship and trying to outsmart the bad guys.

I do want to comment on the methods that Picard used to keep the mercenaries at bay.  He did managed to subdue a lot of them, but even then, many of them died.  He left one to be taken out by the baryon sweep.  Granted, the guy could have escaped.  However, the mercenary was still killed in a manner presumably so gruesome that it had to be shown off screen.  Also, the leader of the mercenaries is killed when trying to escape.  She’s dealing with a material known to be unstable, so it’s a foreseeable consequence that her ship would blow up.  However, it’s implied that Picard tampered with the storage device.  I find that just a little disturbing.

It seemed a little drawn out.  I mean, there had to be an easier way to get trilithium resin.  You have to get it from a ship?  And the flagship of the Federation, at that?   It’s a bit bold, if you ask me.  If they are mercenaries, it might make sense to set up a fake hazardous-waste disposal company and sell the resin they weren’t really disposing of.

This is one of those in-between episodes.  It’s not the best of the episodes, but it’s not the worst episode, either.  Is it worth watching?  If you’re binging on the series,  I’m not going to tell you to skip this one.  At least it’s enjoyable on the first viewing.  You also get to see Tim Russ before he became Tuvok.  If you get streaming or have the season set, go for it.  If not, don’t go out of your way.

IMDb page

Friday, August 04, 2017

Star Trek The Next Generation - Episode 143 (Birthright: Part 2)

When a story carries over to a second episode, it usually does so completely.  When the first part of Birthright had ended, we had two story lines.  One had Data discovering his ability to dream.  The other had Worf finding a prisoner camp where his father might still be alive.  Data’s story didn’t carry over to Part II at all.  Instead, Part II focuses entirely on Worf.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if it was unexpected.

As you might expect, you need to have seen Part I to understand this episode.  In fact, you have to have a pretty good understanding of Star Trek in general to understand the episode.  Klingons and Romulans have been fighting throughout Trek history.  They’re blood enemies. It seems odd that a Klingon would allow himself to be taken prisoner by anyone, let alone a Romulan.  They would take death over capture any day.  This is why it’s surprising to Worf, a Klingon, that his father may have not only survived the attack on Khitomer but survived as a prisoner of the Romulans.

He does find a prison camp and is, himself, captured.  Regrettably, his father is not among those that were captured during the Romulan attack.  His effort was for naught.  Worf immediately asks why the Klingons didn’t kill themselves.  They tried to starve themselves, but the Romulans kept them alive for three months.  The hope was to trade them for information, but the Klingon government refused to acknowledge that a Klingon warrior would be taken captive.

The Klingons couldn’t go back, as it would dishonor their families.  So, the Romulan commander, Tokath, set up a prison camp to let the Klingons live out their days.   This is complicated by the presence of new Klingon children who know nothing of their heritage.  They think that the Klingons and Romulans are fighting an endless war.  It isn’t until Worf starts teaching them that they have any sense of who they are.

For his efforts, Worf is given a choice:  Settle down or be killed.  Worf chooses death, being that it would be honorable and all.  He even refuses help escaping, as that would defeat the point.  (What’s not mentioned is that he’s already missed his ride back.  He has no reason to assume the Enterprise knows where he is, so where would he go?)  Worf realizes that being killed would not only set one final example of what it means to be Klingon, but he would die a martyr.  It would be the final nail in Tokath’s coffin, so to speak.  Tokath relents and agrees to send Worf back, provided that he promise not to reveal the location of the camp.

I remember being somewhat disappointed that Data’s story didn’t carry over to this episode, although it would factor in to later episodes.  Instead, the episode focuses almost entirely on Worf’s story to the point of nearly excluding the rest of the cast.  There were only maybe two or three scenes, basically to establish that the crew knew that Worf was leaving and that they’d be looking for him.  That search is cut short when Worf makes his own way back.  (Surprisingly, no one seems to question that this is onboard a Romulan ship.)

People have brought up that Worf is full-on racist in this episode, not doing anything to hide his contempt for Romulans.  This is nothing new.  He’s always let it be known that he can never forgive the Romulans for killing his parents.  He let a Romulan die when he was the only one that could have saved the Romulan.  Worf hates Romulans.  He’s even revolted when he finds out that his love interest is (gasp) half-Romulan.

The episode seems to focus on Worf maybe growing a bit and challenging the status quo on a planet where the adults made the choice and condemned any children they had as a result.  Those children didn’t ask to be put in that situation.  They wrongly believe that the war still goes on.  Worf takes it upon himself to make the parents see this.

The question seems to be what right Worf has to destroy their way of life.  That way of life was only intended for the parents.  I have to wonder what would have happened if Worf hadn’t come along.  Would the camp have continued long after the parents had all died?  In a hundred years, would there still be their descendants living isolated from the rest of the galaxy?  I imagine that the parents probably didn’t think this far ahead.  It’s possible that eventually, those descendants would have wondered off on their own.

Yes, they have a situation where Klingons and Romulans live in peace, but there’s a reason that they have to keep it a secret.  Neither side would accept this.  Even Tokath had to give up his military career.  This is to say nothing of Ba’el, the half-Romulan, half-Klingon love interest.  Where would she go?  Sure, she might be accepted by the Federation.  She might even go to live with Worf if Worf could accept that.  Either way, she’d never be able accepted by either side.

It’s maybe not what I would call the best episode of The Next Generation, nor would I call it pivotal.  It does make you wonder.  It wouldn’t be easy to have a lasting peace between two sworn enemies.  It could be done in small groups like this, but it would take a major shift in thinking to do it on a large scale.  Worf does grow a little in this respect, but I don’t think it’s a lasting change.  In the end, it’s more of an interesting parable.

IMDb page

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 142 (Birthright: Part 1)

Data and Worf share a certain bond.  Both serve on the Enterprise as outsiders.  Granted, the Enterprise has people form lots of different races, but Data is an artificial life form and Worf is the only Klingon serving on a Starfleet vessel.  Even more, both lost their fathers at a young age.  Worf’s father was killed in a Romulan attack whereas Data’s creator was presumed to have been killed in an attack by a space-dwelling entity.  In Birthright, both have to deal with their respective familial pasts.

The Enterprise is visiting Deep Space Nine about some Bajoran aqueducts.  While on the station, Worf is approached by a Yridian claiming to have information indicating that Worf’s father is still alive in a prison camp.  Worf tells the Yridian to take a flying leap because a Klingon would rather die than be captured by a Romulan.

On the Enterprise, Data finds DS9’s Dr. Bashir in sickbay.  He’s testing some device that he assumes is a medical device.  Why does he assume that it’s a medical device?  Probably because he’s fresh out of Starfleet Academy.  Why is he testing it himself?  Maybe it was those engineering extension courses we’ll learn about later.  Data tells Bashir that he’s not authorized to be there before inviting him to engineering to properly test the device.

Data and Bashir hook the device up to the ship with the help of Chief Engineer La Forge.  The first thing Data does is stand right in front of it before letting someone else flip the switch.  So, of course he gets hit by an energy discharge and is knocked unconscious.  When he wakes up, he tells La Forge and Bashir about a dream he had of his creator.

Data finds Worf to talk about it.  Worf decides to find his father while Data decides to try the experiment again.  This time, Data has a complete dream where his father tells him he’s off to a good start, subconsciously speaking.  Meanwhile, Worf finds the Yridian again and demands that the Yridian bring Worf to the prison camp.  If he’s lying, Worf will send him on that flying leap.

It turns out that there really is a prison camp and that Worf’s father really did die in the Romulan attack.  Worf is initially urged to leave, but it’s too late.  The residents of the camp can’t risk anyone drawing attention to their existence.  Why not?  We’ll have to find out in the second part.  The episode ends with Worf being captured.

It’s nice to have continuity here. Data did find his father in an earlier episode only to actually lose him.  I imagine that Dr. Noonian Soong planned on raising Data himself.  The fact that the appropriate circuits were activated was an accident.  I was hoping that it would be carried over in the second part.  When the episode first aired, I’d have to wait an entire week to find out that Part II would be all about Worf.  I’d have to wait to see Data explore his dreams again, but it would be worth it.  We’d have at least one really interesting episode come out of this.

As for Worf, his family has been very important to him.  Because his father was said to be a traitor, he had to accept dishonor and discommendation for a good part of the series.  When he found out he had a brother, he hid the fact to protect his brother.  Family is important to Worf, as it is to all Klingons. This is a fact that will come into play in the second part.

My only regret here is that the Deep Space Nine aspect isn’t played up that much.  This is probably for two reasons.  First, Deep Space Nine was airing concurrently with The Next Generation at this point, meaning that the actors would have been busy.  Terry Farrell was supposed to guest star, but a scheduling conflict prevented that.  The second reason is that any actor would presumably have to be paid for said guest appearance.  Thus, you’re probably not going to have too many actors from the other series dropping by.

It’s an interesting episode that sets up another interesting episode.  It’s assumed that you have some familiarity with the series, although it’s not entirely necessary.  The key points are explained, although newcomers won’t understand it as regular viewers would.  At least there’s no shame in binging on The Next Generation.