Monday, January 30, 2017

Episode Review - Miri (Original Series, Season 1)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here


Episode Overview – Amazed to discover a planet that is identical to Earth, Kirk beams down with an away team. Shortly after they are attacked by a deranged man who shortly after dies. They soon meet Miri, a young girl on the verge of puberty, and learn that all the adults, or “grups” as they are called, have died, and that only children remain. It does not take long for Kirk and the away team to learn that they have contracted the virus that has wiped out the adults in the population, and it is soon a race against time for not only Kirk and his away team, but for the children, starting with Miri.

Kirk, Rand, McCoy, and Miri

Episode Score – 7/10. Not a bad episode. The children are a little “Lord of the Flies” on the creepy factor, but it is a nice story. My biggest criticism is that there is no apparent purpose for the planet to be virtually identical to Earth. No reason or connection is given as to how this planet on the other side of the galaxy is so similar to Earth. It is almost as if the budget didn’t allow them to create anything that would be foreign to our world.

The "grup" 

Relevance – 1 point. The blooming relationship between Kirk and Rand is touched on here. Other than that, nothing of note.

Arriving on the new planet

Continuity – 2 points. I give a point for story and universe continuity here, but I have to deduct a point for character continuity. Try as I might, I just do not buy into the flirtatious nature Kirk had with Miri. While he never crossed any lines, per se, it just seemed odd. Kirk was no stranger to flirting with the ladies he encountered, but this was out of place with him.

Jahn and Miri

Character Development – 1 point.  A point for Kirk and Janice Rand. Not much development here, other than Janice expressing that she had always tried to get the Captain’s attention. I thought about how McCoy had taken the vaccine without any verification in an act of desperation, but I am not sure if this further developed his character or was a result of a desperate situation combined with the symptoms of the virus affecting his state of mind.

McCoy knows how to take one for the team.

Social Commentary – 2 points. The reason the children are in the position that they are in is because their parents were trying to cheat death by slowing down the aging process. While the children had their aging slowed (about one month of aging occurring in 100 years), the adults became the dreaded “grups”, covered in bluish scabs and descending into violent insanity before succumbing to the effects of the virus. A classic tale of the unintended effects of the futile search for the Fountain of Youth. Star Trek will deal with that theme several times again. There is also a connection to the inevitability of growing up. In the case of Miri, it is a literal death of innocence that she and her fellow “Onlies” faced. 

You now are the ones with blood on your hands

Cool Factor – 1 point. Many of the children in this episode were children of some of the actors as well as Gene Roddenberry. They were Gene’s daughters (Darleen and Dawn), Grace Lee Whitney’s sons (Jon and Scott Dweck), and William Shatner’s daughters (Leslie and Lisabeth). The scene where Kirk enters carrying a little girl (Lisabeth) is just that much cooler knowing that it was father and daughter.

William Shatner and his daughter

Rank Lieutenant (14 points). This is a fair episode. I really dislike the fact that the whole idea presented at the beginning where the planet is almost an exact duplicate of Earth is never touched on again. Despite that, I liked the story. Sadly, the actress who played Yeoman Rand would be fired shortly after the filming of this episode was completed. She would return for a walk-on scene in the next episode, but this was the end of the line for the character until the movies started.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Episode Review - Face of the Enemy (Next Generation, Season 6)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – Deanna Troi awakens to find her facial features have been changed to look Romulan. It is soon after that she learns she has been forcibly conscripted into the Romulan underground movement to help smuggle some of its members seeking asylum in the Federation. Troi learns that her empathic abilities are the main reason for this situation, and she reluctantly enters into a battle of wits and personality with the commander of a Romulan warbird.

Score: 8/10 – This is a fun episode that really puts Troi out of her element. She really gets a chance to shine in an interesting covert, espionage-type episode. We get some great insight to how things run on a Romulan warship. Marina Sirtis really gets to show off her acting chops as she gets to play a greater emotional range than the character has been accustomed to. Typically a Troi episode has her falling in love with someone, but not in this case. She gets to show some real grit and steel in her scenes. We also see something that we don’t often get to see in Star Trek: a Federation defector. It has almost always been someone else who wanted to leave their culture to become a part of the Federation. Ensign Stefan DeSeve had become disenfranchised with his decades long defection to the Romulan Empire and was returning home, despite knowing he would quickly be arrested. This shows that even within the projected paradise of the Federation not everyone is enamoured with it.

Relevance - 2 points. One point is scored for this being the only episode that directly addresses the Romulan underground unification movement that Spock was an essential part of. There is also a point scored for the mentioning of the artificial quantum singularity being used as a power source for the warp drives of Romulan ships.

Continuity - 3 points. Nothing in this episode goes against any pre-established storyline. The mention of Spock’s underground movement is sadly the only time we have mention of it in the rest of the series. Character continuity goes well. Troi definitely shows a predictable uneasiness about things at the beginning, and then finally has to stand up to N’Vek in taking control of the situation. In the aftermath, she shows appropriate compassion for N’Vek’s sacrifice that fits her character well. While she shows great growth in her character, it occurs in a logical and sensible fashion. Universe continuity is maintained and even built upon as the Tal Shiar makes its debut in Trek canon.

Character Development – 2 points. By putting Deanna out of her comfort zone in such a big way we really get to see some great growth in her as a character. She develops a lot of inner confidence while maintaining her compassionate side.

Social Commentary – 0 points. As enjoyable as this episode was, it really doesn’t offer us anything that really hits home with a statement about our own society.

Cool Stuff – 3 points. One point is score for seeing Carolyn Seymour as her second Romulan commander. She definitely has a thing for playing no-nonsense leaders. A second point is scored for the most in-depth look we have had in the Romulan military, specifically the introduction of its intelligence agency, the infamous Tal Shiar. Seeing a main cast member in an alien disguise is also a cool thing to see.

Rank – Captain (18 points). A great episode for Troi fans in that it has absolutely no romantic interests for her, showing great strength in the character and allows Marina Sirtis to shine as an actress in one of her best performances. Fans of the character and those who like the more spy-like thrillers will likely enjoy this episode.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Top 10 Star Trek Movie Villains - Part 2

In my last post I talked about numbers 10-6 of the top Star Trek movie villains. If you want to check it out, just read Part 1. If you want a quick recap, they were:

10. Sybok
9. Khan (Into Darkness)
8. Shinzon
7. Nero
6. Soran

Now, let's take a look at the Top 5, starting with...

5. Krall (Star Trek: Beyond) – Ah, now we are striking some gold! In Star Trek: Beyond we are introduced to the demonic looking Krall, played with ferocious intensity by Idris Elba. Formerly the Starfleet Captain Balthazar Edison, Krall uses alien technology he discovered on the planet Altamid to prolong his life and to formulate a plan to destroy the Federation. It does not take long for Krall to destroy the Enterprise and imprison much of her crew while he strikes out at starbase Yorktown. Krall demonstrates a villain with a cause and a blood-thirsty attitude that has been lacking in many of Trek’s villains that appear lower on this list. He has a plan, and it is huge. Some have said he could be Trek’s poster child for PTSD that afflicts too many of our veterans. His actions are brutal and terrifying, and he has the face to match. His use of the alien technology mutates him into a demonic looking warlord, giving us a nice little surprise when we learn his origins. More than Nero, more than Kelvin-Khan, Krall gives Kirk and company a genuine fight. If it hadn’t been for that blasted Beastie Boys song, he might have destroyed the starbase and everyone on it. My only complaint with him is that he spent much of the movie arguing that the diversity in the Federation was its greatest weakness, and yet when Kirk finally defeated him, there was nothing in his downfall that proved his theory wrong. He was bested by a better warrior and tactician, but there was no indication that the diversity he so despised was not the weakness he claimed it to be. Still, as far as villains that have actually destroyed the Enterprise, he was the most fearsome and effective in all the Kelvin Timeline films.

4. Chang (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) – How can you tell that your Klingon opponent is tougher than most? When he has his eye patch bolted to his skull. The talented Christopher Plummer gave us one of the most unique looking Klingons to serve as main adversary in the final voyage of the original crew. On the eve of peace between the Klingon Empire and the Federation, there were those who wanted to tear those plans asunder. The tension between these two super powers was easily compared to the Cold War between the USA and the USSR at the time, and as in the real world there were the old dogs on both sides who had difficulty letting go of past mistrusts, so too in Star Trek. Chang was the epitome of this. He orchestrated the assassination of his own Chancellor, collaborated with the enemy to sabotage the peace talks, and with his state-of-the-art bird of prey (that just so happened to have the ability to fire when cloaked) almost destroyed the Enterprise and her crew. His love for Shakespeare (in the original Klingon, of course) added a witty dimension to his character, and he delivered his lines with delectable emotion. We suspected from the trailers that he was up to no good, but we didn’t need to be surprised in the reveal of his part to enjoy the destruction he brought to the story. He was the ideal foil to Kirk, and his defeat at the end was satisfying.

3. The Borg (Star Trek: First Contact) – if ever there was an enemy from one of the TV series that was made for the movies, it would be the Borg. In First Contact, they are back with a vengeance. A single cube decimates another Federation armada, but is soon stopped by Picard and his crew of the new Enterprise E. That it is far from the end, however. Unlike before, the Borg had an extra trick up their collective cybernetic sleeves. A smaller sphere vessel escapes the cube’s destruction and goes back in time, assimilating Earth of the past. Picard follows and destroys the sphere, but not before the Borg beam aboard the Enterprise and starts to assimilate the ship. During this, we are introduced to the Borg Queen, played with delicious mastery by Alice Krige. She is the collective. Upon capturing Data begins to seduce him to her side, promising him the gift of merging his synthetic with the humanity he has always desired. The Borg, as shown many times in the Next Generation, always seemed to be so very close to beating the Federation. In arguably the strongest of the TNG films, the Borg are just as relentless as we had come to expect, but the addition of the Queen added to the stakes like never before. Her introduction was one of the best effects in the franchise, and her individuality added a great layer of complexity to the most feared enemy. Their goal was simple: assimilate humanity. They again came so close to succeeding. If only she hadn’t underestimated the will and loyalty of Data, she just might have done it.

2. Kruge (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) – OK, for the #5 entry I claimed Krall was the best villain to have destroyed the Enterprise, but what about Kruge? Simple, Kirk destroyed the ship, not Kruge, but it was the only way Kirk could win. That is what made this Klingon such a threat. Kruge was masterfully portrayed by Christopher Lloyd with relish and calmness. He was an intriguing foe for Kirk. First, he felt completely justified in his actions. He saw Kirk and the Genesis device as a legitimate threat to the Klingon Empire. So he went about to acquire all information he could. He was able to tie up loose ends, even if it meant personal sacrifice (RIP Valkris). He would quickly and severely deal with incompetence on his ship. Remember the poor gunner who was vaporized after his “lucky shot” destroyed the USS Grissom? In later generations, we learned that such is often the way on Klingon warships, but Kruge did it first. He also cared. He cared about his dog…lizard…uh, whatever that was. He cared about his crew, as he demonstrated when Kirk tricked most of them onto the Enterprise just as is it was about to self-destruct. He cared about the glory of the Empire. I suspect that is he had somehow survived and lived long enough to see peace made between the Klingons and the Federation, he would not have changed much and likely would have fit in well with the likes of Gowron and Martok. He caused the death of Kirk’s son, showing strength in his resolve. Up until the end, Kruge fought for the Empire. While his actions were brutal and calculated, his motives were understandable. He was much more complex than many gave him credit for.

1. Khan Singh (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) – Ah, Khan. With all due respect to the supremely talented Benedict Cumberbatch, nobody does the genetically enhanced superman like the delightful Ricardo Montalban. It is true that Khan had the benefit of already having a back story to establish his wickedness (see the first season episode Space Seed), but it took nothing away from how wonderful an adversary he was. He committed horrible crimes of murder and mayhem, torture and treason, all in the name of vengeance. Long before Picard was compared to a certain peg-legged whale hunter, Khan personified the trait of revenge. He was clever, devious, charismatic, and ruthless. Where Kruge and Chang did what they did out of loyalty towards their empire, and the Borg out of a goal to achieve ultimate perfection, Khan did what he did out of a personal thirst for revenge. Where Nero, Shinzon, and Krall had similar motives, it was Khan that took it to the personal level. The others had an out-of-control rage that boiled over on numerous occasions, Khan was mostly in full control of the situation. His intelligence and self-discipline allowed him to bring Kirk to the brink of defeat. Even as he breathed his last, he felt that he had, at the very least, taken his hated foe with him. Had it not been for Spock’s ultimate sacrifice, Khan would have succeeded. He was a villain with nothing to live for but revenge, and he almost had it. And not once did he ever face Kirk in the same room. His mere presence on the view screen was enough to elicit fear in those who had faced him before. There are many reasons why Wrath of Khan is considered to be the best Trek film of all time, and Khan would definitely be a huge factor in making that case.

So, there they are. How did your favorite movie bad guy fare? Any surprises? Leave a comment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top 10 Star Trek Movie Villains - Part 1

In all forms of art and literature, a great villain can make or break the story. The proper antagonists allows the heroes to triumph by providing them the proper adversity to overcome. In fact, some would argue that the villain creates the hero. There would be no Indiana Jones without the Nazis, no Batman without the Joker, and no Luke Skywalker without Darth Vader (which, technically, is literally true as he is Luke’s father). Some villains are simple, yet effective. Others are more complex and intricate. Some villains earn our sympathy, while some are just pure evil. Regardless of their character, they can often make the story so much more entertaining. 

Star Trek is no different. In the 13 movies that have featured the crew of the Enterprise, there has always been a villain that brings us the conflict. Ranging from cybernetic collectives to mad scientists, devious clones to vengeful past foes, cunning generals to even a probe looking for its whales, a formidable adversary can always be counted on to bring out the best in our beloved characters. In this two-part Top Ten list, I will explore who I think are the ten best villains from the Star Trek movies. I considered the main antagonist in each film, ranging from the Motion Picture to Beyond. I will look at what dastardly deeds were committed, their impact on the main characters, how well their own character was developed, and the simple fact as to how cool they really were. While the villain can make all the difference in the movie, sometimes a bad movie hurts what on paper would be a pretty great villain, and that will also be a factor in this list. How does your favourite movie baddie match up against this list? Oh, and just in case you have not seen all of the movies, some SPOILERS ALERT is in order.

10. Sybok (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier) – At the bottom of this list is Spock’s half-brother. The son of Sarek and a Vulcan Priestess, Sybok abandoned the emotional suppression of his Vulcan heritage and began a quest to discover God. Literally. He went looking for the Almighty himself. He started on a dingy, dusty planet that the Klingon, Romulan, and Federation governments would send their least desirable diplomats to as a token symbol of peace. Not a difficult place to conquer. What was strange about Sybok is that he had some sort of hypnotic power that could earn the trust of those around him that only a stereotypical religious cult leader could muster. The trouble with his role as a villain is that he isn’t really bad. Sure, he takes over the Enterprise (which is why he ranks on this list, unlike three bad guys who don’t), but he does so to find God. Not destroy the universe, or conquer it, but to enlighten it. He brainwashes people by showing them their pain and then having them give to him their pain, but all he does is make them devoted to him in a weird, cult-like sort of way. One of the many reasons that Star Trek V was almost universally panned by fans has to do with such a weak villain. I think that the actor, Laurence Luckenbill, did the best he could with the material given, but the character was a flop, and landed him at the bottom of the list.

9. Khan (Star Trek: Into Darkness) – Benedict Cumberbatch is a talented and gifted actor. His inclusion as the villain in Into Darkness was heralded as a major coup. For months rumors circulated that he would take on the iconic role of Kahn Singh, Eugenics War tyrant that brought such a heavy toll to Kirk and crew in both the TV series and the movies. He was introduced to us as John Harrison in an attempt to make his true identity a surprise. In many ways, he was everything that the Ricardo Montalban version was not. He decimates a Klingon strike force single-handedly with deadly ease. He kicks butt and takes names. While it was impressive, I must admit that this is part of the reason he shows up so low on this list. It was almost "over the top, action star quality", whereas the Prime universe version, while being violent and deadly, was more subtle, and thereby more dangerous. Also, since Into Darkness was in some ways a retelling of Wrath of Khan, the parts that seemingly played homage to such a masterpiece of cinema fell a bit flat. For fans of the original series, the comparison to the original Khan was mostly a pale one that relied too much on previously established material on the character. For fans unfamiliar with that movie, the significance was lost on them. Hats off to Cumberbatch for a strong performance, but the Kelvin Khan just doesn’t measure up to the original.

8. Shinzon (Star Trek: Nemesis) – Another excellent actor playing a villain that did not quite live up to the hype. Tom Hardy takes the role of the discarded clone of Jean-Luc Picard that has killed his way to the top of the Romulan Empire and has now set his sights on destroying the Federation. He is brutal in his methods, wiping out the entire Romulan senate in grisly fashion. His henchmen, the impressive looking Remans, add an almost vampire-like eeriness to things. His ship, the Scimitar, is menacing. His obsession with his Federation counterpart and DNA donor is more curious than troublesome, and this is where he starts to lose footing on this list. While he is tough, complicated, and dangerous, for a significant part of the movie we wonder what he is all about. And not in a “good, mysterious” way, but more like a “why on Earth is he so hung up on Troi” way. Still, he is responsible for the demise of Data, and that counts for something. He almost destroys the Enterprise E, and that is also noteworthy. He just does not come across as complex as some hoped and thought he would.

7. Nero (Star Trek, 2009) – As we go farther up this list, we start looking at what really makes a good adversary. In the first of the Kelvin timeline films, we are introduced to Nero, a troubled Romulan who intends to seek revenge for the destruction of his planet by striking at his enemies in the past. His ship is huge and deadly, but almost too complicated. His motives for what he is doing are intriguing, but here is where I think that, unlike Kelvin-Khan, he was too underplayed. Nero is devious, a killer, and commits some of the most heinous actions in any Trek film by destroying the entire planet of Vulcan. He has a well thought out reason for doing this, but it is hardly touched on. When you watch the deleted scenes from the DVD, we learn much more about the character that makes him a much more effective villain, but since it was all cut from the theatrical release, he becomes a two-dimensional character. All he wants to do is destroy because he is mad. Definitely a more effective villain than the ones previously mentioned, but he could have been so much more. The destruction of Romulus was mentioned almost in passing, and his back story could have done so much more for the character. Sadly, the producers missed the boat with Nero, and he only lands in the seventh position.

6. Soran (Star Trek: Generations) – Veteran actor Malcom McDowell let the cat out of the bag early by revealing that his character, the El Aurian scientist Soran, kills the legendary James T. Kirk in the movie that passes the torch from the original crew to the next generation. In the original version, Soran shoots Kirk in the back. Once fans started to complain about the reveal, reshoots were made that went from having Kirk not die to ultimately dying from a long fall. Again, this is an instance where more back story to Soran’s character might make him a more compelling villain. His motives are more self-centered on regaining something precious that he lost, not caring as to how he regains it. To have improved on his character, it would have been interesting to see the parallel between him and Guinan more fully fleshed out. So why so high on the list? While the Duras sisters destroyed the Enterprise D, it was because they had Soran’s help. He did kill James T. Kirk, which is no small feat, and therefor he ranks a bit higher than the likes of Nero, Shinzon, and Kelvin-Khan on this list.

Haven't seen your favorite yet? Well, stay tuned. My next post will be Part 2!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Episode Review - Retrospect (Voyager, Season 4)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – While negotiating the purchase of an isokinetic canon, Seven of Nine discovers she has strong feelings of anxiety towards the arms dealer, Kovin. As the Doctor attempts to help Seven discover the cause of this, hidden memories of her being assaulted by Kovin surface. As the crew attempts to investigate the truthfulness of these accusations, more questions than answers are discovered.

Score: 6/10 – This is an OK episode that does a lot to develop Seven’s character from the perspective of how the rest of the crew feel about her. There is a little action, but the majority of the episode is character driven. The pace can be a little slow at times, and there is one plot point that sticks in my craw a bit. The isokinetic canon that Kovin is trying to sell them seems like it would be good for the Voyager crew, and despite what happens to Kovin there is no reason that I can see as to why Voyager didn’t get or keep the canon. It would have been a great addition to Voyager’s arsenal, but nothing becomes of it. The weapon was even in the process of being installed at the beginning, but that was the last we heard of it. Everything took a backseat to Seven’s issue. The canon only served to be a plot device to give them a reason to be dealing with Kovin. One of the more interesting aspects about this story is the fact that the truth is never fully revealed. We do not know for certainty whether or not Seven had truly been assaulted by Kovin or if Kovin was innocent. This makes the story less about the assault and more about the importance of finding the truth.

Relevance - 1 point. One point for the Doctor’s reference of the social lessons he has been given Seven.

Continuity - 2 points. The story and universe continuity score points here, but the character continuity takes a hit. I already mentioned the isokinetic canon plot problem, and I just don’t see how Janeway would have let the canon go.

Character Development – 3 points. Big development for both Seven and the Doctor, with some minor development for Janeway. Janeway admits that it is time to give Seven some more leeway, and that she rallied around Seven blindly. The Doctor comes to realize a fault in his programming where he immediately became the convinced that Seven was the victim and lost his objectivity. He even wanted to have the sub-routines associated with his psyche counselling deleted, which Janeway denied. Seven meanwhile is conflicted as she mistakes the trauma she may have experienced at the hands of Kovin, but more by the results of her accusations. Kovin dies in an accident as he tries to flee what he perceives as a personal attack on his reputation, and Seven feels more remorse for him, the individual, than she had for the countless species she had assimilated as a Borg.

Social Commentary – 2 points. On one level one can see this as a commentary on the seriousness of assault. As is typical for Trek, the writers chose to shy away from an actual sexual assault in favour of allegory. The harvesting of Seven’s nano-probes against her will or knowledge can be seen as a suitable violation. While few of us may be able to identify with Seven being a victim of such an assault (at least, I hope more of us have never been assaulted in a similar manner), many more of us are likely able to identify with the Doctor. We hear of something that is concerning or troubling, and we immediately leap to the defense. If it involves someone important to us, all the more reason to make our conclusion quickly so we can support them. Lost in this is often the truth. We live in a world where we worry about the implications first and the truth of the matter becomes a secondary matter. Seven and the Doctor (and the rest of the crew, to a lesser extent) face themselves that their over-zealousness has led to the death of a likely innocent man. While the consequences of our own little crusades may not be life or death, how many people have had their reputation tarnished simply because a lot of people feel that they know the whole story with only a small portion of the details made known to them.

Cool Stuff – 1 point. Kovin was played by Michael Horton, better known as Lt. Daniels in Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. Cool to give him more screen time.

Rank – Lieutenant (15 points). If you are in a hurry and want to watch only key important episodes, then this may be one that you could skip. Otherwise, I would recommend this as a solid outing that touches on some important issues.