Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Episode Review - Fallen Hero (Enterprise, Season 1)

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

Overview – The Enterprise, en route to the planet Risa for some much needed shore leave, is sent to Mazar to escort a disgraced Vulcan ambassador, V’Lar, back to Vulcan. V’Lar is also a hero to T’Pol, and displays very unusual qualities and mannerisms for a Vulcan (such as shaking hands and engaging in idle conversation with others). As T’Pol learns that her once idol is not what she had hoped she would be, the Enterprise is attacked by rogue Mazarites, who are intent on killing the ambassador. As V’Lar remains hesitant to share the details of her mission with Archer, the danger levels rise. Soon, Archer must decide between the safety of the ship and the safety of one of Vulcan’s most distinguished diplomats.

Score: 8/10 – I really enjoyed this episode, mostly due to the character of V’Lar. One of the many criticisms of Enterprise at the beginning was that the Vulcans seemed too arrogant to be allies of Earth. V’Lar causes that point to be turned, and Archer begins his journey to trusting Vulcans (or, at least, some of them). This also showcases the growing closeness between T’Pol and Johnathan. We are also treated to a wonderful performance by Fionnula Flanagan as V’Lar. She previously played one of Curzon Dax’s former lovers in the first season of DS9 and the “mother” of Data in the final season of TNG. We get some “firsts” in this episode. We have the first mention of Risa (it will take the crew two whole episodes to get there), the first Vulcan salute on Enterprise, and the first time the ship reaches Warp 5. Some of said that this is another typical “diplomat runs amuck” story, but that is far from the truth. Instead of a disgraced diplomat, we see a wonderful character examination paired with a high-stakes dangerous mission that increases the excitement of the story. There a few odd things in this episode, mainly a lack of originality with the Mazarite make-up. Overall, though, this episode is a strong showing for the first season of Enterprise.

Relevance - 3 points. Definitely scoring a point for Risa. Fans were wondering if we would encounter this pleasure/vacation planet that was first introduced in the Next Generation episode “Captain’s Holiday”. We would visit the planet, but only after another delay in the next episode. I am also going to score a point for hitting Warp 5 for the first time. There is even a little homage to Scotty when Tucker informs the Captain that he’s giving it all he can. Final point is scored for the acknowledgement of the growing respect and friendship between Archer and T’Pol. While this may not be the strongest relationship on the show, it is a vital one.

Continuity – 3 points. Story wise, everything is by-the-book with the truth being dished out a little at a time, complete with a bait-and-switch hoodwink resolution to the dilemma. Universe continuity is in check here as well. Character continuity is especially interesting, as we see T’Pol be challenged by her beliefs towards one she thought of as a hero and icon. She struggles with the disappointment that she feels in how V’Lar behaves, yet ultimately is able to stand up to her and use logic to convince her to trust the captain. Everyone else acts as they should, especially Archer. As he grapples with choosing between his ship and a Vulcan who is again hiding something from him. I especially like in this episode how Admiral Forrest is willing to defer to Archer’s judgement on the matter as it is Archer who is out there in space in the middle of the situation. All on point.

Character Development – 3 points. T’Pol definitely has a lot of development. For much of the first season she has been almost prudish in her insistence on the superiority of the Vulcan way of doing things, and then along comes her hero V’Lar, who is shaking hands and acting much more human that anyone expects. T’Pol is thrown for a loop, but is eventually able to reconcile. Archer also makes some needed progress. He cannot go the entire series with a distrust of Vulcans (no matter how deserving they may be). It is this episode that we get to see those walls break down a bit as, finally, a Vulcan authority reveals the truth of her top-secret mission and demonstrates that she is willing to sacrifice herself if it ensures the safety of Archer’s crew. That he chooses to first trust and then save her is a big step for Captain Archer. As mentioned before, this episode is where we truly start to see the blossoming friendship between the Captain and his science officer. It may not be the Kirk-Spock story that we see in the original series, but it is important to the series overall.

Social Commentary – 3 points. How do you handle disappointment in those you hold in high regard? That is a good question. As of the writing of this review, our society has recently experienced a plethora of accusations of sexual harassment charges against the likes of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., and many others. Many people are looking at some of their heroes in entertainment and politics as being less than inspiring these days. It is not unusual. As I learn about the lives of many that I admired for most of life I am unquestionably discovering that they are far from perfect. When I learn of marital infidelities, power-hungry abuse, and other unsavory elements of the likes of Jim Henson, Bill Cosby, and even Gene Roddenberry himself, I have had to settle those within myself. Sometimes, it happens quickly without much angst. Other times, it is difficult to accept the mounting piles of facts. Once in a while, I discover that my standards were being held at an unreasonable height. Regardless of which, as we see with T’Pol in dealing with a hero who is acting in a way that goes against T’Pol’s perceptions, we can learn to accept that things change and that sometimes it is us that suffers the most from our disappointments. We need to learn to let go of the hero-worship and move on with our lives, allowing ourselves to be disappointed. We don’t have to condone their behaviour (and in many of the cases about sexual abuse that are coming up now, we shouldn’t even come close to condoning them), just be prepared to have our heroes fall from grace.

Cool Stuff – 1 point. I must score a point for the ruse that Archer and his crew uses to fool the Mazarites who are intent in killing V’Lar. Most crucial to this is V’Lar’s appearance in the sickbay entrance after the rebels think they have killed her, showing Flanagan’s ability to portray sassiness as only a Vulcan can.

Rank – Admiral (21 points). Fans of Fionnula Flanagan definitely want to see this episode, as it is her strongest performance in all of her (to date) Trek appearances. She makes V’Lar a force to be reckoned with. The story is both compelling and exciting and we see two of our characters take some much needed steps in their development. Likely one of the brightest spots of the first season of Enterprise.

If you would like to check out my other episode reviews for Enterprise, simply click here.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Episode Review - Defiant (DS9, Season 3)

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

Overview – Kira, under stress from her duties, is ordered by Doctor Bashir to take some R and R time. As she settles in at Quark’s to begin her “treatment”, she is met by Commander William Riker of the Enterprise. As the two spend more time together, Kira offers Riker a tour of the station, including a visit to the Defiant. On board the Defiant, Riker and Kira finds themselves alone. When Kira activates the main computer on the bridge, Riker stuns her and takes over the ship with the help of some Maquis members. Back on the station, the crew are contacted by Riker about a potential warp-core breach. As the station’s crew allow Riker to pilot the ship safely away from the DS9, the ship suddenly goes into warp. The crew soon learn that it was not William T. Riker, but Thomas Riker who was created during a transporter accident several years ago. Thomas Riker had grown disenfranchised with Starfleet since his return to active duty and was a suspected Maquis sympathizer. Upon contacting Gul Dukat and informing him of the development, Commander Sisko soon finds himself on Cardassia, assisting Dukat and the Cardassians in locating the Defiant and stopping Riker. As the hunt continues, more mysteries begin to surface, putting both Sisko and Dukat in a delicate situation.

Tom Riker removes his clever disguise

Score: 8/10 – Wow, what a way to bring Johnathan Frakes into Deep Space Nine. I thought that this was a brilliant idea and was wonderfully executed. The wonderful twist of having the Riker in question be Thomas Riker is a great continuation of the TNG episode “Second Chances”. The fun thing about this twist is that since it is William T Riker, all bets are off and the survival of Thomas Riker is not a sure thing. There are some humorous moments at the beginning of the episode as see Kira breakdown the way that we sometimes want to at work (or maybe we sometimes do). I also appreciate how Bashir takes command of her meltdown and gives her an order to have fun. It’s nice to see Kalita again, as we saw her previously in the episode “Pre-emptive Strike”. There is also the interesting insight to Cardassian politics, with Dukat realising that there is more to the Obsidian Order than they let on. This almost side-story of Sisko and Dukat having to team up to not only catch Riker but to sidestep the interference of the Obsidian Order representative (played with delicious sass by Tricia O’Neil, her third Trek role). Most of all, this is a story of Thomas Riker, who shows that like is identical “twin” William, is a masterful and crafty strategist. How he was able to charm his way with both Kira and Sisko, and he was even able to bluff his way out of not remembering Dax. Of particular note, I thought that the biggest problem with his plan was how to deal with Chief O’Brien, who knew Commander Riker very well. If anyone was going to spot the ruse, it would be Miles. Thomas (via the writers) handled it perfectly by pretending that the two of them had a huge falling out. It took the good-natured Chief off his game enough to get him out of the picture, wondering in bewilderment how he had offended his friend. It threw us fans for a loop as well, which is how effective the writing and acting was. Where the episode comes up a bit short was the romance between Riker and Kira. It seemed a bit out of place and out of character for Kira, but more on that in a moment.

Dukat receiving a briefing on a new threat

Relevance – 2 points. The purpose of the Obsidian Order Fleet in this episode will be made clear in the future episode “By Inferno’s Light”. As of this episode, the Obsidian Order was forbidden to have a fleet, so the revelation of it was a shock to Dukat. We learn later that this is a fleet being built with the sole purpose to wipe out the Founders. Of course, we must score a point for continuing, and likely concluding, the story of Thomas Riker. There are a few stories that I wish DS9 could have followed up, and Tom Riker ranks near the top for me. It is unfortunate that we do not see if Kira ever keeps her promise to free him, and it appears that the door is open for a follow up, but it was not meant to be.

Continuity – 2 points. Story continuity checks out here. Everything in Tom’s plan makes sense and is well executed. Universe continuity also checks out, especially with regards to the Obsidian Order and their secret covert operations that are absent from the knowledge of the ruling government. Where I am going to have to deduct a point is Kira. I must be honest that it is very unlike her to fall for Riker in a romantic fashion while she is in the midst of a relationship with Bariel. Some may say that she got caught up in a combination of the heat of the moment and Riker’s charisma, but that conclusion is very contrary to her core character. Kira is fiercely loyal, and as compassionate as she is, I just don’t see her giving a condemned Riker a goodbye kiss out of pity.

Character Development – 2 points. Kira gets a fair bit of attention here, as does Sisko (Ben Sisko, of course, as Jake does not appear in this episode). Sisko gets some great insight into what is going on within the Cardassian government, especially a sense that not every aspect of it is in sync as Dukat would have him believe. This episode also gives Sisko and Dukat a chance to work together, and the give and take negotiations that they engage in at the end shows Sisko’s diplomatic skills. Kira, as I mentioned, is a little out of character in how she falls for Riker, but we still see her determination and resolve on full display here. She uses her drive and reason to help Riker come to a proper resolution of the situation. Some of the irony in her tale here is that she starts off being stressed, ordered to relax, and because of it ends up in an even more stressful situation. I think, most of all, it was fun to watch her totally lose it on everyone at the beginning of the episode. I know I have had days where all I wanted to do was put my foot down everywhere at the same time, I just never went that far. Good thing Julian pulled her back from the edge.

Kira receiving her treatment

Social Commentary – 2 points. Thomas Riker is a character that many can relate to. He was left behind, forgotten, and then when he learns that his world moved on without “him” (but instead another version of “him”), he is struggling to find his identity. In “Defiant”, the episode title is not necessarily a reference to the ship he steals, but instead his attitude to a society that he just cannot seem to find a place in. So he leaves Starfleet and joins the Maquis, and almost pulls off a major victory for them. Ultimately, he discovers that he still wants to be a Starfleet officer, as evidenced by his actions. So while he is defiant to the organization that he was once a part of, his defiance is really to himself, the William T. Riker who has had a much better go of things. While many of us who have been dealt a bad hand do not turn on their society and rebel, we do understand the allure of doing so.

Prepare for the unexpected

Cool Stuff – 2 points. Thomas Riker played by Johnathan Frakes is definitely a highlight here, so I score a point there. This was a perfect story for him, and the twist at the beginning was well built. I also had to score a point for Tricia O’Neil making her third appearance. Her distinctive voice is perfect as Korinas, and she plays her with a delightful wit. Her first character, Captain Rachel Garrett of the Enterprise-C, is still my favourite of hers, but I really enjoyed Korinas.

Rank – Captain (18 points). It would have been so nice to see the story of Tom Riker followed up on at some point, but without counting non-canon sources, there is little we can do but imagine what might have been. Still, even without the follow-up, “Defiant” is a solid episode that is full of fun, adventure, betrayal, and intrigue. It’s always good to see Frakes in front of the camera playing Riker, whether it is Tom or Will.

If you would like to read other reviews from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, please click the following link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do.