Monday, March 11, 2019

Episode Review - The Masterpiece Society (Next Generation, Season 5)

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

Overview – The Enterprise is observing a stellar core fragment and discover that it is about to collide with an inhabited planet populated with genetically-engineered humans. As Picard and his crew discuss ways to save the colony, Deanna Troi forms a romantic relationship with one of their leaders, Aaron Connor. When the crisis is averted, the crew learn that their presence has caused unintentionally another problem among this “perfect” society.

Score: 4/10 – Oh Troi, why can’t the writers find a good romance story for you? “The Masterpiece Society” does try to give our beloved counsellor some attention in the romance department, but the spark and chemistry just do not seem to work here. The character of Aaron Connor is a tad on the dull side, and other than being physically attractive, I am not sure why Troi falls for the guy. The colony of genetically-engineered humans are just a bit too perfect, and they are not very interesting. The story moves along slowly, and it is only when the core fragment issue is dealt with that the interest begins to pick up. Hannah Bates (the first of three Trek roles for actress Dey Young) is sympathetic enough, and Ron Canada (also making his first of three Trek characters) is effective as Martin Benbeck, the representative of keeping the status quo. Even though these two characters are effective, they are unable to bring a lot of interest into the colonists. There are some good points, such as Picard’s debate with Connor, but you have to slog through a lot of boredom to get there.

Relevance – 0 points. This is one of those episodes where they do refer to some things that are recurring themes in Star Trek, mainly the thoughts towards genetically engineered humans. While this is a recurring theme throughout Star Trek, the events surrounding this episode are self-contained. We hear Picard and Connor banter the concept back and forth, but no mention of specific examples are given. In essence one can skip this episode and not miss anything relevant to the overall discussion of this theme, so it adds nothing.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity is intact here, although I was wondering about the likelihood of Troi falling for Connor. She seems to fall for the most unlikely men as apart from being physically attractive, there doesn’t seem to be anything that gives her a reason to fall for him. When I look at her track record, however, I think it fits her pattern. I particularly enjoyed Geordi in this episode, as he gets rightfully defensive about the colony’s attitude towards people with physical imperfections. His glee at the fact that his VISOR technology provides the key to saving them is appropriate. Story continuity does make it, though again I found the relationship between Troi and Connor to be a bit forced. I will also concede a point for universe continuity.

Character Development – 2 points. Troi is the focus, but this relationship does little to advance her character. Geordi also gets some good moments, but nothing that really helps discover things that we didn’t already know. It’s enough to score a couple points here, but that is about it. Again, if you miss this episode, you do not miss much.

Social Commentary – 1 point. The quest for perfection is shown in this colony (well, at least on paper; they really didn’t come across as anything but regular humans). There is also the idea that interaction with cultures external to your own can have unexpected influences. In all there were twenty-three colonists who wanted to leave the colony, creating a large disruption among those who remained. Still, how this concept was discussed really didn’t leave much for the viewer to sink their teeth into, so only a single point can be scored here.

Cool Stuff – 0 points. A dull episode where the most interesting guest characters are foils to a very bland character. John Snyder, who plays Aaron, has a much more interesting character in his first Trek appearance as the Romulan Bochra. I don’t lay blame on the actor for this. I think the character was very one-dimensional and bland, and even the most talented actors are limited in what they can do with a role such as this.

Rank – Ensign (10 points). This is a bit of a turkey episode from TNG’s fifth season. It really does not do enough to make you care about anything until almost the end of the episode. There are some good points to it, so do not give it too much of hard time, but if you choose to skip it, I won’t judge you poorly because of it.

If you would like to read other reviews from the Next Generation, click this 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. 

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Episode Review - Blood Oath (Deep Space Nine: Season 2)

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

Overview – Jadzia Dax is approached by three Klingon warriors: Kang, Koloth, and Kor. They were friends of Dax’s previous host, Curzon, and had taken a blood oath with him to find the Albino, a ruthless villain who had murdered their sons. Dax still feels an obligation to assist her friends in fulfilling their oath but is torn emotionally over the fact that she might have to take a life to do so. While Curzon had no such qualms about that possibility, Jadzia has not experienced that yet. When she discovers the truth about Kang’s mission, however, she is faced with a tough decision that could result in her own death.

Score: 9/10 – One of the DS9’s many strengths is how it was able to reach back to what had come before and successfully incorporate it into its own story. “Blood Oath” is an ideal example of this. Where TNG successfully brought in beloved characters from the past (Sarek, Scotty, and Spock), DS9’s complexity allowed for some really compelling stories. Here we see three former adversaries of Kirk in the form of Kang (“Day of the Dove”), Koloth (“The Trouble with Tribbles”), and Kor (“Errand of Mercy”). Each one is portrayed by the actor who first played them over 25 years earlier (Michael Ansara, William Campbell, and John Colicos respectively), and their characters have taken on the legendary status of Dahar Masters. The story, one of honoring an old oath, gives great depth and development to Jadzia, and it has an almost Three Musketeer feel to it. While this is a story used to develop Jadzia, it is truly a nostalgia tour de force that highlights three popular Klingons from the Original series. There is so much good stuff going on in this episode, from the humor to the action to the emotional gauntlet that Jadzia runs. I liked how they went with the updated Klingon look, and though these men are much older than when they last appeared, they look magnificent and powerful. Terry Farrell does a superb job and truly breathes some life into Jadzia’s character, the results of which will be felt for several seasons to come. The action is gritty and fun, and the Albino makes a convincing villain. Some have wondered if the Albino is also a Klingon, and there are some interesting comics and novels that add to his background. It is the mystery of the Albino that is the source of what is really my only criticism of this episode. I would have liked to know a little bit more about him to help make his involvement more impactful. That is, in truth, a very minor critique, and the episode as a whole is definitely a strong one. It is one of those stories that showed viewers that even in the second season, Deep Space Nine meant serious business.

Relevance – 3 points. That you take three popular Klingon characters from the Original series, update their look, and in two of their cases give them a glorious death in battle is more than enough to score a point here. Kor, the sole survivor of the three, will go on to appear in two more episodes of DS9, so that will score a point as well. This also marks a major development in Jadzia’s character, explaining a lot of Dax’s history with Klingons which becomes integral to much of the future’s Klingon storylines in the series. Full marks for relevance with this episode.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity is most intriguing here. Minor details, such as Odo showing a casual attitude towards Quark’s safety, are fun. Jadzia turning to both Sisko, her mentor, and Kira, someone who has had to kill before, makes a lot of sense for her. That she does not take the killing of someone else lightly is very appropriate for Jadzia. Sisko’s and Kira’s responses are also right in line with the characters. Story continuity works well here, with the writers providing us sufficient details in the dialogue to help us understand how these three Klingon legends fit into the current Trek universe. Speaking of universe, the fact they went with the (at the time) current look for Klingons helped secure the point here. Yes, the look of the Klingons has changed since the days of Kirk and Spock, and, as Discovery has shown us, they will continue to change. They could have gone with the classic look, but that would not have fit. Good thing Enterprise would provide us the reason for the different looks.

Character Development – 2 points. As previously mentioned, this is a major turning point for Jadzia. Her closeness to Klingon culture is established here, and lots of background to her character is provided. It is in this episode that the concept of Jadzia, the warrior, is fleshed out. Her intimate knowledge and experience with Klingons will go onto playing a key role in Klingon-centered episodes like “Way of the Warrior” and “Soldiers of the Empire” and gives a lot of weight behind her romantic relationship with Worf. Having said that, much of the focus is on her Klingon friends, and the rest of the main cast are only used to further the story. In fact, three main characters (Bashir, O’Brien, and Jake) do not even appear in this episode. This means that I can only award two points in this category.

Social Commentary – 2 points. How does one prepare themselves to take the life of another? To what extent does loyalty to friends and promises made to them supersede one’s personal integrity? These are two questions that this episode asks. Jadzia has, as far as we can tell, never killed someone in close combat before. She has to come to grips with that as she also has to find it within herself to honor the blood oath her former host made. It had already been established both in this and previous episodes that the actions and responsibilities of a previous host do not carry forward, but for Jadzia this extends beyond the host and taps directly into the symbiont. Jadzia is torn between her loyalty to Starfleet and her loyalty to her friends. For many of us, we can find ourselves in similar situations (although it is unlikely to involve life-or-death outcomes). A test of such loyalty can be a defining moment for us, and often we do not escape the situation unscathed.

Cool Stuff – 2 points. Take three popular adversaries from fan-favorite episodes that aired a quarter-century ago. Have the original actors reprise those roles while adding depth and background to their stories. Update them to the current look of the species they belong to, and you get a very cool moment indeed. I am also scoring a point for the Albino. While I do think they could have added more to his character, his look and demeanor were very cool.

Rank – Admiral (21 points). DS9’s second season was markedly stronger than the first, and this is a prime reason as to why. For fans of the original series, we are given a gracious and generous dose of nostalgia. For fans of action, we are given some great hand-to-hand battles. For fans of Dax, this is a must-see episode. Add to that the return of Kor in future episodes, and you get a wonderful episode.

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.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Episode Review - Day of the Dove (Original Series, Season 3)

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

Overview – The Enterprise is responding to a distress call from a colony located at Beta XII-A. Upon arriving at the planet, they find no evidence of a colony ever existing. To compound the issue, a Klingon ship soon arrives, also responding to a distress call and heavily damaged. Kang, the Klingon commander, captures Kirk and his party, during which Chekov reveals an intense hatred towards Klingons for the death of his brother, Piotr. Upon returning to the Enterprise, the Klingons are captured, and the survivors of their ship beamed aboard. Soon the Klingons attempt to take control of the ship, and mysterious circumstances leave an equal number of Starfleet and Klingon officers on the ship. Bladed weapons such as swords appear and soon the two crews find themselves in a bloody conflict. As they fight each other with neither side able to gain the advantage, a strange ball of energy seems to be the root cause, feeding off the negative emotions from the two groups.

Score: 8/10 – A strong episode that introduces the character of Kang, one of the more popular Klingons from the original series that will appear in future episodes of Deep Space Nine and Voyager. He is portrayed by Michael Ansara, a brilliant actor who embraces this role with great energy. The story has action, humor, and suspense and delivers all of them in a well paced manner. It lives out the dreams of many of us who like the man-to-man conflict scenario of having equal numbers of soldiers fighting hand-to-hand. The energy entity behind all this is a clever special effect that feeds on strong, negative emotions such as hatred. There is a lot of good stuff in this episode that I will cover throughout the review but suffice it to say that this is a classic episode for a lot of reasons. I did find the ending to be a bit lacking in its delivery, but overall this is a memorable and entertaining episode.

Relevance – 2 points. Scoring a point for the introduction of Kang, one of Star Trek’s most popular Klingons from the Original series. He is a formidable adversary for Kirk, and it appears from their dialogue at the beginning of the episode that the two are already familiar with each other. It would have been interesting to have explored that backstory. I am scoring a second point for the mention of the Klingon-Federation peace treaty. I am not certain if it is referring to the Klingon war that was shown in the first season of “Discovery” or the Organian-imposed peace treaty, but there have been more than a few peace treaties between the two forces.

Continuity - 3 points. Everything checks out in this category. Story-wise the plot makes sense and follows a simple yet well-executed plan. Universe continuity works. Once again, Kirk has trouble with some pesky energy-beings that he has to find a way to outsmart. Finally, the character continuity is good. Some may argue that Chekov seeking revenge for a fallen imaginary brother violates it, but it is established that he had been manipulated by the entity and was given false memories. It is also significant to note that much of the crew’s abnormal behavior is due to the alien influence, most notably McCoy’s thirst for violence. We even see flashes of bigotry from Kirk and Spock due to the alien’s influence. While their outbursts are deemed unusual, what is fitting to their character is how the respond when they come to the realization as to why they are behaving in this way.

Character Development – 2 points. Kirk naturally gets a great deal of attention as the captain of his crew. It is he, as well as Spock, that figures out what is really going on. We see him exercise compassion and daring trust to achieve a solution that will save both crews. He makes one of the strongest pleas for peace while at the same time readies his troops for combat. I also liked how Scotty was given a few shining moments and glimpses into his psyche. He seems to appreciate good quality swords as he is drawn to a Scottish claymore in the armory and uses it as his main weapon.

Social Commentary – 3 points. The seemingly never-ending parade of violence in much of our media is addressed here. I cannot help but wonder if the energy alien cannot be a representation of ourselves at times. We love violence. We crave it in some cases. We cannot seem to get enough of it from our choices in entertainment. We create stories that revolve around it, and like the alien we sit back and soak it all in. While Kang and Kirk have every reason to distrust and dislike each other, they eventually come to the conclusion that their petty differences need be tempered, or they will face a mutual destruction. Peace is the best solution, something that even the war-loving Klingons understand.

Cool Stuff – 3 points. The special effect for the alien is cool for its time, and while it may not have aged as well as other effects, it still manages to look cool and is effective in its use. I also like the character of Kang, finding him on par with the likes of Khan as a powerful adversary. He is cunning and wise. He knows when to call a truce and he knows when to fight. Much of the effectiveness of this character lies with the fine job that Anasara did in his acting, and it is nice to know that we will see Kang again in the future. I also have to score a point for the sword fight sequences. Yes, it is evident that these sequences were from the 60s and lack the finesse that we have become accustomed to in today’s world, but it is still an effective battle sequence that is fun to watch.

Rank – Admiral (21 points). An excellent episode that delivers likely the most action from the series. It delivers on all levels and gives us the legendary Kang, a formidable opponent for Kirk. We are taught the value of peace and get to see yet another cool energy alien. What more could one ask for in an episode?

If you would like to read other reviews from the Original Series, click on the link 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.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Short Treks - Season 1 Review

As the second season of Star Trek: Discovery is right around the corner, we fans have been treated to something new in the form of what is being called “Star Trek: Short Treks”, a series of four stand-alone short episodes that gives us little snippets of the characters we have come to love since Discovery began. The episodes are around the 15-minute mark and give us a quick tale that (so far) has had no impact on what is happening in Discovery. Season 1 has given us four tales, each one focusing on a specific character from the show. I thought I would take a little look at these mini-episodes and give some thoughts on them.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about these mini-episodes. Discovery has a flaw for me, and that is I miss having episodes that can stand by themselves without having to be a big part of an over-arching story. This is something that I have come to accept as how television in general has evolved over the last couple decades, but it is something I miss in Trek. Short Treks remedies that to an extent. You don’t miss out on the overall story of Discovery if you don’t see these, and they are a bit more reminiscent of some of my favorite Trek episodes. The production quality is quite good, the stories have interesting premises, and each one gives us a bit of a surprise by the end. Each has a different flavor to it, which should appeal to a wide variety of fans. Where it doesn’t quite work for me is that these are so short that developing a character or telling a very compelling story fully fleshed out is difficult to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, they are good stories, and since we know something about most of the central characters it doesn’t leave us confused, but at the end of each story I was left with the feeling of “That’s it?”. In some cases, it felt rushed and thereby left the story unnecessary for me. In others, I wanted to know more, which could be a good thing. Let’s look at each one and I can give more specifics on them.

Episode 1 – Runaway

It seems fitting that the first episode revolves around who many have labeled the heart of Star Trek: Discovery. Ensign Tilly has just had a frustrating conversation with her mother over her life choices, and she heads to the mess hall to unwind and lower her stress levels. There she meets and befriends a strange teenaged alien named Po. The two bond and learn some valuable life lessons before Tilly learns that Po is destined to become the queen of her people. It’s a quaint little story, but as I mentioned earlier, it is so short that when it is finished, I couldn’t help but think “So what?” The story is not very original, doesn’t make you think about things much, and it’s over before you can really invest emotionally in it. Again, it wasn’t a bad story, the acting was great, and the character of Po is fascinating in her look and background, but the tale is done so quickly that I just felt a bit underwhelmed.

Episode 2 – Calypso

This story is the first new Trek since Star Trek: Nemesis to occur in the future. It is a distant future, and the character we have come to know is the Discovery herself. We are introduced to a new character, Craft, a human soldier that has been adrift in space for a long time and is picked up by the Discovery. Discovery is run by its AI unit, named Zora, and she develops feelings for Craft. As the two bond, we learn that Discovery has been abandoned for centuries, making us wonder what happened to the ship. Unlike “Runaway”, we are given this unanswered question as something we can think about, speculate on, and therefore it stays with you longer. Again, it was over quicker than I would have liked, and again I felt that the story could have been stretched out more to leave me feeling more satisfied, but at least here there is more meat for us to chew on. There are a lot of questions that this gives us, such as what happened to the Federation, what is the status of humanity, and why is Discovery by itself for so long. I would say that I am a bit concerned for the future of humanity given this little snippet, and hopefully we are not all doomed as science-fiction trends seem to be showing us, but “Calypso” does tell a charming tale of two characters brought together for a period of time. I liked the Betty Boop and Fred Astaire footage that were used, and overall enjoyed this episode a lot.

Episode 3 – The Brightest Star

Here is the episode I was most excited about. We are given the origin story, as it were, of Saru. We see his home world of Kaminar and meet his sister and father. We are given insight into the Kelpian people, and learn that their prey-status has more to do with ritual than ecology. Saru finds himself at odds with his father and society when he chooses to not be a part of the ritual and works on some recently discovered technology. He uses it and contacts an alien culture, whereupon he meets Lieutenant Phillipa Georgiou of the USS Shenzhou. That was a nice connection to Discovery. I enjoyed this episode a lot, but again felt that a few added minutes to further investigate the Kelpian culture would have been nice. I am a big fan of Saru’s character, and was pleased to see where he came from. What I truly appreciate in this episode is that it gives a good explanation as to why Saru is the only Kelpian we have seen in a Trek series. It makes sense that such a race would be constrained to their home planet, so those who are sticklers for canon adherence should be satisfied with that little bit of information. This episode left me wanting more, but in a good way. I want to see more of Kaminar and what befell Saru’s family. Maybe we will get some of that in future Discovery episodes.

Episode 4 – The Escape Artist

Ah, Harcourt Fenton Mudd. I have really enjoyed Rain Wilson’s take on this classic character and the many hat-tips to Mudd’s roots in the Original Series are greatly appreciated. As Mudd is handed over to a Tellarite bounty hunter, we are given a recap of many of Mudd’s misadventures. Issues with Klingons and Orions are shown, and Mudd is trying his best to fast-talk his way out of all of them. The big reveal at the end, that the Harry Mudd we have seen in this episode is actually one of many Mudd androids that the real Mudd is giving to bounty hunters, is such a classic move by this scoundrel that leaves him even more endeared to us fans. This is the perfect story for Mudd, and Rain Wilson does a great job as both the star and the director. 

Overall, Short Treks biggest failing for me is that the episodes are what they say they are: short. I think each episode could have benefited from having them stretched out more. I like feasting on good story-telling, and Star trek rarely disappoints in that regard. With these episodes, I feel more like I am given a light snack with little to really chew on or grow with. I do not think that was the intent of this mini-episode anthology series, so I cannot hold a grudge against them for being exactly what they say they are. The episodes are fun, quirky, and each has its own unique feel to them, so that works. It’s nice seeing the stories that we do. Some, like “Runaway”, add very little, while others, like “the Brightest Star”, give us some depth to significant characters. Overall, I am happy with the offering for what it was, and if anything, it left me hungry for more Discovery.

Here's to a (hopefully) successful second season.