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Surprise, the X-Files is Still a Confused, Unwatchable Mess

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Nostalgia is a hell of a drug.

The passage of time convinced a whole bunch of people that bringing back the X-Files would somehow reset it back to the show it was originally and not the confused, unwatchable mess it became in its later seasons.

How was that supposed to work anyway?

Nostalgia filtered out the terrible mess that the X-Files had become and people remembered the good stuff. But they brought back the zombie corpse of the X-Files to shambling life. Instead of the good stuff, they got more of that final season in which nothing made sense and nothing mattered and everyone was just phoning it in.

Is there any universe in which that wasn’t going to happen?

Star Trek got a second act in movie theaters because it acknowledged the passage of time, brought in new people and switched mediums. Without that, you got Star Trek the Motion Picture or Star Trek Phase II or the first season of TNG. The TNG movies were just more of TNG’s terrible final season made by most of the same people.

The X-Files just picks up where it left off. And where it left off was terrible. That’s the way it is for most shows that drag on for too long and lose whatever energy and craft made them work.

But don’t worry. The good folks at ScumCo Inc. will just reboot the X-Files just like they’re doing to 24 because audiences are so retarded and studios are so nervous that every intellectual property has to be rebooted so it can be kept around for all time.

Or at least until Generation X finally dies.

Roddenberry Sucked, But No One Else Made a Successful Star Trek Series

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William Shatner has found another way to extend his career with the Chaos on the Bridge documentary.

As everyone knows, TNG had a shaky start. As everyone also knows, everyone involved hated Gene Roddenberry.

Fine. Roddenberry was by many accounts an ass. By many accounts most of those taking shots at Roddenberry, including Shatner, were also asses who were difficult to work with.

We’ve had the myth that Roddenberry didn’t have much to do with the success of TOS. And of course he didn’t have much to do with the success of TNG.

So why is it that no one else has been able to make a successful Star Trek series?

All those amazing TNG veterans. The guys who really made it work flamed out with three spinoff shows, DS9, Voyager and Enterprise alienated fans, went into the ratings basement and have mostly been forgotten except by niche cults.

We’re still talking about TNG. Is anyone going to be doing a documentary about DS9’s first season or Voyager’s last season or what the hell happened on Enterprise? Maybe Tim Russ will get around to it.

Roddenberry wasn’t a good writer. But he was a good showrunner. Some of his ideas were stupid, but he could put together a Star Trek show that would talk to people and still be popular long after it went off the air.

Rick Berman, Ira Steven Behr, Ronald D. Moore, Brannon Braga couldn’t make a Star Trek series that would do what TOS and TNG did. Maybe one day someone else will, but right now the franchise’s TOS legacy is being milked by Abrams. And when that’s done, it’ll be back to square one with a franchise no one knows how to move forward.

But if Gene Roddenberry were here and younger, he would have.

Roddenberry had his faults, but he wouldn’t be sitting on his ass making documentaries about how everyone else sucks.

Immortality and Star Trek Insurrection

The entire plot of Star Trek Insurrection (a Starfleet Admiral in some secret conspiracy with a race of bad plastic surgery people to secretly evacuate a race from an immortality planet to process their immortality particles) if an immortality potion hadn’t already been invented in an earlier movie. Wrath of Khan.

The Genesis Device turned out to be a crappy way of making new planets, but a great fountain of youth. Fire off a Genesis torpedo into an genesis devicearea with some debris or gasses, then shoot some torpedoes full of old or dead people into the area. Recover the torpedoes and you have your own immortality machine.

Not true immortality. Just a reset for a few decades, but that’s all the Briar Patch in Insurrection was offering and this could be repeated over and over again.

Without the Vulcan ability to back up and restore minds, reviving dead bodies and plugging memories into them wouldn’t work. But by TNG there was technology that could do that for humans out there. We saw it in use. It didn’t work too well plugged into a computer or even into Data, but shooting a body into the area, recovering it before it becomes a baby and uploading the memories might work.

Even if it doesn’t. There’s still a way to extend life by decades. Memories would be lost, if the de-aging process followed a biological pattern, but plenty of eighty year olds might accept losing forty years of memories. So if immortality was really on the agenda, it was available.

The only hitch is that everything involving Genesis was classified, but Starfleet had the information. If they wanted to use it, they didn’t need the Briar Patch.

 

Now With 40 Percent More Whoosh

What Gene Roddenberry wanted most of all was to remaster Star Trek TNG for Blu-Ray and add better special effects. Who knew?

Ok, he might have liked the new special effects, unless he hated them, mostly he would have understood the business side of keeping up sales for the old series, selling people who have them on DVD or VHS, the new Blu Rays, and getting a generation that’s used to better quality effects to buy this stuff.

But somehow I don’t think Roddenberry’s first reaction to a world with no Star Trek series on the air, because the TV exec who replaced him had trashed the franchise in three increasingly unpopular series, and a Star Trek movie that senselessly trashes his universe, would be to admire the improved renderings of the creatures in “Encounter at Farpoint.”

To give credit where credit is due, the whole campaign has been nice and the theater releases will be the closest thing to something that feels like a Star Trek movie that there has been since The Undiscovered Country. And that’s a long time. Stewardship is something and Gene would probably have appreciated that.

But polishing up old episodes for resale and turning over TOS to be remade as an action movie are just admissions that Star Trek is dead and there’s no way to move it forward. The recognizable characters can be milked for all they are. We’ll get a bunch of young Kirk and Spock movies, until they stop making money, but we’ll never get that young Picard movie because it just wouldn’t work.

But the power of TNG was that it showed that Star Trek was more than Kirk and Spock, that it could be extended to other characters, starships and times. Polishing up the old footage is a waste because it ignores what TNG really accomplished in transcending the limitations of stewardship.

 

How will we know for sure when Star Trek is dead?

How will we know when Star Trek is really and definitively dead ?

People often talk about Star Trek ‘dying’ but even in human beings
death can be ambiguous especially when the patient is in a comatose
state as some might argue is the state the Star Trek franchise is
currently in. There’s brain death, there’s the inability of the major
organs to operate on their own and so on and so forth.

Since with Nemesis we’ve witnessed what is likely to be the death of the film portion of the Star Trek franchise and blows to the book and various merchandising divisions of Star Trek along with the usual TV ratings decline, it does seem like a timely question to ask.

Let’s project a not entirely implausible scenario here.

Flash forwards to ‘May 2007’. Enterprise has been on the air for five years and like both of its predecessors suffered increasingly declining ratings until it was no longer the No 1 show on even UPN. UPN announces that unlike TNG, DS9 and Voyager; Enterprise will not run for 7 years but will end after its fifth season. Rick Berman tries to soften the blow by claiming that Enterprise had a five year mission and the storylines will be wrapped up after 5 years but nevertheless it can’t help but be seen as a cancellation. Berman makes some noises about another spinoff maybe on cable but a year or two go by with no action on that front. Berman meanwhile has moved on to another project as has everyone associated with Star Trek but they do promise that they will come back if another show ever happens. But that looks increasingly less and less likely.

Will Star Trek be considered dead by this point?

Optimists will argue that Star Trek didn’t die when TOS was cancelled and that it will recover. In the meantime they will point to the occasional Star Trek novel and fanfic as proof that the fan culture is still alive. Pessimists will claim that Star Trek died a long time ago. But from a practical standpoint Star Trek will be as dead as Sliders or Babylon 5 or Earth 2 which also have thriving fan cultures but no television shows still continuing on to base them around. And for the mainstream, Star Trek will be considered permanently dead. And worst of all for the large number of Star Trek fans who have never bothered watching any of the spinoffs over the last ten years, it might as well be.

The thing is of course that such a scenario is not very farfetched. Neither is the possibility that ViacomCBS will decide that the fifth network was nonviable and finally fold up the tent leaving Star Trek with its high budgets with no prospective cable home. At some future date in time a cheap ‘retooled’ version of Star Trek might be launched into syndication by Paramount to cash in on its license but considering the botch that has been made of even the existing versions of Star Trek, it’s better not to imagine what such a show might look like. (Think Andromeda or Starhunter and be very frightened.)

And as Star Trek’s death becomes a more realistic possibility, we’d have to ask what event would finally be unanimously considered Star Trek’s death? For me Star Trek was born on television and if it is gone from television, it is dead. Those fans more committed to fandom and the social life of fanfic and conventions might believe that Star Trek is alive as long as fans care about it and involve themselves with it. Other fans believe that Star Trek was only alive when it was popular and that when TNG ended, so did Star Trek. There will likely be many answers depending on the individuals and their particular relationship to Star Trek. But it would rather nice if things were such so that the question wouldn’t have to be asked at all…

Why Nemesis is worth your time and money – Pro and Con film analysis

Besides falling victim to a film release schedule that was the
equivalent of shoving a poodle into a meat grinder, Nemesis also
likely fell victim to the studio’s own hype. Hype to which no movie,
not even the original Wrath of Khan could have lived up to. The result
was that audiences went into the film expecting something really
amazing and left disappointed. The public availability of the Nemesis
script also undoubtedly spoiled key moments for fans while raising
expectations for scenes that ended up not making the cut.

No Nemesis is not Wrath of Khan for the next generation, ironically
enough in part because it compulsively borrows from Wrath of Khan, but
it is the best of the TNG films and since it may well be the last TNG
film that means quite a bit despite the shortage of quality among its
competition.

It is not a great film but it is a good one. It’s not flawless, it’s
not a movie that’ll have you flashing back to key scenes for months
afterwards or calling people on the phone and insisting they go see
it. But then few movies, in SF or outside it, make that grade. Nemesis
on the other hand is a fairly decent sendoff for the crew and the
series whose Trek heart is in the right place, it has some touching
moments and a decent script and I didn’t check my watch once while I
was watching the movie (not counting the previews or the ads.)

Are there flaws, plot holes, poorly structured narrative due to cut
footage and any number of other objections that critics and fans have
raised? Sure. But then no movie is pure in that department. Not even
the holy grail of Star Trek filmmaking itself. STII.

Wrath of Khan contains a scene that features Scotty holding a dying
cadet in his arms, which due to footage being cut makes no real sense
as we never find out the boy is his nephew. As to poor continuity,
Checkov and Khan recognize each other even though they never met on
the series. The Reliant is on a science survey that’s studying a
planet down to its most microscopic lifeforms, yet fails to notice
that one of the planets is missing and that the planet they’re
studying is a different planet entirely. But while fans jump on those
kinds of goofs during the first viewing as time passes, they fall away
and it’s the meat of the movie that matters and not its mistakes. Time
forgives the foolish errors of aging films and the mistakes that once
seemed to important and the issues that seemed like such a betrayal of
expectations don’t end up mattering that much ten years later.
Especially as Nemesis is now increasingly likely to be the last TNG
film and probably the last Star Trek film ever made and will come to
be viewed fondly in that context.

Indeed while Nemesis works hard to be Wrath of Khan, it comes closer
to being The Undiscovered Country, a bittersweet sendoff, a conspiracy
hidden within a diplomatic mission, the possibility of growing peace
with old enemies and a sense of hope for the future overshadowed by
the harsh knowledge that today’s victories hold the germ of tommorow’s
defeats.

So no Nemesis is far from perfect as I’ll go into detail further down,
but it’s the best of the TNG films and likely one of the best Science
Fiction films you’ll see in a while. Certainly better than the only
one of the trailers for a SF film that ran before Nemesis, which
essentially amounted to Armageddon at the earth’s core complete with
gratitious devastation of cities that some faint hope might have
suggested Hollywood would shun after the all too real devastation on
an American city not long ago.

Think of Nemesis in that context. In the context of 500 more idiotic
SF thriller, monster and disaster films that were made and that are to
come. Think about the fact that despite the most optimistic
predictions people have been putting forwards even now, the prediction
I made months ago that Nemesis would have the worst opening of any
Star Trek film ever has held up. And the news will only keep getting
worse from here on it. I’m not calling on anyone to go see Nemesis
because it’ll improve STN’s numbers and save the film franchise,
nothing can likely do that now. But it is almost certainly the last
film and it’s worth seeing it on the big screen, if only to say
goodbye to the franchise and goodbye to the last of Star Trek that
Gene Roddenberry had a hand in creating.

Now comes the analysis complete with spoilers for pretty much
everything. If you don’t want to know them, don’t scroll down any
further.

(Note that I still haven’t read the original script for Nemesis and so
I won’t comment on what might have in the script but was left out)

– The bombing scene at the start places its emphasis on the shock
value which is meant to propel viewers into the movie and grip them
from the beginning but since none of the players are familiar, the
lack of development makes this scene more gory than shocking, let
alone engrossing. The key assasination is carried out by a woman we
never even hear speak again on behalf of a figure we’ve yet to meet.

A smarter approach would have been to show a more fleshed out version
of Shinzon’s flashback in the mines under the tagline ‘X Years Ago’
that would have shown Shinzon as a boy and developed Viceroy a bit by
showing his kindness to the human boy and the conditions in the mines
at the start. It would have also shown the Reman aversion to sunlight,
their oppression by the Romulans and Shinzon’s history without the
need for some of the clunky exposition that comes later in the movie.

Then cut to ‘Present Day’ with Shinzon being honored for his military
exploits (which would have eliminated more clunky briefing room
exposition that many critics have objected to) making the offer to the
Senate and then proceeding to assasinate them as before. While this
would have prematurely hinted at Shinzon’s identity, the previews and
the trailer had revealed it anyway and this would have built suspense
for Shinzon and Picard’s first encounter.

It would have also given the entire premise of Shinzon seizing power
on Romulus credibility, which was thoroughly lacking in the actual
film as we have no real idea how Shinzon got out of the mines and
became a prominent military figure, let alone what he and the Remans
could offer the Romulan Empire as the Commander proposes to the Senate
since the Remans are slaves and Shinzon is an officer of the Romulan
fleet, making the entire idea of an ‘alliance’ sound quite odd.

A nice touch would have also been to have Shinzon declare himself
emperor, rather than preator. It would have extended the comparison
with Napoleon and the idea of the Romulan ‘Empire’ having an Emperor
again.

– The wedding toast is pleasantly handled and it features some of the
most human behavior from the crew in the movie, which unlike the
ridiculous Generations boat scene doesn’t feel forced in the least.
More crew participation would have been nice but it’s still a natural
scene that feels more like the cast roasting each other, rather than
their charachters.

Worf is still being played for laughs but this time it’s at least a
step up from Klingon puberty and the joke is a bit more respectfull of
the charachter and offbeat enough to work. And suggestive of the idea
that Worf might be drinking because it’s Deanna’s wedding which is
about as close as the movie comes to refferencing that relationship.
And it again reinforces the viewer’s memory of the song which ends up
serving as a key plot point. And that’s another way that Nemesis is
disgintuished as a proffesional script, as opposed to the earlier TNG
films. Even if you don’t like the joke, it’s still there to serve a
purpose.

Still a bit too much of the emphasis is on Picard and it might have
been a good idea to focus on Riker and Data a bit more. This is a huge
transition for Riker and he has few lines that involve anything
personal that might give us some insight into why he finally accepted
a command of his own and seems ready to settle down at last.

– By contrast the repeated joke about Betazoid nude weddings on the
bridge is awkward and completely unnecesarry and does end up treating
Worf like a buffoon again or a punching bag as most of the TNG movies
have.

Contrary to what Ebert claimed, the actual process of locating the
readings is not a collection of technobabble. And if Ebert who claims
to be an afficianado of Science Fiction can’t distinguish ‘Positronic’
which was the key element in all of Asimov’s robot stories not to
mention seven years of Data’s portrayal on TNG, then he really is the
imbecile his lazy and unproffesional Nemesis review makes out to be.

– Like Insurrection’s shuttle chase scene, Nemesis squanders time and
money on an unnecesarry action scene here. The process of finding B4’s
parts is handled well enough, though director Baird seems to have
overcompensated for all the shadowed scenes in the rest of the movie
by oversaturating the desert scenes to a ridiculous extent. The ATV
though wasn’t necesarry, neither was the chase scene. Both added
nothing to the movie, did not impress audiences, had no real purpose
and wasted time and money better spent elsewhere. Nemesis might have
done better and come in at a lower budget if it had avoided pointless
action scenes like this one resulting in extra FX sequences and
location shooting.

– The message from Admiral Janeway is surprisingly enough handled
fairly well, setting aside the plausibility of Janeway giving Picard
orders and the idea of the Sonaa being considered on a level with the
Borg or the Romulans.

– Data’s interaction with B4 has some key moments which resound later
in the episode, but at the moment they do come off a bit weak and
Spiner chooses to play B4 a bit too far into the idiot cousin of the
family mode to the point that he’s quite irritating.

– The confrontation with Shinzon is a bit too theatrical and the
weakest scene between Hardy and Stewart in the film. Shinzon’s costume
also emphasis how skinny he is in comparison to Perlman’s bulky
costume and even Stewart’s padded uniform which makes Shinzon look a
bit ridiculous. His scene with Deanna doesn’t work either. It probably
should have been handed to Viceroy instead who actually does the
penetrating and on whom Deanna gets her revenge.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – These Are The Voyages

Synopsis: Riker looks to the NX-01 Enterprise crew to help him make a decision as ENTERPRISE and STAR TREK itself comes to a close.

star trek enterprise these are the voyagesReview: It’s been a long road getting from there to here. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION was the second ST series revived when it seemed impossible. It was widely popular and highly-rated. ENTERPRISE is the last ST series; it is not remotely popular or highly-rated. The gap between them seems difficult to imagine and “These Are The Voyages…”, no matter how well-meaning, finalizes the process by turning ENT into a footnote in a minor ST:TNG episode.

It is hard not to feel a sudden sense of joy and homecoming when the holodeck’s yellow lines light up and Riker walks out of Enterprise and into the Enterprise-D corridor, and we feel as if we’ve never left. There is something homey and comforting about TNG, there always was. The spacious ship, the genial crew, the comfortably carpeted rooms. It’s the place to come home to and at the end it’s where ENT’s producers came home to.

Blalock and others are right to feel cheated. “Voyages” is not an ENT episode, not in any meaningful sense. It might have been intriguing at any other point in the show’s history, but as a finale it is a dismissal of ENT. The touching final seconds of the three ships, and what is undoubtedly the best and most moving part of the episode, suggest an equality that was never there. The original series and TNG were successes, whether for creative or commercial reasons, ENT is a failure. When Riker and Troi leave and the audience with them, before Archer begins his speech, it is meant to be a touching note that speaks of an unfinished series; but it carries a note of dismissal too. We go off with the TNG characters and leave ENT’s behind. Indeed “Voyages” reduces ENT and its crew to nothing more than characters in a holodeck simulation whom Riker and Troi can switch on and off at will.

ENT deserved to end with a grand episode like “Twilight.” It at the very least deserved a decent send-off and though “Voyages” attempts to suggest that this is about Enterprise’s legacy, it is actually nothing of the kind. “Voyages” does a poor job of wrapping up anything about the Enterprise crew. Trip is killed by a clash with a gang of idiot robbers who board the ship. It’s hard to imagine a sillier way to kill off a character. T’Pol does some of her best work in the episode unlocking her emotions, but even Archer and most of the rest of the crew have little to do and less to look forward to.

STAR TREK VI closed an era with peace with the Klingons, ST:TNG ended with the salvation of the universe and the reconceptualization of time, ST:DS9 ended with victory over the Dominion and Sisko’s ascension, VOYAGER ended with a catastrophic battle with the Borg. But what does “Voyages” end with? A speech we never see? A Federation we are not even given the chance to see come into being? The culmination of Enterprise’s journey is not a story about the building of the Federation; it is a story about fighting space bandits. Riker marching through a holographic recreation to get answers about duty and orders seems more like something VOY’s Naomi Wildman might have done, accompanied by Tuvok.

Furthermore, the plot makes little to no sense. Archer complains about the cost of exploration that took Trip’s life but it wasn’t exploration that killed him; it was Archer using the Enterprise to intervene in a private criminal dispute. Riker goes to learn and decide whether his higher duty is to his Captain or to the Admiral and learns the value of personal loyalty from Trip’s example but really did Riker need to wander through a holodeck simulation of the NX-01 to figure out personal loyalty to Captain Picard after all these years? More importantly is that Enterprise’s legacy, not in its accomplishments, but in the personal loyalty of the crew to Archer? Was there any other ST series that this could not be said of?

All of ST’s finales have been sad but they were leavened by crisis and confrontation and some transcendence. Captain Kirk sailing the Enterprise to the second star on the right after confronting his demons and ideals and emerging rejuvenated from them. Picard entering the room to play poker in order to solidify that bond with his crew for the future. Kira confronting her new role in running DS9. Voyager finally returning home to be greeted by a waiting fleet after Janeway has torn apart the future and the Borg for her crew. All of those had a clear message: this was worthwhile and this isn’t over yet. “Voyages” struggles but fails to offer any such message. The crew can muster little but a sad apathy at the future. It is over and they know it and the writers know it and we know it too. Archer gives his speech and we live because it would be too hard to bear this final goodbye.

In “All Good Things…”, which “Voyages” not so cleverly references, the future destroyed the past in a paradox that defied cause and effect. ENT too is a paradox, a show set in ST’s past produced in the future. It has also completed the final task of destroying ST. Not because it was a thoroughly awful show — ENT had brilliant and memorable episodes. But never enough. And so it goes out not with hope for the future but a sad resignation; not with a bang but a whimper.

STAR TREK, though, lives on. All things that live must die but ST has left behind a great legacy that continues to blossom today. When we look up at the stars and see Klingons, Vulcans, Romulans and Tholians among them, ST continues to dream on inside us. When we find our fingers drawing apart in a Vulcan greeting by force of habit, that too is the product of hundreds of hours of a TV show we watched, memorized and loved.

ST has had a great and noble legacy. The first space shuttle was named Enterprise. The shuttle fleet is being retired now to make way for a crew exploratory vehicle that will take us to the Moon and Mars and beyond. It will be Earth’s first true spaceship. It seems somewhat appropriate that STAR TREK’s death, the passing of a wonderful fictional series about space exploration, comes in the dawn of the birth of a new era of real space exploration here on earth.

If ST was a dream that fired men’s souls to see the stars, to walk among strange new worlds; then perhaps we have woken from the dream and are moving closer to the reality. And when man does step foot for the first time on a foreign star, the engineers and scientists, the astronauts and visionaries whom ST inspired will have helped to make it happen. That is its true legacy and ours.

Next week: the Future…

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Divergence

Synopsis: Columbia and Enterprise team up to rescue Phlox.

star trek enterprise divergenceReview: In retrospect, it seems as if “Divergence” and “Affliction” would have made stronger episodes if they were aired together as one large two-parter, the way some TNG and VOYAGER episodes have been in the past. While it’s an entertaining episode, “Divergence” is following up on far too much of the plot “Affliction” set into place to be as strong on its own.

Columbia’s rescue of Enterprise is probably ENT’s best use of ship and character-based special effects since “Minefield” and arguably surpasses it. It also has the sense of adventure and excitement that ENT has been sorely lacking for some time. Indeed the scene is spectacular enough that even on its own it’s likely to be remembered for some time.

Phlox, arguably the show’s best character and who has been all too often neglected, has gotten a much needed focus in “Affliction” and “Divergence” and it seems fitting that he is the one offering the ultimatum to the Admiral, rather than Archer. Not just because using biological weapons seems a bit of a stretch for Starfleet (though not so much of one considering “For The Uniform”) but because it lets Phlox shine in a completely unexpected scene that would have been a cliche had it featured Archer.

Trip’s sulking is, however, still tedious but at least it’s understated now and for once we actually get to see why he’s considered a great chief engineer in one of the more exciting engineering crisis scenes since Scotty was drinking and powering up warp engines on the old Enterprise (no bloody A,B,C,D or E). This is all the more of an accomplishment considering ENT’s rather boring warp engine, which unlike the spectacular lava lamp engines of TNG and VOY is really nothing to look at. The Director of the episode also appears to be experimenting with smash zooms that are somewhat cliched as a technique but bring a little life to the action scenes.

The sense of galactic politics and scale isn’t nearly as strong in “Divergence” with a lot of the material losing steam along the way and becoming reduced to individual character conflicts. Still, Reed’s moral dilemma is well played even if it’s not quite as gripping as it should be. The plot involving the Klingon general and his son is as hopeless as Archer’s brow ridges. Archer, meanwhile, once again in two months risks his life to expose himself to a virus for the greater good. There simply have been a few too many stories in which Archer is ready to give his life in suicidal actions and it’s almost as if he has a death wish by now.

Archer’s role in the episode is really nothing too spectacular, especially considering that his best moment of the episode involves talking to his dog. Bakula himself may look back proudly on his ENT acting days if he chooses to, but the scene of him writhing with the virus won’t be one of them. Instead it’s one of the unintentionally funniest bits of the series. His brow ridges though seem like a nice TOS reference to James Kirk’s Romulan ears, left over from “The Enterprise Incident.”

And it is scenes and references like that, which tell you that even if Manny Coto’s season four doesn’t always get it right, its heart is in the right place and so is “Divergence”‘s spirit. While the episode falters in places it is ultimately a work of love and a valentine to STAR TREK. It should be remembered as one.

Next week: Temporal incursions better known as reruns.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Affliction

Synopsis: Columbia’s launch coincides with Phlox’s kidnapping and an unfolding disaster in the Klingon empire.

Review: If you close your eyes for a moment you could almost imagine “Affliction” as part one of ENTERPRISE’s pilot, a pilot that might have been and might have fueled a stronger and better STAR TREK series. Instead, it features the launch not of Enterprise but of Columbia, the younger sister and rather than being the pilot, it is one of the show’s final episodes – as the promos now trumpet with glee-like excitement.

star trek enterprise afflictionIf Season four will be remembered for nothing else, it will be for finally paying attention to STAR TREK continuity and making a good faith effort to be not the new and edgy and hip STAR TREK Berman and Braga tried to make it, but a portrayal of the years leading up to the original series, to Enterprise NCC-1701 (no bloody A, B, C, D or E) and the universe as it was then. If ENTERPRISE will be remembered for little else, “Affliction” will likely go down in the fan record books as finally solving the great Klingon dilemma and the racial gap between TOS Klingons and TNG Klingons in a clever and plausible way.

ENT’s relationship to continuity has often been downright abusive and while season four has not always gotten it right, it has done what no other STAR TREK series has done since TNG and shown affection and respect to the original series that started it all and made an honest effort to follow in its footsteps. It is perhaps not surprising that it was thanked with the same treatment meted out to the original series of being shunted to an unpopular time slot and then cancelled. But unlike the Original Series, whose third season was often dismal and disappointing in comparison to its earlier work, ENT’s season four cannot be accused of that and episodes like “Affliction” are a large part of the reason why.

Reminiscent of the larger-scale galactic episodes of TNG and DS9 that seem to have almost forgotten, “Affliction” sweepingly moves from earth to the Klingon Empire, from Section 31 to the Augments, from the intimate depths of Trip and T’Pol’s minds to the scope of galactic threats and counterthreats and the birth of a new Klingon race. “Affliction” is in many ways what the “United” trilogy should have been but wasn’t. It also admirably fits the characters into the scale and scope of galactic events. From Hoshi’s mindmeld to T’Pol and Trip being drawn together even from far away to Phlox’s moral dilemma and that of the Klingon doctor instrumental in bringing him there, to Reed locked in a physical cell and the moral cell of his conflicting obligations; the characters are not left out nor are they saddled with makeshift threats as was the case in “United.”

Like TNG and DS9’s O’Brien, Reed is a man of duty with a black and white view of the world. DS9’s strongest episodes often came in testing O’Brien by pitting his black and white loyalties against the grayer universe that forced him to do immoral things such as in “The Assignment.” Reed’s strong sense of duty combined with his black and white view of the world causes Section 31 to be a far more tenacious test for him than it ever was for bumbling Bashir.

Meanwhile T’Pol’s mental abilities are expanding with a mind meld to Hoshi that is almost casual and then drawing Trip and even Hoshi into her mind. Despite being set up in “Observer Effect,” Hoshi’s martial arts are still unbelievable but overall good use is made of her. Meanwhile on Columbia, Captain Hernandez is proving to be a credible Captain and Trip a better engineer when he abandons the histrionics and concentrates on doing his job. All too often it was hard to grasp why with his complete lack of professionalism Trip had the job he did, “Affliction” reminds us that he’s actually good at something beyond yelling and throwing fits.

The Klingon response to the Augments is both logical and resolves the long-standing contradiction of two Klingon races. The core idea of genetically-engineered Klingons is not all together original, but the solution and its integration are. At least ENT will be remembered for bringing the Klingon races together and bridging one of STAR TREK’s more enduring gaps;not between its period and that of TOS but between TOS and TNG. All in all, “Affliction” is a strong beginning for what hopefully will be an even stronger conclusion.

Next week: Archer gets ridged.

Star Trek Enterprise episode review – Babel One

Synopsis: Enterprise is sent to escort the Tellarite ambassador to a peace conference with the Andorians only to find themselves in the path of a mysterious ship sabotaging the talks.

star trek enterprise babel oneReview: “Babel One” looks set to be the first episode of the first great three-part series, not only in this season of ENTERPRISE but of STAR TREK as a whole (which admittedly is not that difficult since there isn’t all that much solid competition.)

Many of “Babel One”‘s elements are admittedly not original. The peace conference and the enemy out to sabotage it for example are a staple of STAR TREK. STAR TREK VI’s plot, for example, hinged around a peace conference and a staged attack using a prototype cloaked ship. ENTERPRISE’s own pilot, “Broken Bow”, revolved around Enterprise transporting a Klingon home while being ambushed by Suliban with special abilities. So did the season’s closing episode.

But discarding the question of originality, “Babel One” is a strong episode that sets out the relationships between the alien species that will make up the Federation, features strong characters, decisive moves by Archer, cinematic quality direction, top notch special effects and a story that moves quickly and efficiently. Despite its status as a prequel to the Original Series and an episode that focuses heavily on Original Series species’, including some we barely ever saw outside TOS, in many ways “Babel One” more strongly resembles a TNG episode. Indeed in its focus on diplomatic measures and alliance building, the conspiracies of the Romulans and the blend of humor and suspense makes “Babel One” far closer to TNG than any other series.

The camera work on “Babel One” at times moves into gimmicky range and is rather flashy but it’s also enjoyable to watch especially during some of the Andorian fight scenes or Shran jumping down to the deck from above. The special effects are also excellent. The angle of the Tellarite shuttle’s arrival is well done. Romulus is simply spectacular and the Romulan ship is massive and eerie in a way that suggests cinematic quality effects. Even the production values are well done with the Romulan ship’s corridors appropriately spooky and alien.

T’Pol is flat this week again, though she really is given little to do, but the rest of the cast turn in solid performances. Archer is edgier now, and seems more willing to snap at Trip. Trip and Reed are recovering their relationship again and the actors play off each other cleverly and naturally. There’s even a reference to “Shuttlepod One” in their banter. The one weak note is struck by Brian Thompson, best known from the X-FILES, who is hired primarily because of his size. Whatever menace he has is ruined however whenever he opens his mouth and he is rather unsuitable for a Romulan commander, as Romulans are expected to be clever and devious, rather than large and bombastic. Thompson would have worked well enough as a Klingon, but as a Romulan he’s the dumb kid trying to play 3D chess.

From the clever Hoshi and Archer dialogue training at the start of the episode (though does Archer really need Hoshi to teach him how to insult people?) to the introduction of the Tellarites, the episode moves smoothly to intrigue and suspense and revelation. It’s simple and yet ENTERPRISE’s past seasons are littered with episodes seemingly incapable of mastering cohesion or style. Jeffrey Combs as Shran is an always welcome character and while his relationship with Archer is still often acrimonious, he clearly is letting his guard down more. Archer for his part clearly has a certain camaraderie towards Shran despite their endless clashes. It’s a good thing too, as a character that has often come off as a weak and unprofessional Starship Captain.

Shran reveals that like Archer he was also the commander of the first ship of its class and his revelation about Talas seems to tie in with Archer’s own possible thoughts about T’Pol. And aside from telling us more than we needed to know about Andorian mating practices, this is the only weak point about the plot. T’Pol mentions that her ‘divorce’ from her non-husband is official and now suddenly her status is up in the air again. Reed seems to know that she and Trip had something together, though it’s not clear how. Long after that storyline seemed to have been dropped, Archer is displaying an interest in T’Pol again. The camera angles in their scene together as Archer asks if “they’re moving too fast” are a particularly odd touch.

Of course T’Pol had left her husband in “Kir’Shara” yet suddenly ENTERPRISE has defaulted back into its old folly of ‘There’s Something About T’Pol.’ STAR TREK has not had a good history of crew relations. ENTERPRISE has had a thoroughly awful one. While some may pine away for the glory days of season three when T’Pol began losing her mind and giving Trip massages to help him stop stressing over the few million dead back on earth or “A Night in Sickbay” in which Archer worried desperately over his dog and T’Pol in that exact order of importance, the rest of us would rather watch reruns of Welcome Back Kotter translated into Norwegian than another painfully contrived attempt at romance. Let alone some abomination such as a storyline in which Trip and Archer fight over T’Pol. Personally I’d rather sit through The Passion 2: The Christening than Archer and Trip yelling over which of them will have the chance to spend the rest of their lives annoying each other to death. ENTERPRISE has an opportunity here, to explore interspecies relations minus the innuendo. Hopefully it will not waste it again in the hopes of luring a few fans with yet another pointless relationship or T’Pol in skimpy outfits. It did not work in season three or any other season. It will not work now.

“Babel One” is a strong episode at a time when ENTERPRISE desperately needs one. It contains many of the basic ingredients that can save the show and can make itthe series it was meant to be, about building the Federation and bringing us into the era of Captain Kirk’s Enterprise. Many people accuse critics of Enterprise of hating the series. I cannot speak for everyone but I hope that ENTERPRISE survives. I hope to see a fifth season and a sixth one after that. I don’t believe that will happen, though, without improvements in quality and without a shift in focus. “Babel One” is what ENTERPRISE needs to be doing if it is to have a fifth season.

STAR TREK is a great universe and it would be a terrible shame for it to die here and now. Much as when the fictional Enterprise is in peril, the power to save it lies with the writers. They can decide ultimately if it lives or dies by working hard enough and well enough and making the right choices to save the series. Ultimately it is not the fans or UPN who will keep ENTERPRISE alive, it is its writers. People like Manny Cotto, Mike Sussman and Andre Bormanis among others have shown they’re capable of producing good and even great episodes. In their hands rests the future of the franchise.

Next week: Archer vs Shran, but where’s the referee?

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