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Riker is Down With It

Why hello there,

My name is Commander William Riker and I just want you to know that whatever you’ve got in mind, I am down with it.

Honey, you don’t even know…

Don’t believe me? Well, buckle up.

If I’m your second officer, I commit to going on every away team and running toward the danger. In fact, I won’t let you come along. Even if you do come along, I will do my absolute best to be shot instead of you. “Sure, sure, it’s what every Starfleet officer would do,” you say.

But I’m not done.

Need me to eat something gross? Like, seriously anything? A bowl of wriggling worms? Delicious. Weird alien food? Bring me seconds. I will seriously put anything whatsoever into my mouth, chew, swallow, and smile. My dietary habits are so flexible, I convinced a species of insectoid parasites that I was one of them.

Okay, okay – that’s grossing you out? What about this:

I have no personal space limits or boundaries. You can implant alien organs on my face, send me into a riot, and I promise to have sex with the alien nurse if she’s got a fetish about that shit. I’m not even shy about it. Want me to dress like an idiot? This I will do and have done on many occasions.

My real dad wants to pummel me in a blind-folded stick-fight? I am SO there!

You can pawn me off to some alien warlord as a sex slave, and I’m cool with it.

Want me to live among bloodthirsty violent aliens and sleep on a slab of steel for a month? I’m in.

Got a whole scheme where I pretend to go rogue and work with a pirate crew trying to rip off my own ship? Sounds fun – where do I sign?

Hell, I even play the trombone. In public. Often.

Danger? Don’t even get me started.

Need me to climb inside an experimental spaceship built into an ancient ICBM and go on a ride while listening to Steppenwolf? I’m already smiling, baby.

Is my captain and father figure currently trying to destroy the Earth because he’s an evil cyborg? Give me a ship and I will fuck him UP!

I work with an android who tries to kill us all every couple years or so, and me and him still play poker.

Once I let a twelve-year old fly Starfleet’s flagship and I didn’t even blink.

Hell, I’m so down with whatever you need, I even went and made a separate version of myself who’s running around and being a terrorist and shit. And yeah, I’m cool with that, too.

So yeah, baby – I’m Will Riker, and I’m down with it.

Just don’t give me my own ship, okay?

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Star Trek TNG, Season 3: The Best and Worst

It took me a very long time to make my way through Season 3 of TNG again, but what can I say, I’ve been busy.

Anywho, I finished it a few weeks ago and finally find myself with a little time to give you my picks for the best and worst episodes of the season. Part of the reason I’ve put it off is that the decision on either end is a very tough one. Honestly, none of the episodes were truly abysmal and a great many of them were very, very good. How does one pick from among the episodes “Sarek”, “The Most Toys,” “The Enemy,” “Who Watches the Watchers,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and, of course, part one of “The Best of Both Worlds?” Man.

Well, here’s what I decided. Your commentary and personal preferences welcome:

The Worst: “Menage a Troi”

M-nage-Troi-star-trek-the-next-generation-22011832-694-530

Yep, it’s *that* kind of episode.

First of all, just look at that title. Look at it, I say!

Just a little skeevy, isn’t it?

Well, that about sums up the episode in general: a little bit skeevy. Now, it doesn’t quite go to the lengths of actively offensive, but it flirts with idea.

Synopsis: A Ferengi, Daimon Tog, falls in love with Lwaxana Troi for no particularly good reason, even though she violently and publicly rejects him. No matter – he decides to kidnap her and also manages to kidnap Deanna and Riker, too. Then they fly off. There’s a Ferengi doctor that wants to study Betazed physiology to try and make mind probes or something. You know what? It hardly matters. This is an episode about a Ferengi forcibly abducting and then sexually harassing and assaulting a woman.

Now, the Ferengi are depicted as hopelessly incompetent and goofy and Lwaxana is basically in control most of the time. She tolerates his attentions in order to give Deanna and Riker time to figure out how to escape and signal the Enterprise – they do. At the end, Picard has to pretend to be Lwaxana’s jilted lover in order to force her return. We all chuckle. The end.

The thing wrong with this episode is twofold: (1) The Ferengi are unpardonably stupid at every single juncture and (2) the whole schtick with this episode is a bit creepy. Almost everybody is forced into unwanted romantic and/or sexual situations and they are played off as a laugh. Granted, the Picard bit is funny, but everybody else seems to be cutting the Ferengi a bit too much slack here. This is the episode (I think – it may have been mentioned in an earlier episode) where it is revealed that the Ferengi don’t believe women deserve clothes and, while our heroines are appropriately displeased, it seems like, in the end, everybody’s going to treat this like some kind of ridiculously funny anecdote instead of something that is really, really upsetting. Given how cartoonishly stupid the Ferengi are here, I guess that makes a degree of sense – they are absurd – but still, I feel like this kind of thing should be really bone-chilling.

On a darker note, the episode does make me wonder what the kidnapping/rape situation is in the 24th century. I mean, if you’re a psycho bent on sexual assault, can’t you just beam your victims up from anywhere? That seems to be really, really worrisome – terrifying even. Did Star Trek ever accelerate the creep-factor on this to its rational conclusion? I’m not sure – I don’t think so. Still, it is something that chills the blood.

Except not here because, you know, funny.

The Best: “Who Watches the Watchers”

First of all, an explanation is in order: I did not pick “The Best of Both Worlds, Part I” for two reasons. Firstly, it would be a bit obvious and, secondly, the first part is really just the set-up – the good stuff doesn’t happen until the next episode in Season 4. Perhaps I’ll talk more about it then.

Pretty much what the whole show is about, right?

Pretty much what the whole show is about, right?

Synopsis: The crew accidentally reveal themselves to a primitive culture while observing them for study, leading the primitive people to being believing in a god figure they now call “Picard.” Riker and Troi infiltrate the society to try and undo the damage, but bad things happen. People are accused of heresy. The poor guy on the planet starts begging Picard to bring his dead wife back to life. Crazy pants nonsense ensues. The only way Picard can stop it is by having the prime believer shoot him with an arrow to demonstrate his mortality. Finally, then, they are able to convince the primitive people that they are not gods, but just mortals with advanced knowledge.

I picked this episode from among many other fine episodes this season because I feel it exemplifies what Star Trek is (and should) be all about: the triumph of reason over superstition, fear, and violence. The frustrating Picard feels at being equated with a god is palpable – he is angry and upset over how such a misunderstanding will likely set these people back. They will abandon what they can learn with their eyes and ears and minds for the subjective “truth” of an unknowable god who dictates to them through prophets more likely to be chasing their own personal demons than being in touch with the Almighty.

Aspects of the episode are silly, but the performances are very compelling and the drama very real. It is the embodiment of Clarke’s insistence that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and it shows the lengths one must go to dispel that illusion. I think this episode is right at the heart of what this show was basically about – intelligent beings trying to be the best they can be without needing to fall back on mysticism or hogwash to make them great. I love it.

Anyway, those are my picks. What are yours from Season 3?

The Real Starfleet Captain’s Manual

Congratulations on your new command, Captain! Now, before you begin your sojourn through the cosmos, there are some things you need to know that haven’t been covered in your Starfleet manuals and likely haven’t come up prior to this time. Below is the collected wisdom of captains like yourselves, who have experienced the Final Frontier enough to know how it all works. Read carefully – this might save your life someday.

Take it from me - I became a giant bug!

Take it from me – I became a giant bug!

Directive One: Have a Safe Word

One you become captain, at some point you are going to be replaced by an impostor. Just get used to the idea – it’s gonna happen. The hyper-intelligent gas cloud, alien hologram, or curious Q or whatever will likely be very familiar with your mannerisms and will pull off a charade just convincing enough to prevent being removed from command immediately.

To prevent this kind of thing, just verbally inform your crew of a password (like “potato salad with crotons”) to be uttered to confirm your identity. Make no record of this password in any manual, message, or database. If you have an android on board, don’t tell them. This way, the only way you (or one of your senior staff) can be replaced is by those creatures that can read minds and assimilate memories. This ought to cut down on the rate of impostors by a good 65%.

Directive Two: Screw the Holodeck

I know, I know – crew morale. We’ve all been there, believe me. Take it from us, though: it just isn’t worth it. You should see the reports on this stuff. On simply ships called ‘Enterprise’ alone, there have been dozens of nearly catastrophic incidents related to the holodeck. It takes over the ship regularly, it threatens crew-member’s lives, and it can lock up senior staff for hours on end while they have to figure out the Murder on the Orient Express for the billionth time.

Just get rid of the thing and install a rec room. A pool table, some Ping-Pong, a bunch of board games, and so on. Keep a replicator around to make any and all recreational objects whatever alien needs for his/her/its version of alien foosball, but that’s it. No ship in the history of the Federation has ever been threatened by a Foosball table.

Directive Three: Every Energy Field is Super Important

If your engineer or security chief or Ops officer or whoever mentions to you that they’re getting some ‘odd energy readings’ or ‘a minor systems fluctuation’, we recommend immediately going to yellow alert. Why? Well, probably because an energy alien has just sneaked aboard your ship, or one of your crewmembers has become a robot, or you just entered an alternate timeline, or whatever. It’s always bad, but it wouldn’t be as bad if you guys didn’t spend the next three hours sitting around on your beige couches staring at the view-screen. Get ahead of that shit!

Directive Four: Always Believe Time Travelers

If you meet a future version of yourself, a future version of your ship, or a person who is clearly from the future, believe what they say. Why? Because they’re from the damned future, that’s why! If you went back in time and told some idiot in the 20th century to avoid buying a Pinto, wouldn’t you think he was an idiot for not believing you and getting his face burned off? I mean, why do you even think they’re back here, anyway? Tourism?

Directive Five: Just Play Along With Q

It isn't like you're going to argue him into *not* being a giant douchebag.

It isn’t like you’re going to argue him into *not* being a giant douchebag.

The primary reason the omnipotent Q shows up to bother us is because he thinks we’re interesting. You know why he thinks we’re interesting? Because we always struggle and fight and argue with him. If he shows up and said ‘we are going to play checkers for the fate of the Earth’s Moon’, just say “s’cool – what time?” Watch him get bored and leave. Isn’t that better than spending all that time yelling at a god? I know, right?

Directive Six: Don’t Believe Utopian Societies

They are never utopias. Not ever. They either have some kind of weird disease and are going to steal your children or they’re indentured to some giant evil computer or they don’t know that people can die and will throw your young ensigns off cliffs for fun or whatever else. Repeat after me: I am from utopia, and everywhere else sucks. Again: I am from utopia, and everywhere else sucks. Earth is where it’s at, and keep that in mind when being offered to “join in the love ritual” with some stupendous busty redhead. Don’t buy it. It never works out.

Directive Seven: When You Go On Vacation, Bring a Phaser

Seriously, you should see the logs. Pretty much every time somebody goes on leave, they get kidnapped or attacked. Every. Single. Time. Go armed, at least with one of those little dinky phasers you can slip up your sleeve. You’ll thank us later.

Well, that’s about it. Good luck out there, Captain. Oh, and if you happen to meet the Borg, make certain your crew has practiced running. Seriously, Borg drones are awfully slow.

Star Trek TNG Season 2: The Best and Worst

This weekend I watched the last episode of the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and, as I did here for Season 1, I’m going to give a rundown of the best episode and worst episode of the season (in my opinion) for your enjoyment or, I suppose, rage.

First off, let me just say that the second season was a vast improvement over the first one. Here the show found its stride and started to look more like the Star Trek I remembered and loved, rather than its poor, unsophisticated cousin. Many of my favorite episodes were here, including “A Matter of Honor” (Riker among the Klingons), “Loud as a Whisper”, “The Icarus Factor” (Riker’s dad), and others. Even Doctor Pulaski, who I never much cared for, served to be a pretty reasonable character. Miles O’Brien starts to get lines (though he’s still not much more than a sketch), Worf gets significantly cooler, and so on.

The Worst Episode: “Shades of Gray”

Now, there were a lot of silly episodes in this season to pick from. There’s the one where Wesley falls in love with the shape-shifting pretty girl and her big hairy nursemaid tries to kill him (“The Dauphin”), which very nearly made the list (I remember yelling “Furry Monster Showdown!” at the television screen several times). There’s the one with the space Irish (“Up the Long Ladder”), which was vaguely insulting to the Irish. There was the one where Lwaxana Troi tries to marry every man aboard the Enterprise as a side effect of Betazoid menopause (“Manhunt”). Finally, there was the one where Troi has a mysterious space-baby (“The Child”) and which would have been the worst episode of the season were it not for Worf’s clear desire to incinerate an infant with his phaser, which somehow made the entire episode more palatable (well, at least not everybody is okay with this nonsense).

No, the worst episode, by a nose, is the season finale, “Shades of Gray.”

Synopsis

Observe the spine-tingling action! The suspense! The pathos! The...face sweat.

Observe the spine-tingling action! The suspense! The pathos! The…face sweat.

This should be pretty brief: Riker gets a cut, it gets infected, and then he has dreams. Dr. Pulaski saves him by giving him bad dreams. The end.

I’m serious, that’s it. Oh, well Troi cried, but that’s to be expected – she cries in at least 50% of the episodes.

I have grown used to a world in which the season finale is something spectacular, something shocking and amazing – something that makes me sad the show will be gone for a few months. I forget that such was not always the case in the old days. In some shows, the season finale just meant the writers were tired and didn’t have any more ideas. What are a bunch of overworked television writers to do? Well, run a clip show, obviously. How do you do that? Ah, yes – an extended dream sequence.

So, that was basically it. Riker has a neural infection that is killing him and falls unconscious. While Troi weeps incessantly at his side (seriously, lady, if it’s that upsetting to feel his dreams, LEAVE THE ROOM), Doctor Pulaski alters Riker’s brain chemistry to repel the infection (don’t ask). This means he dreams about stuff. What does he dream about? Well, all the episodes he’s been in during the last two seasons.

This leads to us watching stupid clips from the worst moments of the last two years. Want oil slick monsters? You got it. Want Riker making out with women in knit tank-tops? Check! Want Riker getting beaten up by an old man possessed by a bug? Will do! All of this while the frame plot plods along at a slow pace towards its inevitable, absurd, and predictable conclusion. Riker is saved! Yay! How Dana Muldar and Marina Sirtis were able to stand in that room and spout exposition and technobabble to one another for that long without cracking up is beyond me. Overall, this was arguably the laziest episode of television since that time the producers of ALF pretended to have Alf sub-in for Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and the whole episode was just a long joke about how the pope was in the bathroom while they showed random clips sprinkled throughout the show’s run.

The Best Episode: “The Measure of a Man”

Synopsis

If you don’t remember this episode or have never seen it, you cannot say you are a Star Trek fan with any accuracy whatsoever. I mean that.

Of note, this scene did not play in Riker's memory while he was doped up in "Shades of Gray". We didn't get to see episodes we wanted to see again there, oh no.

Of note, this scene did not play in Riker’s memory while he was doped up in “Shades of Gray”. We didn’t get to see episodes we wanted to see again there, oh no.

This is the episode wherein Data’s identity as a real, living, sapient creature is established in Federation and Starfleet Law. It is a courtroom drama, demonstrating the flaws and elegance of our modern adversarial method of justice while, at the same time, exploring truly profound moral issues that are being and will continue to be debated from now until there is a real Data sitting in a courtroom across from a real scientist who wants to take him (it?) apart. There is nothing I don’t like about this episode. The dialogue is tense, the acting superb, the concept interesting, and the outcome incredibly satisfying. Patrick Stewart gives a stunning performance, delivering his defense with all the subtlety and skill of a true Shakespearean. Yeah, maybe I’m waxing slightly hyperbolic, but I challenge you to watch this episode and not feel the same way.

As we move closer and closer to creating true artificial intelligence, the debate about the rights of such a creature are going to become more and more important to consider. This episode explores the issue deftly and efficiently, and I applaud it for that reason. If you haven’t seen it recently, go and watch it now. If you can’t be bothered, watch this clip:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PMlDidyG_I

I dare you to top that performance. I double dog dare you.

 

Star Trek TNG Season One: The Best and Worst

I finished watching (or, I suppose, re-watching) the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation earlier this week. It was an interesting experience, especially since a lot of these episodes I hadn’t seen since I was nine or ten years old or so. I remember watching “The Naked Now” in 1987, furiously trying to figure out who was the ‘hero’ in this show, since nobody seemed to be cooler than anyone else. I remember that I wound up settling on Riker, since he was the tall white man with hair, and 1980s television had taught me that such men were heroic by default. It was confusing that he wasn’t in charge, though.

What was also confusing to nine-year-old me was what on earth Tasha Yar and Data were going to do in her bedroom.

Anyway, fast forward about a quarter century, and here we are: the best episode and the worst episode (in my estimation) in the first season of this iconic show.

The Worst Episode: “Code of Honor”

Since I want to end this post on the upswing, let’s start with the bad one, shall we? This episode has been called “the worst episode of Star Trek ever made”, apparently. I can see it, since this episode is borderline racist, overtly sexist, and entirely stupid.

Synopsis

Aren't I sexy, with my woman-stealing ways?

Aren’t I sexy, with my woman-stealing ways?

The Enterprise needs a vaccine from this planet to help some other planets with a nasty plague. The aliens on this planet are intended to be like Africans from a semi-traditional African tribal civilization. Sort of. The important thing that comes across here is that all the aliens are black people. Now, this isn’t racist in and of itself (obviously), but the extent to which these actors are portraying a caricature of African Tribal culture comes close. They come off as silly and savage and they wear ridiculous, shiny outfits that look like the stuff a genie would wear.

Then, their leader up and steals himself a woman – Tasha Yar – and gives out an artificial, inauthentic triumphant laugh before beaming down to the planet.

Okay, so that’s silly. Of course, Troi is harping on and on about how that’s their culture and they need to play along with his little game and so on. Granted, it’s probably good that they did just beam up Tasha and then bombard that jerks house with photon torpedoes (peaceful relations and so-on), but still you want to say ‘seriously, Starfleet? We’re going to let this slide?’ This, of course, is why I would make a crappy diplomat.

Anywho, this dude is in the middle of some kind of land-grab attempt that involves switching wives or something (the women own the property, the men run the property). He wants to marry Tasha, since this means his current first wife will challenge her to a duel to the death. Tasha, to her credit, says “whatever, lady – you can have the jackass” to which the woman responds “how can you not love him? Is he not manly and attractive?”

Tasha’s response is “well, obviously I am attracted to my kidnapper, what with his strong manly body and what-not.” Wow. Like, just wow. Somewhere out there, a bunch of young men got a bunch of really incorrect ideas on wooing women. “I know,” they say to their buddies, “if I drug her and throw her in the back of my El Camino, she will totally want to do it when she wakes up in my basement!”

No, 1987 teenage boys. Bad.

There has got to be a better way to do this.

There has got to be a better way to do this.

Anyway, the episode culminates in a ridiculous duel between Tasha and Wife in a maze of neon tubes while wielding what ~amounts to fatally poisonous porcupines on one hand. All around them, the men cheer and hoot as though they’re watching a mud wrestling exhibition at a monster truck rally. At least the episode had the decency of having them wear clothing. As it stands, the fight isn’t so much sexist as it is really, really dumb. Whatever happened to just fighting with knives? Why are they jumping around in a neon box full of weird glowing tubes? What kind of battle scenarios is this planet used to? Do their wars always happen in jungle gyms? If they did, wouldn’t you devise a weapon that you were less likely to kill yourself with? Sheesh.

In the end, everything works out – doesn’t really matter how, does it? The fact is that, while I was watching this episode, I wasn’t sure to what degree I ought to be offended. I mean, if these ‘aliens’ weren’t arbitrarily cast as African Americans, would it feel as racist as it did? I don’t know, honestly. I felt like I was watching some weird offspring of Flash Gordon and a Blacksploitation flick. Not good, Star Trek. Not good at all.

 

The Best Episode: “Too Short a Season”

Now, this episode was a good indicator of how interesting TNG was going to become in future seasons. Don’t get me wrong – the first season of TNG wasn’t terrible by any means. There were about as many solid episodes as there were duds, and much of the silliness could be explained by merely shaking your head and saying “Oh, 1987, you cad, you.” When I think of

Behold the hilarity of Star Trek's patented Old Man Makeup!

Behold the hilarity of Star Trek’s patented Old Man Makeup!

what this show was competing with on television – the likes of MacGyver, Dallas, Dynasty, Hill Street Blues, LA Law, ALF, and Matlock – it stands up just fine. “Too Short a Season”, though, was an episode with legitimate emotional depth and a nice, clean arc.

Synopsis

The episode deals with an elderly Starfleet admiral with a degenerative disease being asked to return to a planet he once negotiated a hostage release from in order to negotiate another hostage release. He beams up with his charming wife and caretaker, and the story gets rolling. Then weird stuff starts happening – the old man starts getting younger, becoming more virile, more like his young, brash self. You can tell he was once a hero of the Federation, clever and resolute.

How is this happening? Well, he’s taken an experimental drug to make himself younger. He hated being confined to a chair, to surrendering to old age, and so he risked the dangerous procedure to make himself strong and ready for the tough task of negotiating the release of innocent people from bloodthirsty terrorists. The cost, though, is alienation from his wife (whom he loves) and very nearly failing his mission.

At the same time as he is trying to become younger, he is also trying to atone for what he did to this planet in question years ago. To get the hostages back that first time, the terrorists wanted advanced weapons. So, he gave them to them, but he also gave them to all the other factions on the planet. He thought this would even things out and keep the peace, but instead it resulted in decades of bloody civil war and the death of tens of millions. By getting younger, he is metaphorically turning back the clock – he is trying to do the right thing this time. In the end, he gives his life for it. No one is pleased, not even the terrorist leader who simply wanted to make him suffer.

This episode had a certain weight to it. It was powerful at moments, and the acting was superb. Though not the best episode in this series by half, it was a very, very good one and showed just how far one could take the ‘morality play in space’ concept.

That’s it for now. When I finish watching the second season (whenever that happens), I’ll do this again, methinks. Anyway, thanks for reading!