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Silverdawn Watches Star Trek For The First Time

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I'm just going to use this topic to talk about my newly established routine of watching an episode of Star Trek every evening. For those of you who haven't seen my posts in the Neverending Thread: I missed the boat on Star Trek; my first encounter with the franchise involved Chris Pine and a Regal Cinema. Owing to my love of classic science fiction and Patrick Stewart, I feel obliged to watch this series for myself. Now that Star Trek is on Netflix, I have an easy way to catch up on a classic series, and I refuse to let an excuse like "Oh, it's seven seasons long, and that's just TNG" dissuade me.

I've finished Season 1. A few miscellaneous thoughts:

  • It's nice to be reminded of a time when television suffered from trashy production values and atrocious acting. I think we've come to expect so much from our media that we've forgotten about the campy charm of a flawed, messy production like Star Trek.
  • Patrick Stewart is a class act. He's so far ahead of every other cast member in his poise and delivery and skill.
  • I'll miss Tasha Yar. Her character was woefully underutilized. So much wasted potential.
  • My respect for Worf grew in direct proportion to my progress into the season.
  • I will never not like Data. He's like the personification of science fiction. Logical, intensely curious, scientifically minded, yet humanistic and philosophical, concerned about questions of humanity and always trying to understand his own existence, but never without a sense of humor or childlike warmth.
  • Season 1 took about 20 episodes to find its footing, but eventually did. The last half a dozen episodes were (mostly) fantastic.
  • Unpopular opinion #1: I didn't like Conspiracy.
  • Unpopular Opinion #2: Blatant racism aside (and a sentence with that kind of opening has to be an unpopular opinion) Code of Honor was an excellent episode, and one of the most structurally sound episodes of the season.
  • Best episode of the season: Symbiosis (22)
  • Worst: "Justice" (8) or "The Naked Now" (3) - TNG's writers have no idea how to talk about sex.
  • Funniest moment of Season 1: "The Big Goodbye" (11) - Swaggering around in a garish new hat, Data seemed to be saying, 'Look at me, Captain; I have a new hat.'
  • Most powerful moment of Season 1: "Heart of Glory" (20) Worf's final argument with Korris is a powerful statement on the weaknesses of warrior culture. "The struggle is within, not without." I've always had a weakness for philosophical warriors.


Season 2 starts Monday. I'm looking forward to it.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Apr 30, 16 · OP · Last edited Apr 30, 16 by Silverdawn
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Season 2: Episode 1 - The Child

Let's play a drinking game. Every time something happens that sounds like it came off a script of Days of Our Lives/As The World Turns/The Maury Show/Jerry Springer, take a shot.

Troi is impregnated without her knowledge by some sort of Space Immaculate Conceiver; she walks up to the bridge and says: "Captain. I'm pregnant!"
/take a shot

"I just want to know one thing. Who's the father?!" -Riker
/take a shot

Emergency meeting. Everyone talks about aborting Troi's baby as if she isn't actually ten feet away listening to the whole conversation.
/take a shot

"Captain, do what you must to protect the crew and the Enterprise, but know this: I am having this baby!"
/take a shot

Accelerated pregnancy has Troi being rushed off to Medical in a few days. She's glowing with maternal charisma. No one seems to notice this is weird.
/take a shot

Data is the surrogate daddy. Riker congratulates Troi and gives her a warm kiss. No one seems to notice this is weird.
/take a shot

Troi plays mother to a child she delivered faster than an Amazon package and she seems like the happiest woman in the Milky Way. No one seems to notice this is weird.
/take a shot
/take a shot
/take a shot
/die of alcohol poisoning

I don't know where the begin with this episode. I didn't hate it. I had too much difficulty believing the premise of the episode was, in fact, exactly as bad as the execution. I've been watching one season of Star Trek, which by now is enough to realize that sometimes, when characters act funny or strange or not like their usual selves, some antagonist is manipulating them.

I expected the eponymous Child to be some sort of malicious alien whose powers included, along with accelerated gestation, a kind of calming, euphoric effect that forces everyone to feel happy thoughts and love him. That would explain the absence of birthing pains* and the mysterious, widespread epidemic of positive vibes passing through the crew. I mean, there's real precedence here. Season 1 opened with the entire crew getting hit by some kind of virus (which I will call the "Party Prion") that makes everyone incredibly drunk and prone to making hilariously foolish Spring Break-esque mistakes that usually end with someone saying "This never happened, okay?"

But, no. That didn't happen. The Child was just a magical being that created itself out of a sense of curiosity, and then disappeared back into empty space after realizing it was Causing Problems, the most serious of which (why?) involved making a container of actually lethal viruses reproduce at a ridiculous pace. The story is resolved before it ever started. Troi's motherhood was life-changing and her 72 hours with her Alien Baby leaves her crying with a sense of loss that no one really understands.

Including me.



*I never thought I'd use that phrase in a Star Trek review.


====

S2E2: Where Silence Has Lease

((NSFW, Language: Silverdawn's response to Nagilum's face showing up on the main viewer.))

There's more to say about this episode. I enjoyed it. There's a lot to like about Episode 2, but first...

What is everyone's problem with Doctor Katherine Pulaski? AV Club reviewers seem to hate her. So do a lot of other fans. Is it because she's not McCoy and not Crusher? I've heard said that Pulaski is too cold, too demeaning, but those qualities make her intriguing. She lacks Crusher's propensity for maudlin sentiment. She is a consummate professional to the point of being, yes, cold. And yes, she is prejudiced. She doesn't understand why everyone treats Data like a human ("Oh my god, it thinks it's people!") -- but that perspective is perfectly valid for: A) A medical doctor with deeply entrenched beliefs about what constitutes a living organism and B) Someone relatively new to space travel.

Pulaski's great. Diana Muldaur gives her a kind of no-nonsense, hard-edged vibe that Gates McFadden lacked. I liked Doc Crusher, but like so many characters in Season 1, she had no clear direction. She was professional and level headed half the time, and then remarkably impulsive and thoughtless the rest of the time. If I had to describe Crusher without mention who she's related to or what she does on the ship, I'd have a lot of difficulty.

Right, so.

Episode 2.

Wow, this was incredibly creepy. And very compelling. It took a little time for me to ease into the basic premise. This is one of those episodes that starts slow, takes its time, and stays slow all the way until the very end. The crew come upon a giant hole in the middle of space, with no detectable dimensions, no visible life forms, no signs of anything at all. It's just a giant void. It doesn't talk to them, attack them (well...), damage their ship, or mess with their heads (well...).

It's just a giant hole.

What could it be? Is it a tear in the fabric of space-time? Is it the remnants of a hyper-intelligent spacecraft of some sort? Is it the metaphorical expression of the giant Tasha Yar-shaped hole in my heart?

No. It's just a giant hole.

The story becomes increasingly compelling as the crew begins to investigate the hole scientifically, determining its weird properties through observation, hypothesis, and testing. The hole-space is really weird. It's warped so that linear travel curves around some invisible space, and they always end up wherever they started. Things get increasingly strange when Worf and Riker beam aboard some kind of derelict ship floating around in the anti-ether, whereupon the strange, non-Euclidean geometry of the Void begins to toy with their heads.

Nagilum's reveal is absolutely horrifying because we've been led to believe this void is devoid of all life, all intelligence, all anything. That it is anthropomorphized merely by its hostility to life, not unlike Gargantua in Interstellar.

Picard's gambit is brilliant, and the way he sees through Nagilum's ruse equally brilliant.

Great story. Great pacing. And--for once--great symbolism. What could be more terrifying than the personification of Death appearing like a great void in space?

"Who are you," said Picard.

"I am Azrael," said the Void.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 2, 16 · OP
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http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0708843/quotes?item=qt0334075

I love the ending to that episode.
Posted May 2, 16
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Season 2, Episode 3: Elementary, Dear Data

Before I begin, is there some kind of secret code to the Captain's Log numbers? Today's was 82286.3, which I assume means August 22 1986, Episode 3, but I'm probably reading too much into this. My reasoning is inductive and not, as Data so keenly demonstrates in this episode, deductive.

I like that Data admires Sherlock Holmes. Admiration is a human quality, although Dr. Pulaski might argue that admiration is merely a programmable concept, an expression of an artificial rapport consequent of pattern detection: Data finds some similarity between himself and Sherlock; his artificial consciousness simulates admiration. This episode is another in a long series of high science fiction dialectics about the question of consciousness and life. Is Data actually alive? Is he capable of making leaps of intuition and understanding the human soul?

This episode was almost one of my favorite Data episodes, but with one serious flaw that took me out of the story and left me rather disappointed. But first, let's talk a little more about Pulaski.

Dr. Pulaski is a fantastic character. She is the first regular character and crewmember who acts as an adversarial foil against one of the main characters. Yes, Picard and Riker are foils of one another, but they get along beautifully. Picard's entire ship gets along. There is perfect harmony between nearly everyone. No serious rivalries, no deep or bitter prejudices. Pulaski is the first (and so far, only) main character to maintain rigid, stubborn, and serious reservations about the humanity of Data. She will never accept that Data is anything more than a simulation of sentience, no more "alive" than the voice in your head that is reading this sentence in an imagined personification of Silverdawn.

To Pulaski, Data only exists as a collection of circuitry and code ingeniously devised to create a self-replicating, adaptive and altogether convincing facsimile of life, but he is no more a computer than the holodeck is actually 19th century London, and that's where the episode takes place.

This is an absolutely brilliant episode hobbled by its own second-guessing. The premise is simple. Pulaski doesn't believe Data can be creative. Data accepts her challenge. Geordi asks the Holodeck Computer to create an "original" work of Sherlockian mystery, but with an adversary capable of defeating Data. The computing power required to fulfill that request is tremendous.

Implicit in Geordi's request that the Computer create an adversary equal to Data is the fact that the Computer itself is equal to Data. The only way the Computer can fulfill that request is by giving itself sentience--or rather, giving sentience to one of its own holographic projections. (By the way, whoever playes Moriarity is brilliant; dashing and sinister and human. I loved it.) The Computer's Moriarty is therefore given some kind of consciousness, capable of understanding that it's in a simulation on a ship floating through space in the 24th century.

There are some seriously mind-blowing questions being asked in this episode. This is the sort of speculation I love to see out of science fiction. Can the Computer create an adversary capable of defeating Data? If that adversary is by necessity conscious, then doesn't it mean that the Computer that created him is also conscious? If that adversary is not human and doesn't have what Pulaski would call a soul, doesn't that mean Data also does not have a soul? If matter and energy are interchangeable, then what constitutes reality in a simulation that changes matter to and from energy?

Unfortunately Data never even tries to solve these questions. He never contends with his Moriarty, never accepts his challenge, never matches wits against him.

There is story logic and writer logic. Story logic is the thing that must happen as a consequence of a series of events. Writer logic is the thing you need to happen for continuity/plot/contract reasons. When Writer Logic overrides Story Logic, the story becomes weak.

Data realizes Moriarty is "alive," and immediately marches out of the Holodeck, holds a conference, and asks the Captain for help. This is Writer Logic. This is the editorial voice of Star Trek stepping in and identifying that Moriarty has now become a Villain of the Week and mus therefore be confronted by Picard, not Data.

Picard has absolutely nothing to do with this story. His role is purely administrative. The moment Data leaves the Holodeck and passes the responsibility of solving this mystery to Picard, he absolves himself of the responsibility of answering Pulaski's challenge and demonstrating his creativity. Instead Picard confronts Moriarty, regretfully informs him that he is in fact a program, and that he must be shut down, and Moriarty just takes it with a smile.

What begins as a fascinating series of questions into the nature of simulation and consciousness--you know, the sort of questions SF should be asking--ends with a tech support answer.

"Have you tried turning it off and then turning it on again?"

Oh well. Next time.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 3, 16 · OP
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wrote:
Season 2, Episode 3: Elementary, Dear Data

Before I begin, is there some kind of secret code to the Captain's Log numbers? Today's was 82286.3, which I assume means August 22 1986, Episode 3, but I'm probably reading too much into this. My reasoning is inductive and not, as Data so keenly demonstrates in this episode, deductive.

I had heard that this was true, but I can't find a source for it.

All the wikis indicate that they were selected semi-arbitrarily within certain parameters.
Posted May 3, 16
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The Stardates aren't actually chosen arbitrarily. In TNG, Stardates always begin on 4, and then are followed by the season number, and then some arbitrary number between 000-999.

So for Season 1, all the Stardates are 41xxx. Season 2 is 42xxx. Season 3 43xxx. TNG ends with 47xxx.

Deep Space 9 starts on 46xxx, coinciding with the sixth season of TNG, and ends on 52xxx, following the same formula as TNG. Voyager starts on 48xxx, which is after the end TNG. In typical Voyager fashion, the writers mess up their usage of Stardates in Season 2 by using a few 48xxx stardates before switching to 49xxx, and even having some stardates out of order in some episodes. However, for the most part, they stick to the same formula, with Voyager going from 48xxx to 54xxx.

Generally speaking, every 1000 stardates is equivalent to a year. It took Voyager 7 years to complete their journey, and their journey took approximately 7000 stardates. For Star Trek Online, we begin on stardate 86088.58, which is approximately 31 years after Voyager, set in the year 2409.

Which means we can now precisely identify the years of the various series. Voyager went from the year 2369-2376. DS9 went from 2367-2374. TNG went from 2362-2369.
Posted May 4, 16 · Last edited May 4, 16 by Lirima Mor...
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and even having some stardates out of order in some episodes.

This part is actually somewhat intended (or, at least, there's an explanation for it). A number of TNG episodes have stardates out of order too.

The idea is that a stardate is derived from astronomical measurements, which will vary based on your location in the galaxy. Thanks to faster-than-light travel, this means that sometimes your ship can generate a stardate that's in the 'past' relative to an earlier stardate.
Quote:
"They marked off sections on a pictorial depiction of the known universe and extrapolated how much earth time would elapse when traveling between given points, taking into account that the Enterprise's warp engines would be violating Einstein's theory that nothing could exceed the speed of light. They concluded that the 'time continuum' would therefore vary from place to place, and that earth time may actually be lost in travel. 'So the stardate on Earth would be one thing, but the stardate on Alpha Centauri would be different,' Peeples says. 'We thought this was hilarious, because everyone would say, "How come this date is before that date when this show is after that show?" The answer was because you were in a different sector of the universe.'

http://memory-alpha.wikia.com/wiki/Stardate#Gene_Roddenberry:_The_Myth_and_the_Man_Behind_Star_Trek
Posted May 4, 16
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May the Fourth be with you. In honor of Star Wars Day, I'm doing two episodes of Star Trek today.

I'm also very tired today (probably because I did two episodes of Star Trek) so we'll keep this short and the rambling to a minimum.

Season 2 Episode 4: The Outrageous Okona

Or, the episode written and directed by Jerry Springer. The episode has the crew of the Enterprise come across Captain Okona, a lone wolf living the life of a spacefaring highwayman. Okona's first appearance has him with his back turned to the view screen showing the Captain his rear end and the story sort of writes itself from there.

Okona is exactly as charming as he is cringe-inducing. He looks like the kind of the guy who'd cite his 18 Charisma as a a pickup line. He spends half his time sleeping with the nameless women of the Enterprise, probably after charming them with his impressive collection of Magic The Gathering cards. This guy looks like he runs the sleaziest comic book store on this arm of the Milky Way. I'm shocked he didn't show up sporting a trillby. I don't think you'd find a more embarrassing misfire of an attempt to write a charming rogue of a man if you checked the Tinder profiles of every blowhard in /r/theredpill.

The only way Okana works as a character is if I convince myself he's not a human but a shapeshifting alien who can only take the form of an outrageous stereotype.

I really really really didn't like Okana.

I really really didn't like this episode.

====

Season 2 Episode 5: Loud as a Whisper

Okay. I liked this episode.

In Loud as a Whisper, the Enterprise meets up with Riva, a pan-galactic eminence-grise made famous for his diplomatic ability. He's also genetically deaf and expresses himself through his Chorus, a triad of interpreters who represent his Id, Ego, and Superego.

The concept is brilliant. I love this kind of science fiction. I love it when Star Trek plays around with its alien cultures, asks questions about their development, presents them in a way that is convincing and subtle. Riva and his Chorus compelled me from the moment I saw them. I loved Riva's confidence. It is natural and understated and everything Okana wasn't, probably because he doesn't himself have a single line of dialog, but expresses himself through three translators. His culture felt convincing. I totally bought everything about the way he expressed rapport. He was diplomatic and suave in exactly the way a mediator should be.

The episode's a pretty slow burn with not much at stake. Riva is so confident in his abilities that we never really get much tension for the first two thirds of the episode. His flirtation with Counselor Troi is understated and believable and actually doesn't insult the character, which is cool. I like the way they manage to establish nonverbal rapport once Riva's translator-wingman decides to leave the two alone for some privacy.

Things go horribly wrong in the last third of the episode. The warring factions with whom Riva was to broker peace attacked him and killed his Chorus. Riva is distraught, outraged, inconsolable, and nearly abandons his mission until Troi manages to talk some sense into him. The story ends with Riva teaching the two warring tribes his own form of sign language, allowing them to communicate with him and with one another. Sign language forces them to listen to one another, thereby fostering some chance for mutual understanding and peace.

This is subtle, thought-provoking science fiction. It doesn't ask big questions about the nature of the universe, but proposes something interesting about the nature of communication and our tendency to talk over one another without ever listening to each other.

It's also one of the few episodes in which Troi genuinely shines in her role as counselor. With empathy and intelligence, she convinces Riva to take up an otherwise hopeless situation and helps him find a solution by looking at his problem from a new perspective.

Solid episode. Really enjoyed it.

Until tomorrow then!
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 4, 16 · OP
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Season 2, Episode 6: The Schizoid Man

The last six episodes of this season seem like revisions on the same concept. Take six writers and put them in six rooms. Give them all the same prompt: "Explore the question of Data's humanity in the plot of a Star Trek episode." Get six different yet thematically related episodes, and that's the story of Season 2 so far.

Schizoid Man feels new and yet not new. So many of the elements of this episode have appeared in one form or another in previous episodes.

Dr. Ira Graves is today's visiting antagonist. Immediately he resembles Riva from Loud as a Whisper in a few shallow, superficial ways: the affected swagger, the sexual confidence bordering on chauvinism, the renowned brilliance. But where Riva carried himself with understated grace, Graves is more than a little insufferable. He will lapse occasionally into bouts of melodrama, but I forgave these eccentricities as (it is explained by the lovely Dr. Selar of whom I want to see more) symptoms of a terminal illness. Graves is a dying man. He spends his last hours talking condescendingly to Data about transhumanism.

It's fairly obvious from the onset that Graves has translated his consciousness into Data's body. Data behaves like an exaggerated version of Graves, all his character flaws amplified to the point of caricature when expressed through Data's circuitry.

I've seen enough Star Trek (well, one season, but that's enough) to know that when a character talks about wanting to cheat death, he will; and when a character does cheat death, he fails.

Graves's digital immortality as a ghost haunting the golem-like body of Data initially thrills him, but inevitably backfires when he finds himself inadvertently hurting people. Data is immensely strong, you see, and Graves isn't used to his power.

There's so much I could have liked about this episode, should have liked--and actually, genuinely liked! Graves wasn't a terrible character. He was compelling enough as a swaggering, full-of-himself blowhard who happens to be a scientific genius. His resentment of Data brings to attention the growing division of opinion about Data: most of the Enterprise accepts him, but outsiders generally do not.

And yet I just couldn't get a handle on this episode. It may be because I've seen all of this before. The episode feels like a pastiche of previous episodes.

We've seen a guy try to cheat death by ingesting an immortality elixir in Season 1--but that's fine. We will inevitably retread old paths in science fiction, because there's a finite variety of questions we can ask.

I think the problem with this episode is in its delivery, not its setup. It plays with high-minded questions and creates a compelling antagonist, but the resolution is unconvincing. Consider this: Graves, a narcissist and (probably) sociopath who shows no real concern for anyone other than himself, and absolutely no concern for Data, whom he doesn't even regard as human is--deeply!--troubled by the collateral damage he inadvertently causes.

This is a man that will gladly rob a sentient android of his agency and infiltrate a Starfleet ship without a second thought to morality or propriety. He doesn't show the slightest compassion during the entire episode. But his handshakes are too firm because Data is too strong and that makes him profoundly and deeply guilty. So guilty that he transfers his consciousness out of Data and into a lone terminal on the edge of the Enterprise.

The ending is only convincing if I believe that his feelings for Kareen are so intense that the thought of hurting her sends him into a downward spiral, perpetuated by his fragile mental state at the time of his death.

Even if that's true, just three episodes ago, we saw this very same premise play out. A holodeck construct of Dr. Moriarty becomes sentient and raises the question of transhuman consciousness. The question is resolved in exactly the same way: by storing Moriarty (and in this case, Graves) in a computer until we can figure out what to do with him.

I don't know how to feel about that. Any resolution would be better than a totally ambiguous resolution.

Anyway that wasn't bad.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 5, 16 · OP
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By the way, I just wanna thank you guys for reading my reviews. This is turning into a really fun daily habit.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 5, 16 · OP
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