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Silverdawn Watches Star Trek For The First Time

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Data is something of a theme with the first dozen or so episodes in Season 2. It culminates in one of the best episodes of the entire series in episode 9.
Posted May 5, 16
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I'm enjoying reading them. Not only are you refreshing my memory of shows I haven't seen in decades but you are providing a more thoughtful context for them than the "I am sitting in front of a screen for an hour while images happen to me" that is frequently my TV experience.
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Posted May 5, 16
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I went to see Civil War today, on a whim, and the theater tends to give me a mild headache which usually lasts through the day. So I am writing this under the duress of a mild headache. I hope cranial pressure won't make me any less magnanimous toward this episode and its writers. We shall see.


This review was written to Michael Giaccino's OST for Star Trek, 2009 -- specifically "Enterprising Young Men" on loop.

Season 2, Episode 7 - Unnatural Selection

Is this the first episode of the season that does not directly explore the question of Data's humanity? Probably. Data's lack of human DNA renders him immune to a bizarre, highly contagious disease that makes everyone exposed get old faster than Rickrolling. This is the first episode to focus on Dr. Katherine Pulaski. To my pleasant surprise, she and Data develop a little rapport in this episode.

See? I know that Pulaski's tension with Data would pay off. I really don't know why other reviewers (*long-distance glare across the internet at Onion AV Club*) seem to loathe Pulaski's contempt for Data. It's hardly contempt, but a deeply rooted and stubborn bias toward the sanctity of organic life. This stubborn bias is perfectly consistent with Pulaski's behavior in this episode.

In fact, initially I thought it was a little too consistent.

So the Enterprise crew come across a derelict ship floating in the middle of nowhere, the entire crew of which have died of old age. Some sort of lethal geriatric illness accelerated their body's aging process and killed them--naturally--in a matter of days. They trace the ship to its last port of call and find a genetic laboratory similarly quarantined. This genetic laboratory has largely resigned itself to its fate, but wants to beam aboard its "children"--a group of genetically altered adolescents who represent the lifes' work of every scientist in that lab.

Here's the problem. Picard is really, really hesitant to let even a single child on board. I totally understand Picard's caution. He's a cautious, thoughtful man and hates needlessly endangering the life of his crew by breaking quarantine. But in previous episodes, he's also demonstrated himself to be a highly resourceful man who doesn't give up when faced with a crisis. His hardline stance against helping any of the lab's children seems uncharacteristic.

I get why he's so stubbornly against bending the quarantine; because Story Logic dictates that Pulaski has to be passionately in favor of helping the children. In order to produce a necessary conflict, Picard has to oppose her and be a bit more staunch and hard-line than usual. To his (and the writers') credit, he does eventually bend and insists that Pulaski absolutely guarantee the safety of his crew before he'll allow any of the potentially infected children on board.

In the name of science and medicine, Pulaski bravely and recklessly volunteers to break quarantine. She must test these children in a sterile, secluded environment in order to guarantee their health. She brings Data along for purely pragmatic reasons--being an android, he can't get infected--but the small rapport they developed during her experiment was heart-warming.

Predictably, the children are indeed infected. Pulaski gets symptoms of the disease, resigns herself to her death, and quarantines herself within the lab to await her 110th birthday a few hours later. By now I'm really interested. I want to know how they'll get out of this one. It seems like an unsolvable problem. I'm almost willing to believe that Pulaski bites it in this episode. There are worse ways for a character to go. (My brain prevents me from remembering that she appears in later episodes, so...)

The science behind this contagion is actually pretty compelling. I didn't see this coming. The children are genetically modified to have perfect immune systems, so aggressive that they actually attack threats while airborne, well before a virus or bacteria has time to enter the body. Unfortunately these hawkish and belligerent immune systems immediately wage war with every single human in their vicinity, whom they interpret as just gigantic, massive bacteria farms. (It's true. We kind of are.)

So the disease is genetic. That's a bummer. How do you fix a genetic disease? How do you cure something the nature of which you barely understand? A disease that attacks and alters the genetic structure of its host?

This is the part of the episode where my suspension of disbelief bent almost to the point of breaking. It took a lot of good will to accept that this is possible.

Using the magic of the transporter, the crew of the Enterprise encode Pulaski's original, pre-infected DNA from a single strand of her hair, then beam her aboard the Enterprise while running some kind of protocol that filters out any changes in her DNA, effectively "rewinding" her body back to its original, pre-infection state.

What?

I can understand that this sort of on-demand DNA restructuring is possible given the technology of Star Trek, but seat-of-the-pants wholesale DNA restructuring effectively MacGuyvered with a hairbrush, a strand of hair, and some fancy teleporter jockeying brings Pulaski back hale and healthy as if nothing at all ever happened?

I don't like this resolution because it eliminates the stakes entirely. It rewinds and erases everything that ever happened so that Pulaski's brave sacrifice never even mattered to begin with. I didn't know you could use the Transporter tech like the Photoshop History button, and just go back 50 steps.

But then, I can't think of any other way to save Pulaski either. It's like they wrote themselves into a corner. They could cryogenically freeze her while painstakingly repairing her DNA over the course of several months, but then she'd be absent for a few critical episodes.

Oh, I know. They could upload her consciousness into the holodeck for a while and find her a new body. She can have interesting conversations with Sentient AI Moriarty while she's in there.

Nah.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 6, 16 · OP · Last edited May 6, 16 by Silverdawn
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Considering my grip on the english language then wasn't what it is today, ( let's pretend my grammar is good okay ? ) I'm thinking I really should rewatch these eventually. Just to see if I catch the nuances that eluded my younger self at the time. I expect stuff went over my head in every episode with John De Lancie in them...
Posted May 7, 16
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wrote:
Considering my grip on the english language then wasn't what it is today, ( let's pretend my grammar is good okay ? ) I'm thinking I really should rewatch these eventually. Just to see if I catch the nuances that eluded my younger self at the time. I expect stuff went over my head in every episode with John De Lancie in them...

Star Trek TNG is the most relaxing daily habit I've cultivated. For about an hour every evening, I'm just completely wrapped up in the Enterprise. I totally recommend revisiting the series if you want. It's on Netflix.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 7, 16 · OP
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Season 2, Episode 8: A Matter of Honor

Matter of Honor is another one of Season 2's highest rated episodes, right up there with The Measure of a Man. I had high expectations going into the episode, and I was not disappointed.

So now that I have my cup of tepid green tea and my Michael Giaccino soundtrack, let's get down to business.

Matter of Honor is about an officer exchange program. A Benzite Ensign named Mendon joins the Enterprise; Commander Riker joins a Klingon starship as their foreign exchange first officer. Mendon comes from a race of alien perfectionists and bumbles his way through a relatively tolerant Enterprise crew captained by the Galaxy's Most Civilized Human; Riker has to throw down with his second-in-command and eat a live snake to impress a Klingon woman and avoid death by zug-zug.

I don't know why this episode is bringing out the Futurama references in me, but buckle up.

There is a persistent sense of wry, Whedon-esque sense of humor that pervades this episode. Funny moments sidle in from the margins. The humor enhances the story and sheds light on the characters. The humor isn't embarrassing (see: Ferengi) or gratuitous (see: Data with a beard).

Wesley mistakes Ensign Mendon for Mordock, another Benzite with whom he studied at the Starfleet Command. Mendon looks exactly like Mordock probably because they're same actor. ("Bender? No, that's the other guy. I'm Boiler." I warned you about the Futurama references.) I really enjoyed Mendon's presence on the bridge. It's nuanced, yet alien. He really really wants to impress Captain Picard. I mean he's really desperate to impress, so he tries to do it the only way he can: stunning them all with his flawless intellect and perspicacity. It's the classic case of the stereotypical Asian exchange student (which, once upon a time, I was), simultaneously overflowing with confidence and yet desperate for validation.

Meanwhile Riker's about to board the Klingon Starship Pagh and serve under the pugnacious, stentorian Captain Kargan. I love Klingon starship names. Pagh. It even sounds like it's spitting in your face. Captain Kargan fills every frame he's in, big and broad and overclothed. He reminds me a lot of a Japanese Shogun sitting at portrait, like Takeda Shingen in Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha.

While Riker's on board, Mendon discovers the presence of a strange micro-organism heretofor undiscovered; instead of doing his job and informing Worf, he quietly goes on studying the organism and never reports his finding. This is a cultural misunderstanding. The Benzites do not report anomalies until they've conducted a full analysis and can provide a solution. Mendon's hesitation jeopardizes everyone, because that mysterious microbial organism is a metallophage eating a giant hole right through the Klingon vessel.

So I'm hooked by now. The tension in this story is complex and multi-layered, and the conflict is subtle but ever-present. Riker vs. Himself. Riker vs. the Klingons. Riker vs. the Enterprise. Mendon vs. Himself. The Enterprise vs. the Klingons. It's almost an act of literary sleight of hand that anyone gets out alive.

(Actually, it *is* an act of sleight of hand. Worf literally conceals a beacon in Riker's clothes before he boards the Pagh. In a classic example of the Chekhov Gun, we forget entirely about the beacon until it's used as a lifesaving device in the final act.)

Riker's interactions with the Klingon are especially compelling, well-written, well-acted. Riker has to play a fine game of cultural diplomacy, adhering to Klingon strictures on obedience, participating in their violent power dynamics, while also holding his own ground as a representative of the Federation and Humanity. When forced to choose between his duty to the Pagh and his duty to the Enterprise, Riker somehow deftly manages to avoid the dichotomy altogether and maintains his loyalty to both.

I felt real pathos toward the Klingons. Their culture was compelling and convincing. I could totally buy into the way they structured their society, their iron-hard insistence on honor, their Viking-like adulation of death, their internal struggle with matters of family and emotion.

The cinematography in this episode was especially satisfying. There's some beautiful camerawork here. Isolated together in a training room, Picard and Riker talk about an officer exchange. This moment is so poignant in its stillness--just the two of them standing together in a circle of two colors--Riker's blue, Picard's green--practicing their marksmanship while having a conversation. The interior of the Pagh glows and glowers with angry red lights, the color of blood and violence and passion.

So far this episode has my favorite Riker moment ever.

Having seized control of the Pagh, Riker barks at his second officer in a line that pre-empted Captain Phillips by thirty years.

"Look at me. Look at me. I'm the Captain now."
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 9, 16 · OP · Last edited May 9, 16
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Season 2, Episode 9: The Measure of a Man

I'm really tired tonight. I wish I weren't tired, because Measure of a Man is one of my favorite episodes, and I've been looking forward to this review. This is my second viewing of Measure of a Man. I'd first watched the episode on Lirima's recommendation a few years ago. Having spent an entire season with Data and the crew of the Enterprise, however, gave me a new appreciation for the questions and nuances brought up in this episode.

Measure of a Man is an unconventional episode. The crew does not travel to any distant star system, encounter a new species, run afoul of an old enemy, or find themselves trapped in some life-threatening emergency. This episode concerns Data and his humanity. It is a procedural drama, conducted in a courtroom. Data's humanity, his rights as a Starfleet officer, and the position of Starfleet concerning android life forms is under scrutiny.

The odds are high, but only in the way that juridical precedence concerning matters of immense metaphysical importance count as "high odds." How do we define slavery? What constitutes a living, sentient organism? These are deep, powerfully relevant questions. This is why science fiction, as a genre, exists.

The episode begins with a poker game. TNG's streak of episodes with outstanding cinematography and lighting continues. The poker table is moody and dramatic. I liked the use of the poker game as an extended metaphor for Data's humanity. He couldn't play poker especially well because he hadn't understood the nuance of bluffing. Poker is a game in which the rules exist to be broken. In theory, bets reflect the strength of the hand. In practice, they may not. In other words, Data did not yet understand the soul of poker--but he was trying to find out for himself.

That spirit of self-discovery is essential to this episode. I'll come back to it later.

So the episode moves along at a pretty even clip. Picard runs into Capt. Phillippa Louvois, Judge Advocate General, conveniently available to facilitate the incipient legal drama unfolding between Data and Commander Bruce Maddox. Maddox is a student of Data's father/creator, Dr. Noonien Soong. A lifelong cyberneticist, Maddox is convinced that Data is a machine like any other, and therefore has no rights as a sentient being. He doesn't hate Data; he hates that Data is being treated like a human being. The fallacy of anthromorphism prevents Maddox from carrying out a potentially groundbreaking experiment on Data.

The experiment, if successful, may allow Maddox to replicate thousands more androids just like Data. Unfortunately, the grounds of his experiment are a bit shaky. Data is initially intrigued, but he doesn't want to allow Maddox to completely disassemble him and dump his memory purely on the hunch that he'll succeed with his experiment.

From Maddox's point of view, this is a piece of hardware refusing a diagnostics and upgrade because it doesn't trust its user. From Data's point of view, Maddox is an inexperienced surgeon who may inadvertently destroy his memories, and hence take his life.

The philosophical ramifications of this episode, and Data's stance against Maddox, are profound. Data does not believe that "memories' are mere collections of facts and information downloadable into a hard drive any more than the game of Poker can be mastered by a thorough understanding of its rules. Data insists that there is some "ineffable quality" to memory that makes it...well...a memory. He may recall all the relevant information comprising the history of his service aboard the Enterprise--but is that the same as remembering? If you remove a person's memories, and then build them back up from scratch, are they the same memories?

So we're caught at an impasse, because Data doesn't want to let Maddox disassemble him. Maddox insists. Data is left with no choice but to resign. Maddox insists he can't resign any more than a computer can choose to resign. The issue goes to court to be resolved.

It becomes clear midway that this is not about Data's humanity or Maddox's right to continue his work. This is about the next frontier of intelligence, about artificial intelligence and whether android intelligence constitutes life.

You see, the argument of humanity has been used for thousands of years to justify or rationalize atrocious behavior. Slavery, for example, was justified by rationalizing that the enslaved people are not human, and no more capable of asserting their rights to humanity than an ox or a bull or a pack mule.

So this question matters immediately to Data, but matters potentially, in the future, to many more androids who will inevitably arise, because Star Trek is a scientifically positivist show and doesn't believe in unique, once-in-a-universe technology. (I think. They could jump the shark on this one.)

So if Data is determined to be property, and not a sentient being, that ruling could be used to justify the slavery of an entire android race that may be created centuries in the future. Jurisprudence casts a long shadow.

The court proceedings are wonderful, by the way. I absolutely love the passion and verve and powerful rhetoric displayed in Phillippa's courtroom. This feels more like an episode of the West Wing than of Star Trek, where philosophical and metaphysical issues play out underneath a veneer of passionate interpersonal conflict, conducted by people who absolutely love their work. It's workplace drama, and I like that in my sci fi, from time to time.

Everyone did their jobs beautifully, by the way. Phillipa was passionate in the performance of her duty. Everyone was, in fact. Riker's testimony was withering and impressive. Savage, even. Picard's defense is exactly what I expect from a trained Shakespearean actor: grandiloquent without being grandiose, sincere and yet driven. I even liked Maddox. Well, I didn't like him, but I understood him. I empathized. He doesn't hate Data and isn't trying to enslave anyone; he just wants to do his job as a scientist.

I could go on and on about this episode, and this time I honestly don't want to spoil the ending, in case some of you haven't seen it. All I will say is that the procedure of the court is remarkably consistent with the spirit of the Prime Directive. It is interesting that the Prime Directive is really what drives human endeavor at the highest level in the universe of Star Trek.

Not greed, not power, not capitalism or imperialism, but curiosity. I love that.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 10, 16 · OP
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Season 2, Episode 10: The Dauphin

Tonight's episode felt like a classic, season one episode. The Dauphin follows a familiar trope: the Enterprise acts as an intermediary vessel intended to ferry guests from one quadrant of the galaxy to another. The guests prove problematic, either with the crew ("Heart of Glory," S1.E20), with each other ("Lonely Among Us," S1.E7), or both ("Haven," S1.E11). This time the offending party are Anya, a snippy overbearing governess who looks suspiciously like a nun from Game of Thrones, and her charge, Salia, a pretty and precocious princess of Daled IV. In an infodump unironically delivered by Data, Daled IV is a warring planet; Salia is their only hope for some kind of diplomatic peace, owing to her regnant heritage.

She's a Disney Princess, in other words. I don't mind! I love Disney. But she does very much resemble the trope of the Disney Princess. A young girl in her late teens, born to royalty, secreted away in childhood, lorded over by an overbearing godmother, secretly yearning to meet a charming boy and escape the weight of her destiny.

Just her luck, that charming boy happens to be Wesley Crusher. Their eyes meet outside the transporter room while Wesley's delivering some kind of superconducting hyperspace powermagnet. Salia's a total nerd-girl (be still, Wesley's beating heart) and gives Wesley some charming advice about how not to have all the iron ripped out of his blood by that galactic turbomagnet.

Wesley's completely smitten. He's head-over-heels in love with Princess Salia, and exactly one copyright injunction away from bursting into song Les Miserables-ish-ly. For all of Wesley's character flaws, in this episode in particular, the boy functions exactly as I would expect a bright but inexperienced pubescent boy to function when within the radius of his heart's desire. He's completely in love in exactly the same clumsy, unselfconscious way boys fall in love in that age.

So here the episode diverges into two storylines: Wesley realizing he's in love, and Salia chafing under the disciplinarian crop of her governess, Anya. Let's start with Salia/Anya, because things are about to get weird and uncomfortable, for you and for me.

It's becoming obvious that Salia doesn't want to go to Daled IV and embrace her destiny as the one true queen of a people who have been locked in combat since their planet got tidally locked with their sun. Understandably the pressure of being a messianic figure to a society at each other's throats since the dawn of life on their planet is turning the screw on poor Salia's psyche. Her governess Anya isn't much help. This woman is absolutely psychotic. Overprotective doesn't begin to cover it. Anya is to overprotective as a hydrogen bomb is to a firecracker. She flips out at the slightest indication of any possible, even marginally significant threat to Salia's safety.

Pulaski is treating a patient suffering from some kind of non-contagious disease. Anya doesn't believe it's non-contagious. Pulaski is forced to admit that there is a mathematically non-zero possibility that it is contagious (like, atomically tiny); Anya loses her mind, insists that Pulaski "kill the patient" to prevent any chance of contagion. Pulaski, you know, because she's not a psycho, refuses.

This is when Anya reveals her true form as some sort of gigantic cross between an Ewok, a Furby, and a Yeti. This thing is really disturbing. And I don't mean intentionally disturbing. The costuming is so awful that I'm anticipating seeing this Anya Monster show up in my dreams, bellowing at me like a Klingon in heat.

!

Oh, speaking of that:
Quote:
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! That is a Klingon mating call." -Worf giving relationship advice to Wesley.

If you want to watch any episode for any reason at all, watch this episode just to see Worf talk about Klingon mating rituals. This is amazing. This is the hardest I've ever laughed in a Star Trek episode. A lovestruck Wesley's going around the crew asking for some advice on how to tell Salia he likes her. Worf gets misty eyed talking about Klingon women yelling and throwing things while Klingon men read, I don't even know, the Klingon equivalent of How Can I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways. It is absolutely hilarious.

By the way, getting advice on love from the crew of the Enterprise is about the saddest display I've ever seen. I feel like Wesley walked into his local gaming store and asked the dudes crouched around the magic table for dating advice. Geordi describes his falling in love as an "explosion of hormones pumped out by your glands that we should've seen coming, considering your age"; Data talks about dissecting Salia; and Riker?

Merciful Elune. Riker. Guys. Okay. Listen.

Do not follow Riker's example on how to talk to women. Please, just don't. Riker believes in the school of 'show, don't tell,' so he sits down Guinan at Ten Forward and tries to lay the charm on her and I swear to Elune it is the worst thing I have ever seen in my life. If Riker were ten years younger and forty pounds heavier he'd be tapping his trillby and addressing girls as "m'lady". It is the most nauseatingly disingenuous display of man-charm ever lathered on to a woman in this show--wait, no it's not. I forgot that Angel One (S1.E14) happened.

I'm starting to ramble, so let me just wrap this up.

Wesley's boyish romance is beautiful and convincing. I'm so glad he decided to court Salia in his own way, by showing her the wonders of the galaxy and the pleasure of exploration. (I am, I admit, a little disappointed they didn't burst into song. "I can open your eyes / Take you wonder by wonder / Over sideways and under / On a holographic ride--a whole new woooorld!" I told you I was a Disney fan.)

When Salia reveals that she's not a pretty humanoid at all, but an intergalactic race of morphic beings who can take any shape, Wesley is understandably upset and hurt and angry. Not at her, but at himself, because he realized he was so taken in by her pretty face that he felt betrayed when she changed shape. This is fine. Young love is pretty shallow. Wesley's a kid; his affection is going to be shallow; he's going to confuse being smitten with being in love.

To his credit, in the end, he does the right thing. He comes to his senses, grows up a little bit, apologizes to Salia, and sends her off to Daled IV like an officer. With grace and humility. I was proud of Wesley in that episode. I was proud of him for taking to Guinan at the end. I was proud of Guinan's down to earth, honest advice about the nature of love.

This is a good, smart episode. Low-tension, with more than a few comical moments, some unintentional. But there is real heart and pathos here too. Salia and Wesley had good chemistry, and their puppy love is totally believable.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 11, 16 · OP
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I pretty much come to these boards just to read those after work. just seeing the episodes in my mindès eye as I read :)
Posted May 12, 16
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wrote:
I pretty much come to these boards just to read those after work. just seeing the episodes in my mindès eye as I read :)

<3
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted May 12, 16 · OP
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