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Silverdawn Watches Star Trek For The First Time

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I enjoy the Lower Decks episode, though I noticed you didn't bring up the Riker side of the story, where he kinda thinks Sam is "too eager to please" and Deanna kinda goes. "Hmm, that reminds me of a younger version of you." and Riker kinds goes. "Ok, maybe I've been too hard on him."

I think that was a cool little throwback to the Riker of earlier seasons who very much the big man on campus. That alone could have been a full subplot.

Yeah, I noticed that but totally forgot to bring it up. Lower Decks was a good Riker episode in that it shows us just how far he's come since Season 1. He's gone from smarmy rogue charmer to hardass disciplinarian over the course of 7 seasons, and all in all he might be (along with Data and Worf), the character that matured the most over the show.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Aug 27, 17 · OP
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Season 7, Episode 17 - "Masks," or "Legend of Data: Masaka's Mask"

Masks feels like yet another early-season story told with the finesse of late-season experience, and I'm beginning to sense another pattern in this latter half of Season 7. In fact, it's been a long time since I've seen a gimmick-alien adventure like the one in "Masks," where the Enterprise runs into a seemingly benign relic of a bygone alien civilization, only to be sabotaged and thrown into a life-threatening disaster.

This is really the sort of episode all Star Trek stories are built on. One-shot aliens built for one-shot episodes around some basic premise. Greek Gods in Space trap the Enterprise--that's the premise of "Who Mourns Adonais." "Skin of Evil" from Season 1 introduced a hyper-powerful nonsensically evil alien entirely to kill off Tasha Yar. And while the last few seasons of Star Trek have featured one-shot alien races, these races often served a more nuanced narrative purpose than to provide a simple antagonist.

This is not the case in "Masks." Our alien race is almost wholly antagonistic, but their psychology is nuanced and interesting, deeply rooted in tribal rituals, and obviously inspired by Mesoamerican culture. The alien race in "Masks" isn't evil, exactly. In fact, I don't really know who or what they are. They manifest in a kind of bizarre Escher-esque geometric prism found on the inside of a comet tens of millions of years old. When the Enterprise begins scanning the comet for information, something from inside that alien structure enters the Enterprise and infects Data with its consciousness.

The episode feels remarkably like a kitschy adventure novel from the 1930's. Spaceship Captain discovers ancient cursed alien artifact in the depths of space--android lieutenant POSSESSED by pantheon of mad spirits! The Artifact, whatever it is, is both highly advanced and terribly old, with the power to slowly transfigure matter into something of its own design. After locking on to the Enterprise, the Artifact essentially begins remaking the entire ship in its own image, transforming the interior of the ship, room by room, into some steamy Aztec jungle-temple with Data as its high priest.

I didn't really know how to feel about Data's possession. Having an ancient alien pantheon of deities possess Data and speak through his body seems like a fantastic idea--and I was a huge fan of Data's tacky Zenith Caste Exalt insignia--but I was too busy laughing at the various manifestations to feel threatened by them. I don't know what it is about TNG giving Data weird bit-roles as quirky tricksters, but Data-as-Ihat was just hilariously campy. Imagine if Data were possessed by the spirit of a campy, Jack Kirby-esque Loki, and you'd have Ihat. He had a few other alien personalities buried in his brain, including one properly creepy masochist, and another dying old man, which I thought were pretty interesting.

While Data's possessed by the ancient Artifact, he babbles on about someone named Masaka. Masaka, we realize, is an ancient goddess-queen of the alien culture, a representation of the Sun Goddess, both terrifying and glorious all at once. I appreciated the little touches of anthropology in this episode; I liked watching Picard grapple with the mythology of this ancient culture as he tried to figure out what was going on. And the fictional mythology was honestly pretty compelling in an Indiana Jones sort of way. Masaka is something like the head of this alien pantheon, or the queen of its culture (I wasn't sure which), and as the Enterprise slowly transforms into her temple, Masaka is reborn.

Masaka is Data's final role. He appears donning the Mask of the Sun, seated on some sort of throne, when Picard finally confronts him. (Her?) The key to defeating Masaka, reversing the effects of the Artifact, and saving the Enterprise lies in deciphering the alien culture's strange myths.

And I thought that was very cool. We don't have a malevolent alien entity out to destroy the Enterprise for some flimsy reason or another. We have an almost inscrutable alien mythology expressing itself in a way that threatens the lives of everyone aboard the Enterprise. The lethality is accidental in the way nature is accidental; there's no real malevolence here, and I liked that.

Masaka, it turns out, is the Goddess of the Sun, and her awakening and sleeping patterns coincide with the rising and setting of the sun. Masaka, the Sun, chases Korgano, the Moon. Masaka chases Korgano, but never catches him. The eternal cycle of the hunter and the hunted recapitulates the rising and setting of the sun and the moon, and the cycles of day and night. In order to defeat Masaka, Picard wears the mask of Korgano, and participates in a ritualistic dialog. He convinces Masaka to return to her sleep and renew the hunt again, for she cannot brighten the sky forever.

It is a beautiful and fascinating resolution to a relatively straightforward story. The episode could have easily made this episode about finding some ingenious, scientific way to blast the Artifact to bits, jettison Masaka's mask into space, and--I don't know--use the Enterprise's computer to repair itself or something. There's always some way to wave your hand and make science fix your problems, but rarely does Picard use anthropology and the language of culture to solve a problem.

It's easy to forget that the Enterprise is a ship of exploration. This series is not just about the wonders of technology in the distant future. It is about going places humanity has never gone before, and doing what explorers do best: understanding strange and alien cultures, and finding that which is human and sympathetic about them.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Aug 29, 17 · OP
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I loved Brent Spinner's performance(s) in this one.
Posted Aug 29, 17
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I loved Brent Spinner's performance(s) in this one.

He's great as always. :d
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Aug 29, 17 · OP
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Season 7, Episode 18 - "Eye of the Beholder," or "Deanna's Bizarre Adventure

Eye of the Beholder does some interesting and ambitious things with storytelling. It is the Star Trek equivalent of a shell game, deploying narrative sleight-of-hand to keep my attention distracted with compelling red herrings. Is this a story about suicide? Predatory psychics? Forbidden romance? Wrong. It's actually a_____. (Read on to find out.)

Beholder isn't a comfortable episode. Suicide is not a comfortable theme on which to build an episode, and watching a young lieutenant jump to his death is probably the coldest of cold opens. In fact, the first ten minutes of the episode seem so focused on the problem of the young officer's death that I began to suspect this was a "very special" episode designed to begin a conversation about mental health. Daniel Kwan says something cryptic about "knowing what I must do," and then leaps into a fusion generator or whatever. Then the various officers of the Enterprise talk to one another about Kwan's death, each of them coming to terms with it in their own way.

Data's meditation on the nature of suicide is at once coldly rational and strangely touching. He gives his own metaphorical rendition of the old argument that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and that it would be better to think of his problems as a challenge to be overcome, rather than a cause for despair and surrender.

I'm rather glad the episode veered away from a meditation on suicide, because I do not think TNG has the necessary subtlety to tackle a subject like that in a positive way. It's such an uncomfortable topic that fixating on it will only dominate the episode with its inherent sadness, and it stops becoming an episode about a story and starts becoming "the suicide episode." Thankfully, that is not the case. "Beholder" very deftly pivots from a topical episode to a detective story the moment Picard puts Deanna on the case.

Can I just say how happy I am to see Deanna given a proper investigative job? It's so satisfying to see her with some real agency, because Sirtis is such a talented actress and Deanna such an interesting character. I've always hated to see her relegated to the episode victim, destined to be saved by someone else. It's so overdone. Daniel Kwan was an empath, and Deanna suspects that whatever caused Kwan to leap to his death had something to do with an intense, overwhelming feeling of disorientation and sadness she felt when she approached the place where he died.

(This is where the shell game starts. Watch my hands. Round and round they go.)

So, Deanna and Worf work together to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of Daniel Kwan. What proceeds is a strange, bizarre series of hallucinations inside hallucinations as Deanna relives the last moments of someone who died at this very spot. The hallucinations are intensely real and leave Deanna exhausted, but they all point to Lieutenant Walter Pierce. Pierce's face appears in Deanna's hallucinations, cold and predatory, overlaid with the death screams of an unknown woman. Deanna confronts Pierce, but finds herself unable to pierce (I'm so sorry) the veil of his thoughts. He's completely blank to her, and even his blank smile and gentle demeanor are completely inscrutable.

Deanna's tired for the night and Worf suggests she turn in. There's a lingering moment of emotional tension, followed by an entirely unexpected (and scandalously passionate) kiss, followed by Worf waking up in Deanna's bed. This is a shockingly abrupt turn of events, but Season 7 has been all about making huge changes to the series and to the lives of our characters--so I was willing to go with it. And we already know Worf and Deanna have some kind of unspoken thing between one another.

The next morning Deanna's investigation begins to spiral out of control. She finds herself becoming more and more suspicious of Worf--mostly because Worf's macking on Ensign Maddy Calloway (Kwan's ex-girlfriend!) in clear view of Deanna. This is where I started to realize something was horribly wrong. Worf and Deanna, I can understand. Worf and Calloway? No way. Something has got to be wrong here.

And to Deanna's credit, she seems to suspect something's wrong with her mind, rather than with Worf. Maybe she's seeing things? For the most part, I sympathized with Deanna. I bought into the idea that Deanna's mind is suffering from the after-effects of her investigation, a combination of chronic stress and the exhaustion brought on by her hallucinations. The situation worsens when the crew finds a dead body hidden behind a wall panel. The body has long since decayed down to a skeleton. Forensic detective-work reveals the body to be that of Marla Finn, an ex-officer who served in the construction of the Enterprise.

Deanna immediately deduces that Pierce must have been the murderer, and sends Worf to investigate. While she waits in her quarters, Pierce arrives to taunt her with news that Worf's off in Calloway's bedroom. Deanna barges in, finds Worf and Calloway in one another's arms, laughing at her. Enraged, she picks up a phaser and shoots Worf in the chest.

At this point I thought I knew what was going on. Deanna's being made to experiences the circumstances of Finn's death, and she's being manipulated by Pierce, whom I can only assume is some kind of intensely sociopathic psychic predator of unimaginable power. Pierce very nearly convinces Deanna, by psychic suggestion, to absolve herself of her sins by throwing herself to her death, but Worf grabs her before it's too late.

Deanna snaps out of her strange reverie and embraces Worf, and then we realizes the last 40 minutes of the episode all happened in Deanna's head.

Finn was never on the Enterprise, and Worf and Deanna never had a relationship. Everything that happened in my summary after the line about the shell game happened entirely in Deanna's head. And I'm not really sure how to feel about that.

"It was all a dream" is the oldest and stupidest cliche in the book of surprise twist endings, because it's completely unfair. The audience are willing participants in a fiction; we're allowing the actors to put us in a state of disbelief. Everything that happens on a screen (or on a stage, or on a page) is already a fiction. If the story was a dream all along, then our faith in the narrator was misplaced and betrayed.

On the other hand, this story contains all the elements necessary for a believable hallucination. Deanna is definitely dealing with a strange psychic phenomenon, so it's not unbelievable that she'd hallucinate the last forty minutes of the episode. And the episode gives us plenty of clues that suggest something is very wrong with the story's continuity. The events of a dream happen with absurd causality, for no reason whatsoever. There's no reason at all that Riker should be hitting on Maddy Calloway. There's no reason that Worf should be, either. There's no way that Deanna would ever shoot Worf.

But enough about this episode was just plausible enough to keep me confused and misdirected. This is an episode about deliberate misdirection, concealing its grand reveal until the last possible second. It's not the most compelling or the most intelligent episode, and neither is it the most entertaining, but I can't deny the elegant craftsmanship that went into the episode. I don't think I'd want to watch it twice--but if I did, I imagine I'd discover cool new clues I never saw the first time.

Overall, Eye of the Beholder wasn't bad. I admired its ingenuity and the craftsmanship of its central mystery. I definitely did not see the twist coming, so it was obviously well executed. But the episode's atmosphere and tone are so aggressively grim and dramatic that I can't say I enjoyed the experience as much as I enjoyed anticipating the ending.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Aug 29, 17 · OP
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Season 7, Episode 19 - "Genesis," or "Predator Worf"

I've developed a habit of mentally composing a review as I watch an episode. It's a bad habit, splitting my energy between viewer and critic. I need to stop doing that. Anyway, for about half of "Genesis," I imagined I'd give this episode a decent review. The episode wasn't without real problems, but all in all I was enjoying myself.

Up until the jump-scare. I hate jump-scares. I will never forgive a jump-scare.

Jump-scares never happen by accident, even if they are by design spontaneous. Writers sit around at a table, drum their fingers along a stack of scripts, and then someone pipes up: "Hey, what if we had a jump scare?" Look, I wasn't in the room that day. I don't know what happened in what I can only imagine is a sweltering, cigarette-tinted writer's room with a wall-mounted AC and a few empty boxes of Chinese take-out. I don't know if the decision to include a jump-scare was unanimous, or the narrow victory of a malicious faction of writers over the shouts and yells of their peers. I don't know if the decision came from up-top after some executive watched Jurrasic Park and thought, "Yeah, I can do that."

Jump scares are utterly unforgivable. They occupy that tier of stupidity populated by people who think Indian burns are hilarious and shout "Don't go in there!" in a middle of a movie. Look, if you enjoy jump-scares, I don't know what's wrong with you. But Star Trek is the wrong show for you. If your idea of entertainment involves being startled out of your seat, go find someone willing to attach electrodes to your skin. I'm sure they're out on Craigslist somewhere.

Sigh.

Barclay episodes aren't episodes I'd normally associate with horror. Barclay episodes are usually about comic relief with moments of touching humanity and strange, bizarre storylines that go in unexpected ways. They've always been low-key, low-effort episodes, easy to enjoy without demanding much of your attention. Genesis opens with Barclay being a massive hypochondriac and worrying about having some sort of Terellian Death Syndrome. I was expecting an episode about Barclay's hypochondria being hilariously justified as Barclay contracts some strange but harmless alien disease that ... I don't know. Makes him sneeze chocolate ice cream or something.

Instead what we get is an apocalyptic pandemic that infects the entire crew with some sort of epigenetic atavism1. Anyone infected by this virus rapidly regresses into an earlier stage in their genetic evolution. Humans turn into proto-human primates. Troi turns into a creepy fish-woman. Barclay turns into a goddamn Drider (hence the jump scare). And Worf turns into a poison-spitting neck-biting back-breaking mass-murdering armor-plated monster prowling the halls of a bloodstained, poorly lit Enterprise like some velociraptor hunting terrified children.

Sigh.

Even if we ignore my distaste for jump-scares, this wasn't a particularly good episode. Its tone is dramatically inconsistent, shifting from light-hearted comic relief to survival horror in the space of a few minutes. Worf goes from chomping down fistfuls of raw meat and snarling at Troi to spitting acid in Crusher's face. Crusher is so badly injured she'll require reconstructive surgery. I didn't enjoy watching her scream in agony, clutching her face and rolling around on the ground. That kind of gratuitous horror is just grotesque and sickening.

I won't spend too much time laboring the plot, because there isn't really one. Genesis feels like a thinly veiled attempt to shoehorn the survival horror genre into an episode of Star Trek, and its execution is poor. Even Patrick Stewart's elegant acting can't save him from a horrible script groaning under the weight of its own bloated, expository dialog. Most of the episode progresses from one cliche of the horror genre to another, from locked doors bending under the force of a monster's fists to long shots down darkened hallways over the shoulder of someone running for their life.

We can't really ignore my distaste for the jump-scare, because the jump-scare is a symptom of an underlying problem with Genesis. Its presence in this episode demonstrates a weakness in storytelling and characterization poorly compensated with horror-film cliches.

I might have been interested in an episode about atavistic regression and poor Barclay's horrible luck in the genetic lottery, but this episode wasn't it.

I'll be happy to move on to Episode 20 tomorrow.

1 I always wanted to use this word.
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Aug 30, 17 · OP
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Meh, I liked Genesis. It was entertaining and jump scares don't phase me... past the split second they happen. :)

Besides, I enjoyed seeing what proto-klingons might look like. ( The Crusher acid meet face scene WAS shocking by STTNG standards ... which was a welcome change in a series that's so clean you can eat off it )
Posted Aug 31, 17
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Season 7, Episode 20 - "Journey's End," or "Deus Ex Wesley"

In tonight's episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Wesley Crusher goes on a spiritual journey and discovers he's kind of a jerk. And also the Chosen One destined to bring balance to the Universe.

Journey's End is...

...well, it's something.

There are a lot of moving parts in this episode. Often this is a sign of weakness, the consequence of an overambitious writer spreading his script too thin across too many themes and ideas. As I watched Journey's End, I felt conflicted; I recognized all the elements of a successful story, but these elements never reacted with one another in the right way. The effect makes the episode feel amateurish and wasted. It's a little like watching a beginner poker player squander a great hand, or an overeager baker waste fantastic ingredients on an improvised cake. The result is invariably half-baked.

In fact, one of the problems of this episode is its preponderance of narrative themes. Every new act--sometimes, every new scene--introduces a totally new element to the story. We begin with Picard and Admiral Nechayev discussing a lasting peace with the Cardassians. This peace involves establishing a De-Militarized Zone in Federation-Cardassian space. Unfortunately, one of the Federation planets located in the DMZ is the home to a tribe of displaced Native Americans. The symbolism is so ham-fisted that Picard almost breaks the fourth wall commenting on the obvious parallels--once again, centuries after their violent displacement and near-eradication on the Americas, the First Nation Peoples are being forced to relinquish their homes.

Meanwhile, Wesley returns to the Enterprise after four years in the Academy. But Wesley's changed. His years away from the show have transformed him from a lovable know-it-all to a snotty edgelord. I've never seen anyone treat Geordi with such naked disdain and contempt as Wesley displays in this episode. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to imagine anyone being so rude anywhere outside of the internet. Geordi takes time out of his day to welcome his old friend back to the Enterprise, and even shows off his fancy new tech. Wesley mocks him to his face. It isn't pretty.

Wesley is a real problem in this episode. How can I sympathize with a character so blatantly rude? Imagine you're seeing an old friend for the first time in years. Imagine you invite him to your room and show off your fancy, custom-modded PC. You're very proud of your new PC, and you used to bond with your friend over your shared love of computers. Now imagine your friend takes one look at your computer, mocks you for picking NVidia over ATI, tells you go to back to Reddit, scrub; and then wonders when you're going to make him that damn sandwich.

I spent more than a few minutes convinced Wesley was possessed by some sort of alien spirit bent on being rude to everyone else. His insufferable behavior renders him utterly unsympathetic. Consequently, I lost all interest in everything else that was happening to him, or was about to happen to him. Wesley's problem is the problem of quarter-life crisis. Approaching graduation in Starfleet, he's become increasingly depressed, unhappy, disaffected, and agitated. And yet I can't take Wesley's side because of how horribly he treats Geordi.

Wesley's presence distracts me from the episode's central story, which shouldn't have anything to do with Wesley at all. A ham-fisted rendition of Native Americans in Space, once again forced to relinquish their land in the face of Colonial power, shouldn't have anything in common with Wesley Crusher. Well, it has something in common; the premise of the story is about as hammy as Wesley was in Season 1.

And let's talk about the problem of writing an episode about Native Americans in Space. I'm willing to accept that TNG is a product of its era. In 1994, we didn't really have the phrase "First Nation Peoples," but even "American Indian" seems shockingly out of place in 2017, especially when simply "Native American" would've sufficed. With all that said, did we really need an indigenous tribe of Native Americans living on their own Pueblo-esque planet in the middle of space? It's not that I'm closed off to the idea, but the idea is expressed in cliches and is therefore totally unconvincing.

The Native American people living on their planet are so aggressively generic that they do not even have a name. They're lumped together in a kind of amorphous collection of Hollywood stereotypes of Native Americans, with no real culture, no real identity, not even a tribal name. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Are they Seminole or Navajo? Shoshone or Cree? Sioux? Lakota? What language do they speak--is it Chickasaw or Nahuatl? Do they employ latter-day technologies like phasers (yes) and replicators (maybe)? Have their beliefs changed through syncretism in over seven hundred years?

You might say the show doesn't have an obligation to answer these questions. And it doesn't have an obligation, no. But by waving its hand and declaring, "Oh, this planet is owned by Native Americans," the show has created an expectation in me, the audience. I want to know these things about these people.

The bigger problem is simply a matter of consistency. TNG has almost never taken a broad ethnic group and tossed them into a planet together. Well, they did it once, with the Irish, but that was mostly all comic relief--much like the Irish. (I'm so sorry.) But do you see the problems that come with making an episode about X Cultural Group and Y Nationality? Star Trek has always tackled the problem of real-world injustices by expressing them through fictional metaphor.

And we already have an alien race of animistic, spiritual people persecuted by the Cardassians and driven to the edge of space. Those people are the Bajorans. The Bajorans are as much a metaphor for the suffering of the indigenous subaltern as the Romulans are a metaphor for an evil Roman Empire. And even if they'd elected not to use the Bajorans, the show could have just as easily invented a one-shot race of spiritual people in tune with the land, and placed them in between the Federation and the Cardassians.

But this episode was just full of bad decisions and wasted opportunities. The worst of these is Wesley. Wesley doesn't belong in this episode at all, and his presence isn't remotely explained until the very end. There is a moment--a brief, shimmering moment--of heroism from Wesley when he stands up to Captain Picard. Picard has ordered the forcible evacuation of the entire Native American town, and Wesley openly rebels against his orders. For just a moment, I admired Wesley for putting his beliefs in front of his uniform.

And if that had been the end of Wesley's involvement, I might've been satisfied. Wesley's role in the episode is to show up and remind the Captain about the value of disobedience. Sure. That's pretty cool. But that's not what happens.

Instead, Wesley goes on some kind of crazy-ass Ayahuasca trip where his disembodied Dad tells him to drop out of school, all on the behest of a weird part-time shaman part-time Colonel Sawada cosplayer Lakanta. Lakanta is the weirdest...I can't even...what is wrong with Wesley? Lakanta is a strange man on a strange planet who describes Wesley's body in strange, sacred language and then encourages him to do hallucinatory drugs in a smoky attic. What the actual hell, Wesley?

Anyway Lakanta is actually the Traveler. Wesley is Neo and can stop time. Neither of them bother saving the Native Americans from the Cardassians. Wesley and Lakanta exist stage left, probably to go off on some drug-addled adventures on the edge of space.

It's such a shame. I really rather liked a few moments in this episode. When the Cardassian Gul mourns having lost two sons to the war, I am shockingly reminded of my own bias; I always assumed the Cardassians were the horrible villains, but they're just as invested in peace as the Federation.

But ultimately I found this episode almost impossible to enjoy. I really don't know what happened. It's a bit sad that Wil Wheaton had to live with this episode hanging around his neck. Wesley would always be remembered as the reasonably lovable kid who turned into a massive jerk and then turned into a massive power fantasy.

"Wesley, if you're quitting the Academy, what will you do?"
"I dunno, mom. I thought maybe I'd disappear for thirty years, then come back and play a ton of board games with Felicia Day."
"Now, my bright lance, precede me, and lead me to his head."

-Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1942
Posted Sep 1, 17 · OP · Last edited Sep 1, 17
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Two noteworthy things happen in this otherwise unremarkable episode: 1 ) This is the last time we see Wesley EVER :d 2 ) Some Star Trek Voyager character gets his general background defined here.
Posted Sep 1, 17 · Last edited Sep 1, 17
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Wheaton is not happy about being called Wesley Crusher. When he appears on shows with Chris Hardwick, the latter teases him mercilessly with it. And Wheaton has more than once had to proclaim to the Internet that he is -not- WC. The TNG video that clipped out enough bits to sing The Weather Outside is Frightful? It includes a break to feature Picard saying "Shut up, Wesley!" Apparently Wheaton got so many "yuk yuk have you seen this" messages he had to make a pointed speech declaring that yes, he had, they could stop mentioning it.
bye4i.jpg
Posted Sep 1, 17
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