Thursday, January 19, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 3a)

<--Season 2b  Season 3b-->

This is more like it. Season three starts out with quality episodes. The ideas, the story mechanics and the structure are thought out much better than before. Just about every episode poses some compelling ideas and doesn’t get in the way of itself with silliness. Just about.

Episode 1: “Evolution”

This first episode is a good example of the way this season works. The secondary storyline is fairly standard. A man’s life work is threatened and he loses sight of everything else in the pursuit of salvaging it. In this case the “everything else” just so happens to be a case of spontaneous generation. For those who don’t know what that is it is life that suddenly forms from non-life. It is a scientific impossibility that people used to believe in when they believed in stuff like magic. It is also a basis for the Theory of Evolution. Although, come to think of it, this life was formed from machines made by man so maybe it is a story about intelligent design?

That problem aside, we are treated to a highly accelerated case of evolution. That’s right the machines aren’t simply new life, they are mutating and evolving every microsecond. This is an example of a perfect story mechanic. The audience doesn’t stop to ask if what is happening makes sense, they just accept it and that provides us with a very interesting story about ethics, respect for life and the importance of communication. However, when you stop to think about the mechanics of the evolution it all falls apart.

These machines were designed (DESIGNED) to reproduce. They function as they were designed to, so no problem there. In fact they do it extremely well. They have multiple new generations every second. Then, as they “become life” they begin to mutate. Mutation means that they are no longer copying correctly—they are malfunctioning. Instead of ceasing to function--instead of a single mutation causing a catastrophic failure—each and every mutation miraculously advances them to the point where they are an intelligent race with concepts like ethics, peace, war and the desire to explore. It is quite frankly, a stretch.

That, and why do they have to use Data to communicate when the computer they already occupy can talk? Hey at least it is making us think. That is what this season is like.

Episode 2: “The Ensigns of Command”

Data learns that you sometimes have to show humans that they are wrong because they do not like to think. The story also uses spoon feeds us a framing device to show us that Data has been showing creativity during this episode because, as viewers, we also sometimes fail to think.

Episode 3: “The Survivors”

This is the Twilight Zone-like episode of the season, but it is a bit more entertaining the “The Royale” was, if just as predictable. Just how many “all powerful” aliens are there in the Star Trek Universe anyway?

Episode 4: “Who Watches the Watchers?”

…or “Philosophy of Religion 101”

Secular Humanists are perfectly willing to accept the idea of gods—as long as those gods are themselves beings who are just more advanced than we are. (So, Mormonism or Scientology for example?) That is what this episode is all about. What is extremely compelling about this episode is the way that it exposes the dangers of religion. When an individual thinks that they are speaking for God, and more importantly people agree with them, they can be very dangerous indeed.

Episode 5: “The Bonding”

Good episode, but a bit cringe worthy for Worf, especially that grin he mugs at the end.

Episode 6: “Booby Trap”

Good episode, but more than a bit cringe worthy for Geordi, and for nerds everywhere who make out with their own computers.

Episode 7: “The Enemy”

Hollywood did this before. It was called “Enemy Mine.” It is pretty good, check it out.

Episode 8: “The Price”

Star Trek the Next Generation did this before. It was called “Loud as a Whisper.” Yeah, don’t bother. At least it didn’t have Deanna getting a foot massage from her latest lover. (By the way, this episode confirms our fears that she is the enterprise slut.)

Episode 9: “The Vengeance Factor”

Riker had to kill the latest girl he tried to bed. Is that what disturbed him at the end, or was it the fact that she could have been his great-grandmother? “I have got to get to know these women better before I just treat them as play-things!”

Episode 10: “The Defector”

This is a very well done episode. The way it is written and executed is not just unusual for Trek, but television of this time. The parallels to Henry V are obviously there, but also the way facts are not revealed that are vital to the story but still need to be followed. The conversation between Geordi and Data summarizes the way this story unfolds:

Geordi: I don't know, Data, my gut tells me we ought to be listening to what this guy's trying to tell us.
Data: Your gut?
Geordi: It's just a... a feeling, you know, an instinct. Intuition.
Data: But those qualities would interfere with rational judgment, would they not?
Geordi: You're right, sometimes they do. Data: Then... why not rely strictly on the facts?
Geordi: Because you just can't rely on the plain and simple facts. Sometimes they lie.

Episode 11: “The Hunted” 

“First Blood” a la Star Trek.

Episode 12: “The High Ground” 

Remember when terrorism was something people thought they could look at rationally, placing themselves in the perspective of the terrorists and understand them? It is always strange to see a show like this purporting to take place in the future completely gloss over the “War on Terror” because they had no idea what was coming just a few years down the road.

Episode 13: “Déjà Q” 

This is a wonderfully written comic episode about serious issues. One of the fascinating things about the character Q is that he is essentially a god, but from a completely human perspective with human flaws. The Humanist interpretation where gods are just an all-powerful human being is quite a lot like the old Greek idea of deity. It is completely understandable that no one would want to believe in such a being. It is also the sign of a small, sad understanding judging itself to be clever. I love this episode mostly because it found a way to have a guitarron on screen.

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