Wednesday, March 6, 2013

S1E21 Arsenal of Freedom

Season 1 Episode 21: Arsenal of Freedom

Watchability: Skip
Short Answer: Some minor character moments, but overall not a lot of meat to the episode.

The Enterprise investigates the disappearance of the Drake which is captained by one of Riker's friends. When they get to the planet, the crew discovers that it is a automated weapons retailer. It's not a stretch to say that the episode tries to make some obvious comparisons to present-day mechanized warfare. The episode makes that point well enough, but I don't feel like there is much more to the story.

My favorite part of the episode is in the first couple minutes. The crew is discussing their mission and Riker mentions that Starfleet offered him the command of the Drake, after his last assignment. Instead, he decided to take the position on the Enterprise. Tasha Yar is incredulous that he would pick a first officer position over having his own command. With his patented grin, Riker says that serving on the Enterprise is a lifetime opportunity. I like their exchange because it builds on the theme I mentioned in an earlier episode where Riker seems to be holding out for command of the Enterprise.

The episode has a number of these character moments. LaForge is given a lesson on leadership. Also Crusher and Picard are stranded alone on the planet, giving them yet another opportunity for tension. Unfortunately, there are not enough of these moments for me to recommend watching the episode.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

S1E20 Heart of Glory

Season 1 Episode 20: Heart of Glory

Watchability: Extra Credit
Short Answer: Definitely worth watching to see a little more about Worf's character.
Quotations: "That is not our way. Cowards take hostages."

I enjoyed this episode because it featured a number of new topics for the series. It is the first time we see a story centered around Worf. It's nice to see that he gets a moment to shine this early in the series, because he has a much bigger role later. It is also the first episode where we get a deeper look into Klingon culture.

Vaguely Spoilery...
The story is about a group of ship-wrecked Klingons. Talking to them, Worf is forced to explain to why he chose Starfleet over being a "true Klingon". As we find out more about the survivors, it becomes apparent that they are also asking the same questions about the Klingon Empire. They feel that in collaborating with the Federation, the Empire has lost it's Klingon heritage.

I like this episode a lot because of that dynamic. At the beginning of the episode, Worf is excited at the chance to see other people of his race. Instead, they question whether he is a "real" Klingon. By questioning his decisions, they make him feel like an outsider. By the end of the episode, the Klingon rebels are the outsiders because they are unwilling to accept the change that is happening in their society. Worf, as it turns out is the ideal that the Klingon Empire is building toward. I made this episode Extra Credit, but I highly recommend it.

Side Notes
(1) In the first ten minutes of the episode, we get a glimpse of what Geordi is "seeing" through his visor. It is an odd side bar, since it never comes up again in the plot of the episode. One part that stood out to me is an exchange between Picard and La Forge. Picard asks him about the aura around Data and La Forge responds that it's because Data is an android. Picard comments that Geordi talks as if everyone can see it. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but it stuck out as a hint to the bromance between Data and La Forge that persists through the show.

(2) If you are new to Star Trek, the Klingons were the enemy of the Federation (Earth and its allies) during TOS. In between the two shows, the Federation and the Klingon Empire have become allies. The Undiscovered Country, a TOS movie that came out after this episode aired, shows those events in detail. (Nested Side Note!) The actor that plays Worf has a small part in the movie where he plays Worf's grandfather.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

S1E19 Coming of Age

Season 1 Episode 19: Coming of Age

Watchability: Skip
Short Answer: A couple interesting points, but nothing you are going to miss.
Notables: Serves as a sort of precursor to "Conspiracy"

There are two main threads running through this episode. The first one is about one of Picard's old friends who is now an admiral. He comes to the Enterprise and investigates Picard's record for reasons unknown. By today's standards has a fairly predictable twist. The more "interesting" part of this plot line is continued in the episode "Conspiracy" later this season, so I won't go into it here. We'll see how I feel when I get to it, but I recall that episode being one of the strangest episodes in the entire series. If you watch this one, definitely watch "Conspiracy". It's not good, but it will probably be good for a laugh.

The second plot line follows Wesley Crusher as he applies to Starfleet. It's interesting for a couple reasons. The one that piqued my interest is that the Starfleet application process is very selective. Of all the children on the Enterprise, Wesley is the only one allowed to take the exam. The plot diverges a bit into the story about another teenager who does not get accepted. I suppose he is intended to be a foil for Wesley, but I have a hard time seeing the purpose. He seems to exist solely to let Picard give him a heart filled pep-talk about trying again.

Having the exam be so selective definitely seems to drive home the point that the Starfleet is "the best and the brightest" (which later plot-lines are happy to contradict). We already saw that it is difficult to even be allowed to take the test. In addition, only one person from the test is accepted. It's understandable that Starfleet wants people of a certain caliber, but having the applicants compete against each other seems a little contrary to the principles of the show. It seems at odds with a world that talks about how there is no unemployment and everyone is able to do what they set out to do. If all the applicants were capable of being a Starfleet officer, I would think that they would accept them.

As per usual, I am probably over analyzing it. This aspect of the plot is probably exists just to facilitate the moral (see Spoiler Section below). If any of the discussion above sounds interesting, go ahead and watch it. Otherwise, it is pretty safe to skip.

By the end of the exam, it is clear that Wesley and Mordock, another candidate, are neck-and-neck. Wesley takes a moment during one of the tests to help his opponent, which causes him to fail to get accepted into Starfleet. Picard delivers what I assume is the moral of the episode in this statement: "You have to measure your successes and failures within." Written down it's a little bit trite, but it is no worse than the life lessons that other shows of the time dole out (I'm looking at you Full House...).

Side Notes
(1) A few episodes back, I talked about a gesture that Patrick Stewart often makes which is jokingly called "The Picard Maneuver". In this episode, we almost see "The Riker Maneuver" (I think it is called that). As you continue to watch the show, you may notice that Riker often straddles a chair. This action denotes to us, the audience, his laid-back persona. He doesn't quite do it here, but he does swing his leg over the chair like he is going to, but without turning the chair around.

(2) This episode also features the first instance of Riker ALMOST getting to command the Enterprise. Picard tells Riker that he has been offered an admiralty, and you can see the excitement in Riker's face until Picard tells him that he has turned it down. Throughout the show, there are a number of times where Riker seems to waiting for the chance to command the Enterprise. Sometimes he gets to command of the ship for a little while. At other times, he is offered a position somewhere else and turns it down. He just can't seem to catch a break.

S1E18 Home Soil

Season 1 Episode 18: Home Soil

Watchability: Skip
Short Answer: Nothing really wrong with it, but doesn't really add anything either.
Quotation: "That would require the talents of a master programmer"

I made this episode a Skip because it didn't really grab me. The plot was decent and the writing wasn't bad, but I would say that it didn't offer a lot that other episodes don't already do. For someone that has limited time, I would say skip this one.

Side Notes
(1) There is one scene of this episode that I remembered as a kid. When Dr. Crusher is first examining the rock crystals (or whatever they are...), someone asks if it is alive. That sparks a little mini-lecture about what characteristics are required for being a living organism. I remembered it well enough to recite it years later in my biology class. I thought it was cool that I actually learned something from the show.

(2) Apparently you can put images on webpages... Why didn't I think of this before? Back in my day the web was just text... and other text that blinked...

Monday, January 21, 2013

S1E17 When the Bough Breaks

Season 1 Episode 17: When the Bough Breaks

Watchability: Recommended
Short Answer: Well written episode, that has a couple interesting angles.
Favorite Line: "Things are only impossible until they're not."

Following a trail of strange sensor readings, the Enterprise finds a planet that has been cloaked for centuries. The crew realizes that they have found a civilization that was thought to be only a legend. The technology of the planet is much more advanced than the Enterprise and the people live in relative comfort. Of course, there is one problem. They can't have children, so they abduct some from the Enterprise.

Some Spoilers Below - Not that big in my opinion, but does give away the ending...

Overall, the episode is a rather heavy-handed moral parable about using technology wisely and not taking it for granted. And to that effect, it works fairly well. When Wesley is introduced to the computer that runs the entire planet, he asks several questions about how it works. The woman showing him responds by saying equivalent of "It just works." Surprise, surprise, it's the computer that has been killing off their race the whole time.

That plot line is interesting on it's own, but there is another thread that I found interesting. The children are sorted into "units" which appear to represent different trades. One of the boys is made to join a group of sculptors, even though he has no apparent interest in sculpture. At one point, Wesley asks why they are making the boy into a sculptor. The reply, predictably, is that he already is a sculptor. We see this effect pan out at the end of the episode, when the boy asks his dad if can be a sculptor.

I'm not really sure what it is about that aspect of the episode that strikes me. Perhaps it is that, despite how much they are in the wrong, the civilization does have something to offer. Or perhaps it is the idea that what we ultimately do in life comes from unexpected places. Given that the main plot is decent, I would probably give this episode a Extra Credit. Since it has a couple other thoughtful pieces like the one above, I gave it a Recommended.

Side Notes
(1) Why do they only kidnap five children? That's not enough to recreate a civilization! Apparently they forgot how genetics work...

(2) A humorous detail that bookends the episode is the kid that complains about having to go to Calculus. I don't know if his age is ever stated in the episode, but he seems to be at most ten years old. That seems really young to be learning Calculus. I wonder if the writers are positing that in the future we will be learning advanced concepts at earlier and earlier ages.

It certainly explains why everyone seems to know a lot about everything. I am continually surprised that the Command officers, for example, seem to know to fix the warp engines. It is like the CEO of Amazon, walking into their data centers and fixing the servers.

S1E16 Too Short a Season

Season 1 Episode 16: Too Short a Season

Watchability: Extra Credit
Short Answer: Decent story. Watch if you have the time.
Notables: I'm going to have be better about these...

I remember this episode (and the next one, When the Bough Breaks) as being fan favorites. I wasn't sure what to expect, because a lot of episodes from this season have surprised me. I know I have seen them before, but I don't really remember a lot about them. It was nice to watch them without knowing how they ended.

In this episode, the Enterprise is asked to escort an aging Admiral to a planet where a number of Starfleet diplomats are being held hostage. This incident is similar to one that happened 45 years ago, where Starfleet helped defuse another hostage situation. The Admiral is the same person that negotiated the previous incident. It was the first in a series of successful negotiations that made him famous.

Of course, there is more to the story. The two incidents are related in ways that are revealed over the course of the episode. I won't go too deep into the details, in case someone wants to watch it. I will say that the story is pretty good relative to others this season.

By the end of the episode it becomes clear that the two incidents are similar because the characters can't let go of the past. In some ways it reminds me of the The Last Outpost. In that episode, Picard was forced to relive his past by a Plot Device. In this episode, they go a bit further. Instead of it being a temporary condition, the characters are unable to move past by the mistakes they have made. And instead of hallucinating the events of the past, they recreate them. I don't know if the writers intended the comparison between the two episodes, but serve as a nice foil for Picard's character.

Definitely watch it if you have the time, but it is not essential.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

S1E15 11001001

Season 1 Episode 15: 11001001

Watchability: Recommended
Short Answer: The best written dialogue this season so far.
Notables: Watch out of Minuet, she'll come up again later.

I think this episode is the first one that has really surprised me. When I watched it as a kid, I don't remember it being notable at all. And while it has no over-arching message, I think it is the best written episode I've seen so far during these recaps.

When I watch each episode, I usually take notes. Sometimes I write down lines from the episode if I think that I might reference them later. Typically, there are only one or two quotations per episode. For this episode, almost everything I wrote down was a line of dialogue. Everything from Wesley commenting on a society where information is at your fingertips (*cough* *cough* smartphones...) to Picard making generalizations about love to Worf cracking a joke.

With these moments, we start see a little of the personalities of these characters; Worf as the deadpan comic, the mentor/friend relationship between Picard and Riker, Riker's love of jazz. I feel like all these are hints of what fans remember about these characters. Until this episode (and probably for a little while), I feel like the characters have been pretty flat. It's surprising to me that we get so much of it in a single episode. Hopefully, I haven't oversold it, since I definitely Recommend it.

Side Note: Watching this episode, it occurred to me to try to figure out if the title "11001001" had any significant meaning. Of course, being a computer science guy, I knew that it represents "C9" in hex or "201" in decimal. This didn't immediately produce a satisfactory answer, so I tried to figure out if it somehow connected to a "minuet" or had some significance in Jazz. All of my efforts came up empty. It wasn't until a day or so later, looking on Wikipedia, that I saw an explanation. Apparently, the number 201 can be seen on computer displays and other places repeatedly. This fact was was something I haven't heard of before. I'll have to look out for it in the future.