Friday, December 21, 2012

S1E09 The Battle

Season 1 Episode 9: The Battle

Watchability: Recommended
Short Answer: The plot is a little cheesy, but provides a reason to tell some good backstory on Captain Picard.
Notables: Origin of the "Picard Maneuver".

The plot of the episode leads a lot to be desired. Once again, the "scary" Ferengi are up to no good. They've found the Stargazer, a ship that Picard commanded during one of the first encounters with the Ferengi. During that encounter, the ship was severely damaged and Picard, through an act of desperation, invented the "Picard Maneuver" and destroyed the Ferengi ship (Side Note: the motion where Patrick Stewart adjusts the top part of his uniform is often referred to by fans as the "Picard Maneuver"). The ship was lost at some point, and the Ferengi have graciously offered to return it. Meanwhile the Ferengi are using some device to force Picard to relive those events and subtly alter his memory of them.

While I am not too keen on the plot, I do recommend this one because of Picard's backstory. The Stargazer is important to his character in a number of ways. At the time of TNG, Picard is presented as a seasoned veteran of Starfleet. The Stargazer on the other hand was his first command. I'm not sure if it comes up in this episode or another one, but he earned that command prematurely. Through the plot of the episode, Picard begins to doubt that he acted correctly in the battle that he relives over and over. While that comes from the use of a "technology" plot device, I think it emphasizes a very human trait.

Picard questions those events because, like most people, he doubts his memory of the past. Even though he has established himself as a captain (enough that he is in command of the most powerful ship in the Federation), his memories of that time we as a young and inexperienced captain. Even though Starfleet and his experience may tell him that what he did was rational and necessary, he still questions his actions.

This self analysis is a character trait that is very distinctive to me about Picard. In TOS, Kirk was a much more action-oriented character. Picard on the other hand is very reflective. In many episodes, he makes a point of asking others opinions. He even goes so far as to take people aside and encourage them to speak their mind. He doesn't settle on a course of action until he has heard many different opinions on it. Like the events of this episode, Picard never trusts one single viewpoint, even if it is his own. It's something I've always admired about his character and one of the reasons I recommend this episode.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

S1E08 Justice

Season 1 Episode 8: Justice

Watchability: Recommended
Short Answer: A bit campy at times, but it the first allegory episode that is a hallmark of the series.
Notables: Prime Directive. Wesley episode.

This episode is a fairly heavy handed allegory for the death penalty. And while it is a bit preachy, I like that it takes an idea and follows it to an extreme. This technique is something that reoccurs often in TNG. It's also one of my favorite uses of science fiction. Sometimes it can be hyperbolic, or reductionist, but I always like to think of it as an experimentation of sorts. In my imagination, the writers start out with an idea and just start writing and see where the story takes them. To bring it outside of Star Trek, the season of The Wire that explores legalization reminds me a lot of this kind of storytelling.

This next part is a bit spoiler-y for the episode if you haven't seen it.

It is also the second time that we see the Prime Directive. Having seen the show almost front to back and having seen many episodes literally dozens of times, there are constants of the Star Trek universe burned into my mind. One of these is the Prime Directive. It is something I remember as being almost universally upheld in the Star Trek universe.

This episode presents a plot that is fairly typical of the episodes that feature the Prime Directive. Wesley has broken the law of this less advanced civilizations and the penalty is death. Everyone seems to agree that the situation was unfair, but the leaders of the planet maintain that the law is the law. Picard is presented with either violating the Prime Directive, or letting Wesley die.

The end of the episode has Picard basically saying "Your laws are stupid" and leaving by force with Wesley. I was a bit shocked by that ending, given my recollection of the show, but I suppose it feeds into the overarching theme of the episode. The point was that all laws are imperfect and cannot allow for every possibility. Picard's violation of the Prime Directive just solidifies that point. The laws of the Federation are in some ways flawed in the same way as the planet in this episode.

S1E07 The Lonely Among Us

Season 1 Episode 6: The Lonely Among Us

Watchability: Skip
Short Answer: A rather boring rendition of the Energy-Being plot
Notables: None

So this episode is the first in a long series of Energy Being plot lines. An alien that is made entirely of energy gets caught in the Enterprise's computer system. Of course, problems ensue and it takes a while for the crew to even realize that there is a sentient creature cause all the issues. It is not a very interesting episode and I would say that there are other instances of this plot device that are either more interesting or at least sillier.

S1E06 Where No One Has Gone Before

Season 1 Episode 6: Where No One Has Gone Before

Watchability: Extra Credit
Short Answer: This episode introduces the Traveler, who makes another notable appearance later in the series, but the episode does not have much else going for it.
Notables: Introduction of the Traveler. Classic Wesley saves the day plot.

This episode is the first one that has given me trouble on whether to recommend it or not. Truth be told it is a bit silly, but there are a couple things worth noting.

The first is the introduction of the Traveler. This alien creature is one of the many mostly-omniscient alien races created by the show. He isn't that great of a character, but he does make another appearance as a part of Wesley's "character arc", such as it is (you kind of get allusions to that if you watch the episode). I put this episode as "Extra Credit" mainly for continuity nuts, but I don't think there is anything in the episode that is critical to understanding what happens later.

The second reason to watch this episode is that it is the first of the classic "Wesley Crusher Saves the Day" plots. It's a bit of a reoccurring theme on the show. As is typical of these types of episodes, Wesley has the answer that can save the ship, but no one believes him because he is just a kid. Of course, he is right and the saves the day. It also establishes that he is pretty smart. At one point the Traveler compares Wesley to Mozart.

As a kid, I thought it was really annoying mainly because I thought Wesley was really annoying (as most boys my age did). Watching it again this time, one of the things that struck me was that Riker actually makes a point of admitting that he was wrong for not listening to Wesley. Though it comes off a bit trite, I think that highlights one of the values the show expresses, which is accountability.

S1E05 The Last Outpost

Season 1 Episode 5: The Last Outpost

Watchability: Recommended
Short Answer: A good episode that introduces an often used alien race.
Notables: This is the first appearance of the Ferengi. But more notably, the first appearance of Armin Shimerman, who is more famous for his role on DS9.

This episode is the first in the season that has a lot going for it. For one, it introduces the Ferengi. At the time, they were supposed to be the big bad of the show. In fact, when you watch this episode, you can see a lot of similarities to how the Klingons were portrayed in TOS. I am not sure what changed, but later in the show the Ferengi became much more comedic and less threatening.

I also feel like there are a lot of allusions to the Cold War. The Chinese finger trap is a great example. It is symbolic, not only of the plot of the episode itself, but of confrontation and compromise. In addition, the characters reference the writings of Sun Tzu at several points in the episode. These "history lessons" seem to be a common element throughout the series.

At times they are trite, but the idea of present day actors portraying how people in the future view our past is give the show writers an interesting way to comment on the present as history. There are a lot of references to China in this episode. I feel that the Ferengi represent the 1980s view of China (in relation to America) in the same way that the Klingons are a reflection of a 1960s view of Russia.

If you take that to its conclusion, there are some unfortunate aspects of how these races are portrayed (and perhaps that is a topic for a separate blog post), but the main take away is that the question of the episode seems to be "How do you trust someone you have no reason to trust?" Like the finger trap analogy that permeates the episode, I think the take away is that there points where the only option to survive to blindly trust.