Friday, February 23, 2018

Voyager 7x19 "Q2"

rating: ***

the story: Q's son proves every bit as out-of-control as his old man.

what it's all about: "Death Wish" was a Q episode every fan seemed to agree on as worthy of continuing the legacy.  "The Q and the Grey" less so.  "Q2" ended up being known, if at all, as yet another example of Voyager being somewhat pointless to the overall franchise legacy.  And yet, popular opinion isn't always right.  "Q and the Grey" was an episode that Next Generation never quite got around to, despite ample evidence that Q had represented the Continuum as less than a well-functioning machine, many times over.  It presented these being as collectively identifiable, continuing the work of "Death Wish" in more ways than one.  A lot of fans were just angry that Q cared at all about Janeway and her crew, that if he had anything to resolve, it really ought to have been done with Picard, his most famous rival.  And yet, any cursory examination of Q and Picard's encounters will admit their intellectual nature, whereas Janeway, as she had with her crew as a whole, presented a familial quality.  Long story short: Janeway stuck her neck out for Seven, the most obvious single example.  Q figured, he could trust his problems with someone like that.  And yeah, it made for a totally different storytelling dynamic, if he could have sexual tension with his sparring partner.  (Sisko took sparring quite literally, you'll recall.)

Anyway, "Q2" is a revisit of the basic Q template, removing all the heavy implications of the two previous Voyager episodes and seeing what it looked like...from his son's point of view.  This son was conceived in "Q and the Grey," remember, four seasons earlier.  In typically sped-up Star Trek childhood fashion (and also, because he's a Q), he's a teenager now.  So this is actually an Icheb episode, the last real opportunity, and really, the first time Icheb just gets to be a teenager, as Q's son bonds with him (odd couple syndrome), and they become entangled in Q's efforts to get his kid less like him. 

And that's really the strength of the episode.  Q certainly could never admit that kind of vulnerability to Picard.  Yet, all three Voyager appearances have him on the defensive, which arguably was Q at his best (see Next Generation's "Deja Q," the template for this one).  But getting him to admit vulnerability?  That was kind of the whole point of his Voyager arc, and why this culmination was actually necessary, as it gives him that chance, and being able to save face, too.  Because it's, y'know, his son who has to admit it.  Technically.

It can seem a little disappointing, that the last Q episode actually features someone other than John de Lancie as the featured Q.  At least it's de Lancie's son, too.  That counts for something!

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - It's the last Q episode!
  • series - The final of three Voyager Q episodes completes the arc nicely.
  • character - It's actually an Icheb spotlight, and a welcome one at that.
  • essential - Of course, it's hard not to admit that in the best of all possible worlds, John de Lancie's final appearance in the role might have been a spotlight for, y'know, John de Lancie.
notable guest-stars:
John de Lancie (Q)
Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)
Keegan de Lancie (Q2)

Discovery 1x15 "Will You Take My Hand?"

rating: ****

the story: Burnham races to stop Mirror Georgiou's genocide against the Klingons.

what it's all about: The first season finale ends happily for Michael Burnham.  She finally earns her way back into Starfleet's good graces.  All it requires is for her to end the Klingon war, a war she started in the first place.  Not a bad bit of work, really.

Once she realizes Mirror Georgiou's plan against the Klingons involves a weapon of mass destruction (this is kind of the first time I can think of where a Hiroshima/Nagasaki analogy is not only made but thwarted by the good guys; it's much more common for bad guys to deploy these things, or attempt to), Burnham finally decides to act against her, despite a reluctance tied to her guilt over what happened to her Georgiou.  That just about wraps up everything the season was about, right there, in a thoroughly Discovery fashion.  The logic of the storytelling all season has been contingent not so much on individual beats but how they work in concert.  If you've bought into the majority of it, it's kind of impossible to say this wasn't the only way the season could end.  Particularly, the Klingon arc itself ends perfectly, L'Rell essentially being given the ultimate bargaining chip to end the conflict and the Empire's internal strife.

I wasn't particularly happy, previously, with Lorca's fate.  Tellingly, Mirror Georgiou receives a far different one, and that's one of the intriguing twists of the episode.  Burnham arranges a kind of Starfleet pardon for her if she agrees to walk away.  Some will argue that this was another wildly reckless move on the part of Burnham and/or Starfleet, and yet Mirror Georgiou is now entirely on her own.  Even Khan needed lackeys.  Alone, the former Empress is far more vulnerable, as she had been in the Mirror Universe before Burnham made the decision to bring her back to hers.  It's hugely likely we'll see Mirror Georgiou again, which will be a can't-miss Discovery event when it happens, sort of like if we ever see Mirror Lorca's counterpart, now that we know the Lorca we followed came from the Mirror Universe all along.  This is a series that has already shown a remarkable propensity for exploiting every juicy plot twist available to it.  These are inevitabilities, really.

What wasn't inevitable?  The biggest twist of the episode, at the end, when the crew is asked to respond to a distress call...from Pike's Enterprise.  Aside from a handful of original series appearances (officially, the two-part "Menagerie," which cannibalized the first pilot "The Cage") and the Kelvin timeline movies, which never showed anyone past Pike himself, this will be a truly historic opportunity to revisit the franchise's origins.  And Spock?  Burnham's adoptive brother, after all.  And a member of Pike's crew, as we all know.  Needless to say, but any such prospects immediately became more enticing than Mirror Georgiou's future or the prospect of seeing a different version of Lorca. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Ends a major conflict with the Klingons.
  • series - Wraps up a season's worth of serialized storytelling.
  • character - Burnham truly comes full circle as we see how events have hinged on her decisions at every turn.
  • essential - Burnham's argument about Starfleet's ideals is illustrative of everything the franchise has always been about, regardless of the contents of the storytelling.
notable guest-stars:
Michelle Yeoh (Mirror Georgiou)
James Frain (Sarek)
Mia Kirshner (Amanda)

Friday, February 9, 2018

Voyager 7x18 "Human Error"

rating: ****

the story: Seven simulates a romance with Chakotay.

what it's all about: The idea of the holodeck was a staple throughout Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and Voyager.  It was such a staple of this era that fans actually grew to hate it.  If "Ferengi episodes" was a distinctly Deep Space Nine epitaph, then "holograph episode" surely was one across all three series.  But I think most of them justify their existence thematically, even when concepts overlap.  One of the early distinctive holodeck adventures was Reg Barclay's introduction in Next Generation's "Hollow Pursuits," in which he tries to compensate poor social skills with a lively holodeck life.  Voyager later saw The Doctor create a whole holodeck family in "Real Life."  Both were about creating a fake existence outside of the real world that only damaged ability to judge experiences with objective clarity.  "Human Error" is that same kind of experience.

However, it's not particularly an episode that has stood out for fans.  One of the reasons is that the idea of Seven and Chakotay in a relationship seems to be dropped at the end of the episode, only to be picked up again, randomly, in "Endgame," the series finale.  This was likely viewed as one of Voyager's many creative sins.  Fans thought the series did this all the time.  Very few of them seemed willing to give Voyager the benefit of the doubt in how it reached decisions like this.  It looked like Worf and Troi, finally, in a romantic relationship in Next Generation's series finale, "All Good Things...," and because there had been an episode where Seven considered the possibility but rejected it, this one, it just felt all the more random, barely justified.

And, no doubt, fans still clung to "Someone to Watch Over Me."  This is a fifth season episode that's been routinely cited as one of Voyager's best.  On the surface it's a similar story to "Human Error."  Seven experiments with social interaction and romance with The Doctor.  It's actually more of a Doctor episode than a Seven episode, as it ends with him realizing that he's probably not winning her heart despite all his efforts to be there for her.  She remains completely oblivious to his feelings.  The effect is heartbreaking.  For me, it's not even one of my favorite Doctor episodes, although it's certainly a worthy character study and a notable bonding experience for someone who often yearned for such things. 

"Human Error" is different, as it is Seven actively exploring social life and romance.  She's reached a point in the series where her personal growth is an inward journey rather than something she's struggling against, which is where it began in the fourth season.  Where The Doctor from the day he was first activated was complaining about his limitations, Seven complained about her newfound possibilities, so that where The Doctor always found room for growth and welcomed it, sometimes with too much enthusiasm, Seven always struggled.  Hers was an internal experience.  Seven was always an introvert, The Doctor an extrovert.  Perception of Seven usually begins and ends with her physical attributes, and yet she was never treated as a mere object of sexual desire.  She was the perfect embodiment of Gene Roddenberry's two greatest interests, humanity and sexuality.  Fans might have soured on sexuality as a defining feature in Star Trek, but humanity remained, and remains, its truest, deepest focus, and Seven was an ideal instrument to explore it.

Putting all that together, Seven's experiments in the holodeck are more akin to Data yearning to be more human, and yet his mechanics constantly getting in the way.  Often when he'd attempt a breakthrough it'd backfire with unexpected consequences.  While Seven's daydreaming in "Human Error" isn't nearly as literal as Data's in "Phantasms," it also feels more organic, and all the more troubling that a creature of habit has allowed her usual extreme professionalism to be compromised.

All of which is to say, "Human Error" is about as important a Seven episode as there ever was, and it speaks to a lot of franchise lore and experience.  It's a classic.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - A deceptively key holodeck experience.
  • series - The episodic/serialized nature of Voyager can be unlocked by an experience like this.
  • character - Seven's journey of discovery reaches a climax.
  • essential - It's the point where she finally rediscovers her humanity.
notable guest-stars:
Manu Intiraymi (Icheb)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Voyager 7x17 "Workforce, Part 2"

rating: ***

the story: The crew struggles to free itself from an alien world that has attempted to draft everyone into its, well, workforce.

what it's all about: The first half of "Workforce" evoked Next Generation's "Conundrum," the classic where Picard's crew's memory is wiped by an alien attempting to draft it into a war.  The second half is reminiscent of another, "Frame of Mind," where Riker's mental state is questioned so that his mission is derailed.  It's all about how exactly the crew breaks free from various efforts to keep them part of the workforce.  Mostly, it's would-be hero Chakotay being sidelined by the aliens' efforts to thwart him.

The funny thing that happens along the way is that the aliens actually take over much of the narrative in this second half, between the ones helping the crew, the ones investigating things, and the ones trying to keep things running as they have been.  Since these are aliens we'll never see again, it dampens some of the impact of the story, as does the possibility of one last great Janeway/Chakotay story, which seemed to have been set up but never happens, much like their relationship in the rest of the series.  Well, maybe the producers were worried about confusing Chakotay's future prospects with Seven.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Reminiscent of "Frame of Mind."
  • series - Draws on the possibilities of Voyager's premise.
  • character - Seven ends up the one driving the conclusion.
  • essential - Despite a solid conclusion, it also makes clear what might have been done differently.
notable guest-stars:
James Read
Jay Harrington

Voyager 7x16 "Workforce, Part 1"

rating: ***

the story: The crew has been pressed into service on an alien world, with their memories wiped.

what it's all about: I actually just realized that "Workforce" is kind of like Next Generation's "Conundrum," a classic where an alien wipes the memories of Picard's crew in order to engineer a diabolical plot against his enemies.  "Workhorse" has a far less negative plot, but the mechanics are similar.  Most of the characters are given a chance to exist free of their usual duties, so that the viewer is able to discover them anew.  Unlike "Conundrum," there isn't a radical departure in relationships or behaviors, which is another way to distinguish them.

As a Voyager-specific story, it works really well.  In Federation space this would be fair less likely to happen to a Starfleet crew, certainly in this era, which is the whole point of setting a series far away from familiar territory.  In some ways, this is similar to when the Kazon abandoned the crew on an alien world between the second and third seasons (or even when Ferengi board Archer's ship in Enterprise's "Acquisition"), but clearly the story is, again, different.  It's also another excellent sign that even in its seventh season Voyager can still exploit its premise creatively.

Tuvok, Chakotay, and The Doctor all get a chance to shine.  Being a Vulcan, Tuvok has the ability to pierce the fog they've been placed in.  It's an opportunity to see him function in much the way Spock used to, in a way he rarely got to, having to wait for his chances far more often.  Chakotay, meanwhile, who often ends up on more or less solo missions, for a change (like in "Shattered") be in one where he's working to save the crew.  It suits his cool temperament.  The Doctor gets a chance to employ his Emergency Command Hologram mode, something previously teased in "Tinker, Tenor, Doctor, Spy" the previous season.

All of this adds up to the first half of a two-part episode that may lead to an inevitable conclusion, but it's a nice change of pace from the Voyager tradition of coming up with apocalyptic scenarios for these things.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Nicely evokes Next Generation's classic "Conundrum."
  • series - Exploits Voyager's premise nicely.
  • character - It's a nice chance to see the crew in a fresh light.
  • essential - Fairly low-key stakes.
notable guest-stars:
James Read

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Discovery 1x14 "The War Without, the War Within"

rating: ***

the story: The crew strategizes against the Klingons.

what it's all about: For me, this is a considerable rebound from the previous episode, which took some dramatic leaps I wasn't entirely comfortable with.  In a lot of ways, "The War Without, the War Within" is a thesis statement, explaining the overall philosophy of the series.  We'd known all along that lead character Michael Burnham struggled against the perception others had of her, as we followed the exact events that caused her problems.  As the season has progressed, we've seen other characters mirror that journey.  If Lorca seemed to leave without redemption, it now seems all part of that tapestry, the problem of perception and reality, and the need to reconcile them.  Because after seeing what happened to Lorca, the story now pivots to Tyler and Georgiou.  We know why Lorca chose to overlook Burnham's faults.  Can she manage the same with them, and why?

With Tyler, Burnham is experiencing firsthand what she did to Georgiou, and how the rest of Starfleet grew to see her as a result.  She doesn't know how she moves forward with him.  With Mirror Georgiou, she's compromised by her guilt over what happened to her Georgiou; she's incapable of being objective about her.  And yet in both relationships, her reactions and thought process are hugely subjective, and it's hurting everyone involved.  Tyler desperately wants to find himself again, just as Burnham had at the start of the season.  Mirror Georgiou has no such doubts.  She's as eager as Lorca had been to use circumstances to her advantage, and doesn't care who's hurt in the process.  We see a glimpse of Stamets being that cold, to Tyler, but at least with him we can sympathize to an extent.  Every character, every scenario, it's all calculated in this series, reflecting each other.

The greater arc of the Klingon war becomes less important, in all this, even while we see Admiral Cornwell return, totally overwhelmed by things, so that the certainty and even doubt the main characters are experiencing seem infinitely more appealing.  Even Sarek feels ineffectual, too easily manipulated, disconnected from the intricacy of the moving parts in the web the series has been weaving.  It's one thing to be caught up in Mirror Georgiou's machinations.  Lorca operated much the same way.  What sets the main characters apart is that they have an ability to use their doubt against these plans. 

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - This one's for Discovery fans. 
  • series - It speaks directly to the heart of the arc we've followed all season.
  • character - Motivations become clearer, and how Burnham is caught in the middle.
  • essential - It's an explanation that's essential to understanding the series.
notable guest-stars:
Michelle Yeoh (Mirror Georgiou)
James Frain (Sarek)

Monday, January 29, 2018

Discovery 1x13 "What's Past is Prologue"

rating: **

the story: Burnham confronts Mirror Georgiou and Lorca.

what it's all about: Well, it had to end.  My enthusiasm for Discovery had been riding pretty high.  It would have been truly remarkable if that had been maintained through the end of the season.  Turns out it didn't.  The very serialized storytelling that's been working so well is actually what did it.  "What's Past is Prologue," to my mind, once again indicates there are limits to this style.

Even though Deep Space Nine in part reached its greatness thanks to its pioneering use of the style, and Enterprise received its only acclaim from employing it, serialized storytelling itself is not automatically good.  Storytelling is still storytelling, and must be judged on its own merits, not the way it's presented.  Today it's called "binge" storytelling, and there are a lot of people who seem to like it for the mere fact of its addictiveness. 

Which is to say, each episode still has to stand on its own, and must be able to justify what adds or doesn't add to the overall storytelling arc.  "Prologue" attempts to once again twist the knife of constant twists in this series.  For me it doesn't work.  And it works, as presented, about as poorly as anything has in Discovery (read: "Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum").

As with a lot of Discovery material, the viewer is expected to carry previous events in mind, and judge the new material based on these previous memories.  This is the third episode in thirteen in which there's a big action sequence with Burnham being asked to confront the villain.  And this time, inarguably, the villain, for the first time, is someone we should reasonably be expected to care about.  With the two times it's happened with Klingons, we've known both times that it didn't matter, because we still had the Torchbearer, we still had (and as of this episode, have) L'Rell.  In a manner of speaking, that dynamic remains, because we still have Georgiou.  Well, Mirror Georgiou, anyway.  But that only makes things unnecessarily complicated.

Because the villain this time is Lorca.  We've just discovered that a character we've known throughout the season has been someone else all along (and hardly the only character like that), that he was from the Mirror Universe.  "Prologue" not only confirms this, but confirms that he's as bad as anyone has ever been in the Mirror Universe.  This feels like a development that can't be judged, entirely, on one episode, that it might be counterbalanced, once we see where Tyler/Torchbearer settles.  We can't use Burnham as the control element, because she's the only character in this series being allowed to operate on more than one level at a time.  Which turns out to be unfair, and part of what's slipping off the scales of what keeps Discovery feel like traditional Star Trek, despite everything else.

Because the episode ends with her believing she has a chance at redeeming Mirror Georgiou.  And not because Mirror Georgiou is redeemable, but because Burnham feels guilt about what happened with her Georgiou at the start of the series.  The series wants us to believe we care about what happens to Georgiou, any Georgiou, more than what happens with Lorca, and yet this is not really a Star Trek question at all.  If all we care about is Burnham, and whether or not those wacky people around her stop stumbling into dramatic situations, sort of tangential to her adventures but constantly defining them (Stamets and the spore drive has basically been confirmed to be a Maguffin)...

Sorry, I don't want to be flippant or negative.  My point is, "Prologue," even in that title, desperately wants to be evocative and climactic.  If you accept it to be a dramatic conclusion to Lorca's story, and that alone, it probably works the way it wants to.  If you wish Mirror Georgiou's arc concluded here, too, as I do, then it probably doesn't.  To my mind, it doesn't work because it weakens Burnham, and it strains the credibility of the storytelling.  Burnham's guilt doesn't outweigh Mirror Georgiou's character.  We don't need another episode to decide this.  Suggesting we do is a slap in the face of "Prologue" itself, which is all about reconciling the facts and what we want to believe.  Except in the matter where it really matters.  That's not good serialized storytelling.  It's deliberately prolonged storytelling, and not because it produces good storytelling.  Far too much serialized storytelling is like that.  Until now Discovery had avoided that trap.

Well, hopefully the rest of the season can make up for this.

criteria analysis:
  • franchise - Reflects poorly on Star Trek ideals.
  • series - Regardless of its merit, this is relevant Discovery material.
  • character - And relevant to Burnham and certainly to Lorca.
  • essential - The death of a major character has rarely been this disappointing.
notable guest-stars:
Michelle Yeoh (Mirror Georgiou)
Rekha Sharma (Mirror Landry)
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