157: Shades of Gray (2.22)

Synopsis:  Riker nearly dies, either from a malevolent vine or from being in a clip show.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Bye Bye Pulaski

Review:   I don’t hate this episode quite as much as most people, though it ‘s far from good.  I’m not sure a clip show can ever be good (there are plenty of cheap ways to do bottle episodes), though this one does its best for the first half hour.  There’s actually several funny exchanges between Riker and his crew mates.  And transporter Chief O’Brien freaks out Pulaski by telling her he “hopes” he’s got the right coordinates.  But the last half is nearly all clips, supposedly all Riker memories even though none of the clips are from his point of view and a few don’t even take place in the same room as he. Utterly embarrassing.

What hurts this episode even more is that it’s the final episode of season two.  I know the writer’s strike messed up their original intentions (especially since season two was the only one that didn’t have 26 episodes), but Peak Performance would have been a much nicer send-off.  Not simply because of quality, but because it actually has continuity with season three by discussing the Borg threat.

158: Birthright (6.16 + 6.17)

Synopsis:  Data dreams, Worf screams

Memory Alpha Summary:  Nightmares and Dreamscapes

Review:  The worst two-parter during the series run, Birthright is a little bit of bad, but mostly boring, from beginning to end.  We visit Deep Space Nine, presumably to help integrate fans.  Except for a rather banal cameo by Dr. Bashir, you hardly know they even visited.  Data has some dreams which are kind of trippy, but there’s little emotional resonance with the experience and the subplot is completely dropped for part two.  It really does seem like filler.  Then you get Worf, who rants and raves like a stupid Klingon until Troi reminds him of the many contradictions inherent in Klingon culture.  We wait in anticipation for Worf finding his suddenly alive father…but wait, he’s dead, just like we thought all along.   Then when he finds out Romulans and Klingons dare live in peace somewhere, every racist thought he has ever had comes out in full force.  Just a few episodes ago, we had Picard telling a Cardassian that teaching young ones to hate others will only breed more hate, and Worf spends a good deal of time trying to convince these Klingons to hate Romulans, just because they are.  He slightly redeems himself by the end, but I just tire of how immature the writers make Worf seem every time an episode is about him.  His character at times reminds me of {edit: King of Queens}, where so many episodes involve him being a pompous ass for twenty minutes then making things all better at the end.  Worf should have his faults, but his character should grow as well.

While in many respects Birthright isn’t as bad as some of the episodes coming up, it’s twice as long so I hate it twice as much.

159: The Last Outpost (1.05)

Synopsis:  The Enterprise crew finally meet the vicious, human-devouring Ferengi.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Read it if you dare, HU-mon!

Review:  For three episodes we heard about the scary new adversary the Federation had never met but had heard frightening rumors about.  And thanks to somebody, the Ferengi were fucked up so badly here that it took Armin Shimmerman several years to  get them back to respectability.  Despite their awful presentation, the first half of this show is actually pretty decent.  There is some genuine tension building, as it appears the Ferengi are powerful and are yet silently watching the Enterprise.  Sadly, this goes to hell once they beam down to the planet, as this group of Ferengi are whiny, wimpy, and are so awful at lying that it doesn’t matter that Troi can’t read their thoughts.  The moderately intriguing conversation Riker has with the guardian of an ancient civilization is wasted because of the Ferengi presence.

Sadly, the other thing this episode does is begin to show how pointless the character of Tasha Yar will be.  Essentially we have two “shoot first, ask questions later” security officers in Tasha and Worf, and Worf is easily the most interesting of the two (if only at this point because he’s Klingon and provides some comic relief).   I literally laughed out loud when Picard asks for suggestions and Worf says, “Hit ‘em fast and hit ‘em hard!”

Geordi is also an embarrassment in this episode, with his “WOO-WEE!” attitude on the bridge every time he gets turned on by an idea or an explosion.  Thankfully, Data manages to make the Chinese finger trap gag amusing.  This episode is so bad as it is that the finger trap bit feels mature in comparison.

160: Aquiel (6.13)

Synopsis:  Since holodeck dating didn’t work, Geordi tries his hand at reading the intimate diaries of murder suspects.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Get your voyeurism fix

Review:   My word.  Not only do we have Geordi (in season six, no less) acting extremely unethical at every turn because a girl finally likes him, he is more or less absolved by all of his actions at the end because the real killer turns out to be the dog (since, of course, humans don’t murder anyone in the 24th century).  But the real offense comes when the script ignores the fact that Aquiel’s actions following the murder (including evading arrest and destroying evidence) are still indefensible!  She should still get a court martial…and heck, Geordi should, too, for tampering with an investigation.  This episode’s moderately intelligent mystery just winds up being gross.

161: The Price (3.08)

Synopsis: A bunch of men wave their dicks in hopes of buying a wormhole, and Troi falls in love with one of them.

Memory Alpha Summary: I’ll be your conscience.  Stay away.

Review:  This episode gives me the willies.  First, Ral is creepy to my non-Betazoid senses, and I find no part of him charming or attractive.  Thus, Troi falling for him weakens her character instead of strengthening it.  Then, Crusher tells Troi “Who needs rational when your toes curl!”  Okay, except the guy who’s curling her toes is a manipulative douchebag.  The one scene I love is the exchange between Ral and Riker.  Ral gets in a great dig at Riker being perpetually second in command, while Riker gets him back by challenging his ability to make a woman happy.

Did I mention the Ferengi are involved?  They don’t help things either.

Because I can’t help myself, I’ll introduce you all to a pet peeve of mine.  Picard refers to the wormhole as a “proverbial lemon.”  There is no proverb here.  It’s just a metaphor.

I’ll be off the grid for a couple days.  Happy Thanksgiving to all.  We’ll kick off the Top 160 next Monday.

162: Skin of Evil (1.23)

Synopsis:  Tasha kicks the bucket.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Take some Metamucil first

Review:  Poor Tasha begins the episode by discussing a ship wide MMA tournament she is planning. Not only would this have been awesome for Denise Crosby (who bemoaned the lack of action she had for a security officer), it would have been awesome for us viewers as well.  I am guessing the inevitable Tasha vs. Worf championship showdown would have ended with Worf flat on his back (as usual) and Tasha winning despite displaying no apparent skill.

What we get instead is a black monster who is all things Cthulhu, only not scary.  Tasha gets one of the most anticlimactic death scenes in the history of television.  If we cared deeply for her, then such a death would be moving, and sincere.  But we don’t, so it’s not.  And then we find out she has a prepared holographic speech to give to all of her friends in case she died in the line of duty.  If Tasha’s character had any depth, it would be heart wrenching.  But she doesn’t, so it’s not.  In her speech we find out about all the deep friendships she had with everyone on the crew despite the viewers never seeing any evidence of them to this point.  She tells Data he looks at the world like a child does, which is essentially an epic smackdown of his sexual prowess.  The most telling statement she has is for Worf, saying they are “so much alike.”  Yup, that’s the first season for ya.

163: The Icarus Factor (2.14)

Synopsis:  Riker’s father wants to kiss and make up  (with him, not with Pulaski, whom he apparently kissed and “made up” with a long time ago). Meanwhile, Riker considers taking command of another ship just to get away from his anger.  Worf copes with his anger by engaging in masochism.

Memory Alpha Review:  Read it, or hit yourself with a painstik.  Same result.

Review:  In case you haven’t noticed, not a single episode featuring Wesley has made the countdown yet.  That changes today, though not because of him.

This episode tries desperately to provide emotional depth to two characters while completely forgetting to make it emotional.   Both Riker and Worf are supposed to be angry and resentful, but it never feels real.  Whether that’s the script or Roddenberry’s poor handling of any negative emotion is up for debate, but this is just really ham-handed.  The anger, the outbursts, the make-up sex (in adorable red and blue suits)…it all feels shallow.   A couple of great lines by O’Brien kept me from falling asleep and this episode from showing up last week.

Survivor X, Challenge 5: Bantam Bulwyr

Our challenge this week was to honor the spirit of Bulwyr-Lytton and create the worst possible opening to a novel imaginable.  It has to be believable enough to actually make it to print, but bad enough to make the reader want to stop immediately.  The only rule was to keep it at 50 words or less.  Coincidentally, I came in at exactly 50 words.

The crosscheck by McDuff was as swift as it was sharp, paralyzing Tristan long enough for the black disk that was his nightly ticket to a division one school slide past his reach.  He gathered himself and gave McDuff an icy stare.  This was going to be a long night.

Scoring was on a forced curve, with twenty percent getting a perfect score of five, twenty percent getting a four, and so on.

Spooky: Ooh, I love a good unnecessary definition in this challenge, a la “the black disk.” The “icy stare” is a great eye-roller, and the use of McDuff and Tristan – characters from classic literature – makes this one gloriously amateurish. Plus, the final sentence gives the impression that the entire book might be this one hockey game. Holy shit, man. 4

DK: If you’re wondering, this is the hardest one I had to give. I’m too interested in the topic to grade this higher, and though I love to hate the puck description, there’s not enough else to keep me away from it. 1

There was no inspiration for this.  I wasn’t even watching hockey.  But “The crosscheck by McDuff” just sort of popped in my head and I went with it.  I figured our hero should have the most annoying name possible, so Tristan it was.  I intentionally used a last name for the antagonist and a first name for the protagonist.  “Swift as it was sharp” makes no sense, but it sounds like it’s trying hard to be a cool simile.  “Icy stare” was a lame metaphor that I couldn’t resist.  But my favorite part was what this paragraph actually means. One, our hero views hockey as his ticket into NCAA sports. Yuck. Finally, as Spooky mentioned, the last sentence implies the entire book will be this one game.  Double yuck.

DK, if you want to me to finish this and be my publisher, let me know!

The Vogons also cruised to their fifth consecutive first-place finish.  Go team.

164: Sub Rosa (7.14)

Synopsis:  Twilight is to whale vomit as Sub Rosa is to…

Memory Alpha Summary:  For the love of all that is holy, don’t read two chapters.

Review:   Easily the most ridiculous episode in the entire series run, I can’t believe Gates McFadden was able to keep a straight face through it all.  The sad thing here is that her performance is actually pretty impressive given what she had to work with.  Having an orgasm with a ghost (while also realizing it’s going to be on prime time TV) cannot be easy.

I don’t hate this episode because it’s a Gothic romance novel.  I also don’t hate this episode because the sci-fi is essentially limited to the sexual slave master being able to travel along a power transfer beam.  I hate it because the characters say the stupidest things ever said in space.

First we get everyone talking about the  “Howard women” and how their green eyes go back 800 years.  We are even given the name of the first woman our slave master raped in the 17th century, and it’s Jessel Howard (and to any woman who thought this episode was romantic: you are endorsing rape and you don’t deserve to have sex ever again).  So we’re led to believe that Beverly was the first female in her entire family’s history that changed her last name when she got married.   I can force myself to ignore subtle plot holes but this one grates on me.

Second, everyone dances around the most obviously gross aspect of this story.  Beverly is essentially fucking her dead grandma’s booty call.  Troi admonishes Beverly, warning her that two people who share a trauma sometimes get together under false pretenses.  Yes, Troi, but you forget to mention to Beverly that this guy just regularly fucked her grandmother.  She even encourages Beverly to read more of her grandma’s erotic journal entries(!) so she can have wet dreams about her grandma’s boyfriend.  What.  The.  F?

165: Cost of Living (5.20)

Synopsis:  Alexander and Lwaxana?  Really?

Memory Alpha Summary:  Yes, you’re just supposed to sit here

Review:  Before we get to the episode itself, I have to say a couple of things.  First, I’m not intentionally picking on season five.  It truly was a great season.  But when an idea failed, it failed hard.  Second, I love Majel Barrett and even Lwaxana when she is written well (as she is in Deep Space Nine).  Obviously, not here.

Cost of Living is an incredibly poorly paced episode.   We are twenty minutes in before there’s any conflict (ship eating parasites).  By then, the conflict feels contrived and too easily solved.  It really does feel like the writers were thinking, “We need to add a sci-fi element here where everyone could die” and put something together in a few minutes.  The Enterprise nearly being destroyed should never be the B-plot of an episode.  However, even if it had been interesting, it couldn’t have saved us from a story about Alexander teaching Lwaxana that marrying someone she’s never met because she’s depressed is a bad idea.

The jokes are obvious and the crazy holodeck characters feel like one is at a children’s party with a bad clown (yeah, I know).  The only part that woke me up was Lwaxana coming to her senses and arriving at her wedding in the nude.  It was that scene alone that skyrocketed this episode from #166 to #165.

Hey, at least it won Emmys for costume-design and makeup.  Apparently garish was the prerequisite that year.