152: The High Ground (3.12)

Synopsis:  Crusher plays Patty Hearst.  And terrorists are bad m’kay?

Memory Alpha Summary: The end of terrorism is when the first person stops writing awful television

Review:  If you thought the preaching in season one was hard to swallow, I think this episode puts that entire season to shame.  What we have here is a lot of righteous dialogue on both sides of a terrorist movement that doesn’t say anything new about the topic and just leaves the viewer feeling like the 24th century will be just as icky as the 20th.  I do like the twist of Picard and his crew unwittingly being oppressors, but since we are never really convinced that the terrorists’ cause is just, it’s hard to be sympathetic.

What this episode does successfully is show the first of 843 times Beverly begins to tell Picard her deep, moist feelings for him before she is conveniently cut off.  Like Geordi’s fumbling with women and Data’s infinite thesaurus, it never gets old.

153: Angel One (1.14)

Synopsis: Riker gets to provide “gestures of good will” to the head female of an oligarchy society, and if there’s time, save some castaways.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Considering it’s written by a man, it’s not that bad

Review:  This reeks of a “special episode” about sexism and does nothing at all to help it.  We also learn Riker has some seriously fucked up values.  First, he willingly lets himself get seduced by the leader of a planet in the name of diplomacy, when it is possibly the worst thing he could do short of murdering her.  Then, he shows every intention of violating the rights and self-determination of the castaways (by beaming them up against their will) all because of his guilt complex.  He saves some face by giving a decent speech about martyrdom (which, while preachy, is pretty damn accurate), but only after flipping the bird at the prime directive (which was violated many years earlier as Starfleet had met with this pre-warp civilization already).  And why couldn’t this speech be given by Tasha?  Now that would have been a statement (and made her useful for once).

Oh, and apparently the holodeck not only has a terrible failsafe mechanism, it can also kill the entire crew by manifesting a deadly virus.  At least Wesley got to hit the captain with a snowball.  After being told to shut up multiple times while trying to save Picard’s ass, I think Wesley’s revenge was beautifully understated but effective.

The only bright spot is Geordi’s awesome, emotional moment when he gets to sit in the captain’s chair for the first time.

154: Menage a Troi (3.24)

Synopsis:  The Academy shuts out Wesley for the third year in a row, and Riker fails to get in on some hot mother/daughter action.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Compare this to a summer’s day

Review:  Our annual Lwaxana episode is dreadfully boring for about thirty-eight minutes as the Ferengi bumble their way through a kidnapping.  Majel is wonderful, but her character goes over the top with her disrespect towards her own daughter.  The only highlight is Picard having to profess his undying love for her in order to save her from a life as a Ferengi sex slave.

I have to comment on how asinine the Academy is when it comes to their prospective students.  Wesley finally gains entrance into the Academy, but he has to delay his start yet another time because he’s too busy saving AMBASSADOR Troi from the Ferengi.  His reward is yet another snubbing and our reward is one more season of him.  At least he finally gets promoted to full ensign and can wear a uniform, which does actually suit him pretty well.

Survivor X, Challenge 7: C’mon, Try It!

Last week was an optional week where we create a challenge to be run later.  You’ll probably see my idea sometime later in the game, that is if I survive that long.

This week, our goal was to take any kind of invention which is widely accepted today, and pretend it had never been invented (or at least for its current use) until now.  A whole bunch of ideas tumbled around for most of the week, like toilet paper and sexual intercourse (humans were asexual until now, somehow).  While I was doing dishes, an idea struck.  Here it is.

The minister finished the eulogy, failing to lift the pall that was oppressing the room. “Is there anyone present that would like to say something about Eric?”

Eric’s wife continued to stare into her lap while their son tried to comfort her. A man in the back rose from his seat. “I would,” he said. It was Daryl, Eric’s best friend. “I think if one word could be used to describe Eric it would be ‘dreamer.’ He…”

Daryl’s breath caught. Two seconds later, he continued.

“He’s been a great husband for twenty-five years. A great father for twelve. And he’s been my best friend for the past ten. He was also a damn good accountant. But through everything was his music.”

Several people in the room nodded.

“He said his desire to make people happy fueled his desire to make music. I think mostly it was because he hated Enya.” A few chuckles filled the room. “I told him it was hard to argue with eighteen number-one hits, but he wouldn’t have any of it. He insisted that this instrument of his…ah, what did he call it?”

“A guitar!” laughed somebody near the front.

“Yeah, a guitar. He thought it could change music. It really was a poor excuse for a synthesizer, but it sounded good to him. And really, that’s all that mattered. I never saw him so at peace as when he was playing it. I will miss him, as we all will. His courage. His dreams. Even his damn music.”

Tears filled the room, including the minister’s. “Would anyone else like to say something about Mr. Clapton?”

“Yes,” said his son.

“Go ahead, Conor,” Eric’s wife said, giving him a gentle push.

Crying, he rested his now shaking hand on the coffin. “See you, Dad.”

When I landed on the guitar as a topic, it sounded dull as any other.  But Eric Clapton sprang to mind, and I thought how his life might have turned out if he wouldn’t have been famous.  His son not tragically falling to his death at the age of four most certainly wouldn’t have happened, because that was a kid he had with an Italian supermodel.  So, assuming he had a normal, suburban life, his son wouldn’t have been where he was when he died.  So I knew I wanted a story where instead of Clapton writing Tears in Heaven for his dead son, his own death would be a crushing moment for his living son.

After that I needed a setting.  After debating between his death bed and the funeral, I felt the funeral would be easier to write and have easier potential for someone to talk about Clapton’s love, his new-fangled guitar.

Finally, I needed to show how the world would be different if the guitar had never been invented.  I thought of the line, “Well, the guitar is really just a poor excuse for a ukelele” but I knew I wanted a more depressing alternate history.  So a perennially popular Enya it was.

And for the judge’s reactions.  Scoring was on a forced curve, out of five points, with 17 participants.

Spooky: Oh, Jesus, this is well done. I didn’t see this ending coming, and the writer certainly is aware of my awareness of the Clapton tragedy. This story has an emotional resonance with me that I simply can’t put into words, and I wasn’t expecting drama in any of these period. 4

DK: Kind of similar to the last one in that it didn’t grab me, although it was a little more of a eye-roller for me at the end that brought this one a little down. 2

So adding Conor to the mix provided resonance for one judge and made the other’s eyes roll.  Well, that’ll be helpful going forward!  Actually, I kid.  I thought I could have constructed this better.   Originally, I had Conor saying “See you in Heaven, Dad” but I felt that would have been even more eye-roll worthy.  What bothered me the most was I had this enormous contrivance in there just for humor (Enya) contrasted with an attempt at writing a dramatic scene.  I’m not sure it works perfectly, but overall I’m happy with it.

The Vogons lose their first member due to a non-submission, though it wasn’t entirely unexpected.  Despite that, we still finished with the highest scores for the seventh straight week.

155: The Battle (1.09)

Synopsis:  Daimon Bok of the Ferengi wants to give Picard his old ship, the Stargazer, as a gift.  Yeeeeah.  Riiiiight.

Memory Alpha Summary:  All ears

Review:  If you didn’t hate Wesley before this episode, you do now.  But we’ll get back to that.

After Picard gets a headache, Dr. Crusher preaches some more about how headaches and the common cold are pussified problems for 20th century folk.  I’m also noticing that Picard has a terrible habit of finishing everyone’s sentences in season one.  While he’s always right, it’s a demeaning, controlling habit employed by a lot of supervisors and it’s beginning to annoy me.

All right, back to Wesley.  First off, he tells everyone that he was “playing around with the sensors” as if he has any business doing so in the first place.  More disturbingly, how in the hell does he have access?  But the true tragedy comes when it is established that the entire crew, despite knowing that the Ferengi are conniving assholes, cannot complete the simplest of investigations as to what’s going wrong with Picard.  Wesley “glances” at the brain scans of Picard, recognizing them as looking similar to transmissions that are coming from the Ferengi ship.  The doctor couldn’t figure this out.  The freaking super-smart android couldn’t figure this out.  No, Wesley saves the day, then cements his reputation with “Heh, adults.”  Congratulations Roddenberry, you just ruined one of your characters.

Stewart does his best, acting the part of a man hallucinating past memories.  And Riker has a pretty awesome conversation with Bok’s first officer.   But this plot is threadbare to begin with.  At least this episode gave us “The Picard Maneuver,” something Beverly sadly never gets to see in private.

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary

I figured I might as well fill up the countdown free weekends with more Star Trek, so the next several weekends we’ll look at some gaming from the Star Trek Universe.

Year Released: 1992
Platform: PC, Amiga, Mac
Developer: Interplay

One of the few true adventure games that Interplay had produced, they struck gold with this license. With characters lifted perfectly from the TV show, the game is a pleasure to watch (let alone play) if you even moderately enjoyed Star Trek.

Deftly incorporating all facets from the show, Kirk and his crew must solve each of seven missions efficiently and in accordance with the prime directive. In other words, don’t mess with the natives! After each mission, an admiral from Starfleet will give you a rating representing how well you accomplished your goals. The higher the rating, the more powerful upgrades you receive for your weapons, shields, and flight control. These resources are key if you want to stand a fighting chance during the battles. Several times you will be confronted by either the Romulans, Klingons, or Elasi pirates, and unless you become a master of the controls, you’ll need all the help you can get.

The majority of your rating relies on your demeanor towards native populations and to adversaries. During conversation, you are presented with several choices of how to respond. You can pick the funny, brash, or sarcastic comment, but these will get Kirk in trouble most of the time. Not only do you have to be a good adventurer and fighter, you have to be a good diplomat as well.  Also, solutions that require the least amount of violence also tend to get rewarded well.

A few of the missions are a breeze, but watching the characters interact is such a joy that I am glad the game wasn’t extremely difficult. However, there is one excruciating mathematical puzzle which I could never solve. Several years after pounding my tricorder against a wall–aided by an internet walkthrough–I acquired the answer.  While I grasp the solution now, it is a significant barrier to those who aren’t adept in mathematics, and can prevent otherwise solid adventurers from completing the game.

Interplay did an adequate job of incorporating the four icon system into gameplay.  At times you must combine items in your inventory and manipulate them, and the designers came up with some inventive uses for the phaser.  The graphics are excellent, and the sound is even better than on the original show. Imagine what twenty-five years can do for production values.

Perfect characterizations (aided by the voices of the real-life actors on the CD-ROM version), combined with a fluent story, moderate challenge, and excellent graphics and sound, Star Trek: 25th Anniversary should be modeled by today’s adventure games.

Rating:  77

156: Code of Honor (1.04)

Synopsis:  Tasha kicks some ass for her first (and only) time, though it’s on a jungle gym with creepy men ogling her.

Memory Alpha Summary:  Understand the proper value of women

Review:  This episode is near universally abhorred, and rightfully so.  Not only does it run the risk of appearing racist, it is horribly acted and logically flawed.  It is the first mention of the big bad Prime Directive in TNG, despite the fact it is irrelevant to this episode.  After Tasha is kidnapped, Picard states that he cannot just overpower them and take her, for fear of violating the directive.  What the fuck?  They kidnapped her!  No cultural norm can be an excuse for harming another person, and the Enterprise would have every right to simply move in and take her back.  The real reason they don’t intervene is because they know if they do, they get no vaccine and millions of people die.   Yes, the directive keeps them from stealing the vaccine, but it is also possible that their adversaries would destroy it if they tried.

I do give the writers some credit, though.  When Picard is negotiating, he eventually learns that no amount of righteousness will get him what he wants (which would mean NO treaty, NO vaccine, and NO Lieutenant Yar!), and that he must meet his adversaries where they are in order to work with them.  This is a valuable lesson for anyone working with cultures that seem backwards to them.

There’s also a great moment where Picard gives a speech about how awful humans were in the 20th century, then apologizes to everyone for preaching to the choir.  It’s too bad the rest of the crew doesn’t take his cue for the next few seasons.

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.