Viewing posts tagged TNG Season 5

“Born This Way”: The Outcast

Oh dear.

So remember back in the “The Host” essay when we were talking about clumsy, confused, poorly handled episodes that kind of make a big mess of gender and sexuality? I said there were three big ones that, due to their relentless terribleness or just general incompetence, singlehandedly saddle Star Trek: The Next Generation with a reputation for heteronormativity and homophobia, no matter how many admirable strides it manages to make elsewhere. The first was “Blood and Fire” (and by extension “The Naked Now”) and the second was “The Host”. “The Outcast” is the third.

Buckle in tightly, kids.

“The Outcast” is a story about a planet (of hats, natch) where there is no concept of gender. They view “dividing people into two genders” to be a retrograde and “primitive” notion and consider themselves more “enlightened” as a result (and Holy Goddamn Shit that's a can of worms I'm not even going to go anywhere remotely near the ballpark of). Commander Riker gets involved (in more than one way) with one of their scientists, an ...

“An Introductory Reader”: Ethics

There was an urban legend going around awhile back about an entire intro class failing due to rampant, universal plagiarism, the kicker being the reveal that it was an ethics class. I've also heard a variant where criminals were getting caught illegally profiting off of resold ethics textbooks. That's sort of what I was thinking about as I was working through this episode.

“Ethics” is, to my knowledge, considered a highlight of the fifth season. In Starlog's episode guide from the mid-1990s (which for the longest time was my primary insight into what conventional wisdom on any of these stories was) there was a little Starfleet emblem next to the title of this episode, an indication that this was one of the editors' personal recommendations. Longtime readers of my guides will have doubtlessly picked up on my thoughts about this already: Typically when I go into this sort of background before I actually start analysing things it's a sign that I disagree with it just about entirely. Well, I'm certainly not about to go against type now. I've tried to like this episode, many times, in ...

“Demon War”: Power Play

OK, OK, we'll cut to the chase. No-one is pretending “Power Play” is anything other than a rollicking action show. There's really not a whole lot more under the surface here than that. But damn is it ever a good one. Michael Piller seemed to think this was a hollow, empty and effectively mediocre outing, but even if it's not as openly provocative as Star Trek: The Next Generation can get on its best days, that doesn't mean there isn't a whole lot to love in “Power Play”.

The first obvious thing to say about it is that it's plainly an actor showcase episode, and it's very probably the best damn actor showcase episode this show ever does. It takes three of the best talents out of an already preternaturally talented cast, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner and Colm Meaney (and with the utmost respect to the other actors, all of whom I deeply adore, they are) and just lets them run completely wild for 45 minutes: Because of them (as well as the episode's ample direction that works seamlessly with them), this never for ...

“I can't seem to forget”: Conundrum

Well it's an interesting one indeed.

“Conundrum” is first off incredibly deceptive. On paper it sounds for all the world like one of the most stock things Star Trek: The Next Generation has ever done and a prime example of a show running on empty: I mean come on, really? An amnesia story? For real? But in truth this is yet another fifth season highlight and a prime example of how the show has never been stronger than it is now. The first clue is that this isn't actually your typical amnesia story,which would have involved either a mysterious hero wandering into an unfamiliar setting where we have to learn about their past alongside them or a tragic accident where the supporting cast has to try and jog the memory of the amnesiac protagonist in a forced, strangled attempt to wring hollow drama out of the show's premise.

Star Trek: The Next Generation can't do either of those plots, not just for the eminently sensible reason that they're both dumb and hackneyed ideas, but also because its narrative structure would preclude that. The amnesia is just ...

“Snake, a snake!”: The Masterpiece Society

This is probably the episode I've changed my opinion on more times than any other. The first time I saw “The Masterpiece Society” I thought it was middling, though acceptable in a vague sort of way: It didn't really hold my interest long enough to leave much of an impression, though I liked that Geordi had a meaty plot with a lady guest star. Later, I came to understand that this episode has, or at least had, a very significant and vocal hatedom, with many fans describing it as the flat-out worst episode in all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Which struck me as odd, considering “Code of Honor” and “Reunion” both exist. Then I remembered I had read somewhere that some fan forum or critical aggregate site (I can't remember which one) bestowed upon “The Masterpiece Society” the unusual title of “most average Star Trek: The Next Generation episode”. As in, if you were looking for one episode that best encapsulated what the show looked like and how it operated on an average ...

“Dark Thoughts”: Violations

So. There are a handful of episodes that, irrespective of their quality one way or another, I simply cannot watch. This would be one of those.

The first strike against “Violations” is that it's one of those infamous “Issues” stories. Even though this is the kind of story Star Trek is arguably most famous for doing, the fact of the matter is they're also the kind of story Star Trek is also the most terrible at telling. There's no way it can do a story like this and not come across as equal parts blinkered and self-absorbed. The best way for Star Trek to do “social commentary”, as it were, is through its utopianism: Demonstrate a utopian approach to solving a problem or portray a world where a specific problem is conspicuously absent. Conversely, if you must tell a story about a specific social topic that would no longer be strictly speaking relevant in a utopian future setting, you have to speak about it in allegorical generalization. The problem “Violations” has is that it doesn ...

“Strange New Worlds”: Hero Worship

And this would be the perfect counterpoint to that argument. It's one of my absolute favourite episodes in a season mostly made up of favourite episodes.

I used to get “Hero Worship” mixed up with “The Bonding” a lot because they both deal with helping children cope with a traumatic loss and move forward with their lives. They're also both fucking brilliant and textbook example of what Star Trek: The Next Generation is all about. It would be understandable to make the assumption “Hero Worship” is a ripoff or rehash of “The Bonding” in this respect, and I even thought that myself for awhile. But it's actually not: Both episodes approach loss from different angles, and Jeremy from that episode and Timothy in this one deal with their confusion and sadness in two very different ways: Jeremy tries to cling to a past he can't go back to, while Timothy shuts down and doesn't want to acknowledge his feelings. Also, and this is just me I'm sure, but I almost think “Hero Worship” is maybe a little more nuanced and sophisticated than “The Bonding” in some ...

“I Am Your Father”: New Ground

“New Ground” is a bit like “Ensign Ro” in the sense it's a rather middling, though functional, effort that exists primarily to introduce a new reoccurring character, or in this case reintroduce one. “New Ground” comes across a bit better than “Ensign Ro”, or at least more forgettable (in a good way) because it doesn't have the retroactive weight of Bajor, the Cardassian occupation and Ro Laren hanging over it and because Alexander is quite frankly nobody's favourite character (with the exception of Michael Piller's mother, which is apparently the reason he sticks around as long as he does).

Any problems this story has can be purely chalked up as conceptual ones it inherits by virtue of digging up Alexander rather then issues with its localized narrative structure. Simply put, Alexander was never a good idea, or at least the way they introduced him wasn't a good idea. The stink of “Reunion” is going to hang over the poor kid forever no matter what he does (and he does do some good stuff). Actually, the most annoying thing about “New Ground” is that like 80% of it ...

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