Star Trek

Star Trek

Monday, July 24, 2017

ST:TNG Season Two Review

ST:TNG Season Two Review

So here we are at another milestone, the end of season two. I know some of you are now scrolling backward in confusion, wondering if you missed the review of the season finale, and no you didn't: the season finale was the clip show. Because nothing says "please tune in to our show in the fall!" quite like a series of two-minute reruns sandwiched between new scenes of Troi crying and Pulaski looking worried.



Let's dive in with...

The Good

"Elementary, Dear Data"
Episode 3



The costumes and sets for this episode were sumptuous, and the overall story not terrible. Data's Sherlock Holmes was a tad heavy-handed at times, but guest-star Daniel Davis was a great choice for Moriarty, playing him as both dangerous and likeable. We'll see him again, and that does not make me sad.


"Loud As a Whisper"
Episode 5



Howie Seago, who plays Riva, approached the producers about making an episode about a deaf mediator. I loved the story. I loved the costumes. I loved that they used a deaf actor rather than hire a hearing actor who knows sign language. I loved the unusual conclusions they had arrived at by the end of the episode. I feel like this episode doesn't get enough credit, which is disappointing.


"Unnatural Selection"
Episode 7



Interesting medical and science concepts. Hard-to-watch scenes where they blow up a quarantined ship for safety's sake. Fairly solid sci-fi. Pulaski gets over her robophobia.


"A Matter of Honor"
Episode 8



A student exchange program in space leads to a Benzite working on the E, and Riker working on a Klingon ship. Not only do we get to see the difficulties of each, but we get a lot more background into how a Klingon ship functions, what kind of foods they eat, and how they regard elders. Not to mention the fact that the conclusion of the conflict was unusual and handled well.


"The Measure of a Man"
Episode 9



It doesn't matter how often I watch this episode, it always punches me in the gut. It's cleverly disguised as an argument concerning the rights of a single android officer, but it truth, it is a much larger and far-reaching topic. Top to bottom, its discussions on how human attitudes towards others shapes the futures of many, are conversations that we need to keep having, and while it may be surprising that we still need to have them in the 24th century, they way that they're handled is poignant. I feel like this was not only one of the best episodes of season two, but also of this particular series, and the entire franchise.


"Q Who"
Episode 16



Q, kicked out of the Continuum, requests that the E take him on as a crewmember. When Picard tells him to go fuck himself, he introduces the Borg to that sector of space earlier than anticipated. Q claims he's only doing it to test Picard and the E, and to prove that he would be useful to the crew, but you know that shit was done out of revenge. We're introduced to what I would consider to be a much better Big Baddie than most of the villains have been on this show thus far, and we learn that Q is acquainted with Guinan, though we never really find out more about that.
Team Borg!


"Samaritan Snare"
Episode 17




A lot of this episode was just okay, with a plot that included Geordi getting kidnapped by space-hicks, but it's filled out nicely with conversations between Picard and Wes, on their way to a nearby starbase. We get a good backstory about Picard, one that leads to a really fantastic episode later on, and he and Wes share some good moments on a forced roadtrip.


"The Emissary"
Episode 20





An old flame of Worf boards the ship. The amazing Suzie Plakson plays K'Ehleyr, who has been sent to help the E with a difficult situation involving Klingons from a bygone era. K'Ehleyr is complicated, as is her relationship with Worf, and this episode will cause ripples in the series and beyond going forward. I like the costumes, the casting, the conclusion. We never did find out what happened to them earlier, but it's a decent trade-off, as the rest of the episode was pretty solid.


"Peak Performance"
Episode 21





Parts of this episode were okay, but there were two big highlights for me: one was the ingenuity of the Hathaway crew, finding unusual strategies and solutions to unwinnable situations. The second was the relatability to Data's conundrum of a loss of confidence. Picard's assertion that "one can make no mistakes and still lose" is a bitter pill that we all must swallow sometimes, and was an important lesson for Data to learn.


The Bad

Truth be told, I didn't really feel like there was anything overtly awful this season, especially in comparison with season one, which had some real dogs. Sadly, I found that there were far more episodes that were just downright forgettable, or not quite executed well.


"The Child"
Episode 1



An interesting concept - passing alien decides the best way to find out about humanoids is to be born, live as one, and die - but it turns up as more forgettable than anything. It's kind of super-creepy that an alien impregnated Troi without her consent, and... different that Troi would elect to carry a possibly dangerous creature to term. However, I did like the kids they hired to play Troi's kid Ian, and the death scene wasn't the worst ever.


"Where Silence Has Lease"
Episode 2



The E finds itself in some kind of space lab, where they are experimented on by some entity calling itself Nagilum. Nagilum itself is pretty creepy, but then it demands that Pulaski fuck some random male crewman to demonstrate how sex works. Space pervs. Space pervs everywhere.


"The Outrageous Okona"
Episode 4



Some rogue ship captain comes onboard, screws Ensign Terri Hatcher and others, and turns out to be some kind of messenger, ferrying a young star-crossed pair of lovers to each other. Eh. I frequently forget about this one.


"The Schizoid Man"
Episode 6



In what will become a hallowed tradition of claiming that you are a relative of an android, some guy says he's Data's human "grandfather" before dying and secretly uploading his douchey consciousness to Data's memory banks. Meh. The only good thing about this episode is the Vulcan Dr Selar, played by Suzie Plakson. Sadly, we'll never see her again.


"The Dauphin"
Episode 10



Wes crushes hard on an alien who turns out to be a shape-shifter. This episode carries the new-fangled moral "being a princess sucks ass, stop wishing to hold that particular position in government." Two decent moments: Riker and Guinan demonstrate how to flirt to Wes, but get caught up in the moment. Also, Guinan consoles Wes with good life advice at the end.


"Contagion"
Episode 11



I wanted to like this one more. It's about archeology. But I can never remember what it's about, which is just sad.


"Time Squared"
Episode 13




There's a weird time anomaly, creating two Picards. Time episodes I take or leave. They're either kind of cool or complete crap. This one was kind of crap.


"The Icarus Factor"
Episode 14



Riker's estranged father comes on board to discuss a possible promotion for Riker. Lots of arguing and hurt feelings. Each plays the blame game in the death of Riker's mother. They hug it out in the end. I'm sort of okay with them resolving their differences by episode's end, mainly because they didn't conclude things as BFFs. Some okay background information for Riker. Turns out Pulaski was almost his stepmother. A mostly forgettable episode.


"Pen Pals"
Episode 15



Does anyone remember the episode where Data breaks the Prime Directive to save a little girl he's been talking to through the CB radio? Nope? Okay, then.


Kinda Funny, Nice Try

"The Royale"
Episode 12



Riker, Data and Worf get trapped in a casino from a cheap novel. They later discover a skeleton upstairs and figure out that the casino is "set dressing for a dead man." The skeleton is of a long-dead astronaut whose benevolent alien saviors thought they were building an accurate human habitat. Sam Anderson plays the hotel's assistant manager, and some funny moments occur, but it ends on a bittersweet note, because that "lost at sea" astronaut spent decades living in that crap before dying by himself. A bit creepy and sad.


"Up the Long Ladder"
Episode 18



The E stumbles upon two lost colonies of humans, one Luddite, one technologically-driven. The Luddites' planet is dying, and the tech-driven colony is suffering for viable genetic material, so Picard suggests that they all just fuck each other. They reluctantly agree. Despite some glaring stereotypes, the first part was funny. The second part was sci-fi-tastic. The problem was that it felt like two different episodes melted into one.


"Manhunt"
Episode 19



Lwaxana Troi comes back on board, looking for a husband. There wasn't really any sci-fi here, just Picard trying to avoid Lwaxana's attention. He hides on the holodeck while she tries to sink her claws into Riker. The entertainment value comes mostly in watching Picard squirm, and then in Lwaxana trying to flirt with a holodeck character. This episode ended up getting the lowest ratings of the season.


WTF? Award


"Shades of Gray"
Episode 22



I couldn't figure out where to put this anomaly, so I stuck it here, in its own category. The show had no money but the producers needed another episode, so the studio insisted on a clip show, rather than just letting the budget-conscious show think their way out of this box. Fortunately, it's the only one of its kind.


Laters!

Uniforms

Our uniforms are changing - hooray! Truth be told, I never really dug the Type A uniforms from seasons one and two. The torso and pants are okay, but I don't care for the piping at the shoulders and lining the front cut-away at the cuffs of the pants. The cut-away remains in the Type B (which I guess I hadn't noticed before). Instead, we'll get a Nehru collar on the shirt, and the piping for the Type B will be added around this collar. ALSO: we'll switch from a one-piece uniform to a two-piece. The cast complained vociferously about how uncomfortable the one-piece uniforms were. Bonus: we'll now get the resolute and sometimes irritable tugging-down on the bottom of the jacket that will become known as "the Picard Maneuver" a joke on the set about Patrick Stewart tugging down his uniform jacket when standing. (Remember the Picard Maneuver? Picard pulled this ruse against the son of Daimon Bok in "The Battle" and it became legendary at the Academy.)

Partial chart swiped from sumghai.deviantart.com
Uniform fun facts: Gene Rod believed that spandex was the fabric of the future, and that it should fit tightly, so he put everyone in spandex uniforms that were two sizes too small. LeVar Burton complained about not being able to gain even a little weight, or else it would show. Patrick Stewart's doctor told him that he couldn't wear the uniform anymore, as the too-small costume was destroying his back. Season 2's uniforms will initially be made of wool gabardine, which looks a bit like spandex on camera but doesn't pull the same way.


Dr Pulaski

Here's our saga so far: at the end of season one, Gates McFadden quit (or so the studio says), or was fired (so she says). They were subtracting McFadden but not Wil Wheaton, so they wrote her off as taking a position as the head of Starfleet Medical. They claimed that wes was going to join her, but then he requested to stay on board, which they formally granted, so McFadden was out, and Wheaton remained. Enter Diana Muldaur, guest-star of two episodes of TOS (two pretty good episodes, actually). She didn't want to be listed in the opening credits, and opted to get a "Special Appearance" credit for each episode she appeared in.



Right from the get-go, Pulaski was patterned after Dr McCoy. Irascible, grouchy, and prone to mansplaining, she shared his passion for medicine and his reticence for certain kinds of technology. Some people will claim that she's only loosely patterned after McCoy, but they gave her his fear of transporters, FFS. She was a female McCoy. Now, this is not in itself terrible, but it presents some problems. McCoy had balances, in the form of Spock and Kirk. They were the Golden Trio of TOS. Pulaski does not have those balances. Picard is not Kirk, and their arguments about duty and regulations don't seem so Odd Couple, as... uncomfortable. What's more, her Spock is Data. Data is not Spock by any stretch of the imagination. McCoy taunts Spock and makes racist remarks about him, but Spock always gave as good as he got. No one had the upper hand there.
Here, they've made Data an extension of Pulaski's dislike of technology. She starts out completely robophobic, mispronouncing Data's name, calling him "it" and insisting that Data is inferior because he's a machine.




With McCoy/Spock, the good doctor makes a racist remark, and Spock parries and makes a dry, unflattering observation back. There is give and take. In TNG, Pulaski makes some remark about Data, and he factually corrects her, but with none of the sting of Spock. This is not a fun/funny moment, as she comes off like a bully, and he like the smaller kid resignedly handing over his lunch money. Geordi will sometimes interject on Data's behalf, making him more Kirk than Picard is, but even then, there is not the same balance. She comes off like an asshole. What's more, Data is a fan favorite. It appears that this new doctor, who does not have the same history or will-they-won't-they with Picard that Crusher had, simply walks onto the ship and starts spewing epithets at some nice guy who didn't deserve that. She was not popular.



During "Unnatural Selection" Pulaski seems to have a change of heart. She is trapped in a science lab with a contagious disease, and Data, who is not prone to illness, is allowed to leave. He opts to hang back and help, and Pulaski begins changing her mind about Data. It is subtle. Suddenly, she stops talking shit about him. She asks for his opinion without ragging on him. Her mansplaining takes on a softer tone and she comes off as far less irritating. Irascible and grouchy, yes, but much less of an asshole. By the end of this season, she now seems to count Data as a friend. There's still a small-ish problem with this, though - if one is watching reruns of TNG in syndication, and the episodes are shuffled, she does not appear to have changed her ways at all. "Unnatural Selection" is the seventh episode, and she appeared in 13 others. She is tolerant of Data more often than not over the course of the season, but if all you remember of her (as I did before this project) was that she treated Data like shit, then you wouldn't have recognized those better moments at all.



While her relationship with Data seems most important, there are a few others that comes into play as well. She first interacts with Troi, and they form a quick bond. Possibly the younger woman's empathic abilities enable her to cut to the doctor's true feelings on things, but the rest of us must be brought around slowly through actions. Troi tells Picard early on that she's "never met a more dedicated doctor," but we must see it to believe it over the course of the season. Pulaski often goes to Troi for advice on how to approach others, and while I understand that their similar medical backgrounds give them an in with one another, it sometimes seems like Troi is used like a crutch - "you like this person - tell me how to interact with them!" Pulaski sought out her opinions on dealings with others, and everyone else sought Troi out for tips on how to approach Pulaski. There is nothing wrong with seeking advice from someone on how best to deal with someone else. It's actually a pretty good idea. But because it seemed like Pulaski vs the Enterprise for the first half of the season, Troi started coming off as the doctor's handler. Fortunately, once the writers realized that writing Pulaski as some jerk was not going to work, other crew members began interacting with her without needing to consult the ship's counselor first.



The other person I wanted to talk about vis-a-vis Pulaski is Worf. Pulaski had a handful of interactions with Picard where they mostly butted heads. She had one or two good conversations with Riker, and almost no time at all with Wes or Guinan. She interacted briefly with Geordi concerning his eyes, and often because he's Data's best friend. But the person she seemed to get along with best outside of Troi was brusque Worf. In "Up the Long Ladder," Worf catches the Klingon measles, and she covers for him to avoid embarrassment. As a thank you, he performs the Klingon tea ceremony for her, and she inoculates herself against the poisonous tea so that they might share the tea together. She joined in the weekly poker games with him, and attended his Rite of Ascension ceremony. In "Measure of a Man" she offers him a friendly debate about Klingon novels. She seems to appreciate certain aspects of Klingon culture, and gets on with Worf rather well. Is it because her tough personality means that she is sometimes an outsider, like he is?



The long and short of Pulaski tenure on this show is this: I hated her from the word go, because I'd only ever watched this show in shuffled syndication, and so I assumed every episode that featured her with also feature some woman being an asshole to one of my favorite characters. But watching in order, and spending nearly 200 hours with this woman has allowed me to see where she ditched that attitude seven episodes in, and treated Data in a more fair manner going forward. She wasn't terribly fleshed out (all we know of her past is that she was married three times and is friends with all of her exes, and that she dated Kyle Riker), but I kind of grew to like her at times. Might she have been a better character across the seasons had she been allowed to continue? I'm not sure.


Welcome!

Guinan

I'm so excited for Guinan, you guys! Guinan has always been one of my faves, and it only makes things better when you realize that she was a successful actress who approached up the producers and said, "Hey, I'm a fan. Can I be on your show?"
And then, there she was - behind the bar in Ten Forward, serving kind-of-illegal booze in an organization that really only wants her to serve synthetic stuff. She says she's an old friend of Picard's, knows Q, and hints that she's very old. She's the mysterious lady who gets you the drink you didn't realize that you wanted, and dispenses the advice you didn't realize that you needed.
I suppose some people could say that the mysterious "listener" bartender isn't necessary in a ship that employs a full-time counselor, but there are times when one doesn't need a full-blown shrink, just an ear and a hot chocolate. She's even ended up counseling the counselor.
There is one thing that bothers me about Guinan though, and it's mostly because of uncertainty: I wonder if Guinan is a space-age Magical Negro trope. It bothers me because I think the answer is yes, but I don't want it to be yes. I want her to be just a character that I like who is coincidentally Black and gives good advice. But living in this country, I must question things like that. It is uncomfortable, but it is what it is, and I'll have to recognize and report on it if her character veers in that direction.




The Borg

The Klingons are great, but are no longer enemies of the Federation. Romulans bore me. The Ferengi turned out to be unintentionally comical. So far, we really hadn't had a good, scary villain. Sure, there's Q, and his vaguely threatening talk, but nothing as really hugely, fucking scary-as-shit as the Borg. Thee's something inherently terrifying about an opponent that you can't reason with, who is hell-bent on taking everything you have, including your consciousness. And if you come up on them, you're not walking away. You're not even dying. You're going to be conscripted into service against your will. They will take everything that you are, and make it theirs. Oh, you'll still exist in some form, but never as "uniquely you" ever again. The Borg are probably the reason why I find the Cybermen to be the superior villain in Doctor Who. That sort of villain is scary is fuck. (Also, Daleks whine like spoiled teenage girls. I'm not afraid of them. I want to tell them to STFU.)
When Q decided to introduce the Borg to the Alpha Quadrant earlier than projected, he also introduced us to a villain that almost always leads up to an unwinnable situation. In fact, the Borg have turned out to be so powerful, that they won't be used very often in the series - there isn't a good way to get rid of them, to fight them. You can only try to outrun them. I snort with derision when someone on screen announces, "Oh noes, it's the Romulans!" I mutter "oh, shit!" when they announce the Borg.


 

Space Douches

Nagilum
"Where Silence Has Lease"
This thing plays with its food before it eats.




Ira Graves
"The Schizoid Man"
This smug fucker thought it would be okay to upload himself into Data's memory banks.



Bruce Maddox
"The Measure of a Man"
Called Data "it" aggressively. Tried to force him to be part of some crappy experiment that would lead to a regiment of Datas, all wearing Red Shirts.



Q
"Q Who"
Q makes the list again, this time sending the Borg an engraved invitation to fuck up all the shit.



Wilson Granger
"Up the Long Ladder"
Dude, I know you guys are desperate, but you can't just steal someone's DNA after they refuse to give it to you.



Sirna Kolrami
"Peak Performance"
This guy is smug AF. Definitely looking to knock Bem off his throne.



The Numbers

Red deaths: 2
Gold deaths: 0
Blue deaths: 0
Unnamed color crew deaths: 18
Obnoxious Wes moments: 0
Legitimate Wes moments when he should have told someone to go fuck themselves: 1
Sassy Geordi moments: 7
Sassy Wes Moments: 1
Sassy Worf Moments: 7
Sassy Riker Moments: 7
Sassy Picard Moments: 14
Sassy NPC Moments: 13
Sassy Data Moments: 7
Sassy O'Brien Moments: 3
Sassy Pulaski Moments: 5
Sassy Troi Moments: 1
Sassy Guest Star Moments: 5
Number of times that it is mentioned that Data is an android: 25
Number of times that Troi reacts to someone else's feelings: 30
Number of times that Geordi "looks at something" with his VISOR: 3
Number of times when Data gives too much info and has to be told to shut up: 14

Totals:
- Crew deaths for season two are sitting at 20
The reason why this number is so high is actually because 18 people were lost to the Borg when they took a round "slice" out of the hull. According to apocrypha, those 18 people were assimilated, so they are technically not dead, but the Borg essentially strip away anything that makes you "you" so I'm counting those as deaths.
- Crew deaths for season two of TOS: 27
- Crew deaths since "Encounter at Farpoint": 29
- Crew deaths for the first and second seasons of TOS: 44
This info is why, if your name is not Leroy Jenkins, you wait a few years before trying something really new. Let other people cut the trail and die.
- Sassy Moments: 71
That's a sarcastic-ass show. And Picard is Captain Sarcasti-Pants.
- I wonder what that gold dude is?
- Damn Troi.


The Low-Down

So when you add up the numbers for the episodes that were either excellent or pretty good, you get nine. Bad, Nice Try, and WTF? add up to 13. That doesn't look real good for the season overall, until you start to consider the fact that there were very few episodes that I would categorize as just awful. Those last three categories consisted a lot of episodes that were okay, but didn't work well. Nice Try was mostly just for fun and not to be taken seriously. I don't even know how to count "Shades of Gray" here. If you actually subtract "Gray" and the just-for-funsies episodes, you end up with 9, making it about even. Then you need to add points into that Good category for episodes like "Loud As a Whisper" and "Measure of a Man" for being better than average. I might actually award bonus points to most of the episodes in that Good category, because frankly, they're head and shoulders above the episodes from season one.
Despite that pesky Writers' Strike that keeps rearing up, we got some decent writing. We've settled into the characters, reused costumes, props and sets, and we now have a little cash left over for more expensive good episodes like "Q Who" and "Elementary, Dear Data." While it won't quite make it all the way to the end (hello, "Shades of Gray"), the budget difference was like having 20 bucks to spend instead of a dollar-fifty.
And we'll never have to see another clip show again! Hooray!
Next stop: season three!

Willie thinks you're cute, too!


4 comments:

  1. While season 2 seems to be an improvement, overall, over season 1, it still seems like the show isn't quite where it's supposed to be yet. For me, that starts with season 3.

    A few years ago, out of curiosity, I took all of the episode ratings from TV.com and used them to determine the average rating for each season. As it turned out, season 1 very slightly edges season 2 - like, by a tenth of a point.

    I also did average ratings for each series. From highest to lowest, they are ENT, DS9, VOY, TOS, TNG, TAS. Yeah. Take it for what it's worth.

    Season ranking, from highest to lowest, went like this: ENT3, ENT4, DS97, TOS1, DS94, ENT2, DS95, DS93, ENT1, DS96, VOY7, VOY1, VOY4, TNG6, VOY5, TOS2, TNG3, TNG4, VOY3, DS92, TNG5, TNG7, VOY6, TAS2, DS91, TAS1, VOY2, TNG1, TOS3, TNG2

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fun content! ...Do you not reply to emails? ~Amos

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't check my email very often. I will sometimes reply to comments here, though. Most of the emails I get that are connected to this blog tend to be spam.

      Delete
    2. I emailed you a few weeks ago, then re-sent it a couple of times, to praise your work. This site is comprehensive (you've very clearly put in hundreds of hours of effort), interesting, compelling, fun, and even funny!

      I also asked for a clarification of your thoughts about my personal least-favorite character, Pulaski, but I think your most recent post answered all of my questions.

      Finally, I mentioned in passing, for no particular good reason, that I love Queen, Styx, Heart, and CANNOT STAND Neil Young. ~Amos

      Delete