Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Star Trek Top 10 Part 2 ... Number 2!

I was pleasantly surprised by feedback on yesterday's post and hope everyone can stay with me through the list. Most of these entries will be a lot shorter than that one, but to elaborate: The problem with the "TNG" movies is that none of them really had any point, any real story to them.
  • The premise of "Generations" was "Hey, uh, we should do one with Kirk and Picard, right?"
  • The premise of "First Contact" was "Hey, people like the Borg right? We should put that on the big screen!"
  • Then "Insurrection" was "Hey remember how 'Search for Spock' and 'Wrath of Khan' were pretty grim, and then they did a light one about whales that everyone loved? Let's do a light one!"
  • Then "Nemesis" was "Dude, I don't care any more ... how about we just throw them in a dune buggy? and just end it."
See, there was no real story, there was no "so what" to them. For "First Contact" they knew the Borg plot was thin, so they added the interesting story on the planet, but apart from that, the whole franchise is listless and compares terribly to their own earlier work. There was also no sense of building. All of the "TOS" movies build off their antecedents (except possibly No. 5) to create a series rather than just an isolated string of vignettes.

See and that's why "TOS" is better loved than "TNG," even though "TNG" is irrefutably the better show -- the "TOS" films were fantastically better than the series, while "TNG" suffered from the reverse. The "TNG" movies just can't hold up to the average episode of the show, therefore they left everyone feeling worn out while the "TOS" films made everyone feel fulfilled to have been friends with these characters for so long.

So on that note, let's talk about a "TNG" installment that knew exactly what it was doing, the achievement "First Contact" was trying to emulate: "The Best of Both Worlds." I put it at No. 2 on my list.

This is the episode that really put "TNG" on the star-map. From its Wiki entry...
"Many fans and critics regard them as the best episodes of the Star Trek saga, having achieved an almost cinematic level of story and scope. With this episode, and with its embarkation upon an unprecedented fourth season, The Next Generation was considered to have finally emerged from the shadow of its predecessor. It won Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series" and "Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama Series" and was nominated for two others: "Outstanding Visual Effects for a Series" and "Outstanding Art Direction for a Series." It appeared in TV Guide's 100 Most Memorable Moments in TV History feature in its July 1, 1995 edition, and also in another issue on the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time."
Not a lot more I can add, except that I also think this episode is why I became a hard core Trek fan as a kid. I watched this as a cock-eyed 12 year old and was just breathtaken. My brother, Mark, saw the first part just a few weeks before he left on his mission and had to wait TWO years to see the conclusion. I distinctly remember him shouting at the television when he saw the "To be continued..."

Incidentally, I made some edits to the Wiki page on Sunday, adding the "Legacy" section.

Given the popularity of the episode, it has been revisited several times in the Star Trek franchise. The subsequent episode, Family, detailed Picard's struggle to cope with his captivity and assimilation. The Borg conflict is referenced in episodes later that season: in The Wounded, Captain Benjamin Maxwell tells Riker that "we all owe you" for defeating the Borg, while in The Drumhead Admiral Norah Satie interrogates Picard about his assimilation to try to humiliate him. Picard's desire for vengeance against the Borg is also a theme of the film Star Trek: First Contact, with flashbacks depicting his capture.
While viewers saw only the aftermath of the Battle of Wolf 359 in the episode, Star Trek fans would see scenes of the actual battle three years later in the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The series' protagonist, Benjamin Sisko, had served as executive officer aboard the USS Saratoga, which was lost in the battle along with Sisko's wife. In the episode The Die Is Cast, when a group of Cardassian and Romulan ships are destroyed by the Dominion, Sisko compares the massacre to Wolf 359.

I don't have much more to add, certainly not the level of analysis that I had with yesterday's, but I will say that the further significance of this episode was cementing Patrick Stewart as the show's protagonist. Previously, it had really been Riker -- he got more of the girls, he got more one-liners, and he led the away teams. I understand, from a simulationist standpoint, why you wouldn't have the most important guy on the ship going into harm's way every week, but from a narrativist standpoint, it doesn't help to cut out the most important guy on the show like that.

Having said that, "BoBW" is a Riker vehicle -- the whole episode is about how he's always hid behind Picard to avoid getting a command of his own, and then now he has no choice but to be in command because Picard's gone. But Stewart's masterful performance both as Picard and Locutus really jolted that, as the series focus' quickly shifted from Riker to Picard. Influencing this, perhaps more than "BoBW" itself was the show's aftermath, "Family," which "has been named in a number of polls and surveys as one of the two most popular and best episodes of the entire Next Generation series, along with the episode 'The Inner Light.'" These two episodes, plus my personal favorite "Tapestry" (I even have a signed copy of the script from Ronald D. Moore), all feature Picard to the virtual exclusion of every other major character.

Stewart was just too good of an actor to not be the protagonist. Ironically Stewart's gravitas was one of the things that ruined the "TNG" movie franchise, as Stewart demanded constant action scenes for his character, whom he somehow forgot was not - technically - Bruce Willis. From the Memory Alpha article on "Insurrection":

"I said three things: One was, I thought that Picard's involvement in the action line of First Contact had been very successful and I wanted to continue that. My feeling was that the captain should be in the thick of things. You've got to have the captain in jeopardy. Then I talked about perhaps trying to find a lighter tone for this film, I wanted to see our heroes having fun. And the last thing I suggested was that we should develop a romantic storyline that went a little further than the one that I had with Alfre Woodard in the last film. That was a fairly competitive relationship, which ultimately became respectful and fond towards the end - but it was just too late."

This is the kind of role he should play -- cerebral, not swinging around making action movie cliches.

So there's nothing wrong with a lighter tone, that's why "The Voyage Home" and "Trouble With Tribbles" are so popular, but here Stewart is demanding sex and violence for his character, which were not what made his character so distinct and therefore compelling. Jean-luc Picard was a bald British man playing a pacifistic French man who quotes Shakespeare, constantly adjusts his shirt, and calls his first officer a synonym for peeing.

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