Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Questionable Trek vol. 7

We all love a good mystery and Star Trek: TNG has done several over the years.

Question From Andrew: "What are your five favorite TNG mysteries?"

Scott’s Answer: Repeated viewings have obviously lessened the initial impact but I still enjoy watching these plots slowly unfold. We begin with the aptly-titled. . .

"Clues" - The crew encounters a Spatial Anomaly (TM) and is rendered unconscious, except for Data who revives everyone. As Picard and his officers attempt to solve the mystery, it becomes disturbingly obvious that Data is not telling the truth about what happened. It turns out the crew had encountered a xenophobic race called the Paxans and the crew's memories of them were erased, however the Paxans had never before encountered an android. Picard asks them for a second chance and this time the crew does a better job of hiding the clues that had been left behind. The cast and crew do a great job of creating a mysterious atmosphere and a sense of foreboding about Data's motives, which turn out to be completely benign.

"Schisms" - Riker is having trouble sleeping, Worf reacts strongly to a sharp object, Geordi's VISOR is malfunctioning, and various crewmembers are missing. The crew investigates and determines that an alien race is creating a pocket of our universe within their own subspace domain, which allows them to perform medical experiments on victims taken from the ship. Riker is fitted with a homing device and sent into the domain to retrieve the missing crewmembers. This episode delves into the world of alien abductions and features a great scene in which Riker and Co. re-create their strange visions on the holodeck. We also get treated to some of writer Brannon Braga's best work: Data's "Ode to Spot."

"Ship in a Bottle" - In a popular second season episode, Data activated his Sherlock Holmes holodeck program and matched wits with Professor Moriarty who became self-aware. Well, Moriarty is back, requesting that Picard grant him the freedom he was promised in the previous episode. While the crew investigates, Moriarty miraculously walks off the holodeck and later takes command of the ship. In a wonderful twist, Data determines that he and Picard never left the holodeck - Moriarty had created his own Enterprise simulation within it. He eventually allows Picard and Data to leave (after being fooled into thinking he's in the real world thanks to Data's reprogramming) and Data saves the Moriarty program so it will run forever. This might be the Inception of Star Trek episodes. [smile]

"Parallels" Worf is on his way back to the Enterprise after winning a bat'leth tournament but, after he arrives, strange things begin to happen: a painting in his quarters changes, people suddenly shift their positions, and he remembers things that no one else does. The facts are these: Worf's shuttlecraft passed through a Quantum Fissure (TM), which Data describes as a "keyhole" which intersects other realities, and Geordi's VISOR amplified the effect. Worf has been shuffling between different realities (parallel worlds). This might be the best episode of the otherwise okay seventh season. It's neat to see all the subtle changes that occur as Worf goes from one world to another and the climax features several hundred (!) Enterprises converging in one spot as Worf attempts to shuttle back to his own universe. I believe this episode was the start of the Worf/Troi romance subplot. (Don't worry, it didn't take.)

"Genesis" - Dr. Crusher actives a dormant T-cell in Lt. Barclay (popular guest star Dwight Schultz) which will help him combat an alien flu. The crew soon begins to de-evolve and Data must race against time to synthesize an antidote. It turns out the T-cell is responsible for the mutations - it interacted with an anomaly in Barclay's genetic structure and the resulting disease went airborne. This horror show should've been a two-parter - the story resolves itself in literally the last two minutes, but I enjoy the hell out if it! The make-up effects are excellent: Riker turns into an Australopithecus, Barclay into an arachnid, etc. Gates McFadden (Dr. Crusher) made her TV directing debut with this episode and she is quite adept at creating a haunted house atmosphere.

Andrew’s Response: Those are all good episodes, though I found the Spot poem cloying. I would add "Future Imperfect", where Riker wakes up as Captain of the Enterprise. He’s lost 16 years of memory and has a son, but things aren’t quite what they seem and he has to solve what’s really going on.

Scott's Reply: I thought about "Future Imperfect" though, for some reason, I find that episode frustrating. SPOILERS: I think the difference is, unlike the other episodes where some spatial/medical/holodeck anomaly is at fault and the crew actively tries to solve the problem, this episode is just one big ruse and it's frustrating to watch Riker portrayed as a victim of circumstance.

41 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

I agree, a good mystery is always fun.

Tennessee Jed said...

That said, Star Trex and it's successors were never really set up as mystery solving shows so the fact there were that many to choose from is curious.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, That's true, though they did do a pretty good job at it. I thought about this same question for the original series and actually couldn't come up with any real mysteries.

It is interesting once you think about it how varied the TNG episodes get. They really do cover the gambit of genres. In some ways that's really good, in others it shows that they lacked a core.

tryanmax said...

Even though I've seen every TNG episode multiple times (thanks to WGN), I realize I don't have a very good working knowledge of them. I can't cite any mystery episodes off the top of my head, though maybe they just aren't my favorite.

Interesting, though, how Geordi's VISOR screws up everything around it. You'd think an optic prosthesis would have received better testing before it was implemented for regular use.

Also, why isn't there a nerdcore band named "Geordi's VISOR"? That is the real mystery.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, What's interesting is that I've seen them all many times over the years as well, but until I started writing about the series, I didn't have a real framework for understanding the differences between the two series nor did I have a solid knowledge of the TNG's episodes. I knew them, but hadn't really taken them in.

This whole series has been really interesting in that regard because it's got me thinking about the show and that's revealed to me how the structures of the two shows are really so very different as well as things like how Data rather than Picard is the focal point of the show and how the episodes really are very varied throughout the series.

ScottDS said...

Jed, et al -

One of things I've always enjoyed about the latter-day Trek shows was that they could really tell stories in so many different genres. Not every genre, though - for instance, one of Roddenberry's rules (one of the few that was actually followed!) was "No Fantasy," so no dragons or fairies, etc.

I think the writers on DS9 were a little more pop culture savvy and on that series, we got everything from James Bond to film noir. Voyager got in on the action with its nod to 30s sci-fi serials. Oddly, TNG was the only one that didn't do a WW2-inspired story, but don't quote me on that.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

Going back and re-watching these episodes and reading up on the making of them, I was struck with a realization:

If you watch a TV show or a movie so many times, you begin to feel as if you can deconstruct it, tracing the episode back from final cut to writer's initial idea. And unlike the original series where the writers may have started with a social issue they wanted to explore, or a character development, at least on TNG the thinking seemed to be, "What cool sci-fi concept can we explore?" I'm not saying one method is better or worse than the other - it's just an observation.

It's telling that, with the exception of "Ship in a Bottle," all these episodes were written or co-written by Brannon Braga or Joe Menosky, who were known for their mind-bending sci-fi concepts. (Interestingly, both writers went on to Voyager while Rene Echevarria who wrote "Ship..." went to DS9.)

DUQ said...

I like each of these episodes. I like the puzzle aspect of them. And even now that I know how they end, they still provide good stories, even if the mystery aspect is gone. Wouldn't it be great if you could forget what you saw so you could see these again?

ScottDS said...

DUQ -

Absolutely! But not just with mysteries - I'd love to forget all my favorite films so I could experience them again for the first time!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I think the way they made these shows is very different.

As I've said before, the original series was a morality tale, where the writers set out to explore some philosophical point and then squeezed everything into the set structure of Star Trek. Their point was to deliver a message through an hour-long play involving fixed characters and rules.

TNG wasn't that structured. Instead, they started with a plot-based idea for an episode. I wouldn't go so far as to say they create science fiction ideas they wanted to explore because the show never had the depth to tell me that was the case. Instead, I think they simply came up with plot ideas -- "hey, what if Picard gets kidnapped?" -- and then they wrote the episodes around those ideas and filled in the characters as they went.

DS9 was different again. DS9 was really more of a soap as the character's daily lives became the focus and the plot ideas had to be squeezed into those.

On the Nazis, btw, I find that incredibly cliche by this point and gratuitous. It's like the science fiction version of a sex scene, and I have more respect for series that don't go there.

Floyd R. Turbo said...

Those are great... I think Scott dominated the field. :-)

Other mysteries... why did Deanna Troi wear so many clothes -- a full body suit? Come on!

Why did they have to kill Tasha Yar and not Wesley Crusher?

ANd most importantly... Whoopi Goldberg? Really?

ScottDS said...

Floyd -

Thanks! In short...

I have no idea why Troi wore so many clothes, but "Parallels" features the highest number of wardrobe changes - she wears everything in this episode, except for the outfits from season 1...

Denise Crosby wanted out...

And Whoopi Goldberg wanted in... (she was a fan of the original series)

I know you were asking rhetorically but I couldn't resist. :-)

AndrewPrice said...

I know this won't go over well with people, but I actually liked Whoopi in this role. It's probably the only time I've ever liked her.

Troi definitely could have used fewer clothes. :)

I didn't mind seeing Yar go... I didn't care for the character at all. But it would have been nice if she had taken Wesley with her.

tryanmax said...

Here's the bright side, people: Marina Sirtis didn't wear the kind of costumes Whoopi did and Whoopi didn't wear ones like Marina's.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

At least as far as TNG is concerned, I obviously have no first-hand knowledge but it seems as if every writer had their own unique style and method of pitching stories. You had your character people and you had your sci-fi/tech people. And every now and then, the showrunner would come in Monday morning and say, "I just saw Guns of Navarone... let's do an episode like that!"

I imagine that sort of "throw everything on the wall and see what sticks" approach doesn't work as well today with arc-based shows.

Oh, as for Marina Sirtis, I know she's had some work done but I think she looks better today than she did, say, 10 years ago. This interview was done for the Blu-Ray set a few years ago, in which Sirtis and Frakes pitch a Trek "sitcom."

Outlaw13 said...

I was going to say the mystery to me is how Will Wheaton got on the show in the first place. But somebody already went there.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8pQvyo3o5kc

Commander Max said...

It's been some time since I've seen any of those episodes. I really can't comment on specifics.
Except that I remember the discussions with friends during the run of STNG. They mostly started with, "why do I care?".

For the life of me I couldn't remember any of the episodes you guys listed. But I do remember plenty of other episodes.

tryanmax said...

Will Wheaton, nothing! Here is a TNG mystery: What is up with THIS?

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Yeah... yeah. That's not good.

//shakes head

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I saw Sirtis in some movie recently (Doomsday, End of the World, This Is The End, Attack of the End... something like that) and she's a HORRIBLE actress.

AndrewPrice said...

Outlaw, Yeah. Not a lot of love for Weasley Crusher! Here's your link: LINK

When I think of annoying moments from the series, they usually involve something he said.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, I hate to say it... but I agree. I had a very hard time caring about the TNG characters. I like them ok, but they don't mean anything to me. And if they killed one, I honestly don't think it would be that sad of an episode. By comparison, I can name a dozen other series with characters where losing one of the characters was like losing a friend. But TNG characters were never more than acquaintances.

ScottDS said...

Outlaw -

I watched one episode of The Big Bang Theory and hated it, so it was a struggle to make it through the clip (the things I do for this blog!). Having said that, Wesley never bothered me, but that's probably because I was 8 when I got into the show. Had I been older, then sure, I probably would've found him annoying.

I also think it's worth asking: is it the fault of the actor, the writers, or both?

tryanmax said...

Scott, I'll tell you where the fault lies in three words: cable knit sweaters.

ScottDS said...

tryanmax and Andrew -

That... tunic... was Roddenberry's idea of sexual equality. I even touched on it when we did our Sunday debate question on best representations of the future.

Thankfully, they did away with the male version after one or two episodes and by the end of the first season, even the females were wearing the regular uniform, except for Troi who wore catsuits for the first six seasons!

ScottDS said...

Commander Max -

Here's a cool bit of insider info. This "Questionable Trek" piece began as my "Top 5 middle-of-the-road episodes" - I wanted to explore 5 episodes that were neither masterpieces nor bombs... episodes that were simply there. Andrew suggested I change it to "Top 5 mysteries" and, lo and behold, I only had to make one substitution.

Oddly, my original reply to Andrew included this: "I just perused an episode guide. Remember the third season episode 'The Vengeance Factor'? Me neither!"

So I agree: there are plenty of bland forgettable episodes but the ones mentioned above are pretty good. Solid B/B+ material.

Doc Whoa said...

I like "Parallels" a lot. In fact, I like all of their time-related episodes. I like "Clues" too. That and the one where they are in the time loop both are really well done. Nice list Scott!

Doc Whoa said...

I never liked Weasley either. I think it was a little of both. The writing was annoying -- stupid lines, too much des ex machina from Weasley, and the actor was also too perky/whiny. He always struck me as someone who was acting.

ScottDS said...

Doc -

Thanks! I, too, enjoy "Cause and Effect" (the time loop episode) and if we ever do a time travel article, that episode will no doubt be featured prominently.

Synnerman said...

Another pair of great "mystery" episodes were in season 6: FRAME OF MIND (where Riker is in some sort of alien mental ward that is definitely INCEPTIONish as he ends up shattering layers of reality - literally!) and TIMESCAPE (where an away team returns to find the Enterprise frozen in time in the middle of an apparent battle with a Romulan warbird).

AndrewPrice said...

Synnerman, Nice additions! I particularly like "Timescape." Even upon repeat viewings, that one still has a good deal of mystery and tensions. :)

"Frame of Mind," I think, has some of the best acting of the series in it.

tryanmax said...

Actually, Wheaton seems a little badass in that Big Bang clip--or at least as badass as one can be at roleplaying card games. I could actually see him leading a rag-tag band of survivors in a SyFy disaster movie. Nothing much bigger than that, though.

ScottDS said...

I haven't seen Frame of Mind in years. I think it might've been one of the first episodes I ever saw so not only did I NOT understand the episode (I would've been 8) but I wasn't even familiar with the characters yet.

Timescape is a fun episode. Picard does a funny impression of some boring scientist and at one point, they're on the Romulan ship and everyone is frozen, except for one other guy who's in sync with Picard and Co. At one point, Geordi asks, "Wait, was this guy always here?" Creepy stuff.

ScottDS said...

Most of the hardcore Wesley haters seem to have warmed up to Wheaton over the years. I think he's handled his fame rather well, with just the right amount of self-deprecation and plain old "cool."

THIS IS REQUIRED VIEWING

^At a convention, Wheaton once did a PowerPoint-style recap of a very bad episode. Fun stuff! (NSFW)

Individualist said...

I guess my favorite would be the Sherlock Holmes one where Moriarity escapes. Very cool how they handled it.

ScottDS said...

Indi -

Yeah, it's pretty cool. I haven't seen the episode in a while but while reading over the synopsis, I still found myself surprised by the plot developments. And Daniel Davis (as Moriarty) was a great guest star, too.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I just finished watching the Wheaton link... very funny. Kudos to Wheaton!

Commander Max said...

I guess a future post for you guys could be,
"Just what do you remember from STNG?".

As annoying as Wesley there was another character just as annoying(besides La Forge). That was the Klingon wimp kid Alexander.

Scott for me the show went downhill from the "Best of Both worlds". I thought it was their best and worst episode(it strikes me as an irony based on the title). For me the series never recovered from that point. It just got worse.

AndrewPrice said...

Max, Don't get me started on Alexander. What a whiny wuss. Any episode with Alexander or Troi's mother was guaranteed to be garbage.

"what do you remember from STNG" -- LOL! Nice question... and nicely pointed! It is funny to me that I've seen TNG episode as many times as I've seen the original episodes, yet I can quote the original episodes off the top of my head but I struggle to piece together some of the TNG episodes.

darski said...

I liked "Conundrum" even though it was not a mystery for us. it's the one with the 'new' 1st officer and I liked how the crew worked out what was happening.

I think Genesis was one of the dumbest episodes ever. Granted I don't believe in the evolution fairy tale but on what basis would humans devolve differently *if* they evolved as one race in the first place?

ScottDS said...

I like "Conundrum" as well. If I recall, despite nobody knowing who anyone else is, Riker still manages to get laid in that episode.

What can I say? "Genesis" is a guilty pleasure, which is what this list kinda started out as. My biggest beef with the episode, other than the short ending, was Data's cat, who de-evolves into an iguana for reasons unknown!

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