Category Archives: Pop Culture

Doctor Who: Series One- The Unquiet Dead

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You may or may not have noticed that I have somewhat dropped the ball on my recap/rewatch of the first season/series of Doctor Who. Not only have I been incredibly busy the last month or so, but I was also kind of dreading watching this episode.

The first time I tried to get through Doctor Who, this was the episode that derailed me. The first two episodes were weird but they were good. They had enough good aspects to endear them to me to the point that I was going to continue watching. When I got to this episode and they show a woman possessed by ghosts in the cold open, I was like, “Seriously, are you fucking kidding me!! I thought this was about aliens, not supernatural crap!!”

I quit watching and I had to try a few more times to get through this episode.

Don’t Know Much About History…

One thing that has struck me when I started watching this episode is that I can’t really remember the last time we had a decent historical episode of Doctor Who. In the many River Song episodes she mentions The Doctor taking her to different places and times on her many excursions out of prison, but we don’t have a lot of episodes where our team just travels somewhere in the past for no good reason.

seanceThe last episode I can remember where they went off on a happy excursion to the past was the Donna/Tennant episode where they visited Pompeii. Most of the Moffat-era excursions to the past had to do with whatever wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey puzzle agenda he wanted to deal with at any particular point in time.

One thing I feel is kind of missing with more recent seasons of Who is this feeling of adventure, of just going to places because they are there. Every episode deals with some kind of universe-threatening crisis that must be solved and it gets kind of tiring after a while. I know in the last season with the Ponds they talk about going on adventures, but we never see them.

We always have the reaction shot of wonder from each new Companion when they realize the TARDIS is bigger on the inside, why did they have to do away with the sense of wonder that comes with having a machine that will take you anywhere in time and space?

I feel like this season afforded the writers one and only one opportunity to tell certain kinds of stories because they could only be told for the first time once. That was one reason I was so impressed that they chose to show the end of the world in the second episode. What impossible story do you tell when you can only tell the first impossible story once? What has significance and meaning? The destruction of the Earth and the realization that everything ends is rather interesting for the second episode of a new show.

Wait, I am off on a tangent about other episodes of this show, not the one I am watching. Sigh. Excelsior.

Gwyneth/Gwen Cooper

There are several actors who have appeared multiple times in different roles on Doctor Who. One of the best examples of this phenomenon is current Doctor Peter Capaldi. He first appeared in “The Fires of Pompeii”, then later in the Torchwood series “Children of Earth.”

gwen6Supposedly, I heard that eventually the series would address the fact that Capaldi has previously appeared on the show in some form or fashion. They may have already but I don’t know about it because I am still behind on the series.

It’s interesting to me to see how they deal with these continuity issues. I believe when Martha Jones was brought on as a companion she mentions having a cousin who died at Canary Wharf as a way to bridge the continuity issue of Freema Agyeman having appeared literally two episodes earlier as a different character.

Eve Myles is the first of three eventual Torchwood cross plants from the main universe. Her character here is named Gwyneth. In Torchwood, her name is Gwen Cooper. It isn’t a big stretch to believe that the Torchwood version of Myles was intended to have been a descendant of this character that she plays. I’ll address the other continuity characters when we encounter them.

Also realized that the weird alien fault line that Torchwood is built over is introduced in this episode. It’s interesting how many seeds for Torchwood are planted in this episode. It’s possible the writers just simply took a lot of stray pieces and repurposed them, but it’s fun to go back and see the trail of breadcrumbs that lead to Torchwood. I went into this episode feeling like it was something of a filler episode, but I am now realizing just how many things that became part of the Who mythos were introduced here.

I don’t think Who should cannibalize itself by only doing Weeping Angels episodes, but it would be nice to see more of the world building they did in the first few seasons where you get a character like Cassandra O’Brian coming back.

Charles Dickens

We can’t talk about this episode without mentioning our celebrity guest, Charles Dickens.

charlesDickensDickens is played by Simon Callow, who will forever be to me the theater owner from Amadeus who commissioned Mozart to write “The Magic Flute.” Interestingly, he also plays one of the idiotic theater owners in the miserable atrocity that was the film adaptation of “Phantom of the Opera.” The other theater owner was played either by Julius Caesar from “Rome” or Mance Rayder from “Game of Thrones”, depending on how old your pop culture references are. Yes, I watch entirely too much British media.

Callow interests me because I have seen him in a number of different things. He is well known for being the funeral in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” He also published an incredibly comprehensive three-part biography of Orson Welles. He is a fairly well known British prestige actor who either plays characters from Dicken’s oeuvre or Dickens himself. He is just well known enough that everyone has probably seen him in something, but not so well known that you can think of him as being that one guy who did this one thing.

It’s good that Doctor Who got decent actors to play historical figures in the show. More recently, when it became a huge success, I can’t imagine it was hard to get well known character actors to appear, but I believe getting someone of Callow’s stature to appear in the first three episodes was something of a coup for the show.

Period Garb

periodGarbAnother thing I just noticed with this episode is that The Doctor makes Rose change into period-appropriate clothing before turning her loose on the town. Again, this is another thing that the show has kind of crept away from in most circumstances. Usually when the companions travel back in time, they get to wear whatever it is that they normally wear regardless of the time period.

I noticed that Rose has been wearing the same outfit for the last three episodes. I like the authenticity of the costume designer acknowledging that Rose never went home to change her clothes because she impulsively jumped in the TARDIS with The Doctor, plus the fact that most people wear things more than one time. That lends a bit of continuity to the episode. However, it probably has more to do with budget reasons and laziness than actually putting thought into the continuity.

It’s also a nice lampshade on the show for The Doctor to claim he has changed because he changed his shirt. The Doctor always wears clothes on the same theme even if certain aspects of the outfit like the color of the suit will change.

Girl Talk

There is a wonderful scene in this episode where Rose and Gwyneth talk about their jobs and how they hated school. There are a number of scenes like this one from various episodes in the Davies era. There was the one from the previous episode where she talks to the maintenance person and one where Martha Jones is trying to get The Master’s nurse to swear in front of her.

GwenCooperFor the most part these scenes don’t really drive the action forward very much, but they do serve a great purpose in establishing that no matter where or when you are, people are not really all that different. An alien at the end of time still has the same thoughts and feelings as a doctor in the twenty-first century.

These scenes can only be done with the companions because they are a very human aspect of the show that The Doctor just doesn’t fulfill. The Doctor will protect and save humanity, but there is never any doubt that The Doctor is not one of us. He is not human. He never will be. He can like and respect his companions as people without ever really being one of us.

When Rose changes into her period garb, The Doctor is shocked and tells her she looks beautiful, for a human. That kind of sums The Doctor up in a nutshell. He can enjoy the companionship of Rose in an aesthetic way without ever really feeling an actual, real connection to her on a human level.

I currently have my pug sleeping on my chest. I love her and enjoy feeling her fur with my fingers, but I never for one moment think that we are on the same level. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love and care about her, I just know that we are not the same and we never will be.

Nature of Humanity

I find the nature of the conflict between Rose and The Doctor to be fascinating. The aliens asking to use the bodies of the dead is an interesting morality question.

Our culture sees the defilement of dead bodies to be an atrocity. But, if you see it from The Doctor’s perspective, whatever made those people who they were is now gone. We throw away millions of viable organs every year because people need to opt in to organ donation programs and many times the organs are either unusable or the doctors are too worried about being sued to harvest them.

GwenGhostIf you look at things logically, it should make total sense for us to let these aliens inhabit dead bodies. However, on a basic human level, we see this as abhorrent. It seems like a cop out at the end when we discover that the aliens are actually horrible people and we can feel good about denying them access to the bodies.

I also wanted to address Gwyneth’s death. I am a sensitive person. I am hurt very easily by other people’s pain. One struggle I personally have is trying to separate other people’s pain from my own. I keep feeling like I can take their pain from them and that they will feel better, but you can’t do that. Everyone has to experience their own pain.

Gwyneth’s willingness to allow herself to be a conduit for these aliens spoke to me because I could totally see myself doing the same thing. I would feel like I was special, or chosen because I could help save these angels and I would allow them to destroy me. I have done that before. There is something intoxicating about feeling like you are the only person who can help someone that sets you up to be in a position of being damaged by forces you don’t control. Extreme empathy can sometimes feel like a gift, but it is a gift that brings destruction if you can’t learn to protect yourself from its consequences.

Assessment

This episode isn’t as bad as I remember it being. I was kind of dreading having to watch this episode after the great one we just had and knowing the great episodes coming up before the end of the season.

I guess the thing that kind of makes this episode for me is all the breadcrumbs that would be picked up for Torchwood. I know other people don’t agree with me, but I don’t feel like the past few seasons have had the same world building that these first few seasons have. Introducing Danny Pink to be Clara’s boyfriend and to set him up to be sacrificed at the end of the season is different than having a few recurring characters who show up over several seasons.

I had also overlooked the plot point where everything hinges on Gwyneth’s embracing of her destiny to be destroyed by the angels. As much as The Doctor and Rose disagreed about whether it was moral for the aliens to inhabit dead bodies, if Gwyneth had not agreed to be the conduit, the argument would have been moot.

This is a pretty solid episode. The writers probably did right by going back in time. These first few episodes lay the ground for everything that comes after it. I think writing a critical assessment of this episode gave me a better understanding of the emotional resonance of the episode.

Up next, we have “Aliens of London.” We get to see the fallout of Rose’s decision to jump in the TARDIS and follow The Doctor to the end of the world.

You Kids, Get off my Virtual Realty!!

Over the weekend I was surprised with a gift I didn’t think I would ever get: New ports of a bunch of my favorite games from when I was in my impressionable tweenaged years. First among these games was “Sam and Max Hit the Road.” Closely following this cultural touchstone were “Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis” and the “Legend of Kyrandia” trilogy.

I became acquainted with the point and click adventure game genre through my brother. When I was in junior high my dad bought my brother a computer for Christmas and bought me a wooden chess set. I am not bitter about this. Much…

Anyway, he was working through Day of the Tentacle. I would walk by and wonder what the hell it was he was playing. It looked weird and creepy. It is weird and creepy, but at the time it didn’t look weird and creepy in an endearing way.
Day_of_the_Tentacle_Founding_Fathers
One day I got curious and started asking him about what was going on. He was stuck on a puzzle in the game but he couldn’t explain to me what had happened up until then, so I went on the computer and started my own game.

Holy crap, this game was amazing! There are so many weird and surreal things going on this game that it may have irreparably warped my sense of humor. Possibly more so than it was warped before. A game with time traveling port-o-potties, a valley dude hanging out with George Washington, and a plot point that requires you to freeze and microwave a hamster is more than a little sick and twisted.

We worked in parallel on our game. One of us would make progress and we would share it with the other person. It took us a really long time to get through that game. It feels like it took months. It might have, I really don’t remember.

When an artifact comes along, you must whip it!

When an artifact comes along, you must whip it!


After polishing off Day of the Tentacle, we worked through Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. We thought there was only one path through the game and we had screwed it up by ditching Sofia halfway through the game. After working through the game a few times we realized that there were actually three successful paths through the game. That got us really excited to go through the game and replay it a few times to figure out how many different ways the game could be won.

I did want to make a brief mention of my bewilderment about the death of the Indiana Jones franchise. Fate of Atlantis proved that Indiana Jones could be a great franchise where you have a nice formula that is infinitely customizable without getting overly stale. I am saddened that the last few films felt like they had to do like character development or something. Indiana Jones totally could have been James Bond with archaeology. Such a missed opportunity.

The Tunnel of Love from Hell!

The Tunnel of Love from Hell!


It took us a lot longer to get through Sam and Max. There was a point in the game where you had to go into the Tunnel of Love and hit a specific place on the wall at exactly the right moment in order to find the Mole Boy who wanted pecan flavored candies. We went crazy trying to get past this point in the game. We knew something was there, but we never hit the wall at the right moment. I think we worked on this game on and off for months. I think we restarted the game just to be able to play the game up until that point because we enjoyed the twisted sense of humor so much. In fact, we replayed up until that point so many times that there is a full two thirds of the game I barely remember because I played it all the way through just once or twice.

I don’t remember which one of us got past that point or if we did it together. I do remember we were both elated that we could finally continue on with the game and we celebrated that moment together.

The summer between seventh and eighth grade I encountered two games: Myst and Legend of Kyrandia. Legend of Kyrandia was another SCUMM-based adventure game created by a company other than LucasArts. Our school had a summer enrichment program that many of us quickly realized meant that we could hang out at school and play computer games all day.
the-legend-of-kyrandia-screen-4
I don’t remember who found Legend of Kyrandia, but it very quickly became a favorite of everyone in the group of about ten of us. We were obsessed with this game. There is a point in the game where you get lost in these caves and if you don’t light them properly you get eaten by animals. We all worked together to piece together a map of the entire cave, along with all the objects that are hidden that you needed. When someone would make progress in the game we would quickly spread that new information to everyone else in the group. It took us a few weeks to work through the game and it worked as something of a bonding experience for all of us that immediately was forgotten when school started up again.

My experience with Legend of Kyrandia was vastly different than my experience with Myst. I had to work through that game alone. I played it a lot because I thought the graphics were pretty. Myst is in fact one of the things that got me interested in 3D graphics and texture mapping. I really wanted to know how the worlds were made. Unfortunately, I didn’t get as far into the game as I would have liked. I didn’t realize you could leave the island until I bought a strategy guide. I thought you were just supposed to wander around and look at all the pretty scenery. I couldn’t understand why everyone thought the game was so amazing. After figuring out you could leave, I was far more excited about the game.

At this point, you may be wondering why I am rambling on about my lost childhood gaming experiences. I have a point. If you read through this spiel, you will notice that not once did anyone ever check the Internet to see what to do when we got stuck. If we got stuck, we just didn’t progress in the game.

Pro tip: Don't stick your hand in a crack in the wall on an alien planet. Just don't.

Pro tip: Don’t stick your hand in a crack in the wall on an alien planet. Just don’t.


The only games I was able to get all the way through were ones that I worked on with at least one other person. I found a simulated version of Legend of Kyrandia and I tried working through it on my own, but I quickly got stuck in the caves, got bored, and just downloaded a map off the internet.

I find it mind boggling that my brother and I literally spent YEARS when I was a teenager working through these games. We would be stuck on puzzles for months. Yet we would sit there and just keep trying anything we could think of to get through the game.

When was the last time anyone ever spent a month working through a game? The last game my husband bought was Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. He spent about a week playing through the game, beat it, then threw it in a box and forgot about it.

Back when I used to work at Target I would bring my Nintendo DS to work. I had Lego Harry Potter to play on my breaks to blow off steam. I would only play that game when I was at work as something to help me get through my day without going insane. After I had been working on it for a month one of the back room guys came over and said, “Wait, you’re still working on playing that same game?!” It’s inconceivable that anyone would spend a month playing a game without either giving up or beating it.

I don’t pretend to be any kind of gamer, but are games easier than they used to be? It seems to me like people used to spend weeks or months working through games. I read a blog post by a guy talking about working through one of the first Zelda games by coming home from school and being glued to the TV for weeks.

Waiting for the smoke monster to show up with the polar bear.

Waiting for the smoke monster to show up with the polar bear.


I am kind of sad that I don’t really see games out anymore that take months to get through. I am also really sad that I don’t get to work through a game with other people anymore. That summer working through that game was a really awesome experience. I have felt rather isolated from my classmates in school. I always did group projects on my own. Having an experience where we all worked together on something that we were excited about was a gift.

I don’t have this experience of working through games anymore, but I have found that I can get something like it when I talk to people about code. Right now my boss is working through functional Swift programming using Haskell design patterns and syntax. Sitting with him looking at the stuff he is doing and trying to catch up so that I can help out is surprisingly emotionally fulfilling.

I wonder if people who grew up with the internet will ever get a chance to work through a problem with someone where the answer isn’t instantly available online. One reason I am finding working on the Swift problem so exhilarating is that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to do things yet. Coming from a school background, I’m used to the idea that the person who knows more than I do has a right answer to the problem we are supposed to solve for class. Being in a situation where that answer isn’t known yet is somewhat freeing. It gives these things we are doing meaning. We aren’t just doing mind games or mental exercises. This is it. This is why I learned to code, to solve a problem.

Working through those silly adventure games really gave me tenacity to keep working at something that I knew there had to be an answer to, even if it wasn’t immediately available. It also taught me how important sharing knowledge and collaborating is. None of us would have gotten through the game in the time we did if we hadn’t worked together and pooled our knowledge.

Giving information to someone who doesn’t have it costs us nothing. Working together we can do things we couldn’t do separately.

I haven’t opened any of my games yet. I am afraid I won’t remember how to do anything and I won’t have anyone to play them with. Maybe I’ll find someone to play with. Maybe not. Either way, I’m sure they will be harder than I remember them being.

So are we, Bernard. So are we.

So are we, Bernard. So are we.

Doctor Who: Series One- Rose

I have complained here about how I don’t like the current iteration of The Doctor in Doctor Who. Recently I have been thinking back to a lot of stuff from the earlier parts of New Who and I am going to write a series of posts about each episode in at least the first series. I am doing this as a recovering English major who thinks that the first series was a very well written set of episodes and tells a very concise story about a pair of dynamic characters who change and are changed by one another.

Rose, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Rose, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

It is interesting to go back and look at “Rose” from the perspective of knowing just how huge Doctor Who would get in the ten years after the show premiered. I will confess to being rather late to to Doctor Who bandwagon. I believe I began watching the show in real time in either Series 5 or 6. I tried, like most people, to get into the series by watching “Rose.”

“Rose” isn’t a bad episode, per se, it is just very weird for someone who has no idea what to expect from Doctor Who. I was expecting Doctor Who to be kind of like a cross between “Lost” and “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” I was not expecting how dark it would get. Even though Mickey comes back from the dead, you have a scene where he basically gets murdered by a plastic mannequin and you see this really bad special effect/makeup job on the actor wandering around saying “Pizza!”

Another thing I find interesting about “Rose” is the actual introduction of the companion. We see Rose wake up, go to work, eat lunch with her boyfriend, and basically have a typical, lower-middle class existence. Her life is perfectly serviceable, if somewhat boring. She works in a shop and has a boyfriend. She probably does not expect to have a lot of upward social mobility and she doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to get any further than she actually is. She doesn’t seem to be aware of it and it doesn’t really bother her. She is like the main character from “Flowers for Algernon” who isn’t really viscerally aware of the fact that there is more to life than what he knows. Ignorance is bliss.

Compare that to the other series where you are introduced to the companion. Most of those stories are about The Doctor. As the show has progressed, The Doctor has become more and more the focus of the show. The companion is chosen now because the companion is somehow special. Amy Pond with her crack in the universe in her wall. Clara, whose iterations show up over and over again. The Impossible Girl.

Rose is not an impossible girl. Rose is a common girl. Except she isn’t.

runningIf we look as Series One as a whole, we are at the beginning of The Hero’s Journey. We are in “The Ordinary World.” Rose is Bilbo Baggins, snug and safe in her hobbit hole with no aspirations to go on any sort of adventures.

When we meet The Doctor for the first time, it is an exhilarating experience. She, as well as us, are curious about him. She goes and tries to research him on the Internet. She wants to know more about him. She is actively discouraged by her family from trying to find out more about The Doctor. When she goes to talk to the guy from the Internet, Mickey insists on taking her there to keep an eye on her because he thinks she is going to be murdered by an insane internet lunatic. It’s clear from their behavior that neither Mickey nor Jackie thinks Rose can make her own choices or take care of herself. They mean well, but they treat her like a child.

These changes mark the beginning of a metamorphosis that will transform Rose by the end of the series. Had Rose only met The Doctor once, she might not have changed. She would have thought it was weird, but then ultimately would have moved on and forgot. The speech where The Doctor tells her he can feel the Earth hurtling through space, you know Rose will never be the same again. There is a part of her that awakens to the possibility that exists in the Universe.

A happier Doctor by the end of the episode.

A happier Doctor by the end of the episode.

So far I have only spoken about Rose. It is equally important to mention The Doctor. He is recently regenerated, as we can tell when he looks at his reflection and comments on the ears. The Doctor is badly damaged at this point in time due to his decision to destroy the Timelords and the Daleks.

It is hard to determine how The Doctor feels at this point in time. The Doctor picks up companions because he is lonely. He is even more lonely at this point in time because he just destroyed his entire race. (Yes, I know this was retconned.) The Doctor needs a companion to avoid losing touch with the people he has dedicated himself to saving, but he is a broken man. He brings death and destruction everywhere he goes and he is reluctant to bring another person along and place them in danger.

The biggest thing that sells their relationship in this episode is the chemistry between Billie Piper and Christopher Eccleston. Eccleston, one of the greatest living thespians we have, does an excellent job of selling us on why someone would be fascinated by him. Piper, however, has the harder job of selling us on why The Doctor would invite her to travel the Universe with him. Even though we see initially that Rose is a rather ordinary and common person, there is potential within her. She has a spark of curiosity and imagination missing from everyone else we meet in the pilot.

The moment of epiphany is a glorious moment.

The moment of epiphany is a glorious moment.

One of the great, defining moments in the pilot is the part where Rose realizes that the London Eye is the transmitter and The Doctor figures it out. There are so many times in life when you are looking at things from the wrong angle and you need a change of perspective. It was this moment when The Doctor realized that he needed Rose, or someone like her.

The moment when Rose realizes that she can be more than she is is slightly later, when The Doctor needs to be saved. We get the great line from Rose:

I’ve got no A-Levels, no job, no future… but I tell ya what I have got – Jericho Street Junior School – Under Sevens Gymnastic Team – I got the Bronze!

This is the point where Rose reaches “The Call to Adventure.” She has somewhat reached rock bottom. She realizes consciously for the first time that she is asleep. Her normal, comfortable life has been turned upside down and she is painfully aware that she has no hope of doing anything better than she is doing now. This realization galvanizes her to strive to be more than she was.

Both Rose and The Doctor are changed by their encounters with one another. The Doctor has recovered enough from his damage by his encounter with Rose that he feels comfortable inviting her to come with him. He realizes on a fundamental level that he needs her to recover from what happened with the Time Lords. He also recognizes the potential in her to be more than she is.

You can contrast her reaction to The Doctor with Mickey’s. Mickey also had an encounter with the strange and unknown. His reaction was entirely different. The unknown frightened him. It pushed him further into his small world view.

Look at the invitation the Doctor extends to Rose, but not to Mickey:

ROSE: You were useless in there. You’d be dead if it wasn’t for me.

DOCTOR: Yes, I would. Thank you. Right then, I’ll be off, unless, er, I don’t know, you could come with me. This box isn’t just a London hopper, you know. It goes anywhere in the universe free of charge. 

MICKEY: Don’t. He’s an alien. He’s a thing.

DOCTOR: He’s not invited. What do you think? You could stay here, fill your life with work and food and sleep, or you could go anywhere.

You can hold her all you want to Mickey, but she's already gone.

You can hold her all you want to Mickey, but she’s already gone.

At this point, we see Rose reach “The Refusal of the Call” point in the Hero’s Journey. Changing your life is scary. Going on an adventure with The Doctor will fundamentally change who she is. She won’t be happy doing the same things she did at the beginning of the episode. She will evolve into another kind of person, leaving Mickey and Jackie behind her. Hell, when she gets invited, Mickey throws his arms around her and clings to her like grim death to keep her from going. That is a scary thing. It is hard to leave people behind that you outgrow. But if you are going to be more than you are, you must do so. She isn’t quite ready to say goodbye to the person she was to become the person she is going to be, so she turns him down.
The look on her face watching the TARDIS disappear is heartbreaking. She knows that this was a chance that she will probably never get again to be more than she is. She gave it up to stay with the people she loved. She resigns herself to going back to the way things were. Then the TARDIS comes back. She won’t make that mistake again.

ROSE: Thanks.

MICKEY: Thanks for what? 

ROSE: Exactly.

I do find it rather interesting that later in the show they do explore what happens to another prospective companion who turns The Doctor down and regrets it. We meet Donna Noble in a Christmas special. She turns down The Doctor, and we get a season of Martha Jones. A year later we see that even though Donna did not take The Doctor up on his invitation, she could not avoid being changed by him.

Sometimes in life events force you to change. You might want to cling to the person that you were, but that person is essentially gone. Lewis Carroll has a wonderful quote: “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

I have, in the course of my life, encountered a lot of people who absolutely do not like change. Change frightens them. They bury their heads in the sand and try to avoid dealing with the fact that everything is constantly changing. Your cells replace your organs every few years. We have change built into the structure of our DNA. It is unavoidable, yet people run and hide from things that are inevitable.

One reason I am focusing on this season is because I find it fascinating that the writers generated these characters where you have one dynamic character surrounded by static ones. One issue I have with the newer seasons of Who in the Moffatt era is that none of the characters really grow or evolve. Amy Pond was kidnapped, held hostage, and had her only child stolen from her, yet it never seems to affect her in any meaningful way. She is temporarily affected because it means she and Rory can’t have children, so she leaves him so he can have them with someone else, which is complete and total bullshit.

I identify with Rose very much. I have had several transformative experiences over the last two years and watching this season resonates with me a great deal. I hope that my analysis of these episodes is somewhat interesting or entertaining. If not, I promise to talk more about programming soon.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten Episodes- All Good Things…

This is the final entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

The End

I know it is something of a cliche to include either the pilot or the final episode of a series in a top ten list, but this episode did such a great job that I had to include it.

Q_PicardEnding a long-running series is tricky. There is a multitude of nerd rage over shows that did not end in a satisfying manner. “The Sopranos” is the most prominent example, but there are plenty of other shows that have dropped the ball at the end.

It is tremendously difficult to strike a good balance between giving closure to the fans and going too far in the other direction and pandering to what you think the fans want to see. “Breaking Bad” recently wrapped up their series and it was the third-to-last episode that really packed the emotional punch for the series. The last few episodes wrapping things up but it wasn’t nearly as emotionally satisfying as that almost last episode was.

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” was from an earlier time before the mass serialization of TV became the norm. TNG had a few recurring characters and several plot threads that popped up over the years, but beyond a few two-part episodes there was not a lot of continuity from episode to episode.

One of those characters and plot threads was the omnipotent, ever-present Q. Q made his appearance in the pilot to put humanity on trial. That was a rather ballsy move to make in the pilot and it pays off in the finale because the writers could call back that scene to provide a nice bookend for the show.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

Gul Dukat, the face of pure evil.

The only other Trek series to do anything like this was Deep Space Nine. DS9 had the awesome moment in the pilot where Gul Dukat strolls onto the station and you are immediately struck by what a menacing presence he has. DS9 at its core was a battle royale between the forces of good in the form of Benjamin Sisco and the forces of darkness in the form of Gul Dukat for control of the wormhole and its inhabitants.

If Gul Dukat or Q had been poorly cast, neither of these callbacks would have happened. In spite of the fact that TNG and DS9 were syndicated, relatively low budget shows, they got incredibly lucky with a lot of their casting. Getting an actor who could stand toe-to-toe with Patrick Stewart who was genuinely menacing was awesome, which is why the writers kept bringing Q back over and over again. It’s difficult to remember that Q only appeared in just over a half dozen episodes of the series since his presence is such a vital part of its DNA.

Structure

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn't realize the NSA still exists in the future!

Wait, how long has this camera been here?! I didn’t realize the NSA still exists in the future!

One benefit of having the plot driven by an omnipotent super being is that you can bring characters back from the dead without things seeming forced. Being able to send Picard through time and space without having to worry about the mechanics is a gift.

The best time travel episodes of Trek don’t bother to worry about how their heroes go back and forth through time. Look at “The City at the Edge of Forever.” Our heroes jump through a large rock and wind up back in time. They never talk about how they get back to the future because it doesn’t matter. Kirk fell in love with a woman who he had to let die to allow time to proceed as it should.

(Side note: I would give anything to see a cold open for Doctor Who where the TARDIS shows up on the Enterprise bridge, they talk to Patrick Stewart, fly off, and you see that they are in the middle of shooting an episode. Seriously Moffat, make it so!)

There have been a few moments in Star Trek where Picard has been tortured with the idea that he remembers things that are not real. Between “The Inner Light”, “The Chain of Command”, and “The Best of Both Worlds” I am shocked that he doesn’t have some terrible psychological trauma. I guess they have found a cure for PTSD in the future. One would hope at least.

It was kind of nice to see that at some point Picard and Beverly Crusher hook up, it just would have been nice to see it happen while the show was still going. I am surprised they never picked that thread up in any of the movies. The actors clearly had chemistry and the writers kind of flirt around with the idea without actually going there. If they were going to hook Worf and Troi up for the last few episodes of the series, couldn’t they have at least done the same thing for the two characters who actually made sense?

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Alas, poor Tasha! I knew her, Horatio!

Oh yeah, one of the low points of the finale is that in the future Worf and Riker hate one another because they both loved Troi and she mysteriously dies to fuel their irrational conflict. ”Women in Refrigerators” trope for the win!

It’s kind of nice to see how the writers were able to use the death of Tasha Yar so many times in the series to show that things were wonky without overusing it terribly. Each time they brought Tasha back it was in a great episode and she was used respectfully. I am glad that Denise Crosby was classy enough to come back the number of times she did for the fans of the show.

Paradox

The primary reason I am including this on my list is the central paradox in the episode.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

The beginnings of life on Earth.

As I have written about a lot, I started programming rather later than most people did. I had a period of several years where I terribly abused my brain. I would come home from school and just stare off at a corner for half an hour because I couldn’t think enough to be able to know I had to take off my coat and my shoes.

I have stretched, broken, and healed my brain so many times that I think I might be addicted to the pain. Watching Picard go through the episode trying to piece the paradox together spoke to me on a fundamental level that a lot of Star Trek didn’t.

There was one quote in particular that really speaks to me. It happens at the end of the episode when Picard has saved the universe and is speaking to Q about his displeasure at being put on trial:

Capt. Picard: I sincerely hope that this is the last time that I find myself here.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. *That* is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You know no matter how hard you try you'll never know everything, right?

You know no matter how hard you try you’ll never know everything, right?

Last year I was determined to learn Core Audio. I spent two months working my way through Chris Adamson’s Core Audio book. He was doing an all-day workshop on it at CocoaConf Boston and I moved heaven and earth to be able to go there. When I got there, I was incredibly worried about my future. I felt beaten down and broken by trying to get through programming. That was a really dark time for me. I used to feel joy when I learned and figured things out that had all but disappeared from my life. I was in a despair that I would never feel it again.

Going to that workshop changed my life. It was like a lot of concepts were floating around in my brain like iron filings and someone turned a magnet on and suddenly everything snapped into place. I couldn’t explain to anyone about what I realized, but for a brief moment everything clicked into place. I nearly cried because all of these things I couldn’t figure out suddenly came into focus. I could see how they fit together. I was so buzzed by this revelation that I didn’t sleep for a week.

I felt like I had made a pilgrimage through the desert with no hope that anything would be at the other end to discover that a paradise existed. I felt like my will and my tenacity had been tested and that I passed the test. I knew that anything else I tried to do would not be as difficult as the last year had been. I knew that I would be okay. I knew I would not fail.

Engage

I guess the main theme of this episode is talking about what Star Trek is really about. J.J. Abrams doesn’t fundamentally understand why people like Star Trek. It seems like this dated, wimpy show about a bunch of unrealistic peaceniks who have this stupid utopian view of the way the world should be. Those qualities are exactly what make Star Trek special.

It is superficially about exploring space and meeting weird exotic aliens, but it is about far more than that. It is about exploring what it means to be human. We encounter aspects of ourselves in the various species encountered by the Enterprise crew. The show is a hope for the future where we can bypass the issues we have now to work together for a better future.

We need this, now more than ever. We have a deeply divided country where half of us want to move backwards and half want to move forward. We have a group of people deeply suspicious of scientists warning us that if we aren’t careful we will make this planet uninhabitable. We have become terrified of bogeymen in headscarves that we are afraid will blow up our buildings, so we let our government treat all of us like criminals. We have militarized police turning their weapons on the people they are supposed to protect.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I believed in you. I thought you had potential. But apparently I was wrong. May whatever god you believe in have mercy on your soul. This court stands adjourned.

I need to believe we can transcend this period of our history. When Star Trek originally came out, we were at a similar precipice, except the bogeyman was nuclear war and had a Russian accent. Star Trek came at a time we needed to believe that it was possible that we could do better. We need that now, more than ever.

Our great challenge as a species isn’t to make it to the stars, it is to push ourselves to do better than we thought we could. That is the ultimate message of both this specific episode and of all of Star Trek. That is why this series has endured for nearly fifty years.

I want to finish up this post, and this series, with a quote from the pilot that I feel sums up my feelings about what Star Trek means to me. I want to thank you for reading my posts and I hope that they were not too terribly boring.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Some problem, Riker?

Commander William T. Riker: Just hoping this isn’t the usual way our missions will go, sir.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard: Oh, no, Number One. I’m sure most will be much more interesting. – Let’s see what’s out there. Engage!

Why I am Over Doctor Who

I, like many geeks of my generation, have been a rather rabid Doctor Who fan for a few years now. I had the unfortunate luck of attempting to get into Doctor Who with the episode Fear Her, which is widely considered to be the worst episode of New Who created. About five years ago I got through the first season and became very interested in the show. I have even named my pug after Delia Derbyshire, the woman who engineered the theme song.

I am not evil, I promise! I just look that way.

I am not evil, I promise! I just look that way.

I noticed about a year or so ago that I really was not digging Doctor Who anymore. I really liked the first few seasons, but there was a certain point where everything just sort of stopped working for me. I was on the train to Denver for 360|iDev when the season premiere happened and I honestly didn’t care about missing it. I got home and saw it a week later and I wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t very engaging. I nearly turned it off before the end and I was tired and really didn’t care about how it ended.

I’ve been trying to determine exactly why Doctor Who has been bothering me, and I have tentatively come up with some points about what it is about the series that has drained all of its interest for me.

Special Effects

I know at this point, some people might be like, “What are you talking about?! The special effects for the first few seasons were terrible! Look at the pilot episode!”

That is exactly my point.

There was a certain charm about the show when it had terrible special effects. It allowed the actors to have some fun and kind of ham things up because no one in their right mind would think that the horrible rubber special effects were real. It let the show have a goofiness that is sorely lacking in the last few seasons.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Not Giving a Fuck

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Not Giving a Fuck

Additionally, I feel that the increased special effects budget has acted as a crutch to the show for the writers so that they don’t have to write particularly interesting or compelling characters and plots.

In the seventh season, we had the episode The Rings of Akhaten. There is an interminable portion of the episode with the Queen of Years singing a song that feels like it lasts forever. The scene is beautiful. The special effects and the world building are breathtaking, but I don’t care about what is going on.

I feel like I am watching a piece of art created by a computer that makes things really pretty, but it has no soul. I feel no reason to watch it because the characters never learn anything, their stories don’t touch me on any fundamental level, and the whole thing just feels like a practice in artistic masturbation.

Rose meets the father she never knew and discovers he is just a man.

Rose meets the father she never knew and discovers he is just a man.

The special effects in the first season were terrible, but the writing was compelling. Because you couldn’t blow a million bucks making an entire virtual world, you wound up with such great episodes like Father’s Day where Rose got to meet the father she never knew. The vast majority of that episode took place in a church in the 1980’s. That episode is compelling because you can see a character you’ve never seen before slowly come to the realization that he is going to die and never see his daughter grow up and that he must sacrifice himself to save the world. Pete Tyler wasn’t a super hero, he was an ordinary person who was able to put his own self interests aside for the greater good of everyone. If that isn’t a compelling story, I don’t know what is.

You get compelling stories when there are constraints on the writers to do something to fill the gaps that can’t be filled with special effects.

I went back and watched Jurassic Park recently. I forgot how much of the movie is made up of scenes without the dinosaurs. The movie is great not just because of the realistic dinosaur rendering, but because it had really good, fleshed out characters whose fates you cared about. It had humor. All the characters had distinct personalities. If it was just about the dinosaurs, then I highly doubt it would be remembered as fondly as it is.

The special effects are now movie quality, but since I really hate most movies that come out, that doesn’t really appeal to me anymore.

We are seeing a similar thing happen with the new Star Trek movie series. We have a writer, J.J. Abrams, who has absolutely no idea what made Start Trek compelling to begin with, who is kind of throwing around what he thinks Trek fans want to see, without fully grokking what it was about the show that kept people around. You have things slicker and prettier than they were, but without the soul that kept fans coming back year after year.

Serialized Plots

I do not like the habit that Steven Moffat has introduced in his reign of terror at having the entire series be serialized. I know that many shows on today are serialized and that is the thing du jour for episodic television, but I really don’t feel it works for Doctor Who.

The first series we had Moffat for, where we were introduced to Amy Pond and Rory Williams, had the interesting and different tack of talking about the crack in the wall and how it was a crack in reality. This was an interesting concept that had not been explored in New Who yet.

This baby is the most important thing in the world to me, but only for the next forty-five minutes.

This baby is the most important thing in the world to me, but only for the next forty-five minutes.

However, after the first season of serialization, things began to drag and that began very rapidly. The next season, where we discover Amy Pond is pregnant and was replaced by a doppelgänger, was compelling for the first half of the season until baby Melody is spirited away and we discover that she is, in fact, River Song.

After that, things really go off the rails. We are sort of expected to believe that Amy is not irreparably despondent about her kidnapping and the theft of her baby, because she sort of goes on about her life like it never happened and it is not particularly mentioned again.

A lot of this stuff is happening because the characters, as portrayed by Moffat, are nothing more than

...and after I do that I have no further purpose in this show!

…and after I do that I have no further purpose in this show!

living action figures to go off and play certain parts in weird fan fictions. He is more interested in having puzzles to figure out than in the actual compelling questions of what it means to be human. Once a puzzle has been solved, Moffat has some trouble figuring out what to do with the character afterward. We are seeing this issue with Clara where now that we have discovered why she was the impossible girl, the writers have no clear idea about who or what she was. It has been announced that she is going to be leaving the show at the end of the year and I feel she is being forced out to make room for the next MacGuffin. I don’t particularly like the character, but I feel kind of bad that the actress never actually got to explore who the character actually is.

You can have serialized plots in a show like Lost where you are following the same characters through a multi-year character arc. It works less well when you have a predetermined cycle of actors that will come and go. Back in the first few seasons having a lot of one-off episodes that had a few multipart episodes sprinkled through really worked for the show.

Don't Blink!

Don’t Blink!

Some of the best episodes of the show were stand-alone episodes. Look at Blink, one of the best episodes of the entire series. The show barely has the Doctor in it. It exemplifies what is great about Doctor Who. It is weird and funny and has compelling time travel paradoxes, but most importantly, it wraps up in one episode. It is a tightly written piece of fiction. Imagine trying to drag that episode out over a whole season long arc. It loses so much in that scenario.

I guess I feel like Doctor Who is turning into the M. Night Shyamalan oeuvre where he feels compelled to add a stupid twist to the end of his movies and they get lamer and lamer with each iteration. Try shaking things up a bit and go back to what works rather than sticking to a fluke that worked once.

No Hanky Panky in the Tardis

The single biggest thing that has bothered me about this season is the question of romance between the Doctor and his Companion.

This kiss doesn't count, it isn't the actual Doctor. That's my story and I am sticking to it!

This kiss doesn’t count, it isn’t the actual Doctor. That’s my story and I am sticking to it!

First off, I thought it was rather refreshing to have the married couple of Amy and Rory because it closed off the idea of the Doctor and his Companion having a relationship. I think that Billie Piper had great chemistry with both Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant and that having that one relationship go in that direction was not the worst idea in the world.

Rose Tyler was followed up by Martha Jones, who had an unrequited crush on the Doctor that was never reciprocated. Martha was followed by Donna Noble, who was brought on to be a friend to the Doctor and to show a character who has a life changing encounter and grows as a human being. I don’t really think that Doctor Who has earned the reputation of having too many romantic relationships between the Doctor and the Companion.

Imagine my surprise when nearly every article I read about the new season of Doctor Who revolved around this theme: No hanky panky in the TARDIS. I began to get a very bad feeling about how this season was going to proceed. No one talked about anything else going on this season beyond the fact that the people representing the show wanted to make damn sure you knew there would be no relationship between the Doctor and the Companion.

Why did anyone feel it was necessary to make this explicitly clear??

Watching the first episode of the season really hammered this point home. I think they talked about boyfriends and relationships more than they talked about sex in “The Secret Life of the American Teenager.”

You don’t want a relationship between the Doctor and Clara? Fine. I don’t think they even got to that point when Matt Smith was around because Clara was only on like ten episodes. Just don’t do it. Don’t fucking talk about it every other minute in the premiere.

Wait, what the hell is this?! I thought I was supposed to get the hot red head! I need to check my contract...

Wait, what the hell is this?! I thought I was supposed to get the hot red head! I need to check my contract…

I also find this worrying because I feel that Steven Moffat doesn’t know what to do with a female character if he can’t hook her up in a relationship. I think Amy lasted as long as she did because she was married to Rory. At the beginning of Season Seven she tries to divorce him to set him free because she can have no more children and she feels like she can’t fulfill his needs as a man because she can’t give him babies. The fuck? The multitude of wrong associated with this plot line hurts my brain.

I think Jenna Colman was sort of urged to leave the show because no one knows what to do with her anymore. Her puzzle has been solved. The hot guy left the role and has been replaced by the old guy. What on earth could they possibly do with a female character if she can’t screw the Doctor?

Conclusion

Will I continue to watch Doctor Who? Yeah, probably. I watch a lot of things that stopped being good a while ago. Will I go out of my way to see it when it is on initially? Probably not.

Right now the writers have no reason to go to the effort to make Doctor Who good. The Fiftieth Anniversary special was aired live all over the world. Doctor Who is the crown jewel of the BBC right now. It is basically printing its own money. It has no incentive to make itself better.

I have no hope that things will get any better as long as we have the same crew of people running things. If they ever replace Moffat with someone else, I will be legitimately excited about the show again. Until then, I will suffer and rewatch the Eccleston season back when the show had something to say.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Favorite Episode- The First Duty

This is the ninth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth...

Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth…

The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based! And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!

That quote, in a nutshell is the reason that this episode is my absolute favorite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ever. I picked this episode over “The Best of Both Worlds”, “Tapestry”, and all the other wonderful episodes on my list.

Wesley Crusher

Wesley Crusher is among the most hated and problematic characters on TV. He was introduced in the first season of TNG and the writers didn’t really know what to do with him. Frankly, the writers didn’t really know what to do with any of the characters for the first few seasons of the series.

Yeah, well I don't really want to be here either...

Yeah, well I don’t really want to be here either…

I went to see “Datalore” in a movie theater when they were releasing the Blu-Ray versions of the each season of TNG. There is a point in the episode where Wesley is the only character who realizes Data is not Data. At that point, Picard snarls, “Shut up, Wesley!” Everyone in the theater burst into cheers. It bothered me that the writers would make Picard do something so unprofessional and out of character, but honestly he was saying what everyone probably thinks.

Wesley also wound up getting placed in this terrible characterization of always saving the ship. You had the elite, best of the best officers serving on the flagship of the Federation being made a fool of by a teenaged boy. I remember there was an episode where he creates a program that simulates voices and uses it to hack into the computer and make himself captain. I give props to Wil Wheaton for doing what he could with the character because I think I would have gagged over nearly everything he was given to do.

That was one reason this episode was so great. You had this problematic character who somehow miraculously always knew what to do who was now put in the very human situation of making a mistake. Not only did he make a mistake, he doubled down on his mistake by trying to cover it up.

Well now, Lancelot, Galahad, and I will leap out of the rabbit...

Well now, Lancelot, Galahad, and I will leap out of the rabbit…

I remember growing up somewhat isolated and not having a lot of friends. I found a group of friends in college. My father wanted me to transfer to a better school my last year of college. I chose not to because I found friends for the first time in my life and I thought that was more important. A week after the deadline to transfer all of my friends turned on me and I spent my last year of college alone. Wesley’s decision to stick with his friends out of loyalty rings true to me. It is very hard to betray people you know and want to like you, so his behavior is completely understandable. It is also understandable why he chooses to finally do the right thing. If everyone had to look Patrick Stewart in the eye while he tells them they disappointed him, then no one would ever do anything wrong.

Ensign Sito

One episode I had on my top ten list that I dropped because I realized it would overlap was “Lower Decks”. That episode appealed to me because it follows up from this episode.

Don't try to stare down Picard. Just don't.

Don’t try to stare down Picard. Just don’t.

Sito Jaxa is one of the members of Nova Squadron who is punished for her role in the cover-up. She doesn’t make a huge impression in “The First Duty” because you have powerhouse performances by Patrick Stewart, Ray Walston, and Robert Duncan McNeill.

When she comes back in a few seasons, you probably don’t remember her. You get a reminder that she has a backstory later in the episode.

Her story is interesting to me because it is a story that doesn’t get told very often. She is a person who made a mistake and was punished for it. That mistake could have ruined her future. She had to repeat a year of school and she lost all of her friends. She was known as one of the cadets who killed a teammate and tried to cover it up. The pressure of that drove Wesley to drop out of the Academy.

In fiction, we like self-contained stories. Person does something stupid, they get punished for it, the karmic balance of the universe is restored, let’s go have cake. There is a reason all the princess fairy tales end with “happily ever after” after the wedding. At that point stuff starts getting real and messy and complicated.

Sito Jaxa undercover

Sito Jaxa undercover

It is a very real thing to have your life torn apart and having to figure out where you go from there. One reason I find Steve Jobs compelling is that his story could have ended back in 1985 when he was forced out of Apple. Man starts company, is in over his head, flies too close to the sun, then crashes back down to Earth. Nice and tidy.

Except it isn’t. Your life crashes around your ears and you keep living. You can’t stop. You keep having to move forward. You learn. You change. You gather the pieces of your life and you start over.

I have encountered many people over the years who tell me that one false move will destroy my career. I do one wrong thing and it is over.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

I thought my life was over six years ago. I had everything I worked for evaporate overnight. Everything was gone. I was 27 years old and I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I did know, however, that I had to endure. I knew that I could not just give up on myself. I knew it would take time and it would be hard, but that I needed to get over it and keep going.

I don’t think that one bad decision I made when I was in my 20s should label me a failure and determine that I will never succeed. I think people are fully capable of learning from mistakes and becoming new and better people. I am not the same person I was five or ten years ago. The fact that they brought this character back and had her talk about having to pull herself together and persevere after nearly having her career destroyed by a mistake was just awesome.

Picard and Boothby

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from my parents was to always be nice to support staff. Support staff are the people who really know what is going on. Being mean to them is tacky and it is also a really bad idea because they usually know more about what is going on that the people in “charge”.

Cranky old man with cranky middle aged man.

Cranky old man with cranky middle aged man.

It is telling that when Picard gets back to the Academy the first person he goes to for the inside scoop is Boothby.

It is interesting that in my last recap, “Tapestry”, Picard got a chance to go back and prevent himself from making a mistake. Boothby helped him with some trouble that is completely different than the territory they covered in Tapestry.

I find it interesting that so much of the series is focused on breaking down Picard. He lost his heart by being stabbed. He got kidnapped by The Borg. He was tortured by the Cardassians. There is a running gag in Deep Space Nine that each season they have a “torture O’Brian” episode. They may have gotten the idea from torturing Picard.

I really can’t think of any other character in any form of literature whose development comes close to that of Jean-Luc Picard. Picard is the only character I know who has been allowed to fail and come back from it. He has failed many times. He is the only character I know of who is shown as a successful adult at the height of his career who got there by failing upward.

It is really nice that you have Picard getting advice from Boothby as a cadet, becoming the wise older man, then paying it forward to Wesley.

Seriously, I don’t think you can be human and be given this speech without feeling like complete and total crap:

Come on, don't tell me you don't want to sit in the Captain's chair too!!

Come on, don’t tell me you don’t want to sit in the Captain’s chair too!!

Do you remember the first day you came aboard this ship? Your mother brought you on the Bridge. And you even sat in my chair! I was annoyed! A presumptuous child playing on my ship! But I never forgot how you already knew every control, every display. You behaved as though you belonged on the Bridge. And then, later, when I decided to make you an acting Ensign, I was convinced that you could be an outstanding officer. And I never questioned that conviction… until now.

The biggest thing that has bothered me when I have failed is when I have let down someone who gave me a chance and believed in me. One of the things that helps me gather my fortitude and carry on is wanting to be able to show that person that they were not wrong.

Tom Paris, no, I mean Nicholas Locarno

No, I am not a shapeshifter!

No, I am not a shapeshifter!

Just want to make an aside about why the hell the creators of Voyager didn’t just call the Tom Paris character Nicholas Locarno when they cast McNeill. The character has basically the same backstory and personality. I understand that sometimes Star Trek actors get recycled, like how Dr. Leah Brahms turns up in Deep Space Nine as an admiral of some kind, but the characters are vastly different.

Maybe Tom Paris is just a shapeshifter. That would explain an awful lot, especially in that god-awful episode where they break the warp 10 barrier…

Truthiness

Earlier this year I read an article by a start-up founder talking about the cost of lying.

The general gist of the post is that when you lie to yourself or your investors, you are not living in reality. You are placing yourself in an aspirational reality that prevents you from being able to fix what is broken.

The last job I had before I dedicated myself to programming was for this company where our team leader didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. Instead of talking to his bosses, he decided to hide the truth from them.

What do you say to a man whose son you accidentally killed?

What do you say to a man whose son you accidentally killed?

My second week on the job he told everyone to pretend to be busy. He would shame you if you asked any questions by implying that asking questions makes you look stupid and that if you have questions you should just keep them to yourself to avoid being judged and eventually fired. If he thought that anyone was talking to anyone else who was not on your team he would take you to an empty office and eviscerate you. He broke everyone down so that people would not leave or look for other jobs because they were convinced they were worthless and no one would ever hire them again.

All of this eventually caught up with him because I reported his behavior and the company had to deal with the fact that many things they thought were the case were based on lies. I was punished for my complicity in this scheme, which was fine. I really needed to figure out what to do with my life and that gave me the kick I needed to follow the path I needed to be on. All of this could have been avoided if the team lead had just told the truth right away and said “I don’t know what you want us to do.”

Unwillingness to deal with the truth is my smell test of whether I want to work for a company or not. If I talk to people who don’t want to deal with reality, then it is going to bleed into other areas. Most companies that have a bullying culture are unwilling to deal with the truth, so it gets ignored and swept under the rug.

Conclusion

I know this probably isn’t everyone’s favorite episode of Star Trek, but it was mine. It has many of the same themes as Tapestry, but I found this one slightly more compelling because you don’t really know what is going to happen to the characters. With Tapestry you know at the end of the episode Picard will be alive and that he will feel better about his mistakes. This ends on a question mark. There is no “happy ending” here. Wesley loses his friends and his leader gets expelled. You don’t know what is going to happen to Wesley.

Stand and deliver.

Stand and deliver.

I would argue that this incident is the reason Wesley kind of falls on his ass and drops out of the Academy.

Some people deal with adversity better than others. People either learn from their mistakes or those mistakes bring them down. I know that for me personally I have learned and grown so much from my mistakes that I would not trade them for anything. Other people get destroyed by incidents that happen to him. I am glad that the writers gave Wesley some grey areas instead of just having him graduate from the Academy early and be lined up to captain a ship right out of the Academy like some other Star Trek properties I could point to.

For those of you counting at home, I have only covered nine Star Trek episodes out of a Top Ten list. As we all know, “All Good Things…” must come to an end…

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Three Episodes- Tapestry

This is the eighth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

You are dead, and I am God.

You are dead, and I am God.

Jean-Luc Picard: Q. what is going on?

Q: I told you. You’re dead. This is the afterlife. And I’m God.

Jean-Luc Picard: No… I am not dead. Because I refuse to believe that the afterlife is run by you. The universe is not so badly designed.

Introduction

“Tapestry” is “It’s a Wonderful Life”, TNG-style, except, instead of having an incompetent, bumbling guardian angel you are stuck with a psychopathic trickster with God-like powers. This has already gotten better.

These are your best friends?? Why do we never see them again?

These are your best friends?? Why do we never see them again?

This episode explores the idea that there are pivotal moments in your life that set you on a path irreparably. In Doctor Who, The Doctor refers to these as “fixed moments in time.” He couldn’t stop the destruction of Pompeii because it was a fixed moment in time. He could, however, save one family from the fires and then regenerate into the father of that family in 2014.

Picard is being given the chance to go back and change that fixed point in time. He regretted what choices he made in that instance and he has a chance to go back, putting things right that once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home. Oh wait, wrong Enterprise captain.

Jean-Luc Picard

Jean-Luc Picard is one of my absolute, all-time favorite characters in anything. I have said before that I feel like Picard is the mentor/boss/father figure everyone wishes they had. He commands respect, but he still has a sense of humor.

Who would have thought anyone would be so happy to be stabbed?

Who would have thought anyone would be so happy to be stabbed?

One reason he is such a compelling character is because he has made mistakes. In “The First Duty” he and Boothby talk about some mistake he made as a cadet that is never elaborated on. He talks about how he was a thoughtless and reckless young man. Making mistakes as a young man formed the wise man we see today.

There is so much emphasis in our society on prodigies. We are enamored with the idea of people who have preternatural gifts that allow them to effortlessly float through problems most people find difficult.

We do not fundamentally respect experience. If someone fails at something, we write them off and never give them another chance again. This is not a good attitude to have. Failure is one of the best teachers there is. We do not allow people in our society to fail. Everyone gets a ribbon in the science fair. Everyone is special, which is the same as saying no one is.

I have had my fair share of failures in my life. Each and every one of them taught me something. One reason this episode spoke so much to me was because I have thought about if I was given the chance to go back in time and change one of my fixed points in time if I would. I would not. If I went back and changed anything, it would just delay the inevitable. I would have not learned the lesson I needed to from that failure and I would have had it later when it was harder to recover from.

I don’t necessarily buy that Picard would have become a science lieutenant if he hadn’t been stabbed, but it did get the point across to Picard that these mistakes were part of the tapestry of his life. His mistakes were woven into the fabric of who he is and if you pull one thread the whole piece comes unravelled.

Q

Q is one of the best characters in Star Trek and this is one of the best episodes he appears in.

When we are introduced to Q in “Encounter at Farpoint” he is putting humanity on trial. He decided that we were not ready to interact with the larger universe. We had to prove to him that we were.

I push humanity forward.

I push humanity forward.

All of the best Q stories come from this base idea. I think some of the writers don’t fundamentally understand the kernel of Q’s essence, as evidenced by the abortion they did to the character in his appearances on Voyager.

Q is compelling because he challenges the nature of who we are. He has God-like powers, but they are best used when he forces you into a situation you are uncomfortable with and forces a change on you.

The silly Q episodes like “Q-Pid” could have just as easily been holodeck episodes.

Each race on Star Trek that has become successful represents some aspect of humanity reflected back at us in a way that we can explore it. The Ferengi were a failed race until Deep Space Nine when they figure out that what made the Ferengi tick was capitalism. This was a deep and rich vein to be mined for stories and it is rather painful to go back and see episodes of TNG before they figured that out.

Q and the Q Continuum, to me at least, represent our collective unconscious. I mean that in our feel that there are things that are larger and greater than we are. We are fundamentally all connected and we have stories and themes that universally speak to all of us. There are dark aspects of ourselves that we do not like to examine. Q forces those aspects out into the light and makes you deal with them. Picard worries that he flew too close to the sun and will burn himself out early because he wasn’t more prudent as a young man. Q forces him to confront that fear and to realize that just being alive isn’t the same as living.

Do you want to make a contract??

Do you want to make a contract??

Picard inadvertently made something of a Faustian bargain. He traded some of the end of his life for distinction and success earlier on. Generally in fiction Faustian bargains are portrayed as bad or evil. People trade their lives for power, power corrupts, and they descend into a personal hell.

In Puella Magi Madoka Magica Kyubey convinces people to enter into Faustian bargains with it. There is a discussion on the morality of what it is doing. It says that these bargains push the human race forward. If it didn’t create these contracts, the human race would still be sitting around naked in caves.

Not everyone can play it safe. You need people like Steve Jobs to take risks and push us forward. Being one of those people may or may not shorten your life, but we need people to take risks, fall on their face, and get up and keep moving forward.

Live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse.

The Cost of Living

I often think about quality of life. I know a lot of people who are commodity programmers at companies where they will work doing the same thing for 10-30 years until it gets outsourced, converted over, or too expensive to pay people to do.

Fixed point in time.

Fixed point in time.

The thought of doing this makes me feel like I am drowning. I can’t imagine doing the same thing for years and years. I have encountered a fair number of people with decades of experience in something that is being phased out who don’t want to start over again doing something new because not only would it be hard, but they would be back down at the bottom of the ladder again pay-wise and it is too much to do.

I have never seen playing along and following the rules paying off for anyone long-term. I went to college being told that if I got good grades and tried hard that something would be other there for me. I got done and it wasn’t. It was a very upsetting realization that forced me to change how I live my life.

I am now grateful that I made that change in my twenties rather than having a tiny amount of success and continuing to fight the inevitable. I do not want to live my life as a lieutenant in the science department of the Enterprise. I don’t think I want to be the captain, but I sure as hell do not want to be a wage slave commodity programmer perpetually afraid that I am going to be laid off like the worker in Office Space.

To quote Lieutenant Junior-Grade Picard:

I would rather die as the man I was than live the life I just saw.

Identity

I also spend a lot of time thinking about who I am. I don’t mean that in a narcissistic, naval-gazing kind of way. I mean what fundamentally makes you who you are.

Doctor Donna Friend

Doctor Donna Friend

If I woke up tomorrow with amnesia not remembering anything I did for the last two years, would I still be me?

This thought is present throughout a lot of science fiction and fantasy.

At the end of the fourth season of Doctor Who, The Doctor has to remove all memory that Donna Noble had of their travels together. She saved the Universe but she would never know or remember it because those experiences were removed from her life.

Donna had the most heartbreaking ending of any companion on Doctor Who. She encountered something that fundamentally and profoundly changed her for the better. To have that cruelly yanked away from her and to make her back into the person she was before is just terrifying.

This thought is most articulately expressed by Yuri Nakamura from “Angel Beats!”

If I vanish now, could I start over anew? Could I accept normal happiness? If I lost my memories, and got a different personality, I might be able to. But then, what does it mean to be reborn? That isn’t the life I had anymore. It’s someone else’s life.

Yuri's speech to the NPCs from Angel Beats!

Yuri Nakamura articulating what it means to be alive.

Everyone only gets to live life one time, and it’s right here. I only get it once. This is my life. I can’t entrust it to someone. I can’t steal a new one. I can’t force it on others. I can’t forget it, or erase it. I can’t stomp over it, laugh it off, or beautify it. I can’t anything, I’d have to- I’d have to accept my one shot at life no matter how cruel or merciless or unfair I thought it was. Sir, don’t you understand? That is why I must fight. I must keep on fighting, because- because I could never accept that kind of life!

Conclusion

Again, I very much enjoyed this episode exploring how a series of choices we make throughout our lives make us who we are. Alice in “Alice in Wonderland” says, “I can’t go back to yesterday! I was a different person then!”

Heraclitus says “You could not step in the same river twice.” Everything continues to flow and change around you. When Homura keeps going back in time to try to save Madoka each timeline she enters is subtly different and she keeps getting further and further from the Madoka she is trying to save.

There is only so much you can do to cheat fate.

There is only so much you can do to cheat fate.

Fixed points in time are fixed for a reason. They are a linchpin around which your life is held together.

Fate is a tricky thing. My personal belief system accounts for both faith and free will. I think that you can have a path that you are supposed to take, but you can willingly veer off that path if you choose. To me, fate is representative of your optimal path. If you veer off your path the Universe will put you through a lot of ordeals until you figure out where you are supposed to be. I don’t believe you get one and only one chance to be the person you want to be. I think if you miss one chance another one will come your way. You need to be open to it and be willing to jump when the Universe says jump.

I would like to end with one last quote from this great episode:

There are many parts of my youth that I’m not proud of. There were… loose threads – untidy parts of me that I would like to remove. But when I… pulled on one of those threads- it unraveled the tapestry of my life.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Three Episodes- The Best of Both Worlds Part One

This is the seventh entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Brief synopsis: The race of people introduced in “Q Who?”, the Borg, make their long-awaited appearance in the Alpha quadrant. They kidnap Captain Picard and the show ends on a cliffhanger about whether Riker’s order will result in the death of Captain Picard.

Memories of the Future

Picard and Borg ship

That’s no cube, it’s a space station.

Absolutely no list of the top episodes of Star Trek would be complete without this seminal episode. This episode has been listed as the best episode of Star Trek ever, across all the franchises.

I remember seeing this episode when it first aired. I was eight years old and this episode scared the crap out of me. I asked my parents if everyone was going to be okay. Of course, this was the season finale and we had to wait months to find out what happened. I spent every night that summer carefully tucking my blankets completely around my body because I thought somehow that would prevent the Borg from finding me if they invaded my bedroom while I was sleeping.

bestofbothworldsPlanet

I am listing this episode as my third favorite episode of TNG. (Yes, for you actually still reading my series, I have three episodes to talk about after this one, I haven’t miscounted.) This is without a doubt a wonderful episode, but it wasn’t my favorite one. I went in thinking this would be my second favorite episode, but it got knocked down a little way.

My blame for the displacement of this episode is the fatigue I have with it. When the Borg were the most terrifying enemy the Enterprise had ever encountered in “Q Who?” this episode was fraught with danger and tension. In the nearly 25 years since this episode aired the Borg have lost a lot of their menace and what made them an interesting villain in the first place. I primarily blame Voyager for this.

It was strange going back and seeing this episode because there are so many things that happen in the episode that you just don’t remember because you are waiting for the Borg to show up. The Borg are in here surprisingly little. That was interesting to observe.

The Borg

Resistance is futile.

Resistance is futile.

The Borg, in some ways, are like Doomsday from the Superman comics or Bane from Batman. Both of these villains either killed or broke their respective hero in their debut story. There really isn’t much more you can do after that. They get brought back because they are interesting villains, but they shot their wad on their first go and everything else is kind of a let down after that.

The Borg were introduced in “Q Who?” as a test concocted by Q to see if he could get Picard to grovel for help from the omnipotent super being.

I think The Borg are the only characters we see who are more technologically sophisticated than The Federation. The other traditional enemies of The Federation that you see are The Klingons and The Romulans. Those villains are never a real threat because they are clearly never going to take over the Federation. I don’t think that is ever really their end goal.

The Klingons fight because that is what they do. They’re like a dog chasing a car. If they ever caught it they wouldn’t know what to do with it. They are like Sir Pelinore chasing the Questing Beast. It isn’t about the end goal, it’s more about the process of wining glory on the battlefield and dying in combat.

The Borg are the only enemy that ever poses an actual, real threat to the Federation. The Borg have more in common with a disease than anything else I can think of. The Borg are like an antibiotic resistant bacteria that is out to infect everything it touches. They are a computer virus that is on autopilot to replicated itself until your storage fills and your hard drive crashes.

It is easy for me to imagine us giving birth to The Borg. Our increasing reliance on computers to do everything for us and the ease of overlooking the consequences of one line of programming logic is all that stands between us and the Borg. I think if anything the Borg have become more terrifying in the twenty five years since this episode aired because of how much closer we get to them with each passing year.

The Borg became less terrifying in the episodes after this one because the writers began changing the nature of the Borg and tried to make them more human, which I think was a mistake. I know when you get something that works really well you want to keep using it and running it into the ground. Unfortunately, that happened in Voyager with the two best villains from TNG: The Borg and Q. What Voyager did to Q was unforgivable. Grr…

Riker

Huh, so that is what a female me looks like. I don't like it.

Huh, so that is what a female me looks like. I don’t like it.

The biggest reason this episode stayed in my top ten after the rewatch was primarily due to the conflict between Commander Riker and Commander Shelby.

This episode marks the second time Riker is offered command of his own ship. We know that a character isn’t going to leave the show for a promotion, especially back in 1990 before we had the bloodbath era brought on by Joss Whedon. I think it is interesting that the writers actually addressed this fact this close to the beginning of the series.

Normally in real life if you are a young hotshot, you are going to go as far and as fast as you possibly can. That isn’t an option for Riker. Most of the other characters can be given promotions without leaving the ship, but the only other step up the ladder for Riker is Picard’s seat.

I know that the writers were flirting with the idea of killing of Picard. They didn’t know if Patrick Stewart was going to come back, so creating this tension of setting up Riker to take over the Enterprise for Picard was somewhat necessary.

What went above and beyond this necessity was the conversation Riker has with Troi about why he is hesitant to leave the ship. This is a piece of character development that gives Riker some dimensions he didn’t have before that might have just been ignored or disregarded on a lot of other TV shows. The fact that the writers put some thought into it and were able to give a good character explanation for him sticking around shows just how far they came from the terrible writing in Season One.

Riker and Shelby

Don't get comfortable, you're not staying.

Don’t get comfortable, you’re not staying.

The biggest plot point from this episode that I latched onto was the character of Commander Shelby. Shelby was brought on to be something of a foil for Riker. She is who Riker was five years ago before he “made it” and got comfortable with where he was.

Shelby is a strong woman. I am sure that the same people who hate Skyler White for being and emasculating bitch also hate Shelby. I think I remember not liking her at the time because she wasn’t really meant to be likable, which is a shame.

I have been in her situation. At my last job I joined a reestablished team of people who were not really eager to welcome me into their group. I wasn’t with them months earlier when they were at the office for 48 hours trying to reach a deadline. I wasn’t there when they would grill brats out in the parking lot while drinking beer. It’s really hard to come into an established group of professionals and make your voice be heard.

People are used to doing things a certain way and they don’t like it when someone comes in and wants to shake things up. When you are working with the same people every day you are used to how they work and trying to deal with someone whose habits you don’t know yet can be kind of rough. It really sucks being the person trying to break into the group, especially if people don’t really want to welcome you there.

Shelby was pretty well screwed. I think she was in a no-win situation. When she went to the poker game and squared off with Riker there really wasn’t a way to win that. By winning her hand and calling Riker’s bluff she annoys the audience who is rooting for Riker. If she lost then she would lose her credibility and be dismissed as incompetent.

They don't see eye-to-eye.

They don’t see eye-to-eye.

I know as a woman trying to figure out my way in a male-dominated field it can be difficult figuring out the best tack to integrate myself into a group of developers. The only successes I have had are when the other people in the group are predisposed to giving me a chance. Having been in a situation like Shelby of being the interloper in a group of people who have worked together on their own for at least a year, it was kind of painful and uncomfortable for me to watch her trying to gun for Riker’s seat.

I wish we lived in a society where there was more sympathy for the Commander Shelbys of the world. Until that happens, I will just have to keep trying to figure out how to walk a line between being assertive and being a bitch when I am fighting for the right to have my voice be heard.

Conclusion

I guess I don’t really have all that much to say about this episode. This episode has been covered by so many people that there really isn’t a lot of new ground to cover. It was paced well. The episode had a really great villain who was still fresh and hadn’t been spoiled by overexposure yet. There was genuine tension at the end of the episode about whether the writers would kill of Picard.

Given that the first Star Trek didn’t survive after its third season, it seems fitting that this is the last episode of TNG’s third season. It’s kind of like a big “Fuck you, we are here and we are staying” flag that gets planted to make the point that TNG isn’t going to disappear for several decades like its predecessor did.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten- Deja Q

This is the sixth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

“> “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Brief synopsis: Q is stripped of his powers (and his clothing). He is deposited unceremoniously on the Enterprise bridge. Zaniness ensues.

Q

Au contraire, mon capitain!!

Au contraire, mon capitain!!

Yes, at long last I am now speaking about a Q episode. Back when this idea was floated to me and before I created my list I would have said this was my all-time favorite episode of Star Trek. While this is still a very good episode, it simply does not have the degree of emotional resonance as some of the other episodes on my list.

Q is among my favorite Star Trek characters. My all-time favorite character on Star Trek is Garak. I am very drawn to morally ambiguous tricksters who are snarky and cause trouble. I had more Q episodes in my top ten, but I realized I needed to diversify my choices a little because, honestly, Q is fairly one-note. He shows up, wackiness ensues, then he leaves and everything goes back to normal.

The best Q episodes are ones that push the boundaries this formula. I have another Q episode left to talk about in my Top Ten, so trying to avoid writing about that one here.

It is hard to remember, but Q wasn’t really in that many episodes. I think he averaged one episode a season. His character was just such a change of pace from a normal Star Trek character that it was delightful any time he showed up. Until he got to Voyager. Best not to talk about that…

Data and Q

Which of these is a real boy?

It also might be hard to remember, but way back in the dark ages of the early 1990’s most TV was not serialized. Since you didn’t have streaming and DVD releases of TV shows it really wasn’t all that common to have a recurring character that shows up once a year that everyone just knows. I think that is one reason Q stands out so much.

I think they walked a good line with how many types of human experiences they could have Q go through. They didn’t dwell on them for too long and we got to have a nice laugh at Q’s expense.

Has anyone else ever thought about how weird sleep is? The scene where Q is talking about being sick and losing consciousness was beautiful. Seeing him needling Doctor Crusher while he was having a back spasm was also great. We all know that you don’t piss off the person who is in charge of your physical health and can cause you pain. The less said about Q and the chocolate sundaes, the better.

Q and Data

Data  and Q

Those chocolate sundaes aren’t sitting quite right…

The central relationship of this episode is the one between Q and Data. Most appearances of Q are a power struggle between Q and Picard. I think this is the only Q episode where Q’s primary sparring partner is not Picard but Data.

I honestly never really got into Data’s search for humanity. I know that every Star Trek series has an alien character who provides a non-human perspective. I know one of the reasons Dr. Pulaski didn’t work out was because the creators were trying to replicate the relationship between Spock and Bones, but it didn’t work well because Data is very child-like and it looked like bullying at his expense.

I personally think one of the failings of long-running Trek series is when they push those characters on the path to being human. The Holographic Doctor was my favorite character on Voyager for the first season until he started changing and trying to be less abrasive. Then they replaced him with Seven of Nine and had him training her to be human and then it was just, no.

Deep Space Nine did things right by having their non-human character, Odo, embrace his otherness. He did try to figure out the “solids” and did things to try and fit in with them, but he never deluded himself into thinking he was one of them. Ironically, he is the only one of those archetypical characters that actually succeeded in achieving humanity, albeit briefly.

Deja_QHaving a character like Q, for whom humanity is a massive come-down, was pretty awesome. One issue with having a human-centric series where everyone wants to be human and belong to the Federation is that they don’t often explore why someone might not want to be human. Humans kind of suck. It’s convenient that we can outsource all of our negative traits to different alien species like greed (Ferengi), aggression (Klingons), and obsession with meaningless bureaucracy (Cardassians).

Back to Data, putting Q in a situation where he is dealing with someone who doesn’t have buttons to push was a great move. Q takes a great deal of pleasure in making the people around him angry and placing him with a character without emotions lends an interesting dynamic to his character.

Q’s gift to Data at the end of the episode is a nice finishing touch on the episode. In spite of the fact that Q seems oblivious to the wants and needs of other people, his gift was just right. Giving Data a minute of emotion is all I ever want to see from him. All the hammy overacting in the films was a bit too much :p

Q and Guinan

Okay, there were 176 episodes of Star Trek: TNG and there are only two episodes with Guinan and Q together. Why? Why? WHY??!!

The five minutes of screen time John de Lancie and Whoopi Goldberg share during the course of the series are a true high point.

You don't fuck with Guinan

You don’t fuck with Guinan

Guinan was the last character Gene Roddenberry created. At the time Goldberg was on the A-list and won an Oscar for her role in “Ghost”. She was a life-long Star Trek fan because as a child she saw the original series and because very excited to see a black woman on TV who was not a maid. Her presence in this series, especially in the first few seasons, lends this show a degree of gravitas that even Patrick Stewart could not contribute.

I would love to have more of an explanation of how Guinan and Q know one another. Why the writers thought that having a two-part episode that takes place during the Gold Rush with Guinan over an episode exploring her relationship with Q is beyond me.

Of course, anything they came up with would probably not be nearly as epic as anything I could imagine. I know what the topic of my first fan fiction is going to be!! ^_^

Final Thoughts

DejaQRiker

Riker doesn’t want your fantasy women! He has an epic beard!

I supposed one could make an argument that “The Trouble with Tribbles” was the greatest episode of the original series. It is the most cited episode and one that most everyone has seen. However, when you compare it to “The City on the Edge of Forever”, you have to admit that just because it is a funny and well thought out episode, it doesn’t mean it is the best episode made.

As much as I love this episode, I do have to admit that it isn’t the best episode ever. I even had to admit it isn’t in my top three. It does however have arguably the best ending ever.

You haven’t seen the last of Q! Stayed tuned for more of my favorites coming up later!!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten- Preemptive Strike

This is the fifth entry in my “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

“> “Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes.

Ro in the Marquis

Ro in the Marquis

Brief Synopsis: Ensign Ro returns to the Enterprise having redeemed herself in the last few years. She is tasked with an important mission to infiltrate the Marquis and help the Federation destroy them. After immersing herself in their organization she has a conflict of conscience and must decide if she will go through with her mission.

Ensign Ro

“Preemptive Strike” is the penultimate episode of Star Trek: TNG. When the creators came up with the concept for DS9 the intention was that Ensign Ro would be the first officer on the station, but Michelle Forbes didn’t want to be a regular on a series, so the character was retooled to be Major Kira (which most people agree worked to the show’s advantage).

Guinan and Ro Laren

Guinan and Ro Laren

It seems strange that the writers would have chosen to spend the second-to-last episode of the series tying up this particular loose end. TNG did not have the same depth and breadth of supporting characters that DS9 did, but I don’t think there were a hell of a lot of people who would have stayed up nights wondering what happened to Ensign Ro.

That being said, I think this decision was made because someone had a story they wanted to tell, and what a story it is.

I feel on some level that Ensign Ro became the character Tasha Yar was supposed to be. Both grew up on planets where the benevolence of the Federation hadn’t really reached yet. She was a tough woman who had some rough edges and trouble dealing with authority. This seems to be a character archetype on Star Trek (Yar, Ro, B’elanna Torres, Kira…) that is done to better and worse degrees. For my money Ensign Ro is the most successful of these experiments due to the fact that we don’t see her week after week for years at a time. She can do something unexpected and disappear because she isn’t a main character.

Ro and Picard

I think of all the relationships in Star Trek, the one that resonates with me the most is the one between Picard and Ro. I deeply associate with Ro. I have had troubles figuring out where I am supposed to be and what I am supposed to be doing.

Ro and PicardI know I have had many people come to the conclusion that I am deeply intelligent and creative, but I have trouble with authority. I will do what I think is right and it has caused me a tremendous amount of trouble. It takes so little to destroy another person’s reputation when they are at the beginning of their career that it leaves many people vulnerable to malicious behaviors.

I understand her aversion to authority. I understand why she feels the way she does and why she acts the way she does.

I love how in the first episode she appears on she wins over Picard. Picard is very open to giving people chances. She proved herself to him and he nurtured her in a way no one else did. They clearly had deep affection for one another, which is the only reason this episode works.

On its face, this episode could have been very heavy handed and sanctimonious. You have a bunch of people who are being displaced off their land who just want to be given the right to be left alone. They are being persecuted by their government for the benefit of an evil alien race (the Cardassians) that we have been made to hate through the whole time they have existed. This should have been a clear choice, pick the nice humans over the evil Cardassians, but it wasn’t.

The only thing that keeps this in balance is Ro’s unwillingness to betray a man who believed in her when no one else did.

That is a terrible conflict.

Who would want to betray Picard? Picard is the archetype of the father/boss/mentor everyone wishes that they had. No one would want to let him down, especially when he put his reputation on the line saying that you are trustworthy. Had Picard not had that relationship with Ro this episode would have been over in five minutes.

The AV Club does a write-up of this episode that probably does a better job of speaking about this relationship than I do, so if you want more, head on over there.

Choices

I don’t know about anyone else watching this, but this conflict was so hard. I understand being in a position where you know what the right thing to do is but you can’t pull the trigger on it because it would hurt someone you care about.

Preemptive Strike

This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.

You know that she is going to go and join the Marquis, but the fact that they were able to leave it up in the air so long shows what an agonizing decision it was.

At the end when Ro asks Riker to tell Picard she is sorry, you can’t help but feel for her. The trust and connection she shared with Picard just wasn’t enough to get her to go against her conscience and do what she thought was wrong.

Picard’s reaction is wonderful as well. It would be way too much for him to either fly off the handle at her for stabbing him in the back or for him to say, “Oh well, she made a choice and I hope she is happy.”

Dude is deeply betrayed. He knew on some level that this was a bad idea and when they have their last meeting you can feel his silent imploring to her to please not do what he knows she is going to do. He understands why she did it, but it doesn’t soften the betrayal at all.

The comment at the end by Riker about how she didn’t seem to care that she betrayed the Federation but was deeply upset at the idea of betraying Picard is spot on. The Federation is just an anomalous, faceless entity that is making a bad decision, but Picard is the face of the people she is betraying, and that fucking sucks.