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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten- The Chain of Command

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

Four Lights

How many lights do you see??


Brief synopsis of this episode is that Captain Picard is lured off the ship on a spy mission, leaving another captain in command of the Enterprise, Captain Jellico. Why they couldn’t just get Commander Riker to take the big chair, especially when it’s been offered to him and filled by him in the past is beyond me.

Anyway, Picard gets captured and is then tortured and humiliated by the Cardassians while Captain Jellico unleashes his own reign of terror on the Enterprise.

“Chain of Command” was an episode I had heard a lot about but never saw until I did this marathon watch. If I had to pick one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that I thought everyone should see, this would be it. (Yes, I am aware of the fact that this has two parts, but I am treating it like one cohesive whole.)

There Are Four Lights!

Chain Of Command

I guess there are worse things than assimilation…


Captain Picard has had some really terrible luck as the captain of the Enterprise. He was assimilated by the Borg and then this happens.

I honestly don’t remember what the purpose of the torture was or why Captain Picard was targeted for torture because it genuinely doesn’t matter.

Over the years Picard has become synonymous with the ideal leader. We have Picard Management tips on Twitter for a reason. Everyone wants to have a boss/mentor like Picard.

It is seemingly simple. All Picard has to do is tell the Cardassian torturing him that there are five lights when there are clearly only four. Picard can’t do it. He knows that if he capitulates to the Cardassian and tells him something they both know isn’t true that he will lose a part of himself. He will show that he can be broken and submit his will to someone else.

This is a power struggle. As long as Picard can hold fast to his version of reality he has power. The second he says there are five lights the game is over. Picard will have lost any power he has. It might seem strange to say that a man who is stripped of his clothing and tortured has any power, but that is not the case. He has not allowed the Cardassian to corrupt his reality and that means something.

chain of command

All your lights are belong to us.


The technique used to break Picard is known as “Gaslighting”. The term comes from an Alfred Hitchcock film of the same name about a woman who is made to feel that she is going insane. Gaslighting is most commonly associated with women in abusive relationships. One reason it is so pervasive in those situations is partially based on cultural bias. We readily believe that women are crazy. Think about how many men talk about their “crazy” ex. It is very easy to ruin a woman’s personal and professional reputation by spreading rumors that the woman is crazy and to do things to her to make her question her own perception of reality.

I have been on the receiving end of gaslighting and it is a terrible experience. You feel like you don’t have a grasp of your own reality. It is a terrible thing to do to another human being.

It is wrenching to see this magnificent leader in the process of being broken. It is so meaningless and cruel. It also shows that as capable and impressive as Picard is, he is a human being. He had tremendous strength which allows him to survive through the initial punishment.

He is rescued before he breaks under the pressure, but I think it speaks volumes that when he is speaking with Troi at the end of the episode that he started to question his sanity and started to wonder if there were in fact five lights. The fact that this rock-solid, impressive character admits that he not only nearly broke, but actually started to question his own sanity is such a huge thing.

Captain Jellico

Jellico

Fetch the microscope! I need to micromanage!


Oh. My. God. I don’t think there are words to describe how much I hate this fucking asshole. If Captain Picard is the boss we all wish we had, Captain Jellico is the composite of all the worst bosses we’ve ever actually had.

The first thing he does when he come aboard is he disrupts the flow of the ship. He orders Riker to reconfigure all the work shifts and since he only has two hours he better get cracking. There was a reason the ship was not following that particular type of schedule but rather than find out why he disrupted the routine of everyone on the ship.

It is important to be able to go along with change, but if you are doing things that disrupt vital ship functions and places the ship in danger just to play musical chairs is really stupid. How difficult would it have been to give them until they created the next shift schedule to implement the change? I guess this is indicative that labor unions are dead in the twenty-fourth century.

Anyway, making meaningless disruptive change is stupid.

Jellico and Riker

Damn! I wish I had paid more attention when Data taught me the Vulcan Neck Pinch!


Captain Jellico also does the classic management thing where he manages upward. That means that he doesn’t really try to nurture or manage the people under his command. He honestly doesn’t give a damn about them as people. He just wants to snap his fingers and get them to jump. I think one reason Picard has been seen as a paragon of management is because he actively worked with his crew to try and push them to do better. Many people in management only worry about cultivating relationships upward for advancement without really caring about or noticing the people under them.

When I used to do radio news I really wanted to be a producer. My producer was a very unpleasant human being and I wanted to be in charge. I was briefly given a producer job on the Wednesday night newscast.

We had a live interview fall through and we needed to move on to the next story. I wrote this information down and gave it to the anchor. She took the piece of paper and set it aside without reading it.

She did the intro for the interview and did her, “And now speaking with us about this is our guest I-Forgot-His-Name. Hello. Hello??”

I ran in and picked up the piece of paper and held it in front of her face to get her to read it. She looked at it and went back to the microphone and said, “Oh, it looks like we aren’t going to talk to I-Forgot-His-Name. Our producer screwed up the interview and we have to move on.”

I can not tell you how deeply angry and powerless I felt at that moment. I could not believe the lack of professionalism this person displayed. I also couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t just jump on a microphone and tell everyone that I told her about this but she didn’t read the note and so she was the one that screwed up.

As unpleasant as my news producer was, there was no fucking way anyone would pull something like that on her. It would not occur to anyone to even try it. She would make your life not worth living if you even thought about pulling that crap on her.

The moral of this story (and how it relates to this episode) is that you can’t just put a person in charge and expect everyone to do what they say. There is a difference between a boss and a leader.

Redecorate Jellico

Oh, you’ve redecorated! I don’t like it!


Captain Jellico’s attitude seemed very similar to the one I had before becoming a producer. I assumed that since I was in charge people would do what I say. I was wrong. If people don’t respect you or don’t think you are strong enough to follow through on things you will either get mowed over or you will earn the eternal hatred of everyone underneath you.

I think it is possible to cultivate leadership, but I also think some people are born with a natural proclivity for it. Some people don’t. I don’t. I could spend a bunch of time cultivating it, but honestly, it really isn’t that important to me. I would rather focus my time and energy on other things.

Conclusion

This was a powerful and complex episode of Star Trek. I kind of took Captain Picard for granted before this episode. I am looking forward to going back and watching previous episodes to marvel at how well he leads the crew.

The way the writers constructed Captain Jellico was perfect. He wasn’t overly exaggerated and he was seen less as an evil person and more as a misguided person who was out of his depth. If he wasn’t such a prick I would almost feel sorry for him.

Star Trek episodes occasionally lack subtlety and will beat the viewer over the head with whatever message they want to convey, like the terrible first season conversation between Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher about drug addiction. All of the characters in this episode showed sufficient complexity and human ambiguity. They tackled a difficult subject and did credit to it. Kudos.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten- Hollow Pursuits

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

In honor of Singles Awareness Day, I am going to do a write up on Hollow Pursuits.

Hollow_Pursuits

Mr. Barclay wants his martini shaken, not stirred.

Brief synopsis of this episode is that a socially awkward engineer feels more comfortable in the simulated reality of the Holodeck than dealing with the complexity of normal human relationships. This sounds like nearly everyone in my freshmen engineering classes.

I don’t know about anyone else, but the first thing that pops into my head when you say that there is a virtual reality technology that is virtually indistinguishable from reality is “Why would anyone ever leave??”

This isn’t a unique thought in popular culture and science fiction. In “Parable of the Talents” by Octavia Bulter one character has never seen her mother because her mother lives in a Holodeck and never leaves. In Batman Beyond there is an episode where characters can create virtual realities to conform to their desires and they become addicted to the joy and thus become drug pushers for the villain who manufactures the technology. The whole Matrix trilogy is based on this idea of creating a comfortable virtual world away from the nastiness of reality.

I am glad that the writers on Star Trek decided to address the elephant in the room by doing an episode based on something we as viewers thought would happen if this was a real thing.

The Goddess of Empathy

The Goddess of Empathy. Gag reflex engaged!

I am sure I am not the only person who has become enamored with a virtual world that I wished I could visit and be a part of. Based on the number of LARPers in the world and the number of people who dressed up like Hobbits to go to see the Lord of the Rings movies at midnight on opening night, I know I am not alone.

Things only get to be a problem when you have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality. In reality I am never going to be a Magical Girl. My pug isn’t going to make a contract with me that allows me to go out and fight witches. As cool as that is, it isn’t real.

I have a lot of things about myself that I don’t like, but I have a lot fewer of them than I did a decade ago because I wanted to change. I wanted to be a different person. I wanted to be the kind of person I liked, respected, and admired. Rather than hiding from those flaws I looked them square on and I worked to change them. There are still a lot of things about myself that I wish were better, but I keep working on them and I try every day to be better and over time it accumulates.

To quote a wise old wizard: “It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

The thing that strikes me about this episode is how innocent it is. Yes, you have the two female characters stripped of their agency and they exist to comfort Barclay and make him feel loved and accepted, but this is a far cry from a lot of the problems we are seeing today, specifically in the gaming industry.

You don’t see Barclay raping either Councilor Troi or Doctor Crusher. He doesn’t assume that because they are women and they speak to him that they are going to drop their panties for him. He seems mortified when Troi discovers his fantasy. This is a far cry from a lot of the behaviors we are seeing exhibited in the gaming industry.

Booby Trap

When you are touching the ship, you are touching me…

In fact, the closest thing I have seen to that kind of behavior was in the episode “Galaxy’s Child” when Geordi meets the woman who designed the ship. He, in the earlier episode “Booby Trap”, interacted with a hologram of her and he expected her to be far different than she actually was. His behavior in that episode was profoundly disturbing. He expects her to reciprocate his feelings even though he is a stranger to her. When she doesn’t he gets very angry with her. When she discovers the holodeck program he had of her, he tells her he was just trying to be nice to her with his voice dripping with contempt. He is angry with her for not being the perfect, compliant woman he made himself believe she was. Seriously, watch the clip.

I wrote earlier about characters being mismanaged, and sadly Geordi was one of those characters. LeVar Burton said he thought the writers didn’t know how to deal with black male sexuality so they didn’t really know what to do with Geordi. I can believe that. Between him creating a virtual female representation of the ship and the episode where he goes into a dead crew woman’s cabin, read her mail, and sit on her bed with her dog, there is very little the writers could do to make Geordi more creepy that would still fit into the nice, happy formula of Star Trek.

“Hollow Pursuits” wasn’t a perfect episode, but it went about as dark as it could while still feeling like a Star Trek episode. It brought the recurring character of Barclay that allowed the show to explore a character who wasn’t perfect but wasn’t a main part of the ensemble. I am glad that the show took pains to occasionally show us people who were not perfect who were struggling with their lives and careers rather than just giving us people who always know the answer and always do and say the right things.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Star Trek: The Next Generation Top Ten: Parallels

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

Brief synopsis of this episode is that Worf accidentally travels through a quantum singularity and starts hopping through parallel dimensions that get further and further away from his starting dimension.

Parallels

Multiple Worfs!


I know that Star Trek has done a lot of alternate reality episodes, so why pick this one over “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (which I will be speaking about later)? Honestly, I just like the story structure better.

In “Yesterday’s Enterprise” the writers hit you over the head with the fact that. “Hey! Look! Tasha Yar is alive. Holy crap! We’re not in Kansas anymore!!”

With “Parallels”, the distinction is far more subtle. The first thing that we see change was the flavor of the birthday cake. If you are watching for the first time a lot of these things don’t stand out until they start getting more disparate.

You also aren’t really sure what is going on for a little while. Is Worf going crazy? Is this some elaborate Romulan plot to take over the ship? It takes some time to suss out what is going on and I like the fact that the writers set up a trail of breadcrumbs that stand up on repeated viewings.

Another thing I want to address regarding this episode and “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is the use of two underutilized characters: Tasha Yar and Worf.

Tasha Yar

Are you fully functional?


Denise Crosby left the show in the first season because she didn’t like the direction they had her character going in and honestly, I can’t blame her. In “Encounter at Farpoint” we were promised this badass female security officer. She was being set up to be a similar character to Major Kira and Ensign Ro. So what do they do with her? This:

TNG had a real woman issue its first season. Denise Crosby quit and they fired Gates McFadden. Marinia Sirtis was on the verge of quitting but was talked out of it by panicked producers realizing that all of their female actresses were gone and that they needed to retain at least one piece of eye candy.

Michael Dorn stuck it out through the bad first few years of TNG. His character was poorly written and stereotypical. It was a thankless role that he stuck with for seven long years and I am pleased that they gave him something to do because he is honestly great in this role.

Early in the episode he asks Troi to be Alexander’s godmother, but the title is closer to step-sister in Klingon. Troi reminds him that would make her mother his step-mother. Dorn’s reaction to this is priceless.

Merry Man

I protest! I am NOT a merry man!


I think he was one of the most under-appreciated actors on the show. If you look at the terrible Star Trek: Insurrection the scene where Picard asks Worf if he knows Gilbert and Sullivan and he say, “No Captain, I have not had a chance to meet all the new crew members.” This is a terrible line. It is a terrible joke. I think it is extraordinarily difficult to say something that is supposed to be funny with a straight face and be able to sell it, especially when it is that terrible. In that scene with Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner gleefully singing “A British Tar” the real stand-out in the scene is Worf’s horrified head shaking when ordered to join it. That is the only redeeming part of that whole movie.

It takes a special kind of balance to be able to be constantly cranky without being unlikeable and to work through the make-up. I think if they had given this episode to any of the other characters it would not have been nearly as interesting or well done.

Another thing I didn’t realized while watching the series from start to finish was that they didn’t instantiate the Worf-Troi relationship until this point in the series. It was about halfway through the last season. Why bother??

I know earlier they had Troi helping Worf with Alexander, but they didn’t formalize this relationship until now. It seems like a wasted effort, especially when they move Worf over to DS9 and hook him up with Dax right away. Everyone knew that Riker and Troi were going to be together, so this just seems superfluous.

Seeing how different the universe could be, especially the chilling Enterprise from the Borg-infested parallel dimension, was a nice touch. This let the writers do a sort of AMV Hell of “What-if?” episodes.

Was this the best or more important episode of Star Trek ever? Probably not. It is one that I look forward to seeing more than once, so it earns a spot in my top ten.

Star Trek Top Ten- The Pegasus

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

“The Pegasus” was one of the episodes I saw when it was first on. It was one that I remember pretty well, which I think may be one reason this is on my top ten list.

The Pegasus

The Pegasus stuck in an asteroid


The general synopsis is that Commander Riker’s first commanding officer, Admiral Pressman (played by Terry O’Quinn from Lost), comes aboard the ship to retrieve wreckage from Riker’s first ship that was destroyed in action. We eventually discover that the ship was not in fact destroyed. The ship had an experimental cloaking device on board that was in violation of a Federation treaty (explaining why the Enterprise and the Federation does not have cloaking technology). The crew died while attempting a mutiny. Riker, who was on his first assignment, sided with the Captain and followed orders. This decision has haunted him throughout his career and is partially responsible for the man he is today.

“The Pegasus” taps into themes that will probably be beaten to death over the course of these posts: Authority and moral ambiguity.

I have a fascination with how people respond to authority. The Milgram Experiment demonstrated that people will do unspeakable things when directed to do so by an authority figure. I have a book on my bookshelf called “Ordinary Men” talking about people who were in the SS in Nazi Germany.

Riker was put into a situation where he was being asked to do something that went against his conscience. It didn’t occur to him at the time to disobey that order, but over the years it ate at him. Had he disobeyed the order he would have died along with everyone else. Because he did something morally repugnant he was in a position to bring it to light later. Had he not been there it is likely no one would have known what happened.

The episode also asks the question of whether we should act in good faith when the people we have made a truce with have no such intentions. This episode was from pre-Deep Space Nine where moral ambiguity was most fully explored in the “real” Star Trek (not that horrible JJ Abrams crap). Finding out that the Federation was breaking a treaty and trying to cover it up was some pretty heavy stuff for TNG.

I have gotten myself in trouble over the years by thumbing my nose at authority. When I was in college I worked for the school newspaper. My editor sent me out on a story that wasn’t real. I told her it wasn’t real and she told me to just make something up to take up the space she had allocated for it in the paper. I told her I would not because I found it to be unethical and I received a scathing email from her raking me over the coals for letting down the paper and for my unprofessional behavior. The newspaper teacher got involved and took her side because he wanted her to learn to trust her instincts. This is one of many reasons I didn’t go into journalism.

I have an almost pathological aversion to doing something I find to be morally wrong, even when I know I can tell myself that my view of the situation is overly extreme and it isn’t a matter of life and death. I know my family would have been far happier had I learned to swallow my pride and just do what I was told.

I know a lot of people claim to value honesty and integrity, but they really don’t. There is a lot of willful ignorance out there in the world and people do not like it when you break the illusion of their chosen reality. Me, I want to know what is going on, even if it is painful. I want to be able to work effectively with the way things are and not how I want them to be.

Pressman and Riker

There are two sides, light and dark…

If I had just made up a story, it isn’t like I would have been kicked out of school. I don’t think it would have earned me any brownie points with the editor and I don’t think it would have influenced my decision to walk away from journalism. I felt good because I stuck to what I thought was right, but I had to drop the class and it caused trouble for me later when I had to find something else to take in order to graduate.

This episode interests me because I know if I had been Riker I would have gone along with the mutiny. But then I would be dead. Twenty years later the tech would have been covered up and no one would have known the truth. It is difficult for me to acknowledge the fact that sometimes you have to go along with things you know are wrong because it is the best choice at the moment. You remember and you wait for the time when your actions can be effective rather than throwing your life away over a useless gesture.

I know that this wasn’t the intended moral of the story, but I did appreciate that this episode asked a hard question without making it a heavy-handed, cut and dry morally unambiguous story. Plus, in the cold open they had “Captain Picard Day” complete with Riker making the Picard doll intone: “Make it so”. Who could ask for anything more??

Top Ten Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes

Since Netflix has made it possible to marathon lots of older TV series at my leisure, I have been meaning to watch Star Trek: The Next Generation.

When the show initially came on I was just starting grade school. The show was on at 10:30 on Saturday nights and I rarely got a chance to watch the show when it was on. I have a few memories of watching Tasha Yar get murdered by the tar pit and Q giving Data the chance to laugh for the first time.

Over the years I probably saw about two thirds of the episodes in syndication, but there were a lot of them that I have never seen, including “The Inner Light”, which I know is considered to be one of the best Star Trek episodes of all time.

Today I completed the series and I had someone mention the idea of putting out a blog post talking about my top ten favorite episodes.

I realized as I went through thinking about it that there was a common theme among my favorite episodes and that there were a lot of episodes that I thought were important, but were not among my favorites for whatever reason.

I figured out this was too large of an undertaking for me to do in one blog post, so I am doing one post about each of my favorite episodes and I will also do one for each of the episodes I didn’t include among my favorites that I would like to talk about anyway.

My top ten won’t be in any particular order. I have some that are in my top ten and some that are in my top three and I don’t really want to spend too much time figuring out the specific order.

I will link back to this post when I put up a new episode “review”.

Enjoy!