Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: Discovery
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes:  15
  • Discs:  4
  • Network:  CBS (CBS All-Access)
  • Cast:  Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Anthony Rapp, Mary Wiseman, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, Shazad Latif, Wilson Cruz, Mary Chieffo, Jayne Brook
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This review includes some spoilers but seeks to not reveal major plot twists. Read with caution.

I really, really, really liked this newest version of Star Trek. First, it addresses two of the biggest issues I’ve ever had with Star Trek generally, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation – the non-alien appearance of aliens and the constant hitting of the reset button. First, ST always had “aliens” that didn’t look the least bit alien or different. Even Doctor Who, as low as it’s budget was, had aliens that looked more different – not like they had random lumps of plasticine stuck to an actor’s face for no reason. Saru looks alien – his face, his hands, and I don’t know if they digitally lengthened the actor’s legs, the actor is incredibly tall, or the actor wears stilts under his uniform – and I don’t care how they did it – Saru looks like a gazelle which is perfect for his character. They also really developed Saru’s background, while showing how who he is to his core can be an asset both to the rest of the crew and to him personally. And Saru, like the rest of cast, grows throughout the season, something I also really liked.

The second thing I liked about Star Trek: Discovery is that Season 1 is a continuous story. This is a Star Trek novel for television. Finally! It is also one addictive novel. I flew through the DVD set and not just because I had a lot of time on my hands. Most episodes end in a cliffhanger. The series continuously changes, even though it’s only a short fifteen episodes long. The characters also grow and change – this is not a flat character arc show, and it is so much better for it. Also, actions have consequences, and there is no reset button. Finally! This is a modern show in writing and execution and it shows how much better Star Trek can be with a continuing story and characters who change and develop and even die.

The two-part pilot (which is not marked as such on the DVD case, which is a problem) has our main character, a woman named Michael Birnham, serving on a ship called Shenzhou. She is the first officer and her captain is also a woman, Capt. Philippa Georgiou. The Shenzhou arrives at a binary star system – and most of the rest of the two-part pilot is actually irrelevant. What matters is the results. The Federation ends up at war with the Klingons. The Klingons actually have a good point – they believe that the Federation’s “we come in peace” is a lie and that if they join the Federation they will be forced to assimilate – that they will have to give up their own language, their own religion, their own culture. The Klingons believe that as part of the Federation they will be forced to assimilate completely. It is telling that the slogan of their leader is: “Remain Klingon”. They also are not a united empire but 24 Houses who more often than not are at war. The other thing the Klingon leader wants is to unite the warring Houses into a single Empire. Michael talks Capt. Georgiou into attempting to capture the Klingon leader. But instead, both Captain Georgiou and the Klingon leader are killed – making the leader a martyr – something Michael warned against. Since Michael had also attacked Georgiou and tried to get the Shenzhou to shoot first at the Klingons – she’s arrested for mutiny and other charges. Michael pleads guilty to all charges and prepares to spend the rest of her life in a military prison.

Enter Captain Lorca of the USS Discovery – he not only gets Michael out of her jail cell, but he also offers her a position on his ship. The Discovery was originally a science ship but now it’s one of a pair working on an experimental new drive system. Soon after Michael arrives on the Discovery, and while she’s still not sure about Lorca’s offer, the ship receives a distress call. It’s the Discovery‘s sister ship. Michael is on the team that goes to investigate. Everyone on the ship is dead, parts of the ship have been torn apart, and the ship itself wasn’t attacked from the outside but torn apart by a malfunction of the new drive. Michael and Paul Stamets, a scientist working on the new drive, investigate what went wrong. Paul thinks it was the length of the jump (the new drive allows instantaneous travel) but Michael believes it was the lack of an intelligent navigator. It turns out the “creature” they discovered, and that Lorca brought about the Discovery secretly, wasn’t a vicious attacking predator – it’s an over-grown microscopic organism that eats the mushroom spores that power the drive. Lorca and Stamets figure out some equipment they found on the other ship is a harness for it. They use it as a navigator. It works – but tortures the animal, finally nearly killing it. Stamets discovers he can be navigator instead.

In one episode Lorca is captured by the Klingons (remember there’s a war going on) and he shares a cell with Ash Tyler a captured Starfleet officer and Harry Mudd. Lorca and Ash escape. Over the course of the season, Ash and Michael become close. But Ash is also hiding a secret and it goes deeper than hiding his PTSD from being tortured by the Klingons.

The one stand-alone episode of the season is the obligatory time-loop episode featuring Harry Mudd. The episode isn’t bad, it’s actually pretty good for a stand-alone episode. But it seems much weaker than the rest of the season because the arc-plots are put on hold and you could skip it entirely without missing anything.

Returning to the main plot, the Discovery goes to an “uninhabited” planet that turns out to be the sentient planet Mogo from the Green Lantern Corps. OK, not really, but it turns out that there are glowing blue sentient tiny balls of light that flood the planet. Because the planet is inhabited, the crew can’t, per Federation rules, do what they were there to do. Also, these beings create a high frequency “noise” that humans can’t hear but that has a profound, and negative, affect on Saru. The situation is resolved, and it even looks like the Federation has made a great stride towards winning the war against the Klingons.

But in what should be a normal jump to a nearby starbase – the Discovery ends up in the Mirror Universe. This is not the obligatory Mirror Universe episode, though, most of the rest of the season has the Discovery in the Mirror Universe. And not only do characters have to deal with the Fascist Terran Empire or meeting doubles of people they know (including people who died in the first two episodes), but they now need to find a way home. The disastrous jump that caused the Discovery to land in the Mirror Universe has also physically harmed Paul Stamets and he’s in sickbay in a coma. Ash Tyler’s secret and his health become issues, though he starts out accompanying Michael on her missions inside the Terran Empire. And let’s just say this, episode 12 “Vaulting Ambition” has one of the most stunning and shocking plot twists I’ve ever seen in Star Trek. I’m not going to spoil it, because even watching this show about a year after it aired on a streaming service I can’t physically get, I had managed to remain unspoiled and my jaw dropped.

The Discovery does manage to figure out a way to return to the Federation Universe and cripples the Terran Federation in the process (no I won’t say more about that either). While they are figuring out how to do this, and discussing plans, and drawbacks to the various plans, Paul, finally recovered, mentions he can now get the Discovery home, but there might be a displacement in time. I don’t want to discount what happens in the Mirror Universe, it’s a lot, several episodes worth, and it is fantastic, plus we see a lot of character growth, but it is also extremely spoilry and I do not want to ruin it. The Discovery makes it back to the Federation Universe, nine months later. And the Federation is losing the war.

Once back in the Federation Universe, and up to speed, with Admiral Cornwall on board, a new plan is put together to defeat the Klingons – with input from a Klingon prisoner and a prisoner from the Mirror universe. These are not the best people to be asking for advice. In addition, the Federation has suffered great losses – ships, starbases, territory, civilians – Cornwall is desperate. Tilly figures out that the “plan” Cornwall and the Mirror Universe character came up with is different than what they agreed to with the Discovery‘s crew and other Starfleet military leaders – and it is truly horrifying. Michael and Tilly stop the Mirror Universe character and also manage to end the war for good, while their Klingon prisoner becomes the new Klingon leader. (The Klingon, L’Rell had been the second in command for all intents and purposes of the Klingon Empire. But with the leader dead, another Klingon took control who kicked L’Rell out of her place in the rather tenuous Klingon leadership. L’Rell implies this is a reason she wishes to “defect”, something considerably more complicated than it sounds.)

The series ends with Michael giving a very good speech about what it means to be Star Fleet and the importance of the ideals of the Federation, especially at times of war. All the main crew of Discovery is decorated by Starfleet (some posthumously) and it’s noted that Saru is the first Kelpian to receive such an honor. Michael’s record (the mutiny and other charges) is expunged and her dishonorable discharge is reversed and she’s accepted back into Star Fleet officially.

I loved Star Trek: Discovery. It’s more like a page-turning thriller than what one normally expects from Star Trek, but this is the Federation at war, and the Federation at war can be a scary thing. Captain Lorca was a character that as he was introduced I would normally hate, but I found that the way Jason Isaacs played him made him understandable and even likable. He also seems to be the typical maverick Star Trek captain and war covers a lot for some of his questionable actions. There is more to who Lorca is but’s it’s a spoiler. Yet, all the characters in Star Trek Discovery, even bubbly cadet Tilly are not simply well-rounded, but they are characters who grow, who change, they are not the same in the last episode as they were in the first episode we meet them. I really enjoyed seeing a Star Trek series that has a continuing plot and characters who actually change and grow. I loved the fact that Saru looks, acts and talks like he’s alien – but that he isn’t mocked for this. Star Trek: Discovery was already darker than most Star Trek series because: war, and then the show spends most of the back half of the season in the Mirror Universe, but, tellingly even in this situation we see the characters shine and more Star Trek optimism and decency of character. In a situation where the easy path was there and loud voices suggest taking it, the series itself goes the other way, and that is what creates the Federation we know as opposed to the Terran Empire we learn a lot more about. Also, when Paul Stamets mentioned “time displacement,” I thought the Discovery would end-up at the Battle of Binary Stars and the entire season would be re-written. I was extremely impressed the writing staff didn’t take this obvious easy way out and the Discovery turned-up nine months after it had disappeared from the Federation Universe.

I simply loved this series. It may be my favorite Star Trek series ever, and that includes Classic Trek. I liked Michael, she’s not the typical lead character, especially for Star Trek, and she grows just as much if not more than any other character. I highly recommend Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery and I have no idea what they will do for Season 2. I hope it’s just as good.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 7 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 7
  • Episodes: 25
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn
  • DVD: R1, NTSC DVD

The final season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as with the rest of the series, suffers from “hitting the reset button” in every episode, lack of an arc plot, and flat character arcs. Additionally, some of the episodes really felt like they had developed and filmed scripts that were rejected earlier in the show’s history – such as when Dr. Crusher is seduced by a ghost or when the main characters de-evolve back into animals. Guinan is gone by this point and she is sorely missed. Wesley Crusher returns for one episode ends up on a vision quest with some “Indians” and joins “The Traveller” in a higher form of existence. The entire episode was extremely uncomfortable because everyone from Picard to Wesley keeps referring to the Native Peoples as “Indians”, a pejorative term. Further, there is no groundwork laid other than in the episode itself for Wesley to suddenly abandon Star Fleet and join the Traveller. The planet Crusher stays on is also in Cardassian territory – leaving him vulnerable and unable to contact the Federation.

In Season 6, Captain Jellico admonished Troi for her unconventional dress sense. She starts to wear a standard blue Star Fleet uniform. In season 7, this lasts for a while, but we also see her in the god-awful lilac jumpsuit with the extremely deep V-neckline. The Star Fleet uniform is actually more flattering. And seriously, I never got why she was allowed to wear whatever she wanted. She’s not a civilian, she’s an officer and she should dress like one.

Ro returns, with a promotion to lieutenant. Picard and the admiral with a bad track record with Cardassians decide to send Ro into deep cover with the Marquis, a Bajoran resistance and freedom fighting group that is challenging the Cardassians. The Federation has signed a new treaty with the Cardassians, which, among other things, moves the border and creates a demilitarized zone. This does come up a couple of times in various episodes. The Cardassians, however, are harassing civilians in the neutral zone and those who have suddenly found themselves in Cardassian territory. It isn’t really surprising when Ro, pushed in a corner by the Federation and its politics decides to resign her commission and join the Marquis. Ro is one of the most fascinating characters in ST: TNG, but it was like the writers didn’t know what to do with her. She was strong-minded, had her own history, had her own culture, and had risen from a childhood of horrors to a Star Fleet lieutenant. Honestly, I would have watched a series about Ro and the Marquis – at least for a season or two.

The final episode is “All Good Things”, a two-hour finale. It brings back Q of course. I actually have always liked John DeLancie as Q, but his character is also a Deus Ex Machina, almost by definition. It’s a little disappointing to see him used to resolve the entire series. Picard seems to be moving back and forth in time, between a future 25 years from the current stardate and a past of the period of the first ST: TNG episode, “Encounter at Farpoint”. Slowly, Picard realizes that by investigating a new space anomaly, he causes it in the future – and if the anomaly of anti-time continues to expand it will threaten all life on Earth because it will never develop in the first place. It is a paradox and realizing it sets Picard on a journey to solve the conundrum. Picard, of course, realizes what he needs to do and not do, and he sacrifices three Enterprises in three time periods to stabilize the anomaly and control the anti-time in an artificial warp field containment shield. We get to see three Enterprises explode. But it works, the anomaly is contained and stops expanding, then collapses, and Picard returns to his current Enterprise.

Overall, I like the characters on Star Trek: TNG, especially Picard and Dr. Crusher (and the hint of their romantic feelings towards each other is wonderful), and I thought Guinan was great, even though she’s not in this season. I love Data and his cat, Spot! Geordie is an interesting take on an engineer, he’s a lot calmer than Scotty. And Worf is, well, he’s Worf. I never cared for Troi, but she does manage to deliver exposition when needed. I just feel ST: TNG could have been more than it was. Still, given its limitations, it’s worth watching at some point. I’m glad I was able to get the season sets on sale.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 6 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 6
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn
  • DVD: R1, NTSC DVD

As with all of my ST: TNG reviews I skipped the first episode of Season 6, which was reviewed with Season 5 and I also will include the first episode of Season 7 with this review. This is due to the season-ending two-parters. Much of Season 6 of Next Gen I found to be very flat, and at times even boring. The stories weren’t bad, but they weren’t good either. I’m not sure if this is due to the unhappy coincidence of having just watched series 11 of Doctor Who and season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale both of which are extremely good, or if, objectively Season 6 of ST: TNG just isn’t that good. I just felt that even in comparison to Season 5 of ST: TNG, Season 6 just doesn’t hold up. Season 5 gave us episodes with ideas to think about, even disagree with (“The Perfect Mate”) but many of the episodes of Season 6 are just there.

This season includes the two-part “Chain of Command” aka “Picard is tortured and develops Stockholm Syndrome”. In Season 5, rogue Star Fleet officers tried to use a Bajoran freedom fighter to involve the Federation in a war against the Cardassians. This time around, a Star Fleet Admiral relieves Picard of his command of the Enterprise and appoints the war-mongering Captain Jellico in charge of the Enterprise, and sends him on a “diplomatic mission” to meet some Cardassians. That’s right, this Admiral replaces Star Fleet’s best diplomat with a guy determined to start a war for fun. But that’s not all – Picard, Dr. Beverly Crusher, and Lt. Worf are sent “behind enemy lines” to a Cardassian outpost to search for WMDs, specifically a biogenic plague. Of course, when they get there, there is no plague and no weapons of any kind. Crusher and Worf escape but Picard is captured. A Cardassian (played with relish by David Warner) tortures Picard for information on the defenses of a Star Fleet Outpost – which Picard has no information about. Even after it’s obvious that Picard doesn’t know anything about the Outpost, the Cardassian continues his torture and mind games. Meanwhile, the Star Fleet Admiral and Captain Jellico seem determined to turn the diplomatic talks into a war. Eventually, events force the Cardassian to release Picard. And because there is no follow-up between episodes of ST: TNG, Picard’s severe physical and psychological torture is never mentioned again.

“Face of the Enemy” has Counselor Troi turned in to a Romulan. The episode involves helping some of Spock’s Romulan Resistance members escaping and seeking asylum in the Federation. It’s actually a good episode, and one I enjoyed.

“Birthright” is another two-part episode, focusing on Lt. Worf, who is having a Klingon crisis of faith. He receives some information from an information broker that his father is alive and living in a Romulan prison camp. Worf’s father isn’t one of the survivors of Khitomer but several Klingons and their children, including children of Romulan/Klingon matings are living in a community on a hidden Romulan colony. At first, Worf is appalled – Klingons and Romulans have been mortal enemies for centuries. He begins to teach the children about their Klingon heritage and beliefs, something their parents and the Romulans in the colony haven’t done. Things come to a head as several of the children desire to leave the colony and see the Klingon homeworld. Eventually, Worf decides on a compromise – he will take the children and anyone who wishes to leave with him, but he will not tell anyone they are survivors of Khitomer, rather he will say he found survivors of a colony ship crash. Worf also will not tell anyone about the colony where Klingons and Romulans live together in peace.

“The Chase” involves an old archaeology professor of Picard’s showing up and offering him a new job on a fantastic project. Picard, of course, declines, because he doesn’t want to give up command of the Enterprise. Who could blame him? The professor is killed, but the Enterprise gets some of his research. Before long, the Federation, some Klingons, some Cardassians, and eventually some Romulans are all trying to crack the code of the professor’s research, which includes DNA fragments that are shared by all intelligent space-going races in the Federation. Dr. Crusher and Picard even convince some of the players to combine their resources and information to crack the code. They finally wind-up on a long-dead planet, where they find a tiny bit of DNA and play a message. the message is from a humanoid being who explains they left this message and coded it in the Primordial Soup of many planets because they were lonely in the galaxy, and wanted to help new life to develop in their image. The Klingons who wanted a weapon, the Cardassians who wanted a power source and the Romulans are disappointed, to say the least. And even the Federation who wanted information about the galaxy seemed to think this message wasn’t worth the hassle to get it. Essentially, the entire story seemed to be inspired by the folk song, “One Tin Soldier”. Also, it explains why “aliens” in Star Trek look so human.

“Descent Part 1” finishes the season with part 2 on Season 7. This episode brings back the Borg, Lore, Data’s “brother”, and the Admiral who was out to start a war with the Cardassians. A Federation Outpost is attacked and the Enterprise discovers it was a Borg attack – but these Borg seem different. The Admiral shows up, orders thirty starships into the area to defend the border, and reads Picard the riot act for releasing Hugh-the-Borg last season. Data starts to act weird. The Enterprise crew figures out that the ship that attacked the Outpost uses a “transwarp conduit” to get away. It’s basically an artificially generated wormhole. They follow. Data leaves the Enterprise. The Enterprise searches for him and discovers a planet of Borg with individuality. They are being led by Lore, who is using a carrier wave to control Data by feeding him addictive emotions. Although Data a first tortures Geordi at Lore’s command, in the end, with some help with Geordi and Picard rebooting his ethical program, Data kills Lore (who is later disassembled) and the Enterprise crew are rescued. Hugh is left in charge of the new Borg.

Overall, I just wasn’t that impressed with Season 6 of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I missed Guinan, who only seems to show up once. I even missed Spot, Data’s cat, who is mentioned but never seen. Although we do see Spot in part 2 of “Descent”. Still, it’s worth having the season set.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4.
Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 5 Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Season: 5
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 7
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney, Whoopi Goldberg
  • DVD: R1, NTSC DVD

I skipped the first episode of Season 5, “Redemption Part 2” because I watched it and reviewed it with the previous season. Also, as this season ends with the cliffhanger of “Time’s Arrow Part 1”, I went ahead and watched Part 2 from Season 6 and will include that with this review. Season 5 starts strong, so strong I wrote-up a review of the episode, “Darmok” itself because I really enjoyed it. Other early episodes of Season 5 were very good, or thought-provoking, or at least entertaining. Unfortunately, by the time of discs 5 and 6 in this set, the quality really drops. One of the drawbacks of longer seasons is that episodes that would probably be rejected are produced instead. It’s almost a paradox – as fans or even casual viewers we always want more of our favorite shows – but the 1980s style of American TV production produced longer seasons with some excellent episodes, some really bad episodes, and many mediocre episodes. This was true across genres and production companies and was inherent in the production style of the 1980s and very early 1990s.

The other problem with ST: TNG is that there is no continuity between episodes, and everything is stand alone. This is especially true with season 5, which has no theme or real character development (with the exception of Alexander, but we will get to him). The need for Star Trek to “punch the reset button” after every single episode is one of the aspects of the show that irritated me when it originally aired, and now with nearly every show having an “arc plot” for at least the season, it really stands out as a problem. One of the problems with hitting the reset button so, so often, is that there is absolutely no sense of jeopardy for the characters, which undermines the plot.

The perfect example of this is “Ethics”. In “Ethics”, Worf and Geordie are in one of the cargo bays doing some sort of inspection, when a stack of barrels falls, knocks Worf to the ground and knocks him unconscious. He wakes up in sickbay, where Dr. Chrusher tells him his spinal cord has been crushed and he’ll never walk again. Worf, as part of his Klingon beliefs that we have never heard of before, then asks Riker as a friend to help him commit suicide because “Once a warrior can no longer stand to face his enemies – it is time.” There are, of course, multiple problems with this. First, it’s an ableist argument that “death is preferable to being in a wheelchair”. People in wheelchairs lead full and happy lives all over the world – the only “problems” they encounter are the obstacles put in their way by people who don’t rely on wheelchairs for transport – like stairs going into the main entrance of a building. Now in the ST: TNG episode both Riker and Crusher argue against Worf killing himself – going so far as to use his son, Alexander, against him, which of course has it’s own problems. But we don’t ever get a Klingon in a wheelchair. Because, wouldn’t you know it, an expert, experimental neuroscientist shows up, out of nowhere, with an experimental treatment where she essentially uses a 3-D printer to re-grow Worf’s spinal cord. Dr. Crusher has lots of discussions about using this experimental treatment which hasn’t even started human trials yet. And conveniently, there’s a disaster at a nearby Federation Colony and the Enterprise is turned in to a disaster triage center and sickbay. The experimental scientist, for no reason whatsoever, tries one of her other experimental treatments on a patient – and kills him. Dr. Crusher is livid, but her arguments in the episode make no sense. The first rule of being a doctor is: Do no harm. It’s made clear, there was an approved treatment for the patient’s issue, and it was a routine one. The experiment scientist ignores this treatment, in favor of trying her own. That’s a basic violation of medication procedure, medical ethics, scientific ethics, and logic. You always try the proven thing first – if it doesn’t work, or if the patient is known to have an allergy to the proven treatment, then you try something else. But you don’t walk in and try a brand-new experimental treatment, with no consent from the patient, before even trying the actual standard treatment. It’s dumb – and in a real hospital, the doctor who did that would be up on charges and probably have their license revoked.

In the end, though, the experimental scientist presents her experimental treatment to Worf. And the standard treatment of external neurostimulators on his legs hadn’t worked well for Worf (though it may have worked better given time). Worf makes an informed decision to try the experimental treatment, after discussing it with his son, Alexander, Riker, Crusher and the scientist. He understands the risks and sees it as “all or nothing”, which, frankly, makes sense for his character. He even explains both the possible benefits (he will walk again) and the possible risks (he will die) to his son. That works and makes sense. At that point, the scientist is following procedure. Her human (Klingon) experiment should be monitored by an IRB board, and a more general form of experiment would involve double-blind testing and a control group, but for this type of procedure, she is actually doing what she should be doing. During the procedure, things go well, and then they don’t. Worf “dies”. But of course, this is ST: TNG, so we know they won’t kill off a major character. And sure enough, when Worf is lying on his back, suddenly the monitors come back to life, and Worf survives. We see him getting physical therapy, but we know that he’ll be fine, and by the next episode, no one will even mention he broke his back. Sigh. There is absolutely no sense of jeopardy in the surgery scenes because we know Worf won’t die. There is very little sense of jeopardy throughout the episode because we know Worf won’t be permanently handicapped anyway. So the episode really ends up with the audience wondering, “What was the point?”

The episode “Violations” has Troi, then Riker, and finally Dr. Crusher, mind-raped by a telepath. Most of the episode focuses on Troi, who initially accuses the wrong telepath of the three on board the Enterprise. But Data researches several planets that the three telepaths visited, and discovers twenty-two cases of “unexplained comas”. The short coma was the first symptom of the attack (both Riker and Crusher also fall into comas). The episode, though, shows Troi’s attack several times and Riker and Crusher’s only once each. When Troi realizes that her attacker had planted a false memory of who attacked her to cover himself, and it correlates with Data’s evidence, she makes a formal complaint. The attacker will be dealt with severely by his people. The telepaths were “memory historians who were supposed to gently help people recover memories, which they then store. For people who voluntarily undergo the procedure – there are no negative effects. The rapist telepath was violating people without consent, and warping memories to make them traumatic. However, after Troi announces her mistake, the man she accused is let free, and the correct man is arrested – the episode just ends. Riker and Crusher are actually still in comas. And even, assuming they wake up in a day or two, all three of them (including Troi) are going to need considerable therapy to recover from their experience. The episode would have been more interesting if less attention had been paid to the attacks, and more to recovery – especially a realistic portrayal of recovery. This would have been especially true for Riker – it would have been interesting to see him vulnerable for a change.

“Cause and Effect”, directed by Jonathan Frakes, is an episode I’ve seen before in re-runs and I really like it. Basically, the Enterprise gets stuck in a time loop that always ends with its destruction. Because it’s a time loop, we see the crew doing the same things, saying the same things, at least three times. Because it’s television, there’s a short period in each loop where the crew actually learns something new – but because they are in a loop, they forget it the next time around. Eventually, they realize this and Data sends a message of a single word. And Data figures it out, changing what they do, and breaking the loop. When the captain asks for a check on the time with Federation standard – they discover they have been in the loop for just over 17 days. But the other ship they nearly hit? It’s been in the loop for 80 years. That’s not the only thing I like about the episode though. The direction starts off pretty standard – over the shoulder shots, switching back and forth to medium close-ups of whoever is speaking, etc. Then, as the same actions and dialogue happen, again and again, the direction changes – so in the first shot, the camera is behind Dr. Crusher during the first deal of the poker game. But by the third time around, it’s behind Data instead. The scene of Geordi going to Dr. Crusher is also filmed in standard television-style the first couple of times, but then, by the third time the camera is looking up from the floor. These unusual shots or even changes in camera position do two things: first since the dialogue is the same it keeps it from being boring, and secondly, it’s an almost sub-conscience trigger to the audience that “something is wrong”. Normally, a television director would not want to use such low shots or move the camera around as happened in this episode, but here, it adds to the story. Still, I did wonder about the ship from 80 years ago. Picard says they are going to send them to a Starbase, but you’ve got a whole STARSHIP’S worth of people who are 80 years out of date. At the very least they will need a crash course in Federation history and culture. Will they fit in? How will the Federation deal with people who, presumably, were listed as “missing and presumed dead”? Can they vote? What about work? Any knowledge they have is 80 years out of date. To put it in perspective, it’s like if an entire steamship of people from 1939 suddenly turned up in 2019. Think about that – Would they even be able to adapt? I wouldn’t mind a short mini-series following the crew of this ship that Picard rescued from the time loop.

“Masterpiece Society” and “The Outcast” both deal with issues and do so badly. The “Masterpiece Society” both defends genetic engineering of people (and a society with no one who has a disability or is different) and ends with twenty-something extra people on the Enterprise who decide to escape their pre-ordained fate. “The Outcast” was meant to be a pro-LGBT episode, but actually manages to do the opposite, suggesting that a society of gays and lesbians would persecute straight, hetero people (which is, of course, ridiculous and an argument of Conservatives who hate those who are different. Also, whenever Civil Rights are granted to another group – that group never “turn the tables” on their former oppressors – the people tend to be too busy living the lives that were formerly denied to them). “Cost of Living” has Deanna’s mother nearly marry exactly the wrong guy. Oddly enough, Alexander manages to dissuade her, simply by asking the types of questions a child would ask.

The less said about “The Perfect Mate”, the better. It’s a sexist disaster and I may write up a review of it by itself. But it basically suggests the true purpose of women is to serve men by becoming what they want. It’s terrible. That Picard buys into this idea and seems to agree that women are not people and don’t deserve protection by whatever the Federation has in terms of a charter of Rights and Freedoms of Individuals, makes it worse.

“The Next Phase” was interesting because Ensign Ro and Geordi get turned into ghosts by a combination of a disaster on a Romulan ship and a transporter accident. Of course, they figure out how to fix it, and do so just in time to prevent the Enterprise from being destroyed by the Romulan ship, but it’s nice to see Geordi and Ro paired off. The engineering aspects of the entire story are interesting too. The “reset button effect” is there (we know Ro and Geordi aren’t dead) but the story still manages to be interesting anyway.

The season ends with the two-part “Time’s Arrow”. Data’s 500-year old head is found by archeologists in a cave in San Francisco. In part 1, the Enterprise crew, especially Picard, try to avoid the inevitable. In Part II, Data ends up, by accident in San Francisco in the 1880s where he meets Samuel Clemens, Jack London, Guinan and eventually the main crew of the Enterprise who are trying to rescue him, as well as some aliens who are killing humans for “energy”. Part 2 suffers a little bit from the “reset button effect” – we know that Data will survive and everyone will end up back where and when they belong. But there are some interesting twists and turns none the less.

Overall, Season 5 started very strong, lost its way in the middle of the season, and picked up with the season finale. I can recommend it, even with the flaws, except for “A Perfect Mate”, and even Classic Trek had a few really bad episodes.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3.

Read my Review of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 4.

ST: TNG – Darmok Episode Review

  • Series Title: Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Story Title: Darmok
  • Season: 5
  • Episode: # 2
  • Discs: 1 (Part of “Season 5” – 7 discs total)
  • Network:  First-Run Syndication (produced by Paramount)
  • Cast: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, LeVar Burton, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Colm Meaney
  • Original Air Date: 09/30/1991
  • Format: Standard, Color, DVD, NTSC

The Star Trek: TNG episode “Darmok” is a fascinating study of linguistics and culture and I really loved it. The idea was very cool, even if I figured out exactly what the Tamarians were doing a lot earlier than the crew of the Enterprise. The episode starts with the command crew of the Enterprise discussing that they have received a message from the Tamarians, an alien species that the Federation has encountered before, but has also utterly failed to establish any sort of relationship with. In fact, all the previous Federation captains had declared that the Tamarian language is “incomprehensible”.

The Enterprise meets the Tamarian ship and open communications – the Captain, and at times his crew, make declarative statements, of proper names and places, but of course, the crew of the Enterprise doesn’t understand. Finally, the captain and his first officer make statements to each other, the first officer backs down and Picard and the Tamarian Captain are beamed down to the surface, like in the Classic Trek episode, “Arena”, where Kirk and the Gorn are forced to fight each other by a third entity. But unlike “Arena”, the Tamarian doesn’t want to fight Picard. What Picard discovers is that the Tamarian is both trying to teach Picard his language and that by facing an adversary together, a monster on the planet, they may learn enough about each other to communicate. And of course, both communications and the transporter are cut off by the Tamarian ship. This makes Riker and Worf nervous and prone to doing dumb things – like interfering. The Tamarian’s plan works, as Picard, slowly figures out that the Tamarians communicate by example, by metaphor. Unfortunately, Riker’s attempt to beam up Picard during the battle with the monster results in the Tamarian captain’s death. Picard figures out enough to communicate with the Tamarians and then the Enterprise leaves.

OK, so far, so good – but why did this episode resonate with me so much? Because the Tamarian language reminded me not so much of “metaphor” but of the short-hand language that fans use. For example, if I said, Picard and Tamarian Captain like “Arena”. A Star Trek fan would probably know what I meant. But to someone who had never seen Star Trek or the episode “Arena” that would be incomprehensible. Besides, in this story, although Riker and Worf assume the situation is “Arena” and are therefore worried about Picard, that’s not actually what was going on. It’s actually a lot more like “Enemy Mine”. (A 90s SF movie where a human and an alien who are in a war no less crash land on the same planet and have to work together to survive.) See what I did there? Again, without the explanation of “Enemy Mine” a reader may or may not understand the reference.

In the episode, “Darmok”, Data and Counselor Troi eventually figure out that the phrases being used by the Tamarians are proper names, places, and then even locate references to those names and places in the Enterprise‘s databanks. But there is no context. And in this case, context is everything.

I watched the entire episode with the subtitles on, and that may have helped make it obvious that the format of the language was to refer to something. E.G. what the Tamarian was saying was, “this situation is like the situation of “Darmok and Jamel at Tanaka”, but of course, Picard had *no idea* what had happened at Tanaka or who Darmok and Jamel were. He figures it out. At the end of the episode, Picard’s monologue and eventual dialogue with the First Officer of the Tamaran ship is fascinating because as a viewer you only understand part of it – but the Tamaran First Officer grins – he understands, and although he’s sad at the loss of his captain, he knows there has been a connection made.

There are a few other things in the episode, Troi, out of the blue tells Riker the Tamarians have “no sense of self-identity”, which is both a pretty big assumption and probably wrong. They do have a strong sense of community and connection through shared experience and stories. Again, like fans. I remember once discussing a television show with a friend and she mentioned how the ending had ruined it for her. I’d stopped watching that particular show before the last season so I asked, “Why? what happened?” And she said, “They Blake’s 7‘d it.” I said, “Oh, I’m sorry.” Now again, some out there might understand both what my friend said, and why I was sorry about it. For those of you scratching their heads, going, “huh?” and reaching for IMDB, Fandom Wiki, or Google, let me explain, Blake’s 7 was a British SF show most famous for its last episode, in which, Spoiler – they killed everyone off. This, in a show which routinely killed off regular characters. So she was basically saying “they killed off everyone” in this show she liked but using fannish shorthand to explain it. Again, this is how the Tamarians talk to each other all the time. In fact, when the Captain and his First Officer are arguing about what to do it’s clear they both are citing a story or an idea – the Captain’s idea for getting the Enterprise crew to understand is “Darmok and Jamel at Tanaka”, the First Officer’s is “[somebody] his sails unfurled”. We never really learn what that means, so who knows if it would have worked or not. But it also seems clear in that first scene that the Tamarians think the Enterprise crew is somewhat dumb to not understand them. Even the Tamarian Captain gets frustrated with Picard at times. Again, those of us with our fingers on the pulse of pop culture can relate.

I did feel that as someone with some background in linguistics, although some languages on Earth use more metaphors than others, and as my examples of fannish shorthand show, sub-cultures often can use metaphor, shared experience, and shared cultural knowledge to augment language – it’s not possible to construct an entire language that way. Imagine if instead of saying, “I’d like to a cup of coffee,” it would be, “Special Agent Dale Cooper in the Cafe”. But then that might get you pie not coffee. And another approach, which Picard actually tries on the planet, is to define basic words – like “fire” or “give”. This is part of how he and the captain do learn to communicate, but it’s Picard who learns the alien language, not the other way ’round, which again, is a major point in this episode’s favor.

So again, I really liked the episode and I hope the rest of the season is this good. I usually just review ST: TNG episodes by the season, which is what I’m planning on for Season 5. But I just had to address this particular story, because I just loved it.

Star Trek Season 2 Review

  • Series: Star Trek (aka ST: TOS – Star Trek The Original Series)
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes: 26
  • Discs: 8
  • Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett
  • Network: NBC (Paramount Productions)
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 09/09/2009, now hosted on Dreamwidth

In my review for Star Trek Season 1, I forgot to mention the case design. The case design is cute – I dislike cute cases. Collectible cases look nice in a store but they are annoying, to say the least when trying to put the DVDs on your shelves, alphabetically, with everything else you have. Most of my fancy DVD cases end-up getting displayed somewhere else – then I put either the internal cases on my shelves by themselves or the DVDs reorganized into plastic 2-sided slimline cases on my shelves instead. The Star Trek cases look like the transporter room and are hard, clear plastic. The case is split in half, and you fold it down to get to the paper insert, which is the size of a CD case. That’s right a CD case, not the normal DVD size. Inside the paper insert (tilted sideways) is another plastic case, glued on one side that flips open like a book with a DVD on each “page”. If you’ve ever seen the CSI box sets – it’s like that, but CD size. Well, at least they didn’t overlap the discs! However, I discovered when I went to put Star Trek on my shelves where it would belong, alphabetically, that because the cases are so short it just doesn’t look right. Everything’s basically the same height, then, oops, drop down, there’s Star Trek. So, for the moment the three separate season sets are back on my “new acquisitions” shelf – despite my having watched all of them. The second annoying thing about the DVDs is that they are silver on both sides – no labels, pictures, etc. OK, this is an aesthetic issue, but still – for something as expensive as Star Trek I was really expecting, and looking forward to nice portraits of the cast on the DVDs. Season 1 was DVD on one side and HD-DVD on the other so that explains it for season one, but I expected it to be different for Season 2.

OK, on to the review.  Yep, the restoration work on Star Trek is still beautiful and the Technicolor colors really pop! The episodes truly do look gorgeous!

Many Star Trek connoisseurs consider Season Two to be the best season of Star Trek, and that very well may be true – having just watched all of it in just a couple of months. Season two dumps Yeoman Janice Rand – a character that, despite Grace Lee Whitney’s excellent performance never really fit in – and adds Ensign Pavel Chekov – who’s adorable. However, if you pay close attention, Chekov and Sulu never seem to be in the same episode in Season 2. It’s like they were working opposite shifts!

Excellent episodes from Season Two

“Amok Time”  – Vulcans are like salmons – Who knew? Actually, this episode, which opens the season, is quite possibly the best Star Trek episode ever (Though “City on the Edge of Forever” could also be nominated for that honor). What makes the episode really work is the way it shows the friendship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy – which was the core of TOS anyway. And who can forget the famous last scene – just the expression on Spock’s face is priceless.

“Journey to Babel” – For Classic Trek a surprisingly complicated story with a lot of layers. Plus it features Mark Lenard and Jane Wyatt as Spock’s parents. Again, focuses on the relationship between Spock, Kirk, and McCoy. Also, gives us background on Spock (like “Amok Time”) and his relationship with his parents. In a way – you can see, after watching it, that Kirk and Spock are a lot more alike than you might think. And, yes, another priceless last scene – and McCoy not only gets a great line – the smile on his face is pure perfection!

“Mirror, Mirror” – A classic, and I do mean, classic SF plot, that’s executed with perfection and extremely well-written.

“The Trouble with Tribbles”  – A Star Trek episode that even non-aficionados know, and Star Trek‘s first attempt at humor (and a very successful attempt too!). Shatner gets to play to one of his strengths – light-hearted drama.

“A Piece of the Action” – Another very, very funny Star Trek episode that actually also works in an SF context. And, I must mention something from the extra features – in a discussion of “Trials and Tribble-ations” the creators of  DS9 said that they originally were considering going back to the planet in “A Piece of the Action” – only to have it be the planet of the TOS-style Star Trek fans. My first thought was – “Wait a minute – that’s Galaxy Quest!” and my second was, “Oh man, Paramount would so mess-up that idea. I’m very glad it was scrapped!”

Honorable Mention

“The Doomsday Machine”

“I, Mudd”

“Wolf in the Fold” – OK, parts of it are almost silly – but at least it focuses on Scotty!

“The Immunity Syndrome”

“Patterns of Force” – The interaction between Spock and Kirk in this one is particularly good.

“Bread and Circuses” – The interaction between Spock and McCoy is very good in this. Unfortunately, Uhura’s revelation at the end sounds too much like The Twilight Zone and not at all like Star Trek.

“Assignment: Earth” – Meant as a pilot – for a show that unfortunately never happened, it has an excellent cast and really good plot. Only moves from excellent to honorable mention because as a proto-pilot the Enterprise and her crew aren’t really in it that much. Kirk more or less stumbles around wondering what to do and getting arrested by the locals – while Gary Seven (Robert Lansing) carries the bulk of the plot. Course, I like Robert Lansing! Teri Garr is also in the episode as the wonderfully dippy blonde “Roberta”, though’ her name is misspelled in the credits.

Still, if you are only going to buy one season of Star Trek (The Original Series) buy this one. You’ll miss some great episodes – but you will also get some of Star Trek’s finest moments.

Special Features:  Many, including preview trailers of all episodes. Also includes the Star Trek:  The Animated Series episode “More Tribbles, More Troubles” and the Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episode “Trials and Tribble-ations”

Star Trek Season 1 Review

  • Series: Star Trek (aka ST: TOS – Star Trek The Original Series)
  • Season: 1
  • Episodes: 29
  • Discs: 10
  • Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, Grace Lee Whitney
  • Network: NBC (Paramount Productions)
  • DVD Format: DVD, Technicolor, Standard
  • Originally Published on my Live Journal 08/09/2009, now hosted on Dreamwidth

My first comment is WOW – oh, wow – Star Trek has never looked so good! The original series must have been filmed in Technicolor because it looks absolutely fantastic! The bright primary colors of the uniforms really, really pop, especially the blues and reds. Consistently, every frame of every first season story looks good. The restoration work going into the set must have been immense – and it looks better than even The Man from UNCLE (which had some flaws and artifacts).

If only all DVDs, especially TV DVDs had such excellent restoration. The Technicolor look is that of the Errol Flynn and Olivia deHaviland’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain, or Judy Garland’s The Wizard of Oz. Which just goes to show how truly beautiful Technicolor really was – especially when properly restored. The other technical notion is that Star Trek, though filmed and filmed in Technicolor at that, was filmed in 4:3 ratio – the only ratio available at the time, especially for TV (If you watch the fully restored films mentioned above you’ll note they also are properly 4:3 ratio – not widescreen.)

I did have a technical problem with my set – discs 3 and 4 did not play properly. “Miri” skipped horribly, as did the opening CBS logo and episode 1 of  “The Menagerie”. I didn’t check Episode 2 of  “The Menagerie”, because by then I knew I’d have to exchange the discs. I called Amazon (from whom I purchased the entire 3-Season set) and found I could not simply return the bad discs. They wouldn’t even accept exchanging Season 1. This is annoying. I have found before, especially with DVD sets with extremely large pressings, that sometimes you just get bad discs. The problem with exchanging an entire set is that you don’t want to exchange 1:1 and take the chance that different discs are bad if you follow me. I’ve watched all of  Season 1 – and found no more errors, so when my replacement arrives I should be able to take discs 3 and 4 out of it, put them in my original set and send back the replacement. And I’ll only have six episodes to check instead of 29.

The first season of Star Trek is a bit uneven – I missed Ensign Chekhov greatly, and in some episodes, major characters are completely missing (chiefly Scotty and Dr. McCoy, though Sulu also disappears occasionally, as does Nurse Christine Chapel). However, there are some classic episodes as well. “The Naked Time”, “Dagger of  the Mind”, “Shore Leave”, “Tomorrow is Yesterday”, “Speed Seed”, “This Side of Paradise”, “The Devil in the Dark”, “Errand of  Mercy”, “The City of the Edge of Forever”, and “Operation – Annihilate!” are all first season episodes. Of these, certainly, “Devil in the Dark” and “The City on the Edge of Forever” were personal favorites of mine.

But with the release of the new Star Trek movie (which I absolutely loved!) and now my taking the time to re-watch classic Trek, well, in the words of a guy a recent media convention during the Trek movie panel – “Isn’t it great to be a Star Trek fan again?” This is something that has happened over and over with Star Trek. After all, the original series did not do that well – it never got good ratings and was canceled after a mere three seasons. It was the action of the fans – especially fans who organized clubs and conventions (Shout out to Bjo Trimble who created the Star Trek Welcommittee) and the female fans who kept Star Trek alive in fan fiction that not only kept the show alive (Star Trek Lives! – Great book, not only for fans of Star Trek but for anyone interested in cultural/media fan history) – but made the subsequent series and movies possible.

Special Features:  Many, including preview trailers of all episodes.