Sunday, May 29, 2016

Top Ten List - The Next Generation 10 Favourite Episodes

I was re-reading some of my old blog posts from my personal blog, The Mighty Elroy, and came across a Top Ten List. It was from two years ago, and it was celebrating 20 years since the TNG aired its final episode. I talked about other things in the blog (my daughter's birth, my mother's legacy), but the ending was all about Picard and his crew. There were many great episodes in that series, and as I read through the list, I marveled at how had it was to choose my favourite Top 10. 



I had many great memories of TNG because this is the series that I grew up with. This is the one that my whole family watched together for seven years. Dinner time on whatever night TNG was on usually ended up with all if us grabbing our plates and moving into the living room where the TV was. We watched every episode in reruns as well, and while there were some that were definitely groan worthy, I have fond memories of all of them. So, here is the Top 10 list of MY Favourite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. First, a bit of background. In my original posting of this, I said that these are not necessarily the ones I thought were the "Best" episodes, just the ones I enjoyed the most. Two-part episodes were counted as one. Feel free to tell me your favourites.



10. Conspiracy - This was a neat little first season episode. I am not a fan of gratuitous violence, but I have to say watching a guy's head explode on TV was cool. This episode was so different from everything else in Season 1 that is was refreshing and bold. I loved that Picard was involved in the fireworks. I really wish they had followed this up in later seasons.



9. Lower Decks - After ranking a first season episode, it seems fitting to have a final season episode next. The TNG episodes often revolved around the senior officers (understandably so), and they often brought in reoccurring characters such as Barclay, Ogawa, O'Brien, etc. to round out how the ship was really a ship of over 1000 people. Lower Decks to me was an episode about the little guys. It tied in a few story lines from earlier episodes but showed what I think most of fans would have loved to experience: being a part of the crew.



8. The Measure of a Man - From Season 2 this episode, in my eyes, showed the first real strength in using great story telling and character development while at the same time providing social commentary. Powerful performances from Brent Spiner, Patrick Stewart, and Johnathon Frakes helped push this episode to the #8 spot. 



7. Unification - Not only do we get another great performance from Mark Leonard as Sarek, but we finally get to see Leonard Nimoy reprise his monumental role of Spock on TNG. This was a highly anticipated two-part story that sadly aired just after the death of Trek creator Gene Roddenberry (both episodes were dedicated to him) but also weeks before Star Trek VI, and provided a great hype for the new film. Throw in Sela (Denise Crosby) and a Data-Spock tag team and you have a whole lot of fun.



6. Relics - Always a fan favourite, Relics returns James Doohan as Scotty to the Trek world. For me this episode is great not just because of the connections made between TNG and the Original series but because the central TNG character was my favourite Geordi La Forge, the blind chief engineer, who sadly was rarely the main focus of any episode. Yes, it made sense that Geordi and Scotty would team up, but it is nice to see that they did so in a great way.



5. The Inner Light - OK, it's getting tough now. A lot of fans may start to cry foul that this timeless classic episode only made it #5 and not the Top 3, but I have my reasons for ranking others higher. Suffice it to say even if you are not a Trek fan, this episode is one that almost anyone can enjoy. Again, it shows how great Trek can be when the focus on telling good stories. The special effects and cool moments all take a back seat to a good story and this episode shows that such effects are not necessary.



4. Yesterday's Enterprise - One of the best time-travel/alternate universe stories that brought back my beloved Denise Crosby back as Tasha Yar. Now, I mentioned in the last one that special effects are not necessary when you have a great story, but this episode had both and were used effectively. I also like the foundations that were set for future stories, from minor things such as Worf drinking prune juice to big surprises such as the blond half-human Romulan Sela. I wish they could have shown more of how the Enterprise D crew met their fates during the final battle (apparently they were supposed to kill Wesley and Data), but it is exciting.



3. The Best of Both Worlds - I don't care about who shot JR or Mr. Burns, or who survived the terrorist attack in Dynasty, or even the Season 3 finale of LOST, this is THE BEST season cliffhanger of all time. Great development. The only thing that keeps it from higher was the slightly weaker second part.



2. All Good Things - Definitely the best series finale in not only Trek history but in almost all of TV. It bookends the series with beauty and logic, reuniting old fan favorites like Tomalak, O'Brien, Yar, and of course, Q. I always wished that they would have done a movie with Q, but if this is as close as they will ever get, then I am satisfied with it. The end scene with the poker game is brilliantly executed and is a nice way to lead us into the TNG movies.


Before I get to #1, I would like to state again that this was not an easy list to compile for no other reason that Next Generation was such a fun show to watch. Many great episodes did not hit my Top Ten. The honorable mentions (in order of broadcast) are: Skin of Evil, Sarek, Brothers, Qpid, Darmok, Disaster, I Borg, the First Duty, Rascals, Tapestry, Face of the Enemy, Starship Mine, Descent, and Genesis.



1. The Offspring - I can already hear fellow Trekkies questioning this choice of Data creating a daughter being #1 so let me explain. This is MY favourite list. I readily admit that if I were to rank the best episodes I would place it lower (but still top ten). What gives it the top spot for me is two things. First, there is a line that Data gives as he expresses to his daughter Lal about why he strives to be human when he will never accomplish the goal. He says that it is the journey that one makes that is important, not the actual destination. As a young man it struck a cord with me that resonates to this day. The second is the love a father has for his child. As I grew older and became a father, this episode has come to mean a great deal more to me and cements itself at the top spot.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Episode Review - The Measure of a Man (Next Generation, Season 2)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.




Episode Overview – A Starfleet scientist comes to the Enterprise with the intent to disassemble Data so that he can build more androids. Picard and Data embark on a legal battle to define the rights of the Federation’s only mechanical officer.


Episode Score – 9/10. A solid courtroom battle episode. Great drama and suspense without the action sequences or special effects. Great performances by Patrick Stewart, Johnathan Frakes, and Brent Spiner. This episode is one of the earliest episodes to show what this new Trek series could do. I think it is one of TNG’s defining episodes.


Relevance – 3 points. Commander Maddox is the officer that Data is corresponding with in the episode “Data’s Day”. We see the first of many crew poker games. Data’s “encounter” with Tasha Yar is mentioned as a part of Data’s defence (I liked how Picard said that even though Data had promised Tasha that he would never reveal that they had been intimate together, she would not have minded it, given the circumstances). The Daystrom Institute is mentioned for the first time as a tribute to Richard Daystrom from the Original Series episode “The Ultimate Computer”. The outcome of this trial would be tested again when Data constructs a daughter (“The Offspring”), and will impact future TNG episode “The Quality of Life”, as well as the Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. The space station on which this story happens was said to have been built by the Neutral Zone incidents mentioned in the last Season 1 episode. Lots of relevance to Trek in this neat little episode.


Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity gets a check, as all the main players are in line with what we have come to expect from them. Storyline continuity is a check (although if Data had promised to not reveal his sexual encounter with Yar to anyone, how did Picard know? The captain might have figured it out, so I can overlook that). Universe continuity, check. Nothing is out of place here.


Character Development – 3 points. Data and Picard get a great treatment in this episode and grow a lot, but I would have to give a tip of the hat to Riker. When commanded to serve as the prosecutor in the trial, Riker finds himself in the toughest of situations. He has to do everything he can to win the case, or Data will become property of Starfleet. The risk is that in doing so he almost wins the case, which would again make Data property of Starfleet. It’s one of the most difficult stories for Riker and with the exception of Data he seems to have the most to lose: his friend and comrade and his self-respect. The scene where he is researching and finds his “coup de grace” that almost wins him the case, he shows excitement, followed by shock as he realises what this may mean to his friend. Powerful acting on the part of Frakes.


Social Commentary – 3 points. The rights of individuals has always been relevant in Trek’s history. In today’s world we are still trying to identify what “basic rights” are, and to whom they apply. One would think that by the 24th Century we would have figured it all out, but we have a whole new batch of ideas in this as we look at the case for artificial life forms. Guinan also has a great moment when she helps Picard realize that what is being proposed by Maddox could easily become a form of slavery. Very astute commentary.


Cool Factor – 2 points. OK, the first poker game? Cool! Picard’s epic closing argument? Extremely cool! Beyond that, there is not much else that is cool. Again, Picard’s ending argument is full of coolness, and one of my favourite scenes in the series.



Rank – Admiral (23 points). As I said before, this episode is one of the gems in the second season. Give it a watch and you will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Episode Review - In the Pale Moonlight (Deep Space Nine, Season 6)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.



Episode Overview – Captain Sisko makes a log recounting the events that involved him attempting to get the Romulans to enter into the war with the Dominion. While his intentions are good, he finds that he must over and over compromise his values for the good of the Alpha Quadrant.


Episode Score: 10/10. DS9 has received both praise and criticism for being darker and edgier than any other series to date. I have no problem agreeing with that classification, and this episode is true to that sentiment. The episode is dark and gritty, with Ben Sisko going farther into the darkness than any of the other Trek series captains has. A tour de force in acting on Avery Brooks part. This is also a serious and powerful episode that many who are not fans of the show can appreciate. The story is well-crafted and compelling. For much of the episode the viewer is wondering if Sisko is going to go further down the path he started or if he will ultimately keep his morals in check. It is a roller coaster ride of intrigue and deception that ultimately brings about a major change to the Dominion War.



Relevance: 3 points. As eluded to earlier, this episode marks a major turning point in the Dominion War storyline that will have lasting repercussions for the rest of the series. It also ties in the important part mentioned earlier in the series where Romulus had signed a non-aggression treaty with the Dominion. The casualty list shown is seen again in the “Siege of AR-558”. Added to that the mention of the fall of Betazed, and this episode is vital for what is happening in the Trek universe.



Continuity: 2 points. Story and universe continuity work well with this episode. Everything happens as it should be happening, and all parties are well within defined parameters. There is nothing that contradicts how the story develops or how the Trek universe works. There is one thing that may be argued is out of sync with continuity, and that is the character continuity of one Benjamin Sisko. In all honesty, I love this episode and how the character of Ben Sisko develops, but nothing more of his role in the deception is brought up. The good Captain is far from good in this episode. He lies, he cheats, he covers up the crimes of others, and he is an accessory to the murder of two individuals. In future episodes, it appears that Ben does not change in any way because of this, which I feel is not realistic. There should have been something after, a regret, a slight reference from Garak or Quark, that furthers the stain on Sisko’s soul. For that reason alone, I had to deduct the one point for character continuity.



Character Development: 3 points. This is a great Ben Sisko story, and Garak gets to play a prominent role as well. We see that the two developed into a most unique relationship when Garak confronts Sisko with the somber truth that Sisko enlisted Garak because he was willing to do things that Sisko was not. Quark gets a nice moment when Sisko bribes him to turn a blind eye to a crime, and Quark responds with the 98th Rule of Acquisition: every man has his price.



Social Commentary: 2 points. I could not give the full 3 points here, but I do think that something can be said about choosing to abandon one’s morals for the greater good. Again, I do enjoy this episode, but I must be honest in saying that I do not know if I could have done what Sisko does, even if it meant that billions of lives would be saved in defeating a powerful adversary intent on your destruction. Mind you, I do not ever envision myself of ever being in a situation where the stakes are this high. What I do see are many political and military leaders who make similar decisions, to lie, cheat, and bend the rules, all done in the name of helping the greater good. So while I cannot see myself being in such a position on influence like this, I do see it happening in the world around me. My only wish for this story is that they would have had some greater cost for Sisko, if not in this episode then later in the series.



Cool Stuff: 3 points. The Romulan shuttle is a first for the design. This is the second episode in a row in which Weyoun only appears as a hologram. I also believe that this is the first episode where we see the character describing everything that happened as a log entry. For me, the coolest part of the episode is Sisko’s monologue at the end. He describes all of his sins, and then says he would do it again. He defiantly raises a glass and says he can live with what he has done, then lowers it and more softly repeats the line as if he is trying to convince himself, before finally deleting the entire log. It’s as if we are the only witnesses to the Confession of Benjamin Sisko.



Rank: Admiral (23 points) – This episode consistently ranks in the Top 10 of DS9 episodes, and it is with good reason. Trek is at its finest when it focuses on the characters, and this is an episode that shows how to move the overarching story with a good character tale. Fine acting on the part of Avery Brooks, well-crafted story, and it provides the catalyst for swinging the momentum of the Dominion War. This episode is a must watch for casual fans.

Blogger's note: Upon reflection of some of the feedback I received, I have updated the scoring for this episode. I was initially worried that my bias towards Deep Space Nine caused me to be overly generous with scoring, so I only scored the episode a 9/10. I have heard from many who feel that this episode was nearly perfect, and I decided to increase the score to a 10.




Sunday, May 8, 2016

News - New Series to be Streamed Weekly and Filmed in Toronto; No Bingeing as of Yet

The last week or so has seen some interesting announcements. First, and for us Canadians, most importantly, the new series will be filmed in Toronto instead of Los Angeles, which is a big departure from the norm. Also, as the series will air in January on the CBS on-demand site (already known), but instead of typical on demand formats, the episodes will be aired weekly. The full story can be seen here.

My thoughts - I love that Trek will be filmed in Toronto, but I acknowledge what this may mean for the tradition of Trek. It has been over a decade since a Trek series has been created, and for easily two decades while Trek was on the small screen, a core group of local production talent that specialized in Star Trek was put into place. True, there is no guarantee that said core is able to meet the requirements for the new series due to other projects and commitments. This is also not meant to say that they cannot tap into that talent, nor that there is not a healthy dose of talent in Toronto. Some new blood may be necessary for this bold new series. I just think that this change in where the show will be filmed could signal a change in the franchise. What that change will look like has yet to be seen. 

For me, the biggest concern raised is that this will be a weekly airing. As I understand it, for the first week you will be able to view the first episode, for the second week you will be able to view the second episode, but not the first. While the on-demand format is still evolving, I worry that this decision may be an issue. Television viewing has changed since Enterprise was on the screen. Viewers are used to watching several episodes in a row, what is commonly referred to as binge watching. This meshing of traditional weekly broadcasting with on demand viewing may not be welcomed, and that can be a problem. CBS is taking a gamble here, and I wonder if they are listening to right people. The series needs to attract new fans to be successful, and I think the target fans may be thinking that this approach is too archaic. This could turn off viewers before the show starts. For the first time, the news causes me concern. We will have to see how it develops.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Episode Review - The Visitor (Deep Space Nine, Season 4)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here.

Episode Overview - Jake accompanies his father on a routine assignment aboard the Defiant when an accident takes Captain Sisko away from his son. Feeling the great loss over now losing both of his parents. When Jake begins to receive visits from his father, he embarks on a lifelong journey to bring his father home.




Episode Score - 10/10. In my opinion, this is one of the greatest episodes of television, not just of Star Trek. It mixes science fiction with real human emotions as it discusses the love of father and son that transcends time and space. As with any episode that delves into the future there are the fun "what if" moments and eventual foreshadowing. The acting is brilliant by so many people (special props go to Avery Brooks, Cirroc Lofton, and Tony Todd as the elder Jake Sisko). Emotionally, this is the best of the best at tapping into the human condition. By focusing on the relationship between father and son instead of the more cliched romantic love, it touches a broader range of the audience (if we aren't all parents, we can at least claim to all be children of parents), and feels fresh and original. Great music, great lighting, and not a lot of need for splashy special effects. Both Lofton and Brooks cite this as one of their favourite episodes, and for good reason.


Relevance - 3 points. So much is referenced here that either foreshadows future events or throws back to the past. The uniforms that the Defiant crew wear in the older Jake's time are the same uniforms seen in the future of the TNG finale "All Good Things". The future shows many of the crew in what could be well predicted (Nog becoming a Starfleet captain, Quark gets his own moon, Morn owns the bar on DS9), and the novel that Jake writes, “Anslem” is the novel he begins later on in the season. We also see a shot after the funeral where Jake is looking out a window into space and Kira comes up behind him to offer comfort. This same shot is almost identically blocked at the end of the series finale, just from a different camera angle. References to the Dominion and the conflict with the Klingons show us how things might have worked out differently.


Continuity - 3 points. Character continuity fires on all cylinders as the Siskos have always been close, and both Jake and Ben act the way one would have expected in the situation. Also, that Jadzia and Kira both would take Jake under their wings as much as possible shows the depth of their relationship with Captain Sisko. Universe continuity is solid, as always. Story continuity also works here, as it is nice that little details like Jake marrying a Bajoran and writing a great novel are, if not directly picked up, at least hinted at in future episodes. The alternate future does provide some apparent contradictions, but with episodes like this where only a possible future is shown can lead to changes happening that are easily explained away. For example, Jadzia lives another fifty years in this episode, but with Captain Sisko being restored to the moment of the accident, there is no need for the Federation to have abandoned the station, meaning that the Dominion war did happen and Jadzia would have been killed as we ended up seeing in season 6. Some may find that infuriating, but I think it allows the writers to have some fun without having to limit what they can do in the future.


Character Development - 2 points. Major development for Ben and, finally, Jake Sisko. Of the handful of episodes that are Jake-driven, this one gives him the most growth. For Ben, the growth is quite significant as he retains the memories of who his son becomes without him. Sadly, all the great growth for Jake is largely gone as the “alternate future” effect causes that development to be erased in a science fiction motif. That fact caused me to dock one point here, where normally it would have scored all 3.


Social Commentary - 3 points. Dealing with loss is always going to be relevant to our society. Such commentary does not have to be complex or deeply profound to cause us to think. Losing someone we love and depend on, such as a parent, is something almost all of us will have to endure one day if we have not already done so. What is so interesting in all of this is seeing how the one that was lost is affected by watching their loved one cope with it. In the end, the Siskos get a second chance. We will rarely get such a chance, so we are reminded to stay close to the ones that we love now.


Cool Stuff - 3 points. OK, future episodes always have cool stuff in that it is always cool to see what could happen to our characters without committing ourselves to a particular outcome. Seeing the end result of Nog’s Starfleet ambitions, what Dax and Bashir look like as elderly officers, learning the fates of beloved characters like Morn, all of this is cool. Another cool factor is the casting of the young woman who the elderly Jake Sisko tells his story to. The actress is Rachel Robinson, daughter of Andrew Robinson (famous in Trek for his role as the Cardassian tailor Garak). It’s always cool to make family connections. Third cool point is the casting of Tony Todd in his second of three Trek roles. When it was determined that having Cirroc Lofton in makeup to make him appear older wouldn’t work, Todd was brought in and gives one of the most moving performances in TV history. This will be the first of two characters Todd plays on DS9 in the fourth season, as later he reprises his role of Kurn, Worf’s brother.



Rank - Admiral (24 points). While this episode does not contain massive special-effects battles or exciting revelations about the crew, the beauty in the story shows that CGI is not necessary to make an excellent sci-fi story. To see the depths of the love between a father and son is wonderful. To see the ultimate sacrifice that Jake is willing to make, not just for his father, but for his younger self is touching and real. Nothing but love and respect for this episode, and everyone should watch it.



Blogger's note: upon receiving a lot of feedback, I adjusted the scores from my original publication. I did not want to appear biased towards my favourite episode of all time, and originally scored the episode 9/10. Many people pointed out that this episode was near perfect, and I agree, so I changed the score to a 10.