You know the drill by now. This is the blog series in which I re-watch old Star Trek: TNG episodes and rate them according to how bobbins they are. First up…
Too Short A Season
This episode is either quite good or super bobbins depending on which bits you focus on. The basic premise: Federation Admiral Goes To Extreme And Unwise Lengths In An Attempt To Make Up For A Terrible Mistake He Committed In His Youth is actually pretty solid. Unfortunately it’s buried under some scenery chewing acting and really unconvincing old man make up. Also, according to random trivia on Wikipedia, the script was originally inspired by the male menopause because … what?
There isn’t much to say about this episode that you can’t basically work out from a one sentence plot summary and one look at Admirable Jameson. I mean, let’s face it, the moment you see a guy done up like that you know it’s either a returning character from the original series or a reverse ageing plot.
One thing that might be worth commenting on is that this episode hinges around a person’s interpretation of the Prime Directive but not one that’s taking place live on screen. Jameson’s great error was to provide arms to both sides of a conflict in order to satisfy a hostage negotiation while also, as he saw it, preserving the balance of power on the planet. I can’t decide whether this is a more realistic and nuanced representation of the way flawed people might interpret a vaguely worded principle than the usual “whatever make the best episode” presentation. Or if it’s just another instance of the same phenomenon. Jameson’s dilemma of forty-odd years ago was that a man Karnas was holding some Federation citizens hostage and demanding Federation weaponry in return for their release. His solution was to make the deal but then give an equal amount of weapons to the other side of the civil war that was going on at the time in the hope that they would somehow cancel out.
This, yet again, makes no sense. The Federation is super super protective of its technology and the reason you don’t go around giving that technology to less advanced civilisations is that you don’t want to artificially accelerate their development. Giving it to both sides in a war is not the same as giving it to neither side in a war. It’s just worse. And, to be fair, maybe Jameson made the only call he felt he could make in a crisis … although why beam in and shoot everyone with phasers didn’t strike him as being less long-term disruptive I don’t know. And, again, I can’t help but feel that his actions make most sense if you assume he was trying to create the plot for a Star Trek episode that would take place forty years later.
Once again, I find myself at the edge of the usefulness of the bobbins system because there is so much that is bobbins about this episode but, deep down, I sort of like its core concept. Dude makes tragic mistake, seeks to atone is a classic for a reason. So let’s split the difference and go with three.
When The Bough Breaks
This one is … odd. Ever reliable Wiki informs me that this is the first episode of TNG that makes a major plot point of the fact that the Enterprise, for no logically discernible reason, has a bunch of civilian on board. And, yes, yes, I know the Enterprise isn’t a war ship, and yes, yes, I know Star Fleet isn’t a military organisation. It just has a bunch of military ranks and does a bunch of military jobs. And, despite not being a war ship, the Enterprise is capable of going toe-to-toe with any vessel built by any species in the galaxy, except the Borg and presumably a couple of the omnipotent ones. And there are constant, constant references to people “understanding the dangers” that come with a Starfleet inform. What I’m saying is, the Enterprise is not the sort of thing you should take your kids onto because every week there is a non-zero chance it will explode. The whole children on board thing is occasionally brought up as part of the ‘Star Trek is actually a Dystopia’ discussions you get on the internets and you can make a reasonable case that the only reason to have actual families on board your deep space exploration fighting real legit aliens with lasers that go boom ship is as a form of hostage.
Anyway. In this thoroughly silly episode, the Enterprise encounters the mythical plant of Magrathea … or something. The Magratheans offer to trade some of their incredibly advanced technology to the Enterprise crew in return for some of the Enterprise’s children. They themselves have become infertile for reasons they don’t understand despite their amazing technology but which … spoiler … Beverley Crusher will work out within about ten minutes. Double spoiler: it’s the unintended consequence of their own technology because of course it is.
Something I’m never sure how much I should be bothered by in Star Trek is that it’s unambiguously soft SF. And there are a whole bunch of things you just accept when you’re watching soft SF – like “planet” is basically code for “village”, “computer” is basically code for “wizard” and going anywhere and doing anything takes as long as its plot convenient for it to take. Having said that, what is the Magratheans plan here? They have an entire world to re-populate. And they seem to be trying to do it with the six kids they nab off the Enterprise. I mean, maybe they’re so technologically advanced that virtually everything else on their world is done by machine and there really are only a dozen actual families. But that doesn’t seem terribly plausible. Even if it’s a really really small planet there must be a few thousand people living there, probably a few million. Six kids won’t make a difference. And if they’re all infertile then what is this plan going to achieve apart from replacing their native population with a bunch of people descended from humans. And, actually, if they think as they seem to that the infertility is a consequence of isolation and inbreeding surely what they’d want to do is negotiate for sexually viable adults. Although somehow I suspect that idea would have received less resistance from the Enterprise crew if their behaviour on any other planet is anything to go by.
And, okay, I understand that Star Trek episodes are essentially morality plays but if it hadn’t turned out that the Magratheans’ infertility had a simple, external and easily remedied cause I’m not even sure the Enterprise would have been in the right here. I mean, yes, abducting children is wrong. But this isn’t a bomb that’s about to go off, it’s a planet lacking in genetic viability and while stealing kids from their families on the one ship that came to visit you is not okay it isn’t like the Enterprise couldn’t have worked with them to find a solution. Okay, the Federation is supposed to be this utopia and we’re supposed to think that no child would ever want to be raised outside of it if they had the opportunity but, well, just taking the Magratheans problem at face value which is they need children and lots of them and soon, couldn’t the Enterprise instead say “Tell you what, you sit tight on this planet you live on that isn’t going anywhere, we’ll fly over to Tasha Yar’s homeworld, y’know, the one with the rape gangs and see if there are any kids down there who’d like to move to a different planet.”
I sort of weirdly like this episode. The Enterprise crew come to a planet that’s been terraformed and discover that the terraforming team have had to deal with a number of accidents and slightly spooky goings on. It very quickly turns out that the supposedly lifeless planet they were working on is actually home to some kind of vast, sentiment networked crystal consciousness thing that lives in a very thin hydrated layer below the sands of the planet.
There are several things I appreciate about this episode. The first being that planet-inhabited-by-sentient-crystals is quite an interesting SF concept in its own right, and the episode explores it fairly well. The other thing I liked was that the episode engages with, or less charitably, explains away some of the ickier implications of the entire Federation deal. When you get right down to it, the whole point of Star Trek is that it’s about the glory and wonder of exploration, and it very consciously harks back to Age of Exploration that happened on Earth, right down to borrowing all of its ship terminology from classical sailing ships, having multiple crew members collect or build models of Age of Sail vessels, and so on. But, of course, the actual Age of Exploration was kind of horrible because it wasn’t just an age of discovery and wonder, it was an age of colonialism, imperialism and conquest. This episode bends over backwards to explain that the Federation only ever terraforms or settles on world’s that are not merely uninhabited but utterly lifeless. And while I’m a whinging leftie even I am not especially bothered about protecting the rights of rocks moving in circles.
A couple of little trivia points in this episode: the tiny copy of the sentient crystal thing (not to be confused with the Crystalline Entity) at one point refers to the crew of the Enterprise as “ugly bags of mostly water” which went on to be the title of a documentary about Star Trek fans (I assume this was meant affectionately). Other than that there’s not a lot to report because there’s not a lot that’s blazing nonsensical. Unless the count the bit where Data fights a mining laser.
I think this is a solid two bobbins episode.
Coming of Age
This is another episode that’s both brilliant and terrible. It contains some excellent Picard bits, some surprisingly good Wesley bits, and a bunch of subplots that hang together pretty decently. It does, however, also set up for the completely dire episode Conspiracy later on, which is hard to forgive.
So, anyway, Admirable Gregory Quinn and Lt Commander Dexter Remmick come on board the Enterprise in order to inspect it for signs of dodginess. Both of these characters will appear again in Conspiracy, Remmick in particular will have his face melted off, his head explode and an alien hive queen sock puppet burst out of his chest. Conspiracy is a terrible, terrible episode. Remmick spends much of this episode wandering around the Enterprise looking for signs that Picard is up to no good and finding none. His little vignettes with the crew vary between strangely touching, as we learn how much the crew value and respect their captain, and strangely hilarious as you realise how ludicrous the adventures of the Enterprise must seem as they get reported back to Starfleet Command. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love me some Picard and I naturally take against interfering outsiders coming in, trying to impose bureaucratic rules on fictional organisations that I’ve watched on TV a lot, but when you have complaints like “so your Captain became possessed by an energy being and teleported himself into space, then on his recovery abandoned his preparations for a vital diplomatic mission to go and play on the holodeck, then got stuck on the holodeck, then got some aliens in to fix the holodeck, then let the aliens steal the ship” you can sort of see why Starfleet might think something suss was going down.
Meanwhile, there are two subplots involving Starfleet Academy. In one, a young man who has failed his entrance exams freaks out and tries to steal a shuttle and leave the Enterprise. In the other, Wesley competes against a number of other candidates for a place at Star Trek Academy. The first subplot is quite cool if only because it culminate in a scene where Picard, in his authoritative Shakespearean actor voice, talks the panicking cadet threw a complex manoeuvre in which he bounces his shuttle off a planet’s atmosphere, thus demonstrating that Picard is awesome and everyone has total faith in his abilities because he’s awesome.
The second subplot involving Wesley, a blue alien and a girl has a few more problems. Wesley, alien and girl are the top three candidates for entry into Starfleet Academy. Why Starfleet Academy makes its candidates compete head-to-head in groups of three, I don’t quite understand. I mean, the recruiter in the episode even tells them that they’d all make great Starfleet Academy cadets so … why not take all of them? There must be more than one place and they’re all clearly geniuses and there must be some people who get into Starfleet Academy who aren’t geniuses like, say, virtually everyone on the Enterprise. But, anyway, I digress.
Wesley, the blue guy and the girl take a number of tests in which Wesley and the blue guy come out almost neck-and-neck and the girl is, well, just not as good as they are. It’s almost like she’s only there to look pretty and flirt with Wesley because, let’s remember guys, this is a post-sexist society. The whole arc is saved from complete ruination because their tests end with a psychological examination in which they are forced to confront their greatest fear and even though I know it’s a cheap gimmick for expositing character I do like me a “confront your greatest fear” scene.
So Wesley goes to have his psyche test and meets the blue guy coming out, looking all shaken up and scared. He sits on a chair, waiting for the test to begin, and then OMG sirens start going off and something bad is happening elsewhere on the facility. Naturally Wesley, instead of evacuating in good order like you’d presumably be supposed to do actually, when you think about it, dashes down the corridor to see if anyone needs help. He seems two men trapped in … some kind of vaguely spaceshippy looking room, full of gas and bits of fallen over pipe. What they were doing, I don’t know. What that room is for, I don’t know. Perhaps they were just on pipe inspection duty that day. Anyway, Wesley rushes into this scenario that is suspiciously similar to the circumstances in which his own father died ten years ago, has to make a difficult decision because he can only rescue one of the dudes, and then … oh gosh, it turns out it was all part of the test all along, who’d have thought?
Maybe I’m just sentimental but I actually really like this bit. The show never really goes into it much but I find the implied relationship between Wesley and Captain Picard really interesting because Wesley obviously admires and respects Picard because, dude, you’d have to be a monster not to. But at the same time Picard is also directly responsible for his father’s death, not only because he was leading the mission on which the elder Mr Crusher got killed but because he had the chance to save one of his team and, spoiler, didn’t pick Wesley’s dad.
Our various unrelated plotlines end with the nervous cadet coming back to the Enterprise, Picard being exonerated on all counts and informed of a terrible conspiracy within Starfleet (oh, we’ll get to that) and Wesley discovering that the blue guy has beaten him out for a place at Starfleet Academy despite the fact Wesley seemed to have done better on most of the tests. There’s mention of the fact that blue guy would have been the first member of his race to enter Starfleet so there’s a weird implication that it’s political correctness gone mad but Wesley doesn’t seem to mind. Wesley’s arc ends somewhat bizarrely with Girl telling him that she’ll beat him next year, which is a bit out of left field since there is no indication in the episode that is remotely as good as he is at anything.
Really fractured but some nice bits. 3 bobbins.
Heart of Glory
Bizarre trivia point: this episode includes the first appearance on Star Trek of Vaughn Armstrong who is moderately well known for having played eleven different across every series of Star Trek, including a recurring role on Enterprise (not that I’ve ever watched it), a bunch of people in Voyager and a Cardassian Gul in DS9. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, however, he also played Donald Trump’s dad in an episode of Quantum Leap. Or at least I assume he did, he’s credited on IMDB as having played Fred Trump in an episode of Quantum Leap and Fred Trump is the name of Donald Trump’s father and is Quantum Leap is just an extended love letter to 20th century American. So I’m assuming it’s not a coincidence.
Anyway, this is a Klingon episode. And I love Klingon episodes. My perfect TNG episode would be one where Q pisses off some Klingons by offending their sense of honour and then Picard sorts it out by being principled and badass. On the holodeck.
The Enterprise crew rescue some Klingons from a derelict ship. It turns out that they are renegades who are on the run from the Klingon Empire after its peace treaty with the Federation because they feel the Empire has turned its back on its warrior ways and they want to find somewhere they can live like true Klingons. This is basically an opportunity for Worf to angst about his identity issues and his heritage which is pretty much exactly what we want Worf to be doing all of the time. At least until banging Dax becomes an option.
This story is surprisingly small scale. It’s essentially about three guys who are no longer happy with their society and, therefore, choose to run away from it (also shooting a bunch of dudes). They all get killed pretty quickly because there’s three of them and the Enterprise is packed full of armed bastards (not a warship, remember). But it’s got lots of really nice Klingon ritual stuff and Worf content. This is also episode where we find out exactly how Worf wound up serving on a Starfleet ship in the first place.
Second minor trivia point: because of a time shortage, they couldn’t actually write the Klingon dialogue in this episode in proper Klingon so it’s just Klingony-sounding nonsense. I’m sure this bothers some people.
Two bobbins because I love Klingons.