Wednesday, October 21, 2015

ST: TNG - Kids 'n Codgers

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 1.16
Too Short a Season

The one with the reverse-aging admiral.
I must say that when I saw this as a ten-year-old, I was pretty much sold on the reverse-aging schtick and couldn't figure out how they did it. Looking at it now, it's obvious to anyone who knows the first thing about cartilage that that's not an old face, and the actor didn't really pull off the raspy old man voice and speech patterns either.

Aside from that gimmick, there's very little to this episode, too little sci in the fi. They overplayed their hand with the make-up and ignored most other aspects. With a better actor, some less predictable writing and more attention to detail, this character and his plot could've been dripping with pathos. As it stands, you're mostly left waiting for the inevitable overextended gasping death scene and patronizing moral of the story, both of which pop up right on cue.

Seriesdate 1.17
When the Bough Breaks

Won't somebody please think of the children?
Legends tell of a meeesteeerious planet of mythical godlike technological prowess, which none of the trillions of sentient beings observing that sector have ever... oh, wait, there it is... and it eats babies!
Look, tech-talk is hard. We get it. No-one can accurately gauge what future technological ability may or may not render ludicrous. So, we can probably forgive TNG's writers for not realizing that as soon as planet Aldea un-cloaked, even for a second, it would've reflected an electromagnetic image to every telescope aimed anywhere near it, not to mention subspace scanners and whatever other hocus-pocusry we care to invent. Unfortunately, this is one of those episodes which took technobabble so fully into the domain of babble that it managed to make no sense even within the suspended disbelief of pretextium crystals and solid holograms.

Back in the 80s and 90s, the big environmental disaster talk centered not on global warming but on ozone depletion, and in the interest of feigning social consciousness this was shoehorned in as the reason for the Aldeans' sterility and subsequent wicked-witchy child-stealing. This might be laudable except that ultraviolet radiation would probably fry everyone's skin to a crisp and murder the planet's microbiota before it produced such a specific deep-tissue effect on germ-line cells. But hey, it was the tail-end of the cold war and the word "radiation" was still synonymous with taboo magic. Here's where the aforementioned babble gets squared, because while this might've made for an amusing plot gimmick in any other episode, it makes absolutely no sense for a planet which has been constantly surrounded by a light-bending shield for millennia. If the cloaking device didn't manipulate anything outside visible wavelengths, it'd be completely useless.
Oh, right, I forgot, it's not ultraviolet light, it's ultraviolet RAY-DEE-AY-SHUN! OMGWTFBBQ!!!

Equally nonsensical was the schizoid characterization of the aliens. Their utterly beatific attitude overall and the knee-jerk petty child-stealing off the first ship to pass by their world simply don't mesh, don't make for believable storytelling. Either they're too smart to act that stupid or too stupid to act that smart, and the clash of those disparate realizations breaks apart any sense of urgency or dramatic tension. It's hard to feel sorry for the Enterprise's kids as they're realizing their greatest potential and downright criminal to see them snatched back, when that potential is denied them for the sake of animalistic parental possessiveness. Such backwardness, the condemnation of individuals to the human condition, went against the grain of Star Trek's pretense of an otherwise forward-looking attitude. It was, however, perfectly in tune with television programming in general.

While much better than some of the truly godawful episodes preceding them, both examples above remind just how slowly and painstakingly TNG came together. The first season was both promising and terrible, but it was mostly just astoundingly uneven in quality, with everything from writing to acting to effects varying wildly from week to week. Various episodes pile on gratuitous gimmicks which have no place in the Star Trek universe, forcing the viewer to willfully ignore them later on. If Aldea's central computer has the power to bounce the Enterprise halfway across the galaxy, it could've done the same to the Borg invasion. If there's a fountain of youth on whatever planet, you can bet every civilization out there would've started a war over it. If Data and his brother are the only AI's why does the holodeck keep spewing out sentient characters?

It's as though every episode were being written not only by a different team but on the assumption that it would be the last one. Eat, drink and write fancifully, for tomorrow we get cancelled?

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