Sunday, April 17, 2016

ST: TNG - Loudest Silence

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: 2.05
Loud as a Whisper

Alternate title: Too Lazy to Write So We Learned Telepathy.

Another planet saved by the power of positive thinking!

Good Science Fiction is often preachy, filled with dire forewarnings of humanity's fall or with snooty alien societies who think they're better than us just because they don't sink all their pharmaceutical production into boner pills and placebos or have ascended to a higher plane of existence or somesuch. Fingers will wag. Still, one must keep the social issues being discussed commensurate with the story's setting, to justify the use of futuristic hyperbole - and to keep that hyperbole from reaching comic-book proportions, but that's covered by the next episode.

For now, meet Riva... and his orchestra - chorus, I meant chorus, sorry, thought I was talking about MASH for a second there. Riva's congenitally deaf but that's okay because on his planet deafness counts as an aristocratic illness, which means he gets not one but three telepathically-linked lackeys whose entire purpose in life is to hear and talk for him. Y'know, in lieu of inventing the Speak'n'Spell. So, with the empathic power of four minds as one, the Riva quartet has become a political mediator so famous as to use the Federation's prize starship as a taxi.

There's a couple of scenes of Riva hitting on Deanna (Riker was only her boyfriend when the plot absolutely necessitated it) and a few minutes of bemoaning the intractability of inter-tribal conflicts. However, the gist of the episode is Riva's arrival on the Enterprise's bridge, whereupon we're treated to the usual politically correct "differently abled" rhetoric in a discussion with Geordi about how unique their missing senses make them. Sounds very uplifting until you remember this schmuck's using three other people as his personal hand puppets.

Not for long, though. Before he/they can even start working their diplomatic magic, the "chorus" gets phasered out of existence and we get to listen to a lot of Riva's whining about what a tremendous loss he's suffered. Mmmyeah buddy, pretty sure the other three, who'd have never been in harm's way if not for you, might also count as victims. Self-absorbed much? Eventually, aided by Data's newly acquired sign language skills, Deanna talks him back into the game with the cornarific catchphrase "turn disadvantage into advantage" and thus happy ending.

Say "cheese!"

What I really hate about this episode, though, is that it's actually pretty decent. Yeah, the basic premise is cheap and somewhat reprehensible political correctness, but in terms of filming, sets, line-by-line writing and acting it all flies much better than most of the show's first season. Or this next thing.

Seriesdate: 2.02
Where Silence Has Lease

What is with all the omnipotent beings on Star Trek? How many times did Roddenberry &co. hand directors a total cop-out of a script that just read "shit happens (in space.)" Well, maybe the writers' strike that doomed the season 2 opener was still going on. In any case, since you apparently can't warp half a light year without tripping over some godlike alien bored enough to toy with the Enterprise, get ready for a plot yanked straight out of the original series. And you know what that means:
Minority extra = "he's dead, Jim." The godlike alien being proves its might by zapping the nearest redshirt. Honestly, the rest of the episode isn't much better. There's a hole in space (pretty sure that's the exact line they use) and the Enterprise gets sucked into it to be tormented by ghosts, doppelgangers and apparitions. 'Cuz SciFi.

Turns out they've stumbled into the abode of a giant floating head named Nagilum who "tests" humans by killing them. What information he's getting out of this, we don't need to know, but it prompts Picard to pout like a toddler and set the Enterprise to self-destruct, murdering his entire crew rather than submit to "testing" of a proportion of it, at which point Nagilum lets them go. Why? Fuck if I know. Doubt whoever wrote this crap did either, and this one's not rescued by its stilted acting and awkward, non-sequitur dialogue.

I'll get into the topic of overabundant godlike entities some other time, but this episode serves as a good counterpoint to the previously discussed one. Whereas Loud as a Whisper stretched its premise much too thin by elevating one schmoe's handicap to an interstellar crisis, Where Silence Has Lease was seemingly reverse-engineered from the tacky notion of Picard threatening to blow up the Enterprise, because y'see humans are so strong-willed and will not be toyed with. So there. Even the last-second bomb diffusal trope which had been professionally dodged last time the topic of self-destruction came up is now instead played up by Riker more or less losing his shit while giving the override command.

One episode falls short of its dramatic intent through its mundane after-school special lesson about diversity. The other overshoots any dramatic proportion through its cheesy all-or-nothing contest of wills. One gets rescued by good scene-by-scene workmanship. The other doesn't.
Both illustrate Star Trek's amusing and frustrating tendency to put the cart before the horse.

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