Tuesday, August 23, 2016

ST:TNG - The Royale

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.
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Seriesdate: 2.12
The Royale

"I hold no malice toward my benefactors. They could not possibly know the Hell that they have put me through. For it was such a badly written book, filled with endless cliche and shallow characters, I shall welcome death when it comes."

Well if that ain't the pot calling the prose purple! I think I may have just found the turning point in the whole TNG series. Not that this episode is actually that good or anything.
Ummm, okay, we're in a Vegas casino. Why are we in a Vegas casino?

It's yet another nonsensical dive into mid 20th century cliche shoehorned into a supposed SciFi series. Why? Devil only knows and that devil's name in this case is yet again (unsurprisingly by this point) Tracy Tormé. Why, Mr. Tormé? Why did you take a job writing for a show set 400 years in the future if you were either unable or unwilling to write for a futuristic setting?

Le sigh.

Well, anyway, choice of venue aside the writing wasn't actually that terrible. The show starts out strongly enough with a mention of Fermat's last theorem as a stereotypical unsolvable puzzle. Slight glitch, it was solved a few years after the episode aired. We'll call that bad luck. The crew is then faced with another unsolvable puzzle, the aforementioned 20th-century hotel casino on the frozen surface of a gas giant, built to house and entertain one single human. Good directing and acting allows for the gratuitous prop-reusing plot to be played off as the joke it was. Some gaping plot holes, as befits Star Trekking, like why, if the aliens who set the whole thing up could read a paperback novel in English, could they not just... ask their prisoner what he wanted?

Whatever. The only real high point of the whole episode is the derision of the imaginary pulp crime novel on which the hotel casino setting is based, the sort of thing which literally begins with the phrase "it was a dark and stormy night" - criticism somewhat undermined by it coming from the mouths of Star Trek characters. It sounds like a jab at Ian Fleming to me, justified but also coming from some very black pots. Forget the original series in all its pulpy glory. Think of the whole first season of TNG, complete with catfights with hairy balls, drunken orgies, moon-eyed lover-boys, bug-eating, gangsters... Wesley... and all the other batshit insanity. After Haven, The Big Goodbye and Conspiracy, the writing staff as a whole, much less Tormé, had no footing as literary critics.

I do get the feeling, however, that the derision of cheap writing was largely self-directed and indicated a very real intention on the writers' part to improve upon their poor showing thus far. Rather forgettable on the whole, The Royale may nonetheless be the turning point where the series got intentionally and not just accidentally good.

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P.S.: Amusing side-note.
It's always funny to see science fact outpace the science fiction of yesteryear and often been remarked that we've already surpassed the information processing technology which seemed centuries into the future in the mid-'80s. However, our society has in many ways also stagnated, nowhere more so than in the high expectations we all had of the space program. Fermat's last theorem may have been solved embarrassingly quickly, but the dead astronaut in this episode supposedly originated in the third attempted manned mission beyond the solar system ... in 2037.

Most of us shared this sort of expectation of progress up to the mid to late '90s. Then the American people in all their wisdom, perennial money-sink for the whole world, elected the corporatist, fundamentalist, reactionary, virulently anti-scientific Bush regime and our species hasn't even managed to set foot on Mars yet.

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