Saturday, August 12, 2017

ST: TNG - High Crusher Symbiosis

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 1.22

Hey-hey, kiiids! Who wants to learn about drug addiction?
Drugs're baaad, mmmkay? So don't do drugs. 'Cuz they're baaad. Mmmmkaaay?

So you rescue two species of aliens from a damaged freighter-
Yes, aliens, those are aliens in the picture. You can tell because their noses are a little bit wrinkled.
Totally alien!
Anyway, it turns out both of their species can shoot lightning from their fingertips. Cool huh? So now we've shown you that, let's forget all about them Palpatining each other to death and instead launch into a tedious half-hour utterly transparent morality play about crack addiction. 'Cuz sci fi.

Look, I've frequently said that good SF is often social commentary, and at its best the genre can blow our minds with practical and ethical scenarios transcending the human condition. And then there's crap like this: orcs in space, shotguns in space, nazis in space, cowboys in space, samurai in space and hell, why not, crack addicts... IN SPAAAAAACE! Cheap, lazy, nonsensical plots lifted from public service announcements, but you're not allowed to criticize them because we are tackling social issues. Turns out one of those Palpatines is an (unwitting) addict and the other his pusher selling narcotics under the guise of antibiotics. Cue lots of "but we need our fix" and "not until you pay up, bitches" dialogues. The whole cheese wagon kind of skips its tracks when fresh-faced good-boy Wesley Crusher sits down with some responsible adults to ask why people become addicts - and is answered, true to form, in groaningly pedantic catchphrases that may as well have been ghostwritten by a high school guidance counselor.

As with other episodes wrecked by either Wesleyitis or an overdose of social activism, I have to remark that the basic plot about cultures subjugating each other via subterfuge could have made for a solid, classic speculative tale. Could, had the writers been less obsessed with linking their fictional drug Felicium to the crack epidemic of late '80s American inner cities, to the point where they go out of their way to specify that the purification process increases its addictiveness. Never mind that all the rambling moralizing about addiction (and the motivations thereof) which eats up much of the episode ignores the biggest plot point that the addicts in this case don't even know they're addicted, being under the impression they're injecting a palliative treatment for a highly virulent endemic plague.

At least the gimmick of withholding the ship replacement parts was spot-on.

Aside from that, there's the issue of Beverly Crusher, who benefits from one or two decent "medical detective" scenes sussing out the real issue behind the non-existent plague, but otherwise spends most of the episode browbeating her ship's captain over his lack of compassion in enforcing the Prime Directive. She wants to cuddle the addict planet's hurts away, and non-interference be damned, because of course how could a doctor of all people tolerate abiding by a statistically proven methodology like the Prime Directive?


Seriesdate 3.12
The High Ground

Beverly Crusher's been taken hostage by Irish separatists!
Errr, sorry... I mean, she's been taken hostage by "Ansatan" separatists on the planet Rutia IV. They just contain an inordinate proportion of redheads and their leader's name just happens to be "Finn" for no particular reason. Also it's explained they're rebelling because "seventy years ago we denied them independence" hint-hint, episode written in 1990. Except, y'know: IN SPAAAAACE!
Oh, also? Totally alien hair streak there.
Largely free of first-season baggage unlike Symbiosis, the script's technically decently enough written and executed, with detailed sets, lots of extras, choreographed phaser battles, a toned-down Wesley delivering quaint technobabble about untraceable dimensional shifting teleportation, and a surprisingly competent actress playing the one-shot role of the local security chief.

Still, something beyond the cheap analogy to Irish nationalism rubbed me the wrong way and looking at the credits, the writer's name immediately jumps out at me. I've heard Melinda Snodgrass applauded by various fanboys over the years but so far I can't help but bristle at certain rants both in this episode and The Ensigns of Command. It's not so much the writing itself (dramatically purplish speeches I can stomach, and even cheer on (and occasionally deliver)) as the constant unspoken, unanalyzed assumption of the masses as meek, obedient cattle to be prodded and herded by charismatic charlatans or fanatics already occupying leadership roles. She may have been what put me off the Wild Cards book I skimmed as well, though it's a bit too long ago to remember.

Aside from that, once again, a greater problem arises: it's Beverly's time to shine! Except she doesn't. She plays out a bland Stockholm syndrome scenario, bemoans violence every five minutes and pines for her son and asks all the leading questions to set up the rebel leader's speeches, and I can hardly blame this on Snodgrass, as it's pretty much a constant for Crusher's character. She's the mother hen, the caring one. If I had to encapsulate my preference for Dr. Pulaski, it would be her stiff-necked, goal-oriented, dignified stoicism in the same situation, whether she was taken prisoner or merely stranded behind quarantine lines. Pulaski simply fits the image of the highly-trained exploration ship's doctor much better. The position begged a cerebral researcher, not a cuddly general practitioner to wipe everyone's noses.

Then again, Crusher wasn't written as a doctor. She seems written to fill out the weird-ass nuclear family unit that was obviously intended at the start of the series along with her son and Picard, a notion which thankfully disintegrated sometime around season three. Unfortunately, McFadden was cast in that role and built it up accordingly. In the mire of the first few dozen episodes' randomness and confusion, her consistency was one of the few high points, but as the series gradually found its footing her over-emoting began to clash with that chilly SF emphasis on plot above characters. While not nearly as glaring as Weasely, her character still belongs to some different genre. TNG was not a family drama.

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