Sunday, September 3, 2017

ST:TNG - The Hunted Vengeance

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 3.09
The Vengeance Factor

Road warriors: totally alien!
Worf: "Your ambushes would be more successful if you bathed more often."

Ooooh, sick burn, dude. Worthy of Stan Lee.
Wait, leather jackets in an industrial wasteland... what am I saying? This setting was obviously inspired by William and/or Mel Gibson. Where did interstellar raiders get studded leather vests? Must be all those space-cows grazing on asteroids. Best not to ask I suppose, but do you ever get the feeling the props/costume people are having more fun than anyone else in a SciFi show?
Hey, wait, wait, I got one: for the next episode, let's put 'em all in diapers and make 'em slap each other with squirrels. It'll look totally futuristic!

So anyway, the Enterprise tracks down some space-burglars to a splinter group of a formerly warring society which has only recently found peace, love and cupcakes. Picard attempts to negotiate the reunification of the last warlike outlaw clans with the rest of their species, little realizing he's only facilitating the assassination of the outlaw chieftain by Riker's new hundred-year-old teenage love-interest Yuta who-also-happens-to-be-a-damn-fine-cook!
I don't know why, but that last bit's important. Takes up like a quarter of the show. Apparently she boils a mean root. Hawt.
She's also about as sexual as a walking Frigidaire but nevertheless let's suspend our disbelief that she really boils Billy's bulbs, so it's a tragic shame* when she tries to suicide-fondle the rebel leader (it makes sense in context) and Riker's forced to phaser his new asexual girlfriend out of existence. Turns out Yuta'd been genetically enhanced a century prior to exterminate her clan's killers in revenge, via cooties.

Pretty decent plot by Star Trek standards. Even the technobabble's less forced than usual, the sets complex enough to be believable and Wesley thankfully remains in his seat. More jarringly, the bandit chief and his opponent, the career politician representing an entire species, show no more foresight or control over their emotions than a New York Italian auto mechanic, bellowing out their grievances loudly enough to shake the set. But hey, negotiations are high drama and that means YELLING. Aside from that, the plot begins with a quaint segue, the intrigue develops at a brisk pace (ignoring the screen time wasted on Riker and Yuta giving each other impromptu ocular exams) and the action escalates to a pleasingly dramatic denouement. Most of the episode's flaws can be dismissed as shortcuts necessitated by cramming a full story into forty minutes.

It's actually good enough to tempt one to skip right over the casual reference to Yuta's Acamarians apparently holding (and not using) the secret to near-immortality! Barely aged a day in a century? Holy shit, who wouldn't trade their libido for that?

As in the cases of the reverse-aging admiral and the cloaked planet that can repulse spaceships over an entire galactic arm, the impressive-sounding episodic technologies are sorely out of proportion with the larger setting. The Star Trek universe starts feeling like Tuck Everlasting, with random hillbillies squatting on fountains of youth left and right... and everyone else in the galaxy cheerfully waving at them as they amble on by on their way to death.
* Or is it?


Seriesdate 3.11
The Hunted

While auditing a planet for Federation membership, the Enterprise volunteers for some bounty hunting on the side, soon to be joined by a buxom transient girl with gambling debts, a gender-ambiguous tween hacker and a corgi named "one" - wait, wrong show...

So they catch the escaped prisoner, but not before he gives them a helluva time dodging his shuttle behind moons and magnetic fields and karate-kidding their security personnel.
Metallic paint you can't even see behind his left eyebrow: totally alien!
Turns out he's a former war hero (you can tell by his giant stubbly chin) part of a group of medically and psychologically enhanced supersoldiers which their planet used in their last interstellar war then exiled to the moon instead of re-integrating into society. You can also tell he's a supersoldier because he fights by flailing his arms high above his shoulders while keeping his torso permanently off-balance and pirouetting a lot. If you can act like a pro wrestler and not get your ass handed to you, you must be good.

Some illogic nags at the viewer throughout the episode, like when exactly did the alien prisoner learn Federation programming languages to hack the Enterprise's computers? Still, we get to see both Troi and Worf act as competent, dedicated professionals instead of just screaming at the ceiling or swooning, part of the ongoing season 3 character growth. There's little else intrigue-wise, the rest of the episode consisting of action scenes interspersed with Picard&co.'s growing disdain for the society they had praised at the start of the story, culminating in a surprisingly biting finale. The supersoldiers storm the castle, demanding to be let back onto their homeworld, and Picard simply hangs the government stooges out to dry, refusing to lift a hand against the mistreated war veterans, offering only psychological rehabilitation. Quote:
Picard: "- if the government of Angosia survives the night, we will offer them Federation assistance in their efforts to reprogram their veterans."

Quite a bit more stern than the usual sugar-coated moralizing we've seen from TNG thus far, but if Star Trek's serialized repetition can be praised, it's in providing improved reiterations of its own failures. Both episodes discussed today avoid the major pitfall of those discussed in my last TNG post. They don't bend over backwards to nail their plot to a specific real-world event like the crack cocaine epidemic or Irish separatism. The Vengeance Factor follows almost exactly the same premise as The High Ground, while The Hunted concludes with the same sort of governmental austerity as in Symbiosis, yet in both cases the action feels more immersive, less telegraphed, less insultingly "topical" in its real-world tie-ins.

I'm noticing a rash of military themed episodes around the middle of season 3. The antihero of The Hunted is basically a Rambo clone, which makes sense as Rambo III ("Rambo Does Kabul") had just come out the previous year and the producers were likely sitting on a few Rambo-ish scripts written in its aftermath... maybe not as imitation so much as "we can do it better" revulsion. That doesn't explain clustering a few Klingon / Romulan episodes (always guaranteed to contain "yessirs") together with several involving perfectly human totally alien! episodic species whose plot revolves around a rebel group or supersoldier assassins or some other plot seemingly written for Sylvester Stallone or Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Partly, the show might just have gotten a bit carried away with including stunts, props and shiny lights into a special effects budget which had been limited largely to costumes and camera dissolving for the first couple of seasons, and nothing says Industrial Lights & Magic like blaster crossfire. Implicitly, this tends to make the Stars feel less Trekkish and more War-ish. Personally I can't wait until I reach the more Science Fictiony plots.

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