Sunday, March 4, 2018

ST:TNG - Tin Allegiance

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: 3.18

Why did Star Trek need so many throwaway "alien" species?
Less romantic than it looks
Better science fiction tends to devote enough pages to alien races / cultures to flesh them out beyond just "wrinkly forehead guys type 43-57" but it seems like every new script on Star Trek custom-fitted brand new lives and civilizations to its individual plot, never to be heard from again. Thus this episode gives us an all-toadie species and an all-vandal species (try to guess which is which) while conveniently skipping over the interesting question of how either of their worlds would've dragged itself out of the mud in the first place.

These two happen to be Picard's cell-mates, because, you see, he's been... kidnapped! Dun-duun-dduuuUUNNN! And in his place a doppelganger instated! Dun-dun-dunner!
Hey now, this show only had the one respectable boney-fidey Royal Shakespearean. Whenever possible they made the most of Stewart, sometimes by cloning him. So while a fake Picard tests the Enterprise crew's loyalty by making them sing sea shanties, the real deal deals with a Huis Clos in which he must convince aliens of three other species to cooperate in attempting to escape. The catch? One of those assembled here.. is a murderer impostor!

As usual, the plot barely hangs together in a ragged mess of half-knotted threads.
There's no reason for Picard's captors to impersonate one of their own prisoners (especially as she's completely passive and irrelevant to the others' decisions) aside from providing for a dramatic reveal.
With their insanely overpowered technology, they also would not have been trapped in the Enterprise's force field on the bridge... which field you'd think would come up more often, given how accessible the Enterprise's bridge always is to teleporting invaders.
Never mind that a species capable of copying a body to the last synapse (to where it can fool a detailed physical by Beverly Crusher) wouldn't need to kidnap anyone at all, but could've pulled a Phillip K. Dick routine and made copies so perfect they themselves would not know it, and put those in a rat maze.
Or that such an insanely advanced species would make a powerful enough Federation ally that Picard should've swallowed his damn pride and groveled for them to open trade relations immediately.
Or that this technology's not so amazing on second thought, as perfect clones already spell the function of any run-of-the-mill teleporter on Star Trek.

Yet still... I remembered this episode fondly from when I was ten and seeing it now, I still find it tolerable. What it lacks in logical consistency it makes up for in other consistencies. The four captives' cell looks appropriately futuristic in its chiaroscuro angularity. Gratuitous the aliens may be but they look and act better than most anything in previous episodes, even recurring species like the Ferengi. The murder impersonation mystery's surprisingly subtle by television standards, hinging entirely on one pointed question and a couple of long stares by Stewart.

Seriesdate: 3.20
Tin Man

Mental patient ecstatically intromitted into flying space pine cone and Data learns the true meaning of belonging or some schlock.

The Enterprise rushes off to first-contact a giant sentient glowing turd with the aid of Tam Elbrun, a super-telepathic betazoid who can't turn off his over-sensitive antenna, and is thus constantly hounded by the entire ship's thoughts. Racing against both Romulans and an imminent supernova, the Enterprise manages to... well, in the spirit of TV series, it manages to break even by the end of the episode and reinstate the status quo. Meanie Romulans get blowed up real good. The super-telepath bonds with the untelepathable Data and by the end flies off into the sunset inside Tin Man (becoming it's heart... oooh, that's deep (not really)) which turns out to be a sentient organic spaceship.

While the previous episode failed in maintaining even a vague standard for what is or is not technologically possible in the 24th century, this script is peppered with maximum ship speeds, subspace communication interception, cloaking and what might interfere with it, the downside of telepathy and other futuristic nuts and bolts. Unfortunately it also completely telegraphs its trite, sappy ending and spends so much time building up the various threats (Tin Man, the supernova, the Romulans) that it over-sells them, failing to deliver a truly climactic pay-off. Even Elbrum's dramatic speeches on getting flooded with others' thoughts (despite being well acted) are reiterated once too many times.

It's a pity, because despite being marred by poorly-paced scriptwriting, Tin Man ranked one of the more memorable TNG episodes. The show aired four decades after the golden age of science fiction, yet even then (and even now) film and especially TV adaptations rarely touch the more mind-bending themes of the best SF stories. Tin Man hints at being at least inspired by better works. Organic spaceships, unbridgeable language barriers and skirting the possibility of Data being a Chinese box are interesting enough. More importantly, Tam Elbrun's talk of getting lost in the ship's mind at least tantalizes the audience with the logical culmination of telepathy found in classic stories like Clarke's Childhood's End or Martin's A Song for Lya. Once again, telepathy is a dead end for SF.


Though the writing had plateaued a bit as season 3 went on, TNG kept improving in other areas. It became more daring in its special effects, and both of these episodes feature make-up, sets and CGI of a much higher quality than TV audiences at the time were accustomed to. The last stragglers of the core cast finally grew into their roles, allowing the drama to move past relying on Stewart's theatrical talent and Spiner's uncanny affinity for his android alter ego. Riker leading his mutiny in Allegiance, Troi playing the headshrinker in Tin Man (instead of the damsel in distress she was pigeonholed as during the first two seasons) both come across as more restrained and natural, and the one-shot characters are, if anything, even better acted. The vicious tusked thug in Allegiance adopts an air of restrained, growling menace instead of constantly yelling and Tam fidgets the part of the nail-biting head case.

Unfortunately, TNG was still bound by expectations of acceptable television themes, and the morals delivered at the end of both episodes (imprisonment is wrong / everybody wants to belong) are so painfully simplistic they would've better fitted Sesame Street than the transgressive genre of outré futurology.

No comments:

Post a Comment