Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 2, Episode 9 – “The Measure of a Man” – A Brilliant Defense of Personhood

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       Going back and watching this episode was so enjoyable. It is rare to find a show that takes its time in a story and goes slow. This is very much “The Measure of a Man” and all the stronger for it as it gives time for us to be with the characters and to explore the theme. This is easily one of the best episodes in “Star Trek” and this is in early “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when the writers were still finding their footing. If you haven’t watched this episode and are a Trekkie, I highly recommend you do. It explores the themes of humanity and sentience and gives a beautiful character drama.

The episode was written by Melinda Snodgrass and directed by Robert Scheerer.

The story follows Data as he is ordered to be reassigned and disassembled for study by Starfleet. The only way for this order not to occur is for Captain Picard to prove Data’s sentience worthy of the same rights and freedoms of all members of the Federation.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Commander Bruce Maddox – Commander Bruce Maddox is the primary antagonist of the episode as he is the one who wants to disassemble Data in order to create more androids. He has a fascinating arc as he starts out viewing Data as merely a machine and tool and denies his sentience, referring to Data as “it” rather than “him.” His idea is that he wants to create more of Data to help the Federation and humanity and even in his experiments he has enough awareness that he would like Data’s mind to remain intact, even in the beginning. It is this shred of awareness that eventually evolves into empathy by the end of the trial.

Data and his Relationships – Data and his relationships are front and center and part of what makes the episode so strong. The episode starts with a card game where Riker explains bluffing to Data. Later on he gives his things to Geordi, who is his closest friend and the main crew throw him a party. It is devastating seeing how everyone wants him to stay even as he feels bound by his duty as a Starfleet officer. We also see Picard show how much he admires him too as he is the one presenting solutions and who fights for Data’s rights before the judge. He even comforts Riker at one point as Riker is the one who has to argue that he has no sentience, and thanks him for doing his duty, knowing how much it hurt Riker to do it. There is depth in the relationships which reminded me of part of what was so great about “The Next Generation.”

The Trial – The Trial is compelling as we have Riker fighting on the side of Maddox out of duty (if he doesn’t Data will be disassembled and Maddox wins by default) and Picard arguing for Data’s sentience and dignity. It is powerful as Riker demonstrates that Data is a machine, at one point shutting him off and also having Data remove his hand. Picard gives the famous Picard speech pointing out how organic beings are also machines and confronts Maddox with the fact that Data meets 2/3 of areas of sentience by Maddox’s own terms sentience. He is intelligent, he is self-aware and consciousness is the only one in question. In the end the judge Captain Louvois rules that she cannot rule on androids as whole. Data is a machine but he is not the property of the Federation and has the right to choose his fate.

The Value of an Individual – When Picard is lost on what to do he goes to talk Guinan. She is the one who helps Picard realize what the connotations are of what it means if more Data’s are made. This trial is about the fact that Data is an expendable individual and that the Federation plans to make an army of them, slaves of the Federation. It is a powerful speech and it is Picard arguing on Data’s individuality and humanity that arises from this and leads to them winning the case. The scene with Guinan is easily one of the best in all of “Star Trek.”

The Cons:

Tacked on Romance – The judge Captain Phillipa Louvois who is ruling in the case against Data is an interesting character, but her tacked on romance with Picard makes no sense. She prosecuted Picard but the writers felt it necessary to throw in romantic tension and flirting. The episode ends with Picard asking her out on a date as well. I think this was to further humanize her and Picard but it just felt tacked on. Their complicated relationship didn’t also need romance as the plot was strong enough and this was just a distraction that added nothing.

This is truly shows the best that “Star Trek: The Next Generation” has to offer. Deep character relationships and complex topics of philosophy and morality are what I love about “Star Trek.” “The Measure of a Man” has this in spades. This is one of my favorite episodes in all of “Star Trek” and it was a pleasure returning to it. The questions this episode poses are ones that people should always return to.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 Could have done without the tacked on romantic B plot, but the rest is amazing.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 3, Episode 14 – “Heart of Stone” – Forging a Separate Identity

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  This is a review that was inspired to honor the life of Aron Eisenberg, who died September 21st, 2019 of this year. I know him largely because of his role as Nog, who is easily one of the most well rounded character in “Star Trek” to have one of the most well developed arcs. I’m grateful I got to hear more of his story and the lives he touched in the “What We Left Behind” Documentary. Aron was amazing in this role and his podcast he formed after is amazing too. The world lost an amazingly talented individual this year and my heart goes out to his family. I chose this episode because of how well it captures the arc Nog goes through and the choice he makes as well as the sheer range of Aron Eisenberg had as an actor. Before I get into spoilers, this is a good episode you should watch.

The episode was directed by Alexander Singer and written by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe.

The story follows Odo and Kira as they pursue a Maquis Raider leading to Kira becoming trapped in a collapsing cave, as on “Deep Space Nine” Nog wants join Starfleet and finds himself up against his past and Federation prejudice.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Odo and Kira Plot – The Odo and Kira plot is really an exploration of Odo and one of the core reasons why he hasn’t rejoined his people in the Gamma Quadrant. It is here we see it is due to his deep friendship and love of Kira. At one point when he believes she will die he stays with her, willing to risk his own life because being with her matters that much. We can see how much their relationship has grown over the years too, as the episode starts out with them bickering like a married couple. It is a well done plot that is only made less by the reveal and us having to wait for the true payoff later.

Nog and Starfleet Prejudice – The B Plot involves Nog and his coming of age. It begins with him in Ferengi custom giving his earnings to in Ferengi society would be his mentor to train him in whatever art of business he is seeking. In this case Nog gives his gold pressed latinum to Commander Sisko. Sikso at first doesn’t believe him and it isn’t just him. Even Jazdia who is one of the more open minded members of the crew even doubts now genuine Nog is and it not being some trick. It is sad given that Federation prejudice is so strong that even a culture that is open minded isn’t trusting someone who is giving everything to be a part of them. For Commander Sisko this is explored deeper as we learn that the reasons behind Nog wanting to join Starfleet is because he wants a future and he knows he “doesn’t have the lobes” for business, like his father Rom. After this confession he is accepted and Nog’s story in Starfleet begins.

Forging a Separate Identity – The theme of this episode is one of forming a separate identity beyond what is forced upon you. The Founders want Odo to join but he constantly rejects them. It is here where the reveal is Kira was never in danger is discovered and it was the Female Founder all along. Odo’s denial of his people’s desire to control and his attachment to solids is the point of his arc, where in the case of Rom it is his rejection of Ferengi business society and him seeking to be appreciated for his talents for the greater good are there. He forges a separate path, but unlike the Founders who reject Odo’s path…Rom is proud of Nog for the path he chooses.

Nog and Rom – The best arc in this episode is Nog’s arc as we see someone already judged for the mistakes he made as a child and for being a Ferengi opening up and forging his own future. He is the first Ferengi to join Starfleet and this is the episode where it happens. All of this is driven by his father. Rom is abused by his brother Quark and though he is a genius when it comes to tech. Quark doesn’t admit or see it at this point. Nog, is the only one who does and in turn Rom sees the potential that exists in Starfleet for Nog so supports his choice. It is a small scene but the scene Nog and Rom have together when Rom supports his choice is just as powerful as when Commander Sisko does after Nog tells him why he wants to join in the first place. This is the heart of the episode and what makes it so great.

Okay:

The Reveal – The Founders do so much manipulation and this felt like another base Founder Plot. It wasn’t bad but they must have known that Odo cared for the crew as his family too. Making the love for Kira makes sense given what we saw in prior episodes but I fail to see how that is useful to the Founders unless they are going to use Kira to bring Odo back to them. During the “Occupation of Deep Space Nine,” I didn’t see that level of thinking things through. Kira was used but it seems like Odo staying played a bigger factor in them influencing him than Kira. That is why this reveal is fine, but it isn’t great. I would have preferred Kira saying she loved Odo being real. Once you have that confession it just gets weaker when it is the real thing. Don’t do fake outs in shows unless it means you’ll do it in a better way.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,” you probably loved this episode. This is a great ensemble piece that develops Odo and Nog as well showing that the Federation has prejudice that this episode never really addresses. Why can’t a Ferengi join Starfleet? It makes me think that Worf probably experienced similar prejudice because of the Klingon and Federation Wars. I enjoy episodes that critique the Federation and show that it still needs to grow. This is true to human nature and part of what made “Deep Space Nine” work is because of how it did call out xenophobia, racism, sexism and other forms of bigotry, even as the show itself was still maturing in that growth and did vary by writer. The progressive future of “Star Trek” is one of hope and where I hope someday humanity can be, even if won’t be within my lifetime. “Star Trek” is about the goal of the better future and within the show we see that in the individual fights our characters face, such as what Nog faced in joining Starfleet.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This was a great episode in “Deep Space Nine.”

R.I.P. Aron Eisenberg. You touched so many lives and this review is to honor you and the amazing life you lived.

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 12 – “The Doctor Falls” – When Change Leads to Pain

Moffat and Finale’s are a mixed bag. Moffat is a writer who is afraid to kill off characters and take risks with story. So much of what he’s done with the “Doctor Who” lore is to reset the status quo. I’m not sure how far into the series you are so I won’t go into detail, but a lot of powerful decisions that Davies made in storytelling Moffat cancels out, as well as his inability to let go of characters and an insistence they must keep coming back (he’s been better about this with Capaldi’s stories in regards to this lately though). “The Doctor Falls” thankfully does not have this problem. Before I get into spoilers in the review, this is a story with consequences and since Moffat knows he’s leaving he manages to give some wonderful sendoffs to quite a few amazing characters.

“The Doctor Falls” was directed by Rachel Talaley and written by Steven Moffat.

The story picks up where we left off, with Bill turned into a Cybermen and the Masters torturing the Doctor. The tables are turned though when the Cybermen attack as the Doctor revealed he expanded the definition of humanity to mean Time Lords as well forcing all of them to team up as they make their final stand on a village higher up in the ship.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Base Under Siege – The base under siege is a major “Doctor Who” story trope that is handed really well here, as we have a small group of people who the Masters, Nardole, CyberBill and the Doctor must work with as they work out a plan to save themselves or save the villagers. It’s powerful as most of the villagers are children and the Cybermen have been attacking them for years. It is a losing battle without sacrifice leading characters to make choices that will define them. In the end Nardole leads the survivors further up the ship and is left as their guardian as he, once a con man has now become a good man from the Doctor.

The Masters – Simm’s Master has no empathy and is still the same insane man from the Tennant era while Missy feels guilt and cares for the Doctor. This leads to her killing her past self to regenerate into her current self but not before she is shot by Simm’s Master as the Master’s self-destructive nature leads to the Time Lord’s destruction. It is a tragic and powerful scene and in it the Master is redeemed as Missy’s final act was to do away with her bad past and embrace the goals of the Doctor, and in doing so it ends her life. It is a great ending for the Master as a character and Michelle Gomez, who has owned this role gives so much life and emotion to those final scenes with Simm’s Master and the Doctor.

Bill’s Good-bye – Bill is in the final fight and helps the Doctor get back to the TARDIS with the help of the Pilot who returns. It is at that point she becomes the water entity too and dies…as the Doctor established the Pilot is it’s unknown entity and now Bill is a part of it. It is sad and tragic and beautiful as some part of Bill will carry on traveling even though she is dead in both body (turned into a cyberman) and now self since she joined the entity.

The Doctor and Change – Through this episode we see the Doctor ready to die and in a way wanting to I think. He lost his best friend the Master (both when he thinks she’s leaving with her past self and for real when see their death), he can guess that Bill is dead given she isn’t on the TARDIS and stayed to fight with him and all his past pain, from losing River and losing himself as he changes each time. This leads to his last acts before the TARDIS takes him to his first incarnation…him resisting regeneration. He just wants to die and for the pain to end. He’s tired of loss and if he’s going to go he wants to go as himself. I can see why and it is done so much better than when Tennant’s Doctor implied the same with the long good-bye. Can’t wait to see the Christmas Special explore this more.

The Cons: Genesis of the Cybermen? – So where the Cybermen created here? Simm’s Master calls the Cybermen he made the Genesis of the Cybermen but we never see them leave the ship and the Mondas look and connection is never made fully clear. I liked them as a threat but why all this setup if it doesn’t lead anywhere?

This was an episode I highly recommend. It is a favorite and easily some of the best of Moffat’s writing in this series. I’m going to miss Capaldi so much but I’m glad Nardole, Bill and the Master got some amazing good-byes and I hope Capaldi’s Doctor get’s the same. This was a season where Moffat finally learned that it is okay to let go. Clara doesn’t have to keep on dying and being brought back and becoming an immortal fixture who ceases to be a character…it is okay so good-bye and storywise it lends power to sacrifice and loss. This was a two-parter that did that so well and showed just how great of a writer Moffat can be.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

For the Two Parts: 9.5 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 11 – “World Enough and Time” – The Failure of the Good

    Steven Moffat as a showrunner as usually always been great at Penultimate episodes during his run in regards to two-parters. “Heaven Sent” was a brilliant exploration of the 12th Doctor’s psychology, self and drive and “Dark Water” gave us a great reveal of what the Heaven was during that season as well as the identity of Missy. His Finale’s on the other hand are more of a mixed bag but I’ll get into that when we review the finale for this season. This is an episode, like the others above that gives us that same level of threat, character development and reveals leading to one of my favorite Doctor Who stories.

“World Enough and Time” was directed by Rachel Talaley and written by Steven Moffat.

The story involves the Doctor, Bill, Nardole and Missy answering a distress call of a giant ship that is trapped above a black hole. The Doctor has Missy lead the mission, hoping that she can prove she is good but things soon get out of hand when a mistake from a civilian they are trying to help leads to unintended consequences and a darker plot at hand.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Doctor, the Master and Bill – There is a scene early on where Bill is expressing how she doesn’t trust Missy and the Doctor recounts his memories of the Master being his best friend at the Academy. It is wonderful as we see how close Bill and the Doctor are (the fact that he is sharing his past with the Master) as well as his trusting in the good in people, even with all he knows. It is powerful and I loved how this was explored and kicks off the episode.

Creation of the Mondas Cybermen – In this episode we learn the Master created the Mondas Cybermen when he he used a large colony ship trapped near a black hole to make people wish to live even if it was painful since life was hell and infection already. After a mistake Bill is shot and his Proto-Cybermen capture her as he pretends to be the assistant as he pulls the strings of the colonists. In the end he uses Bill’s trust to trap her and change her into the first of the Mondas Cybermen. The episode works really well as all are trapped at the bottom of the ship, infected by radiation for the ship. It is a living hell where all are sick and dying, which is a prime world for the philosophy of Cybermen (strength over feelings and emotion) rules the day.

The Death of the Good and the Master – The theme of the episode is the fight or trust in the good and the better nature in others. This episode has this end in a few ways, Bill becomes a Cyberman trapped in a living Hell, Missy joins forces with the Master and the triggering of the events in the episode happen when an alien shoots Bill when he panics. Fear and despair rule the episode…from the colonists who want to become Cybermen, Missy missing her past ways and having the chance to be that way again and Bill losing her humanity…for the Doctor all that is left is the good he chooses to do because the episode has killed it everywhere else.

This is an episode where there wasn’t much I could find wrong with it besides brief moments of pacing. It begins with a stinger with the Doctor leaking energy on a ice planet before we jump to the past and set up the themes of mortality, death and choice. This is all handled beautifully and I really enjoyed the reveal of Simm’s Master and the fact that he’d been manipulating Bill the entire time in order to get the Doctor and his future self Missy. The setup is beautiful and the Doctor and Nardole are left in a state where anything bad can happen as the Doctor failed to protect Bill and must face the consequences from that.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 9 – “Empress of Mars” – An Amazing Exploration of What it Means to be a Soldier

   The Ice Warriors are one of my favorite aliens in “Doctor Who.” These are a species who are amazing warriors with a code of ethics that makes them complicated. They are driven by honor and I love seeing how that plays out in their interactions with humanity…be it in Classic Doctor Who or “Cold War,” their first time returning in the new series, which was an episode also written by Mark Gatiss. Non-spoiler thoughts, I really enjoyed this episode. Mark Gatiss is great at writing these guys and I can’t wait to see more of them in the future as so far I have yet to see a bad Ice Warrior episode.

The episode was directed by Wayne Yip and written by Mark Gatiss.

The story involves a legion of Victorian British on Mars who are transporter there after they help Friday (an Ice Warrior they discovered and helped heal) who was alone on Earth. All as not as it appears to be as they discover the Tomb of the Ice Empress. Trouble begins to unfold as fear and greed create conflict between humanity and the Ice Warriors.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this story as we have Friday who is a warrior who was a prisoner of war in way and made friends with his enemies, you have the Empress caught in the old ways wanting to restore an empire that no longer exists, you have Catchlove who is blinded by pride and personal honor and Godsacre a man who was hung for cowardice who is ready to lay down his life to protect his men and in turn saves them because the Ice Queen sees the honor in his act and makes his men part of her Empire. It is a powerful scene and shows just how complicated conflicts based around honor can become.

First Contact – First Contact is shown in two different ways. The Ice Empress kills one of the soldiers who awakens her as he is still jewels from her tomb and over the course of the series it involves holding back her anger as well as the fear from some of the soldiers who Catchlove is leading given how outmatched they are by the Ice Warriors. We also see peaceful first contact too when the Ice Warrior beacon is awakened at the end  and the alien Alpha Centauri welcomes them to the Universe (setting up the group they will be a part of Classic Doctor Who later in their timeline).

A Conflict of Honor – The driving issue is one of honor and understanding as both Catchlove and the Empress want territory for their respective powers and live for the fight and domination, while the Doctor, Friday and Godsacre have been hurt too much by what honor has done…Friday was last of his people until the Empress was awakened, the Doctor was the last of the Time Lords at one point and Godsacre was so terrified at what he had to do in war that he ran. It is those who have lost and who realize the horror who are willing to submit their honor and in turn find a higher form of honor in the process. Catchlove is killed and it is Godsacre’s submission along with Friday’s protecting of those he can (the Doctor, Bill, the soldiers) that lead peace and a union between the two species. There will always be fights but there is no reason that personal and greater honor can be met rather than it leading to the destruction of all.

The Cons: The Ending Scene – Missy appears at the end after the TARDIS pulls Nardole away and there is this awkward almost sexual scene where the Doctor says she has to go back into the Vault. It is just strange and breaks the tone of the entire episode.

I really liked this episode. It was on par with “Oxygen” from this season but not as good as “Extremis” but I still consider it a favorite episode and hope that Gatiss can write more episodes like this. Like “Cold War” he is in his element when he is writing about conflicts of honor between soldiers and finding resolution and hope amidst fear. This episode is a shining example of the writing he is capable of on this this show and I look forward to more adventures like this in the future.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 6 – “Extremis” – Hope in the World of Illusion

   “Extremis” is a great episode. It is easily up there with “Listen” and “Heaven Sent” for meditative explorations of who the Doctor is and what it means to be him, and it manages to pose bigger questions in regards to sentience too, which strengthens it further. Before I get into spoilers, this is a favorite that is well worth your time.

    The episode was directed by Daniel Nettheim and written by Steven Moffat, showing that when it comes to episodes that really should be individual bottle episodes, he can still do great.

   The story involves the Doctor (blind after last episode) is sent an email through his sonic glasses about the Vatican text “Veritas” a text that leads it’s readers to commit suicide. From here the Doctor works with Bill and Nardole to find out the mystery surrounding the text.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is very horror movie esque with the text that kills anyone who reads it and it quickly takes the richer turn where it questions reality. The episode begins with a jump down the rabbit hole and doesn’t stop until it is explored.

The Monks – The Monks are the main threat as they are the ones running the simulation that our characters (who are programs) exist in. They look like giant bats and seem to speak through their minds which is a great aesthetic. My only worry is that they’ll end up being as underwhelming as the Angels and Silents as both of them had really strong introductions but progressively had worse payoff down the line.

Whatever Happened to Missy – The episode begins with a flashback where we see Missy (the Master) being executed for her crimes. In the end she is saved by the Doctor who keeps her trapped for her time for her crimes as he knows she is still a threat. The scenes before he saves her are powerful as River sends Nardole to remind him of his goodness and Missy reminds him of their friendship as we learn that Missy is the one being held in the Vault.

The Nature of Reality and Sentience – Our characters exist in a simulation run by the Monks so that they can best learn how to conquer Earth. The programs are exist recreations of those on Earth and so are real and do exist, even though they are only programs. This is the core point of the Episode and exploring the horror of that knowledge.

What it Means to be the Doctor – The final reveal is the Doctor sending an email to himself through the psychic link in the glasses. This is great as it captures that the Doctor is the fighter and his point is resistance and defense of others and with that hope, even in death. This Program Doctor was amazing as in the end he became the Doctor. The Doctor is hope and in his last act of existence the program gave the Doctor and hope a chance.

Okay: The Vatican – The Vatican is okay, they are played for jokes a bit at the beginning but feel like another player in the threat of the unknown after we arrive at their Archive. I still think they could have been handled better though.

   This is an episode well worth your time that humanizes Nardole and Bill a lot (showing their flaws, courage) even though they and the Doctor are programs…at this point the programs are people showing just how powerful the threat of the Monks is as they have been killing sentient beings over and over again so that they can figure out how to best conquer Earth. I’m intrigued at where the story goes and if we will ever see the simulation our world in this episode exists in, come up again.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10. The Vatican bits can be hit or miss but the overall story is great.

The 12th Doctor – Series 10, Episode 5 – “Oxygen” – A Heavy Handed Enjoyable Space Thriller

   “Oxygen” is a flawed and amazing episode that is heavy handed with it’s message but is powerful in how it tells it’s story. This is one of my favorite episodes of the new series, even with all of the flaws. It changes things in a way that looks like it may last and we get to see more of the negative in humanity which we largely only got with the 9th and 10th Doctor. Suffice to say, before I get into spoilers…I recommend this episode.

  The episode was directed by Charles Palmer and directed by Jamie Mathieson.

   The story involves the Doctor, Bill and Nardole becoming trapped on a mining space station where they have limited oxygen and are being hunted by A.I. suits as they rush to save the survivors and themselves.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise -The idea of a space station run off oxygen workers by is so wonderfully dsytopian I can’t help but appreciate it. It also gives tension and consequence immediately as the limited oxygen creates a ticking clock.

The Tension – The station expels all excess oxygen added to the station, which forces our heroes to get the suits where they only have a certain amount of breaths, on top of this the suits are controlling the dead who died from lack of oxygen and the survivors are fearful and angry. If any one of these goes over the edge, everything is over for our heroes.

The Miners – The miners are great, we get to see the politics and relationships between them and how they are survivors. They are the characters ready to do anything to get off the station which adds another level of tension to our main characters predicament.

The Doctor, Nardole and Bill – The dynamic between these 3 is wonderful. Nardole is the responsible worry wort holding the Doctor to his promise that he made Nardole make of keeping an eye of the Vault, Bill is the new adventurer who doesn’t have the Doctor’s recklessness the Doctor is the wizard, manipulating and planning his way through every situation even when it looks like he’s lost his mind and lost everything.

Consequences – The Doctor saves Bill but goes blind in the process from the vacuum of space. This is still true at the end of the episode and we see how powerless he feels as so much of what he does it tied to his ability to read what something by seeing it. I hope we have him this way for a while as even TARDIS tech could not heal his eyes.

Okay/Con – Execution of the Message – The message of the episode is that capitalism is bad and eventually people will be exploited for the very oxygen they breathe. I put this as okay because “Doctor Who” has always been a message show, the problem was this wasn’t done with enough “show” there was a good amount of “tell” even though we were witnessing the very premise and didn’t need to be told it. I won’t put it as a complete con but it was the weakest part of the episode.

  This is a flawed and amazing episode that is worth checking out. The tension is strong throughout the entire episode, Nardole and Bill clash with the Doctor while the Doctor has moments where even he loses hope. We also have minor characters we care about and perfect tension through the entire episode. This is an episode that I highly recommend. Can’t wait to see how the consequences of the Doctor’s blindness unfold.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

Black Mirror – Season 1, Episode 1 – “The National Anthem” – A Political Nightmare in the Digital Age

  “The National Anthem” is at this point, my favorite episode of “Black Mirror.” This is an episode that shows the strength of public pressure in the media age as well as how the actions a person can take can lead to people turning against them and in turn forcing them to do the thing they least want to do. The episode is a political nightmare that shows both how quickly people move on from media events, but how when their is an ongoing crisis, how it can grab the attention of a nation and the world.

     The episode was directed by Otto Bathurst and written by Charlie Brooker.

       The story involves the unfolding of a political crisis when a young and popular Duchess is kidnapped, with the only demands for her release being, that the Prime Minister have sex with a pig on live television. From here the crisis unfolds as the Prime Minister deals with the public and private fallout of the threat as they try to find the missing Duchess.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Characters – The characters are really well written in this and don’t feel like archetypes, which is often a problem in short one episode stories like this. Every character is facing decision and choice. We have the Home Secretary trying to get an actor so the event can still take place and so they can get around it, you have the Prime Minister doing everything he can with the police and you have the wife doing all she can to keep her husband from doing the act. In the end it all comes to a head and no one really wins in the end except for the artist who created the event in the first place. Rory Kinnear as the Prime Minister and Lindsay Duncan’s Home Secretary stole the show.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is dark and isolating, which captures the different levels of terror the government officials are going through. Everything is connected and as the media and gossip grows around the event we see further isolation of the characters from one another, forcing the event to happen.

The Power of Social Media and the Power of Public Pressure – The threat is done over youtube and the Prime Minister putting a gag order on the press just makes people question it as a cover-up and distrust the Prime Minister more. When the story is finally broke it goes out of control as we see his attempts to find the Duchess lead to the people turning against him as his use of an actor made him look like a coward and a press agent getting shot made him look like a dictator. At one point the Home Secretary even warns that his wife and family will be at risk if he doesn’t go forward with the act since he alienated the public so much. When he’s made his decision he doesn’t answer his phone when his wife is trying to reach him and we see how his duty as the Prime Minister was more important than alienating and destroying his relationship with his wife.

Social Media and Moving On – A year later the Prime Minister is popular and the press is just business as usual again. This was amazing that the public had already moved on from the horrendous act that the Prime Minister was forced to do…on the other side we see that things may appear peaceful in the public eye but his marriage is destroyed. He kept power and positive public perception but lost his soul.

  This episode achieved all it set out to do, had a great cast and fully explored the premise of how a nightmarish strange crisis would unfold in the digital age where public pressure can make a person capable of horrible things, since all it took was the threat of a person who was loved by the public to be under threat for the crisis to happen. I felt for all government officials in this, as well as the wife as in the end the choices they made were shaped by how others viewed and talked about them. In a way their agency was lost to the public will, which is in a way, what we ask of our public servants, as they represent us and our interests. I think this is a big reason why, a year after the event the Prime Minister was loved again. He’d done his duty to look out for the public good, and save a life, even though the act was nightmarish, immoral and wrong…and the cost was his family.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Sherlock – Series 4, Episode 2 – “The Lying Detective” – Character Development and Confession…This was Needed and Succeeded

the-lying-detective-1

“The Lying Detective” is up there with one of my favorite episodes in “Sherlock.” This is an episode that captures the best parts of what made so much of Series 2 work. What drives this story is the core relationship between John and Sherlock, especially as it relates to family aka Mycroft and Mary. This gives it power as there is an underpinning of vulnerability that pervades the entire episode.

The episode was directed by Nick Hurran and written by Steven Moffat and produced by Sue Vertue.

The story involves Sherlock regressing back into addiction as he seeks to take down a man he suspects of being a serial killer (Culverton Smith). John hasn’t seen him for weeks but finds himself pulled back into Sherlock’s game as the plot to take down Culverton unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Set-up – The episode starts out with Culverton confessing to his friends he’s a killer and wiping their memories of the incident. Immediately he is established as a powerful antagonist and we get Sherlock’s obsession with him.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is once again beautiful, it continues to be one of the strongest aspects of this show.

The Action – This is an action heavy episode and the tension stays high through everything. I honestly didn’t know what would happen at times and that made the narrative stronger.

The Soundtrack – David Arnold and Michael Price’s score is really on display this episode as we get the haunting terror of Culverton the drug fueled isolation of Sherlock and John’s loneliness. The music feeds the narrative and strengthens it.

The Characters – The characters have always been the best part of the show and thankfully Moffat manages to develop many of them this episode, rather than keeping them static.

Molly – Molly appears briefly and does a good job at balancing out John as she is the second Doctor who John requests before he’ll help Sherlock take down Culverton.

Culverton Smith – Toby Jones is so good at playing creeps. In this we see his obsession and safety in being a billionaire and tied to politicians and businesses. It takes Sherlock entering Hell for him to confess what he’s done though when he is caught he shows that he’s been holding all this in and still feels happy as he’ll be even more famous once him being a killer comes out. He’s a sick individual and it makes for an interesting character.

Mrs. Hudson – Mrs. Hudson helps bring John and Sherlock together as we see she has a nice car (her drug lord husband) and that she doesn’t take crap from anyone. This is a great Mrs. Hudson episode as we see how she notices things and knows Sherlock and Mycroft better than anyone. It was a nice twist and it added a lot of depth to her character.

Mycroft – Mycroft is a lizard for most of this episode when he isn’t looking after Sherlock and trying to be a good brother. We also see that he’s trying to protect his sister, which John first figures out in the episode. There is more to this reveal than anyone knows though as shown by the final reveal.

Sherlock – Sherlock goes into Hell to take down a killer and to seek out John again as we see that he really does act from emotion and isn’t detached from it. This instability is explored deeply in the episode as we see him question reality even as he is getting more connected to other aspects of reality. It’s tragic in many ways and I felt for him when he finally starts dealing with his addiction and John forgives him. Sherlock finally shows affection which we see he’s always wanted to some degree (whether from Irene or John).

John Watson – John is dealing with loss this episode as he sees Mary in his mind’s eye and talks to her. He is dealing with anger, denial and sadness and also shame and regret for the affair he had. After he confesses this to Sherlock mind Mary leaves and we see him begin to heal as it is also only from him arriving that he saves Sherlock from Culverton (a callback to the first episode of the series when he stops another killer).

Eurus – Eurus is the other Holmes and has embraced the mind fully as we see her as John’s therapist at the episode’s start. We don’t know her motivations yet but she helped take down Culverton and at the end of the episode is about to shoot John. There are Moriarity aspects to her and I really want to know her more as she is a villain with a lot of potential.

The Reveal – Eurus is Mycroft and Sherlock’s sister! This was cool as she’s John’s therapist and we see that she was playing everyone. We don’t know her motivation yet but the hints that she might not be all together there and Mycroft’s fear of her leave a lot to hope for. Moffat writing her helps mellow out the hype though. He’s set up a lot of badass female antagonists and failed to have them payoff.

Confession and Healing – A core part of this episode is confession and healing. Culverton’s confession to his friends is what leads to his demise as it gives Sherlock what he needs to take him down, John and Sherlock confessing to one another leads to healing with them both feeling the loss of Mary and helps reestablish their friendship and gives us the heart and theme of the episode.

Okay/Con: Everybody is Getting Together – Lady Smallwood gets together with Mycroft and it implies it could be serious someday, John wants Sherlock to get together with Irene when he learns that she texts him. This is cute in some ways but having everyone hook up had romantic comedy aspects to it that took me out of the episode.

The Cons: Pacing – There are some pacing issues, it starts out strong has great rising action but sort of teeters off when John sees the confession tape from Mary and when Eurus reveals herself to John to shoot him. If this had been a bit smoother the episode could have been perfect.

This was Moffat once again at the head of his game. Every major character gets development and Sherlock’s psychology is explored and isn’t justified. This is a story that wants to explore the darker parts of human nature and what humans are capable of, and it succeeds. It isn’t a perfect episode as the romances that get set-up through the episode feel a little off sometimes and it does have pacing issues, but that doesn’t take away from the core power of the narrative and character development that takes place. This was such a great episode that really captured the core relationships and mystery, which made this show so great in the first place.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Star Wars Rebels – Season 2, Episodes 19-20 – “Twilight of the Apprentice” – The Many Faces of the Force

Twilight of the Apprentice

    This was a Season Finale that was powerful in a lot of ways, could have done with more setup but at the end of the day gave us a glimpse into the many faces of the force and how it isn’t as simple Jedi versus Sith…that within the force there are many identities that can be taken and forged as well as showing us the galaxies past is still informing the future that  may come.

     “Twilight of Apprentice” was a 2 part episode directed by Dave Filoni and written by Dave Filoni, Simon Kinberg and Steven Melching.

    The story involves Ezra, Kanan and Ahsoka traveling to the Sith Temple on Malachor to learn how to fight the Inquisitors. All as not as it appears to be as the Inquisitors are already there hunting another and Ezra finds himself drawn to this mysterious “Old Master” who is not all he appears to be.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: Malachor – Malachor has a really cool look. The Sith Temple is underground and looks like a giant pyramid and around the Temple are dead Jedi and Sith turned to ash by some unknown force. It is creepy and establishes how dangerous this place is quickly.

The Inquisitors – The Inquisitors have a great look as we have the Seventh Sister and Fifth Brother return and are introduced to the Eighth Brother who was hunting Maul. They manage to harass our heroes but when Maul allies with them they are killed by him.

The Action – There are so many great duels this episode! From our Heroes and Maul against the Inquisitors, to Maul versus Ahsoka and Kanan and Ahsoka against Darth Vader. Each duel means something and helps our characters advance in some way.

The Old Master / Maul – Maul is the anti-Yoda in this as he comes off as weak and more intellect when helping Ezra as they enter the heart of the Temple using the power of the Dark Side. He saves Ezra at least once and we see he wants Ezra as his apprentice and to use the Temple as a weapon against all his enemies as the Sith destroyed his people, family and everything he had. Maul is hate and also a smart manipulator too. He survives the destruction of the Temple and we see him flying off hinting that he may return to finish Ezra’s training and corruption.

Kanan – Kanan is the protector in this and we see how unprepared he has been to teach Ezra as Maul is able to do what Kanan has been unable, from protecting Ezra from threats, to getting inside the Temple and countless other things. In the end he is still the protector though as even after he is blinded by Maul he is able to knock Maul off the Temple and return to Ezra at the top.

Ezra – Ezra is going to the dark side as we see him learn the power of his anger in this and how his training has left unable to protect the ones he loves. From Ahsoka being defeated by Vader and Kanan losing his eyes to Maul. It is all of this that leads him to using the dark side to open the Sith Holocron at episode’s end showing that he is ready to embrace that side of himself fully.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka is amazing! This is the episode where we see how she isn’t a Jedi and that in leaving the order she shaped her own identity as one who is comfortable with Revenge for those she loves (she says she will kill Darth Vader for killing her Master) and we see it has given her great power as she cuts Vader’s mask. In the end her fate is left unknown as she chooses to stay with Vader in the exploding temple. I hope she got defeated and became a force ghost as she chose not to leave Vader, which means her death, just like it did for another character “The Force Awakens” when he chose to stay with someone who had gone dark side.

Darth Vader – Darth Vader is a force of nature in this. Maul fears him and will not face him alone, Ezra is beaten down easily by him and the only one who stands any chance is Ahsoka who matches him but also is broken down and is only able to injure Vader when he distracted in trying to get the Holocron from Ezra using the force. In the end he defeats Ahsoka (I hope defeats means kills) and we see him limp from the Temple ruins, the only characters still standing tall and unbroken.

The Faces of the Force – In this we have Maul, a dark side user who isn’t a Sith, the Inquisitors who are tools of the Sith, Vader who is a Sith Lord, Kanan who is a Jedi, Ezra his apprentice and Ahsoka who is a light side wielder but not a Jedi, rather a force user who lives by her own code.

Okay: Ambiguous End – We don’t know if Ahsoka is dead or alive as one of the final scenes is her saying she will stay with her Master as they fight one another and the Temple has a Force explosion. The final scenes have Vader limping away and Ahsoka or he ghost entering the Sith Temple. It looked cool but I really wanted a clear victory by Vader, I hope it is Ahsoka’s Force Ghost as Vader would have never left her alive.

Okay/Con: – The Story of the Inquisitors – We don’t know who the Eighth Brother, Seventh Sister and Fifth Brother were and now they are dead. They had great looks at least and they put up a good fight in this episode.

The Cons: Not Enough Setup – The Inquisitors hunting Maul was never setup, Malachor as a place to go was only vaguely hinted at and Maul came out of nowhere. These were all things that could have easily been established in past episodes rather than us getting filler Space Whale ones.

  This two-parter is one I highly recommend. It is some of the best from our heroes and writers and we get to see just how diverse identities are within the use of the force. Bringing Maul back worked really well here too, with the only underutilized folks being the Inquisitors whose backstories we never learned, just like their motivations. What really sales this episode though is that exploration of the force and the core relationships between Kanan and Ezra, their relationship to Ahsoka and her relationship to Vader. This core drama drives the story and makes it a favorite episode for me in the end. This a show that has always been about the characters and these episodes are a beautiful illustration of that.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10