Star Trek: Voyager – Season 5, Episode 15 and 16 – “Dark Frontier, Part 1 and 2” – The Temptation of the Borg

   “Dark Frontier, Part 1 and 2” is one of the best stories to come out of “Voyager.” This is a story that explores Janeway, Seven of Nine, the Borg and gives us consequences of Voyager and their need to get home. I’m reviewing “Part 1 and 2” as a single episode since Netflix had it as one single watch and even Memory Alpha lists both episodes together rather than as a “Part 1” and “Part 2.” I think this worked for the narrative and really strengthens the story. This is easily one of the best episodes in “Voyager” and is one of my favorites.

The episodes were directed by Cliff Bole and Terry Windell and written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky.

When Janeway discovers an injured Borg Sphere she sees an opportunity to get them home faster with the Sphere’s transwarp coil. Things are not as they seem as when she puts her plan in motion Seven begins to hear the voices of the Collective as she investigates her parent’s research into the Borg.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Threat of the Borg – The Borg feel like a constant threat in this story. We see this first in how the crew who are supposed to hijack the transwarp coil from the Sphere keep failing. It is this failure of the Borg adapting too quickly that really raise the stakes and lead to Seven delving into the research into the Borg that her parents did into the Borg. These flashbacks presented with her parents also establish this threat as it is in them remaining off sensors that keep the Borg from assimilating them for a long time. We also see the threat in how Seven willingly gives herself up to the Borg in order to protect the crew and during her time on the Cube, an assimilation of a species. This story is really what I wish “First Contact” could have been. There are stakes in the Borg tempting Seven to come back and the stakes remain focused and high.

Janeway’s Plan – Janeway’s plan makes sense. Her ultimate goal is to get her crew home and a transwarp coil would cut down there time in Borg Space and in the Delta Quadrant immensely. This being a high stakes heist kept me engaged and I could see why Janeway came up with the plan in the first place. It was risky, but feasible and the pros would outweigh the cons.

The Temptation of Seven of Nine – Temptation has spent more of her life in the Borg Collective. We see this in that she was assimilated as a child and her parents were assimilated too…so in that way their voices were still always with her. This twisted connection is what the Queen uses to tempt Seven back to them and from here she offers Seven more of what she’s always strived for on Voyager, to be more and to grow. The Queen is lets her keep her free will but connects her to the Collective as she attempts to re-indoctrinate her and train her….it is never said outright, but I think to become a future Queen.

The Borg Queen – The Borg Queen feels like a threat in this. This is the first time watching her where she has felt like one. This is done through us seeing the crew fail in their holographic runs to take the transwarp coil, the fact that the Queen knows about their plan and her ability to use Seven’s empathy against her. I wish we could have seen her do this with Picard and Data in “First Contact.” She is Seven’s evil mentor in this, opposite of Janeway and she makes a good argument for the Borg by demonstrating their power and the Collective knowledge that they are. For this reason I can see why she has so many scenes with Seven. If only “Voyager” could have kept her this smart and cunning after this. I’m not a fan of the Queen and like the Borg as Collective Mind that is otherworldy and “We,” but I salute this episode for making the Queen compelling and a threat.

Captain Janeway – Captain Janeway is both mentor and mother figure for Seven in this. In this we see her deal with the conflict of the need to protect the crew as a whole versus her overall connection to any single one member…like Seven. In the end she of course chooses Seven as it was her decision to go forward with plan and let Seven be a part of it that lead to Seven going back to the Borg in the first place. I thought this was handled well and Janeway never felt overpowered or smarter than everyone else. She was flawed and human while also being courageous and cunning. This is a great Janeway episode.

Seven of Nine – Seven’s arc is what drives the story as we see her face the temptation of the world of the Collective she knew before versus her desire for freedom and individuality she’s been exploring on Voyager. Jeri Ryan is fantastic as we see her tackle her inner conflict as well as her complicated relationship to her parents, who were assimilated like her and where the reason she was assimilated because of how obsessed and reckless they were in relationship to the Borg. It is because of them most of her life was spent in the Collective and it is this temptation that the Queen uses to bring Seven back to them. From here we see the Queen seeking to mentor as Janeway did, except it is mentoring in how to become a Queen. It is the immoral act of assimilation and destroying species that lead to them clashing and why Seven returns back to the crew when they come to rescue her. I loved this arc. Seven and The Doctor are my favorite characters on “Voyager” and this story is a big reason why.

Okay:

The Ensemble Cast – The rest of the cast has things to do for Janeway’s heist and the later rescue of Seven, but we don’t really learn anything new about them. I’m not putting it as a con though as I appreciated everyone was given something to do over the course of this story. If some minor characters had been explored a bit more, whether pushing against Janeway’s plan or providing an alternative plan it would have been a perfect episode.

This is “Voyager” at it’s best. We have an amazing threat in the Borg, Seven and Janeway get developed and the stakes remain high through the entire 2 episodes. The only thing it needed was a little more exploration of some of the ensemble cast and it would have been the perfect 2 parter. It is a shame the Borg Queen will never feel this threatening or smart after this, as this is the only episode that I really saw the potential of what that character brought to the Borg Collective. If you are a “Voyager” or “Star Trek” fan this story is well worth your time.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A near perfect “Voyager” story.

 

Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 8 – “Broken Pieces” – When the Past Returns

Image result for Broken Pieces Picard

      “Broken Pieces” is one of the best episodes in “Picard” thus far. We get information on what inspires are baddies, the crew of the La Sirena gets development and we get some of the best character development for Seven of Nine. This episode is full of a lot of moving character pieces and has to give us a fair amount of lore and it manages to achieve it amazingly. If you’ve been watching the show up to this point, chances are you will at the very least, enjoy this episode.

The episode was directed by Maja Vrvilo and written by Michael Chabon.

The story follows Soji’s arrival on the La Sirena, triggering memories in Captain Rios, leading to an investigation by Raffi into his past. Seven also arrives on “The Artifact” searching for Hugh.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Elnor – Elnor gives us one of the purest perspectives on “Star Trek.” Due to being raised in a culture where emotion is always shown and expressed fully his hugging Seven when she saves him at the beginning was perfection. He is also there to bring her back too when he asks her if she’ll assimilate him when she’s connected to the Collective and controlling them. It is well done and I like the dynamic he has with her.

Raffi – Raffi’s arc involves investigating Rios’s backstory and discovering why he reacted so painfully to seeing Soji. It is done really well as we see her talk to all the Holograms, that each have Rios’s face and puts together what happened on his ship. Michelle Hurd does a fantastic job and I liked seeing her and Rios together, she’s clearly the First Officer in this mission and helping Rios put the pieces of himself back together was handled beautifully.

Zhat Vash Inspiration – In this episode we see what inspires the Zhat Vash as “Narissa” meets with her Aunt, the Ex-Borg Ramdha who Soji talked to. It is here we see that an ancient civilization left a warning that creating synthetic life will eventually lead to the end of all organics. This is why the Zhat Vash are so driven in their quest. It gave dimension to “Narissa” seeing her with her aunt and her wishing that her ship had been assimilated instead. This was development that was badly needed. It was also in the flashback we see Oh is the leader or one of the leaders of the Zhat Vash and that the Romulans are responsible for hacking the synths and the attack on Mars.

Captain Rios’s Backstory – Captain Rios’s backstory is powerful. We learn that Starfleet security ordered his Captain to kill the Synth diplomats. He does all this and kills himself too. Captain Vandermeer was like Rios’s father and what his Captain did to innocents was too much for him to take. He buried this trauma and it is only in Raffi’s investigation and learning the truth for herself that leads to him opening up. Santiago Cabrera really shows how amazing of an actor he is in this…from playing the different Holographic versions of himself, and in his opening up about the trauma from his past.

Soji and the Synths – This episode gives us the issue fear versus trust and Soji is at the center of it. We see it in Raffi questioning Picard’s trust of her and also in Soji’s taking over of the ship until Captain Rios stops her. In this we see the potential danger that is posed but also the potential for peace that is there as Soji gives us a unique perspective. She’s been betrayed by organics but has also found allies and friends too. She represents the same potential in her people.

Seven of Nine and the Borg – This episode sees Seven of Nine take control of the Borg cube in order to fight the Romulans. In this we see her questioning even doing this as she questions she might enjoy being part of the Collective too much and not want to give up those she’s assimilated. When she does become “Queen” of the Cube it is powerful and we see her speak with one voice. In the end she comes out of it as either her individuality was too strong or the Borg on that Collective see her having a future role but that can only be achieved later. “Annika still has more to do” are the Collective’s parting words to her. It is chilling and I think sets up that their next evolution might be through some role Seven is to play later.

The Cons:

Starfleet Resistance – When Picard reveals to Admiral Clancy all he has figured out she says she will be sending a fleet to Deep Space 12. This help is still offered with so much resistance to Picard that it felt ungenuine. My thoughts hearing it were that Oh was going to use this opportunity to use Starfleet against the Synths as they had been used against them before when Rios’s Captain killed the Synth diplomats on his old ship. More scenes with Clancy could have solved this and seeing things from the Starfleet perspective as we did before with the Oh reveal in the early episodes.

Agnes’s explanation – Agnes killed Maddox because she saw hell coming and Oh apparently put up a mind block? I felt this was a cop out so that she wouldn’t have to take full responsibility for what happened. I’m still rooting for her character having some sort of redemption but getting away from having her take responsibility via Oh’s actions is not the way to do it.

This is my favorite episode besides “Absolute Candor” and the Pilot in “Picard.” We get amazing character development, the lore gets deeper and the action doesn’t stop moving. This story stands strong on it’s own and I can’t wait to see how the different plot threads payoff in the end. The Romulans are one of my favorite races in “Star Trek” and I’m a huge fan of Borg stories when they are handled with respect. This episode gave both of these groups the exploration I’d been wanting from “Star Trek” for a long time. I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Guns Akimbo (2020): Great Action That Needed a Better Plot

Image result for guns akimbo

      “Guns Akimbo” is a fun movie. I wouldn’t call it good or great but there is a fair amount that worked. During this time of quarantine with the Coronavirus I’ll be only reviewing films that can be rented until it is over. Please, stay safe and stay in everyone if it is at all possible. I hope this review and blog can bring some enjoyment through all of this. Thanks for reading and the conversations the reviews have sparked. Now without further ado, here is the rest of the review.

The film was directed and written by Jason Lei Howden.

The story follows Miles (Daniel Radcliffe) trolls an underground fight club organization called Skizm and is kidnapped and forced to take part in their game.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Fight Sequences – How the fight sequences are filmed are like a video-game or the fights in “Scott Pilgrim.” They are really entertaining and very kinetic. You feel the tension of whomever is being followed in the fight to the death and the stakes always feel high…until the final fight.

The Loser Protagonist – Miles is an interesting character. I can see inspirations of Neo from the Matrix in that he lives so much of his life online and sees himself as a rebel while at the same time is working for a pay-to-play mobile game job that he hates. His arc involves standing up to his job after Skizm has bolted guns to his hands and the one they sent after him (Nix) shows up. His arc of developing courage is handled well, it just sucks that the world around him wasn’t developed further.

Nix – Nix is the most famous killer in Skizm and we soon learn that it was setup by the owner of Skizm when he killed her mother and brother. She is drug addicted and has no human connection besides Miles. When Miles tells her the truth about Skizm and all they have done she works with him to take them down. Samara Weaving was fantastic in the role. She played the broken anti-hero turned hero really well and was more compelling than Miles.

Okay:

Nova – Nova is Miles’s girlfriend? This is ambiguous at first and is never fully explained. They have a history together and he ends up saving her but she isn’t given enough to do on her own besides protect Miles briefly at one point and after be saved. This character could have had so much potential if we learned more about who she was.

The Cons:

Miles’s Job – The pay-to-play game for kids who have cell phones is never explored more than a joke. We don’t see the details of Miles or his co-workers’ work. This was a shame as it felt like this game could have made a point about these types of games beyond a joke.

Skizm – Skizm goes worldwide by the end after Nix and Miles take out their leader. This made no sense to me. They owned the cops…how? How did everyone have an app of illegal fights going on? None of this explained. They were an interesting idea that was not explored well at all.

This movie was solidly fun. Nix and Miles were fun characters and the action sequences draw you in. The film needed to develop Nova, Skizm and the world more but it wasn’t bad. This movie had stakes and that is what made it work. If you are looking for an enjoyable film to check-out, this one is worth your time.

Final Score: 7 / 10 Enjoyable action with ideas and characters that should have been more.

“Castlevania” Season 3 – An Exploration of Hope Lost

Image result for castlevania season 3 poster

  Season 3 of “Castlevania” is really good filler. There are a lot of pieces moving and characters are developed, but there isn’t the core driving action that was last season. I still highly recommend checking it out though if you are a fan of the show. There are 10 episodes this season and none of them are wasted. Warren Ellis has truly crafted an amazing story and I’m curious to see where the story goes next.

This season was directed by Sam and Adam Deats and written by Warren Ellis.

The story follows Sypha and Trevor uncovering the mystery behind a town, two twins befriending Alucard in his isolation, Carmilla’s plotting of conquest and Isaac as he creates an army in his quest to get revenge against those who betrayed Dracula.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Saint Germain – Saint Germain is a fantastic character. He is Lindenfeld seeking a portal in order to get back to his wife. He find allies in Sypha and Trevor and it is wonderful seeing them interact as he sees himself as above everyone but them. In a depressing season he is such a fun character who brings levity and humor to all that happens this season. He also helps save the day by closing the Portal to Hell when the Priory in Lindenfeld is trying to summon Dracula back from Hell.

The Sisters – Carmilla and her 3 sisters make up a Vampire coven in Styria who is planning conquest. In order to conquer they need troops though and this involves her sister Lenore seducing and tricking Hector into being their slave. I thought it was handled well as she showed a soft power approach and diplomacy compared to how blunt most of her other sisters are. Striga is the warrior who loves battle, Morana is the strategist and Carmilla is the spark and planner. They have a fascinating dynamic and I can’t wait to see Isaac, Sypha and Trevor take them on.

Sypha and Trevor – Sypha and Trevor are such a cute couple. In this we get to see how much they enjoy killing monsters and protecting people. Sypha especially revels in combat. They play off each other really well and it is the first time we really see a more happy Trevor…until the end. At the end they discover the Judge of the town they couldn’t save was a serial killer the entire time. Once happy fighting evil they discover the evil in humanity again and they have each other, but that is it. By the end of this season, they feel alone. They really should go back to Alucard.

Isaac – Isaac has a fascinating arc this season. He is driven by Dracula’s goal to exterminate humanity, though he still is willing to give people a chance. We see him spare those who show kindness and his conversations with a merchant, a captain and another Forgemaster make him realize that he should shape his own destiny. It is powerfully done and I can’t wait for him to take on Carmilla and her sisters.

Alucard – Alucard is alone and going mad until two hunters, Sumi and Taka seek him for training. He believes them at first until they try to kill him. This loneliness and betrayal breaks him and he puts their corpses outside the Dracula’s Castle as a warning, beginning to embrace the practices of his father, who also had lost all hope humans. He really needs Sypha and Trevor to bring him back to balance.

Hopeless Humanity – Isaac is attacked by multiple groups who are destroyed, Sypha and Trevor discover the evil in the town they couldn’t save and Sumi and Taka show that even those who appear good can do evil. This was the theme this season and is meant to explore why Dracula was the way he was. It is really well done and a proper way for filler to be handled.

The Cons:

The Twins – Sumi and Taka were slaves of Cho’s court. Cho was one of Dracula’s generals from Japan and we see how in control she was over the populace, even letting hunters in for fun. From this I can see why they don’t trust vampires but Alucard killed Dracula. Them trying to kill Alucard wasn’t fleshed out enough, they needed more development for the turn the story took.

Feels Like Filler – In the end what does bring it down is that it does feel like filler. It is good filler, but knowing a show could be canceled at anytime I tend to see filler as a waste. This was a good use of filler but the problem of it still happens. This was really good but if the show ended here it wouldn’t be a good end to “Castlevania.”

I really enjoyed this season. It is depressing as hell but the character development is well handled. I also love how big this world is. This season was largely setup for the big events that will no doubt play out and I think it handled it well. The only con was really the twins as I get why they existed (to make Alucard more like his father and lose hope in humanity) but their motivations needed much more development. I hope Alucard catches a break soon, he’s one of my favorite characters on the show and it sucks seeing him go through all this. Can’t wait to see how the upcoming wars go.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10 Boosted slightly by the good character work.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 7, Episode 1 – “Descent, Part 2” – Finding Freedom in Self

Brent Spiner in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)

“Descent, Part 2” has many of the same problems as Part 1. There are many good ideas here that really aren’t explored to their full potential. The whole motivation beyond Lore and the Borg is base and isn’t well thought out. What it means to be Data isn’t even really fully explored either or the Borg concept of individuality. There are enough decent plots present though, that I did enjoy this as well as Part 1. I wouldn’t call either good, but there are enough interesting plots present to keep things enjoyable once more.

The episode was directed by Alexander Singer and written by René Echevarria.

The story picks up where we left off with the reveal of Lore leading this new Borg Faction. Dr. Crusher must face the Borg Ship above the planet as Riker and Worf seek Picard and the others. Picard, Geordi and Troi seek an escape as well as possible solutions to free Data from the control of Lore.

SPOILER warning

The Pros:

Captain Crusher – Dr. Crusher is in charge of the ship and successfully defeats Lore’s Borg ship after using shields from a prior episode that protect from radiation from the star and ends up destroying the ship. I really liked seeing her train up the recruits and get a working up dynamic going on between them, given Picard stupidly left her with a skeleton crew with so much at stake. I really liked her as Captain and wish she’d gotten more leadership opportunities like this in the series.

Escape from Lore – It was great seeing Picard and Troi work with an injured Geordi to free themselves and Data. I can’t think of a time we’ve had this specific team-up, but I liked their dynamic…even if they failed in the end. Geordi is always fighting on, Troi is trying to be supportive and Picard is always in problem solving mode. You can see how in many ways he is like Data. His problem solving place is where he is most comfortable.

Hugh’s Borg – Hugh’s Borg are refugees from Lore who leave after they see that his experiments are destroying them. The empathetic Hugh from “I, Borg” is still very much present and I appreciate that at the end of this episode he is leading the free Borg. That should have been more explored, he was with Riker and Worf who have both lead people and that leadership role was not discussed or explored at all.

Data’s Choice – Data gets back his morality core after Geordi, Troi and Picard tech some Borg tech causing Lore’s hack to stop working. After this it is only a matter of time before he switches sides. Given I was invested in Data and he drives both plots this was a plus. I wish it had been more of his free will, but I also get the writers were working with him still as a programmed machine. No matter how great his technology is, it can still be hacked.

The Cons:

Riker and Worf Wander – We have two interesting characters who wander until Hugh’s Borg capture them. After that they go to end up in the final battle and take part. There was no reason they couldn’t have been a more active part of the story. They do nothing to convince Hugh to join them. Did the writers just forget they had two awesome characters with Hugh to work with?

Lore and the Borg’s Goals – I guess they are going for conquest…but Lore is killing his own soldiers in experiments. The experiments like the point of them is pointless. They have one ship that doesn’t even survive the episode, so what was Lore and the Borg’s plan again?

Why is Geordi Always Tortured? – Why is Geordi always being tortured? This time it is his friend Data too. I get Data apologizes after, but given how many times this has happened to Geordi it exists as a trope. The writers should have stopped this. They do their best to show Data has an understanding of guilt after the fact and Data still says he should keep the emotion chip, but it would have meant more if this hadn’t been a go to trope on how to use Geordi in the plot so many times prior.

This episode was better than “Part 1.” I think this is largely due to Hugh’s faction and the B Plot with Dr. Crusher. Those had more inventiveness and weren’t dependent on Data plot device. This was also enjoyable but did not rise to good. I wish the writers of both episodes had got together to write a fully coherent story. You have Lore, you have the Borg, you have Hugh…how could you not make this great? If you want to see how these stories end in “The Next Generation” you should still watch both these episodes though.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10 This episode was potential and managed to do more at least than “Part 1.”

“Descent Part 1 and 2” Final Score: 7.2 / 10 Weighing it more against because it never reached good and missed so many opportunities to explore Soong’s sons and the Borg.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 6, Episode 26 – “Descent, Part 1” – Anger is the Path to the Dark Side

Image result for descent part 1 star trek

     “Descent” is our first time seeing the Borg since “I, Borg” and in this we see how they have changed. I wish this had been a bigger deal. This is a Data episode, as is “Part 2” of “Descent.” I’m doing that as separate episode reviews since one comes at the beginning of the season, while the other appears at the end of a season. Both episodes hold a lot of promise that could have been more fully realized, which I will get into further into the review.

“Descent Part 1” was directed by Alexander Singer with story by Jeri Taylor and Teleplay by Ronald Moore.

The story follows Data who feels anger after a Borg attack on an outpost. The Borg are acting out of character and the crew must face the consequence of this new threat, while Data begins exploring himself.

SPOILERS ahead

Pros:

The New Borg – We are introduced to new Borg in this who from all appearances are simply driven by the desire to kill. It is a strange twist given their desire to assimilate and gives us a good mystery to start everything off. We know how strong Borg technology is, so if they are simply a destructive force than how devastating could it get? This is a good idea, sadly the idea is not fully realized.

Consequences of “I, Borg” – Admiral Nechayev shows up and is not happy with Picard for letting Hugh go in “I, Borg” as these new Borg are a direct consequence of having individuality. I liked that Starfleet is not behind the Picard as it raises the stakes for the rest of the story going forward. We also see how unintended consequences play out in an interesting light.

Temptation of Data – The main arc of this episode is Data finally feeling something and not knowing what to think about it, given it clashes with his ethical programming. He felt anger and pleasure at killing a Borg and in the end when no one calls him out on this being bad fully goes down the path of “The Dark Side.” We have Data the Sith Lord by the end of this episode because no one told him feeling anger is wrong and tried to help him find other ways to explore his exploration to be human.

The Cons:

Purpose of the New Borg – They just kill and to no end. Crosis, who is the Borg who is captured is there to tempt Data, but we get nothing of his own motivations. What is the point of changing to Borg if you won’t explore what individuality even means? This idea is just sitting around the entire episode and is never delved deeper.

Not Enough Concern for Data – If anyone had told Data that killing in anger is wrong this whole episode would have been prevented. Sadly there isn’t enough concern for Data, even after he relieves himself of duty that a crazy Borg is able to corrupt him. This was the crew dropping the ball.

The fall of Data is interesting but not explored nearly as well as it could have been. Why does he want to be angry? He knows that to be human is to feel more than one emotion. Also, what motivates the Borg? We know who their leader by the end (Lore) but none of their motivations. All this is wasted in the episode given how much time we spend with Data and with one of the new Borg named Crosis. Crosis could have been a fully realized character too, but he has no agenda beyond tempting Data and has no will of his own as we discover in the end he is just a pawn of Lore. This episode was enjoyable but never rose to great. It was so many missed opportunities.

7 / 10 This episode was enjoyable but was largely unexplored potential of a few ideas.

Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 7 – “Nepenthe” – Exploring Home and a Mistake

Image result for nepenthe Picard

     “Nepenthe” is an episode that feels organic. This could have easily turned into fanservice with the reunion between Picard, Riker and Troi and I felt like it didn’t. The characters have all changed and grown from the people they were before, while still remaining true to their core selves. In lesser hands they could have easily been caricatures of the people they were before. This isn’t a favorite episode though due to two things that happen, that I’ll get into below.

The episode was directed by Douglas Aarniokoski and written by Michael Chabon and Samantha Humphrey.

The story picks up with Picard and Soji meeting up with Kestra, daughter of Riker and Troi. As they go to them for safety Elnor attempts to escape with Hugh from the Cube and Agnes Jurati begins to face what she did to Bruce Maddox.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Soji and Kestra – One of the relationships that shows us more of who Soji is, is her relationship with Kestra, the daughter of Riker and Troi. Kestra invents langauges and hunts and is very open. This openness and honesty puts Soji at ease and helps her sort through all she’s been through. Kestra is also Soji’s ally. Soji ends up being an older sister of sorts and I really enjoyed how their friendship grew.

Riker and Troi – Riker and Troi are awesome in this. They are supportive of Picard, while still holding him accountable. When Picard mocks Soji’s doubting of all she knows to be true Troi reminds Picard that as Captain he was better, while Riker said he just could have invited her to dinner. We see more of the people who they are as Troi is the glue of the family, we learn they lost a child and because of it she can’t go back into Starfleet again, while Riker is still on reserve within Starfleet. They are a contrast to Picard and help him only to grow. It was wonderful seeing them again.

Events on the La Sirena – On the ship Agnes is having mental breakdown as she accepts she killed Bruce Maddox and as the Narek tracks them with the tracking device Commodore Oh had given to her. It is very well done as her being treated as innocent is too much to take and she attempts to kill herself to get Narek off their trail. The episode handles this arc really well.

The Theme of Home – Home is a major theme of the episode. Soji realizes that was what the Romulans were using her for, and we see how home is safety for Riker, Troi and Kestra and in that adopted home is also a safe haven for Soji and Picard. This theme was beautifully handled.

The Cons:

Attribute Marina Sirtis as Guest Star – I don’t know why she wasn’t given guest credit, but it annoyed me. She is just as central to the episode as Jonathan Frakes and the producers should have known better.

Death of Hugh – Hugh is killed when he decides he is going to help Elnor get to the Queen’s Chamber. I wish he’d been leading the xB’s in revolt against the romulans who were controlling them at least. There is always the chance he could be brought back, Seven has resurrected the dead with nano-probes in the past and she is set to show up next episode. We’ll see what happens. Hugh is my favorite character on the show besides Laris and deserved a better death at the very least.

This was a good episode. Things finally come to a head with Dr. Jurati and what she did, we get some more time with Hugh and the reunion with Picard, Riker and Trio was beautifully written. This episode has a lot happen but doesn’t feel rushed and it is this pacing that helped it remain as strong as it did. I’m curious to see what will happen and if Riker will come to Picard’s rescue in the end.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10 My issues with the episode where elevated by the solid writing going on everywhere else but “The Artifact.”

Star Trek VIII: First Contact (1996) – Of Facing Trauma and the Quest for Betterment

Image result for star trek first contact poster

“Star Trek: First Contact” is the best of “The Next Generation” films. For me this isn’t initially doesn’t sound like much as I don’t think the others are good. They range from okay to awful for me where this was legitimately a great film. It isn’t perfect by any means, the ending kind of falls apart for one but this feels like an ensemble show. All the crew of Enterprise has a moment and many of them get the chance to grow and change over the course of the film. I’ll get into more of what I mean deeper into the review. As a kid this film freaked me out as this film presented how truly terrifying it would be to be assimilated by the Borg, and why they are one of the greatest threats in “Star Trek.”

The film was written by Brannon Bragga and Ronald D. Moore and directed by Jonathan Frakes.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise-E when the Borg attack Earth. In order stop the Borg from winning they must go back in time to stop them and make sure that “First Contact” between the Vulcans and Humans still happens at the right time.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Enterprise-E – The Enterprise-E is a beautiful ship. It has the torpedo look of Voyager while still having the curving appearance that most models of the Enterprise have. It is a powerful ship and you can see why it is the flagship as it barely takes any damage from the Borg Cube and does enough damage to the Cube that the Sphere has to be shot out and a time travel plan initiated. The bridge is much more military, reflecting a Dominion era ship, and the different rooms feel more mechanical and less like a lounge like on the Enterprise-D. Suffice to say, this is one of my favorite ships to come out of Trek.

Guest Appearances – Robert Picardo, the Doctor on “Voyager” appears as the Enterprise-E to stall the Borg and Ethan Phillips who plays Neelix on “Voyager” appears as a hologram who greets Lily and Picard. It was pretty neat seeing them. Picardo’s Doctor is one of the best parts of Voyager and Ethan Phillips is a good actor.

Lily and Cochrane – Lily and Cochrane are the two people from the past who know about those who visited from the future and for both it is a different experience. Lily passes out after trying to kill Data and finds herself on the Enterprise-E, eventually meeting up with Picard and helping him find a way past his obsession to destroy the Borg for how they hurt him…and Cochrane is running from his destiny and being a major part of the future as Troi, Riker and Geordi eventually help him come to terms with the man he will become. Both offer a different view of time travel that I appreciated. I do wish we could have got more of Cochrane’s motivation beyond selfishness though. The Zefram Cochrane of this series is acted amazingly by James Cromwell, but he is a scummy dude who is only out for himself. This is a man who doesn’t see the big picture until first contact with the Vulcans. Lily, is someone who does get it and Alfre Woodard does a great job.

The Crew – The crew are given a lot of exploration in this film. The only one who really doesn’t have as many scenes is Dr. Crusher, but she is still active and protecting people when the Borg begin taking over the ship. She is also the only who saves Lily who ends up being the person who helps Picard come back to himself again. So I’m mentioning what she did here before I go into detail on the events surrounding the rest of the crew.

Troi – Troi is the one who first finds Zefram Cochrane. She ends up getting drunk with him before he finally admits who he is and has to sadly keep him away. Zefram is a scummy guy in this whose arc is really about becoming a better person. Troi is the one interacting among the people and who can see how much fear there is (this is Post World War 3). I wish we got to see more scenes like this as she is the one outside of Dr. Crusher who really sees the human element best.

Worf – Worf is fantastic in this film. We get to see him fight with The Defiant against the Borg and later face them on the Enterprise-E. It is the fact that the numbers of Borg seem to be endless that leads to Worf realizing they need to blow up the ship as the Borg are adapting more quickly than they can destroy them. Picard calls him a coward at this point before apologizing. I love that Worf isn’t played a joke as he is in the later films. He’s a Starfleet officer and one of their best.

Geordi – Geordi is the first to tell Zefram about the future and is in charge of repairing the Phoenix. It is Geordi’s admiration and descriptions of the future that end up freaking Cochrane out the most as he doesn’t see himself as a genius. In the end he comes through and Geordi and Riker get to make warp speed on the day it is supposed to happen in the timeline.

Riker – Riker is the one who hold Zefram accountable and makes it so he can’t run away from the future. He ends up stunning him, which finally helps him get his act together so they can get the Phoenix ready and first contact with the Vulcans be made. He’s in charge of the team on Earth and you once again see why he’s the First Officer as he pulls everything together and in the end, Zefram and Lily are the only ones who ever knew there were time travelers present.

Data – This film is really Data and Picard’s story and continues the theme of the show with Data’s quest for humanity. In this we have moments where his androidness comes in handy as when they he feels fear, he can just shut it off by turning off his emotion chip. In this the Borg, specifically the Queen offer Data a choice once he is captured. If he joins them he can have the organic and feel physical sensation as humans do. He goes along with it and ends up tricking the Queen and destroying their base. He does mention to Picard that for a near second he was tempted, which is long for an android. The Picard, Data dynamic is wonderful and you can see a friendship has grown between them over the years on the show and the loss of the Enterprise-D.

Picard – This film involves Picard facing what was done to him by the Borg when they made him Locutus. We see this at first when Starfleet doesn’t want him to face them because they don’t trust his judgement and later when after helping easily defeat the Borg we find they are around, and in his ship. This is powerful as Picard is trying to hold onto himself and his ego and in the process doesn’t notice when he loses people or how his obsession is consuming him. It isn’t until Data is captured and Lily calls him out that he calls for a retreat and realizes that losing another Enterprise is the only way to win. After this he goes to the Borg to save Data and comes open and ready to face himself and the memories of his trauma.

Ship Under Siege – What make the narrative work is that when the Borg beam onto the Enterprise it is a slow takeover, but by the time they’re discovered they are permanently entrenched. Our heroes are fighting to hold ground and to prevent more Borg being called so the stakes are high the entire time. This claustrophobia lends itself to the narrative and constant push of the Borg push into Picard’s obsession to destroy them and fight back.

The Trauma of the Borg – When Borg assimilate someone they are made part of the Collective. Their body is mutilated and machine is installed within them. This is what was done to Picard in “Best of Both Worlds” Part 1 and 2. Certain episodes explore how that hurt him, from killing Federation officers in the Battle of Wolf 359, to his loss of self and identity and being a part of the machine. This film explores this beautifully as it begins with Picard having a nightmare about his assimilation and his scene facing the Queen involves him facing that nightmare. It is a good narrative book-end.

The Quest for Betterment – Another major theme of the film is the quest for betterment. Whether it is how the Borg seek perfection through assimilation, Cochrane’s first contact and how it lead to humanity rising up to the Stars and the formation of Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets and Data’s quest to become human and more than his programming. All these elements run as the narrative through line and make the film great.

The Cons:

The Borg Queen and Ego in the Collective – The Borg are a Collective and to me that is what makes them the most terrifying. When the Queen is introduced she uses “I” and also is seeking a mate. My guess is they wanted to go for a bee hive for the Borg when they are much scarier as a one mind lovecraftian horror. The Queen’s ego, which a collective doesn’t have, is what leads to her losing as after Data sleeps with her, she fully trusts him and he betrays her and saves first contact and the Enterprise-E goes to waste. If she hadn’t had Data do be the one to fire the shot (which was just to rub in Picard’s face) she would have won. This issue of ego becomes an even bigger problem when she is back again in “Voyager.” The actress does a good job with what she’s given but the moment the Queen showed up, the threat of the Borg no longer felt as great, and the final act simply cemented that.

Picard Wasn’t Needed in the Final Act – Narratively I get Picard going to save Data, as Data saved him in “Best of Both Worlds.” The thing is, how the script was written the Queen would have lost whether he was there or not. She believed she had Data and Data knew what to destroy to stop her. He also isn’t killed or mortally injured after he does this. Picard showing up is just for the sake of narrative and to complete his emotional journey. I wish they’d re-written this whole act so that Data did need rescuing and wouldn’t have been able to stop the Queen on his own. Instead, Data stops the Queen, stops the Borg and makes first contact possible. If Picard wasn’t in the scene it wouldn’t have changed a thing.

If you are a fan of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” than you will probably like “First Contact.” It isn’t as strong as some of “The Original Series” films but it is greater than most “Star Trek” films that are out there. Overall it works and even though the ending didn’t need Picard and the Queen, kind of ruins the threat of the Borg for me, it is still a very well told story. This was a film tacking big ideas and major themes and I think Bragga and Moore accomplished that. The Borg are Picard’s Khan and this is one of the best explorations of that trauma that currently exists in the stories of “The Next Generation.”

Final Score: 9.4 / 10 This is a wonderfully great and flawed film.

 

Star Trek: Picard – Season 1, Episode 6 – “The Impossible Box” – Of Facing Trauma and Self-Discovery

Image result for The Impossible Box Star Trek Picard

  “The Impossible Box” is a fantastic episode. We get wonderful character development from nearly everyone on screen and only one con really stood out for me. This episode gives a reunion I’ve been wanting to see and much of the episode gives room to breathe before it really increases the stakes and tension. Before I say anymore, if you’ve been liking the show so far, you’ll probably enjoy this one a lot.

The episode was written by Nick Zayas and directed by Maja Vrvilo.

The story involves Picard getting onto “The Artifact” and reuniting with an old friend as Narek get’s closer to his goals as Soji starts putting the pieces together about who she is.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

“The Artifact” – This episode we learn just how prestigious this Cube is, as Picard ends up needing diplomatic papers to enter the Cube and can only talk to the Director, Hugh. This episode we feel the threat of it all as Narek and Narissa cause problems for our heroes and the claustrophobia of the clear and what it is capable of is revealed. We get to see the Queen’s room, which has a gate that allows for far escape and see how former drones xB’s who aren’t Romulan are used for labor. It is a sad state of affairs and Hugh mentioning that their Borg Queen has been replaced by a Romulan shows that much darker purpose that might be in store for the xB’s and the Cube.

Soji’s Self-Discovery – Soji’s self-discovery involves her analyzing all she brought with her, and finding it is only 3 years old. This ends with her trusting Narek as he shows her a Romulan meditation ritual where she discovers the Synth homeworld in pushing past her re-occuring Nightmares, and fully realizes she was created. At this point Narek tries to kill her and she goes into fight or flight, escaping with Hugh and Picard.

Hugh and Picard – Hugh is the first person since Laris and Zhaban who has greeted Picard with kindness. He hugs him and the xB’s help steady him when he is having a panic attack in the Cube. He backs up Picard all the way and puts together that he is there to save Soji. After this he sticks around with Elnor to defend against the oncoming Tal Shiar. I wish he could have shared more with Picard as it he who reminds Picard that the xB’s are victims of the Borg, just as they were. This reminder is profound and it changes how Picard interacts with them after that.

Picard’s PTSD – Picard’s PTSD is first represented when he is going through files on the Borg and pulls up a picture of his time as Locutus. The picture blends together and he holds the area where an implant once was. This trauma carries over when he arrives on the Cube as he feels trapped and blames the xB’s until Hugh reminds him he is safe and that they are there to look after him, and victims, just like him. We haven’t seen this explored since “First Contact” and I thought this episode handled it really well.

The Cons:

Narissa Rizzo – Narissa is just an evil Romulan at this point. We don’t know her motivations beyond destroying all Synths. This needs to change if she is to be the main antagonist. Narek I can at least see as interesting because he cares for Soji even though his loyalty to the mission matters more to him. Both antagonists deserve that level of writing and depth.

I really liked this episode. Hugh is one of my favorite character and Del Arco is just fantastic in the role. He is my favorite character on “Picard” besides Laris. Both of them are complex characters who are at their core good. I hope we can see more characters like this in “Picard.” Right now the show is over halfway through, so there is potential for the overall arc to not work out. I’m curious about what will happen with “The Artifact” and when Picard will get some allies in Starfleet, as he will need them in the final I think.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10 If Narissa were given any depth this would have been a perfect episode of “Picard.”

Color Out of Space (2020): Empty Performances in a Compelling Story

Image result for color out of space poster

   “Color Out of Space” is the first film from 2020 that I’m reviewing. I hope to catch more of the films that are out but lately it has been fun catching up with “Star Trek” and following “Picard” and the latest season of “Doctor Who.” There is so much to talk about in those stories so I haven’t regretted my stay away from films. “Color Out of Space” is okay but I wouldn’t call it great. It looks beautiful, the story is compelling and soundtrack is fantastic but the acting is just empty. I’ll get more into what I mean later in the review. I’ll need to read the book it is based off to see if it suffers from the same problems as I really like the premise.

The film was directed Richard Stanley who co-wrote the film with Scarlett Amaris.

The story follows the Gardner family as strange things begin happening in their isolated home after a strange meteor slams into their yard.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Cinematography – This is a beautiful looking film. I love the use of pink to show the alien influence upon the house and town and the film does a great job of adding fear and claustrophobia to the environments the characters find themselves in. Steve Annis did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is very 80’s and that helped keep me interested in the film, as the characters are all really flat. Colin Stetson’s score helps elevate things though and gives the film major John Carpenter vibes.

The Plot – A strange meteor crashes to Earth and makes people go crazy and twists the environment around it. This is such a cool premise and there is a recipe there for a great film. How does the alien event change our characters? What trauma existed among them before? These questions are answered but sadly the performances don’t help.

The Cons:

Character Performances – Nicolas Cage has some good performances, this is not one of them. I didn’t know who his character was or his motivations, and that applied to all of the family. This can be blamed on both writing, direction and performances. Nothing here is elevated and I was left with more questions. We don’t see why the daughter is into the occult, we don’t see why Nicolas Cage escaped off the grid or why his wife is some unknown version of traumatized. These are all open questions so when characters do things it feels hollow. This is a shame because the story we are given is compelling it just so poorly executed.

I wish I could rate this movie higher. It is potential and I think would have been good or even great with better writing and a better cast. I’d only recommend it if you enjoy Lovecraft films as if you like Nicolas Cage, this is not a good performance by him. Hopefully the rest of the films I see this year will be better than this. Still, points for originality and not being part of a franchise or sequel.

Final Score: 6 / 10