Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 4, Episode 3 – “Brothers” – The Legacies We Leave Behind

   “Brothers” is the best exploration of Soong and his creations that we get in “The Next Generation.” I wish we’d gotten more of this. This is one of the best episodes of “The Next Generation” and is an amazing story. Brent Spiner plays both Soong, Lore and Data in this episode and he gives quite the performance. I’ll get into more of what I mean later on but this is easily one of Spiner’s greatest performances.

The episode was written by Rick Berman and directed by Robert Bowman.

When Data takes control of the Enterprise, he takes them off course to a mysterious planet. The crew must get control back of the ship before one of the children under their care dies.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Taking Back The Ship – The main storyline for the crew involve them taking back control of the ship after Data locks them all out. It is very well done as we see all the main crew involved. O’Brien gets to use the transporter to trick the ship thinking Data has returned and we see the crew working together to solve Data’s hacks of their system. I could watch an episode of the crew taking back the ship any day of the week. The crew has such a great dynamic and I love seeing them problem solve.

Stories of Brothers – This episode is a story of brothers. The episode starts with one brother scaring his brother leading him him getting poisoned and their arc of making peace with another. On the other side you have Lore arrive when Soong calls Data and the resentment Lore has towards Data as Data makes peace that he is not lesser than Lore. We see how complicated relationships between brothers are and it is handled really beautifully.

Lore – Lore is called back by accident and that stings him. Soong believed that Lore was dead so his thoughts were only ever on Data. Even with Lore present though he cannot fix Lore and this feeds Lore’s resentment of Data and their father Soong. This leads to him stealing the emotion chip meant for Data and killing Soong. Lore is shown to be capable of some level of care though as he empathizes with Data at one point and his desire to be fixed shows he knows that there are problems in the actions he has done.

Data – This is Data’s story as he returns to his creator to be given an emotion chip. Over the course of the episode we see Data naturally develop more human like traits. He calls Soong Father before he dies and asks to be alone with Soong. These are all things that he would not have done before and show that even without the emotion chip he is still developing in his humanity. We also see how Data outmatches the entire crew as he locks them off the bridge and the episode is solving the problems he put in place while being controlled by Soong. This is a plot point I wish had gotten more exploration later.

Soong and Legacy – Soong bring’s Data to him in order to fulfill his legacy as his creator. He creates an emotion chip that is meant for Data but the mistake of his legacy in Lore leads to him getting killed. He was chased out by the Colonists and Lore was always trying to hurt and kill others. Soong never takes responsibility for Lore’s actions and his relationship with Data is him wishing Data would be a scientist like him. In the end Lore and Data live on as he dies from his illness and Lore and we see the parts of Soong in his children. Lore has his disconnect from others and selfishness while Data has his inquisitive nature and desire to be more.

Okay:

Urgency of B-Plot – The need for the little brother to be healed and get to the starbase loses the sense of urgency once the crew has taken back the ship. I felt a line or two as to why this was would have strengthened the end of this plot.

Brent Spiner does a truly beautiful job playing all three characters and is really the main reason to see this episode. You learn more about Soong, Data and Lore and you also get to see the crew be competent and problem solve. I love how this story explores legacy and family through Soong’s relationship to his children and their choices and actions. This lends an emotional weight that makes the episode perfect.

Final Score: 10 / 10. An amazing exploration of family and legacy.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5, Episode 23 – “I, Borg” – Discovering Individuality and Value

Image result for I, Borg

     “I, Borg” is such an amazing episode. We see a return of the Borg with Hugh and an exploration of the consequences of the Borg on members of the crew. This is also an episode that provides a moral conundrum too. What should be the ethics of war? This and the theme of PTSD are explored in the episode beautifully. This is easily one of my favorite episodes of “Star Trek” and I’m glad Hugh will be back in “Picard.” Suffice to say, I highly recommend this episode.

“I, Borg” was written by René Echevarria and directed by Robert Lederman.

When a Borg Drone is rescued, Picard must wrestle with what will become of it as he and other members of the crew face what the Borg Collective has done to them.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Dr. Crusher – This is a surprisingly good Beverly Crusher episode. She is the first to advocate for saving the Borg drone. She demonstrates her oath of the sacredness of all life beautifully and her empathy is what made La Forge and Hugh’s friendship possible and Guinan and Picard’s eventually coming around to seeing Hugh’s humanity. I wish she got more episodes like this. She is the moral center of the episode and the episode is stronger for it.

Geordi La Forge – As Geordi is the one studying Hugh in order to weaponize him against the Borg he becomes friends with him. It is Geordi who gives Hugh his name and teaches him about consent and individuality. This friendship goes so far that Geordi advocates directly to Guinan and Picard that he thinks the plan is a mistake. In the end his advocacy for Hugh’s humanity wins out and Geordi is the one who says good-bye to his friend before the Borg take him back.

Guinan – Guinan’s people were destroyed by the Borg and she confronts Hugh about this. She is the one who is at first against Picard’s growing empathy, given the destruction of her people…but Geordi changes her mind. After talking to Hugh and hearing him speak of his loneliness and empathy for her she realizes Hugh is not her enemy. Hugh is just a scared lonely kid. After this she advocates for Picard to not use Hugh as biological weapon against the Borg.

Hugh – Hugh is the I in “I, Borg” as this episode is about him developing a sense of self. As far as we know he has always been a drone within the Collective and because of this never had the chance to learn empathy or self and this episode is where he learns all of this. In the end he sacrafices himself so the Borg won’t target the Enterprise and to protect his friend Geordi. Jonathan Del Arco does such an amazing job in this role. He is the drone becoming an individual and it is his performance and relationships Hugh builds in the episode that make it so great.

Captain Picard’s PTSD – Picard’s PTSD is a major theme of the episode. The Borg mutilated his body and mind and because of this he understandably does not see any humanity within them. We see how deep this is as he pretends to be Locutus to test Hugh and it is in this test when Hugh denies to assimilate the crew and the Geordi is his friend that he sees the plan to weaponize Hugh is immoral and wrong.

An Exploration of War and Morality – The main moral issue being wrestled with in the episode is whether to use Hugh as a biological weapon against the Borg. He would be used a virus to shut them down. When the show starts out Dr. Crusher is the only one against this but slowly as Geordi becomes friends with Hugh and Picard talks to Hugh they see the humanity of the drones and that in committing genocide they would be acting like the Borg. It is handled really well and they take time to explore this over the course of the entire episode.

The Cons:

Borg Indifference – Geordi is able to go down to the planet where Hugh was found to say good-bye to him as the Borg pick him up. The thing that bothered me with this is the Borg not recognizing his role in their destruction prior. The Borg are a threat to the episode but they have no tactical sensibilities it felt like. The reason that is given is that they don’t notice individuals (as seen by them being able to free Picard in “Best of Both Worlds”) but shouldn’t they have adapted to that by now? It was one of the reasons for their defeat.

This is one of my favorite episodes in “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and shows just how strong the show could be when it focused on character and themes. This isn’t the last time we see Hugh and what is done in this episode has consequences for the Borg we see later. This episode is a great a example of structure working really well too. Dr. Crusher’s empathy leads to Geordi and Hugh becoming friends, which leads to Guinan getting to know Hugh and finally Picard giving Hugh a chance after Guinan admits her hate and rage against Hugh was wrong. This is powerfully done and creates an unforgettable story.

Final Score:

9.8 / 10 The strengths of this episode outweigh the flaws.

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

Image result for The Measure of a Man TNG

       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: The Animated Series – Season 1, Episode 3 – “One of Our Planets is Missing” – New Life and New Contact

The Cloud

   “One of Our Planets is Missing” is one of the best stories to come out of “Star Trek.” “Star Trek” is all about making contact with new life and new civilizations and the dilemmas sometimes presented by that. This one explores that thoroughly and shows the hope that there is for mankind when we truly seek out every new possibility before destruction of life. Suffice to say, I really enjoyed this episode.

    The episode was directed by Hal Sutherland and written by Marc Daniels.

    The story involves contact with a mysterious cloud that devours all life around it and ends up eating the Enterprise. From here it is up to the crew to stop or kill it before it can reach the furthest Federation world of Alondra, destroying all life there.

The Pros: Captain Kirk – Captain Kirk does all he can to protect the Federation while also exploring all ways to speak to the Cloud. This is partially on prompting of Spock who reminds him that it is against the code of the Federation to end new life…but in the end he finds away, giving Spock until the final minute to convince the creature to turn away from the planet.

Scotty – Scotty shows how resourceful he is when he improves the ship to survive the interior of the cloud. It is a great moment and we see him thinking fast when they are devoured on how to keep them alive and keep them from being digested.

Spock – Spock is the one who makes contact with the Cloud and is able to show it that they are life and should not be destroyed. It is that convinces the creature to return to it’s place of origin. It is powerful conversation and sharing of minds that feels Spock with wonder.

The Cloud – The Cloud does not perceive things that are small until the ship is able to amplify Spock’s mind to communicate with it. Once it sees the Ship and Universe through Spock’s eyes it leaves though since it does not wish to do harm to others, only to survive.

The Dilemma – The dilemma is whether to end something that is possibly a new life form before and if unable to make contact and in turn save the planet or to do everything and try to make contact first. It ends working out and they were lucky the Cloud was a benevolent life form.

This is an episode that showed “Star Trek” at it’s best. Not all life is humanoid or like us, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t capable of thought or feeling or that it is incapable of being made aware of others. It’s a powerful episode that shows the risks and possibilities in first contact with life that is truly alien from us.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 5, Episode 25 – “The Inner Light” – Remembering a People

Star Trek The Inner Light

“Seize the time, Meribor – live now! Make now always the most precious time. Now will never come again.”

– Captain Jean-Luc Picard

We continue “Trek Requests” with “The Inner Light,” hands down one of the best stories to come out of “Star Trek” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” that really highlights the high concept sci. fi. ideas that the show could bring and explore while giving us the chance to explore an entire new culture and civilization as well as the man of Jean-Luc Picard.

“The Inner Light” was directed by Peter Lauritson with the teleplay and story by Morgan Gendel and Peter Allan Fields as the other co-writer of the teleplay.

The story involves the Enterprise-D investigating a probe that is following them that sends Captain Picard into sleep. When Picard awakens he finds himself as the man Kamin in the community of Ressik on the planet of Kataan. From here he seeks to figure out the nature of the state he is in and if it is real, while his crew tries to get him out of the state that was brought about by a beam from the probe.

The Pros: First Contact – When Picard wakes up as Kamin he is fully Picard. The first thing he does is ask computer to “End Program.” He later goes outside and he questions everything. He does this for 5 years before finally accepting the reality of the life he’s living at Kamin is real but in doing so he gets all the information he can first such as when he asks Batai who he is, the planet and the town they are in. It’s powerful and shows why Picard is the diplomat and one of the smartest of the captains. He works to understand wherever he is so that first contact can go well.

The Life of Kamin – Kamin’s life is a full one. He is a scientist who inspires his daughter to become a scientist, and a musician who plays the flute who inspires his son to play the flute. In both cases they are studying the ongoing drought on their world and what to do about the water supply. He is politically connected as his friend Batai is on the city council, and his youngest son he names after Batai and he is a fighter. He stands up to the Administrator about the dying of their planet and learns they’ve known for the last 2 years. After his full life with his family and wife in which he is around for the death of his friend Batai and his wife Eline he is a grandfather and his story comes to an end as the rocket is launched which was the probe that shared the story of these people with whoever would discover it.

Picard and Kamin – Was Kamin fully like Picard in that the fever had made him believe he was in a Starship? Was Kamin a musician or was it Picard’s embracing of the flute to get used to living a life another that was key? The issues of identity are never fully resolved though we know Kamin had a family as they tell Picard to remember them at the end when he watches the probe launch into space. This is part of what makes the episode so good. Picard lived a full life that was both his and the life of another that gave him the glimpse into the world of a civilization that died 1000 years ago.

Politics of Water – In this episode the planet Kataan is dying but those in power in denial over it, even though we learn years later that they knew all along that the heating of the planet was causing water problems. This was a great showing and not telling in regards to Global Warming as we see this same denial today by those who profit from not changing the status quo. Change is hard even if the status quo is difficult with water being rationed (Like in California currently). This was one of the great moments in the episode where the trials of an alien species mirrored our own and were ones that we could relate to.

The Crew of the Enterprise-D – The crew is very involved at the beginning with Geordi, Worf, Data and Riker having lines about the probe before Riker catches Picard before he falls. We later see them stop the beam and reestablish it when Picard begins to die. Beverly is on the bridge during this time trying to help resuscitate Picard but to no avail. The scenes are powerful on the bridge since the crew is powerless and can’t do anything while their captain is going through an experience they have never dealt with before and know nothing about.

Remembrance – A huge theme of this episode is Remembrance, which is what we see when Kamin’s family talks to Picard at the end. The probe was sent out so their people would not be forgotten as the civilization knew it would be dead by the time the probe reached anyone. From this though they found hope in being remembered and did it by sharing Kamin’s life and the memories of their people. The experience is so powerful that Picard learns how to play the flute while there and when he returns and receives the flute in the probe plays a song to remember the life he lived with the people who are no more.

The Message – There were quite a few messages in this. Not ignoring a problem until it becomes impossible to deal with (the heating of the planet and water usage in the case of the Kataan), and the importance of remembering the past and those who have gone, cause even though no civilization and culture are perfect we can still take the good from the past and apply the lessons from it to the future.

This episode is everything that is great about “Star Trek.” It’s a meditative episode with Captain Picard living the life of another people and culture and from that experience coming to love and remember them. It’s an experience only he receives and it defines him in a way as to express himself through music and be left speechless before the crew. This profound discovery of new and new civilization (even if the civilization has long been dead) is part of why I am a Trekkie. The aliens of “Star Trek” when they are written right teach us more about ourselves and reveal our own shortcomings and strengths and with it give us the ability to empathize better, as Picard did when he became a part of a people before the probe breaks contact…and also that as long as people remember those who have been lost, they have life again in our hearts and minds.

Final Score: 10 / 10. Perfect “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode.