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

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“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: The Next Generation – Season 5, Episodes 7 and 8 – “Unification Part 1 and 2” – A Question of the Past and Peace

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    “Unification Part 1 and 2” are both good “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episodes. They aren’t the best and I feel that some of the story points aren’t completely thought through, but this is an episode that gives us some good exploration of the Romulans. Also it is great seeing more classic characters from “Star Trek: The Original Series” and seeing where their stories end up. If you are a Romulan fan like me, outside of spoilers, I do recommend checking this two-parter out. For this I’ll be going over the complete story with things I like but scoring each part individually before giving it my final score.

“Unification Part 1” was directed by Les Landau with Teleplay by Jeri Taylor and story by Rick Berman and Michael Piller (for both parts) with “Unification Part 2” being directed by Cliff Bole and teleplay by Michael Piller.

The story follows the crew of the Enterprise-D investigating the possible defection of Ambassador Spock to Romulus.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Klingon Politics – One of the first things that our crew needs is a ship with a cloak, so Picard takes them to Qo’noS and the Klingon Empire. We quickly learn that Gowron has been re-writing history to make himself responsible for all the good that had happened and doesn’t even talk to Picard. Picard gets around this by suggesting that they can find help from someone else in the Empire and in turn they will now have the Federation’s gratitude. Gowron’s secretary gets it and they get a ship with a Klingon who will take them (Data and Picard) to Romulus. It is awesome as after Data and Picard leave the Klingon Captain still does everything he can to make their experience uncomfortable, showing Gowron was still being petty again Picard for the threat.

Riker – The B Plot follows Riker uncovering why a decommissioned Vulcan ship was found on a destroyed Ferengi cargo ship that crashed in an asteroid belt. This leads to Riker dealing with the leader of a scrapyard and convincing him to work with them and after combat with a heavily armed ship befriending a musician at a club to find out the dealings of a Ferengi businessman. It is very well done and we get to see why Riker is the First Officer. I really liked seeing Riker in command in these two episodes.

Sarek – “Unification Part 1” involves Sarek’s last days as Picard goes to him to see why Spock might have left to Romulus. It is sad seeing how much his mind has detiorrated and you can see why his new wife resents Spock for leaving and is protective of him. His scenes here are small but it was great to see Mark Lenard one last time. His Sarek brought so much to “Star Trek” and I wish we’d had more time with him in the episode.

Spock – Spock is the one who drives this story as it is his working with a Romulan Senator that he is spreading Vulcan philsophy and promoting the eventual peaceful unification of Vulcans and Romulans. He didn’t tell anyone he was doing this, which felt out of character, and he is pretty stubborn through the episode believing he will be successful. The Romulan senator betrays him but he decides to stay to continue fighting for his goals, but before Picard leaves Picard offers a mind meld so that Spock can see what his father thought of him. This scene is well done, even if Spock’s motives aren’t entirely fleshed out well. It is always great seeing Leonard Nimoy though, and his conversation about humanity with Data and his clashing with Picard were some of the stronger elements of the episode.

Data – Data goes undercover on Romulus with Picard for this two-parter and from this gives us some great moments. Data’s genius is what saves them from the Romulan Betrayal and Sela and it is his connecting with Spock that helps bridge the divide between Picard and Spock. Spock and Data discuss what each of them seeks, that Data is what Spock strives to be (good, emotionless and logical) and Spock has what Data always wanted (emotions, etc.) It is really well done. The second part of Data saving the day comes about from how stupid the Romulans are leaving them in a room with no one to guard them and an open computer. It is so dumb but Data using that access to free them makes sense.

Picard – Picard is the bridge between Sarek and Spock in more ways than one this episode. He’s the diplomat and we see that in how he strongarms the Klingons to help them through diplomacy and in his distrust of the entire situation with Romulus. In the end the Romulan plot is revealed but Picard is shown that there is still a chance for peace in the long term and offers Sarek’s memories to Spock in a mind meld as his parting gift.

The Unification Movement – The Unification Movement is really cool as Romulan Society is a totalitarian run. The Tal Shiar have everyone afraid and Romulan superiority is preached above all else. Vulcan philosophy is the counter to that and through ambassador Spock we see the younger generation of Romulans taking to his ideas, showing that maybe someday there can be peace once again between Romulans and Vulcans.

Romulan Betrayal – The Senator supporting the Unification Movement was using it as a front to gain power and prestige within the government and gives them all up. This betrayal was clever and well done and made sense. For him it was as much a matter of survival for him and the people he represented, knowing that the members of the Unification Movement were enemies of the State. I wish he’d shown up more after the betrayal as the Senator, Pardek was around for the Khitomer Accords. I wanted to see more of what drove his philosophy.

Okay:

Sela -I like that Sela is back, Denise Crosby is fantastic in the role and like Spock she is also part human but embraces the alien side of herself. This was something that could have been explored given that Data gets this treatment with Spock. Her plan is to occupy Vulcan and from there get the Romulans a foothold in Federation space. Given that the Federation was still largely peaceful during this time, it probably would have worked. The problem is how she is written, after Spock refuses to give her speech to the Vulcans and Federation and she has to use a hologram she leaves the room with her guards. Our heroes ambush her after that as there is no one in the room and they can hack the threat, ending the threat.

Cons:

The Romulan Plan and Threat – Occupying Vulcan, might have worked. For how long I’m unsure about but if getting a foothold in Federation Space is what the Romulans want than they should keep their hostages watched. Sela and her guards leaving her office unguarded was one of the dumbest things in any episode. It also seems to be a pattern where Romulans leaving is why they get defeated. This completely ruins the threat established and hurt the overall quality of the episode.

My scores will be below this summary but here are my thoughts on the story overall. This was a solid two-parter that had a lot of good ideas that were not fully explored. What the Romulans wanted with Vulcan felt haphazard and not well thought out, Spock not telling the Federation struck me extremely stupid and put more people at risk besides those in the Unification Movement and leaving unguarded prisoners is a far too common easy out in “Trek” writing. I love the Romulans and this was a good exploration of some of the people within their society, I just wish we’d gotten more details beyond everyone being tied to the Government or part of the Unification movement. Nuance and greater depth would have made this story amazing, rather than simply enjoyable and good.

“Unification Part 1” score: 8 / 10 Solid mystery plot and reveal.

“Unification Part 2” score: 7.4 / 10 Good character moments but brought down by the stupidity of the Romulan enemy actions.

Final Score: 7.7 / 10 Enjoyable and had good guest appearances but needed a stronger plot, especially in regards to the Romulan plans and endgame.