Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) – The Work for Peace and the Legacy of “The Original Series”

Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991) - IMDb

“Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” might be my favorite film out of all the “Star Trek” films. The biggest competitor is still “Wrath of Khan” which I need to re-watch but from my memory both are so close in score. I love the deeper themes they explore and the rich characters who are brought to the screen. Suffice to say, this film still very much holds up. It has a few problematic that I noticed this time around, but the story, without going into spoilers, is still amazing.

The film was directed and co-written by Nicholas Meyer with the other screenplay writer being Denny Martin Flinn.

After the Klingon moon of Praxis explodes from overmining Spock reaches out for a chance for peace with the Klingon Empire, and asks for Kirk to be on his envoy. From here the story unfolds as those wanting to sabotage peace act upon events.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

Relevant Cameos – I want to get some neat cameos out of the way upfront as most of the moments I’ll be describing are major events and characters (for the pros and cons) so without further ado. I loved seeing Yeoman Rand’s cameo, Michael Dorn as Colonel Worf, Worf’s grandfather were two cameos that were fantastic in this film.

Destruction of Praxis – The Destruction of Praxis was meant to mirror Chernobyl’s destruction and the ending of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. What works about this is how there is a complete shutoff of info from the Klingon Empire and that Captain Sulu witnesses it first hand so the truth of what happened can’t truly be denied. It lended weight to events especially as Spock mentions that without aid the Klingon homeworld of Qo’noS will be unhibatible in 50 years prompting the work for peace.

The Dinner Party – The dinner party is such a fun scene. In this the clash between Klingon and human cultures is on full display. You have General Chang egging on Kirk and Kirk rising to it while Gorkon is attempting to keep things civil as folks on both sides of the table alienate each other through misunderstanding. Even with how uncomfortable it is, it still gives Gorkon hope and he shares that hope with Kirk before returning to his ship.

Chancellor Gorkon – David Warner does an amazing job as the idealist Klingon leader fighting for peace. He has elements in his cabinet who want war, which means the Klingon High Council is probably similar. This in turn leads to his assassination, as people from the Klingon Empire and Starfleet do not want the war to stop. In the end he believes in fighting for peace though as his dying breathe to Kirk is to not let this be the end.

The Assassination of Gorkon – Gorkon’s assassination is visceral as it looks like the Enterprise-A fired upon Gorkon’s ship and two people beamed aboard and killed Gorkon and members of his cabinet. It is a brutal scene that does not shy away from how horrible the act is. This in turn leads to the arrest of Kirk and McCoy as being framed as responsible for the murder.

The Prison Planet Rura Penthe – Rura Penthe feels like something out of “Star Wars” both in the alien design and how chaotic it is. This works though and I enjoyed seeing the Klingon underbelly where no one was safe and how it forced Kirk and McCoy to think on their feet. It was such a fun location and I enjoyed Martia, the shapeshifter we are introduced too.

Martia – Martia is such a fun character. She is working with the Warden to frame Kirk and McCoy and escapees and get paid but before that she does help them make peace and respect with the other prisoners. She is a complicated antagonist and Amen is wonderful in the role. She honestly carries the scenes she is in more than Kirk and McCoy.

The Investigation on the Enterprise-A – The investigation begins with the Enterprise crew stalling so they have time to investigate and so that the evidence of the assassination (the magnetic boots that were used). You get to see them exploring all parts of the ship and multiple main crewmembers coming up with new excuses to give starfleet or ideas of where the evidence might be. It is really thorough and the reveal is powerful.

Uhura, Chekov and Scotty – Uhura gets to use her diplomatic skills and is with Chekov suggesting solutions to the mystery. Scotty is also on hand doing the same and in the end discovers the assassination uniforms and gets to punch the man attempting to kill the Federation President. This film makes use of the entire crew and I love that they were more than glorified cameos. Doohan, Nichols and Koenig do a great job.

Valeras – Valeras is the villainous Vulcan who believes peace is illogical as it entirely depends on faith and goes against the history the Klingons and Federation have. In a way she’s right as there would be later wars but even those wars wouldn’t have the rubric for peace if not for the events of this film. She is a great character and shows how complicated the Federation and Vulcans can be.

General Chang – Christopher Plummer is amazing as this Shakespeare quoting Klingon obsessed with war. You can see how much it has come to define him as he will work with his enemies to make sure peace will never happen, even if his homeworld is destroyed in the process. He is the driven nationalist and his defeat is rewarding. He also has a proto-type Bird-of-Prey that can fire when cloaked and nearly wins multiple times in this movie. He is easily one of Star Trek’s best villians.

Captain Sulu and The Excelsior – I love Captain Sulu. This tea drinking captain discovers the destruction of Praxis and does all he can to help Enterprise ending in his ship The Excelsior helping to defeat General Chang in the end. George Takei really deserved a mini-series with his character. He’s such a great captain.

McCoy – McCoy is there as support to Kirk through all and we see how deeply he is invested in the peace process as well as how ready he is to enjoy his retirement. This dynamic is contrasted with Kirk who doesn’t want to leave while McCoy will always do his duty and protect his friends but is more at peace with his age and the next stages of his life.

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk drive the primary action of the film and we see them grow as both grow over the course of the film. Kirk confronts and overcomes his prejudice due to Gorkon’s hope and him seeing first hand where hate leads and Spock sees the flaws in the Federation through Valeras’s betrayal and how his idealism blinded him to those who would want to keep the war going on. It is really well done and Shatner and Nimoy truly gave these characters a great sendoff. In the end they both find faith and hope once more and help the Federation and Klingon Empire find it too.

Chancellor Azetbur – Chancellor Azetbur is Gorkon’s daughter and still believes in his dream as she finds justice by trying Kirk and McCoy, which was fair given what she knew. She doesn’t let the Nationalists and zealots sway her and in the end it pays off as she signs the Khitomer accords and makes peace with Kirk as the true murders are revealed. Rosana DeSoto did a fantastic job.

The Cycle of Hatred – One of the themes of the film is how war feeds the cycle of hatred. Kirk’s hatred of the Klingon’s for one killing his son almost leads to greater war happening again and because of past battles old scars are carried forward by the people wanting there to be no peace.

Empathy and the Chance for Peace – In the end it is through empathy that peace is found as it is in Gorkon’s death that Kirk realizes how wrong he was and Azetbur does in the nationalist and zealots revealed. It is beautifully handled.

The Cons:

Kirk’s Shapeshifter Panic – Kirk sleeps with Martia who at one point turns into a giant beast and changes her gender. The film makes a joke of it. I hated it. “Trans panic” and “gay panic” is real and it harms people as homophobes and transphobes use that defense for their hatred. Kirk and McCoy should have been better.

Spock and Valeras Mind Meld / Mental Assault – When Spock is finding out the conspiracy he does a mind meld against Valeras’s will as she is one of the betrayers herself. It is horrible and I wish it had been called out in the film. There should been another way like a truth serum or something akin to that or Spock simply changing her mind through logic and reason as Trek usually does at it’s best. Like the “panic” scene I hated this so much.

This film is amazing, a favorite and still problematic. In this we get the best of hope for humanity and growth and also see where that growth is still needed. This evolution and embracing all is what the heart of “Star Trek” is and I hope we can see those greater stories in the future. This film ends the Klingon War and “The Original Series” in a way that matters and truly captured what made the show and films so memorable.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1, Episode 27 – “Errand of Mercy” – Forcing Peace

“Errand of Mercy” is an episode with good intentions that doesn’t fully realize the consequences of what it is trying to do. This is a good episode but it had the potential to be great if it had been willing to fully explore the ideas it proposes. This is a class though so I’d recommend checking it out if only for that.

The episode was directed by Gene L. Coon and written by John Newland.

War has erupted after failed negotions between the Klingon Empire Federation leading to standoff on the planet of Organia a peaceful planet who refuses to get involved in the conflict.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Organians – The Organians are advanced energy beings that abhor violence. How they got to this point is never explored but how detached they are makes sense given the nature of their beings. It is a shame they never appeared again after this.

Kor and the Klingons – Kor is a warrior and loves combat above all else. He is made Governor over Organia and wants to fight. He also has a lot of respect for the Federation because of past battles with them. This gives him a fascinating dynamic with Kirk where this respect but also no question whether they are enemies. I wish we could have heard more about the war and his stories given how core they would be to him when he returned on “Deep Space Nine.”

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk send most of the episode resisting the Klingons and preparing for the fleet battle to come. They show just how competent they are when they capture Kor in his office. They don’t go into it but Kirk and Spock’s idealism is not fully explored nor the wrongs of Klingon occupation called out to Kor, which would have been good for exploring the premise further.

An Exploration of Peace – This episode superficially explores peace in that the Organians force it and say eventually Klingons and the Federation will be friends in time. They are right but the basic premise beyond preventing people from fighting and upholding the sacredness of life it doesn’t go deeper.

The Cons:

Close-up Shots – There are few face shots of people that were super distracting and very badly filmed. I get it was to capture the emotion but it just looked off and was distracting.

Addressing Injustice – We learn the Klingons practice slavery over planets they occupy and this is never addressed to the Klingons directly. This needed to be done as the Organians just wanted peace without any higher ideals in mind, just an end to hostilities and cold status quo.

Forced Peace and the Organian Failure – The Organians may have stopped the war but in the long run they didn’t. The Klingons and Federation would go to war multiple times after this and even with “The Original Series” we see they are still fighting after this episode. What was the point of this peace if they couldn’t even keep it?

This was an episode with ideals that are admirable but needed to go deeper in order to truly reach greatness. This is a classic though and it is fascinating seeing the early Klingons, specifically Kor in action. This episode establishes and introduces the Klingons as a long term threat to the Federation and they live up to that.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 3, Episode 10 – “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” – McCoy and the Quest for Truth

     “For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” is a a great classic “TOS” episode and also works well as just a great science fiction conflict. I was looking for an episode that explores Dr. McCoy and this one does so really well. This is an episode with multiple stakes that are juggled really well as we see both mortality on the individual and large scale level.

The episode was directed by Tony Leader and written by Rik Vollaerts.

The episode involves the crew of the Enterprise when they discover a generational ship on a crash course with an inhabited planet and must stop it. Dr. McCoy also learns he’s carrying a terminal illness and only has a year to live.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The generational ship full of people who have never known anything but the ship who may unknowingly destroy another civilization and McCoy facing his own mortality leads to great drama being created. We have the interpersonal relationship with the crew and how the crew interacts with the Fabrini people leading to an amazing story.

The Oracle – The Oracle is a great antagonist. It is driven by it’s programming and is able to defend itself extremely well. It is so driven by it’s programming that it is unable to accept any mistakes or the fact that it had made a mistake. The final fight against it is intense too as it tries to burn Spock, Kirk and McCoy in the room before they can use the book to shut it down. The Oracle has the upper hand through most of the episode which made it’s defeat all the more rewarding.

Captain Kirk and Spock – Kirk and Spock are the ones who help Natira realize the Oracle is wrong and they are the first to investigate the Oracle. We also get some good emotional moments where we see empathy in both of their eyes when Kirk mentions McCoy’s illness. It was a subtle moment but it made me appreciate Spock more who clearly showed carrying for Bones in the way he looked at him after hearing about the illness. This is an episode where the trio does a great job saving the day and in the end they discover on the computer’s harddrive a way to save McCoy as as well.

Natira – Natira is the leader of the Fabrini in that she is the one who speaks listens to the Oracle and enforces it’s will. Even with this indoctrination she received growing up she is willing to accept she is in a ship eventually and that there outside that the Oracle is hiding from her. She takes this responsibility deeply to the point that though she loves Dr. McCoy she does not return with him to the Enterprise.

Dr. McCoy – Dr. McCoy carries the episode as we seem him wrestle with the fact that he is dying and that when he chooses to stay on the ship to live out his last days he acts to help the Enterprise, even as he nearly loses his life in the process. We have moments of him facing his mortality with the other members of the crew and he clearly loved Natira. It is for these reasons it is really his episode as they would not have succeeded in stopping the ship without his sacrifice when he stayed behind and risked the Oracles wrath. In the end by saving the people on the planet and the truth saving the Fabrini people also leads to them finding the cure for McCoy and saving him as well.

This episode gives us an interesting people, uses our main three (Kirk, Spock and McCoy) in dramatic ways and provides a great antagonist in the Oracle and fantastic supporting character in Natira. The fact that this is a ship that can sustain itself and the Fabrini culture that has arisen from it fascinating too. Suffice to say, this is an episode I highly recommend.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1, Episode 23 – “A Taste of Armageddon” – The Possibility of Peace

     “A Taste of Armageddon” is one of my favorite episodes of “The Original Series.” This is an episode that explores what it means to tackle the costs of war as well as how a society could buy into constant war for a state of false “peace.” This episode also uses most of the main crew and works fantastically as an ensemble piece. Suffice to say, this is one I highly recommend.

The episode was directed by Joseph Pevney with teleplay by Robert Hamner (who also wrote the story) and Gene L. Coon.

The story involves the Enterprise delivering Ambassador Robert Fox to open up negotiations with the Eminian Union who have been war with another planet in their system Vendikar for generations. All is not as it appears to be though when Kirk and the away team beam down during an attack from Vendikar.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The War – The war with Vendikar is the core part of the episode as it has gone on so long that the way of fighting has been completely taken over by computers and citizens on both sides now sacrifice themselves in areas where the computer says attacks occurred. This is taken as normal because it is all the 2 planets have known and it is the arrival of the Enterprise where the cycle of war is finally broken by bringing back an actual war not the virtual war where people willingly go to their deaths for the “Good of the state.” The war has warped all sense of valueing people as Anan 7 tries multiple times to trick Enterprise in lowering the shields so it can be destroyed as in the virtual war, it was.  Though even in this, when the war stops the desire for peace is still strong among those who have been a part of this war for so long.

Mea 3 and Anan 7 – Mea 3 and Anan 7 give us a great glimpse of the mentality that has been built up by war. Anan 7 is doing all he can to kill the Enterprise because he fears the war escalating when the virtual deaths aren’t registered while Mea 3 is a true believer but does nothing to stop Kirk and Spock from breaking all the death machines. In the end they are both flawed and human as in the end Anan 7 does accept Ambassador Fox’s help at negotiating a peace with Vendikar as he doesn’t want a war where he’ll see the bombs dropping and bloodshed. He could fight a sterilized war because that had been the way of things for so long and was willing to talk to make the change needed for the possibility of peace.

Scotty -Scotty is Captain while Kirk and Spock lead the away team on the planet. He does a fantastic job and keeps the ship safe as he figures out that Anan 7 is lying when he calls for them all to come down for shore leave and keeps the shields up even against orders of the Ambassador. This is an amazing Scotty episode and made me wish we saw him in the Captain’s chair more. He is more than qualified for it and will fight for his crew. He also plays of McCoy really well who is extremely anxious through the entire episode.

Spock – Spock calls out the Eminian Union in a great way where he see’s the logic in how they do war but does not see it as moral. We also see how powerful he is psychically when he controls the guards to free them and helps lead the revolution on the planet to stop the machines of death. He plays off Kirk really well too as it is them planning together when they are trapped to get out of each situation.

Captain Kirk – This is a great Captain Kirk episode. We get a Kirk speech that war has to be experienced to truly know how awful it is as he advocates for life and humanity. It is a fantastic Kirk speech and seeing him playoff Spock throughout the episode is handled really well.

The Cons:

Vendikar – We never see the people of Vendikar and that is really the only con I can think of. They are only mentioned when seeing them, even at the end would have shown their humanity as well. I’m honestly surprised the episode never showed us even one.

This is an amazing episode and easily one of the best of “The Original Series.” “The Original Series” was strongest when it worked the ensemble cast and explored deeper ideals tied to one’s humanity or the nature of war and peace. There is so much about this episode that works and it captures so much of what I loved about “The Original Series.”

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 2, Episode 7 – “Wolf in the Fold” – Scotty on Trial

Star Trek S02E07 Wolf in the Fold - video dailymotion

   “Wolf in the Fold” provides an interesting premise and even has some good moments of tension before it fails as a story. This is an episode that focuses on Scotty, but we learn almost nothing about him, and even the main threat ends up not feeling like a threat. This is all besides the misogyny that runs through the episode. The premise had a lot of promise but absolutely fails and I’ll get into why below.

The episode was directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Robert Bloch.

The story involves Scotty being blamed for a murder when the crew visits Argelius II.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Politics – In this story we see the politics between Argelius and Starfleet. Argelius is a free love society that hasn’t experienced a murder until the one that kicks off the episode. This gives an interesting dynamic as Kirk wants to do it by their laws but ends up offering up the computer as an answer when the Prefect is willing to try it after his wife is murdered during a seance to find the truth. From this, I wish he’d pushed back against more. He is the final judge on Scotty’s fate but he is very agreeable with Starfleet, even after his wife is murdered.

The Computer – The idea of using the computer to find the truth is really neat. It has all the information and can track if a person is lying or not. It is from the computer they found out the spirit of Jack the Ripper is the one responsible. This part of the episode is slow but I liked the computer being used the solve the mystery. It fit the theme of tech. solutions over supernatural which has always been a theme of “Star Trek.”

The Premise – The idea of a member of the crew being framed for murder on an alien world is fascinating. This base premise alone would have been enough if the politics between Argelius II and the Federation had been played up. Sadly the idea of the premise is not paid off.

The Cons:

Misogyny – Everyone woman we meet in this story is either being ogled by the crew (the belly dancer who gets killed) or is responsible for a problem. Scotty is on shoreleave because a female crewman caused a problem that lead to him hitting his head. This is so weak and isn’t helped by the text of the episode as all the other woman who we meet end up needing rescuing from Jack the Ripper or are killed by him.

The Enemy – Jack the Ripper is the enemy and his main host ends up being Mr. Hengist, an Argelian who is played by John Fiedler who voices Piglet in “Winnie the Pooh.” This does not work. Piglet’s voice is not ever threatening and the spirit taking control of the ship is for such a short time we don’t even see what the enemy is capable of. The moment the killings end on Argelius II all tension is gone and that is largely through how Jack the Ripper is presented. He just isn’t scary.

The Ending – The crew ends up fighting Jack the Ripper and him existing through fear by being pumped full of drugs that induce happiness by McCoy. This causes such whiplash that I don’t know why it was even included in the episode and focused on. Everyone is laughing, which takes away what tension there was by Jack the Ripper taking control of the ship.

This was an episode full of interesting ideas that it can’t execute. No ideas are delved into deeper and the supernatural threat just isn’t threatening. I appreciate that the episode is about someone outside of Kirk, McCoy or Spock but Scotty just doesn’t get enough exploration. This episode is reactive when it could have been so much more. There are the seeds of good ideas here, but failure to explore any of those ideas deeply leads to a bad episode.

Final Score: 5 / 10

Star Trek: The Original Series – Season 1, Episode 4 – “The Enemy Within” – The Jekyll and Hyde of Kirk

Watch Star Trek: The Original Series (Remastered) Season 1 Episode ...

    “The Enemy Within” is a good thriller episode of “The Original Series.” This series explores identity in a fascinating way and gives us a good ticking clock for the tension. The episode also has some major problematic elements that I’ll be getting into below. I’m going to give a trigger warning as well for what happens in the episode.

The episode was directed by Leo Penn and written by Richard Matheson.

The story follows the problem of a transporter malfunction that separates Kirk into a good and evil version, neither who can live without the other. The crew must stop his doppelganger and save Sulu and the archaeologists trapped on the planet below.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Premise – The premise of a Captain forced to deal with both sides of himself and have the ticking clock of saving his crew is such a great premise for creating tension. The stakes are immediately apparent and gives a chance to explore human nature and identity.

Scotty – Scotty is engineer and transporter chief and spends most of the episode trying to solve the problem of the separated Kirk. In the end he does find a technical solution and they are able to make Kirk whole again and rescue the crew.

Sulu and the Trapped Crew – Sulu is on the planet and we see him holding onto hope as the situation on the planet continues to get worse as the temperature drops. I loved how he was still able to joke and was looking out for those around him. We got to see him problem solve as well as at one point he warms a rock with his phaser which helps give himself and the archaeologists more time.

Exploration of Identity – The exploration of identity is key to the episode. Kirk has to take his selfish side as it helps him make decisions and be decisive. Without it he is passive and in flight mode versus his evil which is permanent fight mode. It takes time for him to accept that side of himself though and it is only through Spock expressing how his intelligence is what helps him make peace between the Vulcan and Human sides of himself. The dynamic between Kirk and Spock works really well in the episode.

The Cons:

Shatner Ham – Shatner’s evil side doesn’t have any subtly until moments at the end where he is much more cool headed. I get Shatner was going for pure Hyde animal but it was over the top on more than one occasion. This is definitely a Shatner ham episode and it overall doesn’t work. Because he is so over the top his doppelganger never fully comes off as a fully realized threat as Kirk is not superhuman, his other half is just animal crazy and not a smart animal.

Rape Apologism and Yeoman Rand – We have Spock at the end saying how the Doppelganger had “interesting” aspects to Yeoman Rand, who the doppelganger tried to rape and we have Rand makes excuses for the Captain after she was violated. I hated this so much. Within the progressive future of Gene Roddenberry you still had this crap from the era of the woman being blamed for what was done to her. The whole scene has more worry for Kirk than Rand when she comes forward. God I hated it so much.

If this episode wasn’t trying to apologize for the doppleganger’s attempt to rape Yeoman Rand than I would be rating this episode higher. We get some amazing exploration of Kirk’s identity and a good ticking clock problem to be solved. I would recommend this episode but with a warning about how Rand is handled in the episode. She should have never had to apologize for what was done to her and I hated how even Spock seemed to make light of it in the final scenes when Kirk is whole again. She deserved so much better than her treatment in this story.

Final Score: 8 / 10 Elevated for how it explores identity. Could have been great if Rand had been respected as a person and character.

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

Image result for star trek tng unification

    “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.

Star Trek: The Next Generation – Season 6, Episode 14 – “Face of the Enemy” – Romulan Politics and Troi’s Potential

Face of the Enemy

       Counselor Troi was really shafted throughout the entire run of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” When she was wrote it was largely romance plots or her stating the obvious on the bridge. She has extra-sensory empathy, but that is never really used in any interesting ways most of the time. This episode is an exception in regards to that. It is a good episode and a great Troi episode as we see her under pressure from being undercover and also how committed she is to her role as a Starfleet officer. This is an episode that gives us great exploration of the tension between the Tal Shiar and military and is well worth checking out for any fan of the Romulans on “Star Trek.”

The episode’s story was by René Echevarria with teleplay by Naren Shankar and directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

The story follows Counselor Troi who has been surgically altered into Tal Shiar Agent Major Rakal. She must figure out the reasons why while facing a crew that distrusts her very presence on the ship.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Mystery and Trust – The main mystery of why Troi was turned into a Romulan by Commander N’Vek and The Enterprise-D as they work with a former Federation Ensign DeSeve who defected to the Romulan Star Empire, returning to help them find a ship going at the fastest speed. Both Picard and the crew don’t know whether they can trust the defector and Troi is in the same situation, even as she sees that the cargo they are transporting are government officials trying to get safely over to the Federation. It is powerfully done as both N’Vek and Ensign DeSeve slowly reveal more of the truth and have to give more and go against the distrusting nature instilled in them by the Empire. It is powerfully done and through it you get to see Troi come into her element as a leader.

Relationship Between Tal Shiar and Romulan Military – In this episode we get the military perspective (and from it the view of the Romulan populace) of the Tal Shiar. Everyone fears them. Commander Toreth mentions how every person on her crew has lost someone to the Tal Shiar, but in the end they still follow orders. The fear is so great that the most that can be done is verbal protest.

Commander Toreth – Commander Toreth’s father was a man who spoke up for freedom for Romulans and was killed by the Tal Shiar for it. This in many ways makes her sympathetic to N’Vek’s plot but her duty overrides all else and because of how Troi is being used, Troi can’t sympathize or help. She was a moral commander and anytime N’Vek or Troi did something she disagreed with, she’d document it and she was not afraid to confront the Tal Shiar with her disagreement over their actions, even as she continued serving the Empire. Carolyn Seymour was amazing in the role.

Counselor Troi – This is an episode where Troi gets to shine. She has to play the role of the enemy to both the Romulans on the ship and later towards her own crew in order to save innocents. The entire episode is a tightrope walk for her and Marina Sirtis does a fantastic job acting that walk. Troi’s arc in the episode involves her speaking up for herself and taking charge. First against Commander Toreth and later against N’Vek when his plans fail.

The Cons:

The Ending Actions of the Romulans – Commander Toreth’s original plan was to destroy The Enterprise-D after they learn how to track their cloak, but after getting command back from Troi she completly forgets her original aim and instead thinks that she’ll just bring Troi in for questioning. It isn’t handled well and feels rushed and sudden. The Romulans just leave and the Federation gets the escapees and no knows another way to track cloaks. Given how effective we see Commander Toreth is, this made no sense and felt like they just wanted to end the episode.

This is a good episode and one I’d recommend to any Romulan fan. You get to see how complicated relationships are between the Tal Shiar and military, Toreth is a wonderfully compelling character and the mystery plot is strong enough to keep one engaged. Marina Sirtis has to carry this episode and she succeeds in doing so. Her Troi is vulnerable but firm and adapts to the predicament she is in. I wish she had gotten more episodes like this.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10

Star Trek Continues – A Beautiful Continuation and Honoring of the Best Parts of the Original Series

This is the first fan series or project that I’ve reviewed on the blog, and honestly after this, the standards for what fan films or shows I would watch is pretty high. A friend at work recommended it to me and I’m grateful he did. This is a professionally made production that looks just as good if not a little better than the Star Trek: The Original Series and has writing on par with the good and great episodes from that series.

The show was created by Vic Mignogna, who also stars as Captain Kirk in the series…and you can tell he’s a fan of the series. So much love and quality was poured into the making of this that I honestly wish CBS would show it. This is more than just a love letter to the series as it takes the lore seriously and expands on it, rather than going through the same beats.

The story picks up where the Original Series left off with the continuation of the 5 year mission of the Enterprise.  As part of that mission they are first to try out the Counselor test program (on whether starships should bring on full time counselors) bringing lieutenant Dr. McKennah to the crew.

The Pros: The Universe – This is “Star Trek.” The characters act how they do in the Original Series, the ships and galactic powers are in action, the Enterprise is exploring strange new worlds. Nothing feels out of place.

The Cinematography – The cinematography in this series is beautiful and it looks like a more polished version of how the Original Series was filmed of old. Whether it is fighting a Romulan Warbird or destroying a tiny object in space, or a fight on the ship or a planet…the sets look raw and real and it gives life to the show.

The Writing – The writing team and directors (who were largely Vic Micnogna working with a few other people but usually always at least directing) did an amazing job. The stories catch the morality of what make “Star Trek” great, whether it is feminism, equality and peace and understanding aliens and other beings. This is the through line through the series and it was one thing the Original Series didn’t always do (seriously, the sexism in some of the early episodes of TOS are horrifyingly bad). I won’t give away any spoilers but these episodes are so amazing I do plan individual reviews of them down the line, as well as a Top 3 post.

Connecting to Past and Future Treks – This is a series that connects the threads between TOS and The Motion Picture really well (and even ties into TNG with the Counselor program). In this you see what happens to the psychics, the Romulan Star Empire after the Klingon Alliance, Apollo, why we never seen any female captains and how things went down in the Mirror Universe. It is all done artfully while keeping the progressive strength of what made Star Trek so great in how it saw humanity’s potential in the future.

The Guest Stars – There are some pretty great guest stars, even though some of them I wish had gotten better writing. Colin Baker shows up as an alien leader, as does John De Lancie, Rekha Sharma shows up a scientist who Kirk had a relationship with, Marina Sirtis voices the Enterprise computer and Michael Dorn voices the Mirror Universe’s Enterprise computer. The guest stars in this are gold and they do a good job with what the writers give them.

Spock and Kirk – Spock and Kirk are the strongest part of this show and that is largely due to the chemistry between Vic Mignogna and Todd Haberkorn. Both have done anime voice work so my guess is that is how they must have met and formed the rapport. These are the two who receive the most exploration as we see both of their regrets as well as their dreams and aspirations. I won’t say anymore than that as the reveals of what those things are handled really well. Even when certain episodes were just good or fun these two kept me coming back as their acting was the strongest even in weak scenes.

Okay: The Rest of the Crew – Chris Doohan (James Doohan’s son) is fine, hell most of the crew outside of Kirk and Spock who aren’t guest stars are fine but none of them really capture the characters the way Kirk and Spock do. Part of the reason is they changed the McCoy actor after two episodes and Chekov, Uhura and Sulu really don’t get any more exploration than what they did in the Original Series, so that was a wasted opportunity and kept them from ever being good.

This is a series I highly recommend to any fan of “Star Trek.” This is a series that develops the characters further, introduces new threats and situations that have to be solved, is full of hope and inspiration for the future and beautifully captures all the good that has come out of “Star Trek.” Here is the website:

http://www.startrekcontinues.com/index.html

I highly recommend you check it out if you are a fan of the series. Seriously, Vic Mignogna created something wonderful that I will be coming back to again and again.

Final Score: 9 / 10 Solidly great fan series that connects TOS to The Motion Picture.

Star Trek Beyond (2016): The Reboot Series Finally Captures Classic “Star Trek”

Star Trek Beyond

    “Star Trek Beyond,” is a film that best captures the spirit of the Star Trek Franchise than probably “The Undiscovered Country.” That film has a better story and is one of my all time favorite Star Trek Films but this film is still really good and I enjoyed it a lot more than “Star Trek Into Darkness,” which at the end of the day depended way too much on conspiracy and fan service rather than showing the spirit and cost of adventure the way this film does. Non-spoiler thoughts…this film has great action, comedy and characters and is well worth your time to see it on the big screen.

    “Star Trek Beyond” was directed by Justin Lin, written by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung and produced by J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci and Bryan Burk.

     The story takes place 3 years into the 5 year mission and Kirk (Chris Pine) finds himself at a crossroads with the possibility of promotion and Spock (Zachary Quinto) is pulled back into Vulcan after a major death.  They and the crew are put to the test though when they are lead into a trap and must face Krall (Idris Elba) who destroys their ship, forcing them to adapt to the planet and keep him from getting the superweapon he seeks.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – This movie captures the wonder of the World of Star Trek. We get the Utopia of Yorktown, the horrors of war via Krall and tons of alien species and first contact opportunities.

Yorktown – Yorktown is a like a giant snowglobe in space and looks like how I always imagined a advanced space station actually looking (in the tv shows they never were able to capture it like it is on film, they are just stations, this is a city). I loved this area and I like that we spent time here to humanize our crew and see how the Federation has achieved Utopia.

The Writing – Minus the writing of Krall, the writing is a major pro. Every character is given things to do, characters change and aren’t just rehashing the same story (Kirk, Spock and Uhura had the same story twice in the last two reboot films). Simon Pegg being a Trekkie and one of the writers is one reason I think why this worked so much.

Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and stunning and captures the old look of the show while modernizing it for the screen. It feels dreamlike and from it the adventure of this great series.

The Comedy – The comedy is gold, especially anything with Jaylah and Scotty and McCoy and Spock. The dialogue is quick and witty and always moves the action forward.

Use of Ensemble Cast – The cast all has things to do and it keeps the story strong! Uhura and Sulu are protecting the hostages and the device, Chekov is with Kirk, McCoy is Spock and Scotty is with Jaylah. Each of them are working to find one another and defeat Krall and it leads to great comedic and dramatic moments.

The Cast – The cast is the strongest part of this film, these actors have come to inhabit these characters.

Chekov – R. I. P. Anton Yelchin…you really inhabited this role. This is a film where Chekov is with Kirk for a lot of it and later teams up with Scotty since he knows tech. almost as well. We see him be the hero and the problem solver and his relationship with Kirk is pretty great. You’ll be missed Anton…

Sulu – John Cho is fantastic as Sulu and in this we get to meet his husband and daughter at Yorktown and from there see the reason why he is fighting so hard to defend it. In this he get to see him fly the Franklin, fight with the Enterprise until Krall’s drones destroy it. It is great seeing him and Uhura team up.

Uhura – Uhura is the primary protector of the hostages and the device that Krall is trying to get. She only loses when Krall threatens a crew member forcing the crewman to reveal her hand and where she’s kid the device. Uhura is ready to die to protect it though. We also see that her and Spock still have a great relationship even though they may or may not have broken up. Zoe Saldana is fantastic.

Scotty – Simon Pegg is really great in the role of Scotty and in this we see him as the major problem solver, whether it is fixing the Franklin, finding the crew and Krall or working with Jaylah on traps.

McCoy – Karl Urban really owns the role of McCoy and in this we get to see his friendship with Spock grow as they are stuck together for most of the film. It is great seeing their dynamic as McCoy’s cynical optimism is contrasted beautifully with Spock’s cold clear logic and duty driven decisions. This eventually leads to them taking on Krall by kidnapping one of the drone ships since Spock needs someone to monitor his injury he received when the Enterprise was destroyed and McCoy is the only one who knows about it.

Spock – Spock is faced with a decision in this…to stay with the crew or to return to Vulcan to help create more Vulcans. Ambassador Spock has died and no Vulcan is once more lacking limited leaders and there still aren’t very many of them. Over the course of the film he decides to stay for the crew though, not because of future Spock and I really like that. He discovers that it is out on the frontier he can protect Vulcan best and the realization that the entire crew is his family now and will be (he sees a picture of the crew when they are older that Ambassador Spock was keeping).

Kirk – Kirk like Spock is faced with a decision to stay or get a promotion and go as when we first meet him his life on the ship has become mundane and he expresses how trapped everyone feels out in space for so long. It is powerful as he is really talking about himself. Krall reminds him of why he is out there too and even though he loses the Enterprise he decides to stay to Captain and because the Captain of the newly built Enterprise-A we see being built at the end of the film.

Jaylah -Sofia Boutella is awesome as Jaylah and I hope she becomes part of the main crew. She is the one who helps them all team up as her home is Krall’s old Federation ship the Franklin. It is thanks to her and Scotty that they get it running and are able to use it as a base to free the hostages and to confront Krall and his drone forces. She also has a somewhat romantic thing with Scotty and is an orphan whose been fighting Krall all her life. Suffice to say she is awesome.

The Idea of Krall – The idea of Krall as a former Space Marine turned alien warlord is cool. Peace doesn’t work for everyone, especially those who gain honor from combat and live from it (one reason the Federation fights the Klingons every generation even after the treaties). There was so much more that could have been done with this idea if he had just been fleshed out more as a character.

Remembering the Dead – R.I.P. Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin. Both of them were given time to be remembered as Spock remembered Ambassador Spock and the final scene was fade to black with “For Anton” in memory of Anton Yelchin. The two of them were amazing and have left a legacy on this universe and the world.

Okay: Krall/Balthazar Edison – Idris Elba is good at humanizing this ex-marine turned alien Warlord and his acting is great, it is just the writing for Krall is only so-so so I’m putting him at okay. We never get explanations of why he turned into an alien or how using people turned him back into a person.

The Cons: Villain plan – The villain plan is to destroy Yorktown, which if Krall want the Federation at war, that isn’t going to help…since there is no way could escape, it was do the most damage and die…which I expected more from a man who had lived hundreds of years. He should have had a better plan.

How did Balthazar become Krall and Revert Back? – Balthazar was a M.A.C.O. (Pre-Federation Marine) who is maid captain after the Xindi and Romulan wars and finds himself abandoned on the planet. Something happens that causes him to become the alien Krall and he is using people to turn back into a person. This is never explained.

Pacing – The pacing can be a bit jarring at times. Sometimes everything is going too fast and we have no time to really soak in what our characters are going through, and other times we linger too long. This is most true at the beginning but by about a third of the way through the film this isn’t as much of an issue.

   The villain isn’t bad but he is where most of the holes in the plot are. Sometimes the pacing can be a little jarring, and I was bored at one point because of it…but the payoff when they arrive on Krall’s world is fantastic and almost everything after that works. This is a film that reminded me why I’m a Trekkie and I can’t wait to go back and review the other films so I can rate them all against one another. This a film well deserving of it’s place in the Franchise and some of the most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10