Star Trek: The Original Series Recaps Episode 41: “Obsession” and call me First Officer Spock

Kirk_and_Rizzo

There are certain plots that feel like quintessential Star Trek: powerful, near godlike aliens lack compassion, negotiating a fragile treaty with the enemy, encountering strange diseases and conditions that change the way characters see each other and, above all, those goddamn space clouds.

The gaseous entity in the depths of space is one of Star Trek’s hoariest cliches but it’s also one that can be hard to remember exactly how many times you’ve seen it. It just feels familiar, like you’ve watched it a million times. I can remember a handful of appearances of the trope in The Next Generation and the Original Series, and if I took the time, I could probably come up with another handful before I finished my drink.

“Obsession” doesn’t do a lot to differentiate itself from what comes before it but like so many of The Original Series’ less ambitious efforts, it lives and dies on the charisma and performances of its cast. In that arena, “Obsession” excels. It’s a great showcase of Will Shatner’s unique style and performances and Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley both perform ably as well.

On a routine mission, Kirk, Spock and some doomed Red-Shirts are testing some tritanium deposits before a mysterious gas makes an appearance and the captain gets paranoid. Kirk remembers a particular smell and evacuates the planet but not before all but one crew member succumbs to a deadly, semi-sentient gas.

What follows is mostly a bug hunt. Kirk wants to blow off a scheduled meeting in order to make sure the Enterprise can destroy the gas and Spock and McCoy try to gauge their captain’s sanity and whether or not they can trust him to make the right decision.

“Nemesis” is a tense but lethargic episode. A lot is made of Kirk’s first encounter with the gas cloud on his first assignment as well as his relationship with a crewman whose father died during the cloud’s previous encounter but both do little other than to expand on Kirk’s belief that he needs to redeem his former indecisiveness. The meat of the episode is in Spock and McCoy’s questioning over whether Kirk needs to be removed from command. It’s interesting stuff. Both characters vastly agree that the cloud needs to be destroyed but know that the more time spent hunting it, the more danger they put a colony in. It’s a very Star Trek moral conundrum, but not an ineffective one.

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It’s easy to draw comparisons between “Obsession” and Star Trek’s marginally more memorable tale of revenge and the greater good deferred, “The Wrath of Khan” and both are playing on the same themes. Like in the film, Kirk’s desire to restore his own honor is putting thousands in jeopardy and the episode vastly acknowledges how his crew feels about the captain’s, well, obsession. They’re frightened and on edge, increasingly drawn into Kirk’s mounting hysteria in a believable way. What differentiates the two is that while “Wrath of Khan” is decidedly Kirk’s story, this is more the story of Kirk’s crew, his history as a captain and an officer, as well as the potential trauma he could inflict on the next generation of Star Fleet officers.

I don’t dislike “Obsession” by any means. It’s just Star Trek at its most rigidly formulaic and it skates by on small charms. It’s certainly not the series most memorable or distinguished episode but much like Kirk’s first impression with a certain cloud, it serves as something of a sign for greater, more important things to come.

Next up: One of the Original Series worst episodes finally rears its ugly head as we sink into the horrors of “Wolf in the Fold.”

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Episode 40 – “The Deadly Years” and false teeth speak false truths

the_deadly_years_072I feel like the whole, “people turn old but, like, really really fast” is a classic TV sci-fi trope. It feels like it’s been done on countless shows. I mean, hell, The Next Generation did it. We know where it’s going and we know how the status quo is going to be (hint, it’s probably going to end up ok.

“The Deadly Years” doesn’t really do a whole lot with the premise but it’s not a terrible episode. It’s a silly one. A really silly one. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Chekov and a whole bunch of totally inessential crew people beam down to Gamma Hydra IV on a routine resupply mission when our great Russian comic relief encounters a dead body and loses his shit like an elegant Victorian lady preparing to faint dead away. Next thing you know, the triumvirate is aging rapidly.

There’s a lot of poor judgement going on in “The Deadly Years.” Moments after coming across a group of rapidly aged scientists, Kirk decides to bring the whole group aboard, not really caring if this disease is going to impact the whole ship. It doesn’t impact really anyone other than Kirk, Spock, McCoy and an ensign, so I guess that worked out ok, but Kirk’s played smarter. Way back in “Miri,” Kirk stranded the rest of the group on the planet until a solution to the problem could be figured out. That’s the way to deal with a problem.

The real problem with this episode is a paper-thin villain. Commodore Stocker is the typical Starfleet employee. He’s got a place to go and Kirk’s not getting there fast enough. He starts out as a rational enough guy, asking Spock to take Kirk out of command but he rapidly spirals out of control and lands in Incompetent Town. When he inevitably takes command, it’s an utter but totally expected shit-show and it lacks tons of dramatic impact.

The_Deadly_Years_117One of the best things about the episode is the make-up. It’s gradual where it could have been gaudy, with Kirk sporting some grey hairs before the plot even announces the effects of the radiation sickness. Nimoy plays Spock’s aging subtly as well, with the Vulcan feeling cold constantly. McCoy’s get up looks a little heavy but it’s not show-stoppingly bad.

The show-stopper here is really plot based. Stocker calls a competency hearing for Kirk and Spock trots out everyone on board to repeat things we as viewers witnessed just minutes ago. It’s dull and plodding but it’s clear this was supposed to be a moment of pathos. Spock takes no satisfaction in damning his friend and partner and it shows but it’s not that fun or interesting to watch and all it does is advance us to Stocker nonsensically taking the ship through the Neutral Zone and right into a convenient climax with the Romulans.

ariane179254_StarTrek_2x12_TheDeadlyYears_0921The team figures out that Chekov, who should have been infected with the disease, was able to waive it off with a handy blast of adrenaline and inject themselves with what looks like Kool-Aid mixed with cheap schnapps and are able to save the ship just in time. It’s a fun moment, with Kirk playing off a senior moment from earlier in the episode and calling back to a maneuver that once got them out of trouble, and it ends the episode on something of a high note after a notably ho-hum hour.

Random Notes

Kirk’s love interest this time is Dr. Janet Wallace, an ex of the good captain who makes a really strange joke about being into older men. It leads to one of Kirk’s better retorts in a while.

“I’m not a magician, Spock, just an old country doctor!’

Sulu’s here. He does stuff. He’s not entirely interchangeable with Chekov.

Next Up: “Obsession” which, I don’t know, sounds like an early 2000s ABC nighttime soap.

Episode Distraction 1: “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” and a satellite being thrown into space

The implicit message of most of Star Trek has been the value of reason against the immobile force of logic. The triumvirate of Kirk, Spock and McCoy almost always allowed for a series of differing viewpoints that contrasted humanism, hubris and duty as it applied to the survival of an elite group of men and women.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture” gets a lot of shit for being really, brutally dull. It’s one of those barely justified opinions, such as people who damn “Spider-Man 3” for being “emo” or people who say that “Aliens” is better than “Alien” because there are fucking guns in it. “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” is a deeply flawed, incredibly dated, overly trippy near-masterpiece, one that has received more flack than it could ever possibly deserve.

“The Motion Picture” makes almost no attempt to draw in new fans but it’s almost better for it. It’s a movie that is so dramatically different from the show that came before it that giving newbies a working base is almost pointless. Characters are introduced and reintroduced all over the place, with characters such as Chekov and Sulu barely being introduced at all.

It’s a movie that’s more about atmosphere than characters or plot and it actively challenges the viewers to care about what’s going on. This is a movie that wants to be about three characters, Spock, V’ger and Decker but it becomes more about stoic logic bumping up against an unknowable universe.

The beginning of every episode of Star Trek has Kirk, and by extension the audience, standing against the unknown. We’re boldly going where no one has ever been but in a show that went as long as Star Trek in its varied incarnations, a lot of the gaps slowly get filled in. I have a pretty solid idea about almost everything that happens in the Alpha Quadrant. The Klingons and the Romulans both have understandable, even predictable goals and societies, the future is almost written. What “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” tried to do was to give audiences a look at something they hadn’t seen and couldn’t understand. It was a bold move, one the movie doesn’t entirely pull off. The big third act reveal is far too similar to “The Changeling,” the idea of a semi-sentient space cloud is a threat that has come up a few too many times and the threat of a consuming machine is one that Star Trek bumped up against far too many times.

What I’m trying to say is that the less audiences analyze “The Motion Picture,” the more fulfilling it is. Much like the film it drew from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” this coasts on atmosphere. There are near 10 minute, masturbatory shots of the outside of the Enterprise, an 8 minute sequence of the ship entering the cloud paired with silent reaction shots and a series of garbled audio cues that contrast with the crisp, clean and beautiful revamped musical score and terse dialogue. As I said earlier, it’s a film about contradictions. The dissonance isn’t something that distracts from the film as much as one that helps to create a compelling product.

The dissonance is clear from the beginning. As Spock finds himself without the Enterprise, he’s embraced his Vulcan obsessions. He’s tried to fully immerse himself in logic and still struggles with what he’s taken from his time with Kirk. As he returns to his ship and friends, he’s cold, disinterested and trying to get back into who he wants to be. The further he goes, the more he has to embrace who he is, trying to mind meld with the alien ship, dealing with the inhumanity of the herald of V’ger and facing off with a challenge he hates how much he cares about. Spock’s realization of what he needs to be to help the crew is heartening and lovely, a great transformation for a character experimenting with who he wants and needs to be.

Dekker and Ilia’s relationship is possibly the weakest aspect of the film. We receive hints of a past they once had her transformation into a herald of the V’ger is a tragic moment for both. That being said, it’s hard to buy into Decker’s decision at the climax. We’re meant to believe that his love of Ilia drives him into their sacrificial bond and it’s clear that he has feelings for her even after her rebirth. It’s just a little much. When he makes it clear that he’s dreamed of being a part of a new life-form, it’s hard to believe that he’s anything other than horny.

I adore most of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” mostly for the reasons that others hate it. It’s a trippy, bizarre film, filled with a distinct lack of humanity and a focus on the unexplainable. It’s a movie rich with meaningless subtext, visual flourishes and style for its own sake. It’s dated, meandering, and reeking of an over-budget, over-blown mess. It is, however, in these moments that it shines as a piece of unadulterated, unbearably earnest piece of space age melodrama.

Next Up: We’re back to the series proper with “The Deadly Years,” which is like The Wonder Years but deadlier.

Episode 39 – “Friday’s Child” and the Klingon western you probably haven’t been dreaming of

One of the most important things to remember when watching many of the more action packed episodes of Star Trek is that the show was really building off of the western format. Star Trek’s opening crawly, Kirk anxiously awaiting the moment when the Federation would explore new and uncharted worlds, is an intergalactic echo of the Manifest Destiny. Yes, there will be diplomacy and peace but sometimes, Spock might have to shoot a guy with an arrow.

“Friday’s Child” is a deeply bizarre episode that only becomes less so when you realize the environment it was crafted in. In The Next Generation, this same idea would have been explored in a more diplomatic way, focusing on the way Picard would deal with the opposing force and reach a peaceable but beneficial solution. This, however, isn’t Picard’s Enterprise and Kirk is always playing a more dangerous game.

The Federation and the Klingons are competing for a mineral rich planet occupied by a tribe of violent locals. McCoy deals with them initially but Kirk and a rapidly slain red shirt set the tribe against Kirk. Its a pretty taut sequence, with the Klingons clearly manipulating the upstart chieftain and diplomacy seeming increasingly like a disappearing option. Where I was waiting for Kirk to have to find proof that the Klingons were up to no good, the whole episode becomes an elaborate western chase, with McCoy taking a pregnant local with them.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about “Friday’s Child” after that. Kirk and Spock defend McCoy and the woman, even though she eventually gives birth and betrays them. It is, however, a notably violent episode. Kirk and Spock are both shooting villagers with arrows and cutting off the requisite passes. The Klingon emissary turns on the tribes and starts wiping people out with phaser blasts. McCoy smacks a woman in the face. Its all really odd and the episode doesn’t even attempt to justify what’s going on or why the characters are behaving the way they are.

“Friday’s Child” is the kind of odd episode where the interesting parts that it presents are surrounded in dull, plodding escape sequences and fights. At this point, its kind of just the kind of episode you put up with while waiting for the really good stuff.

Random Notes

This is probably one of the funnier red shirt deaths as of yet, partially because there’s nothing really to establish why the Klingon is, y’know, a Klingon.

“Look, I’m a doctor, not an escalator.”

I thought about “Krull” a lot during this episode.

Next Up: We’re halfway through the Original Series so we’re taking a break to watch Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Get excited, or just, y’know, find a very comfortable place to sit for a long time.

Episode 38 – “Journey to Babel” and all the hobgoblins are bleeding green

“Journey to Babel” is an episode that’s considerably more interesting when looking at it as a piece of the Star Trek universe than as an individual episode in its own right. There’s some neat world building here, with hints of the Federation’s policy on accepting new planets, but the big gain is the introduction of Sarek, one of the Federation’s greatest heroes and a legend on Vulcan.

Also, he’s Spock’s dad.

The episode really blows that load a little early with an attempt at raising tension when Sarek and Amanda enter the Enterprise and we never really get much of a sense as to why Spock and his father are at odds. Sarek makes a reference to his son’s refusal to enter the Vulcan Science Academy but he’s working as an Ambassador for Vulcan and a valued member of the Federation. It doesn’t seem like he’s done too much to differentiate himself either.

In all honesty, the plot is pretty inconsequential and aimless. On a mission of diplomacy for a planet that wishes to join the Federation, one of the ambassadors is murdered and all evidence points to Sarek. Strangely, everyone pretty much forgets about this fact when the Vulcan diplomat has a really convenient heart attack and the episode suddenly becomes about a really trite situation where Spock may have to let his father die.

It all feels a bit too much like a mix between an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” and an afterschool special. We all know that Spock is going to be able to save his dad and somehow the ship will be able to defeat the Andorian ship but it just feels like we’re just waiting for Spock to go under the knife. I feel like this is the sort of episode that The Next Generation would have handled much better, milking the distrust between ambassadors for more tension than the drama between father and son.

This isn’t a bad episode but it is a dull and pretty dry one. The interesting parts are all skimmed by in order to give some overly touchy-feely exposition about Spock. If it weren’t for the host of colorful characters in the meeting room early on, this is an episode that would disappear from my memory in a week’s time.

Random Thoughts

I like that McCoy is given a lot to do in this episode. He’s operating, making sure that Kirk, Spock and Sarek all stay under his watchful eye and, what’s better, does it all with a smile. He even gets a fairly funny final joke to cap the episode off with.

Sulu’s nowhere to be seen. Instead, Chekov gets to say “wessel” several times.

In the scene where Kirk fights Teleth, he pretty clearly is stabbed in the lower back, right above the left side of his hip. Why then, does he continually touch around his nipples when indicating he is in pain? Also, the bandage is wrapped really high up on his torso.

So, Sarek’s kind of a huge dick to his wife, right?

Next Up: “Friday’s Child” draws the Enterprise into only their second meeting with the Klingons and I’ll get a song stuck in my head. Wait, which song were you thinking of?

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 – “If the cause is just and honorable, they are prepared to give their lives.”

If a show hasn’t hit a groove by the third season, it is undoubtedly in trouble. There’s been time to set a tone, develop a coherent world and have had a chance to craft characters that an audience would be able to connect with. All of this needs to be done while giving audiences a variety of plots that they’ll be willing to stick with for years to come. I’ve said before that it was occasionally a surprise that TNG made it to a third season after an atrocious first showing and a disappointing second season but there’s no mistaking why the show stayed on the air after season three. This season is what took a low-budget show about galactic politics and turned them into one of the well-loved science fiction shows ever in the span of 26 mostly great episodes.

It isn’t initially clear what makes the third season so strong. Episodes are tighter, more focused and take increasing cues from the well established Star Trek lore. Some of this could certainly be because of changes in the formerly tumultuous writer’s room. Michael Piller would take over writing duties for the show, contributing five satisfying episode, including two of the most memorable episodes. Piller was definitely a hard sci-fi writer; he’s mostly focused on explainable robotics, character motivations and the universal humanity of people forced together on a mission. This becomes increasingly clear as the season goes, as there’s less of a focus on magical races, goofy sci-fi gimmickry and hand waive explanations and more of a focus on how all races, characters and nations have clear and understandable motivations for their actions.

Piller had a tool on the staff with the appearance of a man who would go onto become a sci-fi legend, Ronald D. Moore. Moore, who would go onto father the relaunch of “Battlestar Galactica,” came onto the scene with the episode “The Bonding,” an interesting, if deeply flawed episode, but he shows his interests more clearly in the fantastic episode, “The Defector.” There, the Enterprise intercepts a Romulan deserter who claims to have information about the empire’s plans for attacking several Federation colonies. However, there are holes throughout his stories, none of his information can be proven and he fails to cooperate fully with the crew. Everyone is on edge over whether he should be trusted and what the cost of not trusting in his warning could be for the Federation. Its a great, particularly tense episode of characters being forced to make compromises and leaps of faith, where everyone has a hidden motive and a fail safe.

While Moore’s great script built off the increasing tension between the Federation and the Romulans wonderfully to examine the splintering of governments, the show would later work on improving on other well established parts of the Star Trek universe to great effect. In “The Hunted,” Picard and his crew are forced to deal with a military prisoner who escapes to break away from a government that has found it more convenient to forget about its’ soldiers. In an otherwise forgettable episode, Picard manages to show how thoroughly he is guided by the Prime Directive, memorably leaving an under siege planet to deal with its coup rather than have the Federation intervene. Its a stark difference between the way that Captain Kirk would have handled the situation and it shows us how different and more engaging of a show we’re watching.

Season three gains most of its power by drawing on these established themes and characters. After two years of the show, it becomes increasingly clear that TNG was focused on not only showing itself as a program that was separate from the Original Series but also one that could be a companion piece to that iconic show. Sarek reappears here, played again by Mark Lenard, in an episode that makes extensive reference to the first show. Ronald Moore also takes Worf’s back story, hinted at in previous episodes, and expands it dramatically in “Sins of the Father.” There, he gives the Klingon lieutenant a dramatic and tragic arc that both colors his relations with his home and sets up the troubles that the Klingon empire will face in the future. Admirably, he also draws off the way the Original Series turned a familiar race into a hostile and alien force that the human characters would have trouble understanding. The sequences where Worf and Picard face the trials as well as the decision to exile Worf are reminiscent of the way in which Kirk and McCoy are baffled by the ways that Spock interacts with other Vulcans in “Amok Time.”

As much as I’d love to do nothing but praise this season but it does have a couple of real, genuine problems. First off, there’s an enormous focus on Data episodes. Now, I don’t have a problem with this. Data’s an engaging character who has a built-in and interesting series of quirks that could make for engaging episodes but none of the attempts here doe much of anything new. Whether he’s crafting a new robotic child, being kidnapped by a person who views him as nothing more than an object to be collected or having characters mistakenly see his condition as something to be valued, the writers were never able to find anything new to say about the android here. I get it, Data may be an android but he is capable of being a human and we should view him as such. I don’t need to be told this every 5 or 6 episodes.

TNG’s still having tons of problems working with its most troublesome race, the Ferengi. Look, I know that they’re a one note race meant to examine Roddenberry’s problems with capitalism run rampant but the writers overdo everything about them. They’re not only greedy but ugly, gross, dumb, sexually forward, treated with disdain by everyone in the Federation and not trustworthy. In as show that affords ever race at least some modicum of respect, its a shame that no one is willing to make the Ferengi anything more than a punch line and an unwilling one at that.

With all that out of the way, there’s still a pair of episodes that desperately need discussing and they’re two of the most important, most well-loved episodes that the show ever did. Both written by Piller, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” are undisputed classics of TNG, Star Trek and science fiction as a whole. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” succeeds with its premise executed expertly. Thriving on subverting expectations in one memorable way, similarly to what was done in “Mirror, Mirror,” we are able to view the sacrifices that the Federation goes through to craft a peaceful universe. Plus, it manages to give Tasha Yarr a fate that’s worthy of the character she was intended to be.

I’ve written about my great love of “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1” before. Its a damn near perfect example of slow, character driven escalation leading to a grand conclusion. Watching it free of needing to worry about the story reveals, the structure of the episode shines through. Watch as Piller pairs Riker’s control being assaulted again and again, weakening his position, with the way in which the Borg threat continues to escalate. These events are put together at virtually the same time, forcing him to make the inevitable decision by episode’s end. Its the Enterprise at its weakest point so far and it places Riker in the one position he’s ever been afraid to be in.

A few missteps can’t hold back the third season of one of the best sci-fi shows of all time. This is Star Trek at its most memorable, most intense and most thrilling, giving us characters we care about, situations that push them and a world that I have never wanted to leave.

Most Improved Character – Deanna Troi

Ok, I’m not saying she’s perfect but I didn’t think that I’d be giving Deanna this award after two seasons of her being the most disappointing part of the show. However, she just feels better here. She’s not being randomly attached to villainous aliens, raped or treated like a sex object. Sure, the costuming is still pretty bad but she feels competent. Even in “Ménage à Troi,” she and her mother, Lwaxana, are both treated like characters, not caricatures or sex objects. That’s worth a lot in this universe.

Most Disappointing Character – Data

When everything else is moving forward, it is painful to watch a character that is standing still. As I stated earlier, the writers haven’t done anything with Data for years that wasn’t already established in the first season. Now, nothing is done with him and what’s worse, there are problems with continuity, as no one acknowledges Lore’s existence.

Best Moment of Potential Ass-Kickery – Data’s got a gun, “The Most Toys”

Star Trek master recapper Zach Handlen and I agree on this one. Data drawing the gun on his captor and deciding that he must kill in order to satisfy his programming is an exhilirating and tense moment that changes our whole interpretation of what Data is capable of. In a deeply flawed episode exploring themes we’ve vastly covered, it is impressive to see that there is so much that we still don’t understand about the android.

Best Moment of Shatner-esque Scenery Chewing – Vulcans with Alzheimer’s, “Sarek”

Patrick Stewart is able to really sell the mind meld, but Lenard just can’t handle the way that Sarek breaks down as his emotions overwhelm him. We’re supposed to believe that he’s doing as much work as possible to keep his emotions in check but he’s mostly just yelling a lot. If he spaced out his words uncomfortably, it might as well be Shatner talking a computer to death.

Worst Episode: “A Matter of Perspective”

Lots of television shows are guilty of the trial episode: putting a character the audience knows is innocent in a trial situation where all evidence points to their guilt. Accusing Riker of murder and rape is a particularly embarrassing example of this phenomenon and it makes for a particularly and memorably rough episode. Runners Up: “Who Watches the Watchers” and “Captain’s Holiday”

Best Episode: “The Best of Both Worlds Part 1”

You knew it was coming. The way Piller constructs the season finale is masterful and the way the whole season feels like it is leading up to this makes everything resonate so highly that there isn’t another episode to even slightly compare to this one. Runners Up: “The Defector,” “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” “Hollow Pursuits” and “Sins of the Father.”

Super villainy is hard, let’s go shopping!: 9 questionable representations of women in “geek culture”

One thing the internet has done that is great is bringing fans of niche programming together. In years past, we’d all have to meet up at conventions, send letters or read specialty magazines for the information that is now available in seconds. The not so great thing this has led to is what I call “geek elitism.” As fans of science fiction, comics, videogames, anime and all sorts of nerdy content, we’ve now thought that we can band together in lording over anyone who can’t quote chapter and verse in nerdery.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in slut shaming and judging of women. Just because Joss Whedon put a whole bunch of powerful women in his shows, his acolytes view said content as intrinsically superior to any show that has, say, a sexual woman who appears in a clothing that flaunts her body. One of my favorite blogs, recently did an entire post based on the picture posted above and the phenomenon of geek culture celebrating itself which sums up the issue much better than I can but it got me thinking about the ways in which pop culture hasn’t always given us the greatest of role models, even in content that has been targeted at for lack of a better word, geeks. So, let’s do the exceedingly lazy list thing.

1. Seven of Nine – “Star Trek Voyager”

Voyager has a lot of problems. There’s no doubt about that. That being said, so many of those problems begin and end with Seven of Nine, a freed Borg that aids the crew in their many dealings with the Queen and her minions. The unfortunate thing about her wasn’t so much what the brought to the crew or the storytelling problems but more about he way she was viewed on screen. She was always in a skin tight jump suit, even after she wore a Starfleet uniform and was often shot to accentuate her body. Even worse, many characters on the ship seemed to value her more for her looks than anything else. I don’t blame Jeri Ryan or the character really, it’s more in how the writers portrayed her as little more than a sex object and not a particularly willing one at that.

2. Yeoman Rand – “Star Trek”

That being said, the original series had many more problems with women but none stand out as much or as significantly as the ship’s most prominent yeoman and Kirk’s implied love interest Rand. Rand was another case of being more of an object than character, often targeted by enemies interested in sexually assaulting her. When she was given lines, most of them were focused on how scared she was or how she needed protection. Blame it on the writers, blame it on the time period, whatever.

3. Molotov Cocktease – “The Venture Bros.”

Yes, Molotov is supposed to be an over the top parody of James Bond-esque female spies with a dash of Black Widow thrown in and the show goes to elaborate and hysterical lengths to make her more than a sex object. That being said, you maybe wouldn’t want to buy her action figure for your daughter.

4. Harley Quinn – “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman” and “Suicide Squad”

Like pretty much everyone, I adore Harley as a character. She’s gleefully evil, unbelievably focused on creating chaos and sowing discontent and is a great partner in crime with the Joker and Poison Ivy. That being said, she’s pretty much been defined by her relationship with the Joker, often to her own detriment. In the episode “Mad Love,” Quinn is routinely beaten and abused by her lover yet goes back like a kicked dog. Her inclusion in the New 52’s Suicide Squad seemed like it could be a neat place for her before the book’s release but her costume redesign wasn’t meant to showcase her character.

5-6. Silk Spectre I and Silk Spectre II – “Watchmen” and “Before Watchmen”

When Alan Moore gets up in the morning, cracks his knuckles, sits down in front of his typewriter as he eats breakfast, fires off a couple of quick letters to movie studios calling everyone a bastard and finally starts writing comics, the first thing on his mind is how he can write more rape and sexual assault into his stories. Look, I like Moore’s work but it is hard to find a female character he’s written that isn’t defined by sexual assault. Their motivations, their powers and even their strength is tied directly to the trauma they’ve suffered. In “Watchmen,” Silk Spectre is raped by The Comedian, causing her to become a paranoid and controlling mother to Silk Spectre II, who is further defined by the knowledge of her father and the evil that men do. Not helping matters, it looks like the trend is continuing in “Before Watchmen,” where the original Silk Spectre is still a wreck although her daughter is given great definition. We’ll have to wait and see if her character is defined better by mini-series end.

7. Kara Thrace – “Battlestar Galactica”

Its a shame to put Starbuck on this list. For the first two seasons of the show, she’s the epitome of a well written character. She’s personally strong, does what she wants, has a powerful moral compass and she’s an inspiration to the rest of the Galactica. That all turns around in the last two seasons of the show, where she becomes a messianic figure who used to have mommy and daddy issues. That is, only when she’s not drinking herself to death, fucking everyone she comes across for no real reason. The failing of Starbuck was simply a writer problem but its one of the most unfortunate ones of the show.

8. Wonder Woman – David E. Kelley’s “Wonder Woman”

When a Wonder Woman TV show was announced last year, I was legitimately pretty excited. Diana is my favorite character of the DC universe and I figured everything could have worked out. Then we found out it was a David E. Kelley who was turning one of the most powerful super heroines and an icon of womanhood into a corporate attorney by day while fighting crime and just looking for the perfect guy. It was such a hackneyed take on the character and the leaked script of the pilot didn’t make her into much of a character. Even after the rewrite, it still seemed like Kelley was more interested in making a superpowered “Ally McBeal” rather than writing a character that was worth of Wonder Woman’s legacy.

9. Starfire – “Teen Titans” and “Red Hood and the Outlaws”

Like Kara Thrace, having Starfire on the list is a shame. Pre-New 52, she was a sexually liberated very well developed character with motivations, love interests and a deep rich backstory that made her a fan favorite. All of that changed when she teamed up with Jason Todd in the New 52’s “Red Hood and the Outlaws.” Suddenly, she was requisitioning everyone she came across for sex and not in a way that made her a character wanting intimacy. She was strictly an object of wish fulfillment. This rightfully caused a stir amongst critics, many putting their focus on schlocky writer Scott Lobdell. Some were gentle, others were really not so much. Comics Alliance focused on how the character was little more than a surrogate girlfriend for horny nerds, Andy Hunsaker said that the character had been reduced to little more than a “highly advanced Real Doll” and Matthew Peterson said the character’s sexual appetites reduced her to a walking punch-line, hurting a book that had such a small cast. The only thing I can say is that there’s a difference between a well written character who is interested in sex and a poorly written one who is little more than a willing wish fulfillment vessel.

Episode 37- “Metamorphosis” and revenge of the energy glob sex monsters

While watching “Metamorphosis” a 4:11 a.m. I immediately was reminded of Martin Starr’s Roman from Showtime’s beloved “Party Down.” The blogger, screenwriter and hard sci-fi fanatic was known for his hatred of all things dragons, lightsabers, FTL drives and Hollywood remakes, and he would have despised this episode.

By the end of “Metamorphosis,” I realized there was room for another classification of sci-fi, something I’m calling “squishy sci-fi.” Characterized by a focus on man on alien sex, emotion based problem solving and “The Matrix” style love-conquers-all resolutions, this genre is essentially the all magic cousin of a genre that features time dilation and warp drives.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this take on the genre, it just has a different feel, a different style and it just doesn’t fit well when its mixed with its considerably more serious cousin. That’s the cardinal sin of “Metamorphosis,” written by Star Trek veteran Gene L. Coon, it tries to balance the tricky world of emotional resolutions with the needs for a very hard story hook.

As Kirk, Spock and Bones help to transport a Federation dignitary to the Enterprise to treat her for a sickness while she works out a peace agreement between two planets approaching war. As they approach the rendezvous point with the ship they’re gripped by an astral force that drags them to an asteroid. There we meet up with the man who proves to be Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive and apparently the most naive man to ever revolutionize space travel.

The episode starts to collapse pretty much immediately after he reveals himself to be the science legend. We then find out that Cochrane is around 150 years, can telepathically speak to a spectral glob of astro goo and pretty much doesn’t understand what human relationships are. As Kirk observes him interact with the Companion he immediately senses that the Companion loves Cochrane although the scientist has never possibly considered this to be a thing.

After a lot of scenery chewing (seriously, the counselor out hams Shatner in the first 10 minutes when she starts randomly screaming and crying), the sort of crux of of this episode that’s also pretty much the crux of another identical episode we just watched. Kirk and company find out that the Companion is keeping them on the planet in an attempt to keep Cochrane company because, y’know, he’s a child. Kirk has to bust out his trademark “we’re not happy unless we’re free” speech and hope for the best with the horny astral glob and then things just keep getting weirder and weirder.

As it becomes increasingly clear that the Companion is fully intent on keeping her love on the asteroid to live eternally as her reluctant lover. Kirk’s argument makes less and less sense in the context of a fair and accepting galaxy. In the modern social environment his rant feels a little racist and more than a fair bit homophobic but even without a modern perspective, its a bizarre moment in the Captain’s rhetoric.

Then things keep going off the rails.

Taking Kirk’s speech in the most literal way possible, the Companion decides to merge with the dying Councilor Hedford so that she can be in love with Cochrane. Now that the energy cloud that was obsessed with him is in a semi-foxy body, he’s fine staying on the asteroid if she and him can die on the asteroid together. The decision is solely one trying to retroactively prove Kirk’s speech true for story reasons and the resolution of the impending war between planets is swept under the rug in a single sentence from Kirk that somehow manages to put all women down.

“Metamorphosis” is weak, no doubt about it and its not even that I’m against this sort of style. I think “The Matrix Revolutions” is underrated. I kind of like the finale of Battlestar Galactica. I’ve got nothing against squishy sci-fi. I am, however, against nonsensical and repetitive speeches, poorly written established characters and a general lack of polish in an episode that feels like a retread before it even picks up.

Random Thoughts

Seriously, the women playing the Councilor is terrible.

Seriously, Kirk is super sexist in this one.

Next Up: “Journey to Babel” which I doubt will have any Biblical references, at all.

Episode 36: “I, Mudd” and Kirk shows off what he learned in Theater 101

I hate Harry Mudd. He isn’t a character that I love to hate, its not a character that I’m supposed to hate and it isn’t that I don’t get him. The fact is that Mudd is such an obnoxious relic and his previous appearance is one of the worst episodes of TOS and definitely the worst episode of the first season.

I didn’t want to watch “I, Mudd,” the scheming turd’s return to the show before his single appearance in the animated series. I knew I was in for another episode of moustasche twirling villainy, really off-putting sexual politics and what I have to assume was intended to be humor. On pretty much all parts, I was right but here, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed. Well, until the final half hour.

After an Android takes over the Enterprise in a sequence that is pretty much the writers just shrugging, Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhura and Chekov are dragged down to a Class K planet filled with androids. There, Mudd has escaped from his imprisonment, designed a bunch of foxy female androids for dubious purposes and rules in what appears to be a total lack of authority. To make things real awkward and to foreshadow the episode’s conclusion really clearly, he’s even built an android that looks like his abandoned wife for his amusement.

Mudd’s lured Kirk down to the planet in an attempt to steal the ship and finally escape the planet but the androids have other plans. They begin to abandon Mudd on the planet and warp up on the Enterprise, planning to study humanity. Mudd, Kirk and company slowly come up with a plan to get off the planet by, you guessed it, talking the androids into realizing that their actions are illogical.

Up to here, I kind of liked “I, Mudd.” This is a really traditional episode of TOS, with lots of bright colors, really goofy set designs, girls in revealing outfits and hammy overacting. I love this sort of stuff and its what makes Kirk’s time at the helm so memorable and iconic. Sure, Mudd’s unidentifiable accent fades in and out and changes randomly at times but its all something you can ignore.

That all changes as the crew figures out how to breakout. They decide to go with the sort of disreputable idea that humans cannot be happy without being free and decide that the only way to beat out the androids is to show the power of imagination and the way that it can trump logic. It doesn’t make a ton of sense when you think about it and the frolicking and play acting they do in an attempt to overload the Norman model is so confusing, surreal and strange that its hard to figure out how it could possibly do anything.

The final act pretty much feels like watching the worst college improv troupe you can imagine. There’s hand slapping as objects are invisible objects are handed off, a terribly timed baseball routine and entirely too much ridiculous Shakespearean-meets-“The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” style deaths to be anything more than the lowest of camp. Its embarrassing and downright painful to watch and what hurts the most is seeing it work in beating back the androids.

Much better is the way that Spock deals with the situation. A simple turn of phrase is all it takes to confuse a pair of androids and incapacitate them, allowing his compatriots to take down the leader. Its artful and smart and exactly what we want to see from Spock.

Much like Mudd’s first appearance, the episode tries to end with a really strong joke and once again, I don’t really know what they were going for. In “I, Mudd,” the rogue is left on the planet to be berated by his android-wives until he can escape. I understand why this is supposed to be funny and ridiculously sexist but I don’t really understand why the writers thought we would think it to be funny. Are we supposed to view Mudd as a cad and pervert who deserves to be berated? Are we supposed to think he’s cheated on his wife by fucking a couple hundred robots? Are we supposed to think its funny just because he was outsmarted by Kirk? Despite all of my complaints, Mudd has never been developed enough as a character, much less a villain, that I feel like he deserves any sort of punishment for his actions.

“I, Mudd” is a lot of what I like about the original run of Star Trek and a lot of what I can’t stand. Its rife with awkward sexual politics, poorly thought out villains and not particularly satisfying resolutions but it has all the color, design and charm that I love. By no means is it a classic, but its a fair entry in a series that always is fun to watch.

Random Thoughts

They actually used  twins for most of the duplicated robots in this episode. That’s neat.

Sulu’s here for all of 30 seconds. I guess the writers wanted more Yakov Smirnov style jokes about Russians.

Shatner does the comedy in this episode particularly well. The scene where everyone says that things aren’t looking good is a lot of fun.

Next Up: “Metamorphosis” teaches us everything we ever wanted to know but were too afraid to ask about the guy who created the warp drive.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 2 – “They’re nothing compared to what’s waiting.”

When I wrote about the first season of “The Next Generation,” I even knew at the time that I was burying those episodes not celebrating them. The first season of TNG is wildly recognized as one of the worst seasons of any 0f Star Trek’s various series and rightfully so. The first season is trivial, not memorable and has so few decent episodes that its almost a shame.

There’s no doubt that not only were the fans the only one’s to notice how terrible the first season was. By all observations, things changed between seasons. There’s more of a focus on intergalactic politics over the introduction of new races, way less sort of disgusting sexual content that robs the characters of their dignity and a lot less “its magic because its magic” solutions to storytelling problems. Also, there’s no Tasha Yar and now Whoopi Goldberg is playing an intergalactic bartender. Things sound perfect. That being said, there’s a huge problem that holds the second season back from being more celebrated or memorable despite a handful of great episodes.

That problem’s name is Katherine Pulaski and she’s so much worse than Yar for so many reasons. We do have to work our way up to Pulaski though. After the first season, Gates McFadden felt the same need to jump ship that Dennise Crosby felt and she left the role of Beverly Crusher, leaving the Enterprise in need of a chief medical officer. Trying to bring something new to the table, the producers looked to the past and decided to write a character that was closer to the humanistic, conservative Bones McCoy than to the more accessible and modern Crusher.

Now, I would never argue against Bones. I adore the character and love  the dynamic he brought to Kirk’s ship but he simply doesn’t work on a more contemporary ship. McCoy was a relic and Crusher worked much better for a bridge that wasn’t predominantly filled with humans. Crusher understood the needs of an alien crew and that was just something that made Crusher feel so wrong on TNG.

Pulaski was definitely designed with a character arc in mind. We’re meant to watch her grow and evolve from where she enters the season as a skeptic of Picard’s multi-ethnic crew in “The Child,” to where she actively distrusts Data and thinks he’s irresponsible in “Elementary, Dear Data,” to her acceptance of Data as someone who may have the same chance at life as a person or being in “Measure of a Man” and finally to her seeing her place and the place of the rest of the crew in “The Emmissary.”

For me, that’s not enough. Diana Muldaur’s performance is uninspired at best and often catty, over the top or snoozy at worst. It doesn’t help that we’re supposed to grow to like a racist, technophobic killjoy who is further slowing down a crew that is already extremely focused on asking lots of questions first and shooting last. That being said, while the name of Tasha Yar brings bile to any Trek fan’s throat, opinions of Pulaski are more mixed. Some people generally like the evolution of her character and the season she’s stuck in is so much more palatable that it makes her failings something that can be a little harder to point to. While Yar was a particularly noticeable failing of the first season, it is hard to blame Pulaski for doing much other than sucking.

I mean, we could complain about this.

And why would you ever want to just blame Pulaski for the problems when there are so many other things to point to? This season has some downright terrible episodes, maybe episodes that are among the worst that the series ever did. Season 2 is bookended by these awful episodes, starting with the rapist-alien-Tinkerbell of “The Child” and ending with the unfathomably lazy clip show, “Shades of Grey.”

Most of the problem with the second season of the show is one entirely dealing with just exceedingly lazy writing. More so than the first season, now we’re stuck with the rough disparity between episodes that are really good and episodes that are on the entire other side of the scale. For every “A Matter of Honor,” there’s a “The Royale,” for every “Where Silence Has Lease” a “Pen Pals” and for every “Q Who” there’s an “Up the Long Ladder.”

Speaking of, “Q Who” is by far the most essential episode of the season. For almost all purposes, it may be the only episode of this season that’s worth actually watching. After the hints of a galaxy wide conspiracy filled up the end of the first season, we finally meet the mysterious force when Q beams appears on the ship and shows Picard a world that men were never meant to go.

“Q Who” is the kind of episode that people like me love to think about.  Its an episode that moves the series forward admirably in so many effective ways but, more importantly, it undercuts many of the show’s themes and ideas to show the weakness of Picard and his crew when they come face to face with the unknown. After taking advantage of Picard’s arrogance, Q whisks the Enterprise to the Delta Quadrant, leaving them exposed to the Borg, the tyrannical all consuming cyborg race that now has a taste for humanity. Picard may have been able to escape for now but Guinan is sure to remind him that the Borg remember and they are coming. Its one of the best threats of the series and it is a blade that hangs over the show until their reappearance in Season 3

Season 2 of “The Next Generation” opens everything up further, giving the characters a consistent new enemy to bump up against, new allies to work with and more hints that the world outside of Federation space is increasingly becoming more and more controlled. More importantly, Season 2 is where TNG manages to work out most of its kinks, jettisoning what never worked about the series and filling it back in with the parts that would help the show through its highest seasons.

As of last time, here are the handful of awards we’re giving out for the season, rather than the standard “Random Observations.” Enjoy.

Most Improved Character: William Riker

The rise of the beard essentially seals Riker’s place at the top. That being said, here he feels like more of a partner to Picard rather than just “Number One.” That being said, he still gets mired in some problems.

Most Troublesome Character: Deanna Troi

We can’t give Pulaski this award with her leaving at the end of the season but Troi still causes all sorts of trouble. Whether its another episode with her mother, generally being a sex object or being strangely attached to a mutant child solely for story reasons, she’s still a huge problem the writers don’t know how to solve.

Best Non-Borg Moment – Playing a Dangerous Game, “A Matter of Honor”

As the Enterprise prepares to engage with a Klingon ship, Riker bluffs hard and hopes Picard’s on board to save both the ship he’s on, as well as the one that he loves. I know that I love Klingon shit but this is one of the best moments for the race of the series.

Worst Reminder of Tasha Yarr – So, this one time…, “The Measure of a Man”

Yep, you have to relive that horrible moment from the horribly named “The Naked Now” when Data and Yar had sex. So, that’s something.

Worst Episode – “Up The Long Ladder”/”Unnatural Selection”/”Shades of Grey”

Three episodes so bad I couldn’t pick the worst one. The first is essentially one long joke about how terrible Irish people are, the second features nothing but terrible aging makeup and one of the most sluggish plots to ever make it to air and the last is a clip show. Pick your fucking poison. Also, all of these episodes beat out a episode with Lwaxana Troi.

Best Episode Not Considering “Q Who” – “Where Silence Has Lease”

All problems aside, The Original Series is my favorite Star Trek. “Where Silence Has Lease” takes all of the charm of the first series and updates it. Things are more dangerous, the god like being is more callous and the stakes are unbelievably high. Its a charmingly dark episode with a fun villain and an even better resolution.

This is the bad guy. Its delightful.

Next Up: We make our way back into TOS with the return of Harry Mudd in the android filled “I, Mudd.”