Sunday, April 19, 2009

Tomorrow is Yesterday

Audiences often find themselves confused with time-travel stories, even when they are done well.

This episode handles the subject so poorly that there's no way even the most astute viewer could reconcile its content.

The Enterprise is accidentally sling-shot back through time due to some sort of encounter with a "black star", which we never see. They encounter a 1960s jet pilot who causes a tough situation for the crew: beam him back to the planet, and risk altering history with knowledge of the future, or keep him and risk changing it due to his absence. It's a paper-thin dilemma that offers no character insight, world building, or considerable dramatic payoff.

I almost wonder of the episode was reverse engineered to allow Kirk to get into hand-to-hand combat with military personnel. The fight itself is fairly well done, but the context is so lacking that you feel guilty for enjoying it.

I'd like to try to explain the ending, but I can't. Somehow, they are able to beam the pilot back into the place he was initially abducted. It's so poorly done in both setup and execution, that I can't tell you if the pilot is supposed to remember the Enterprise, or has his memory inexplicably wiped. It really is an amazingly terrible resolution. It's giving no consequence to the ongoing development of our characters, and no immediate intrigue to at least satisfy your dramatic apatite.

Let us hope that the handling of accidental-time-travel-by-way-of-spacial-anomaly is superior when used in the new film, which is now only a few weeks away. Apologies for my lack of adherence to the initial schedule, whereby all three seasons would have been analyzed by the time of the film's release.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Alternative Factor

If this was anyone's first episode of Star Trek, I wouldn't blame them for never wanting to watch it again. There's no sugar-coating: this is a terrible episode.

Any hope of continuing Trek's penchant for taking possibly terrible/cheesy/not compelling concepts and elevating them beyond their obvious potential is thrown completely out the window. I'm pretty confident that this is worst possible telling of the concept at hand. Just what is the concept at hand? Ship encounters a man trapped between universes. If his two selves meet (matter and anti-matter) both universes will cease to exist.

Rather than just deal with the conceptual ramifications of the subject matter, the stakes are raised in an arbitrary and unsupported way. Regardless of the scientific accuracy of the setup (which must be wonky at best) it is so poorly set-up and so sloppily executed that the unbelievable stakes carry no weight. The story points on which the drama rests are treated with no consideration as to how it is revealed to the audience. And the drama is pretty meager in the first place.

It's unfortunate to see such ineffective tactics used to heighten suspense, when the show has so readily proved it's ability to raise them legitimately and most invisibly.

Any character bits to save the episode? No. Any exciting action or suspenseful sequences to wash out the bad taste? No. Are the performances at least acceptable? No! This is a perfect counter-point for my belief that Shatner is at his best when the dialogue is already great on the page ... he takes the text and just knocks it out of the park. Here? It's just maddeningly, atrociously not up to the standard this show has set for itself.


The Holy Trinity returns! The McCoy/Spock/Kirk relationship is back in full force, and it's evident right from this episode's teaser.

"Doctor, you are a sensualist."
"You bet your pointed ears I am."

The Enterprise crew beams down to Cestus III for a peaceful meeting with a Starfleet commodore, only to find the planet under attack. It's a thrilling opening, really allowing the tactical expertise of our characters flourish in a high risk situation. You really feel the effectiveness of their years serving together, seeing them react in the line of fire.

The faceless enemy is clever to the point of shocking. They are able to hack the energy in Spock's tricorder device, which he then lobs across the trench back at them as it explodes.

I think this opening sequence alone births the Star Trek phenomenon known as the Red-shirt, or a character of no consequence often used as cannon fodder. These character generally have very generic names, and are the only unrecognizable character in a landing party. These characters are usually doomed.

The Crew leaves the largely destroyed planet to follow the fleeing, and still unseen, aggressor. There's a fantastic scene between Spock and Kirk in the captain's quarters, in which Spock seems subtly disturbed by the captain's haste with which he decides to strike the enemy vessel. Kirk believes that letting the attack go unpunished would be detrimental, where as Spock holds that attack would do nothing to improve the conflict.

The Enterprise is intercepted by a superior race of beings that has decided to intervene and settle the dispute by taking Captain Kirk and the Captain of the Gorn ship, and plopping them down on a barren planet to duke it out. This contest is ironically placed, as they say, "in the interest of peace." This is the second episode in a row that Kirk is torn directly from the bridge of his ship.

What follows in a absolutely terrible fight between captain Kirk and a lizard man. I don't know how else to put it, as it really is a tremendous bummer. I don't even chalk it up to being dated ... I can't imagine anyone being fully pleased by this encounter, especially seeing as the opening battle was so viscerally exciting. Kirk makes a cannon, MacGuyver style, out of the surrounding materials. Yep.

Thankfully, this fight only serves as a stage for Kirk to develop his character. Whereas he was trigger happy to attack the Gorn initially, he decides finally that he will not kill him, proving that humans can be merciful. This impresses the advanced mediator, who spares Kirk's life.

"You are still half savage, but there is hope."

There's a bit of a twist revealed in regards to the Gorn's motivations. The Cestus III outpost was considered by the Gorn to be an invasion of their space, and was defending himself. The episode attempts to ask us how this effects the moral decision of fighting the Gorn. Unfortunately, the specifics of this moral quandary are never revealed, and therefore never satisfied. Makes me wonder why it was mentioned in the first place.

This is a fun episode with a bit of focus on the decision making of Captain Kirk. His development isn't nearly as eloquent or profound as in previous episodes, nor is it as offensively neglected as it will be in episodes to come.