Reviews of Star Trek (1966) and related work

Star Trek (1966)

Seen in 2019.

According to the eighth feature film in the franchise (First Contact, 1996), there was a devastating war on Earth around 2053. Ten years later, the first human travelling faster than light was detected by a friendly intelligent species. This inspired all of humankind to end “poverty, disease, war” over the next 50 years. A couple of centuries later, humankind is united under some vague archist US-libertarian democracy, living mostly in a post-scarcity economy and interacting with huge numbers of other sapient races. The vast majority are humanoid and many are human.

In this first iteration of the franchise, that back story is not prominent. There is little consistency in things like stellar cartography, “stardate” chronology or uniform colour, but there are references to a future history starting in the 1990s. The most consistent threat is that Captain James T. Kirk might somehow lose the legal right to command his crew on the Enterprise, but he never does.

Episodic science fiction with minimal science content. Also known as TOS, “the original series”.

On the whole, this particular entry in the franchise has aged into a decent flavour of kitsch. Watch it for the grain of truth in the myth that creator Gene Roddenberry tried to improve the standing of the genre while promoting gender equality and ethnic diversity in a clever and reasonably effective way. From the start, the series had Uhura, an intelligent black woman working as a hero on American television in 1966. That’s awesome, even though her role was reduced due to racist viewer complaints. The second-season opener added a Russian. The third season had a somewhat early interracial kiss.

Superficially, Captain Markary’s log entry in Planet of the Vampires (1965) prefigures Kirk. On a deeper level, there are traces of Way Station (1963): Teleportation enabling cosmopolitan understanding amid fear of the looming Cold War. The ideological foundation is otherwise insipid: In this utopia, the “best” people want to join the navy and live like soldiers. There is a bit of Heinlein in that. It is essentially Thorby’s ambition in Citizen of the Galaxy (1957); his Hegemonic Guard is vaguely similar to Starfleet. While the Federation is bright compared to horror-imbalanced 1950s SF, there is no shortage of monsters, oppression or physical violence. Fist fights in particular are weirdly common, this being the era of Batman (1966) and the waning Western.

Each episode of the series strives to be unsustainably self-contained so that the franchise can continue to appeal to casual viewers and kids. This results in a small fraction of interesting thought experiments and a lot of duds. It was 9 years after Twin Peaks (1990) that Star Trek TV finally broke the chains of status quo ante in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1999).

TOS’s astrophysics are just as weird and poorly informed as Aniara’s. Set up so as to make internal consistency unnecessary, the ontology is messy. Teleporters malfunction in ways that imply the universe is broken, but the people don’t care. What passes for science here is a plastic backdrop for poorly scripted anthropomorph drama and fuzzy thinking. In a since disregarded episode of Star Trek: Voyager (1995) for instance, the main ship went so fast that it was everywhere in the universe at once and the crew evolved into lizards. The original series is like that, much of the time.

I am grateful to my Trek-loving friend Andreas Skyman for correcting some of my misunderstandings in reviews of this franchise.

References here: Time Enough for Love (1973), A Song for Lya (1974), Star Wars (1977), Alien (1979), Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980), The Hidden (1987), Battlestar Galactica (2004), Lost (2004), The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya (2010), Iron Sky (2012), Pacific Rim (2013), Ex Machina (2014), Ghostbusters (2016), USS Callister (2017).

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“The Man Trap” (1966)

Seen in 2017.

Most notable for the alien plant played by a human actor’s hand.

References here: “The Most Toys” (1990).

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“Charlie X” (1966)

Seen in 2017.

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“Where No Man Has Gone Before” (1966)

Rewatching this in 2017 I found that my strongest memories of it from childhood were the ebook reader and the matt-painted terrain. Just three regular episodes into the series, the instrument panels are already inexplicably catching fire.

References here: “2036: Nexus Dawn” (2017).

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“The Naked Time” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

This is where the formula comes together. The Cartesian reason-emotion dichotomy is painfully foregrounded, there is thankfully no villain or monster, Scotty “cannae change the laws of physics” but it’s fine to bet everything on a never-before-attempted cold matter-anti-matter fusion technology, with the side effect that time travel is discovered and filed away for a future use largely forbidden by the episodic nature of the series. It’s fine kitsch. This is also Spock’s first Vulcan sleep touch or “nerve pinch”, invented by Nimoy, who is starting to associate his real-world Jewish heritage with the character’s Vulcan heritage.

References here: “Assignment: Earth” (1968), “Haven” (1987).

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“The Enemy Within” (1966)

Richard Matheson (writer).

Seen in 2018.

The first “He’s dead, Jim” and a Mathesonian teleporter malfunction ominously in line with the idea that the teleporter is copying and destroying matter, not moving it. This malfunction is tied both to the emotion-reason false dichotomy and a moral false dichotomy: remarkably thoughtless writing. The small dog playing an extraterrestrial creature adds levity.

References here: “Mirror, Mirror” (1967), “Turnabout Intruder” (1969), “The Schizoid Man” (1989), “Brothers” (1990).

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“Mudd’s Women” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

TOS had a decent track record on sexism for its time, but it is far from clean. Throughout the show there are constant “sexy” audio cues, gender-biased soft-focus close-ups and other authorial attempts to objectify women. There it not a whole lot else going on here.

References here: “I, Mudd” (1967).

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“What Are Little Girls Made Of?” (1966)

Robert Bloch (writer).

Seen in 2018.

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“Miri” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

A bad case of writing for the backlot. The idea of a planet almost exactly like 1960s Earth is dropped on the floor: No hypotheses, no tests, no conclusions, no follow-up, not science fiction.

References here: “A Piece of the Action” (1968), “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968).

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“Dagger of the Mind” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

A techno-pessimist look at the rehabilitation of criminals.

The first Vulcan mind meld. The idea of a planet effectively devoted to a lunatic asylum seems utterly anachronistic for 1966. The blank slate theory of mental development was less dated at the time.

References here: “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969).

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“The Corbomite Maneuver” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

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“The Menagerie: Part I” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

Given what is revealed in part II, the kidnapping and hijacking don’t make sense. It is a weak cliffhanger conceit for reusing parts of The Cage. I find poor Pike’s wheelchair an amusing bit of kitsch: It is vastly less capable than Stephen Hawking’s chair, so much less so that it can only be explained as a necessity for the plot to hold.

References here: Star Trek: The Unseen Pilot (1965/1986).

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“The Menagerie: Part II” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

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“The Conscience of the King” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

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“Balance of Terror” (1966)

Seen in 2018.

The Milky Way is approximately 10000 light years thick. A two-dimensional DMZ in it does not work.

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“Shore Leave” (1966)

Theodore Sturgeon (writer).

Seen in 2018.

It starts out as a campy supernatural sitcom and ends up in far more bizarre territory. The human chauvinism of the show goes so far here that the entire crew of the Enterprise uses a pleasure planet designed for some unknown species identical to humanity, with no apparent cost or drawbacks. They take advantage of various sex kittens and other artificial people manufactured by this planet without ever considering how complicated those people might be or how they might feel about being destroyed when the crew leaves. Even McCoy’s death in this episode is simply undone. It doesn’t turn out to be faked; it’s actually undone. Conclusion: Take what you can, do not look beneath the surface, lives don’t matter in Star Trek.

References here: “Justice” (1987), “Captain’s Holiday” (1990).

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“The Galileo Seven” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Spock’s breakdown, flawed in its foundations, leads only to sitcom laugh-track shenanigans. Painful. The imperious commissioner won’t ever leave the bridge, making him representative of the negative portrayal of all authority figures above Kirk.

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“The Squire of Gothos” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

References here: “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (1967).

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“Arena” (1967)

Iconically shitty writing and special effects.

References here: “Darmok” (1991), Starship Troopers (1997).

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“Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Completely at random, the Enterprise is thrown back to Earth around the time the show was shot—what are the odds—and is observed as a UFO, which the writer thinks is a synonym for “extraterrestrial craft”.

Inane. Christopher’s interceptor has nuclear-tipped air-to-air missiles for some reason; I can’t tell whether it’s supposed to be the really late 1960s, or an alternate reality, or whether the writer simply did not care about anything. The final restoration is bullshit.

References here: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), “Assignment: Earth” (1968), “First Contact” (1991).

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“Court Martial” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

The gloves come off. Here it’s simply stated outright that Kirk is no ordinary human being. Apparently he’s a man of destiny like Hitler or Lawrence of Arabia (1962) but you know, good or something. That is some offhanded contempt for ordinary human beings like Gene Roddenberry.

I guess Kirk is supposed to be somebody like Fred Staples, Van Heflin’s character in Patterns (1956): Highly competitive, highly competent, and thirsty for power, as if all of these things went naturally together with compassion.

References here: “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), “Obsession” (1967), “Pen Pals” (1989), “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989), “The Drumhead” (1991).

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“The Return of the Archons” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Another one that could easily have been very good. In fact, any kind of wardrobe budget would have been very helpful here. This is both the first time the “prime directive” is mentioned and the first time its usefully vague concept of “living and growing” is contrasted against AI. The conclusion is technophobic: Since the machine can see that it has failed, after 6000 years of running a stable civilization, it must also be possible for the machine to correct itself, but it does not. Kirk, by author fiat, is smarter than this machine. By author fiat, it simply destroys itself.

As in Eric Greene’s interpretation, this all seems to be a metaphor for the Vietnam War. The entire society with its massive sexual violence, its lifeless thought police, its weird communal sentiments touching Sulu, and its computer cult, is a hypertechnological caricature of communism. It has not aged well.

References here: “The Changeling” (1967), “The Apple” (1967).

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“Space Seed” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Khan.

Montalban is fun here but the big point of interest is how the heroes of the show all admire the psychopathic tyrant and give him massive leeway. The writers seem to do this with a wink and a nod, but it’s still authoritarian.

References here: “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), “Datalore” (1988), “Unnatural Selection” (1989), “The Hunted” (1990).

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“A Taste of Armageddon” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

I see this as a comment both on the Pentagon’s obsession with body count in Vietnam (because they couldn’t hold territory) and on the mental disconnect that still existed between US daily life and the war, roughly until the mass protests in ‘68. It doesn’t come off the ground.

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“This Side of Paradise” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

The franchise’s clearest attack—among many—on Homer’s lotus eaters. The point of interest here is the writers’ Lutheran disgust with contentment. Also, DeForest Kelley always seems to do well playing warped versions of McCoy. This is the first time he does it, suddenly transforming into a Southern good old boy with a mint julep.

References here: “The Apple” (1967), “The Neutral Zone” (1988), Star Trek: Generations (1994).

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“The Devil in the Dark” (1967) – previously

Seen in 2018.

Pleasant kitsch, with McCoy’s first “I’m a doctor, not a «whatever»!” In this case he’s not a bricklayer. He should have said xenobiologist. The Enterprise should obviously have a good dozen xenobiologists beaming down in place of the usual too-important bozos. If the deadly attacks had been believable, the special effects decent, the ecology sane, the pump MacGuffinery less idiotic and the conclusion even a little less mindlessly capitalist, this would have been the best episode. It does actually try to deal naturalistically with alien endoliths.

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“Errand of Mercy” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

The original Mongol-horde human Klingons, before they got the bumps. I wonder whether the fantasy grass-roots pacifism here is another reaction to Vietnam.

References here: Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), “Transfigurations” (1990).

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“The Alternative Factor” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Quantum woo. Easily the worst episode of season 1, but I rather like the facile idea that the dilithium MacGuffins are safe to handle without special precautions. Given that the Federation crews are nearly always wearing their pajama uniforms, it makes sense that they would favour chemically stable, mechanically robust and radiologically safe technologies like that. Compare Citizen of the Galaxy (1957) where ship’s-drive engineers are prohibited from having children because they will get irradiated sooner or later.

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“The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967)

Harlan Ellison (writer).

Seen in 2018.

Joan Collins’ character, Edith Keeler, is a would-be great woman of history: A techno-optimist utopian pacifist of indomitable willpower and unimpeachable morals, very much like Kirk in “Court Martial” (1967). Unless killed in a completely mundane traffic accident, Keeler will come to influence US politics, possibly leading to an Axis victory in WW2 because Nazis and time travel go hand in hand. She is doomed either way: Left alive, her ideals are crushed. Dead, she is unremembered, though others have taken up her cause without any connection to her.

At the 50th anniversary convention in Las Vegas in August 2016, fans voted this the best episode of the franchise. It’s certainly one of the better episodes, but it is ironic just how much the fans love it given that it contradicts the tenets of the show. Specifically, Keeler’s apparently hopeless situation realistically contradicts Thomas Carlyle’s improductive great man theory, the form of hero worship that underpins Kirk’s central position.

The realistic disappearance of the Enterprise when McCoy enters the portal is an important part of that contradiction. In Ellison’s original version of the script, the Enterprise is replaced with a pirate ship, and in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967) history is perfectly restored by conservative magic, but in this episode, the (re)writers unexpectedly take the logical and dramaturgically correct approach of the butterfly effect: Given that history has changed in the loss of a relative nobody, there is no reason why any spaceship would be in orbit around the planet. Only the transtemporal “Guardian” keeps the people around it insulated from the ripple effects.

I suppose the fans love this because they know the tenets of the show are critically flawed. Here they got a brief taste of the future: The relative pragmatism, realism and dramatic stakes that would make serialized SF shows so much better than Star Trek. Reinforcing the irony, the dissatisfied Ellison wanted to be credited under a pseudonym, but—according to an unsourced IMDb trivia entry—Roddenberry forbade it because “It would have meant that Star Trek (1966) was no different than all the other ‘science fiction’ shows in mistreating quality writers, and could have resulted in prose science fiction writers avoiding contributing to the program.” In other words, Roddenberry mistreated a serious writer like other producers did and he refused to take responsibility for it. Instead, he later lied about the contents of Ellison’s version. A bit of an asshole, that Roddenberry.

DeForest Kelley playing a psychotic is delicious and the unusually high budget is very nice. Alas, the sexism is pretty bad and Spock’s miraculous reader of possible futures, as if on microfilm, is equally silly.

References here: “The Neutral Zone” (1988), “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990).

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“Operation Annihilate” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Another bad communist metaphor with bad special effects.

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“Amok Time” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Spock in male estrus.

A complete waste of the idea that the Vulcans would have to fall temporarily from their Cartesian reason to get interested in their own reproduction.

References here: “Manhunt” (1989), “Sarek” (1990).

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“Who Mourns for Adonais?” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

The plot of “The Squire of Gothos” (1967) polished up.

Quoth Apollo, “Look upon my muffin top, ye mighty, and despair!” This is the first time the series comes close to genuinely good writing on its usual turf. Although the writer lands on the side of (mono)theism and condescension to women, he does at least come out against polytheism and shows some ambiguous support for second-wave feminism. It would have taken very little work to correct his mistakes: Showing Scotty for a lecher, not having Carolyn warm up so easily to sexist insults, not having Kirk tutor Carolyn on how to reject Apollo, and spilling white-out all over Kirk’s line that he’s got one god.

References here: “Plato’s Stepchildren” (1968).

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“The Changeling” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

An old space probe, launched from Earth in the 21st century, has changed into a genocidal AI in colliding and combining with an alien soil sample collector.

Good kitsch, including Uhura’s dark fate (she loses all of her memories in this episode and it is implied she never gets them back; this is discussed with reference to her being a woman, as if that could reasonably matter), the Jewish Shatner’s Kirk’s Jewish-mother-stereotype line about “My son, the doctor”, the dumb redshirts acting according to the later misconception that redshirts in general had especially high mortality rates, and the crappy practical effects work. Another “He’s dead, Jim”, another core-cast crewman sadly resurrected. This mixes seamlessly with relatively good ideas. It is unfortunate that the resolution is copied from “The Return of the Archons” (1967). I wonder if perhaps the name “Nomad” came from The Stars My Destination (1956).

References here: Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).

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“Mirror, Mirror” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

The “mirror universe” where Spock has a beard.

Filed under “transporter malfunctions”, extending the moral polarization of “The Enemy Within” (1966) to the polity. For this purpose the writers make up a parallel universe—later confirmed to be persistent and special as opposed to one of quantum physics’ hypothetical infinitely many worlds—where the Federation (“Empire”) behaves like the Romulan and Klingon empires with more backstabbing, but waste this idea on a love story and a series of fist fights. I like evil Sulu, but it is distractingly absurd to think that the entire crew of the Enterprise would still exist and have basically the same jobs on the same ship in the same place at the same time if the culture had been radically different for centuries.

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“The Apple” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

A tribe of ignorant immortals serving a serpentine machine god, Vaal, in a jungle “paradise” reminiscent of the Gaia hypothesis.

A mashup of “The Return of the Archons” (1967) with “This Side of Paradise” (1967), but the lotus is innocence rather than a drug, and the computer controlling a human society doesn’t get to talk to Kirk before he kills it.

The theological parallel has a curious aspect to it. The name Vaal alludes to Baal. There are several gods named Baal in the Old Testament (ca. 164 BCE). The Baal closest to the writers’ intentions with Vaal is probably Hadad, a god of storms and fertility. Its “access point” temple is snake-shaped, yet its worshippers are forbidden—not lured—by Vaal to eat “the apple”. The apple consists of blank-slate psychology bullshit. Apparently these immortals have no sexual impulses whatsoever until they see Chekhov cop a feel. This means that Vaal, in line with the gradual reversal of the word “baal”’s meaning in the Hebrew Bible, represents both the god who created Adam and Eve as innocents in the second Genesis creation myth, and a false god, as in the Jewish authors’ opinion of Hadad. That’s the Baal of the heresy of Peor in Numbers, or the plain Baal of Judges. This is more likely to be an accident than a deliberate satire.

References here: “Devil’s Due” (1991).

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“The Doomsday Machine” (1967)

Norman Spinrad (writer).

Seen in 2018.

A titanic machine, hypothetically from another galaxy, whose only activity is to eat solar systems one planet at a time. Around it, “subspace” communications are suppressed, preventing the Federation from getting any direct reports.

Star Trek pays tribute to Moby-Dick (1851). Surprisingly, the end result is one of the least risible episodes in the original series, which is itself quite an achievement. Spock’s scenes with Commodore Decker are actually good. The ending, where Decker is killed and status quo ante is restored, is a letdown, but Spinrad’s twist to Decker’s madness is welcome.

References here: “Tin Man” (1990).

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“Catspaw” (1967)

Robert Bloch (writer).

Seen in 2018.

A typical bottle episode; hard to believe it was Bloch.

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“I, Mudd” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

A sequel to “Mudd’s Women” (1966).

The first direct plot serialization in all of Trek and they blow it on that vile idiot, Mudd. This is the campiest, most wilfully stupid episode in the series, but it’s too theatrical to be funny.

As usual, the Enterprise is easily overpowered by the threat of the week. The writers again demonstrate that they don’t actually know the difference between a galaxy and a multiplanetary system; the 100% humanoid threat springs from Andromeda for no reason. Most foolishly, Spock assumes that every computer system has a bottlenecked centralized architecture and the humans disable the threat by simply contradicting themselves within earshot of the server. So apparently, these androids have existed with hyperintelligence and cornucopia machines—more lotus eaters—for tens of thousands of years, observing decentralized biological networks, without encountering or predicting contradictory language or implementing a decentralized network.

References here: “Metamorphosis” (1967).

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“Metamorphosis” (1967) – previously

Seen in 2018.

The captivity of Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of the warp drive.

It bears the marks of bad writing: A cloud of “ionized hydrogen” would not be called by that name; it is false that anything that can generate a difference in electrical potential can be short-circuited; it is ridiculous to suppose, as Kirk does, that “male and female are universal constants” with universal attraction; the reference to a “maker of all things” takes the place of critical thinking; the way Sulu describes asteroids by size as “types A to M” instead of stating their mass is typical of SF writing in ignorance of the subject matter; etc. Though such flaws are normal in Star Trek, I was surprised to see the episode was written by Gene L. Coon, a formative regular on the show. It is his best work, comparable to the episodes written by recognized SF authors, though perhaps the quality is mainly down to execution. I do not refer to the poor special effects.

In place of the lotus eater motif, the plot comes from Odysseus in the arms of Calypso, an interesting love story greatly aided by Glenn Corbett as Cochrane and by the purple-lit asteroid with artificial Earth-like gravity. The mood is radically more somber and appealing than in the preceding “I, Mudd” (1967). The usual Trek pitfall of getting what you want without paying a price is rejected, as are the usual Trek fears of satisfaction and the unknown.

References here: “The Royale” (1989), “The Loss” (1990), “First Contact” (1991), Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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“Journey to Babel” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

More of the sitcom that is Vulcan culture.

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“Friday’s Child” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

More Klingons and a new low for the costume department.

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“The Deadly Years” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

A radiation, against which adrenaline is both protection and retroactive instant miracle cure, has the effects of extreme ageing. Stupidly, the three most senior officers on the Enterprise all expose themselves to this radiation and learn no lessons about risk management from the incident.

I assume the hearing scene, where Kirk’s command is challenged on the grounds of senility, was intended to be the emotional core of the episode. It is dull in the extreme because it requires an investment in the idea of Kirk as a special man of destiny who effectively owns the ship. The science fiction aspects of the episode are the thinnest possible veneer needed to sell the challenge to his command. As usual, a commodore fucks up. Unusually, there are plot callbacks both to Romulans and to corbomite.

References here: “Obsession” (1967), “Sarek” (1990).

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“Obsession” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Kirk delays delivery of a perishable vaccine to hunt a vampiric fog.

A sharp contrast: Here, Kirk is moody. He suddenly has depth, shadow and history, with a mild hint of Moby-Dick (1851). This radical inconsistency of character is used quite intelligently to build dramatic tension. His command is questioned yet again and this challenge finally has the emotional weight missing from “Court Martial” (1967) and “The Deadly Years” (1967). It is not predicated on some ridiculous notion that Kirk is born to rule. Briefly, he’s human.

Antimatter in portable electromagnetic containment is used as a bomb, which is a cut above the usual level of science fiction on the show, and there is some doubt over whether the villain is sentient (hence moral), which is likewise a welcome change of pace and an actual thought experiment. Star Trek could have been like this if it had been planned as a serial drama from the beginning. “Obsession” was written by Art Wallace, best known for working on the contemporary soap opera Dark Shadows (1966), which was both Gothic and serialized. Alas the episode is merely a flash in the pan.

References here: “The Enterprise Incident” (1968), “Time Squared” (1989), “Tin Man” (1990), “Night Terrors” (1991).

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“Wolf in the Fold” (1967)

Robert Bloch (writer).

Seen in 2018.

Jack the Ripper on the planet of belly dancers.

A risible mixture of Bloch’s Freudian preoccupations—misogyny, serial killers, a “psychotricorder” and “regressive” memory scanning technology—with a sleezy, sexually charged orientalism and a trial scene where the crew makes unusually heavy use of computers to negotiate a path between Occam’s-razor realism and a scenario of inelegant fantasy with “precedent” standing in for a priori worldbuilding plausibility.

Given that Star Trek was pitched as Wagon Train (1957) “to the stars”, it bears noting that Jack the Ripper similarly appeared in Cimarron Strip (1967), an actual Western of the same year. Having been reimagined as a personification of some elemental evil close to 80 years after the real murders, the random London serial killer became eligible to appear anywhere.

References here: “Booby Trap” (1989), “A Matter of Perspective” (1990).

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“The Trouble with Tribbles” (1967)

Seen in 2018.

Klingon fisticuffs intersect a furry macroscopic organism that procreates at a rate of 1000% per 12 hours.

The Klingons are more Caucasian-looking for some reason, and the word is sometimes pronounced “klin gon”. They go on shore leave on a Federation space station, notably softening their image.

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“The Gamesters of Triskelion” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Slavery.

Chekov’s “drill thrall” is ambiguously gendered and therefore portrayed as a clown.

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“A Piece of the Action” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

100 years earlier, a Federation ship without an FTL communicator contacted a barely-industrial civilization, apparently one of the most distant settlements. The ship reported its visit via radio. Upon receiving it, using modern FTL communications, the Federation sends the Enterprise and finds that the local civilization has evolved to emulate, in great detail, the technology, language and social structure of 1920s gangland Chicago, on the basis of a historical treatise left behind in the earlier visit. There is no sign of any authorities on the planet, other than mob bosses: A moral inversion unlike anything the Federation has seen before.

Better than “Miri” (1966) but based on the same economic impetus to write for the backlot. Beyond establishing that the mobs handle laundry services there is no thinking about how society would work. Indeed, when pressured, one mobster claims he’s “got rights”, implying there is a system of law and order that permits mob violence. This would be a kleptocracy more like early colonial America than 1920s Chicago. The intended attraction is the comical cosplay, not the thought experiment. The best bits are the very beginning, talking about communication speed, and the very end, making first mention of the “transtator” as an essential technology.

References here: “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968), “The Royale” (1989).

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“The Immunity Syndrome” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

A Vulcan ship with a crew of 400 was instantly destroyed by an 11000-mile amoeba inside a field of negative energy.

Slow decline in the face of an impersonal, largely incomprehensible enemy, with Kirk taking heavy doses of a stimulant to cope; a relatively good premise undermined by third-act heroics.

References here: Encounter at Farpoint (1987), Gunbuster: Aim for the Top! (1988), “A Matter of Honor” (1989).

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“A Private Little War” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Klingons in a proxy war over a world of primitives, accelerating one tribe’s development by arming them.

More Vietnam allegory.

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“Return to Tomorrow” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Gaping plot holes. On the other hand, it does have the show’s first astrobiologist, a shockingly late arrival.

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“Patterns of Force” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Nazis or, as Kirk insists, ”Nazzies”.

For an episode of shouting “Heil Führer”, the sudden lack of fist fights is conspicuous. In a dungeon, a half-naked Spock climbs on top of a half-naked Kirk, feeding slash-fiction fantasies. In the end, Kirk accurately concludes that the main problem with Nazi Germany was not some “evil” but “the leader principle”, i.e. the concentration of power, which McCoy agrees will corrupt a leader “even with the best intentions”. They stop just short of lampshading Star Trek’s constant fawning over its charismatic, superhuman captains. Instead, they all agree that the interwar recovery of Germany was a windfall of the ideology, which brought people together so wonderfully. It appears nobody thought this one through.

References here: “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968), Mobile Suit Gundam (1979), Castle in the Sky (1986), “Devil’s Due” (1991).

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“By Any Other Name” (1968)

Invaders of the galaxy force the crew of the Enterprise to bring them back to Andromeda through a barrier at the edge of the Milky Way.

Kitsch. The plot would not have been out of place in a 1940s serial. It is predicated upon and chafes against mind-body dualism, reaching no insights. The idea of the barrier could have come from This Island Earth (1955). As part of the crew’s plot to seduce the Kelvans with sensations, we get the first good look at the “food synthesizers”, later to be termed replicators. Spock can suddenly mind-meld through a cave wall. Absurdly, the Kelvans come to the conclusion that the most senior officers are the most suited to maintaining the basic functions of the ship on a 300-year journey. The Kelvans themselves teleport with special effects as primitive as the work of Georges Méliès.

References here: “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968).

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“The Omega Glory” (1968)

A nanar which posits that an early human colony contained both US citizens and Asian communists who, like their compatriots on Earth, fought a biological war around the 1990s. This resulted in a society of barbarous “Yangs” who idolize the US Constitution and the flag. They exterminate the “Kohms”, long-lived but sedentary descendants of the communists. Kirk gets to lecture these people on the meaning of freedom. Another blunt Cold War allegory with far too many fist fights.

The mood is unusually serious, perhaps because Gene Roddenberry wrote it himself. Notice the purple lighting in the Kohms’ beige dungeon, presumably intended mainly to make the Western set appear suitably alien; it’s quite pretty. It seems at first that this seriousness and uncommonly tasteful design work might be devoted to the idea of buying a long life at the cost of the Prime Directive, but that turns out to be a melodramatic chimaera. At this point in the franchise, transhumanist progress is not possible.

References here: “Spectre of the Gun” (1968), Alien III (1988).

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“The Ultimate Computer” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

The inventor of Starfleet’s computer architecture oversees a test run of its intended successor.

As usual, Kirk’s superiors are all assholes, anything is evil when it threatens Kirk’s job and any computer can be destroyed by sophistry, even a computer patterned after a human mind. It follows that this story is only interesting if you believe Kirk has a divine right to command hundreds of people on the excuse of teething troubles in a remarkably careless early test of a revolutionary technology with obvious merits. Indeed, even the computer itself makes a reference to divine right, indicating it is a theist. That would be a real bug! Needless to say, it is not explored. I was more amused by the show’s second reference to John W. Campbell’s old idol, Finagle: When they’re out of a job, Kirk and McCoy drink “Finagle’s Folly”.

References here: “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987).

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“Bread and Circuses” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Kirk fucks a sex slave assigned to him on a world which, under “Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development”, is so similar to Earth that it is dominated by the heathen Roman Empire into the age of live television despite the existence of Christianity.

For once, the errant, traitorous Starfleet captain is neither Kirk’s superior nor the main villain, and the satirical use of the television medium is quite clever. Hodgkin’s law enshrines painfully lazy writing.

References here: “Wink of an Eye” (1968), “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989), “Transfigurations” (1990).

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“Assignment: Earth” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Purposely travelling through time to 1968, the Enterprise runs into a human superagent of a competing police force, an archetypally ditzy 1960s secretary, and a US program to put a nuclear weapon in orbit. The launch is sabotaged to trigger a nuclear detonation.

A remarkably bold effort. The opening scene alone, which paints time travel as routine in the absence of a yet-to-be-added “Temporal Prime Directive”, suggests a world of intricate plots resembling The End of Eternity (1955), an impossibly high standard for this episodic TV series. There is no reference to the invention of time travel in “The Naked Time” (1966) but you could charitably view its presence here as plot continuity. The script continues apace, predicting one of the assassinations of 1968, using the as-yet unacknowledged NSA and Saturn V footage, alluding to the Soviet Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, and sticking in a bare-bellied Playboy Playmate catgirl complete with 猫耳 at the last minute.

A fractional-orbit nuke had in fact been demonstrated in 1967, and the 8K69 entered service in 1968. However, fully orbital weapons of mass destruction had already been banned by the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Positing a US plan to escalate, and a spectacular failure, the writers show a rare and remarkable willingness to date themselves in Bond-like territory. Compare “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967), which nonsensically had nukes in AA missiles, but no nuclear detonation. Alas, it is easy for the crew to determine how events in history are “supposed to” play out; a conservative vision.

Strangely, all of these daring choices apparently served only to launch a pirate copy of Doctor Who (1963) with a sonic screwdriver, a concealed storage closet with a teleporter, and a young female human companion to a man from an advanced alien race, albeit a man merely bred for the purpose, as opposed to being an alien himself. Fortuitously the launch of this spin-off failed. We learned only that Spock likes cats.

References here: “Time Squared” (1989), “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990), “In Theory” (1991).

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“Spock’s Brain” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

A temporarily hyperintelligent traveller boards the Enterprise and surgically removes Spock’s brain. He’s fine.

Some strong Kirk/Spock vibes in this bizarre commentary on sexual politics. For once, the writers do a relatively good job dodging mind-body dualism.

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“The Enterprise Incident” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Spy shit. At one point, Kirk has his ears surgically altered to look Romulan so he can beam aboard a Romulan ship. The ship is one of three that “surround” the Enterprise, something three ships can’t really do in three-dimensional space. At best, they might encircle her. Also, none of these three ships are in firing range, they all have their shields down and they can’t be bothered to detect teleportation or a human presence or the use of a Starfleet communicator on board.

For a few scenes, it looks like a second “Obsession” (1967). The acting is a notch above the norm because the usual sitcom crap is cut. As expected, Kirk’s fitness for command is questioned yet again, this time on the basis of seeking glory, which must be perfectly accurate. Alas, it’s all a ruse of idiotic proportions. There is no reason why Kirk is selected to undergo the hasty surgery or perform this teleportation himself. His mission is predicated upon the foolish notion that the Romulans’ most prized military technology is both portable and totally insecure against immediate hostile use. As soon as the cloaking device is activated, Kirk orders red alert cancelled, as if there’s no possibility that the Romulans could think of a countermeasure to their own technology. The plot is thin, as if the audience is expected to care primarily about Spock’s threat to defect from Starfleet and cheat on Kirk.

References here: “A Matter of Honor” (1989).

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“The Paradise Syndrome” (1968)

Ancient aliens apparently left a number of North American tribes on a distant world to save them from colonial genocide. Kirk is stranded among them with amnesia while the Enterprise heads off to divert an asteroid.

The idea that aliens have sampled various civilizations on old Earth to preserve some cultural diversity is interesting. If the writers had sense, they would have used this single premise to account for all the isolated human societies the crew meets, or at least the ones that seem to have split off from civilization more than 250 years ago: “Miri” (1966), “A Piece of the Action” (1968), “Patterns of Force” (1968) and more. This is far more useful and less lazy than Hodgkin’s Law of Parallel Planetary Development. Instead of aiming for such elegance, they go straight for the ethnic stereotypes: Hollywood Indians, unchanging in their isolation, stuck in a generic primitive paradise. Noble savages. Wagon Train (1957) to the fucking stars.

From seeing this in childhood, I remembered the mysterious monument with its glyphs, its hidden room and hidden protective power.

References here: “Spectre of the Gun” (1968), “Contagion” (1989).

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“And the Children Shall Lead” (1968)

Melodrama with creepy-child stereotypes. Notice Kirk and Spock’s intimacy in the elevator, inviting slash fiction, and Kirk’s greatest fear: No longer being in command.

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“Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

A telepath accompanies a Medusa(n) in a box and jilts a murderous designer of the Enterprise. Scotty gets to wear a kilt.

Dense with weirdness. For example, as in “By Any Other Name” (1968) there is a barrier at the edge of the galaxy, and if you hit it fast enough you end up in limbo, unable even to see the galaxy behind you. The only fun part is the temporary merging of Spock with Kollos, where Nimoy gets to break character and throw some poetry around. Spock’s medallion was intended as product placement by Roddenberry himself, but to his credit, Nimoy refused to give the scripted spiel. The directorial style is unusual: Lots of subjective camera work and unusually wide angles on the interiors of the ship, including the left side of the bridge set.

References here: “Day of the Dove” (1968), “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987).

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“Spectre of the Gun” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Aliens test the crew of the Enterprise by recreating the gunfight at the OK Corral.

This finally goes all out with the Western genre crossover, where “The Omega Glory” (1968) and “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968) merely teased it. As expected, it’s no good. I do like the French-New-Wave/arthouse quality in the choice to show partial sets, but it’s a cost-cutting measure because it’s a bottle episode for the studio floor. The script thus anticipates the hated holodeck episodes of future series, and yet again, one of the main members of the bridge crew is killed and then brought back. This time, the excuse is telepathic manipulation. It could have been a neat trick to have the entire episode take place in a split second, but it is nonsensical for this to involve only the usual higher officers, and such a bizarre scenario instead of more direct probing.

References here: “The Empath” (1968), “The Royale” (1989), “Up the Long Ladder” (1989).

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“Day of the Dove” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

An impersonal alien force manipulates humans and Klingons to fight.

Aside from the nonsensical careening through space, which repeats “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968) and adds a dull ticking clock, this is good stuff. Easily TOS’s finest Vietnam allegory, down to the ending, with its taste of “The Colour Out of Space” (1927).

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“For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

A generational ship where the necessary social stability is maintained by a surgically implanted thought police.

Though the treatment is superficial, the thought experiment shows unusual promise, and there is only one fist fight.

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“The Tholian Web” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

A ghost story crowbarred into the series. The space suits are ugly, but at least the boarding party is wearing space suits for once.

References here: “Night Terrors” (1991).

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“Plato’s Stepchildren” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Ostensibly Plato’s Republic. Actually a court fool in a society of 38 psychic “academicians” ruled by a sadist.

Best known for Kirk and Uhura kissing under mind control. The first documented specifically African/Caucasian pairing in a kiss on American TV as of 2018 was Movin’ With Nancy (1967), predating the Uhura/Kirk kiss, in which his head blocks their faces. There is some controversy over whether the actors kissed at all. Anyway, British TV was a decade ahead.

Alexander’s awakening to his circumstances is a lot more interesting than anything else that goes on in this episode. Apart from cruel slavery and sexism, which do make sense, the writers fail to extrapolate anything interesting from the idea of millennia-old psychic genius supermen inspired by ancient Greece. Tellingly, they mention Hippocrates in an episode where Bones violates the Hippocratic oath by violently shaking a seriously ill patient, but there is no comment on the connection. I presume the writers weren’t familiar with any of the source material, having made no advances since “Who Mourns for Adonais?” (1967).

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“Wink of an Eye” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

One man disappears on a planet seemingly abandoned by its advanced urban civilization. On the Enterprise, random systems begin to malfunction.

The premise that the Scalosians (no relation to scallops) are simply moving quickly is treated very poorly. Under this premise, the accelerated would be able to communicate with a pencil. Several unnecessary secondary premises are added in a failed effort to control for this and add greater tension: “cell damage”, rapid ageing, docility. Better writers would have used “From Beyond” (1934), not The New Accelerator (1901), or not so poorly. Aside from this central weakness, the episode is very good by the standards of the show. The Scalosians are varied and morally grey, Kirk is entertainingly objectified, the sex scene is a little more daring than “Bread and Circuses” (1968), and the coffee scene, simple as it is, provides a tantalizing glimpse of what the show could have been with genuine attention to human behaviour: habits, flaws and comforts.

References here: “Unnatural Selection” (1989).

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“The Empath” (1968)

For some reason, of all the Star Trek episodes I saw in childhood, this is the one I remembered best, especially the scene of Kirk’s head injury disappearing from his own head, appearing on the mute empath, and then disappearing altogether. It’s an appealing form of fantasy healing, sharing its basic logic and emotional underpinnings with the Christ myth. Hence both Kirk and McCoy are suspended in the air as if crucified. It’s not the usual consequence-free miracle cure.

The bare and dark studio setting is a better experiment in Brechtian modernism than the half-finished sets of “Spectre of the Gun” (1968). The Vians are ultimately shown as largely rational, working on a scientific experiment that will condemn their own planet in favour of Gem’s. Thus, in picking her species to survive, they demonstrate that they have the selflessness they are trying to build in her, and so their sacrifice is noble. It’s clever, even if Kirk’s last monologue reasserts the silly emotion-reason dichotomy.

References here: “Tin Man” (1990).

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“Elaan of Troyius” (1968)

Seen in 2018.

Good potential: Diplomatic mission, alien cultures attempting to come to terms peacefully (another Cold War metaphor), subterfuge on established technological premises, and the title of “Dohlman” applied to a woman. Alas, the combination is wasted on sexism (women literally using their tears as a love potion to mind-control men, with very little cultural reaction) and a terrible Klingon battle sequence where the Enterprise cannot even pivot on its axis without using its warp drive. The ending is especially poor: Cure in hand, McCoy chooses not to apply it, letting Kirk mourn another lost love forever, for no sane reason.

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“Whom Gods Destroy” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

The crew seeks to deliver a cure for insanity to a prison.

This is not the last episode of TOS, but it is the ultimate episode of TOS. It’s got a purportedly positive social vision, undermined by the existence of an entire planet devoted to a lunatic asylum. It is the second such planet, after the one in “Dagger of the Mind” (1966). This new asylum is also a prison—a penal colony—and its inmates are goddamn supervillains, representing a variety of species, all of them humanoid. There is only one woman, and of course she’s green, with rouge on top of her green cheeks. Being a woman, she is sexually objectified, her murderousness hooks right into sex, and she herself is stuffed in the fridge (by being blown up!) to illustrate the evil of Captain/Lord Garth, a version and hero of Kirk who can physically transform into Kirk. The necessary outcome is a prolonged Kirk-on-Kirk fist fight, the apotheosis of gratuitous violence and archism in Trek.

Clearly the script doesn’t work. Garth’s metamorphosis is just magic, the usual mind over matter. McCoy, who should be present to deliver the cure, is stuck on the ship with Scotty, getting a few scenes doing nothing just because Kelley’s a starring actor. The cure, inexplicably delivered by the two most senior officers in McCoy’s place, is principally a MacGuffin. Its consequences for society are unexplored and that’s probably a good thing, since the writers tip their hand and imply that insanity in all species is caused by vascular and brain damage! At least it’s material. The whole driving force of the script is the same as always: Gene Roddenberry’s obsession with admiration, control and power. Garth is not a Shakespearean father figure, not a Lear but a simple straw-man caricature of Kirk, defeated by the true superman to assert the validity of great personal power.

This is topped off with Shakespeare, a reference to the mythical Solomon from 1 Kings (ca. 620–530 BCE), and surprisingly sane philosophical debate, more mature than “Space Seed” (1967), which had the better premise. The whole thing is a nanar.

References here: “The Dauphin” (1989), “Allegiance” (1990).

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“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

Two-colour supermen, contemptuous of “monotone” humankind, hate each other even more. One of them has spent 50,000 years chasing the other through space.

The concept is not terrible, but the script is too thin and the director tries some new tricks, notably cyclical rapid zooming, without success. It’s just a heavy-handed metaphor for race hatred, foolishly implying that both sides in any ethnic conflict are equally at fault. In particular, the closing scenes blend images of burning buildings with a frantic chase through the corridors of the ship. These buildings nominally represent the apocalypse of the alien home world but were surely meant to suggest the Washington, D.C. riots of 1968.

References here: “Lonely Among Us” (1987), “Loud as a Whisper” (1989), “The High Ground” (1990), “The Drumhead” (1991).

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“The Mark of Gideon” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

Troubled negotiations with a mysterious world.

The plot is broken on several levels: Evolution does not work that way (the word “evolution” is not even pronounced right!), there is no reason for the Gideonites to build a fake ship, the plot of love and disease makes no sense, and there’s the usual non-sequitur fisticuffs to save the day. Still, it’s an unusually successful string of evocative mysteries by the standards of the show, touching briefly on good solipsistic SF and the theme of overpopulation. It would have been very good if, dodging the plot holes, Kirk’s loneliness had been used to indicate his dependence on his crew.

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“That Which Survives” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

Another ghost story. Spock is in command for most of the episode, with doctors M’Benga and Sanchez manning sick bay, yet it’s still boring.

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“The Lights of Zetar” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

FTL ghosts accost the crew and a database planet.

The idea of an open repository of knowledge is completely wasted. Eventually the ghosts are exorcised with high pressure, which is nonsense. This episode also has some especially poor examples of user interfaces, including McCoy staring at multi-coloured LEDs to read Mira’s medical history.

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“Requiem for Methuselah” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

The MacGuffinery is really bad here. Supposedly, some large part of the crew is suffering a disease like the bubonic plague, but this is never shown and no named characters are affected in any way. The cure involves several forms of bullshit unobtainium without reference to any real substance or process. It’s just an excuse to bring in yet another overpowered threat and yet another exotic lady for Kirk to fall in love with. There are some apparently sincere references to biblical fiction as historical reality, but the writers do not go full creationist, settling for a Mesopotamian origin similar to that of the Emperor in 40K.

The resolution of the romantic drama is another good slash-fiction moment: Spock quietly touches the broken Kirk, mind-melding with him to say “Forget."

References here: “Hollow Pursuits” (1990).

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“The Way to Eden” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

Hippies.

Hilarious kitsch. It seems strongly influenced by Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), dividing the traits of Heinlein’s Smith between Spock (the enlightened stranger) and Sevrin (the cult leader). Sevrin’s madness and villainy, and the ironic twist to his quest for the biblically inspired “Eden”, prefigure Jim Jones and the “Peoples Temple”.

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“The Cloud Minders” (1969)

Seen in 2018.

Class.

The MacGuffin is a little better than average in that it actually has a property relevant to the story, but the script needed more work. Spock’s dialogue with Droxine is remarkably poor and it is not credible that the city-dwellers would have failed to detect the gas, but it is still a clever bit of worldbuilding to posit that the “troglytes” are indeed stupid, yet deserve humane treatment. Permanent effects would have made the thought experiment more interesting.

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“The Savage Curtain” (1969)

Seen in 2019.

Abraham Lincoln in a battle of good versus evil philosophies.

Stupid. The dismissal of Ghenghis Khan as a mere rock-throwing killer, slavishly acting out an “evil” philosophy articulated only as seeking “gain”, is particularly insulting to a student of history. Also, Lincoln the “backwoodsman” makes a “spear” no thicker than a proper arrow; no wonder he gets killed. At least the writers themselves understood that a violent “spectacle” is not an effective philosophical contest, but while they were going against their own better judgement to have the aliens present it as such, they took the opportunity to say that words are harmless. Specifically, they used Nichelle Nichols’s mouth to defend careless use of the word “Negress”.

This is yet another one of those episodes where a technologically superior civilization overpowers the entire Enterprise to enable the fist fight of the day. In this particular case, Scotty and Sulu seem almost eager to forget the gaping hole in their security. In the final scene they express no desire to find out what happened to the generator, and of course the writers never gave the matter a moment’s thought. That being said, this episode does offer TOS’s clearest definition of what a transporter does: At this point in the franchise it is movement, not copying.

References here: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World (2004).

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“All Our Yesterdays” (1969)

Seen in 2019.

The evacuation of a human civilization into its past in the face of their sun going nova.

An interesting premise, poorly implemented. This is one case where it would have made a lot more sense, dramaturgically, to start in medias res and not send the two highest officers down to a doomed planet.

References here: “Half a Life” (1991).

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“Turnabout Intruder” (1969)

Seen in 2019.

Starfleet does not allow female captains. A woman hungry for power plots to get it by swapping bodies with Kirk and murdering him.

The final episode of the original series. A suitably double-edged finale. On the one hand, it’s a negative stereotype of 1960s feminists as overreaching, callous, evil and incompetent, with mind-body dualism and the usual inane focus on the threat to Kirk’s power trumping every other concern. On the other hand, it is moody in a good way. There’s even a moment where Kirk, diagnosed as mad, actually seems to consider the possibility that he is mad. Trek isn’t normally that smart.

The swap is not elegant but at least it’s a thought experiment. It doesn’t require the bizarre engineering defects of “The Enemy Within” (1966), and the addition of gender to the scenario of “The Enemy Within” is an interesting touch. I’d like to call it progressive despite the writers’ bad intentions with it, simply because it’s intimately transgressive. It’s too bad William “The Shat” Shatner doesn’t pull off the role, but this episode does not deserve its reputation as one of the worst.

The court drama isn’t good but it’s fun to see the entire core cast doing stuff that is both important and reasonable for their characters to do. All of them, that is, except poor Nichelle Nichols, who is absent without explanation.

References here: “The Battle” (1987), “The Schizoid Man” (1989).

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Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) – previously

The movies have two advantages: Budget, and an exception to the franchise’s aversion to serialization.

This one has good Mead, an unusual amount of interior greeblies and easily the best plot seed in Star Trek movies, remaking “The Changeling” (1967) with a better ending. Its qualities are illustrated by fan Patrick Collins’ 22-minute recut with the music of TRON: Legacy (2010), entitled “Star Trek: Legacy” (2017), not to be confused with the 2006 video game of that title or the 1990 episode of TNG.

References here: Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987), “Heart of Glory” (1988).

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Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Khan?

A sequel primarily to “Space Seed” (1967), but it does not deal with the interesting parts of its premise. No attraction but the kitsch.

References here: “Industrial Light & Magic: Creating the Impossible” (2010).

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Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984)

Seen in 2013.

The anti-scientific mysticism reaches intolerable levels. The mere fact that a space station is built as a giant greebled garage makes my brain burn. This is even dumber than Trumbull’s “dry dock” in the first film. Still, I appreciate the somewhat nuanced portrayal of the Federation, the fact that plot threads are carried over and resolved in a sometimes sane manner, and Christopher Lloyd as a Klingon captain.

References here: “11001001” (1988), “Family” (1990), “Reunion” (1990).

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Star Trek: The Unseen Pilot (1965/1986)

Seen in 2019.

The original 1965 pilot episode for TOS (first-unit filming completed in ’64), framed by Gene Roddenberry on the set of the latest movie in the franchise, outlining the production context.

The plot of the episode (“The Cage”) is that aliens insist that Captain Pike pick an “Eve” out of a non-haram harem, to live in captivity. Much of this was reused as hypodiegesis in “The Menagerie: Part I” (1966) and “Part II”.

Even ignoring Roddenberry’s spiel, the pilot is genuinely more impressive than the series it spawned. Just to name three positive differences, the first officer is a woman (albeit unnamed), the team beaming down to the planet put on suitable clothes over their pajamas, and they openly state that it would be stupid to send down both the captain and the first officer together, so they don’t do that. Even so, and in spite of Roddenberry’s lament that fist fights were added to the series because the studio wanted a space Western, there is still a long hand-to-hand combat sequence in here, which is pretty dumb. One of the last lines also tips Roddenberry’s hand in regard to the harem. Yeoman Colt says “Just curious, who would have been Eve?”, suggesting multiple attractive women circling Pike without resolution: an egotistical male fantasy prefiguring Tenchi Muyō (1992).

“The Cage” is also interesting in relation to the fear, recurring throughout TOS, that the smug Kirk will lose his command. Pike is a more realistic leader, less confident, openly lamenting the stress of the job as if anxious to step down. This, too, would have been a better choice for the series, provided that he did eventually step down. The only thing that’s clearly worse about this pilot is that Leonard Nimoy hasn’t found his groove as Spock.

References here: “The Menagerie: Part I” (1966), “Ménage à Troi” (1990).

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Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)

Seen in 2013.

A more pure and honest form of kitsch than the earlier films. A comedy, as befits the premises.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)

Scattered episodes, mainly from the 2012 retouched and remastered edition.

This second series is commonly called TNG. It, not The Motion Picture (1979), is the Empire (1980) of Trek: More ambitious and more serious, it saved the franchise and simultaneously doomed it to an excessively long decline.

The Vulcans—one of TOS’s bad ideas—are marginal in TNG. They are replaced chiefly by an android, who provides deadpan comedic incongruity in the manner of Spock, and by the inclusion of Klingons (retconned with brow ridges) as allies of the Federation. This latter choice, foreshadowed in “Errand of Mercy” (1967), is very good; it’s the same trope as in stereotypical shounen manga where erstwhile enemies develop into friends. This development is another grain of truth to the myth of Trek as constructive science fiction.

References here: Legend of the Galactic Heroes (1988).

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‣‣ Encounter at Farpoint (1987)

Seen in 2020.

Q. An invincible, incomprehensible, previously unknown yet anthropomorphic new threat who dares to question the sacred moral fibre of humankind, and does it with theatricality, costuming and mind over matter, prompting unprecedented, extreme abuse of the brand-new Enterprise’s untested engine, all within the first ten minutes.

This does not bode well, but an extra 21 years of technological development and confidence in science fiction as a genre dissimilar to the Western do help. The miniature of Farpoint Station is cute and the extra time spent on characterization and society, as opposed to fisticuffs, are most welcome. It’s also more beige. The resolution of the plot combines “The Immunity Syndrome” (1968) (giant primitive aliens living in space) with the perennial lotus-eater motif (evil as always).

References here: “A Matter of Honor” (1989).

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‣‣ “The Naked Now” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

A collapsing star causes an infectious intoxication via gravitational waves.

This script could have been pornographic fanfic. It’s nonsensical that the ship has no quarantine procedures. The consequences are ridiculous, all the way from the female scientist who has frozen to death with one arm decorously laid across her chest for TV, to Data catching the bug and having sex with Yar, who reveals she spent ages 5–15 menaced by literal “rape gangs”, and this is after the first episode alluded to massive near-future wars like those of TOS’s 1990s. That’s Trek optimism for you.

The basic premise is quite funny in the age of gravitational-wave astronomy. Alas, the threat posed by the exploding star is that a specific rock might hit the ship, not the cloud or radiation. More centrally, it’s yet another variation on lotus eaters: People harmed by being effortlessly happy and free. I suppose it’s a metaphor for mutiny against the Trek god-captain, from a naïve perspective. Wesley points out to Picard that while the captain gives the orders, it’s other people who do the work. The saving grace of the episode is that it shows Wesley’s right: Without its ordinary crew members—appearing on screen—doing as they’re told, Picard himself can achieve nothing and succumbs to the lotus. He concludes only that the crew must “avoid temptation” in future.

References here: “Angel One” (1988), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “The Price” (1989), “Allegiance” (1990), “Galaxy’s Child” (1991).

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‣‣ “Code of Honor” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

References here: “The Drumhead” (1991), Black Panther (2018).

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‣‣ “The Last Outpost” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

The on-screen debut of the Ferengi, here both evil and stupid and regressive in their sexual politics, to replace the Klingons. Apart from this, the premise is uncommonly interesting and plays out fairly well.

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‣‣ “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

A warp drive experiment throws the ship 2.7 Mly away and then into fantasyland. Yar’s bizarre “rape gangs” make an appearance and Wesley is prophesied to be the Mozart of fantasy physics.

A mashup of “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” (1968) and “The Ultimate Computer” (1968). Voyager made a TV series out of a 70 Kly detour; this one episode undoes a much longer trip with the Tinkerbell effect.

The technobabble is funny: An engineer says he “applied the energy asymptomatically”, using the medical term, presumably meaning “asymptotically”, the unrelated mathematical term. The director did not care; the line is not intended to make sense to anyone. Later, the same engineer complains about correspondingly spiritual babble: “That’s just so much nonsense. You’re asking us to believe in magic.” He’s right; the script strongly implies the basic fabric of the Trek universe is spiritual and matter is akin to an illusion.

References here: “Sins of the Father” (1990), “Tin Man” (1990), “Remember Me” (1990), “Legacy” (1990), “The Nth Degree” (1991).

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‣‣ “Lonely Among Us” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

The inciting incident is a more sensible “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969), despite the planet dedicated to diplomacy and the first Sherlock Holmes tribute, which is bad, including the misquoted “elementary”.

The episode has TNG’s first nonsensically naïve connection of instrument panels to the things they control, not in battle this time but as a means of infiltrating the computer system. This, and particularly Singh’s description of the architecture, provides amusing insight into Trek IT. TOS would never have allowed even such a brief description of such an important topic. TOS would also not have allowed such a profound or morally grey subversion of the captain’s mind and command, which is refreshing, though it doesn’t really go anywhere.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988).

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‣‣ “Justice” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

A remake of “Shore Leave” (1966), without the artificial cornucopia people but with equal naïvité. A paradise of blondes is maintained by a combination of the panopticon, the death penalty for all offences, and religion.

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‣‣ “The Battle” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

The Ferengi give Picard a headache.

A marked improvement upon “Turnabout Intruder” (1969), with the apparent evil of a vengeful Ferengi instead of the apparent evil of a vengeful feminist, and a substantiallly more reasonable mechanism for subverting the captain’s command. In one amusing scene, Data begins to explain checksums as a means of discovering tampering, which is logical and crucial to the plot, but Riker rudely interrupts him: “I don’t want a computer science lesson, Data!”

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‣‣ “Hide and Q” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

Q.

In much the same way that TOS wasted its first substantial plot callback on Mudd, TNG wastes it on Q. Yar says it’s “so frustrating to be controlled like this”, which should have made the writers ask why the viewer would feel different.

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‣‣ “Haven” (1987)

Seen in 2020.

Apart from the corny sexism of the termagant character, this is a pretty solid episode. Optimistic, romantic, peaceful, yet with enough tension to keep it moving. I guess this is where TNG began to find its groove, making it correspond to “The Naked Time” (1966).

References here: “Manhunt” (1989).

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‣‣ “The Big Goodbye” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Trapped on the holodeck.

TNG one-ups the cheap backlot episodes of TOS by contextualizing the scenes shot on a literal backlot (Paramount’s “New York Street”) as happening inside a simulation that is itself akin to a backlot of the ship. This further weakens the integrity of the fiction, but that’s not enough: The writers add the premise that shutting down a hologram can kill you if you’re looking at it. This is extraordinarily poor science fiction.

The only point of faint interest is a simulated person’s existential fear that he or his family will cease to exist when the simulation shuts down. This gets five seconds of consideration and is then conveniently forgotten.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “Manhunt” (1989), “Booby Trap” (1989).

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‣‣ “Datalore” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

TNG continues to repeat and improve upon TOS. This is “Space Seed” (1967) with evil-AI robotics instead of eugenics, improved mainly by the existence of non-evil AI, damaged by the choice to make Data a mysterious one-off rather than a reproducible Asimovian product of the Federation. Brent Spiner gets to shine.

References here: “The Schizoid Man” (1989), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “Brothers” (1990).

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‣‣ “Angel One” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Smell-based disease and matriarchy. Months after “The Naked Now” (1987) the ship still has no quarantine procedures.

More poorly conceived than The Female Man (1975).

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‣‣ “11001001” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

A relatively interesting premise, and the women portraying the sexless Bynars are a lot more fun than the unmuscled, Max Factored rulers of the preceding episode. Alas, Riker and Picard are trapped on the holodeck, the premise is not explored and the starbase is just another garage à la The Search for Spock (1984).

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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‣‣ “Too Short a Season” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

When you take a double dose of rejuvenation potion from Cerebus II, your DNA gets skewed and you lose the makeup.

Observe the musical cue that ends the opening, suggesting that even a tiny local infringement upon Picard’s personal authority is an outrage. This episode combines two of the perennial threats in Trek: Anybody who outranks the captain, and any transcendence of “natural” human limitations, punished by death. The more interesting motif, of a fascist planetary regime enabled by a corrupt Federation interpretation of its Prime Directive, sharing Federation technology, is sidelined. That sort of thing would be more prominent in the 2020 sequel (Star Trek: Picard).

References here: “Unnatural Selection” (1989).

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‣‣ “When the Bough Breaks” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

An advanced civilization known only from myth, rendered sickly and infertile by the equivalent of a hole in its cloaked planet’s ozone layer, kidnaps the kids of the Enterprise.

It’s the usual deus-ex-machina Trek aliens: Overwhelmingly powerful, culturally stable for millennia, ruled by an AI, yet so completely human that they are willing to replace themselves with Earthicans raised partly in their culture. The aliens’ relative peacefulness and honesty are refreshing, as is the children’s response: A hunger strike. However, it amounts to no more than a transposition of child-snatching myths into SF, together with a half-hearted pro-science and environmental message.

There’s a funny kitsch detail in the alien (Aldean) utopia: Young Harry, taking calculus at about 10, gets to be a woodworking artist on an ecologically ravaged planet where good wood is presumably scarce, and where his only tool is one that doesn’t allow him to touch the material. It’s a kind of beam weapon that makes a thousand cuts per second; an inverted 3D printer. Real woodworkers would probably not appreciate the complete loss of tactility and relevance of grain.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), “The Trek Not Taken” (2013).

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‣‣ “Home Soil” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

The terraformation of Velara III.

The first instance of good science fiction in TNG, by something more than the standards of old TV shows. It makes all the writerly points of Q, but by intelligent means, beneath the surface.

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‣‣ “Coming of Age” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Transparent. Wesley fails, which is good, but a plot convenience. The trick question on matter and antimatter shows a bit of respect for science, but in the most trivial way. The fear test is similarly trivial, when it should have been Dune (1965) territory. Picard’s refusal of a promotion in the face of badly behaving superiors is another plot convenience; it serves as an opportunity for serialization in retrospect, but leaves him boringly overqualified for his job for the rest of the series.

References here: “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988), “Skin of Evil” (1988).

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‣‣ “Heart of Glory” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Good treatment of the Klingons as retconned in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), including brow ridges and a culture of their own.

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‣‣ “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Vincent Schiavelli as an alien arms dealer.

Riker confirms that he turned down his own command for his current position, effectively refusing a promotion just like Picard in “Coming of Age” (1988), leaving them both overqualified and suggesting a form of cowardice. On the other hand, neither Riker nor Yar have any idea what could melt tritanium, the transuranic material of their own ship’s bulkheads. This is equivalent to a modern naval officer asking what could melt steel, which is a little silly, as is the plot. The highlight of the episode is La Forge commanding the B team; he succeeds of course, but his slight insecurity adds the human dimension missing with Picard and Riker.

References here: “The Icarus Factor” (1989).

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‣‣ “Symbiosis” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

The Socratic dialogue on addiction really drives home what a strawman exercise this is, no matter how sympathetic its message. Among the many versions of The Odyssey’s lotus eaters in Trek, this one is unusual in that it features somewhat realistic opium-style addiction and withdrawal, and does not make people happy, but it is usual in that lotus-eating nearly destroys two civilizations. It is a detail symptomatic of moralism that the addicts do not even keep their trading ships in repair, clearly endangering their sole supply. I suppose I should be happy that neither side clearly symbolizes US ethnic minorities, but I would have preferred something more like the export-dependent Gaza wine industry’s intersection with the Justinian Plague.

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‣‣ “Skin of Evil” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Troi is trapped by a tar pit.

A stated matter-antimatter ratio of 25:1 contradicts “Coming of Age” (1988) more quickly than I expected. In another surprise, the notion of a self-identified creature of pure “evil” is not subverted here in any way. It’s a nonsensical premise, defeated by our heroes using a trivial model from human developmental psychology. This is just as dumb as the TOS crew killing AI by self-contradiction. Yar’s death as such is handled very well, happening in the manner of unnamed crew deaths and not being undone as show-regular deaths were in TOS, but her holodeck funeral is kitsch.

References here: “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988), “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “The Most Toys” (1990), “Legacy” (1990).

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‣‣ “We’ll Always Have Paris” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Crappy self-sealing treatment of temporal paradoxes with universal subjective awareness, coupled with the crappy story of how Picard once messed up a date.

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‣‣ “Conspiracy” (1988)

I saw some of the first season as a child. Though I remembered no individual scenes from the other episodes in 2020, I remembered the ending of this one, probably because it scared me. It’s The Puppet Masters (1951) without an insider perspective, more stupid enemies and TOS-style fisticuffs, in a style reminiscent of David Cronenberg’s contemporary work. The tone of elevated drama is unusual for TNG, as is the plagiarism from Aliens (1986). It was apparently very well received and influential on later Trek productions; the 2020 sequel (Picard) is consistently dark like this. It’s funny how this specific contradiction of the nominal positivity of the franchise is associated with the captain’s superiors.

References here: “Contagion” (1989), “Q Who” (1989), “Shades of Gray” (1989), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Drumhead” (1991), Star Trek (2009).

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‣‣ “The Neutral Zone” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Data haphazardly picks up some corpses from the 1990s on the way to breaking a long truce with the Romulans.

The script by Deborah McIntyre & Mona Clee is amazing, but as with “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), the main attraction here is what runs counter to Star Trek as a franchise. From TNG’s holodeck episodes and TOS’s many backlot episodes set in versions of the 20th century, you’d expect the retrophiles of the Enterprise to jump at the idea of meeting actual 20th-century people. Instead, Picard is extremely callous about the prospect and actively avoids contact. In this informal local retcon, letting an operational, possibly manned 20th-century craft be destroyed by a hostile binary is just nature. It’s an interesting touch that the business of cryogenics is said to have died out in the 21st century, on account of humans ceasing to fear death and have possessions; this all implies a level of nihilism greatly at odds with the rest of season 1, which this episode closes.

It is good writing. Picard’s complete disinterest is in line with the stated premises of the narrative, wherein the viewer’s own time was a hellish prelude to a civilizational awakening. One of the resurrected men is a hedonistic US Southerner, like the version of McCoy in “This Side of Paradise” (1967); realistically, he would be about as interesting to a 24th-century explorer as a toothless medieval opium fiend would be to Alexander Graham Bell. Indeed, the once-rich men are narcissistic and make natural, entirely incorrect assumptions about cultural continuity, much as the studio stylist assumed that 1988 hairstyles would still be in vogue in the following decade. Unfortunately, the once-richest man makes himself useful, going the Ayn Rand route after all.

References here: “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), “Unnatural Selection” (1989), “The Price” (1989), “The Most Toys” (1990).

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‣‣ “The Child” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

Troi gets magically pregnant.

Idiotic writing. The only point of interest here is the introduction of Whoopi Goldberg’s character, Guinan, in a few scenes irrelevant to the awful plot. It was a good choice to replace Yar with a third major black character, and a civilian, but it is symptomatic of latent sexism that Guinan, just like Troi, is chiefly marked by her empathy and listening skills; Yar was similarly marked by the threat of rape.

References here: “The Survivors” (1989), “The Price” (1989), “The Offspring” (1990), “Ménage à Troi” (1990), “Transfigurations” (1990), “The Loss” (1990).

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‣‣ “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988)

Seen in 2020.

The crew stupidly gets their ship stuck in an intelligent pothole and hit the self-destruct button.

Better than “Skin of Evil” (1988), but not by much.

References here: “A Matter of Honor” (1989), “The Loss” (1990).

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‣‣ “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988)

Moriarty on the holodeck.

A natural union of “Lonely Among Us” (1987) and “The Big Goodbye” (1988). The writers continue to display a curious ignorance of Sherlock Holmes, using “elementary” again and stating incorrectly—with respect to Doyle’s continuity—that Holmes died in “The Final Problem” (1893). As fan fiction, it’s poor.

The only other pleasure on offer is that of a thought experiment. It’s proved here that the ship’s computer can generate an autonomous, creative intelligence equivalent to Data, with a power surge of a few seconds, and store it indefinitely, apparently at no cost. This digs a deep plot hole. Just as Troi should still be mourning her cosmic baby Jesus from a couple of episodes back, the computer should be able to solve most if not all of the practical problems the crew encounters by spinning up a million different sandboxed supergeniuses and running some Bayesian composition function across their conclusions.

The extradiegetic reason why this does not happen is that it would be easy. In this particular episode, La Forge parallels the problem by insisting that his manual construction of a naval miniature is what makes the miniature worth having, contradicting the writers’ admiration for the automatic woodworking tool in “When the Bough Breaks” (1988). La Forge’s minature-building is sympathetic, but his conclusion from it borders the sunk-cost fallacy and represents a poor basis for worldbuilding.

The intradiegetic reason why intelligences aren’t created more often is implied by the script, in three parts:

  1. In order for something to be smarter than a person, it must first be conscious, i.e. self-aware.
  2. Because a conscious being is aware of existing, it must want to continue existing, at least in whatever reference frame it has.
  3. Any such wish is sacred in its reference frame.

Therefore, the unstated conclusion to the thought experiment goes, it would be morally wrong to knowingly create intelligent simulations in the first place, and especially to let them spot an enclosing reference frame, and this instance of doing so was an innocent mistake not to be repeated. Biological reproduction is exempt from this conclusion for no apparent reason.

Premise 1 seemed plausible in 1988 but is likely wrong. It mirrors one of the predictions of Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid (1979) and has been contradicted by later research in computer science. If it is possible for a non-self-aware AI to beat all people at go, it is surely possible for a non-sapient AI to beat a person at “Holmesian mysteries”, another game, if not general problem-solving based on all past Federation experience.

Premise 2 is wrong. There is reason to think that the conatus or active desire to exist—which is not universal in humans—is an emergent effect of natural selection and not rational. There is no reason to think that it automatically comes with perceiving one’s existence or being able to reason. You could argue that Moriarty has it because he was started from a human template, which is ignored.

Premise 3 is not even wrong. It is religious and contradicted even inside the fiction, by a precedent specifically in the tiny canon of TNG holodeck episodes up to this point: “The Big Goodbye”, where the very title refers to terminating another simulated person who has become aware of his ontological status. Picard expresses no regret here for his actions in that near-identical situation. The only difference is that more CPU power and admin privileges have been allotted to Moriarty. Compare also “The Neutral Zone” (1988), where the writers strongly imply that civilized people in TNG have no fear of death (i.e. non-existence) and do not respect such fear.

Q.E.D., viz. the thought experiment is broken in each one of its parts. If you care about that sort of thing, the aesthetic experience of watching the episode is also poor. I suppose it is popular because of its pageantry and GEB-like game.

References here: “The Measure of a Man” (1989), “Booby Trap” (1989), “The Offspring” (1990), “The Nth Degree” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Outrageous Okona” (1988)

I appreciate the premise of the Enterprise meeting two hostile vessels that are so technologically inferior as to be harmless; it’s a nice change of pace, but there is nothing else in the A plot. Data’s B plot is even more pointless. It’s written with contempt both for the previous holodeck episode and for the actual study of humour as it existed in 1988, such as the work of Elliott Oring. By design, it has no content.

References here: Firefly (2002).

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‣‣ “Loud as a Whisper” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

An arrogant, inbred deaf-mute royal is hired to mediate in a genocidal war he knows nothing about.

The most deliciously beige episode of TNG: An off-white choir beams down from the blue-and-beige Enterprise interior to meet earth-toned humanoids on a rocky brown world. The simple special effects are very nice, though it just might be the 2012 retouch: Reddish skeletons consumed in a flash. The basic premise is not bad: The conflict on Solais is more believable than “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) and it makes some sense that the peoples of Solais would glorify a famous mediator regardless of his actual competence. The quasi-Jungian choir must have looked good on paper; a little bit like Dune (1965).

Alas, the weaknesses pile right up. Researching a conflict to determine the facts is crucial for impartiality but never happens, even after the mediator is humbled. If the ship’s computer is able to translate every spoken language to English and back, it should obviously be able to handle a common sign language, just as Data does. If the mediator knew he’d want artistic decor, he should have requested it at the preparatory meeting, not on site and not from an engineer. If the theme was supposed to be disability—the mediator’s as well as La Forge’s—then how come all of the Solaisians are 100% physically intact, despite all their warring? Could casting not find a single one-armed extra? The final scene, of Riva alone at the table without so much as a bed roll, a piece of chalk or a scrap of human-compatible food, gives little cause for confidence and therefore undermines the idea of turning one’s disability to one’s advantage. There are good reasons why real-world mediators are not generally deaf or completely silent.

The premise of the episode represents an opportunity to start in medias res on the planet, introducing the choir to the Solaisians and having negotiations fail after a few minutes, concluding with hard-won progress in a later round of substantive negotiations concerning specific local culture and some disability-ability brought by war. The TV production model seems to have forbidden this, just as it forbade extensive serialization; instead, it required dead-end romance.

References here: “The Price” (1989), “Tin Man” (1990), “The Host” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Schizoid Man” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Whereas in “Datalore” (1988) Data investigated the site of his own creation, here he meets the mentor of his creator.

“Datalore” rehashed “The Enemy Within” (1966), which rehashed Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886). This one rehashes “Turnabout Intruder” (1969), which rehashes Abrahamic possession fiction. Funnily enough, the results are almost identical in both cases: Brent Spiner gets to play evil for a while and nothing of value is learned.

References here: “Brothers” (1990).

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‣‣ “Unnatural Selection” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Unnaturally rapid ageing wipes out the crew of another ship.

The brief creche scene, of psychic superhuman children at play doing telepathy and telekinesis, begs for comparison with Akira (1988). In the earlier film, the children—Akira himself among them—are natural talents, discovered and then artificially enhanced, provoking a disaster with inescapable, ineradicable consequences of the highest significance to human history. In the Trek version, the children are created by genetic engineering. One of the intentional features of this engineering—an offensive immune system unrelated to psychic ability—causes massive genetic damage in normal humans. This is what manifests as rapid ageing.

There are significant problems with the Trek version. Nominally, the stakes are similar, but the actual consequences in Trek are limited to the destruction of one ship, which is itself nonsensical given how the mystery of the new pathology is resolved. It is implied that human genetic engineering was and will remain known and legal in the Federation, although later productions—including a prequel—are internally contradictory on this subject, as is “Space Seed” (1967). Even in a hard-nosed pro-science culture like that implied by “The Neutral Zone” (1988), itself contradicted elsewhere in TNG, it is inelegant to suppose that the Federation would allow such extensive and disparate modifications of human DNA for non-medical transhuman purposes, occurring simultaneously and in the same subjects, together in one locale. A subtle problem with the immune system is a good idea for a complication, and to make it curable only by distributed DNA repair is another good idea, but it’s the kind of problem you would spot in lab mice or with some other basic precaution available in the real world. To ignore that is stupid. To have the disease accelerate ageing linearly by a factor of about 50000 is silly. Massive genetic damage would not, for instance, turn your existing hair white or give you arthritis before causing more novel effects. Progeria can be distinguished from ageing partly in that it does not cause arthritis. The symptoms selected here must have had some naïve conceptual link in the writers’ minds with the reversed ageing and “skewed” DNA of “Too Short a Season” (1988), and perhaps the accelerated ageing of “Wink of an Eye” (1968). It’s a makeup department solution to a writers’ problem.

On a higher level, where Akira points to hubris in relation to cosmological forces and builds interesting social consequences, “Unnatural Selection” is only a cautionary tale about human genetic enhancement as a scientific pursuit, where even psychic powers fall under the domain of science and turn out to be incidental. The script’s conclusion on science is to be expected, given the moderate inside-the-envelope philosophy in most of Trek. It could have been as bad as Bagi, the Monster of Mighty Nature (1984). In 2020, a corresponding SF TV series would have spun out at least half a season’s worth of consequences, and been better for it.

The lack of a meaningful quarantine procedure remains foolish. Pulaski’s death is heavily foreshadowed but averted, to my surprise. The method by which she is cured elevates O’Brien to a character for the first time, which is fun. His description seems to imply that normal ageing could be undone by the same method, and indeed any type of damage from genetic decay or disease, on the premise that a person’s transcoded DNA is literally one of the variables in their personal “pattern” for teleportation, and that teleportation effectively rebuilds the phenotype from such data as if replaying its life from conception. This in turn implies that genetic modification could be done with ease, in adult volunteers instead of germ cells or foetuses, and that undesirable consequences could be reversed without loss of life. Consider Data’s creator and that man’s mentor, both of them mad scientists working in isolation, like Victor Frankenstein. It is implied here that such scientists could readily and legally produce something worse than Khan, or better. This detail prompts the question why so much narrative weight is placed on one of the ship’s doctors, less on the other victims, and still less on technological or social possibility. Akira’s beauty, transgression and rich symbolism are missed.

References here: “The Hunted” (1990), “Tin Man” (1990), “Data’s Day” (1991), “The Wounded” (1991), “Identity Crisis” (1991).

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‣‣ “A Matter of Honor” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Riker gets seconded to a Klingon ship with a subatomic bacteria problem.

The second appearance of Benzites is accompanied by Wesley’s surprise that these extraterrestrials look mutually similar in his eyes, yet can still tell each other apart. Compare the Romulan ear stunt in “The Enterprise Incident” (1968). Both scripts imply that the writers had a genuinely anthropocentric view not only of Trek but of the real world. On the same note, the new Klingons remain amusing. Here, they eat only the equivalent of surströmming: Various foods clearly meant to signal group affiliation and toughness, rather than provide the main functions of food. It looks like the special-effects team had fun. Alas, this particular look into Klingon culture does not make sense, especially not their concept of justified mutiny as Riker uses it. O’Brien continues to be a speaking part, seeing a bit of development.

The technobabble is lazy in this episode, but its premise is symptomatic in an interesting way. Subatomic bacteria is an oxymoron and there’s no reason to think neutrinos would be toxic to such life. The presence of life on the subatomic scale must be compared to the various larger lifeforms already encountered, including those of “The Immunity Syndrome” (1968), Encounter at Farpoint (1987) and “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988). The huge number of human races and near-perfect humanoid species, including Benzites and Klingons, occupy the middle of a wide range. The Benzites are here implied to have a mineral origin, but are still basically human.

The real reason why Wesley confuses the only two Benzites he’s ever seen is extradiegetic. Both characters were played by the same actor, in the same prosthetic and makeup. This functions as an unintentional metaphor for the way that almost all intermediate-sized organisms are scripted as humanoid so they can be cheaply played by humans in medium shot. This explanation does nothing for the fiction because it is extradiegetic, existing only outside the fiction.

Trek’s biophysics are doubly broken. The humanoid mid-range clump is implausible, the apparently thriving life forms on scales from the subatomic to the stellar are implausible, and the juxtaposition of both damages the illusion further, because it implies that life should be everywhere all the time, while leaving no reason for the clump. There was no plan for this to ever make sense. In the same way that Wesley’s comment shows the writers’ own expectation that they would be able to tell any two aliens apart, the kitsch biological worldbuilding of Trek shows naïveté and disinterest.

References here: “The Emissary” (1989), “Evolution” (1989), “Sins of the Father” (1990), “The Mind’s Eye” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Measure of a Man” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

A court drama to resolve Data’s legal status.

The writing is noticeably sharper than the TNG norm, and the plot callbacks are denser. There are allusions to “The Naked Now” (1987), “Datalore” (1988) and “Skin of Evil” (1988) as well as the US history of slavery through Guinan, played by The Color Purple’s Goldberg. Once again, seriousness and continuity mark one of the most celebrated episodes, suggesting that a better show would have been possible.

After a promising start, the court drama is all bad. The argumentation follows “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988) perfectly, making its broken train of thought almost explicit. The drama’s conclusion is that Data has a soul, an unconfirmed religious assertion in a world where psychic powers are nominally subject to science but not applied to the issue at hand. Despite the risibly high impact of Riker’s arguments against personhood, the writers fail to convey to what extent the problem is socially constructed. Actual plot continuity would have required the officers to be intimately familiar with greyscale personhood problems even just from xenobiology classes and everyday holodeck experiences like “The Big Goodbye” (1988). It’s a step up from the treatment of artificial intelligence in TOS, but it’s still untenable and anthropocentric. Despite the focus on gendered pronouns, the feminism is more impressive. Phillipa Louvois is two steps up from TOS’s soft-focus women, but unfortunately, she was a one-off.

References here: “The Offspring” (1990).

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‣‣ “The Dauphin” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Wesley as the suave sailor who’s seen it all is a terrible topos for a nerdy pubertal romance, but Riker and Guinan’s bad bar repartee is hilarious. I predicted the Animorphs plot twist and did not like the worldbuilding; just another centuries-long war in optimistic Trek, with more of the metamorphosing magic from “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969) and the first crappy 3D CGI landscapes.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990), “The Host” (1991).

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‣‣ “Contagion” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

The Enterprise’s sister ship, the Yamato, is destroyed by an ancient computer virus in the neutral zone.

One of the enduring foibles of Hollywood is the fear of exposition. Producers assume that exposition challenges and therefore alienates a broad audience. The sheer density of exposition in this episode is greater than anything seen in the franchise up to this point. It completely dominates both the introduction and the first act, which is bold and refreshing. Of course it’s silly that the captain of the Yamato would have micro-vlogged about the basics, and that Wesley would ignore the chain of command and interrupt Picard—whose hobby is suddenly archaeology—for a similarly trivial briefing on the subject, but the intent is good and the implementation shows some artistic confidence, as well as trust in the viewer.

The exposition includes talk of a “galactic Rosetta stone” for a fallen, once widespread humanoid civilization, the Iconians of 200,000 years before, and it turns out these people had superior teleporters. This might reasonably have something to do with the ubiquity of humans throughout the galaxy and therefore with the fundamental premises of the franchise. Alas, no. This is not The Chase (1993), though it should have been. Picard equates the mythical status of the Iconians with that of China “until Marco Polo traveled there”; the writers doing their research in the children’s section of the library. It’s still arguably better than the explanation in “The Paradise Syndrome” (1968).

It’s funny how the first malfunction of the Enterprise’s own systems is a glitch in one of the self-opening doors. The second malfunction accompanies Picard’s first order of “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Another glitching door actually stops La Forge from discharging his duties in an emergency; maybe that’s why modern aircraft carriers don’t run all of their personnel doors on servos controlled by a single central computer.

The basic premise of a computer program infecting the ship’s central computer is good, in fact necessary. TNG would have been significantly worse if nothing like this ever happened. It should have happened earlier, and the ship should have been designed for the eventuality of electronic infiltration and warfare. Not all of the consequences are good: Techno-skeptical Pulaski joyously reverts to “your head and your heart and your hands” while Data characterizes one of the franchise’s many user-hazardous computer interface panels as an inexplicable “random” occurence.

There is enough raw material in this episode to frame a season’s worth of plot. Between this, “Conspiracy” (1988) and the Romulans, there would have been enough to build the narrative backbone of an appropriately brief and serialized TNG. Instead, the writers almost literally hit the reset button.

References here: “Evolution” (1989), “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990), “Identity Crisis” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Royale” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

A 2037 NASA astronaut was abducted by aliens and trapped in a hotel from a dime novel.

This is effectively a holodeck episode without the holodeck: A moronic hybrid of “Metamorphosis” (1967), where early human spacefaring leads to first contact, “A Piece of the Action” (1968), where a piece of US mob culture shapes a remote place, “Spectre of the Gun” (1968), where the sets are unfinished, and the numerous episodes where super-powerful one-off alien forces are brought in to enable whatever the writers wanted to do in their bottle episode, never to return. In this case the aliens never even turn up or communicate and have no plausible motives.

In the final scene, Riker correctly concludes that “None of it makes any sense.” That’s a red flag in this bad writing about bad writing. Getting the last word, Picard replies that the mystery is akin to that of Fermat’s last theorem. There’s a perceptible difference in elegance. This is the first episode of Trek that feels not only fully derivative and poinless, but fully derivative specifically of other episodes of Trek.

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‣‣ “Time Squared” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

The plot contradicts “Assignment: Earth” (1968) where the Federation engages in deliberate time travel. Aside from this detail, TOS’s fascination with the captain’s status, and a somewhat naïve “mirror universe”-like conception of paradoxes, the episode is remarkably well written and directed. It’s high-strung and moody like “Obsession” (1967), a proper drama with Aristotelian unities. What’s initially presented as a character study of Riker turns out to be a character study of Picard, under interesting “sfnal” premises where he eventually kills himself six hours into the future. Poor O’Brien only gets to stand around dumb-founded on the big hangar set.

References here: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990), “Allegiance” (1990).

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‣‣ “The Icarus Factor” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

The actors butcher the Japanese dialogue in the “anbo-jyutsu” duel between Riker and his distant father, wherein the US writers display their love of karate, The Book of Five Rings (1643) and Urusei Yatsura (1981).

It was already confirmed in “The Arsenal of Freedom” (1988) that Riker turned down his own command for his current position. To repeat his choice here—rather than three seasons later—is one of many mistakes. More importantly, the script fails to interrogate the Trek ideology of self-improvement in relation to his choice. He remains in his comfort zone—and everyone approves—after it turns out that his father lied and cheated to drive him toward precisely the kind of advancement idealized in other episodes.

References here: “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990), “Family” (1990).

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‣‣ “Pen Pals” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Data violates the prime directive and gets a pat on the back.

The B plot here is Wesley commanding his first team for a survey. The results of the survey are pretty cool, but the archism turns out to be expectedly creepy. Wesley says to Riker, “Every time I try to give an order, something inside of me says, ‘What makes my judgement so superior to these people?’”, where the people in question are experts and Wesley is not. Riker answers the question as if the only problem was confidence, not domain knowledge or any other form of competence. Riker does admit that leaders make mistakes, but completely ignores what purpose is served by orders and when to give them. Naturally, it turns out that Wesley’s unmotivated decision to order an expert to do extra work, against the expert’s motivated advice from experience and probability, is what saves the day. This unlikely conclusion suggests that bosses know better than experts, who are just lazy. Though TNG is a lot more polished than TOS, it still runs on Carlyle’s great man theory and “Court Martial”’s contempt for ordinary people.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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‣‣ “Q Who” (1989)

The introduction of the Borg.

One of the weaknesses of Q as a concept is ironed out. The costumed pageantry is gone, just this once. The improductive, posturing cruelty is still present and the concept as a whole remains a convenience for bad writing. Stupidly, Guinan knew all about the Borg all along and told nobody, and is somehow a 200-year-old peer of Q, prompting the question why she isn’t doing Q’s work revealing the Borg.

On a higher level of writing, the Borg replace the bugs of “Conspiracy” (1988) in the position of a planned recurring threat. The retcon is ugly but it’s ultimately a good choice: The transgressive man-machine interface of cyberpunk is a welcome update to the similarly transgressive subversion of free will that comes with the 1950s-style alien brain parasite trope. The funny thing is they’re both communist metaphors. As depicted in this first outing, the Borg are like the soulless conformists of A Wrinkle in Time (1962), to the point that Federation instruments cannot detect signs of life when they’re docked into their stations. In the final scene, Picard concludes that Q and the Borg provide “a kick in our complacency”, indicating that the Borg’s caricature of collectivism stands in contrast both to Treak’s individualism and to its philosophy of self-improvement through struggle. With just a few tweaks to their visual design (not so much repetitive vacumolding, much more non-humanoid biological diversity, more of the unaesthetic pragmatism represented by the cube), this could have been an excellent choice.

References here: Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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‣‣ “Samaritan Snare” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

The A plot is La Forge taking the role of the Samaritan in Luke (ca. 80–110 CE) and suffering as a result, which is anti-Christian but not much else. Troi says the kidnappers are “unwilling to wait for the timely evolution of their species’ intellectual capacity” or, in other words, they’re too stupid to fend for themselves and don’t want to sit through another 50,000 years of natural selection. The actors do a good job of this farcical premise.

The B plot is Picard getting his heart replaced and expressing his love of William James. This is more fun, mainly because it’s peaceful and free of superstitious stigma against artificial hearts. Also, both the surgeons and the patient are dressed in blood red, which is fun kitsch. Alas, Pulaski stepping in to save Picard near death is a terrible solution: It would have been far better for anonymous experts to pull through in a situation where the crew’s superheroic abilities are disabled.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “Final Mission” (1990).

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‣‣ “Up the Long Ladder” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Two divergent old human colonies are recontacted.

Solid kitsch. It’s both a Western genre crossover like “Spectre of the Gun” (1968) and a horror story about cloning. Both stories are poorly written. In particular, it makes little sense that the Irish Wild West feminist would wear a knitted crop top and fuck Riker on day one, and it also makes little sense that the entire crew of the Enterprise would refuse to donate DNA samples to a colony of clones.

The cloning idea is actually pretty great at its core. It could have been an episode about transformed social mores, akin to The Forever War (1974). It is made kitsch partly by its wildly misinformed pre-Dolly premises. Cloning technology here is inherently corrupting and all clones are created as hairless adults as opposed to growing from zygotes. A series of hilariously bathetic choices in the musical scoring of the climax sinch it. It is obvious that the writers thought being cloned would be horrifying, because they genuinely believed that it would both copy you as you were and diminish you, and furthermore, they believed that sexual reproduction does the same thing but does it right. This is ill conceived.

It’s funny to see such stupidity in an otherwise promising script. There’s a lot of really nice incidental detail: O’Brien jibes with the primitivists, the Enterprise is described as self-cleaning, its fire suppression system is well characterized though not shown, and it’s strongly implied that most apparently alcoholic drinks contain harmless “synthehol”, not ethanol.

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‣‣ “Manhunt” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

It was a bad idea to combine “Amok Time” (1967) with the worst part of “Haven” (1987) to build a sexist allegory of pushy menopausal women. It was a bad idea to reprise Dixon Hill on the holodeck from “The Big Goodbye” (1988) as a diversion from the first bad idea.

References here: “Clues” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Emissary” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Klingons unaware of peace with the Federation.

To portray a half-human half-Klingon female, the makeup department went with stereotypical human femininity: Heavy rouge, mascara, eyeliner etc. The brow ridges are softer to go with rounder human facial features, the hair is a little less bristly and, most incongruously, the skin on K'Ehleyr is lighter than that of any full Klingon in the episode. This is an example of what TV Tropes refers to by the pun “Sexy Dimorphism”, the regression of a nominally non-human physiology to an idealized near-human form in females only. Compare the previous episode, where both Worf and the fish-like Antedeans (not sexed) are portrayed in a comedic light because they are not human and do not have human tastes in food or physical attractiveness. Compare also “A Matter of Honor” (1989), where a fully Klingon female is portrayed as grotesque both in her appearance and in her sexual forwardness—which are interlinked—again for comedic effect. Finally, compare the anonymous monsters of Worf’s holodeck calisthenics program, reprised in this episode: They are neither comedic nor physically attractive, which leads illogically to the implication that they are male.

There are many worse offenders than Trek when it comes to these tensions, which arise from a natural extension of deictic, literally self-centered thinking to one’s sex and species as illusory norms in sexism and a form of anthropocentrism akin to racism. US cartoons of the period were typically much worse at this sort of thing. Here, it’s on the level of mild caricature of anything beyond the norm, and is merely dull.

More surprising is the repetition of various tropes from the presentation of Spock in TOS. He was vaguely torn between two natures, both allegorical of sides of human nature, with no clear distinction made between species and culture (nurture). Spock was judged by his failures according to either standard. It is the same with K'Ehleyr; no development since the ’60s.

References here: “Reunion” (1990).

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‣‣ “Peak Performance” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

One ass-pull after another. Notice especially how a species of business-minded, proud, Data-equivalent geniuses interested in strategy are not already running the galaxy like the Bene Gesserit, and how Burke, evidently a stand-in for Worf, seems dangerously incompetent. This prompts the question why the Enterprise doesn’t just blow up on every third shift, when Carlyle’s blessed few are asleep.

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‣‣ “Shades of Gray” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

The only flicker of interest in this clip show is that “Conspiracy” (1988) is visually quoted, indicating that its plot is still current, despite the previous episode (“Peak Performance”) explicitly referencing the Borg. Apparently the editors weren’t concerned with a clean retcon.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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‣‣ “Evolution” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Dr. Crusher returns, Pulaski having already left. Wesley Crusher accidentally releases a breeding pair of medical nanites, endangering a larger scientific experiment.

The nanites introduced here at the start of the third season are portrayed as a standard medical technology, which makes sense. It would account for some of the proven advances in medicine, as well as explaining why Wesley is experimenting on them; if they are common, then it’s reasonable to feature them in a school project. The scenario of their release is similar to that of “grey goo”, a term coined by K. Eric Drexler in 1986. This puts the script’s basic premises in the territory of extrapolation from then-current science, and promises a reasonable bit of worldbuilding with far-reaching consequences, much like “Contagion” (1989). Indeed, here too, the writers acknowledge the reliance of the crew on the central computer, and the hazard of even random failures.

Alas, the plot quickly goes off the rails. The central computer’s self-correcting abilities, supposedly fault-free throughout the fleet for generations, should be able to detect the physical degradation of a CPU. If nanites are medically safe, they should be safe for use by the self-correcting feature itself, and they don’t need to be self-replicating. Detecting rogue nanites should certainly not be a problem, given that it could be done at a distance, on another ship and with vastly smaller organisms, in “A Matter of Honor” (1989). The nanites should not leap to human-level intelligence or interests, nor be satisified with a planet. This conclusion is anthropomorphizing and ill considered.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), Scrubs (2001).

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‣‣ “The Ensigns of Command” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

This seems to be where TNG hit its stride, putting this and all subsequent seasons of the show a point above the first two seasons in average IMDb rating. There’s a lot of “good TV” about it: Romance, comedy, high drama and good character scenes. It’s also good science fiction. I especially appreciate the non-humanoid aliens, with their non-human language and mentality, and La Forge’s conclusion that the Hail-Mary technical innovation that Picard has requested can be done, by a team of 100 in 15 years.

References here: “Night Terrors” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Survivors” (1989)

An old couple survive alone on a planet otherwise devastated by a Husnock attack.

There’s a quality to it that reminds me of SF short stories as they were written for anthologies in the 1950s. It’s Ray Bradbury-esque in its toxic nostalgia. At the same time, it uses the established elements of the franchise well. Troi’s B plot is both integrated into the A plot and smarter than “The Child” (1988). Michael Dorn aces the delivery of Worf’s diplomacy (“Good tea. Nice house.”). The commonplace franchise motifs, of cornucopia, lotus-eating and an overwhelming alien threat, are not cheap plot devices here. The humans do not fawn archistically over the godlike being, nor do they extract some cheap moral point. It’s simple, but this time, it’s well done.

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‣‣ “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Xenoanthropologists accidentally reveal their presence to the Mintakans, an uncontacted Renaissance-equivalent society.

The plot is forced, not only in relying on coincidence. In particular, the core cast is too heavily involved: It would have made more sense for Dr. Crusher to be perceived as divine and for hobbyist actors to beam down in place of Troi and Riker, since Troi can sense emotions over astronomic distances anyway. The Mintakans are boring: They seem to have almost no culture, their purported similarity to Vulcans is not actually used, and Liko’s religious experience drops quickly into psychosis in this atheist parable. It’s an odd touch for the chief anthropologist to claim that the rise of religion is inevitable, as if in Asimov’s psychohistory.

For all that, the writers manage to get their point across. They apparently picked Picard to have him swim against the current of archism in Trek. Recall that, according to “Court Martial” (1967), Captain Kirk was “no ordinary human being”; instead he was the sort of man who could fuck a slave in “Bread and Circuses” (1968) and get away with a clean conscience. Picard, on the other hand, says to the ignorant Liko that “You are nobody’s servant”, and lets himself be shot, not as a blood sacrifice à la Jesus but to show religion and hierarchy as false. This is one of those instances where Trek does seem honestly utopian.

References here: “Allegiance” (1990), “First Contact” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Bonding” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

A crewmember dies exploring a booby-trapped dungeon, leaving a 12-year-old orphan.

It’s not a great treatment of death, and the writers fail to formulate any meaningful defence of Trek’s refusal to extend life very far beyond Yahweh’s limit of 120 years, but hey, at least they tried, and they didn’t make a stereotypical ghost story out of the mother’s return. They did, however, fail to account for how a child in such a situation could simply go to the holodeck and have the same experience, which should have been the plot.

References here: “Half a Life” (1991).

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‣‣ “Booby Trap” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

La Forge’s having no luck with the ladies and has to get the ship out of an ancient asteroid-field trap.

This is another episode where the ship’s computer comes to the fore as a potential character, in the tradition of “Wolf in the Fold” (1967). In this incident, Picard nearly gives it the conn and worries about the ship controlling its crew, inverting the normal hierarchy, but the usual human-chauvinist claptrap wins the day.

The problem of the trap is all technobabble, as opposed to a meaningful engineering challenge. The romance narrative is polluted by this technobabble but so well done in other respects that it shows a kind of maturity to the concept of the holodeck, which is where it takes place. The hologram can now be shut down safely. Plausibility demands this feature, which contradicts “The Big Goodbye” (1988). La Forge gradually simulates more and more of a dead propulsion system designer, thus ending up on the holodeck where they can work together. This demonstrates the holodeck’s promise as a human-machine interface and an id machine of sorts, better than any previous episode.

Since it is the ship’s computer doing all the thinking for the designer, the episode raises the same questions about efficient problem-solving as “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988) and actually answers one of them: It is now ethically good to run a simulation of a brilliant expert to solve a problem, even when the energy it requires is scarce. This implies, again and even more strongly, that it should be common, prefiguring the Doctor of Star Trek: Voyager. The imagined dilemma of “The Big Goodbye” is discarded: The designer is always aware of her ontological status, and either hard-coded or sufficiently intelligent not to try to change it.

References here: “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), “Galaxy’s Child” (1991), “Identity Crisis” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Enemy” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

For the first time in Star Trek history, a Federation officer’s uniform gets really dirty. As usual, this prompts the question why he isn’t wearing appropriate clothing.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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‣‣ “The Price” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

Troi’s sudden love story and insincere moral dilemma in this episode have the emphasis of an A plot. Though they do not have the abject stupidity of “The Child” (1988), the writing and acting don’t sell them, just as it was in “Loud as a Whisper” (1989). An apparent hiatus in Troi’s relationship with Riker is introduced abruptly here, with no motivation, for the writers’ convenience. I wonder why it was Troi who got all these romantic plots and subplots, while Riker got the less romantic one-night stands. I suppose it has to do with Troi’s telepathy, which makes the character almost a caricature of a prosocial woman. Ral, having the same supernatural ability but being a man, is the villain, in the tradition of male villains having some conspicuous feminine quality. Here, Sirtis gets to do calisthenics with McFadden in bust-emphasizing leotards, as if neither of them knew any other women; another touch of fan service as in “The Naked Now” (1987).

The most interesting part of the episode is the opening scene, where Troi both finds her job tiresome and expresses dissatisfaction with the synthetic food she’s always eating. This scene is like “The Neutral Zone” (1988) in its incongruent minority view of the franchise’s human culture, but whereas “The Neutral Zone” teases an unsentimental utopia, “The Price” deviates in the opposite direction: A sentimental dystopia patterned after “The Molecular Café” (1963) and the common intuition that anything made easy is therefore fake and bad.

References here: “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), “Data’s Day” (1991), “The Host” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Vengeance Factor” (1989)

Seen in 2020.

There are many levels of autonomy.

The punk-rock costumes are adorable. The suggestion that the “Gatherers” need a piece of land given to them to give up their nomadic lifestyle puts another dent in the idea of “the final frontier”, where land would be cheap.

References here: “The High Ground” (1990).

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‣‣ “The Defector” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Having tried comedy and music, Data tries Shakespeare. The point of interest here is the Romulan costume, which looks as if a US designer had made a quick pencil sketch of a kimono and sent it straight to production.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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‣‣ “The Hunted” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

The irreversible programming of Angosian soldiers.

Excellent treatment of the Prime Directive in this Vietnam War allegory, as thinly veiled as those of TOS. This one draws on a science-fictionalized form of military indoctrination similar to the “eptification” of Stand on Zanzibar (1968). It’s on the near side of transhumanism, but the effects are almost as drastic as “Space Seed” (1967) and “Unnatural Selection” (1989), as they should be. The costume design is good kitsch: Danar’s suit has a diffuse dark line down the back, all the way through his ass crack, which is probably intended to give the illusion of muscles.

On a side note, this episode canonized the stagehands’ term for the interior crawl spaces in the franchise’s spacecraft, the “Jefferies tubes”. Intradiegetically they were named after a 22nd-century engineer, extradiegetically after Matt Jefferies, the real-world designer of the original Enterprise model and art director on TOS. In Aniara (1956), there is a “first engineer” character whose chief expertise is in undescribed “Yesser tubes” (yessertuber); it would have been fun if these two kinds of tubes were somehow related.

References here: “The Wounded” (1991).

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‣‣ “The High Ground” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

An allegory of the Troubles, wherein it is stated that “Irish unification” took place in 2024, Gates McFadden’s big watery eyes are at their best, and the hair-and-makeup department decides to just go with a single streak of grey hair as the defining trait of an entire human civilization. As a depiction of hate, it’s far more nuanced and intelligent than “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) or “The Vengeance Factor” (1989), with some nice extrapolation from non-standard teleportation technology.

References here: “The Wounded” (1991).

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‣‣ “Déjà Q” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Q.

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‣‣ “A Matter of Perspective” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Riker is accused of murder.

“Wolf in the Fold” (1967) has a computer powerfully assisting a trial. The basic plot of this episode is a little less silly, but instead of providing expert analysis, here the ship’s computer simply displays a series of reconstructions of a crime, directed by the accused and the witnesses. I guess it’s supposed to be Rashomon (1950), with all ambiguity eventually resolved by hypertech forensics. The thing is that presenting a perfectly convincing virtual reality is a bad idea in itself, for psychological reasons. By design, real-world trials are held with a bare minimum of comparable stimuli.

References here: “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Drumhead” (1991).

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‣‣ “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

A pleasingly elegant union of “The City on the Edge of Forever” (1967), “Time Squared” (1989) and classic space opera. It is particularly smart to tell the story through the eyes of a party doomed by history having gone “wrong”: The alternate Picard agrees to send the Enterprise C back for another go because he knows the Federation is losing its war, his ship is indeed on the verge of being destroyed, and it is strongly implied that the Enterprise C itself is also lost, though this was officially retconned at the start of season 5. Everybody in the main body of the episode is thus killed in battle, to the effect that Picard’s sacrifice is undone and unremembered, as he intended. For once, the episodic nature of the series is put to good use. Ironically, the Enterprise’s bridge is as dark as bridges would be in later, less episodic Trek series like the sequel, Picard.

It is also clever that Yar returns after her first-season death. This is fan service, and another one of those pirate-ship-versus-empty-sky problems of alternate history: It’s silly that her being there would be the biggest difference in the crew after 22 years of open war. It is only clever in that it adds nuance (the alternative isn’t all bad), and a bitter sweetness stronger than Kirk’s fling with Edith Keeler. Rather than choosing life, Yar chooses to improve upon what Guinan calls an “empty” death, which is only more fan service and dramatic inflation.

Guinan’s part in the story is not clever. I really like the implication that this sort of thing is the reason for her personality, but it does not make sense that she perceives the timeline mainly in terms of right and wrong, without being able to articulate what’s different, and yet people still believe her. As in “Assignment: Earth” (1968), this means there’s a canon among all possible events, which is teleological and dull.

References here: “Redemption: Part 2” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Offspring” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Data’s child.

In a sense it’s the union of “The Child” (1988) and “The Measure of a Man” (1989). The writing is better than either of the two. Though there are elements of the stereotypical robot sitcom and the ending is sentimental, the writers hit some impressive marks along the way. The production even included a relevant scene with a non-hetero couple, but unfortunately, it was cut by social conservatives.

Lal, at first, is explicitly non-gendered, by design and for good reason. Picard stands on libertarian principle, like a Heinlein hero, not merely squirming under the traditional Trek incompetence of anybody above the captain but actually making a political point consistent with his society’s ideals. Most importantly, in Picard’s first conversation with Data on the subject, it becomes apparent that while Picard assumes Data has not thought the matter through, it is Picard who has not.

“Elementary, Dear Data” (1988) makes an argument and ignores the biological parallel to that argument. Here, Data brings up the biological parallel to defend his actions, and he manages to do this without invoking either anthropocentrism or a slippery-slope existential-threat model of reproducing AI. It’s just a valid argument against essentialism. Haftel’s later bus-factor argument is also valid, which by the standards of Trek is a triumph of reason, worldbuilding and functional drama. It’s quite possibly the best script in the franchise up to this point, and Spiner’s acting does it justice.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “In Theory” (1991).

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‣‣ “Sins of the Father” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

With an arrogant seconded officer on board, the Enterprise visits the capital of the “Klingon Imperial Empire”.

The new Klingons continue to be a fun fantasy race, and an inversion of “A Matter of Honor” (1989) would come naturally in the continued exploration of it. This episode baits that inversion and then becomes a more myopic affair: A lost sibling in Worf’s dubious biography and a court drama coloured less by established Klingon culture than by the title’s allusion to the Old Testament (ca. 164 BCE) and by Picard’s nonsensical heroics, including even TOS-style fisticuffs where the captain draws his knife too slowly to explain his survival.

As Picard himself points out, it doesn’t make sense that the Klingons would forsake honour, something they love, to avert something they also love: a righteous struggle. Framed slightly better, this choice about the culture would have been an effective setup for the Klingon civil war because, although it is generic and internally contradictory, it does bring some depth and stakes to the setting. It is, at the very least, another step toward plot serialization. What really brings it down is how it makes Worf a kind of Ruritanian prince, and a linchpin in the fate of his entire civilization, in much the same way that Wesley is named the Mozart of future physics in “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987).

Yar’s rape gangs were pretty dumb, but her having the fortitude to overcome them was quite sufficient for the dramatic apex of the back story of a security officer. It is a poor conceit to make some individual members of the bridge crew so much more important than that in contexts unrelated to their jobs. It must be intended to give them a glamorous aura, but what it really does is prompt the question why they’re still working in harm’s way.

References here: “Reunion” (1990), “Redemption: Part 1” (1991).

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‣‣ “Allegiance” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

A mysterious blue monolith abducts Picard, leaving an impostor.

The narrative framework is an extreme example of previously unknown, immediately forgotten, nameless aliens arranging the plot. It is a premise that they are powerful enough to do it, and a separate premise that they are so weak as to be humiliated by the bridge crew as soon as they reveal themselves. In this case, the plot is a set of two implausible logic-puzzle tests, which only makes the abusive framework more stupid.

That said, the subject matter of the plot, once forced into play, is a great deal better than the similar “Whom Gods Destroy” (1969). Instead of the impostor simply challenging Picard for his authority, the super-powerful aliens are doing it to find out more about authority, because they don’t have it and don’t need it. There is no anarchist or anarchonist purpose in this; quite the opposite. When the impostor is recognized, it is by his joviality and camaraderie with the crew, which are recognized as wicked, not because he eventually does abuse authority. Meanwhile, the real Picard incorrectly identifies Esoqq, a still-more aggressive parody of a Klingon, as an anarchist. The “Mizarian” Tholl more closely models the behaviour of real-world anarchists. Predictably, it is Picard himself, “trained to command”, who solves the puzzle. Despite open reference to his more egalitarian sacrifice in “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989), this conclusion is archist, unlike and worse than the conclusion of “The Naked Now” (1987), but it is still smarter than a Picard-on-Picard fist fight would have been. It’s just not as smart as “Time Squared” (1989), the previous double-Picard episode.

References here: “Future Imperfect” (1990).

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‣‣ “Captain’s Holiday” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

The script’s concept of archaeology is out of 1920s pulps. Risa, another pleasure planet, is more nuanced than “Shore Leave” (1966), but for some reason, it’s got the same amount of sex kittens and they’re viewed in a similar light, except by the captain with his “Protestant work ethic”-style contempt for lotus-eating.

References here: “Qpid” (1991).

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‣‣ “Tin Man” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

A tormented psychic talent is sent to contact a huge alien creature—not humanoid but codenamed “Tin Man”—approaching a dying sun.

A candidate for the best episode of the series. Tam Elbrun, the psychic, combines something of the double-edged titular character of “The Empath” (1968) with the melancholy new-wave goodness and anguish of Gateway (1977). The creature itself, and the larger plot around it, constitute a more intelligent remake of “Obsession” (1967) and “The Doomsday Machine” (1967), the events of which are forgotten here, which is a plot hole. I like that Elbrun’s appearance is ordinary: He’s not TV handsome, not charismatic and not evil, and his interaction with Troi makes perfect sense, unlike the romance plots of “Loud as a Whisper” (1989) etc. Psychic powers are explored more deeply than in previous episodes, without being a joke (Troi’s mother) or breaking the ontology (“Where No One Has Gone Before”), though an allegory of autism is a possible reading. It’s an extrapolative view of the fictional phenomena as natural and subject to science, as in “Unnatural Selection” (1989). The only thing really wrong with the script is how it ties into Data’s character development, squeezing in a teleological view of human life that is hollow and disconnected from the rest of the script.

References here: “Ménage à Troi” (1990).

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‣‣ “Hollow Pursuits” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Barclay is too shy for Engineering.

This is the second time the writers use the holodeck very well, the first one being “Booby Trap” (1989). Censorship forbids direct confirmation that Barclay is having sex with simulated members of the crew, but the implication is strong enough, and the reactions are suitably nuanced. There is an overriding authorial interpretation of this practise as lotus-eating and therefore morally wrong, but not primarily because it offends Riker and Troi. Instead, framing and outcome mark La Forge’s point of view as correct: He respects Barclay’s privacy, worrying only that such uses for the holodeck are “seclusive”, a funny way of saying antisocial.

In La Forge’s interpretation, the moral problem is not what Barclay is doing to others but what he isn’t: By avoiding deep social relationships, he deviates from implicit requirements on the personality of a Starfleet engineer. The root cause is a combination of insecurity, shyness and creativity. Forcing Barclay to interact more with others and take more responsibility for real-world problems—using his creative lateral thinking—addresses the root cause and makes the man delete his holodeck scenarios of his own accord; all but one of them. This is clearly meant to seem wholesome, wise and conducive to personal growth, like all the other moral lessons of Trek.

Contrary to Riker’s assumption, there is apparently no regulation against simulating versions of one’s colleagues for one’s own amusement. Though the high-ranking officers have not heard of it being done, personal use of the holodeck is not metered or monitored. Other forms of wish fulfillment would, I assume, be common and more widely accepted. Compare, for instance, Worf’s recurring calisthenics program to Barclay’s rigged Alexandre Dumas-style sword fights: Both are essentially personal violence for entertainment, without real suffering or even simulated cruelty.

The door to the holodeck stays unlocked and is not marked for privacy. Some critics consider this a plot hole, but I think it plays into the moralism. It could be meant to limit activities like Barclay’s. Perhaps the episode itself is meant in part to do worldbuilding, providing a canonical explanation for why lotus-eating on the holodeck is neither banned nor popular: It has the social status of porn and heavy drinking ca. 1990. It is not explicitly compared to drug use, but it is shown to be harmful in itself. While this conclusion is likely false, it is still a worthwhile thought experiment to attempt because the underlying question seems more relevant to human psychology and society than all previous holodeck episodes. Self-serving fantasy, after all, rushes into each new artistic medium we invent. Before worrying about accidentally producing personhood by accurate simulation, the designers of the ship would have asked “What do people want to do?” Consider, for example, what the makers of TNG thought their own audience wanted to see, such as the exercise scene in “The Price” (1989), a scene objectifying both of the very same women who exist in caricature on Barclay’s holodeck. This detail, as well the makers’ consistent denial and Barclay’s later appearances, speak against the interpretation of Barclay himself as a caricature of the fans.

There is a similar sense of relevance in the secondary focus of the plot, wherein seemingly unrelated malfunctions stack up. There are holes in this plot, including failure to check a detailed manifest or teleporter log, all of the suspect substances being made up like the ones in “Requiem for Methuselah” (1969), and the climax, where a physical jam causes the entire ship to accelerate uncontrollably, exceeding all safeguards in a dull ticking-clock set piece. All of that aside, it is a fun environmental problem. More importantly, it provides the franchise’s most detailed look at ordinary crew members up to this point: Hiring, firing, bullying, division of labour, daily procedure, dispute resolution, and human life on board in general. Coupled with Barclay’s realistic roundedness, this is a step forward.

References here: “Brothers” (1990), “Galaxy’s Child” (1991), “The Nth Degree” (1991), “The Host” (1991), USS Callister (2017).

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‣‣ “The Most Toys” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Data is abducted by a collector.

The plot belongs in a 1950s US comic book. The only difference is that Data is unemotional in the naïve manner of Spock, and therefore not anguished by cartoon evil, as the crew was in “Skin of Evil” (1988). As in “The Neutral Zone” (1988), Picard takes the naturalistic, dysteleological perspective on death. Worf’s replacement as head of security is not even mentioned. As in “The Man Trap” (1966), an alien is played by a human actor’s hand.

References here: “Brothers” (1990).

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‣‣ “Sarek” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Quoth Troi: “Vulcans do have the same basic emotions we do. They’ve just learned to repress them.” That important clarification, 24 years overdue, is about as close as the writers got to an admission on screen that the concept of the Vulcans, being an allegory of a false Cartesian emotion-reason dichotomy, bolted onto unrelated magical powers and an unrelated alien species cross-breeding with humans, was always a bad one. Here the writers attempt to reintegrate across that dichotomy by means of senile disease, which is doomed to fail, as it failed for sex in “Amok Time” (1967).

Instead of a denouement, we get only Picard emoting in a chair, as a sort of power behind the throne: The secret hero suffering for the greater good while another man gets the glory. Apparently, lots of fans are happy just watching Patrick Stewart acting in that chair. I’m not. It’s mildly interesting that TNG brought up senility, but although this is better than “The Deadly Years” (1967), it was not done to confront the franchise’s aversion to transhumanism.

References here: “Night Terrors” (1991), “The Host” (1991), “Parkvakten i Sarek” (2016).

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‣‣ “Ménage à Troi” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

The title’s pun refers to Riker being imprisoned together with the Trois. Deanna is secondary here to Lwaxana Troi, the mother, played by Majel Barrett (1932–2008). Barrett was also TOS’s Nurse Chapel, the classic voice of the ship’s computer in both series as well as later productions, and a significant figure in fandom. If Roddenberry had gotten his way, Barrett would have been the original first officer instead of Spock, as seen in Star Trek: The Unseen Pilot (1965/1986). If Lucille Ball had gotten her way, the pair of them would have been fired early on, because Ball abhored both nepotism and the fact that Roddenberry was committing adultery against his first wife with Barrett before marrying Barrett instead in 1969, while also having an affair with Nichelle Nichols.

I mention this because Barrett’s appearance as Lwaxana in this episode, the third of six in TNG, seems aimed to add a bit more depth to what has been a sexist stereotype: A belittling, cajoling, loud, vicious, confident and sexually assertive older woman with few friends. Notice how Picard’s loathing and Tog’s wooing of Lwaxana are both played only for laughs, and how she and Deanna engage in precisely the kind of stylized interpersonal drama that is common on other shows, but from which TNG is otherwise liberated (excepting the preceding episode among others, usually with a supernatural explanation). Alas, the character was so poorly designed from the beginning and the abduction plot so weak that the episode is still boring, but I appreciate the attempt to spotlight Barrett as capable of more than the stereotype. This is part of an ambivalent rebound from the more open sexism of the first couple of seasons, typified by “The Child” (1988) and both Crosby an McFadden leaving the show.

The episode also brings poor new details on Ferengi society. They are immune to telepathy because their neurology is fundamentally different, apparently even stranger than “Tin Man”’s, even though the Ferengi are an allegory for human greed, like the trolls of mythology. Their ships look much more like human-built ships than do the Klingons’, despite both their alien neurology and the allegory. Their ears are erogenous, part of a curious phenomenon where humanoid aliens in SF have their most prominent non-human feature sexualized, as with Star Wars’s Twi'lek and their erogenous appendages to the head.

Another unfortunate detail is that Wesley, when prompted to consider how things might change in the years to come, elects to stay on the Enterprise instead of going to the academy, and is rewarded with a field promotion. Precisely as with Riker and Picard refusing promotions that would have taken them off the ship, and being more loved for it, Wesley remains in his comfort zone, or his rut, depending on how you want to look at it. This is hypocrisy, because the show preaches a different kind of personal ambition, whether you call it overachievement for power over others, or a less harmful ideal of challenging oneself to realize one’s potential. Even as described in this episode, this ideal is supposed to include the willingness to embrace change and let go of familiar comforts, yet the conclusion betrays the ideology yet again.

References here: “Remember Me” (1990), “Half a Life” (1991).

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‣‣ “Transfigurations” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

This episode clearly shows the vein of Christian fanfic underlying a lot of Star Trek’s evolutionary scenarios where more advanced beings resemble the god Jesus more closely, as in “Errand of Mercy” (1967) and “The Child” (1988). It’s also a remake of “Bread and Circuses” (1968), another vein of Christian fanfic. It’s done better here, juxtaposing space Jesus with a more probable fascist state and the Federation’s hospitality, despite the silly amnesia plot and a flirt with Dr. Crusher. Part of the reason I like it is that space Jesus’s effect on La Forge is to make him happy and romantically fulfilled: One of the rare instances where magic of this type does not have a downside. Also, O’Brien as the memil who’s injured himself on the holodeck is pretty funny.

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‣‣ “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 1” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Good continuity with respect to the Borg threat.

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‣‣ “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

I like Troi’s role in the deus ex machina process, but the jerk back to status quo ante—completed in the next episode—is painful. Even the DNA changes are miraculously reversed and thus revealed as a technobabble premise. The show would surely have been better if Picard had actually been lost forever, in place of hitherto unknown ships. Though the action is averted, Riker’s decision to tokkōtai the cube at warp speed also feels strange; it certainly demonstrates high stakes, but it isn’t anchored in the culture, as shown by Wesley’s astonishment.

The title should be taken as a reference to Locutus, but it can be read against the grain as a reference to Riker’s career choice. This two-parter reiterates a third and fourth time that Riker refuses to be promoted (cf. “The Icarus Factor”). Given that the Federation resolves to rebuild a decimated Starfleet, and that the crew of the Enterprise has an effective monopoly on experience of the Borg, half of the officers should be directly ordered to train other crews and command other ships. The writers try to have the best of both worlds: An unsentimental ideology and a sentimental ensemble-cast production with comfortably familiar faces in familiar roles every week.

It is a curious choice to continue highlighting this internal contrast while leaving Riker in place. It makes me wonder whether the writers and producers argued over the matter, with the writers—who were themselves more mobile than the cast—effectively pushing for a shift by continuing to bring up the paradox. It may have had something to do with the conflicting approaches of long-time executive producer Rick Berman, and relative newcomer Michael Piller, whose superior vision and stewardship put the show on track in the third season.

I also wonder whether there would have been a Locutus back when “Contagion” (1989) was the plan for a recurring threat. I suppose there would have been. Heinlein did it, after all.

References here: Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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‣‣ “Family” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

In the aftermath of the first serious Borg attack on the Federation, Picard, Worf and Wesley meet close family.

The Enterprise’s orbital dock is a coherent piece of scaffolding, basically a fixture that I assume moves under its own power. This is much smarter than the garage in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984).

Notice how Worf’s Russian adoptive parents have a slight Hollywood Russian accent, whereas Picard’s French family speak British English; maybe Picard left his universal translator switched on. The writing briefly humanizes the captain, who blames himself for succumbing to the Borg and considers a new career. In a parallel to the characterization of Riker’s father in “The Icarus Factor” (1989), albeit a gentle one, the script suggests that Jean-Luc’s brother’s bullying and their father’s traditionalism helped produce a competitive streak in Jean-Luc that ultimately drove him to become a captain. As with Riker, they are reconciled, and Picard’s authority is legitimized, as usual. This is too faint to really serve as an explanatory model for how heroes are made in the franchise; it may be meant simply to underline heroism by emphasizing triumph over adversity. Compare the case of Worf, whose affinity for Klingon culture is cast here as a form of chūnibyō rebellion. The good closing shot suggests a more gentle idealism in the next generation, which is nice.

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‣‣ “Brothers” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

With no further reference to the Borg, the show revisits the storyline of Data’s origins, deliberately contradicting and thus retconning facts presented in “Datalore” (1988) and “The Schizoid Man” (1989) while building upon “The Offspring” (1990) and introducing a chip that would give Data emotions.

Chock-a-block with good ideas, such as:

The emotion chip, alas, is not one of the good ideas. It’s more of the broken pre-scientific philosophy that underpinned Spock. Lore, the silly evil twin, also goes pretty far into Frankenstein (1818) territory, which doesn’t make sense either.

The parasites suggest realism à la We Who Are About To... (1976), in stark contrast to the franchise’s previous pleasure planets. Similarly, Data’s detour—caused by OEM malware akin to a parasite—is one of those many moments on Star Trek where the scales fall from the writers’ eyes and they extrapolate from established facts, as they should have been doing all along. In most cases the consequences should be terrifying to Starfleet, but instead, people plod on, blissfully unable to draw conclusions. Previous examples of this phenomenon include the transporter malfunction in “The Enemy Within” (1966), the nanites in “Evolution” (1989), and the hypothesis formulated in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) that any of 4000 power sources on board can randomly malfunction, without it being detected, in such a way that glass melts elsewhere.

The only official consequence of Data’s detour is that Riker wants to talk to him about it later, in a scene that never actually occurs. This is fun kitsch, but disappointing. Data’s extreme effectiveness and obvious inventiveness under the influence of Soong’s signal to return call into question both Starfleet’s IT security and why Data has not been more effective solving problems up to this point, such as in “The Most Toys” (1990). At the same time, it invalidates the Frankenstein analogy. Clearly, Data under the influence is the real Data. There is no anguish there, no possibility of a grievance for being created with flaws. Data’s talkative normal personality must be running on top of what we see in this episode, and it’s slowing him down.

References here: “Remember Me” (1990), “Clues” (1991), “Identity Crisis” (1991), “The Nth Degree” (1991).

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‣‣ “Remember Me” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Dr. Crusher imagines an old friend with an improbable name.

Part of a vein of solipsist metaphors in SF. It’s comparable to “The Electric Ant” (1969), but oddly enough, it turns out to be a sequel to “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987). Again, the answers are spiritual. The premise is thus inelegant and the sutured causality of Crusher’s world is unappealing, taking the captain last, before modifying the ship itself, instead of limiting the world to Crusher’s existing knowledge. The resulting form of drama, one of personal trust in the face of contradictory or lacking evidence, would come to dominate a lot of bad TV SF in the following decades. Just like the bickering of “Ménage à Troi” (1990), this drama of personal trust is especially noticeable in Trek because the writers normally—thankfully—abstain from it. It’s spun here as akin to gaslighting, which is uncomfortable given the treatment of women on the cast.

The concept of a “warp bubble” is another prime example of technology in Trek being effectively out of control without rational reaction (cf. “Brothers” (1990)). It is stupid that a teenager would be allowed to run experiments of ontological significance inside a fully crewed and operative flagship, inside a major space station. As a result, the script reads more like the ghost stories of TOS than as SF.

References here: “Clues” (1991).

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‣‣ “Legacy” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Tasha’s sister on the planet of rape gangs.

Following a number of other episodes studying the central characters by means of their backgrounds, this one does the same, but for a character who died in “Skin of Evil” (1988) and had a perfunctory backstory, not improved by this elaboration. Also, Data is strangely naïve and asserts that friendship is not emotional.

This episode contains another one of those glitches in vocabulary, like mistaking symptoms and asymptotes in “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987). Dr. Crusher says “sonomic” chromosomes, perhaps thinking of Sonoma, California. As in the earlier case, the script uses the right word (in this case “somatic”). It also has a pronunciation guide for “chromosomes” (“KROH-mah-sohms”), a term coined in 1888 by von Waldeyer-Hartz. With an educated, well-functioning crew, it would have been easy to catch the actor’s error in rehearsal or on the set and do one more take of the basic shot-reverse-shot dialogue where it happens. There must have been many other cases where such errors were indeed caught, but the survival of some into the episodes as they aired clearly demonstrates how occasionally ambitious writing got chewed up by a fairly standard TV production model.

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‣‣ “Reunion” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Alexander.

More Klingon intrigue (fun!), one Klingon played by Robert O’Reilly whose wild wide-open eyes rival Lloyd’s of The Search for Spock (fun!), the introduction of the impractical bat'leth (not fun), more crew members playing important roles in external events linking “The Emissary” (1989) to “Sins of the Father” (1990) (not fun). As usual with the more densely written episodes high on continuity, though some truly consequential events occur, the snap back to status quo ante is proportionately painful: Worf has done something murderously inappropriate, Picard asks him whether he wants to stay on, Worf says yeah; roll credits.

References here: “Redemption: Part 1” (1991).

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‣‣ “Future Imperfect” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Riker wakes up 16 years after he first caught a virus and cannot remember the intervening time, in which he brought the Federation to the brink of peaceful triumph.

A pleasantly ambiguous union of:

The way the first and second acts dwell on the possibilities of Riker’s future life, including a Ferengi crewman and the hope of peace with the Romulans, is typical of a novelistic, utopian SF imagination rather than Trek’s usual love-hate relationships with lotus-eating and sedentary habits. Indeed, many of the details predict how the franchise was about to evolve, despite the fact that it all turns out to be another id machine of sorts, like Total Recall (1990), and not a flash forward. Notice especially Riker’s comment to Troi that “I can’t imagine you leaving the Enterprise.” Of all the changes 16 years are supposed to bring, that’s the one he can’t believe. Wesley is absent and Picard has also been promoted, but all the rest of the core cast are still doing their old jobs. It’s not clear whether that’s supposed to be part of the fantasy’s appeal, or one of its cracks, or both. I think that ambiguity is important; it elevates what could have been another “Shades of Gray” (1989) to a worthwhile meditation on the franchise.

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‣‣ “Final Mission” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

A follow-up to the less-interesting plot thread of “Samaritan Snare” (1989), where Wesley, the bland stand-in for the children in the audience, approaches the figure of authority in awe and trepidation. The plot of this one is dumber, barely working to get the pair into a dramatic situation that teases Picard’s death and averts it by Wesley hacking a DRM’d drinking fountain. Picard is juxtaposed with an alternative authority figure, the evil “captain” of a shuttle whose death is barely noticed and much less mourned. I like the simple scene of the bridge crew’s rescue; it’s cozy.

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‣‣ “The Loss” (1990)

Seen in 2020.

Flatlanders disable Troi’s telepathy.

OK, the premises are dumb, like “Where Silence Has Lease” (1988), Troi’s reaction is dumb and the writing shows traces of “The Child” (1988), robbing the professional woman of her power by magical means. The implication, actually made explicit by Riker, is that Troi’s confidence stemmed from an unfair magical edge and resulting sense of superiority. Misogyny may have been the true purpose of the episode, and it’s not a good allegory for becoming disabled because it isn’t serialized. Still, it’s got some good character moments, acing the Bechdel test in multiple interactions between Crusher, Troi, Guinan and Brooks, a one-off secondary character. Allenby, Wesley’s replacement while he’s at the academy, adds yet another woman in a speaking role, though as yet she has no personality.

Continuing from the previous episode, which measured shearing forces in “metric tons per metre” and radiation levels in “millirads”, this one mentions “two million kilodynes”, instead of “two gigadynes”, which would be 20 kN in the SI system. The units are funny, but I really appreciate the use of real-world scales, a step up from stardates and Sulu’s “types A to M” in “Metamorphosis” (1967).

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‣‣ “Data’s Day” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

O’Brien marries Keiko, Data learns tap-dancing, and the Romulans simulate a transporter malfunction to retrieve a deep-cover agent masquerading as a famous Vulcan diplomat.

The nominal A plot is Data’s day-to-day life, narrated by Data for science. This is pleasant because Spiner’s portrayal is pleasant, but it comes with many bad ideas, including more Holmes and again the pretense that friendship is not emotional. Showing the dancing mainly in medium shot is a cheap trick.

The improbable Romulan ruse, which Troi should have caught, is discovered when Dr. Crusher detects bit-level errors in DNA, which she says are typical of replicated matter. This is another small squirming motion in the franchise’s unresolved ambivalence about authenticity, technology and human effort. It legitimizes Troi’s discomfort with syntetic food in “The Price” (1989), but it is not consistent with “Unnatural Selection” (1989), which shows instead that teleporters—a related technology—can perfectly record DNA and even restore it when damaged.

References here: “The Drumhead” (1991).

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‣‣ “The Wounded” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

O’Brien’s favourite captain flips out and they sing Thomas Moore’s “The Minstrel Boy”.

Though the prop department didn’t do a great job of Keiko’s food, and O’Brien would hardly be surprised by her diet after they get married, the continuity from the previous episode—limited to her interaction with O’Brien—is good: Simple enough for TV but meaningful, again showing that human life continues beyond the bridge and the problem of the week. It’s too bad the writers can’t keep O’Brien’s rank straight, but he gets to save the day, in brilliantly anti-war fashion. I like that development from “Unnatural Selection” (1989). It’s nice to see the pacifist theme continue from “The Hunted” (1990), “The High Ground” (1990) etc.; O’Brien’s central role makes this one another allegory of the Troubles.

This episode briefly mentions the Borg and introduces the Cardassians. The former would remain a rare high-power threat, whereas the latter would become the most referenced alien species in the last couple of seasons, being more easily manageable by the writers. I like the brown, I like the poorly vacuum-formed armour, and I like how Maxwell being right, albeit stupidly inarticulate, adds dimension to the episode’s diplomacy.

References here: “The Drumhead” (1991).

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‣‣ “Devil’s Due” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

This could have been TOS. Actually taking the trouble to show “Ardra” as a Legend-style pop-culture Satan patterned after Mastema is just as dumb and vulgar as the “Nazzi” cosplay of “Patterns of Force” (1968). The basic plot resembles “The Apple” (1967): Christian mythology, deception and a dubious, here quite literally millennarian utopia. It is especially dubious that Ardra truly did nothing to save Ventax, and instead works on seducing Picard, evidently out of personal lust unconnected to its con, which suggests that the intended attraction here is DuBois’s sexy dominatrix and not the critical thinking that franchise captains should have applied in many previous episodes. It’s still better than Q. The best part is the back story of Ventax, which gets a surprising amount of exposition through the trial: The local planetary civilization manages to avert environmental disaster and war through democracy and deliberate abstinence from the most destructive high technology. That high technology is not described, but living standards seem to have remained quite high without it. This is a surprisingly positive spin on what is essentially a deep-green political model, despite the religious mass hysteria that threatens the scientists in the opening.

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‣‣ “Clues” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

A 30-second blackout seems to have lasted longer.

The initial foreshadowing—which uses Dixon Hill again, despite Picard tiring of the holodeck version in “Manhunt”—is not promising, and the resolution is uniformly bad. Imagine the sequence of events told in chronological order; it doesn’t make sense. Still, the middle part of the episode is very good. It is the union of “Brothers” (1990) and “Remember Me” (1990), though unlike “Brothers”, it fails to show what a force Data should be under the circumstances. With a better, Oedipus Rex-level explanation for why knowing would have been bad, the episode could have been great.

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‣‣ “First Contact” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

The union of FTL travel as a coming of age in “Metamorphosis” (1967) with Federation surveillance of a pre-contact society, as in “Who Watches the Watchers” (1989). The script even touches on UFO mythology, as in “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” (1967), and government conspiracy covering up alien contact, which is more novel for Trek. While the script would have benefited from a deeper physical and cultural divide, as usual, it was the right choice to align the narrative primarily with the Malcorians.

It’s implausible to have Riker as an infiltrator on the ground, with incomplete surgery and no effective tracking or artificial corpse substitution for emergency extraction, but Bebe Neuwirth’s bit part as a nurse is very funny: She nails the spoof of TOS-style sexuality. The more central Malcorian woman, Yale, reads like an Ann Druyan type, or Jill Tarter as the basis of Ellie Arroway in Contact (1985).

References here: “The Host” (1991), Star Trek: First Contact (1996).

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‣‣ “Galaxy’s Child” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

In the A plot, La Forge revisits “Booby Trap” (1989), meeting Leah Brahms in person. In the B plot, the ship encounters yet another one of those mysterious giant creatures living in space and accidentally kill it.

“Booby Trap” called for a follow-up, but in the form of changing methods, not a romantic drama about the two individuals who happened to be involved the first time. There is only a moment of self-criticism: Dr. Brahms accuses La Forge of doing what Barclay is implied to have done in “Hollow Pursuits” (1990), that is have sex with a computer rendition of a living person without the original’s knowledge or consent. This is self-criticism only in that it attacks the franchise’s normal plotting as implicitly sexist and exploitative; compare Yar’s behaviour in “The Naked Now” (1987). For that matter, compare how Troi and Dr. Crusher—not the men—both speak up in the B plot when it touches on maternity, even of the most exotic kind. However, the criticism is misapplied here. La Forge’s defence is poorly written in view of the fact that he irrationally hid what he had done because he was ashamed of it, even though it was genuinely innocent and not akin to Barclay’s actions. This means that the A plot is ill conceived. It’s the sort of writing done for ordinary TV drama, heavy on emotional confrontation, light on ideas. Even the B plot is similarly thin, leading nowhere, avoiding worldbuilding.

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‣‣ “Night Terrors” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

Not night terrors.

TNG’s strongest ghost story up to this point. As such it corresponds to “The Tholian Web” (1968) etc. The resolution is in the style of Bamse comics with respect to ghosts: The Federation ships’ loss of power is caused by a known natural phenomenon, while every other phenomenon (Troi’s dreams, the other Betazoid’s behaviour and the crews’ paranoia, hallucinations and dementia) are caused by fumbling attempts to convey a solution to the first phenomenon through control of dreams. This isn’t very good writing, because it requires multiple large coincidences (including hydrogen making a powerful non-nuclear explosive and the ticking-clock timing of the resolution) and exaggerates the effects of losing REM sleep, but there is an underlying elegance to it. As in “The Ensigns of Command” (1989), the non-humans feel alien. Worf’s madness underscores the serious mood, which corresponds to “Obsession” (1967), and Data saving the day is less of a deus ex machina than usual. Picard’s anecdote strengthens a metaphor like that of “Sarek” (1990), and rather better. The return of Keiko for a recurring look into everyday life on board is good fun; more of that would have been needed in many other episodes.

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‣‣ “Identity Crisis” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

La Forge has spent the last five years as a pupa without even knowing it.

This is another one of those episodes, like “Contagion” (1989) and the more similar “Unnatural Selection” (1989), where the ideas could sustain half a season of a later show. I’m not saying the most central idea is good as implemented, but it is sufficiently suggestive of something very good. It creates a slow-acting phenomenon (an organism that reproduces in a manner akin to both a retrovirus and a cordyceps fungus but remains in control of the host body indefinitely, and is undetectable in its very long incubation) that is both worthy of a more systematic exploration and capable of posing a major threat. Granted, transmissibility is described as low, but this is contradicted by universal transmission on Tarchannen III, and was alterable in the writers’ room.

To devote only three quarters of an hour to the concept, with a compressed opening sequence, harms the material. Picard says he’ll leave a beacon to warn other ships, but that seems inadequate. As with his own recovery from corresponding assimilation, the biological effects clean up all too easily. It would have been stronger to see several members of the crew gradually disappearing over many episodes before any connection was made. In fact, I would have preferred such a dysteleological invader, on the pattern of a zombie apocalypse, to the more teleological and moral threats of “Conspiracy” (1988) and the Borg, even if it turned out that the Tarchannians were in some sense akin to the Great Race from The Shadow out of Time (1936) or otherwise eventually capable of aligning some intelligence with their complex instincts, as Data does in “Brothers” (1990).

The forensics are adorable. La Forge on the holodeck is like Deckard retroactively rotating the contents of a photo in Blade Runner (1982); it’s quite clear that there is not enough information in the “found footage” (notice the static camera as on old studio TV, despite a crewman operating something very light!) for what La Forge is doing, but it’s fun to see him pioneering good and novel uses for the holodeck again after “Booby Trap” (1989); “A Matter of Perspective” (1990) does not count. The use of UV lighting is similarly fun, and prefigures a slightly later era’s criminal dramas; it’s especially cute that it takes Data several minutes to create a new instrument for it when the ship’s several geologists, doctors and security staff must surely have UV lights, not to mention prints on file for the replicator. Making a dramatic hypertech-unobtainium sequence (Data’s workbench! Riker’s impatient checking in!) out of an ordinary blacklight demonstrates the producers’ ignorance even of quite simple existing technology, which is a charming bit of kitsch. Despite all the attention, the lamp emits some visible light anyway. Given that sequence, it is not surprising that TNG once again abuses more important concepts in genetics and evolutionary theory, but it sure is evocative SF in spite of all that.

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‣‣ “The Nth Degree” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

Barclay is not shy enough for Engineering.

Revisiting the character from “Hollow Pursuits” (1990) is fine, but this outing is inadequately connected to the original. The writers try to make the connection through a symbolic eversion of Barclay’s original problem, so that the pattern of a self-serving fantasy is imposed upon the real world and Barclay is truly powerful, but it doesn’t work. All the parts of the script are just a bit broken, including the Cytherian, whose “dialogue” is at least funny. The physics reiterate the spiritual basis of “Where No One Has Gone Before” (1987). Simulating Einstein to discuss these physics is another piece of evidence, as in “Elementary, Dear Data” (1988), that Starfleet should frequently simulate experts, yet it does not happen. Barclay’s novel UI is less plausible. “Brothers” (1990) is a superior depiction of superior intelligence.

References here: “Understand” (1991).

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‣‣ “Qpid” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

Robin Hood as depicted here has nothing to do with “A Gest of Robyn Hode” (ca. 1450) or the earliest appearance of Guy of Gisbourne, and everything to do with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). Incidentally, it was Basil Rathbone who played Gisbourne in that movie. The same actor played the version of Sherlock Holmes on which the writers based their knowledge of that character. I conclude that Federation records on literature were hacked by the Rathbone estate.

The opening is not so bad. I did not expect Vash to return from “Captain’s Holiday” (1990), and the romantic drama is somewhat successful with Picard, but the main body of the plot is deeply ignorant pageantry built on cruel humiliation.

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‣‣ “The Drumhead” (1991)

Seen in 2020.

Picard goes on trial for defending a quarter-Romulan medical technician against accusations of treason.

Possibly the darkest episode of the series. Kirk went on trial in “Court Martial” (1967), but as was common in the original series, that episode was mainly about the personal threat to Kirk as a hero and a figure of rightful authority. “The Drumhead” is smarter, ranging as far as racial prejudice and hateful obsession corresponding to “The Wounded” (1991) before ultimately focusing on the right to a fair trial even under the difficult conditions evidenced by “Data’s Day” (1991).

“Data’s Day” clearly illustrates why the Romulans would inspire Admiral Satie’s paranoia. Their fantasy HUMINT skills are better than the Soviets’. In addition, Satie is introduced as having discovered the threat of “Conspiracy” (1988). This is probably a retcon as she did not appear in that episode, and it does not make sense that its effect upon her mentality would be the only long-term consequence of the events depicted therein, but nevertheless, the writers acknowledge by allusion that the Federation does face threats of a type that could easily lead to creeping authoritarianism. It was good of them to devote an episode to the problem, as a non-trivial example of serialization and worldbuilding.

The script is not optimistic about the state of the Federation. Picard ultimately wins the day, but he does so in a sequence patterned after the McCarthy hearings as they were edited for the cinema in Point of Order (1964). Admiral Henry, a silent role not to be confused with the similarly sympathetic Admiral Haden of “The Wounded”, walks off the fancy courtroom set like McCarthy’s critics were falsely shown to do. These figures of authority—the admirals on regular duty—are more competent than Kirk’s masters in TOS, but not by much. Compare “A Matter of Perspective” (1990), where Picard himself tolerates an obviously broken local legal system that puts Riker at risk.

The episode is dark not because it implies that Trek idealism is limited to the Enterprise while the rest of civilization shows some realistic rot, but because you can take the “star” out of “Starfleet” and read the entire episode as an allegory of the US justice system. The true threat here is not bad apples like Admiral Satie, who resembles Colonel Jessep of A Few Good Men (1989) but is on the other end of the proceedings. The threat is the weak democracy and martial culture of post-Gulf-War USA. It is probably not a coincidence that both Henry and Haden are people of colour. Fantasy anti-Romulan racism maps onto the real-world racism of To Kill a Mockingbird (1962). The episode does not extend to an indictment of the mass incarceration of people of colour under the terms of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, but that implication seems to hover not far below the distant horizon of interpretation.

This is darker than “Conspiracy”’s squick because it is more intimate on the level of real-world correspondence and comes with less catharsis: Instead of the orgasmic detonation of an alien’s head as in Scanners (1981), “The Drumhead” has Worf apologizing for being drawn in. Alas, it is somewhat undermined by the canonical consequences in Star Trek: Picard (2020), where the Romulans continue infiltrating the Federation as if they were in fact racially evil and quite capable of the profound deception Satie suspects in Picard.

When this episode was written, Gene Roddenberry was in poor health after his 1989 stroke. He would die six months after it aired. The institution of marriage, which he had insisted would not exist in Star Trek’s future, had been canonized right alongside Romulan HUMINT in “Data’s Day”. Perhaps the rot of “The Drumhead” is another sign of Roddenberry’s loss of control, but I suppose not. Roddenberry’s TOS had meditations on race and justice. This one is better than “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” (1969) or, for that matter, “Code of Honor” (1987).

References here: “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), A Few Good Men (1992).

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‣‣ “Half a Life” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

An astrophysicist’s career pushing stars around on Hertzsprung–Russell diagrams is about to be cut short by his society, which kills all of its members at 60 Earth years of age. The elder Troi intervenes.

This second attempt to add nuance to Lwaxana is less successful than “Ménage à Troi” (1990) because she starts out just as mean as ever and still a clown. Her advocacy for natural death is unfortunately made contingent upon her own age, as well as her personal affection for Timicin, the physicist. The stereotypical termagant is thus doubly doomed by menopause unto death and the lasciviousness associated with morally bad women. Symbolically, she fights for Timicin’s life to defend her own status. The writers try to make this work by putting their own reasoned defence of a natural death into her mouth, but they seem to have struggled. The result is as much of a fantasy as “The Bonding” (1989).

It was a mistake to posit that all people must die at 60 and that their society will go to war to preserve this custom. It’s a kitsch premise, a straw-man stand-in that occludes a range of interesting real-world opinions on death by making them inapplicable. The episode should instead have concerned assisted suicide, or euthanasia, or some more sfnal idea such as transhumanism or the preservation of the dead in a digital afterlife (perhaps updating “All Our Yesterdays”), in the same way that the previous episode thrives on indirect real-world correspondence. Like “Suddenly Human” (1990), the episode instead brings up something potentially interesting, wastes the opportunity to address it, and concludes that it is best not to bother anyway.

The prolific David Ogden Stiers (1942–2018), who got his start in THX-1138 (1971/2004), does much to save the episode as Timicin. Though he wears the same sort of cheap and silly makeup the studio came up with for all the one-off humanoid species and has the unenviable job of falling in love with Lwaxana, he brings an atypical sincerity and naturalism to the role.

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‣‣ “The Host” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

A symbiotic ambassador has a medical emergency.

After Michael Piller and his favoured writers pulled TNG out of its initial difficulties, it seems as if the new team no longer knew what to do with Will Riker. Spock’s magic had gone to Troi, Spock’s character had gone to Data, and for that matter, Kirk’s ass-kicking ability had gone to Worf, leaving no unique quality or heritage for the first officer. Riker had been running on Kirk’s virility, but this was at odds with abandoning the “Wagon Train to the stars” pitch and fisticuffs of TOS. As a result, Riker was doing rather little through the third and fourth seasons of TNG, sometimes acting mainly as a conservative force like Pulaski, e.g. “Hollow Pursuits” (1990). “The Host” features him more heavily, perhaps as a contractual obligation, but as in “First Contact” (1991), the way he’s used is so strange that it underscores the problem.

The episode is the union of “The Dauphin” (1989) where the younger Crusher’s love is obstructed by a mind-body-dichotomy surprise and “Loud as a Whisper” (1989) where a negotiator with weirdly contradictory qualifications must stop a war, or in this case, avert one. The negotiator’s health problem and personal importance recall “Sarek” (1990) and are equally nonsensical. The symbiotic organism actually states that, despite working as an ambassador to more unitary humanoids for several decades, it never occurred to it to mention its own nature even to its lover, which is stupid. The use of Riker suffers both from these poor biological premises and from Frakes’s limited acting skills.

The symbolic level of the narrative is also broken. Crusher meeting Troi in the Enterprise beauty parlour is even more of a Bechdel dud than their exercise scene in “The Price” (1989). As usual, when these women have an affair of any kind, it’s charged with emotion and commitment, unlike Riker’s, because of sexism. Finally, the only thing breaking up the affair is that ambassador Odan is implanted in a woman, not that this woman is evidently sapient in her own right and presumably robbed of the rest of her life in the process. The actual properties of these species have almost no exposition. I guess no one cared until DS9.

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‣‣ “The Mind’s Eye” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

La Forge brainwashed.

Yet more Romulan shenanigans of such potency as to undermine “The Drumhead” (1991). The concept of brainwashing on exhibit here is a science-fictionalized version of popular US paranoia concerning Soviet society in the late 1940s and ’50s. As such it’s closely related to Them (1954), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) and especially The Manchurian Candidate (1962), but it’s several decades late, and it’s lazy. The only concession to the concept having fallen out of fashion is that Data points out how “brainwashing” is not an accurate term. It’s not accurate because the psychological concept itself does not work, and never did; brains are non-washable. It does not make sense that control of La Forge’s visual perception would have such results. Another game with holodeck technology would have been better, but still weak. Fortunately, Levar Burton is always fun to watch; just listen to that little verbal shrug when he goes to see Dr. Crusher about his insomnia.

Risa is referenced again, inanely: La Forge asks what the weather is like there, apparently expecting it to be uniform across the planet, and it is indeed uniform, but also constant. A stand-in for La Forge goes to Risa, indicating that even in the 24th century, white people still can’t tell the difference between two people of colour, even though, as per “A Matter of Honor” (1989), they expect to be able to tell the difference between two aliens. Apparently none of La Forge’s acquaintances at the conference recognized him, nobody wanted to go with him, etc. The name of his shuttle is not another allusion to Japanese pop culture: It’s named for astronaut Ellison Onizuka, killed in the Challenger disaster, not Onizuka Eikichi of Shōnan Junai Gumi (1990).

References here: “Redemption: Part 1” (1991).

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‣‣ “In Theory” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

Lieutenant Jenna becomes infatuated with Data while they’re modding torpedoes to be fired into a dark-matter nebula.

Solid comedy. It’s not as smart as “The Offspring” (1990), but it may be the most entertaining treatment of Data trying to emulate humanity. The B plot is plastered on for suspense and doesn’t work. As with Spock in “Assignment: Earth” (1968), we learn mainly that Data likes cats.

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‣‣ “Redemption: Part 1” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

Picard again arbitrates in the dispute over Klingon succession.

More of O’Reilly’s amusingly wide eyes from “Reunion” (1990) and a lot of plot continuity, including Worf resigning as he should already have done to kill Duras. Alas, the flipside is a lot of discontinuity. The plot hinges on the premise that women are barred from the High Council, which contradicts Gowron’s offer of a seat to a woman in “Reunion”, as well as examples in “Sins of the Father” (1990). Guinan has already seen Worf laugh. The battle is a letdown. It’s a bad idea to have the Romulans repeatedly appearing on site yet for their influence to be so mysterious, even after “The Mind’s Eye” (1991), that the Federation is neutral. The reveal of Sela for the cliffhanger, teased in “The Mind’s Eye”, is nonsensical.

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‣‣ “Redemption: Part 2” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

Once again, status quo ante. Data get to be captain on a new ship, which could and should have been a whole season, but it’s only for a little while. He returns with Worf, who rejects the Klingon culture he supposedly loves. Nothing really changes. Nobody is really promoted or demoted.

Picard gets Sena’s backstory from Guinan: The “Yesterday’s Enterprise” version of the woman harried by rape gangs in her childhood was ultimately raped, then betrayed, then effectively reincarnated in the daughter who’d betrayed her, and somehow the shitty supervillain daughter ended up in a bizarre situation in precisely the same parallel universe that an alternate Picard once restored through his self-undoing sacrifice in an episode that was very good partly because it seemed episodic. The writers slipped up making that episode serialized in this terrible way, and reversing Guinan’s intuition about it. In this instance they picked just about the worst way to combine serial and episodic drama: shortening, undermining and even undoing the good.

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‣‣ “Darmok” (1991)

Seen in 2021.

A novel alien species that speaks only in metaphors derived from iconic images.

Structured like 1940s short-story SF, it is an appropriate thought experiment and a smarter remake of “Arena” (1967). The script’s understanding of linguistics isn’t good, but the thought experiment is not about language.

Picard calls Tamarian expressions metaphorical, but even if they are “dead” metaphors and are not in fact learned through human-like language about them, then they would still be subject to the universal translator in the same way that the English word “McCarthyism” can be translated to other languages without explaining who McCarthy was. If the images (i.e. scenes, imagined tableaux) are instead primary in Tamarian psychology, as Troi seems to think, then I would expect their culture to be more visual, like Internet memes 25 years later: Their body language would play into it, their ship would resemble an icon, etc. An entire natural language made up of the names of Internet memes (“Mudkip. Harold, hiding his pain.”) would not work.

I therefore agree with Ion Bogost’s conclusion (“Shaka, When the Walls Fell”, The Atlantic, 2014-06-18) that Tamarian speech is not language but a means of identifying the underlying logic of a situation, without coding for it in detail as a computer program would. The main functions that languages serve in human culture would have to be served in other ways on Tama, perhaps through specialized features of the brain, like those of The Mote in God’s Eye (1974). Their exasperated laughter at human speech is intriguing; I wonder what their own translator, if they have one, makes of human language.

Bogost thinks that Picard goes wrong reading Homer to prepare for another meeting with the Tamarians. I agree that it doesn’t make sense intradiegetically, in part because the Tamarians’ actual myths are evidently more relevant and already on file—or at least somewhat accessible to xenoanthropologists—but the real thrust of the thought experiment is classical humanism. Just before Picard brought up The Epic of Gilgamesh (ca. 2100–1100 BCE), I thought to myself that in this situation, I would have tried bringing up The Epic of Gilgamesh. The fact that Picard actually does so, at some length, is absolutely beautiful. It’s almost Trek’s idealism at its finest: Data says he has encountered over 1700 (sapient?) extraterrestrial species, and yet even among one of the most bizarre in his experience, the power of myth can still bridge the gap. This can be read as describing Trek itself, with its myth of the frontier, its orcs (Klingons), elves (tricky pointy-eared Romulans), trolls (Ferengi) and so forth, all put to work as symbols in thought experiments: As something like Bogost’s logics.

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‣‣ “The Trek Not Taken” (2013)

Seen in 2020.

Early choices made for special effects in TNG.

The choices were good. I regard Harry the woodworker in “When the Bough Breaks” (1988) as a sign of how awful TNG would have been with CGI ships, removing the craft itself from production.

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Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989)

Seen in 2013.

The script has two distinct phases: It’s a somewhat competent Star Wars (1977) imitation up to the point where Sybok’s vision is revealed. Then the film becomes a travesty of intellectual and philosophical science fiction, to its end. Themes usually left in the background and best left entirely by the wayside are foregrounded as plot points, particularly the leap of faith. Do not trust a charismatic fanatic whose rousing speech includes the falsehood that Columbus proved the Earth is round. On the plus side, Spock is not constantly stating the obvious: things are illogical.

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Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special (1991)

Seen in 2019.

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Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)

Seen in 2014.

Interesting production history. It’s a pleasant attempt to re-examine some of the previous idealism in a sober light, after TNG hit its stride, but it is not entirely successful. The ending shows just how much stupidity is being dragged along: The old crew endures a martyr’s torpedoing without injury, before abruptly saving themselves with hand-waved “innovation”, beaming down to rescue everyone through physical force and say a few incoherent words.

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Star Trek: Generations (1994)

Seen in 2014.

Without having counted at all, I would say this is the record-holder in number of cuts where people on bridges are thrown about like rag dolls while sparks fly inexplicably from their instruments. Star Trek is frequently at its most interesting exploring its own creepy ideology of personal “improvement”, where Ayn Rand meets L. Ron Hubbard. In this ideology, the “Nexus”, where people are happy without having to clean the hallways of the Enterprise with a toothbrush every three hours must be shown as flawed and consequently rejected. Utterly predictable since “This Side of Paradise” (1967), but it’s pretty well done here.

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“Star Trek: A Captain’s Log” (1994)

Seen in 2020.

Clip show with a few actor anecdotes.

Wishful thinking for the fans. It’s bad from the start: The list of advances in science and engineering that lead up to the series’ launch date include the V2 and Sputnik, but not the first human space flight, just the first “American” one. The presentation perpetuates the myth of redshirt susceptibility and adds nothing.

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Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond (1996)

Seen in 2020.

An anniversary gala consisting of a clip show, cast anecdotes, celebrity fan anecdotes, a sitcom-style skit and a couple of musical performances.

Hollywood self-congratulation. DS9 gets short shrift. Ben Stiller’s speech is good though.

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Star Trek: First Contact (1996)

Seen in 2014.

A prequel to “Metamorphosis” (1967).

“First Contact” (1991) played straight. The interesting story here is the “Blue Marble” moment where a scientific achievement puts a dent in human narcissism. That is a science fiction story. Unfortunately, the grime and grit of this story feel completely fake on the cheap sets, the humour of it is childish, and the consequences are examined only at a 300-year remove. Much more annoying than this, the interesting story is purposely overshadowed by the glib overachievers of the Enterprise enhancing their glory by directing the historic moment and fighting an irrelevant war with the Borg from “Q Who” (1989). The first corridor warfare scenes are unusually suspenseful, but there is no getting around the silliness of the enemy: all drones are still humanoid, never move faster than a walk, are never armed, and are easy to kill with hands and bullets, unlike the one android member of the crew, whom the Borg were already calling primitive in “The Best of Both Worlds: Part 2” (1990). After 7 years there is still little thought behind the Borg as a faction, and it shows. I think the writers wanted only the emotional reaction displayed here by Lily: mindless disgust.

References here: Pushing Ice (2005).

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Trekkies (1997)

Contemporary Star Trek fandom.

Retrofuturism meets a fine example of how single franchises can generate self-perpetuating subcultures.

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‣‣ Trekkies 2 (2004)

Broader geographic focus (including Serbian fans), more musical fandom activity, and new visits with people from the original.

Less Schadenfreude. Not quite as awe-inspiring, but some moments are excellent. The deleted scenes are also worth watching.

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Star Trek: Insurrection (1998)

Seen in 2014.

About average for the series, despite the negative reception. As usual the crew of the Enterprise is forced to rescue the Federation by rebelling against it. It is interesting how the writers keep returning to that motif, evidently unsatisfied with the way that Star Trek is held up as a positive and hopeful vision of the future. Another interesting point here is the technophobia, greatly generalized from the phobia of the Borg exhibited in the previous film.

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Star Trek: Nemesis (2002)

Forgettable.

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Really Bad Star Trek (2004)

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“The Final Frontier Revisited” (2004)

Sweet camp; who cares about camera shadows anyway?

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Star Trek (2009)

I suppose this is where the tension and darkness of “Conspiracy” (1988), though not the body horror, became the franchise norm. There is nothing in it, not even a thought experiment. How curious that this retcon-prequel-remake hybrid would be made with so little concern for the highlights of the original and so much action instead.

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