29 April 2017

The Game

Episode: s5, ep 6

A mind controlling game spreads virulently through the Enterprise. Also Wesley's back, but that's OK.

What Happens
Riker is on Risa, enjoying the company of a orange-haired lady. He's expecting sexytimes but she distracts him with a game that projects shapes into the eyes and rewards the player with a burst of pleasure. When Riker returns to the Enterprise it is going somewhere with a load of unseen scientists who are going to study... something. Riker needs to sort out the scientists in a reduced timescale; it's going to be a scheduling nightmare. Wesley Crusher is coming for a visit so Riker decides he can help. In Engineering Geordi explains to Riker that all the equipment is booked solid, he delegates the task to a bright young Engineer called Robin. Riker tries to interest Geordi in the game, but the Chief Engineer is busy. Then Riker joins Troi in 10 Forward and mentions the game to her.
Wesley arrives and gets a surprise party in the Meeting Room. At the party Troi mentions the game to Beverly. Wesley is sent to help in Engineering where he meets Robin and shakes her hand for far too long. Data is called to sickbay by Beverly, she deactivates him then she Troi and Riker do something to his head. Wesley is chatting to Picard about the Academy when Beverly reports that Data has malfunctioned. Riker offers to show Geordi the game. Wesley and Robin work together, turns out she has friends at the Academy so she's heard about him. They arrange to meet for dinner. Wesley walks in on his mother enjoying the game, she tries to get him to play it, but he's busy. At dinner Robin and Wesley see more people playing the game and decide to investigate it. They test a headset and find it stimulates pleasure in the brain and may be addictive. They decide to tell the Captain, but unbeknownst to the young people Picard has already been corrupted.
The game spreads and people keep trying to get Wesley and Robin to play, so they wear fake headsets to get some peace. They realise Data is the only one who would be immune to the game, seeing as how he doesn't have serotonin. Wesley finds that some crucial wires have been precisely cut, which only Geordi or Beverly would have known to do. They realise that the game isn't just about pleasure and the mystery becomes a conspiracy. Meanwhile the Enterprise meets with an alien ship and the woman who gave the game to Riker instructs the Bridge crew to spread the game to ships and stations. Wesley goes to see Robin, but she's been compromised, it's a bodysnatcher moment. Worf and Riker approach Wesley so he transports away and the chase is on.
Wesley evades security teams, sensors and force fields while the rest of the crew hunt him down. He's caught in a vent and hauled to the Bridge where he's held down as they put the game on him. Then the lights dim and Data bursts in flashing a light in everyone's eyes. This breaks the spell and Data points out the small ship, which the Enterprise takes into custody. Data explains that Wesley reactivated him and distracted everyone while the android figured out how to snap everyone out of it. Data set up the pattern of strobing lights on all the monitors across the ship.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard and Wesley chat about the Academy. Wesley took Picard's advice from Final Mission and met up with the old Academy groundskeeper-sage Picard knew. Wesley asks Picard what AF stands for (he should ask his mum really, it'd be awkward af for Picard to explain). Turns out it's the initials Picard carved into a tree and Picard warns Wesley about not letting a crush distract him from learning (foreshadowing??). Later when Picard is infected he acts normal and reassures Wesley and Robin about the game, waiting until they're gone to play again. Even under the influence of the game the crew hierarchy is intact with Picard in charge. He suggests to the alien that they could send the game to the Academy by using Wesley.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-manager
Will is on Risa for a sexytimes holiday and is engaged in some sexy chasing.* She puts the game on his head when they're on the bed and it's so good that he forgets about doing anything sexy. I wonder whether this could be seen as a metaphor for STIs with Riker as patient zero? For all that Trek suggests stigma around sex is old-fashioned there's nothing about safe sex or sensible precautions within the show.
When Riker is back at work Picard tells him to organise the unseen scientists and Riker comments on the juggling act it will take. The next scene has Riker talking to Geordi who comments that he's up to his neck in scheduling. This shows that Riker's skilled at delegating; he even ropes Wesley into the project because I guess cadets are kind of like interns.

Does Not Compute
It's sensible that Data is taken out of action early, basically as soon as the game has spread to someone who has the knowledge to deactivate him. Dr Crusher even stops Wesley from looking at Data earlier, as she's aware he has the skills to fix him. The game seems to direct people's will but doesn't remove their knowledge or instincts. Data appears to be functioning internally but not able to do anything externally (so a hardware issue??). Wesley describes it as being like a coma. I don't know if Data can sense anything outside of his body/brain or not. Either way it sounds really horrible, but I have to wonder whether Data would experience any feeling about his state? It doesn't seem like frustration, anger or fear would be his reaction, but maybe he'd feel concern for what's happening beyond the confines of his brain. The sabotage must be serious and/or precise since last episode demonstrated that Data can still function as just a head.

Doctor Doctor
Beverly is happy to see her son, but she doesn't crowd him. They're both pretty independent and have been for years. After the party she's under the influence of the game. Now I get the impression that the game itself is meant to be pleasurable without being sexual, but the way that it's introduced to Riker, and some of the faces and noises people make while using it belie this. Bearing that in mind, it's super creepy that Wesley interrupts his mother while she's playing it in a darkened room. She's all flustered and embarrassed, so it's all a bit icky. Then she tries to get Wesley to play too, or bring his date back to their quarters so they can all play together. Eww no!

Counselor Pointless
What's with Troi and the chocolate? I assume her description of eating a sundae is meant to be sexy? Not my thing, but fair enough. Though I have to say that fudge is not a type of chocolate, it's a separate food, even if they go together well. That Riker goes to his ex to spread the game and there's a vaguely erotic conversation adds to my STI theory. It's also sensible to get Troi converted early as her empathy could have detected something suspicious (or maybe not, who knows, her powers are very plot-dependent).

Return of the Wes
On returning to the Enterprise Wesley is asked to help out, I guess being a cadet means you're everyone's intern. Of course Wesley spent a chunk of his youth helping out, and he seems to enjoy it. At least this time he's not being annoyingly precocious or acting superior to qualified adults, this is Wesley being competent and working well with others. When he meets Robin the chemistry between them is strong and their dialogue doesn't get cheesy. It's nice that they're both the same kind of nerdy and mutually decide to interrupt their dinner date to do a scientific investigation of a popular fad. The romance gets overshadowed by the mystery and conspiracy plot, but I think that works as it shows them bonding while working together. Plus single episodes about people falling deeply in love tend to strike me as rushed and superficial. The way Wesley runs through the ship using his smarts to escape detection feels like a paranoid thriller. Wesley being held down by the adults who are closest to him, including his own mother -who reassures him about the brainwashing- is pretty powerful stuff. In an earlier series Wesley would have been the one to swoop in and save the day, possibly with a cheeky grin, so it feels better that he worked with Data to fix things.

Girl Talk
Here we have guest stars playing both the antagonist and a major supporting role. The alien lady's motivation and agenda are unclear, just a bland antagonist with mind control technology. Robin is a much better character with more depth and her own ideas and idiosyncrasies. Though it seems like she's mostly there as a romantic interest for Wesley she's given plenty to do; again TNG shows that they can write women well as one-off characters. I've heard Ashley Judd mentioned quite a bit, but I don't think I've seen much else she's been in.

Security Breach
So all those force fields in the corridors, were they always there? I don't think they've been used much before and I can think of several times those would have been useful. Perhaps it's new innovation of Worf's? Actually I think Data used the force fields when he hijacked the ship while his higher functions were disabled. Do people only remember the force fields are there when they're being controlled?

Future Is Better
A game projected into your eyes doesn't seem too far-fetched nowadays, it's a type of augmented reality. Though the headset is super ungainly and the graphics of that game are pretty crappy. I guess all the money went into the mind-altering, brainwashing stuff rather than design; you can really tell.

Staff Meetings: 0
When Wesley arrives on board O'Brien tells him his mother is in a senior staff meeting, but he is allowed to stop by. When he arrives it turns out that it's actually a surprise party for him. As well as seeing his mother Wesley is greeted in Latin by Picard, complimented by Troi and gets a cake from Worf. Data questions him about whether pretending to be too busy to see him before the surprise worked, because Data's just a hoot at a party.

The End
Wesley and Robin kiss as he is preparing to leave. She gives him a present, it's all of her personal laws she's been quoting throughout the episode. They agree to stay in touch, though there's no definition of their relationships, so I don't know how serious things are. There's a mixture of happiness and wistfulness.

* I almost said something about chasing not being that romantic/sexy, but that would be wrong of me because:
a) each to their own, who am I to judge as long as it's all consensual
b) even if it's based on a male-as-hunter type of thing the overall plot of the episode subverts that as she's the one actually trapping him (you can tell because once she's got control of the ship she's all serious business)
c) I remembered the Bugs Bunny opera episode with Elmer Fudd as a viking and Bugs in drag, which involves lots of chasing and, now that I look back, was confusing.

13 April 2017

Tales of the Mouse and Minotaur

I'm very happy that my story 'The Labours of Stropheus' has been published in Tales of the Mouse and Minotaur (Volume 3 of the Bushy Takes anthology series) from Fox Spirit Books, edited by Adele Wearing.

It's no secret that I like both rodents and Ancient Greek mythology, so this theme is very much in my wheelhouse. I originally wrote this story a few years ago (there have been some delays, which happens in publishing sometimes). I mostly remember that the story I wrote ended up stranger than what I'd initially intended, luckily Fox Spirit never shy away from the strange. Mouse & Minotaur features a broad range of stories from talented writers..

Fox Spirit is an award-winning and dedicated small press based in the UK, with writers, editors and contributors from all over the world. They produce an impressive array of novels, anthologies, collections and non-fiction. They also have imprints for children's fiction and martial arts books.

7 April 2017


Episode: s5, ep 5

All the main characters get their own dangerous situation with increasing stakes. Some bits are better than others and there's limited development for some characters, but this show hits reset a fair bit anyway. I mean I've seen whole films that have less going on *cough*Insurrection*cough*.

What Happens
The Enterprise is between assignments so Picard expects downtime; let's face it, stating this in his log was just asking for trouble. Miles and Keiko O'Brien are expecting a baby and there's discussion in 10 Forward over what to name the baby if it's a boy, Riker and Data are there too. Crusher is in a cargo bay with Geordi trying to get him to audition for a performance she's organising; he's reluctant but sings a little Modern Major General for her. Troi introduces 3 children to Picard (Shy Girl, Solemn Lad and Precocious Boy), they won the primary school science competition and the prize is a tour with the Captain. Picard takes the children into a turbolift just as O'Brien arrives on the Bridge. Then the ship shakes as something hits it, the power goes off and the turbolift stops. Something is very wrong.
There's actually quite a bit happening here, so let's break this down by location:

Bridge - One of the Bridge officers is killed after a second space anomaly hits and does more damage. Ensign Ro makes it to the Bridge before it's cut off from the rest of the ship. Troi turns out to be the ranking officer, but she doesn't know anything. O'Brien and Ro try to explain what happened and what to do next. Ro thinks they should assume everyone in the drive section is dead and take the saucer section to safety before damaged Engineering systems make the ship explode. O'Brien argues against this, though he admits that Engineering is probably so damaged they won't be able to detect the problem down there. Troi insists they do as O'Brien suggests and divert Bridge power to Engineering so someone down there can fix the problem before the ship explodes. Ro points out Troi could be dooming them all. Ro and O'Brien monitor stuff and move power around to avoid destruction, though the situation is deteriorating. Troi allows Ro to prep a saucer separation but won't give the order to leave. The situation starts improving when someone down in Engineering gets the message and fixes the thing.
Turbo lift - Picard tries to comfort the scared kids, but being stern doesn't stop Solemn Lad fixating on how they're all going to die. He successfully distracts the kids by giving them ranks and responsibilities. Making Shy Girl his First Officer gives her confidence. Picard has a broken leg so he guides the children through removing a panel and pulling out cabling. Off screen all four of them get out through the top of the lift into the shaft (seriously how?) and climb up the lift shaft, singing Frere Jacques to keep their spirits up until they find a working door.
Cargo Bay - Crusher and Geordi discover the wall is hot while trying to get out of the cargo bay. Geordi finds green, radioactive fire, which will make them very sick if it doesn't make the stores in the cargo bay explode first. They manually move large containers to the other end of the room, but that's only a temporary solution. Geordi realises they can get rid of the fire and the explosive stuff by opening the external doors, but they'll have to cling to something to keep from being sucked into space. Crusher explains the medical implications of the plan, they'll have 15 seconds of very painful consciousness to get to the wall panel that lets more oxygen in. Unlike most of Geordi's plans this works correctly first time
10 Forward - It's a big mess and people are injured, but sickbay is cut off and there's no response from, or access to, the Bridge. Data arranges for security teams to bring injured people to 10 Forward and Riker says they have to assume everyone on the Bridge is dead so he and Data go to take control of the ship, leaving Worf in charge. Keiko and Worf care for casualties, but Keiko realises she's in labour even though she's not due for a month. Worf guides Keiko through her labour and delivers the baby, though he's only ever done it in the simulation before and complains about how disorderly it all is. The baby is a girl, which apparently no one had previously considered.
Ducts and Engineering - Riker and Data crawl through ducts to get to Engineering. They encounter electricity and Data points out that his body should be able to go through it, though it would damage him. Riker refuses as he needs Data's help in Engineering. Data says that his brain is shielded and Riker can take his head to Engineering. Riker is perturbed but agrees. The electricity disables Data's body, he falls over then explains to Riker how to remove his head. Later Data's head is plugged into a console in Engineering and he can access some systems, Riker sees that some monitors are working and Data says they're receiving power from the Bridge. Riker realises the Bridge want them to do something and sees the problem. Riker has to poke about in Data's head in order to fix the problem, and they almost run out of time before Riker does the right thing to Data's circuits allowing him to save the ship.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard is initially awkward because he doesn't get kids, though at least he's no longer afeared of children (remember in the first episode when they meet and he specifically asks Riker to deal with anything involving children). He uses his command skills to distract the kids and give them some sense of purpose in a bad situation, though how the kid in charge of radishes thinks he'll contribute isn't clear. Shy Girl -who was previously unable to look the captain in the the eye- keeps her head and backs up Picard, getting the younger children to focus on something besides the danger. I feel like the writers didn't know how Picard and the kids got out of the lift, so decided to just skip over it. Seriously how do 3 young children and an adult with a broken leg get out of the top of a lift using just some optical cabling?

Just in case Picard's constant English accent had made us forget that he's actually French we are reminded when he gets the kids to sing Frere Jacques. Not that that's necessarily proof as I'm English and I know the French version of that song (which is better than the lesser-known English version). I'm curious about a song called The Laughing Vulcan and his Dog though.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management & Does Not Compute
Riker and Data figure out where they can go, arrange for the injured to be cared for and then go to get the ship under control. They're both pretty good in an emergency, you can see here why they have the positions they do. Data finally gets used like someone who has a synthetic body and can't feel pain, normally Data's superhuman (extrahuman?) abilities aren't emphasised. I feel like maybe it would've been less risky for Riker to have removed Data's head and then pushed his body through the electricity, but obviously it's Data's call. Riker doesn't want to let Data risk himself until Data explains about the head removal; is Riker swayed by practicality or the very rare opportunity to carry a colleague's head about? We don't get to see Riker remove or carry Data's head, which feels like a missed opportunity. It seems odd that Data is hooked up to something in Engineering, can detect where the power is coming from and knows how to stop the ship exploding, but can't actually fix it until Riker messes with his head more. I guess Riker didn't connect him up properly the first time. It's kinda hard to feel like the ship's about to explode when its just Data's head calmly stating it and we can't explicitly see the problem (which is probably an indictment of our society or something).

Doctor Doctor & Blind Engineering
This is not the most interesting section by a long way, there's no character development or anything surprising, but at least Crusher gets to do something and Geordi gets to succeed at something first time, but it's a busy episode so there's no room for his usual try-fail cycle. Crusher is trying to get Geordi to be in a musical or something, I guess she has been keeping busy by arranging more performances while being passed over for plotlines. Plus getting people engaged in activities and socialising could come under her Chief Medical Officer remit as a mental health/morale booster, though more likely she simply enjoys it.

Klingon Warrior
Worf is treating the injured brought to 10 Forward, which doesn't seem like his wheelhouse, though it's a necessary duty. He then delivers Keiko's baby, whilst complaining a lot, which is hardly helpful. If things are progressing OK then what the mother really needs is calm reassurance. Worf is expecting something fairly by-the-book (or by-the-simulation) and Keiko explains it doesn't work that way. No one mentions the O'Brien baby's name, which seems weird since that's the discussion at the start of the episode. It feels like the writers decided she would be a girl but couldn't think of a name for her. I guess at beginning of episode they were trying to throw us off by only mentioning boys names, but then at least tell us what the girl is called. I'm guessing Molly is Miles's choice of name (being more Irish than Japanese), but wouldn't it have been nice to see Miles giving her the name if it wasn't something they'd already decided? It feels like something got cut.
Having recently given birth myself I feel super bad for Keiko here. At the moment TV births make me feel very emotional (damn hormones!) as they're usually fraught with external peril. I mean birth itself is a perilous and potentially traumatic thing (I had to rush into hospital as an emergency and although neither me nor the baby were properly in danger during the process there were various problems), but from a TV point of view it's not very visually dramatic as most dangerous/painful/troubling stuff is internal and you're just being told about it. Of course just being told about danger you can't see is something The Next Generation does a lot, including in this episode.

It's Not Easy Being Troi & Poor O'Brien
Counselor Troi is in charge of  the ship because she has the rank of Lieutenant Commander, even though she doesn't have the knowledge or training of the other Lieutenant Commanders. She doesn't know the difference between a quantum filament and a cosmic strong (whatever either of those are), and actually to fulfill her role on the ship she doesn't need to know the different kinds of weird space stuff. It doesn't seem like she's even been given emergency information about what to do if she is the most senior officer. O'Brien pointed her rank out and it seems like Troi either didn't know it or had entirely forgotten. Before this point I assumed her title was just Counselor, since that is her actual job (plus moonlighting as Picard's PA), and I don't understand why she needs a military rank at all. Do all star ship counselors have similar ranks? Is it just because she's on the Bridge so much where other counselors would be in their offices? In either case it seems like there's been a massive training blunder here. At one point O'Brien tells her what he thinks they should do and she just nods along and agrees, meaning O'Brien is technically in charge (a better and more sensible prospect given his role). Even when Troi takes a more active role she's still just adjudicating between O'Brien and Ro who are more knowledgeable. It's not surprising she sides with O'Brien by assuming there are people alive in the drive section who can be saved rather than leaving them to certain death. You gotta feel bad for O'Brien as his very pregnant wife is out there and none of the damaged sensors (or Troi's empathy) can tell where survivors are. Then he argues the case to save people, even though it means risking himself and his loved ones. Of course as an Engineer he wouldn't want to be abandoned and it could easily have been him down there. Later he's going to find out that he missed the birth of his first child.

Girl Talk
Troi and Ro (with O'Brien too) discuss what to do to save the ship, or as many people as possible. It's an urgent, life-or-death work discussion, this counts as Bechdel-Wallace passing I reckon. Ro argues her case strongly and addresses Troi more than O'Brien. Both Troi and Crusher get to do things! Troi is very important here, as well as being in command and making a major decision she even uses her empathy to tell that people are alive in other parts of the ship, she just can't tell where. Crusher's part is only OK, but at least she's around and doing things, this is how little it feels like she's been given of late.

Staff Meetings: 1
Troi, Ro and O'Brien go into the observation lounge leaving Mandel alone on the Bridge with the corpse of Lt Monroe (we don't see her body after it's announced she's dead, but they're trapped there so it's gotta be somewhere near by). It is a super weird thing to do. Why not have the discussion on the Bridge? I mean Mandel's at the helm but it's not like the ship is moving and he probably has more relevant knowledge than Troi. Even if he isn't supposed to say anything (for weird rank-type reasons) could they not stay on the Bridge or invite him to join them instead of leaving him alone with the corpse of colleague?

Death by Space Misadventure
Lieutenant Monroe, duty officer on the Bridge.
It seems very possible that other people were killed, potentially loads of them. Who knows? I mean there didn't seem to be anyone down in Engineering when Riker and Data got there. We aren't told about deaths or casualties, so presumably we aren't supposed to care.

Born during Space Misadventure
Molly O'Brien (who is not named here for some reason), daughter of Miles and Keiko O'Brien.

The End
The ship is going to get repairs, things are returning to normal. On the Bridge Troi jokes with Riker about wanting his job. The kids return to see Picard and present him with a massive card thanking him for saving them. Picard offers to finish their tour later and gives an order to "Number One", then both Riker and Shy Girl respond simultaneously. It's all very cute and heartwarming.
So presumably most of the ship's population aren't dead.

1 March 2017

Silicon Avatar

I've recently had a baby, for more on this please see my last 2 posts or the 'real life' tag. If you are here for the Star Trek TNG posts read on (these are simple and so I expect to be continuing). If you're wondering what happened to the film and book posts, it's a good question and I hope to address this soon - depending on how much rest I get.

Episode: s5, ep 4

A dangerous old adversary returns and there's more about Data's past because he and Worf are currently tied for Most Interesting Character as far as the show is concerned.

What Happens
Riker, Data and Crusher are visiting a very new colony and Riker is flirting with Carmen, who seems to be an in charge of where the buildings will be. The sky goes dark as a big, scary space tree blocks the sun, it's the Crystalline Entity from Datalore. Data identifies some caves for shelter and all the colonists run there as the Entity destroys the landscape, but Carmen is killed while helping an old man. Riker and Data seal everyone in the caves. The Enterprise crew realises something odd is happening on the planet, but they are some distance away. Just as conditions in the cave become dangerous to health Worf and Geordi break in and rescue everyone.
Dr Marr, a scientist who's an expert in the Crystalline Entity, comes on board to investigate the remains of the planet and collect accounts of what happened; this is the first time there have been survivors of an attack. Picard assigns Data to work with her, but she doesn't like him and says she knows Lore worked with the Crystalline Entity before. Picard points out that Data is the most knowledgeable and insists on the assignment. Dr Marr ignores Data as much as she can and when he tries to engage she claims there were only survivors this time because Data led the Entity to the planet and it didn't want to kill its ally. It turns out her 16 year-old son died in the attack on the colony where Data was first found, which is why she's an expert on the Entity and why she hates androids. Marr tries to ignore Data's suggestions about analysis, but Geordi runs tests as Data suggests and finds a way to track the Entity and so Marr concedes Data was helpful. Dr Marr is interested to hear that Data really does have the memories/files of the colonists within him. The Enterprise is able to track the Entity but Marr is aghast to discover that Picard wants to avoid damaging it. Picard advocates communicating with the Entity and trying to understand it, she wants to kill it because it's dangerous and will keep destroying planets.
Marr asks Data to tell her about his memories from her son. The Entity is detected near an alien ship, but by the time the Enterprise gets there every living thing on board is destroyed and the Entity is heading towards an inhabited system. While they are working on a beam to communicate with the Entity Marr asks Data to recite one of her son's journals using the lad's voice. When the Enterprise gets close to the Entity Marr and Data use their beam to make contact with it and they get a response though it is not decipherable. Marr changes to a continuous beam and the communication stops, then the Entity starts to shake. Troi senses something is wrong and Picard orders the Marr to stop, but she won't. Geordi and Data try to stop the beam, but Marr has locked the system. The Entity shivers then shatters; Marr is defiant as no one will ever be killed by it again. Picard orders Data to escort her to her quarters.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard's mission of exploration and understanding is at odds with Dr Marr's vengeful hunt. It's not clear why Picard didn't realise that the Dr would try to kill the Entity. I know he's used to people being convinced by his speeches, but the woman clearly felt strongly enough about this to throw her entire career and life into it. He'd already observed to Troi that Marr might not be objective and this could affect her work, but though she started working well with Data she never conceded Picard's point about not destroying the Entity. In fact their talk just ends with Picard basically dismissing her and there's no indication that she ever changed her mind or even understood his viewpoint.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Carmen from the colony, who is clearly planning to have sex with Riker, calls him an adventurer - it's like she's read my heading; we just needed him to deal with a personnel issue or something and it'd be all three. I'm not sure if they've only met on this mission (though their talk suggests they've already had a romantic encounter) or whether they have previous history; I suppose it doesn't really matter since she's not around for long. Riker is given the opportunity to send to letter to Carmen's family along with the official notification of death from Star Fleet, is this because he witnessed her death or because they were involved?
After they hear a ship being destroyed Riker tells Picard he agrees with Marr about killing the Entity, but Picard suggests he's not objective either (lack of objectivity being the worst crime here it seems). Riker points out that he's lost people under his command before, but if prioritising communication means the Entity would kill again he'd feel like those deaths were on his conscience. Then he just kind of leaves, so there's no further discussion and this is the only time a main character/Star Fleet officer expresses a dissenting opinion to Picard. I feel like the episode isn't really into this side of the discussion.

Does Not Compute
Data is again the ideal oppressed person/victim (I explored this in greater detail in Redemption part 2) and has no feelings about the awful way the Marr treats him. He points out calmly that he is not the same as Lore (it's awkward that the only other android people will meet is at best amoral) and that her behaviour towards him hinders their work. I've commented before that visitors to the ship seem inclined to be well-disposed towards Data, and speculated that people might project onto him quite a lot. This episode explores this by having a guest star project onto Data in two different, but very strong ways. Troi observes that Marr transfers her feelings about Lore onto Data, which is understandable as they're identical and created by the same person. Of course it's also a form of stereotyping/discrimination, but handily there are only 2 active androids about (that we know of) so there's no reason to consider wider types of discrimination. Then when Marr stops hating Data and asks him about her son's memories she very understandably projects her feelings and insecurities about her dead son onto him, these feelings only increase when she asks Data to use her son's voice. I feel like someone (probably Troi) should talk to Data about how people with emotions react to certain things and which behaviours he should be wary of. While Data presumably has no issue with becoming a stand-in for this woman's son I don't think that this dynamic is healthy. That Data doesn't anticipate Marr's actions isn't surprising; he doesn't necessarily have much understanding of her overriding, emotional motivation. I suspect he doesn't factor duplicity into his interactions with others in Star Fleet.
We learn more about Data's origins, and this episode makes sense of the odd snapshots we got back in in series 1. Data holds the memories of the colonists who were killed decades before, but not their feelings. From the info we get here it seems that Data might just have documents and logs from that doomed colony rather than anything more experiential, which makes it confusing that they are referred to as memories.

Counsellor Pointless
As the Enterprise rushes to the planet Troi reassures Picard that things may be fine despite the weird readings, proving she is not magic. Later when Dr Marr won't stop the beam Troi says something is very wrong, but we can already see that. Troi seems to be getting that feeling from the death throes of the Entity, but there's no other sign Troi can communicate with it. Alternatively, she could have got a read on what's happening from Marr's state of mind, but if so couldn't she have sensed she was up to something before?

Girl Talk
No Bechdel-Wallace pass (which is just a low bar for character interactions, not a measure of quality or superiority) because no female characters talk to each other, despite there being two female guest stars. Yet again Troi and Crusher are present and do their jobs, but are barely involved and have limited dialogue. It's not great that a love interest character is introduced then killed really quickly, but the episode avoids the fridging trope because the episode isn't about Riker or his feelings and the events of the early episode are a jumping off point for exploring a female character and her long-standing grief over the death of her son.
Dr Kila Marr is a complex character, as well as being a leading scientist her emotional landscape is explored from her bigoted interactions and assumptions about Data, to her vulnerability about her son's death and the nature of their relationship. She is filled with grief-driven determination and the writing and performance here are very well done. Her angry, vengeful pleas to destroy the Entity do make sense from a safety point of view, and her calculating insubordination to achieve her goal isn't unexpected (unless you're Picard or Data). She isn't a bad person -though clearly we're supposed to feel disapproving of her attitude and actions- but the situation isn't just painted as black and white, which is good.

Death by Space Misadventure
Carmen Davila (and an old man)
Carmen seemed to hold a senior position in the outpost on Melona Four and was overseeing something to do with the early stages of founding a colony there. It's possible she was a surveyor or architect, she knew where the buildings were going to be. She cared for both the idea of the colony and the people there. She lost her life when the Crystalline Entity attacked, trying to help an old man who had fallen while running to shelter.

The End
Marr asks Data how long he will live and is comforted to hear that there is no known end date for his existence, meaning he can sort of keep her son alive within him. She talks to Data as though he is her son and asks him to understand that she killed the Entity for him. Data says that there's nothing to suggest that her son would understand, he was proud of her career as a scientist and now she has thrown it away. Data says her son would be sad about what happened and he cannot give her any peace. It's kinda harsh and sad, even if you didn't agree with what Marr did.

20 February 2017


My son was born at the end of January, about a week before the due date and certainly earlier than I was expecting (first babies are more likely to be late). The delivery was under not-ideal circumstances as I had to rush into hospital (nearly had to go in an ambulance, but a lift appeared right on time) and 12 hours later had an emergency cesarean section. I was in hospital for a week after the birth as the baby had feeding issues initially and then my blood pressure went right up and I had to be monitored and put on medication before I could be discharged. I'm still being checked regularly and have to take medication, though it's being reduced now so hopefully I won't be on it for a lot longer.

We've now been home a couple of weeks and I'm settling into parenthood with loads of help and support from my wonderful husband, who has gotten 6 weeks off work. We're both pretty tired, but I think we've got the basics sorted out and we have support from local family and friends. I'm not sure I'm fully enjoying all the changes yet, but I'm sure that'll come as I feel better and the baby grows.

I haven't been outside of the house much since being discharged from the hospital, just a couple of trips round the corner so far. We have had various guests and lots of well-wishes, which is nice, turns out having a baby makes you kinda popular. We do have plans to get out of the house more, including visiting a few relatives in a different part of the country and going to register the baby in the city centre. Plus there are various baby groups/sessions in the local area. I do still need to figure out how to operate all the foldy bits on the pram and how best to handle it on the bus (I've seen a lot of people using prams on the bus, there are times it looks tricky).

19 January 2017


My due date is in 2 weeks and I am on maternity leave now. The last 8ish months have been an experience.

I know that I am very fortunate in many ways, I want to be pregnant and did not have much trouble achieving it. I also know many people have much rougher pregnancies than I have. One of the main things about pregnancy (or I suppose procreating in general) is that you don't have any idea how it's going to go until you try it. There are some common factors to pregnancy, but otherwise it's a lottery. I know at least one person who felt great when she was pregnant, but a lot of people feel terrible.

An early sign of pregnancy is that your sense of smell suddenly improves (it's one of the main things that isn't also a symptom of something else). I'd been told about this, but hadn't expected it to be enhanced so dramatically. For about  three months I was always tired and everything smelled; it was like a really useless version of being a werewolf. Not fun as it was summer (when bad smells tend to be stronger anyway) and I use public transport, which means being in fairly close proximity with strangers. It wasn't even just traditionally bad smells, a lot of artificial/cosmetic smells bothered me for a while. It turns out I don't have the most fragrant life (not a thing I'd ever really considered before) so I was glad to lose that power.

At present I'm moving very slowly, I can go a few yards at normal place then I have to slow right down. My father is in his 60s and has a pin in his hip but he was outpacing me last month. My husband reckons I have started to waddle.

I need to pee all the time, or at least I think I do. When you're pregnant you're supposed to drink a lot more than usual. It turns out my body can't tell the difference between my bladder being full of liquid, and my bladder being squashed by my uterus. Add to this the occasions when I'm pretty sure the baby has used my bladder as a punching bag and it's a perfect storm.
Me in Euston station last November

One nice thing is that I have never enjoyed looking in full length mirrors and other reflective surfaces so much in my life. I really like seeing the growing baby bump and the changes to my figure. It's also useful to see what the underside of the bump looks like cos I can't see much below my belly button.

I've been wearing men's jeans for months now. There's only one pair of my own jeans I can still wear. I realised that my husband's jeans fit better fairly early on, it's lucky we're a similar size. Then I realised that if I bought some slightly larger men's jeans I could wear them as I grew and my husband could wear them too. It's more cost effective than buying a load of specific maternity clothes, especially as I might not wear them again in a few months. I've found that as well as having far bigger pockets, men's trousers are generally much looser all over (not just in the crotch) and so more comfy and forgiving for a growing torso, if more likely to fall right down when unbuttoned.

Me and my husband did a partial de-cluttering that included throwing some stuff out and sending a load of stuff to be put in my parents' attic. Then we had a re-cluttering which mostly involved people giving us baby stuff and us buying new furniture. We now have extra storage space and no spare bed. I think we'll probably need a bigger house in the next couple of years, but should be OK for now.
I went to school with this guy. He looked different at 15.
A lot of DIY and cleaning has happened (with much help from my husband and parents), more is needed but the big stuff is done and it's a big improvement. I have already warned the washing machine that 2017 will mean a lot more work for all of us.

I still have a various things I'd like to do, but I'm big and slow-moving and knackered, so some of those might not happen for a while. I'm trying to be calm, but I have the feeling that at any moment I'm going to be terrified. Probably when the labour starts.

At the moment it's all waiting around, and though I'm not looking forward to the birth side of things I'm really excited to meet the baby.

Of course in a month I expect I'll be super sleep deprived.

20 December 2016

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

I'd quite been looking forward to this Netflix reunion show. I spent a good chunk of the first trimester of my pregnancy binge-watching Gilmore Girls when it came on Netflix. I'd watched most of the series before, but in bits and pieces on broadcast TV and mostly out of order, so it was nice to watch again while also getting a different perspective on things by seeing episodes in the correct order.

It was nice to see the characters again, to revisit old places, but structurally this was super odd. The usual tone and the whimsy are there and many of the emotions feel real, but it's all kind of hanging in space, and feels disconnected. So many plot lines are introduced then abandoned with limited impact. I suppose it could be the concept, the title makes it sound like a slice of life idea and I think that is part of what's at play here. In real life there's plenty of randomness, but we usually don't want that from our fiction, events progressing and flowing together is more satisfying. The changed format adds to this instead of 6 hour(ish) episodes there are 4 90-minute ones and I think that almost left too much space per episode. There's a lot of lingering shots on the sets and scenery, and a lot of scenes that don't lead to anything or are just gags. Various new characters are introduced, but we aren't really encouraged to get to know them and many are there for comedic value only, even when it looks like they will be significant or stick around. A lot of old characters appear, there are Stars Hollow regulars, all of Rory's exes and some of her friends. None of these characters are given much of substance to do except for Luke, and perhaps Logan in a small way. Everyone else just shows up, is a bit zany or whatever, and leaves relatively little impact. Paris is going through some stuff has, children that we aren't supposed to care about (did Rory even look at those kids more than once when she was babysitting them?) and is given a scene where she literally regresses to her teenage-self for no reason before disappearing.*

I was glad to see Sookie, though there was far too little of her. It really did feel like Sookie though and not just Melissa McCarthy doing the part (I've seen a lot more of her work since she became a biog film star). It was nice to see Alex Kingston, and she was funny first, but her plot never went anywhere, so that seemed like a bit of a waste. The Star Hollows Musical was funny, but ultimately pointless and seemed out of character for Taylor. It's good to see Lane again, but boy she is given very little to do. Also her life doesn;t seem to move on at all, she and her husband and their twins (who must be 8 or 10 or something) are still living in the shared flat with Brian. Is Brian in their relationship now? That would've been interesting, but the show isn't really bothered about these characters anymore. Michel has a husband -nice of them to finally confirm that the character isn;t straight- but we never get to see him and I'm curious.

Oy with the Spoilers Already

Although I enjoyed watching the comeback, I found that the main characters didn't seem to have progressed much and that mostly made me sad for them.
Luke and Lorelei didn't get married or have kids, which seemed to be where they were heading when the main show ended. They've been in a relationship and happily living together for 8 years (10 years?), which is fine and don't get why the show took so many pot shots at the idea of being in a relationship without marriage, loads of people do it and are very happy. The problem with Luke and Lorelei is that they just seem to have drifted aimlessly along together and have not once in a decade discussed their desires or relationship/family goals. The issue in the main show was often lack of communication, and it seemed in the last series they were getting over that, Luke admitted he used April as a way of driving Lorelei away. Lorelei realised she wanted Luke not Christopher, despite all the pressure to be with Christopher. So why, after they'd finally come together again, did they apparently never have another meaningful conversation? Luke is restrained and tight-lipped, but he does get in touch with and express his emotions when it counts, as proved when he asked Lorelei out to begin with, so why has he been unable to tell her he wanted kids until it was clearly too late? I just found myself judging them for being so uncommunicative.kn It's a similar issue with in Inn nand who even knows what the deal is between Lorelei and Sookie (I get that Melissa McCarthy was probably busy, but this seemed an odd way of dealing with that). The happy ending is nice, but even at his own wedding Luke takes a backseat to the titular girls.

Rory, who was always supposed to be bright and promising -although these expectations seemed to come entirely from people who had loved her since she was a child- has apparently wasted her potential. I get that she's meant to be a bit aimless, but honestly it seemed like she really had no plan or even much idea how to do her job. She'd clearly done a few impressive things, but her behaviour seemed a bit unprofessional or at least pretty lacklustre. I know little of journalism myself, but it seems like Rory was just flying about and not really doing much to advance her career. While she clearly had goals and aspirations she didn't seem to be putting in a lot of work, or planning for if her immediate goals/current projects didn't go through. The impression I get from the freelancers of my acquaintance is that you have to be willing to hussle and display a lot of tenacity and flexibility. Of course Rory doesn't really have to worry about it really as she has rich relatives and friends, and even not-very-wealthy friends, who will put her up and help her out. I guess if Rory's situation seemed to be a comment on precarious living styles, or quarter-life crisis, or millennial issues it would be more interesting, but it doesn't feel like any wider point is being made, Rory's just gadding about. I think she's supposed to be falling apart a bit, but I don't get why.

Then there's Emily, Emily's story gives me hope. Of course patriarch Richard Gilmore would be deceased as Edward Herrman -the actor who played him- had passed away. Emily is a widow and her life is full of grief and emptiness, the main show explored very deftly how Emily's entire life had been devoted to being a society wife. Like the other two main characters Emily goes through phases of action, reaction and freaking out in her own way -her calling out her friends' bullshit is priceless- and it all has so much more weight when she's grieving the loss of her husband, as opposed to just feeling aimless in her life. In the end Emily makes the most progress, though sadly much of it happens off screen. After firing maid after maid for not meeting perfection Emily ends up with a woman she can barely understand** looking after her and introducing a massive extended family to the house. Although Emily doesn't seem warm to the family it's clear that just being surrounded by people and children is good for her, especially when she didn't have much of that carefree joy in her own family. In the end she has found a new partner and relocated to a new home for a fresh start. Seeing her joy at giving a gory talk about whaling at a museum is wonderful and so uplifting. Bravo Emily!

* In a bit-part a briefly recurring character from the one of the middle seasons asks if she's walked into 2003, the answer is yes, but no one ever explains why, nor does it ultimately matter in the slightest.

** I think that whole joke is kinda problematic, because it seems to be all about a funny foreigner that no one can understand. Lack of understanding and a patronising attitude was expected when it's just Emily or the other main characters, but frankly the gag goes on too long. Hahaha, these people are so incomprehensible even someone from the UN can't tell what language they speak. Crazy foreigners with their manual labour and vast numbers of kids.

6 December 2016

Ensign Ro

Episode: s5, ep 3

The Bajorans are introduced and though they make far more sense than that Trill guy a while back I still have questions.

What Happens
After a visit to the ship's garrulous barber Picard is called to the Bridge. There's a distress call from a Federation colony near the Cardassian border, when they get there an audio message claims Bajoran responsibility for the destruction of the colony, they will attack more until they get their homeland back. Survivors (who we don't see) are taken to a star base and Picard meets with Admiral Sneezy (he got a Cardassian virus from a delegate at a function), who orders the Enterprise to find the leader of the Bajoran splinter group who destroyed the colony and take him and his people to the refugee camps. We learn that the Bajorans' home planet has been occupied by the Cardassians for 40 years; they are mostly refugees and aren't liked much. The Admiral says Picard can tell the Bajorans that now the Federation is allied with Cardassia they'll quietly pressure their allies to be less brutal. The Admiral has also arranged for the notorious Ensign Ro to come on the Enterprise, she was court-martialed and has a Bad Attitude, but she's Bajoran and the Admiral insists. No one is happy about this.
After a staff meeting where Ro is fatalistic and surly, Picard accompanies her to a Bajoran camp to meet a community leader. The camp leader doesn't condone the violence against the Federation, but he's also reluctant to help as Star Fleet has never helped them before. In 10 Forward Ro keeps people away with grumpiness, but Guinan talks to her and decides they will be friends, then Ro gets a private call from the Admiral. Later the Enterprise has presumably tracked the splinter group leader to a planet. An away team waits for Ro only to find she beamed down hours before. They follow her and are captured by Bajorans, the leader has been talking to Ro and says they didn't destroy the Federation colony. On the Enterprise Picard tells Ro off for beaming down alone and confines her to quarters.
Guinan comes to see Ro, who is annoyed and confused and doesn't know who to trust. Guinan says she can trust Picard and takes Ro to see him. Ro tells Picard that the Admiral gave her a secret mission to negotiate with the Bajoran leader and offer weapons and support against the Cardassians. It's against what the Federation stands for, but Ro felt she had to help her people. When she was told that Bajorans didn't destroy the colony she didn't know who to trust. Picard takes this seriously and asks if she can get the Bajoran leader to help find out more.
The Enterprise escorts a slow Bajoran ship to the camps. At the Cardassian border two ships appear and the Cardassians insist the terrorist ship is handed over to them. Picard refuses even though the Admiral said maintaining the Cardassian treaty was important. When the Admiral directly orders the Enterprise to withdraw the Cardassians destroy the Bajoran ship, but Picard reveals to Admiral that no one was harmed as ship was remote controlled, Ro's idea. He points out the Bajorans couldn't have attacked the colony as they don't have the resources or  ships and the Cardassians did it to trick the Admiral and use Star Fleet to resolve their terrorist problem.

Oh Captain My Captain
I'm not surprised to see that Picard is the kind of person who dislikes ideal chatter but feels like he awkwardly has to put up with it when someone is giving him a haircut. The barber fits various hairdresser stereotypes except for how he is blue and uses an ear laser.
Picard is concerned by the Enterprise being sent on the Bajoran mission and suggests that diplomacy would be better, which is odd really as the Enterprise does diplomatic missions a fair bit and Picard has a history of going to negotiations. Isn't he a kind of diplomat? Picard feels bad about the plight of the Bajorans, but it's clearly not something he's given much thought to as it's outside his experience. After visiting the refugee camp Picard offers aid to the residents, it's something he can do so easily. It is only through listening to Ro's experiences that he -and the viewers- come to understand the awful position Bajorans are in.
He gets angry when Ensign Ro is assigned to his crew without his knowledge, it's obviously not done in general and so it's especially bad when the officer in question has a dodgy record. As with every other Star Fleet officer (except maybe Crusher and Troi, who knows) Picard judges Ro by her reputation and service record. There's definite snobbery around the fact that this is the flagship and they have standards. Picard is right to punish Ro for the botched away mission, though we don't see him play headmaster that much. Once Picard has been encouraged to give Ro a chance he sees her value and gives her due credit for her plan. He even offers that she can stay on the Enterprise seeing the benefit of a crew member with a different outlook.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
As is often the case Riker is on same wavelength as Picard, also angry that they've been saddled with a dubious officer. Riker loves the ship so much he keeps turning down promotions in order to stay (not explicitly stated, but only thing that makes sense, especially as we know he's put career before love in the past), so he's really offended by someone who doesn't want to be there. He's obviously decided he's going to make things hard on Ro from the start. Probably lucky for her that she doesn't have to do any paperwork in the episode.

Guinan's Hat: purple then dark blue
As the only non-Star Fleet main character, and all around awesome person, Guinan is curious about Ro. Geordi bitches about how unworthy Ro is to wear the uniform, so Guinan leaves him mid-conversation to get to know Ro. While she does impose her company on Ro against her stated wishes Guinan is observant enough to see that the new Ensign might want a way out of her isolation. She talks candidly with Ro about herself as she does with everyone else, and asks without judgement about the incident that everyone else is whispering about. She ready to listen to Ro's side of things even if no one else is (with possible exception of Crusher and Troi). Guinan decides they'll be friends and mostly bemuses Ro. Later when Guinan leaves 10 Forward to see Ro we're reminded that both come from refugee backgrounds, it's not a major point but it's there and important. Guinan tells Ro she can trust Picard and alludes to their mysterious background, Picard got her out of trouble in the past. By bringing Ro to Picard and vouching for each to the other Guinan creates a sense of trust and safety that allows Ro to talk and Picard to listen.

Girl Talk
As Crusher and Troi were approaching Ro I felt hopeful that there might be a decent conversation between female characters. They ask to sit with Ro, showing they aren't judging her as the male senior staff are. Ro's immediate dismissal of them shows how surly she is and makes Guinan's persistence all the more impressive. Thank goodness for Guinan (that conversation is Bechdel-Wallace passing), but it feels (again -Redemption 2-) like the main female characters are barely allowed in an episode. They literally ask to be included but are immediately sent away (it's like writers don't know what to do with Crusher and Troi if they aren't needed to be healers/caregivers/sexy/mothers). I am happy with Guinan's role here and Ro is a good character with complex background, but Crusher and Troi are mostly treated like secondary characters.

They're Bajorans, But Not As I Know Them
Another species that seems odd at introduction when you've already got to know them through DS9, like the Trill. Here Bajorans are a refugee population and looked down on by most of the quadrant. There's little sign of a big, scattered Bajoran diaspora in DS9, though I suppose after the occupation most Bajorans might have just gone home, though that seems too big an undertaking to never be mentioned. From everything on DS9 I thought Bajor was a backwater planet that most hadn't heard of, I thought they were isolated, not spread out. Are the camps we see here on Bajor? The planet itself never gets mentioned once. Are the camps in Cardassian space?I get that Bajorans here are meant to be a symbol for groups that have been oppressed, occupied and exiled, but it's not explored very much. It almost seems like it's more about Cardassians being sneaky and Admirals being dodgy.
Ro's name causes friction when Picard gets it wrong, apparently most non-Bajorans don't understand that the family name comes first, and most Bajorans just put up with being called the wrong thing. It's a simple but effective example of cultural insensitivity and unknowing people being inconsiderate while the disadvantaged group puts up with it. Though I think in an interplanetary community there would surely be many names structured all different ways, and family name then personal name is hardly likely to be so odd. Several Earth cultures do the exact same thing, so how hard is it for a human get that right? Plus Picard has studied Bajoran culture so you'd think he would know it already. Also, it's not explicitly stated that Ro's earring is religious wear, but I understand that Bajoran earrings are. Would Riker/the uniform code have made someone remove a turban, a cross, a yarmulke or similar? Though suddenly I realise I've never seen anyone wearing anything like that on the Enterprise. Worf's sash is closest thing I've seen. Perhaps the uniform code really is that strict, which hardly seems supportive of people's cultures and faiths.
The nose wrinkles are kind of different, but it's not as jarring as the first time we saw a Cardassian on this show. People keep saying Bajoran differently to what I'm used to. Firstly the plural I am familiar with is Bajorans, but here people keep saying Bajora. Secondly Picard keeps saying it BaJARan, which may just be his accent, but it sounds odd to me.

Death by Space Misadventure
That Federation colony that was destroyed at the beginning presumably involved massive loss of life, but we see none of it and don't know how many died or how many survived. It's almost like the details don't matter.

The End
Ro asks what will happen to the Admiral, Picard reckons court-martial and Ro jokes about how she was in Star Fleet jail. Picard offers Ro a permanent position in Star Fleet and on the Enterprise, acknowledging her talents. She's relucatnt, certain that she doesn't fit, but Picard praises her defiant attitude and says he's seen it in some of his best officers. She relents, but only if she can wear her earring. They both beam up and I think things are supposed to be all jolly now, which is odd seeing as how nothing's changed for Ro's people and they're chatting in a refugee camp.

30 October 2016


Episode: s5, ep 2

I don't normally enjoy scrolling through lots of fan art and memes to find episode images, this episode is the exception.

What Happens
The Federation have received messages from an enigmatic race called the Tamarians. Previous attempts at communication have been incomprehensible and the recent messages don't have clear content. The Tamarians are letting the Federation know they're there, but no one is sure why, so the Enterprise goes to investigate. They hail the Tamarian ship, but the Tamarians speak in a series of names and short phrases, neither Data nor the ship's translators can understand the meaning. Picard tries to suggest diplomatic relations, but this doesn't go anywhere. The Tamarian captain discusses Darmok at Tanagra with his crew, who seem shocked by his words. He does a symbolic-looking gesture then he and Picard are beamed to the planet's surface and the alien ship creates a barrier that blocks transporters and communications.
Riker tries to get Picard back, but the communication issues with the Tamarians remain. Worf suggests an aggressive approach, Riker wants to avoid that. Picard and the alien captain are monitored by sensors from the Enterprise. The senior staff realise the Tamarians talk entirely in references, but without the context they can't get at the meaning. Data and Troi look at what the Tamarian captain said before he and Picard went to the planet, they figure out that Darmok is a semi-mythical hunter and Tanagra is an island continent. Geordi tries to get through the barrier using tech, but this doesn't work. Worf tries to go down to the planet in a shuttle, but the Tamarians won't let him, although they're careful not to do lasting damage.
On the planet Picard and the Tamarian captain try to communicate, Picard is frustrated because he doesn't know why they're there. He keeps trying to figure out the other captain's phrases, but offers no teaching about his own words. At night the Tamarian offers Picard some of his fire when the Star Fleet captain can't get his own going. In the morning the Tamarian is gone, but Picard finds what he thinks is a journal, though he can't understand the writing. The Tamarian races over and Picard at first thinks he's angry, but a distant roar reveals that the danger is elsewhere. The two captains face down a beastie that phases in and out of sight. As the beastie attacks Picard is nearly beamed away, but the Enterprise can't get a lock on him and when he's returned to the planet the Tamarian is badly injured.
Round a campfire the Tamarian tells Picard the story of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, two men who came separately across the sea, meet during a hunt and become friends while fighting together. Picard realises that his companion has tried recreating this story between the two of them in order to forge a bond, perhaps just between them or between their people. Picard tells his friend the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, then the Tamarian dies, mirroring the fate of Enkidu.* Picard lays his friend to rest and says he understands his sacrifice. He hears the creature's roar. When the Enterprise sees that the other captain has died Riker is determined to retrieve Picard and they attack the Tamarian ship to destroy the barrier. The ships exchange fire, the barrier is destroyed and Picard beamed away just as the beastie is about to attack. The Enterprise is damaged so they can't go to warp. Picard hails the Tamarian ship and uses the phrases he picked up to explain what happened to their captain, then presents his friend's journal, which is beamed away. The hostilities stop and Picard isn't sure if they've made friends, but at least they aren't enemies.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard is keen to communicate with patience and imagination and is sure the Tamarians aren't truly incomprehensible. He doesn't demonstrate this at all when actually confronted with them. Although neither group have any idea what the other is saying Picard initially suggests a mutual non-aggression pact, trade agreement or cultural exchange. These are not the best concepts to begin with when facing communication and language issues, maybe just start with a friendly greeting? Despite his earlier confidence he doesn't seem comfortable with a situation he can't talk his way out of. The Tamarian captain's solution to the issue is pretty drastic, kidnapping his counterpart and putting them both in dangerous situation to forge a bond. Even if this is the kind of thing that is more acceptable in their culture the Tamarian deputy is pretty shocked by the plan. It's just lucky Picard is wearing a warmer version of his usual uniform, although he couldn't have known in advance that he'd end up spending the night outside.
On the planet Picard first assumes that when he is handed a dagger it is so the two of them can fight, and he throws it back at his companion. It is clear from the other Captain's body language that he is disappointed, but also determined to see his plan through. Each keeps trying to communicate, and the Tamarian initially extends a hand of friendship, but of course he knows why they're there. I'm surprised more isn't made of body language and gesture as other methods of communication. Both are humanoid, space-faring people, so one would think certain similarities could be found, but I suppose that isn't the focus of the episode. Once the danger of the teleporting beastie (if it is teleporting, I'm not really sure and I don't think it matters) is plain the two work in concert through necessity. Picard does not stop talking, even when they're fighting the beastie. He's dismayed when he's nearly beamed away and his friend is injured. Picard grasps the story of Darmok and Jalad at Tenegra and how that relates to their situation; a purposeful recreation of a story. He picks up the meaning, if not the context of many other Tamarian phrases. There's no sign that Picard tries to impart any of his language to his companion, but again the focus is Picard learning, not teaching. 
Picard tells the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu to his injured friend, and although he knows that he can't understand the bulk of the words he tells a simplified version. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known work of human fiction, although Picard only tells one section of it and misses out the bits with the harlot and the goddess.** It has parallels with the Darmok story, two men who come together and participate in a hunt then become friends. It is natural therefore that events should mirror the story with one of the newly-made friends dying. Picard determines that his friend's death shouldn't be in vain, though there's no indication of what the follow-through is, other than Picard using his language skills to prevent hostilities in the short term.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
While Picard is away Riker demonstrates the leadership skills that people keep offering him promotions for. He does all the stuff Picard would probably do. he tries talking to the Tamarians, but they mostly ignore him and he doesn't have Picard's calm. He calls a staff meeting to discuss the situation, including how to communicate with the Tamarians and how to destroy or get around the barrier. The Tamarians make it clear that they won't allow anyone else to go down to the planet, although they too are careful not to escalate the situation. It is only as they realise that Picard and the other Captain are in real danger that Riker becomes more threatening towards the other ship. He doesn't understand their apparent indifference to their Captain's fate, not realising that the Tamarians are in fact displaying loyalty to their Captain's wishes. Once the Tamarian captain dies Riker is willing to attack the other ship to save Picard, but like his counterpart he only uses the force necessary to achieve his aim of destroying the barrier and getting Picard back.

Klingon Warrior
Typically Worf is wary about not knowing motive for the messages, says they could be threatening the Federation border, the others ignore his concerns. After Picard is taken Worf wants to attack the Tamarian ship, but Riker holds him back to find a peaceable solution. Worf is sent to the planet in a shuttle to retrieve Picard, but the barrier causes communication problems and as he gets close the Tamarians fire on the shuttle, just enough to damage it without injury. It is clear the Tamarians still on the ship are being careful and deliberate.

Planet of... Pop Culture References
An entire method of communicating through reference to and imagery from shared stories. It's an interesting thing to explore and means that the little-mentioned -but presumably oft-used- universal translators in Trek only work to an extent. Given how much references are used to communicate in online spaces this concept feels pretty forward-looking. I really like the focus on narrative, history and myth as a method of communication and by creating even the little cultural background we get here it gives the Tamarians more depth than most of the random species that turn up for an episode. Also I'm totally here for Classical and ancient references, so the brief tale from the Epic of Gilgamesh was a lovely surprise.
ETA: So looking through images for this ep I now understand a lot more memes. Also the meta-ness of all this is a thing of beauty.

Not from this ep, but made me giggle
Staff Meetings: 3
1. Picard and senior crew discuss the Tamarian situation and the history of their ambiguous and confusing contact. Worf is wary (natch) and Troi says all previous encounters suggest peaceful intentions so they have to start from there. Picard is (misguidedly) confident about communicating.
2. Riker runs a staff meeting about getting Picard back. Geordi thinks he can help but it'll take a day to work. Worf isn't concerned about Picard's safety as he's convinced of the captain's skills as a warrior, but he does think they should attack to end the stalemate. Troi says they don't know whether it's a challenge and Data says further study could help. Riker wants to leave violence as a last resort, and tells Troi and Data to study.
3. After failing to beam Picard back and realising the Tamarian captain is injured Riker says they have to take out the barrier. Geordi and Worf figure out a way to do it fast using the ship's weapons, Riker ends them to sort that out. Troi and Data report that their research revealed the Tamarians abstract unusually and communciate entirely in imagery based on narrative. They've found definitions for Darmok and Tanagra, bit without knowing the stories behind the words they can't understand the meaning of what is being said. So all that research was a dead end really.

Death by Space Misadventure
Captain Dathon (whose name is said in dialogue only once at the very end and I had to check a transcript and Memory Alpha to be sure that's what it was), who gave his life to create a bond with an incomprehensible alien. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Shaka when the walls fell.

The End
Riker brings Picard a damage report and notices that the captain is reading Greek. Picrad says he's reading the Homeric Hymns, believing that a greater understanding of the root narratives of their own culture may help in future interactions with the Tamarians. Picard wistfully points out that his friend's commitment to communication between them meant more than his life. Picard stands sombrely by his tall window, framed from outside the ship.

* No spoiler warning seeing as how the Epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest known narrative in human history. An epic poem from Sumerian (the oldest known language) and Akkadian, it was told in ancient Mesopotamia (Middle East) back in the early days of human civilisation. Gilgamesh's adventures don't end with Enkidu's death though and the story is worth looking up if you're interested in that kind of thing.

** I'm always amused that some translations of Gilgamesh use the term harlot, presumably because the translations were done by respectable, scholarly men in the 1950s. There's another Mesopotamian myth with a male character in a similar role and he is at times referred to as a play-boy, because there's no good term for a male harlot.