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.