23 November 2013

Shades of Gray

Episode: s2, ep22

Riker gets in touch with his inner goddess whilst suffering from futuristic, empathic gangrene in this clip show that finishes the second series.

What Happens
In a swamp Geordi sees Riker wounded by something that jabbed him in the leg. O'Brien can't beam him up because of unidentified microbes. Pulaski goes down to examine him then authorises Riker to be transported to sickbay.
Mr Grey got too rough
Riker stays upbeat, cracking jokes even as things looks bad. The microbes move up his body and if they reaches his brain he'll die. Picard orders Data and Geordi to get a sample of whatever stung Riker so Pulaski can examine it. Turns out it was a carnivorous vine that immobilies its prey. Unfortunately the sample doesn't tell Pulaski much. Riker continues to be upbeat and tells Troi that even when facing death he's setting an example. Riker passes out as Troi holds his hands, the illness has gotten to his spinal cord, it will reach his brain within an hour. Pulaski sticks spikes into Riker's brain and Troi stays with him.
Meanwhile, in the dungeon
  • Beardless Riker beams onto a stormy planet alone and calls out for the away team in The Last Outpost
Pulaski's brain spikes are stimulating neural activity and Troi can sense what Riker is feeling.
No grey tie?
  • Riker goes into forest on the holodeck and meets Data for the first time, comparing him to Pinocchio in Encounter at Farpoint
  • Riker and Guinan give Wesley dating advice, but they get really into it and hilariously ignore Wesley in The Dauphin
  • Riker says goodbye to Troi when he's going to leave for a new posting in The Icarus Factor
Teaching seduction
Troi says Riker has relaxed and Pulaski says that reliving memories is a side-effect. The microbe is reacting to his mood, so Pulaski changes frequency to see what happens.
  • Riker and the away team see the adult fun to be had on the bimbo planet in Justice
  • Riker meets Minuet, his ideal holo-woman  in 11001010
    Has she signed a contract?
Troi senses passionate, erotic emotions as Riker's memories of Minuet continue.
Pulaski notices growth rate of organism has doubled. Troi says they've made it worse. Pulaski reckons its something to do with endorphines, she changes frequencies again.
Pulaski notices the growth has slowed and Troi senses he's sad. Negative emotions stop the growth. Pulaski and Troi need to isolate strong negative emotion memories, but the treatment could be bad for Riker
Klingons don't need dungeons
  • Riker is posted on a Klingon ship, taking an oath and having a fight in A Matter of Honour
  • Riker is shown a brain louse by a corrupted Admiral and they fight in Conspiracy 
These memories are about fighting, because of course Rik is fighting the illness. Do you see, do you?
 Troi senses his primal, survival instincts. Troi insists Pulaski does more, the doctor is wary because he's so weak, but there's little choice.
Getting handsy
  • Riker is threatened by a desperate junkie with lightning hands in Symbiosis
  • Riker first encounters hostile Ferengis in The Last Outpost 
  • Riker is dragged into the tar creature and makes a scary face in Skin of Evil
Too much latex
Pulaski is desperate and tightens the pattern further at Troi's suggstion.
  • Riker and Picard set the auto-destruct in 1001001110
  • Riker and others escape a soon-to-explode ship, they nearly don't make it and see ship exploding as they beam out in Heart of Glory
A montage of violent memories:
Junkie attacks, Admiral shoots, Auto destruct, Data fixes, Tar creature grabs, Klingon fights, Auto destruct, Assassin killed, Fighting Klingon, Ship explodes, Ship destroyed, Brain louse queen explodes, Ship explodes
Inner brain louse

Riker's vitals improve and Pulaski confirms the infection is eradicated.
Riker wakes (with puncture scars on his head) and talks to Troi. Pulaski delivers the good news, but has to run lots of tests and warns of possible memory loss.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management... and survivor
Riker's bravery and good humour in the face of death is amazing and it's no surprise that Picard and Troi are impressed. Riker's talk about setting an example and showing good character in this ultimate test is admirable. Having said that the lack of negative emotion gave me pause, surely Riker feels sad or sacred or angry or something? He's gotten worked up and displayed negative personality treats over less, then again perhaps his impending death gave him clarity.
I wholeheartedly agree with Riker's surprise that this kind of thing doesn't happen more often. "After all, we are exploring the unknown." Space is really dangerous and lots of bad stuff goes down there. (Actually that sentence kinda sums up most space-based SF.)

Doctor Doctor
Pulaski is obviously called to assess the Riker situation. O'Brien offers to override the transporter and beam Riker aboard anyway but Pulaski says she'll go down and check on him. Her respect quarantine regs makes me strangely happy (I saw Prometheus for the first time a few months ago and had to be shushed for going on about quarantine - but the lack of sense was maddening to me.) It's also cool that Pulaski beams down herself considering her fear of transporters.
Pulaski tells the Captain that whatever is inside Riker can't be removed without destroying Riker's nerves. It's moving through his body pretty quickly, amputation time surely? It seems the obvious solution. I mean its the 24th century, they must have good prosthetic limbs and losing a leg is surely better than losing his life.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi is given useful stuff to do this episode, which is good. Stuff that is relevant to her skills, her actual job and her relationship with Riker.

The End
Just as Riker is warned of possible memory loss Data and Picard come in. Riker pretends he thinks he is Picard. Picard pretends Data is an admiral. Data takes the joke literally and tells Picard he isn't able to promote him to Admiral. All is jolly once more.

Some might say that it's an odd choice to end a series of an ensemble show on a clip-filled episode that focuses almost entirely on one character, but clearly those people did not get what was going on here.

So series 2 was a slight, if still uneven, improvement on series 1. I'm told it gets better from series 3 (though I recall people saying that about series 2). To finish I'd just like to mention Scroll Down to Riker.

10 November 2013

Thor the Dark World

Thor the Dark World was better than the first Thor film. The characters and world are already established so there's more depth to the story and we get to see bits of the nine realms we didn't get to see before. There are various good character moments and interesting use of the science/magic/alien tech that was introduced but not much explored in the first installment. Thor has developed, he's grown more thoughtful, plus he's less of a fish out of water on Earth. Odin seems pretty much the same, which is kind of a problem. Jane Foster and Darcy seem to be pretty much the same characters, which is no bad thing, especially with Darcy. Jane and Thor's relationship develops, but in pretty much expected ways. Loki is imprisoned for his crimes, but then his unique skills are needed by Thor. Dr Eric Selvig went crazy in the aftermath of the Avengers, but that's no surprise and his sciencing is still important. Also there are dark elves and their leader wants to turn the universe to darkness.

There are two end credit scenes. One halfway through and one at the very end. I personally felt one was better than the other.

Beware, there are spoilers below.

There are some new characters, in the slightly hapless blokes that Jane and Darcy encounter. Ian and Richard are clearly there for comedy purposes, but that works well enough and means that Chris O'Dowd is in a couple of scenes, which is no bad thing. We also see a lot more of Frigga, Thor and Loki's mother, who turns out to be kinda awesome, so its sad that she's killed before we get to see much of what she can do. It is clear that a lot of the illusions and stuff Loki does are things he learned from her, rather than anything to do with being born a frost giant (in fact the whole frost giant thing is never really touched on, it's more about the fact he's adopted).

It's easy to forget how menacing Christopher Eccleston can be, he does a good line in scary bad guys. Of course as Malekith, ruler of the Dark Elves, he looks pretty creepy to begin with and Eccleston's presence backing it up. The premise is that Dark Elves were around before light came to the universe and want things back the way they were, it means there doesn't have to be any character development as far as the villain is concerned (I was reminded of Eccleston playing the Dark Rider in The Dark is Rising - a bad film in which he plays a character with basically the same motivation, but no reason for it). This isn't a bad thing as there's plenty of character development in just about every other part of the film, and of course Loki's position is complicated by not being the antagonist, but not being trusted by the protagonists either.

Loki is less the evil, murdering bastard of the Avengers and more the moody, untrustworthy trickster he started as. What became clear to me is that despite of the lack of genetic link Loki is very much Odin's son, I'm fairly convinced Odin used to be a right bastard, and his gruff, disapproving way with his sons is a real problem. There's tensions between Odin and Thor because Odin, despite his earlier speech to Loki about humanity, is entirely dismissive of Jane Foster as a partner for an Asgardian prince. I reckon Odin might as well allow Thor to have some fun with his human woman, I mean she'll be dead before century passes, but Odin just doesn't want anyone deviating from what he wants. Loki might try to distance himself from his adopted father, but even he points out that he hasn't really done much that Odin wouldn't do, which is fitting given the twist at the end. That is something they will have to explore more in later films.

I liked the scenes in London, partly because (like in Skyfall) the city wasn't glamorised, it had grotty bits and the weather also seemed realistic. I liked the weird gravity/spatial anomalies and how people played with them. That was also something I liked a lot about the big fight at the end. The gravity distortions and random portals had a real impact on the action and were used in ways that made sense and were also comedic. The film balanced its serious bits quite well with the mostly lighthearted tone.

The first end credit scene is clearly a nod to the wider Marvel film plan, and also made Marvel boy (my husband) squeak with excitement as the macguffin of this film is sent to a really dodgy-looking bloke to be guarded - Asgardians lack healthy suspicion it seems. The second shows Thor and Jane properly reunited.

Overall it's a good continuation of the Thor franchise and fits nicely into the overall Marvel film universe.

3 November 2013

Peak Performance

Episode: s2, ep21

A visitor to the Enterprise doesn't create a security breach and Wesley contributes to, but is not responsible for, saving the day.

What Happens
The Enterprise is doing a wargame exercise, to be devised and monitored by a guy whose species have a reputation for brilliant strategies. Picard will have the Enterprise and Riker be given an old ship. Strategy Guy is arrogant, which is the way of his people. Riker challenges Strategy Guy to some game that Strategy Guy is a Grand Master of, Riker knows he won't win but it's an honour to play this guy. Pulaski, who doesn't like the visitor's attitude, says Data should play because of his computer brain. The game looks like 3D Pong and only lasts a few seconds, Riker loses and everyone is disappointed because they were hoping for some entertainment.
Riker and his team (including Geordi, Worf and Wesley) go to the old ship, the engine is damaged so warp will be impossible. Riker gives Wes the option of returning to the Enterprise, but the acting-ensign says he'll stay. Riker asks Strategy Guy why it's a mismatch, but it turns out that's part of the exercise. Strategy Guy doesn't think much of Riker from what he's read in his file. Wesley retrieves a "project" he's meant to be working on from the Enterprise, which he beams to Geordi. Pulaski tries to get Strategy Guy and Data to play the game, Data agrees because Pulaski wants it. Data loses, but is much closer than Riker was. Pulaski doesn't understand, she thought Data was meant to be infallible. Troi visits Data, who takes himself off Bridge duty because he believes he is faulty. Se isn't able to convince him that it's OK to make mistakes.
Riker catches Wesley and Geordi plugging Wesley's experiment into the old ship. Riker claims it's cheating, but Wesley points out that Riker told him to improvise. Pulaski visits Data and accuses him of sulking. She's sorry she got him to do it and feels guilty about how its affected him. Pulaski and Troi tell Picard about Data's lack of confidence and say only the Captain can help. Picard thinks they're fussing but orders Data back to the Bridge. Data tries to figure out how Riker will approach the wargame.
The game begins with Picard using an obvious manoeuver, Worf surprises the Enterprise with a fake Romulan warbird allowing the old ship to attack. Geordi says the old ship can try going to warp, but there's no guarantee it will work. A real Ferengi ship appears, Strategy Guy insists the Enterprise abandons the old ship to save the greater numbers, Picard refuses and speaks to the Ferengi. They want to know why the Federation ships are acting oddly, they assume the old ship has something valuable onboard and trap them. The Federation crews concoct a plan. The Enterprise makes it look like they've blown up the old ship and Worf scares the Ferengi off with another illusion. Strategy Guy sheepishly admits he underestimated Riker.
Data plays Strategy Guy again, stays calm while the Grand Master panics and eventually suspends the game. Data altered his parameters for playing the game and played to draw, not win, thus confounding his opponent.

Guest Star
It's Armin Shimmerman as a Ferengi, again. I guess Quark's cousins really get everywhere.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard resisted wargames at first because he believes Starfleet is not a military organisation and is for exploration. However in the face of the Borg threat he decided it would be good to hone tactical skills that might be needed in a crisis.
When Strategy Guy expresses his low opinion of Riker Picard takes him into his ready room and demands to know what his problem is. Strategy Guy studied Riker's file and thinks he isn't up to the job, he's too jovial for a start. Picard warns him against underestimating Riker, who is the finest first officer he's had. Picard also points out that his joviality fosters loyalty among the crew.
Picard is confused when Troi and Pulaski ask him to help restore Data's confidence, he doesn't think Data is capable of the emotion, and Pulaski says it's probably programming but the effect is the same. Though the game starts soon Picard grudgingly agrees to help and orders Data to figure out how to beat Riker.
Picard tries to talk to the Ferengi, to try and resolve things peacefully. Picard is unwilling to leave the 40 crew members stranded on the old ship, though it puts the Enterprise in danger and Strategy Guy tells him there are no other options. He gets the crew to come up with other options which is similar to his approach in the previous episode.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
Though Strategy Guy is dismissive of him its clear that the rest of the crew are behind Riker. They cheer him on when playing the strategy game he can't win. Picard more or less says that Riker gets on better with the crew than he does. When Picard asks Data how to win Data lists some of Riker's previous battle successes and explains that Riker rarely relies on traditional tactics and uses cunning. It's also true that Riker will be more aggressive the weaker his position because he doesn't give up.
Riker tells Picard to leave him and his skeleton crew in order to save the Enterprise from the Ferengi. He agrees to Data's very risky plan in the hopes that it will save all of them, being cunning and risky its right up his street.

Does Not Compute
Data is persuaded by Pulaski to play Strategy Guy at the game, although Data feels no need to prove himself he wants to please Pulaski. He is shocked when he doesn't win, having been convinced by Pulaski that he will -though he probably didn't realise that was what happened. He stays in his quarters testing himself, convinced he is faulty. Troi tries to discuss ego and making mistakes with him and Pulaski accuses him of sulking and apologises for putting him in that position. Data claims he doesn't have ego, but why else would he be disappointed? Data's confidence restored by Picard ordering him to leave self doubt behind, because everyone else manages to operate in the knowledge that they'll make mistakes. Data's plan saves everyone and at the end he realsies he took the wrong tack in trying to beat Strategy Guy and successfully replays him.

Doctor, Doctor
It's no surprise Pulaski wants to see Strategy Guy taken down a peg or two, he is an arse. Though its rather unfair of her to basically trick Data into playing when Data has no desire to do so. I think she still doesn't see Data as a person for the most part and she just assumes Data will win as she wouldn't with anyone else. At least later she realises that her complete confidence in Data is what makes it so hard for him when he loses, and she apologises for that. I really like that that she compares Data to "Achilles sulking in his tent", because it's nice to have an Ancient Greek reference every now and then. Pulaski is the one who gets Picard to help Data, and though she fully believes Data is sulking she still isn't sure if his reactions are emotions or programming. I guess that's the puzzle with Data, and even he doesn't seem to know. She does seem more perceptive than Troi in this case, but I'm never sure if Troi can actually sense anything from Data, even if he is experiencing emotions.

Klingon Warrior
Worf is not impressed by Strategy Guy, his people are renowned for their tactics, not prowess as warriors. Worf also doesn't see the point of the wargame as there are no stakes. Worf is the one who creates a fake Romulan ship to distract the Enterprise, and later a fake Federation ship to scare the Ferengi (though I'm not sure how he does the latter as it's his familiarity with the Enterprise security tht allows him to do the former). Surely this kind of distracting tactic is not honourable? I mean Klingons are more about hitting stuff than using guile. Maybe it's fine if it's not a real battle, or if you're facing Ferengi?

Riker recruits Wesley for his team, for education observation. Wesley is certain they don't have a prayer based on the condition of the old ship, but Riker tells him they're meant to improvise. Wesley hatches a plan and gets back on the Enterprise, using his status as a kid who has homework, to get sneak away a gadget he made. It allows the old ship the possibility of a brief period of warp. This turns out to be vital later when dealing with the Ferengi. It means that in a way Wesley helps save the day, but so do Worf and Geordi and Riker and Picard, and especially Data. It's a team effort and Wesley's involvement is low key way with no smugness or particular acknowledgement. An improvement on some of the earlier plotlines with Wesley smugly swooping in and besting all the adults.

Staff Meetings: 4
1. In the observation lounge Strategy Guy explains how the wargame will work. Riker will have 48 hours to ready the old ship then the Enterprise's weapons will be taken offline and battle conditions will be simulated by modified lasers that count the scores (it's laser tag - in SPACE!). It was at this point (just after the credits) that I was certain real danger would show up during the game, it's how these things work.
2. Pulaski and Troi go to Picard's ready room and insist he help Data get over his profound loss of confidence. Picard doesn't take it as seriously as them, but goes to Data all the same.
3. Data reports on Riker and his likely tactics in the observation lounge. His conclusions take into account Riker's previous record. Troi stops Data from over-analysing and guides him through assessing Riker's character as a fighter, espeically against poor odds. Data asks if that's a human flaw, and Troi says he must dcide that for himself.
4. Discussion takes place on comms between the observation lounge on the Enterprise and the Bridge of the old ship. Picard asks for options, Data explains his plan to make it look like the Enterprise destroys the old ship, allowing it to escape without the Ferengi looking for it.

Security Breach
Not even Worf suggests that maybe it's a bad idea to disable all the weapons. Obviously for the purpose of the wargame they can't really shoot at each other, but if it's that important to the Federation surely a guard ship could be sent. Or else hold the thing in a secure/quiet part of Federation space, not somewhere hostile forces can rock up at any time.

The End
Data plays Strategy Guy again, the scores get higher and it goes on longer until eventually Strategy Guy suspends the game petulantly because he can't win. Data reveals to his friends that he was playing to draw, that way Strategy Guy misjudged his intentions and Data could play for balance rather then victory. Data could have played him indefinitely and though he technically didn't win everyone thinks he's victorious. It's all jolly.