6 December 2017

Masterpiece Society

Episode: s5, ep 13

Genetic predestination meets the glow-ball of doom.

What Happens
The Enterprise is following a big, glowy sun fragment, it's going near a planet that's unexpectedly populated by humans. The crew try to contact the doomed, domed settlement to warn them they need to evacuate. The leader of the settlement refuses, they're totally sealed in. Picard explains about transporters and the Leader is intrigued, he agrees that a few people can come and talk options. You just know it's going to be one of  those settlements.
Under the dome, the Leader explains to Riker, Troi and Geordi that the whole community is precisely genetically modified and attuned to the environment, according to the plan of their founders. Everyone's genes and functions are mapped out, no one wonders about what they'll do with life. The away team explain the danger; their biosphere won't survive glow-ball proximity. Grumpy Judge is very defensive and wants the away team gone. Just the presence of strangers has an effect on the environment. Leader is more open to contact, especially with Troi (nudge nudge, wink wink, etc.). Evacuation is not an option anyone seems willing to take. Geordi meets with a Physicist, who is fascinated by transporters and other tech. She has an idea to move the glow-ball away, there isn't enough power in the settlement, but maybe the Enterprise can help? She gets permission to work on the problem with Geordi on the ship, making her the first person to ever leave. Troi stays on the planet, she obviously wants to spend more time with Leader.
Geordi gets on well with Physicist, despite the rampant ableism that is a tenet of her society and means she reacts rudely to him as a blind person. In fact Geordi's visor turns out to be the solution to their engineering problem, which makes him rightfully pleased. Leader and Troi get closer, and then they kiss. They go on about how it's wrong, but continue anyway (I think we're to assume sex happens). I'm not really sure why it's wrong, at least not for Troi. It turns out that even with moving the glow-ball there will still be too much damage to the biosphere, unless some Federation engineers improve the shielding. Grumpy Judge objects, he thought the away team of three was too many. Leader allows it, because otherwise they'll be destroyed.
The glow-ball passes and it works, but Physicist is unhappy about returning after all she's seen outside. She tries to pretend there was damage in order to force an evacuation, but Geordi knows she's lying. She's realised that being isolated from the rest of humanity means that she's been outstripped scientifically. Geordi points out that discoveries are often made because they're needed, but these people had no pressing needs before. Leader is sad Troi is leaving, but she can't stay and he won't go, he's exactly where he's meant to be. Physicist isn't only one curious about outside, the population were intrigued by the engineering crews. Physicist and others request asylum. The balance of the society is so carefully planned that if more than one or two people leave it'll ruin the place. Picard is in an awkward situation as he can't refuse asylum seekers, but can't deny that the skills-gap they leave behind will destabilise the settlement. Leader argues for his people to stay as the Founders intended, even though he privately admits he understand their desire to leave. He tries to get them to stay for 6 more months, which Picard thinks is fair, but Physicist refuses. In the end 23 people leave. Troi parts from Leader; I don't feel bad because she seemed guilty about the whole thing anyway, and who needs that?

Oh Captain My Captain
While talking to Troi about convincing people to evacuate Picard expresses his distaste at "dubious scientific endeavour" turned to dogma. He's against genetic engineering, as seems to be common among 24th century humans. In this specific case Picard believes they've given away their humanity (which seems a little strong) and bred out many of the things that make life worth living, like uncertainty and self-discovery. Not that he'd say that to any of the people involved, he's a diplomat after all. Troi questions him on this; it seems she's been a bit swayed by Leader.
The real philosophical issue actually comes late in the episode, which is whether Picard is right to grant asylum when doing so will wreck the society for those who stay behind. Of course Picard can't refuse an asylum request, and will take the people if they want to go. He's willing to swing by again later, to give people time to consider their decision. He discusses this with Leader, and while both men understand the other's viewpoint, they both have duties they will not swerve from. It's probably easier for Picard, since he thinks the idea behind their culture is wrong-headed. It's sort of a nice that Leader can privately admit his own feelings to Picard, as men in similar positions of authority.

Blind Engineering
Here we see that Geordi can be perfectly appropriate and professional working with women when he doesn't have feelings for them. More of this please, and less of the deeply-irritating creeper that Geordi becomes when attraction is in the mix.*
In this situation Geordi is very much the victim of ableism. Grumpy Judge makes it very clear that he's looking down on Geordi for being blind, and also looking down on Geordi's entire society for even letting him exist, which is awful. (It's interesting that Grumpy Judge is also played by a black actor, I guess so the focus could be on the discrimination against disability, rather than anything racial.) Even while he is working well with Physicist, the attitudes she's been raised with are an issue. She awkwardly asks if he's always been blind, and he apologises for taking his visor off and shocking her, which he didn't need to do. She assumes he's embarrassed, which angers him because he's always been this way and he's never been embarrassed about it. This is the kind of thing that makes me feel good about the way the future is depicted in this version of Trek, because clearly Geordi has lived in an environment where his disability was not a cause of bad treatment or problematic assumptions, or at least he was raised in a way that meant stuff like that rarely bothers him. Having gotten annoyed he presses her on how he wouldn't have even existed on her world. She replies with what she's been conditioned to say, that the founders didn't want anyone to suffer a life with disability. Geordi angrily asks what gave them the right to decide he had nothing to contribute and shouldn't exist. Physicist isn't sure how to respond, so expresses an interest in his visor, this is safer ground and allows the awkwardness to dissipate (not that the awkwardness was unjustified, she was expressing assumptions that were very offensive to Geordi). The visor conversation leads to the solution for moving the glow-ball and Geordi is smugly pleased that a visor for a blind man is the answer to saving a society where blindness isn't allowed to exist.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi and Leader were clearly crushing on each other from the start, which might have informed how receptive each was to the other's culture. When Troi stayed on the planet a while I figured they were hooking up, but then it turns out that they'd both been holding back, at first. The reasons seem to be that it's against his culture; whether that has to do with sex, relationships, or not increasing the general contamination from outsiders, is not made clear. Frankly I would've liked more details on this, if I'm supposed to care about this clearly-temporary relationship then knowing the stakes involved is useful. Anyway, the point is that all the issues with this relationship are on his side, but Troi seems to be the one lumbered with all the guilt. She confesses to Picard like she's done something bad (and I'm sure it's the kind of detail Picard is uncomfortable knowing about), but I honestly can't see the issue. There's no Prime Directive conflict and neither Troi nor Leader appeared to be committed to anyone else. Maybe it's a little unprofessional, but Riker has sex with people he meets on missions, and that doesn't cause any comment. In fact Riker has literally had sex with the leader of another culture while on a mission, and he just got to enjoy himself. Maybe Troi feels like she led Leader astray, but he's a grown man -one who was literally bred to be in a position of responsibility- so I'm sure he can sort himself out. It may break his cultural beliefs, but he's not the one protesting, so I'm not sure what she's blaming herself for. Honestly I think I bounced so hard off this because Troi seems to be taking on a load of bad feelings for no clear reason. Maybe it's an empath thing, which really sucks for her.

Planet of... GM Ableists
These people live in a sealed biosphere, the environment outside is entirely inhospitable to humans, and the rest of humanity don't know they're there. Those founders were really keen that no one within their experiment would have the option to leave. They say that the biome is attuned to the people there and so any foreign bodies are harmful, but is that even true or just what they've been told so they won't interact with the outside? (I thought this was going to be an episode where a population realises their founders/elders lied to them all along and it was actually a prison colony or something.) Of course genetic modification is a major taboo in the Federation -at least among humans- due to Khan, but even if you're broadly OK with the idea this situation is really messed up. The culture is pretty oppressive; everyone is bred for their role in life and presumably trained for that their whole lives. They say everyone is happy not having a worry about their place in life, but there's no mention of whether the environment they're all attuned to is full of happy-drugs. It's basically a dystopia.
Then there's the ableism, a trend often found in utopian SF. In a future where illness has been cured, so the thinking goes, there isn't any disability. While that might sound good on paper, to able-bodied folks, this episode points out that the implications of it are pretty icky. Despite being utopian Trek (in this incarnation anyway) avoids and works against this through having Geordi as a main character. I'm sure there are issues in the way they do this, but at least this episode addresses this common flaw in the genre and the underlying ickiness. Who decides which people are too disabled to live? Why end someone's life/prevent someone from living when you have the technology to provide support for them? Yes, sickness and disability are challenging, but life has challenges for any/everyone and support is preferable to extinction. It's only addressed in terms of blindness here, but what other 'abnormalities' are screened out in this society? Autism? Depression? Anyone who isn't neurotypical? Anyone with the kind of psychology that might question this isolationist set-up?

Staff Meeting: 1
Geordi tells Picard that Physicist wants asylum, Riker adds that others might too. Worf is fine with it (because he's more security-conscious than aggressive, though his colleagues don't always realise it). Troi is immediately concerned about the colony and says they can't do it. Geordi points out that they have to and that the people have free will. (This is a weird stance for Troi to take and probably only due to her fling with Leader and seeing things from his viewpoint first.) Crusher mentions the genetic gaps and wonders if they can help further. Picard thinks they've helped too much already. Worf points out they saved them all. Picard says he should meet Leader.

The End
Troi's doomed love affair ends, I did not feel this one, so whatever. He was nicer than some guys she's dated, but the situation and her constant guilt meant there was little to root for.
Picard talks to Riker about the importance of the Prime Directive. Riker is initially confused because the Prime Directive doesn't come into a situation involving humans. Picard says that's his point, by showing up they've possibly done as much damage as the glow-ball.** This was my point way back in Up the Long Ladder, but the show wasn't dealing with this particular philosophical issue then.

* I doubt it's intentional, but at this point Geordi feels like the kind of friend who's a wonderful person as a friend, but comes off awkward and unfortunate to people they're attracted to.

** An exaggeration, as without their intervention the entire domed colony would have been destroyed immediately, but I take his point. It wasn't the fault of these people that they lived in a badly-created, blinkered society that gave it's descendants unforeseen challenges.

22 September 2017


Episode: s5, ep12

The title made me uneasy and I knew before watching that Troi would be involved. There is depiction of sexual assault in the episode and I discuss it here, along with exploration of abusive/predatory tactics.

What Happens
The Enterprise is hosting a family of telepathic researchers who retrieve forgotten memories from various species to gain insight into their histories. In 10 Forward an audience watches as the Father guides Keiko through a memory of a chipped cup, which turns into a happy recollection of her grandmother. The Father suggests Crusher might want to try next and mentions what she's currently thinking about, his Son (a fully grown man) chides him for peeking into someone's mind without permission, but Father brushes the concern aside with a charming and jokey manner. At a meal with the senior crew Father tries to get more volunteers for memory probing, but everyone declines. Father calls them squeamish, but the Mother says he shouldn't influence people as their volunteers must come willingly. Son gently chides Father again, and after Troi deftly changes the subject father boasts about how his talent far surpasses Son's abilities. Son leaves the room, followed by Troi, and they have a brief rueful conversation about overbearing parents before going their separate ways.
While preparing for bed Troi remembers a romantic encounter with Riker after a poker game, but as she remembers it the mood changes and it turns into a sexual assualt. In her memory Riker is replaced by Son, then she falls unconscious. Troi turns out to be in a coma, which has Crusher stumped, Riker talks to Son as the last person to see Troi. Crusher wants to examine the teleapths in case they're inadvertently carrying something that caused the coma; Son is amenable to this. Riker talks to Troi in her coma until Crusher sends him to rest. In his quarters he remembers an emergency in Engineering where he had to order the blast doors lowered, Ensign Keller was trapped on the other, and all attempts to save her failed. An engineer accuses Riker of killing her, the memory loops as Troi's did and Son appears as different people in the memory, all accusing Riker of killing her.
Crusher can't explain Riker's coma either, both he and Troi look like they have an exisitng syndrome, but the histamine level is wrong and there are odd reading in the part of the brain that deals with memory. Crusher asks the telepaths about examining them in case the memory probe is the issue, Father is disgruntled but agrees. Geordi does a long-winded Computer search for possible causes but finds nothing. Crusher remembers a younger Picard (with hair!) taking her to a morgue to see her husband body. Young!Picard tells her she doesn't have to do it, but she insists she does. The scarred corpse of Jack Crusher suddenly has Son's face, and then so does Young!Picard. Geordi finds Crusher comatose at her desk when he comes to tell her his searches were fruitless. The telepaths seem to be the only potential cause, Picard orders Data to check the planets they previously visited for mysterious comas. Troi wakes up, knows something awful happened to her, but can't remember specifics.
Picard asks telepaths to confine themselves to quarters, they're annoyed by the not-quite accusations and Son suggests they perform a memory probe on Troi to discover the truth. Picard is reluctant to put Troi through that, but Mother says they'll take whatever precautions are needed but should be allowed to prove their innocence. Geordi and Data can't find unexplained comas elsewhere, but Geordi remembers Crusher likened the comas to an existing syndrome. They search for cases of the syndrome coinciding with the telepath's visits. Son guides Troi through a memory probe, with Picard as witness. She recalls remembering a night with Riker from a few years back, she describes the memory changing, becoming an assault. It's not Riker anymore, she sees Father. Picard and Son discuss the crime, which happened centuries ago, but hasn't been reported in modern times. Geordi and Data to keep searching so they can report the truth to medical professionals on the relevant planets. They find a coma where Father wasn't present but Son was. Son visits Troi to apologise and say goodbye, she's very understanding towards him and senses that he's upset. He starts manipulating her memory again, right in front of her, she realises what actually happened and attacks him. They struggle, then Worf bursts in and knocks him out. Data arrives and explains that Son was the only telepath who was always present when comas happened.

Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is serious about the threat to his crew and his hosting duties; it's a balancing act. Though the telepaths seem to be the cause he's reluctant to accuse them of anything until the situation is thoroughly investigated. As senior crew are struck down Picard has to take action, even though it's ineffective. If telepaths are to blame it's pointed out that getting them to stay in their quarters does nothing. When the telepaths suggest action that could take the investigation forward Picard is unwilling to put his crew in further danger.
Although Picard is not a very touchy person he puts his hand on Troi's shoulder as comfort when she's distraught after the false revelation about her assault. Through Crusher's altered memory we saw a younger Jean-Luc took newly-widowed Beverly to see her husband's body. He supported her through the morgue trip, and assured her that she didn't have to do it, but didn't question her when she said it was something she needed to do (at least that's my read on it, it's hard to get an accurate idea of what happened because of the looping and distortion of the assault). His concern was partly that she shouldn't remember Jack like that, which suggests to me that he tried to spare her pain he was already experiencing. I like how younger Picard had more hair, but wasn't changed much otherwise; we now know that is basically how Patrick Stewart ages.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
While Troi is in a coma Riker talks to her and mentions her helping him through a coma back in Shades of Grey. He talks about mundane stuff, probably because it's easier for him. The ship is mapping stuff, which is what happens when they've got nothing else on. He mentions a personnel report they were working on together. I didn't expect Troi to be involved in that. Is it part of her role as Counsellor (psych profiles? staff requirements?) or her moonlighting as Picard's PA? Or just a way for her and Riker to spend time together?
Riker's memory must be something that senior officers dread, making an emergency decision that saves the ship but causes a death. We don't know whether a distraught crewmember actually did accuse Riker of killing Keller in the moment, or if that's part of the memory distortion.

Doctor Doctor
At a dinner with the telepaths and senior crew Beverley archly suggests Picard has a memory probe. I think she needles him a bit because their old friendship means she's the only one who can.
Before the criminal investigation it's a medical matter, and so Crusher does her checks thoroughly. It's her thoroughness which eventually exposes the breadth of the crimes committed; where other medical professionals went with the easiest explanation Crusher makes sure to search for a correct diagnosis. When Riker exhausts himself staying by Troi's bedside Crusher orders him to go rest, admittedly that's when he's targeted, but she wasn't to know that and it was a sound order from the Chief Medical Officer. Crusher is joined in sickbay by Dr Martin, who he seems to take over when she's in a coma. Again we see sickbay staff operating as a team, Crusher working in collaboration with named subordinates, which isn't the dynamic as much with Engineering or Security.
Crusher's memory is a traumatic, personal one, probably the most horrible experience of her life. She went with Picard to see her husband's body.* As a doctor she isn't squeamish, but it must have been one of the most difficult things she ever did, yet she still knew that she had to do it. The distortion of the assault makes this horrible memory into a full nightmare.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
I knew Troi would have a bad time in this episode because awful stuff like this always happens to Troi (the mysterious pregnancy, that jerk she dated, the kidnapping). Troi is kinda eye candy, and that seems to come with more plotlines that remove agency (not that it's just her, but it is her a lot), so of course an episode called "Violations" is going to involve her. Even though she's not the only victim, she's the first victim and the only one whose assault is explicitly sexual. Unlike the others, Troi's assault involves a pleasant, erotic memory which is twisted to become a sexual assault. She explicitly says no and struggles, her consent as well as her memory is violated. While the other two had bad memories tweaked to become more nightmarish, we don't know how much of Troi's memory is changed. How far did things go with Riker after that poker game a few years before? (Was that near the time Deanna and Lwaxana were kidnapped, cos it seemed like she and Riker were being cuddly around then.) I've said before that Riker is a sex-positive ladies man, so I do not for a moment believe the rapey stuff was him. That Troi is the primary victim is clear when Son assaults her again after saying goodbye. He stupidly gives himself away, but because he's present and Troi now knows what's happening she resists and tries to defend herself.

Future Is Better
The Enterprise crew can access medical records from 11 planets, but they don't have cameras in the corridors of the ship? I suppose the surveillance culture was different when this was made, but it just feels strange to me that they can access and search medical info from various different nations but don't know whether anyone went into Troi's quarters that night.
Geordi getting the Computer to search for anything that could have caused the comas is a really long-winded process. Asking question after question to cover all possible bases with no intuitive searching, it'd be so easy to miss something because you didn't ask a very specific question. It's all vocal too, which makes it worse because it's like having a really irritating conversation. Is this what those home assistant programs are like? I wonder if part of the reason Data seems so impressive is that he can use the consoles to search really quickly, which must seem like magic to humans who have to ask a series of increasingly annoying and specific questions.
It's very uncomfortable watching, but the episode explores the tactics of an abuser/rapist. Son is very careful to present a non-threatening image. He's quiet and stoic in manner, he chides his Father for pushing at people's boundaries, and he downplays his talent so that he seems much less skilled than his father. He plays the long-suffering, less-talented son to a charming-but-overbearing father. The position he puts himself in is what draws Troi to him, to sympathise over their similar parental issues. It's chilling because he's not only disguising himself, he's also placing his father in a position to attract more attention and suspicion. I've heard that serial abusers don't just groom their victims, they also groom communities/observers to build an image around themselves that deflects suspicion. This is pre-meditated and chilling, and this episode is an exploration of such behaviour.
During Troi's assault the dialogue initially sounds like Troi and Riker, but then it sounds like a different conversation being performed through them. The name Imzadi keeps coming up, and I don't know who that is or what that's about. It feels like there's background to Son's assault that got cut, which is fair enough, we don't need a rapist's excuses. His actions at the end show he specifically targeted Deanna, he goes to say goodbye, but tries to assault her again. "Why do you have to be so nice?" It sounds like a compliment, but it's a very weak attempt at victim-blaming. It's telling that he targets Riker and Crusher only after each reveals they're leading the investigation, convenient that his assaults cause memory-loss. No one ever mentions to the telepaths that Geordi is investigating too, so he's never targeted. I wonder how many of the previous assaults were done to cover Son's tracks?

Staff Meetings: 2
1. Crusher explains Troi and Riker's brain scans to senior crew. It looks like a pre-existing syndrome, but can't be that because the histamine levels are wrong. Worf thinks the telepaths should be quarantined (focus on security as befits his role), but Picard thinks it's too soon. Crusher points out that the scans show issues in the part of the brain that deals with memory.
2. After finding Crusher unconscious, Geordi explains that his scans haven't found anything on board. Picard orders him to look into the other planets the telepaths visited. He also suggests they could confine the telepaths to quarters, though the consensus is that nothing will effectively stop a telepath.

Death By Space Misadventure
Ensign Keller (presumably an Engineer) was trapped behind a blast door during an emergency and as far as we can tell she failed to escape and died. She was presumably was overcome by fumes as she didn't respond on comms. We never actually see Keller, and don't know quite when this happened.
Jack Crusher, I guess. It happened years ago, when Picard had hair on top of his head, and he must have died on duty. Again the circumstances are unknown, but it was likely some kind of space-related accident.

The End
Father apologises to Picard (not the victims), saddened and ashamed. He says medical professionals from their world will come to treat the victims, although this type of rape is historical there are records that can help. Picard makes a point that both their cultures have violent histories and as much as they might wish to believe they have put such things behind them the seed of violence remains and can still consume people. This is a point that feels super relevant now.

Attackers often hide in plain sight

* This does rather ruin my image of Picard walking to her door cradling Jack's body in his arms, but that was only due to Wesley's odd wording way back in Encounter at Farpoint.

14 September 2017

Back to Work

I went back to work from maternity leave last week, it's actually gone fairly well. August was a weird month, and yes there were no blog posts, but I don't think that was the cause. All the baby sessions finish at the end of July to make way for the school kids on summer holidays, so my routine got thrown out of whack and I ended up being a bit cooped up. August was also weird because my husband's work hours and location changed a bit and my father-in-law moved to our area, which was a process fraught with issues and delays.

The baby has taken to nursery well, which I'd hoped he would as he's quite a people person and not very clingy. He's also being looked after by grandparents a couple of days a week. I've restarted work at a good time of year as one work cycle is finishing and a new cycle will start next week. I'm working full time again, which feels both odd and normal, but I'm getting used to it again. Still figuring out my new routine, but I'm hoping I'll be able to find some time for blogging occasionally.

22 July 2017

Hero Worship

Episode: s5, ep

Survivor guilt little boy thinks he's an android after Data rescues him.

What Happens
The Enterprise is looking for a ship that went missing in the Black Cluster, which is a very ancient space thing. The ship is found mostly destroyed and without life signs, the Computer files aren't accessible remotely so Riker, Data and Geordi are sent to retrieve them. Riker and Data investigate a noise and find a boy trapped beneath a beam. They prepare to transport him to sickbay, but the damage means the transporters can't get a proper hold on him (same thing probably masked his life signs). Data can move the beam, but it'll make things unstable, so Riker and Geordi beam back to the Enterprise. The kid asks Data how he can lift the beam and Data explains about being an android (for once someone didn't get it straight away). Data the the kid beam to sickbay.
The boy, Timothy, describes his ship being attacked and boarded to Crusher, Troi and Data. Timothy holds Data's hand and Troi suggests he stay. The doomed ship's remaining files are patchy, but reveal that Timothy's parents were both officers on board, so they're dead now. While Timothy is sleeping Crusher discharges him to Troi's care. Troi explains to Data that they will have to rebuild his whole world. When Data finally leaves sickbay he asks Geordi about childhood trauma and Geordi describes being caught in a fire. Info from ship and the cluster suggests a cloaked ship could have attacked, but it's not clear who did it or why. Geordi says a boarding party would be almost impossible and asks Troi if Timothy was lying, she says it's possible, or he might not know he was lying. Troi asks Data to go see Timothy as the boy has formed a attachment to him. Data asks for guidance, I think she should have given him more.
Data visits Timothy and helps him build model after being more critical than necessary. Timothy is impressed by android speed, and curious about androids not feeling things. After Data leaves Timothy impersonates him in a mirror. At a staff meeting the Black Cluster is discussed and Picard asks Troi if Timothy can provide more info. Troi takes Timothy to 10 Forward, where he explains to her that he is an android, though he still likes to taste food. She reports this to Picard and Data and suggests Data mentor Timothy in android stuff as it's actually a normal reaction to help get him through the trauma. Picard agrees. Data tries to style Timothy's hair. They do some stuff together, including painting. The cluster gets very bumpy and makes the sensors all weird. In school Timothy laughs with another child, and Troi says Timothy is moving out of his android phase, but still needs their help. She asks Data to share his fascination with humanity and help guide him back to being a boy. Timothy and Data discuss being an android in 10 Forward, Data points out some disadvantages to being an android, as Timothy focuses on the positives.
The cluster is even bumpier now and the Bridge crew realise it would be impossible to fire weapons there. Timothy is brought to the Captain to talk about what really happened. He gets angry then reveals that he thinks it was his fault the ship was destroyed, he fell against a console as it happened. He's been carrying so much guilt, poor lad. Data, Troi and Pciard all explain that he could not have destroyed the ship. The Enterprise is shaking again, and Timothy recognises this from before. On the Bridge shields are increased and the bumping increases. Although Troi tries to take Timothy away he refuses and remembers that on his ship the shields were given a lot of power. Data takes Timothy to one side, asks him for as much info as he can remember about what the adults were saying (not sure why he was on the Bridge on that other ship either) and just as Geordi is putting all the power behind the shields Data insists they be dropped completely. Even though this seems suicidal Picard does it and the bumpiness stops. Data explains that Timothy's info prompted him to check something which shows that the shields were making things bumpy and weird. The whole Enterprise could've been torn apart, as Timothy's ship was. At the end Timothy is singing 'Row Row Row Your Boat' with the other kids, he's kinda subdued but at least he's joining in. He talks to Data about their time together.

Does Not Compute
After the initial rescue Timothy is attached to Data (by hand holding), not a surprise as Data saved the boy after he'd presumably resigned himself to dying. Troi encourages Data to spend time with Timothy as there's an attachment and the child has lost everything. Data asks for guidance about interacting with the boy, which I think maybe Troi should have given him more of. You probably shouldn't give a traumatised child a "frank assessment" of their creative work and Data upsets Timothy initially. But when the boy starts on angry, negative self-talk Data dispels this with his usual frankness and logic, which I think helps Timothy break what could've turned into a shame spiral. Data asks Geordi about childhood trauma, trying to get a perspective on something he cannot experience himself.
Data's early companionship means Timothy pretends to be an android as a coping mechanism and again Troi encourages Data to work with the boy. There are cute moments like Data trying to brush Timothy's hair, while the boy is fidgeting because he's trying to master Data's bird-like head-bobbing mannerism, which the android doesn't realise was weird. While doing various activities with Data Timothy is able to hint at some of his inner turmoil (nightmares and expressive red painting) in an emotionless environment, which might be less daunting than talking through his complex feelings in a therapy session. After Timothy starts reacting more like a human child again Troi guides Data to discuss his own fixation with humanity and his aspirations in that direction. Timothy is envious that androids don't have to feel bad feelings (plus also they're stronger and faster than humans). Data points out that he also can't feel good feelings either and would be happy to accept the bad if he can have the good.
At one point Data tells Timothy androids don't lie. The assumption is that Data can't lie, and everyone goes along with this, but since series 1 it's known that his elder brother Lore can and does lie, a lot, and with very malicious intent. So in saying androids can't lie Data is in fact lying here.

Blind Engineering
Data comes to Geordi, as he often does, to get a perspective on human stuff, in this case childhood trauma. He describes being caught in a fire, terrifying for any child, especially a blind one. It was only brief but you can tell from the way he recounts it that it had a massive impact on him. After that he didn't want his parents to go out of earshot (it took a second watch for me to realise why earshot was significant here, because of course he's blind and didn't have the visor as a child). Data points out Timothy doesn't have that parental support anymore.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Excellent work from Troi here again, because being ship's counsellor is her job and calling, rather than providing vague warnings based on iffy powers or helping Picard with his schedule. She keeps Data around early cos she sees the bond between android and boy. She tells Data that they must help Timothy rebuild his entire world, a daunting task. It's telling that after dealing with his physical well-being Crusher discharges Timothy into Troi's care with foreboding words; though this isn't necessarily helpful it's probably Crusher expressing a kind of professional sympathy at the extent of the work needed and also her relative unfamiliarity with Troi's role and methods.
Troi suggests Data is used for therapy and explains that while pretending to be an android might seem odd (I have seen that episode of Futurama), in this case it's actually allowing Timothy to process his trauma by creating a persona that feels safe. She observes Timothy with other children in the school room, and one-on-one by taking him to 10 Forward with her. As the ship's specialist in this area she guides Data through helping Timothy in a role that he has not really had before and likely has difficulty relating to as he was never a child. Troi is always compassionate and caring, and devotes a lot of time to Timothy (again the timescale of this episode is super confusing to me, is it a few days or weeks?).

Staff meetings: 3
1. Senior staff discuss the Black Cluster, it is super old and dangerous. Geordi has adjusted the shields because of all the gravity waves (cos it's bumpy). Worf points out sensors will be disrupted, so detecting an enemy will be tricky. Picard asks if Timothy has provided any further info. Troi says no, but she's visiting him later. Picard says to see what she can find out, but they can't delay the investigation, so they're going in.
2. Troi explains to Data and Picard about Timothy being an android now. She briefly explains the psychology behind it (without a load of incomprehensible technobabble, though I guess this is based on things that exist in reality), but focuses more on the impact to the child, how it is beneficial and what support is needed. She never says he wants to be an android, or is pretending to be an android, just that at present he is one; it's very validating language. She also makes it clear that asking him about his ordeal is not helpful.
3. Timothy is asked by Picard, Data and Troi what really happened on his ship. The boy sticks angrily to his story until Data says androids don't lie (a lie). Then the boy breaks down and admits he destroyed the ship, he fell and hit a console as it was damaged. All three adults surround him and explain in calm and kind tones that it's impossible he could have destroyed his ship. Three different people (including his android idol) telling him it's not his fault finally convinces the poor kid.

Future is Better
I absolutely love the idea that when someone has been through a traumatic experience they are given mental health support as well as being treated for physical ailments. It's great that Timothy is allowed to do what he needs in order to heal, even if it is a bit odd. I'm not sure if this is true for everyone, or whether it has more to do with the senior crew wanting info from Timothy. I feel like in other circumstances Troi would just deal with the recovery herself and not involve others unless needed. Seeing how involved this process is I'm actually kinda surprised Troi doesn't have her own staff like Crusher does, though I suppose something as serious as this might not be very common. Does this also happen for folks with mental health illnesses or those who aren't neurotypical? Is making allowances and adjustments for stuff like this so normal it doesn't get commented on? Are people allowed to easily self-determine things about their identity that run counter to outward appearance without push back? I hope so. The idea of a future where care for a person's psyche is so important and people aren't shamed for their situation is a beautiful one.
In the Star Trek future they only have the first verse of 'Row Row Row Your Boat'! They don't seem to have the verse with the crocodile at all. My husband recently showed me the scene in Star Trek V where Kirk and McCoy sing the song in a round to Spock (I haven't seen Star Trek V, I'm told I'm not missing much), and I commented that they'd ignored the crocodile verse. Then the kids in school on the Enterprise are singing 'Row Row' and again they just do a round, no second verse, no crocodile. Clearly this information was lost to history,* damn those nuclear winters!

Won't Somebody Think of the the Children?
Another episode where a child is just left alone in some quarters, without adult supervision. Timothy is older than Alexander (I think, not sure about Klingon growth and Alexander's timeline is confusing), but he's also grieving. I mean Geordi's childhood story shows that when a kid has gone through something bad the last thing they want is to be left alone. Plus Timothy has a lot of self-anger going on and I could see how that might have led him to harm. The same thing happened with a boy called Jeremy in The Bonding** back in series 2; he lost his mother and he was just left along in their quarters to dwell on his loss, then an alien almost took him. Aren't there families on board kids can stay with? People who'll offer a temporary refuge to a vulnerable child? I mean there are people who do that nowadays, so it shouldn't be hard to kind in this more compassionate future.
I also have an issue with the teacher guy who stops Timothy from building a model he's engrossed in because the other kids are doing something different now. He wasn't being disruptive, he was focusing quietly on something. He doesn't know any of the other kids yet and he's just been through something awful, leave him be. I think what really got to me was the way this guy shot a Look at Troi after Timothy answers back a bit. It seemed like an overreaction, as though this guy thought that was unreasonable behaviour. Of course I have noted before that in TNG kids seem weirdly unemotional and not very kid-like at times, so maybe this is the future version of bad behaviour. I mean Timothy seemed pretty stoic when he's found on the damaged ship, though I assumed he was in shock.

Death by Space Misadventure
Everyone on the Vico, besides Timothy. No numbers are given, but it's gotta be a lot even though it's much smaller than the Enterprise. Some people were sucked into space when the shields failed. Others died on board due to structural instability.

The End
Timothy talks self consciously to Data about their time together, he's a bit embarrassed by how he was, and it's kinda heartbreaking. Data doesn't shame him for it at all and in fact points out imitation is the highest form of flattery, it's lovely. Data says he would be happy to have Timothy as one of his friends. It's really sweet. I mean obviously we will not be seeing this kid ever again (we don't even know if he's staying on board or going to join other family or what), but if you can ignore that and get into the moment it's nice.

* Or it wasn't a thing back in the 70s-90s when the film/show was being made. I seem to recall from my own 90s childhood that the crocodile verse became more popular over time, but wasn't always used. I've been to various children's groups this year and both verses are always sung together nowadays. Babies and kids love the scream at the end.
For those wondering the second verse is:
Row, row, row your boat
Gently down the stream
If you see a crocodile
Don't forget to scream

** I see now that my prediction -that Worf's very solemn bond with Jeremy would never be spoken of again- was correct. I'd forgotten it until this write up, and if it was going to come up you'd think it would have in one of the episodes about Worf becoming a parent (like the previous one).
I also noticed that I suggested foster-families or adult supervision for grieving children back then too. It just seems like such a major omission to what is otherwise good care.

28 June 2017

New Ground

Episode: s5, ep 10

This episode is relevant to me, as I'm a new parent myself. Going to have to figure out being a working parent in a few months.

What Happens
The Enterprise is helping test a new propulsion system which lets a ship surf on a big space wave rather than use a warp engine. Geordi is super excited. Worf gets a call from his mother, she wants to visit while he's near. She arrives with Worf's son, Alexander and it's soon clear that she and Worf's father want Worf to take his son. Worf is resistant to the idea, but doesn't say no. He tries to navigate being a working, single father, though he isn't keen to give up his duties. Troi asks Worf how things are going and pushes him to join in parent-child activities to socialise with other parents. On a trip to see some animal displays (turns out to be in one of the ship's labs, but that's not explained until later so I had no clue where they were at first. A holodeck? A planet?) Alexander and Worf are aloof and not socialising. The teacher tries to gently correct Alexander's behaviour when he takes something, but Worf makes a big thing out of it. Worf has a serious talk with Alexander about honour and then tells Troi that it's all sorted now. Oh no, dear sweet Worf, no.
Meanwhile the propulsion test means the Enterprise has to follow close behind the test ship on the wave. At first it works and the results are amazing, but it swiftly loses energy and the test ship explodes. They have to make minor repairs before they can follow the wave again. Worf is called to see Alexander's teacher, who says Alexander is very bright but also disruptive and bullying, plus he lies when he's caught misbehaving. The teacher suggests chatting together with Troi, but Worf goes off to find his son, who is using Worf's holodeck programme without permission. Worf tells him off and says he'll send him to a Klingon school. Troi talks to Worf about how he feels about sending Alexander away, and suggests he consider how Alexander might have felt when he was sent away the first time and how these feelings might explain the boy's actions. She also talks to Worf about Alexander's mother, and how Worf left things with her.
The space wave has grown bigger and stronger and will destroy a planet because it's too powerful to be stopped as planned. Geordi has 2 plans, the more likely one means going through the wave to get ahead of it. The shields are still damaged, so it'll be bumpy and risky. Worf is called to a meeting and tells Alexander to stay in their quarters. Alexander goes to look at the animals again (well, duh), and he's in the lab when the ship is damaged. There's a fire in the lab and the Computer reveals to the Bridge crew (including Worf) that Alexander is there. Worf and Riker are allowed to go save him, but Picard warns that they have 3 minutes before that part of the ship will be flooded with radiation when the wave is stopped. Worf has to lift a beam to saves his son, and Alexander persuades Riker to save some endangered animals. Picard deploys the torpedoes before he knows Riker, Worf and Alexander are safe.

Oh My Captain
Picard makes allowances for Worf being late to a meeting and being interrupted by calls about getting Alexander settled on board (I guess comm badges don't have a Busy setting and it's not standard practice to check where people are before hailing them). The Captain says Worf should care for his son ahead of security matters. It's nice that the Enterprise seems to be an encouraging and helpful environment for parents, and Picard is super understanding.
The other side of this is that space is dangerous, they encounter trouble all the time and in extreme situations Picard must prioritise lives accordingly. He can't delay stopping the wave, for Riker, Worf and Alexander, because a whole planet is in danger. He does warn Riker and Worf of the short timescale, and you can see he's worried and tries to hold off giving the order as long as he can.

Blind Engineering
Geordi is super excited about the space wave propulsion experiment and squees at Data and Worf. Neither are particularly responsive. Geordi compares it to when the sound barrier was broken, or the first warp drive test.* Geordi decides to find an engineer to geek-out with because his mates just don't get it. Later Geordi is super pleased that Riker points out this technology could make Engineers obsolete. In a utopian society like the Federation it seems people aren't afraid of how new technology will impact their livelihoods, because I guess everyone is taken care of. Plus there seem to be various ways to live your passion even if it's an old-fashioned skill, that's presumably why bars and restaurants still exist even though replicators can feed everyone.

Klingon Warrior
Worf is totally not ready for parenting, and admits that he would rather face combat. Of course he's from a culture that praises fighting and he's trained for combat, whereas parenting isn't something Worf has prepared for. Also I have no idea how it's viewed in Klingon culture, but they don't strike me as nurturing folk. At least Worf doesn't push back on his mother, it's understandable that his parents didn't plan on another bout of child rearing when they were older. He tries to lecture her about raising a Klingon boy, though I expect no human woman knows more about that than Helena Rozhenko. Worf's parenting style is kinda confrontational, but again that's what he's prepared for. The teacher tries to gently correct Alexander's behaviour, giving him space to admit what happened and framing it as a misunderstanding; then Worf blunders in being stern with the teacher and Alexander. Worf thinks that a single lecture about honour will make Alexander behave. He's told that Alexander is smart but aggressive at school (after like day? timescales are unclear here) and continues to lie when caught misbehaving. Worf tracks him down to the holodeck and seems quietly proud of his son's physical skills. He doesn't let his pride show and tells Alexander off for lying and says he'll send him to a Klingon school. Shipping the kid off once seems to be his only threat, he needs to expand his repertoire. It's only after a conversation with Troi that Worf is able to consider Alexander's feelings and acknowledge his own. I'm not sure if ignoring your feelings is a Klingon thing or a Worf thing.

It's Not Easy Being Troi
Troi is in her primary role as Counsellor here, which is where she excels. She suggests Worf goes on a father-son field trip (I don't really understand why seeing animals is segregated by gender) to meet other parents. Later when she checks in with Worf she tries to warn him that kids don't usually change their behaviour after a single conversation, and offers her help. Worf doesn't resent her getting involved, and doesn't seem uncomfortable with her checking in. That said, he's not very forthcoming with his feelings, so even after the teacher suggests talking to Troi counselling isn't Worf's first instinct. After a confrontation where Worf tells Alexander he'll send him to Klingon school he finally goes to see Troi. She asks him if he discussed this with Alexander, but Worf doesn't think you discuss things with kids, you just tell them how it's gonna be. Troi asks questions in aneutral tone and says it's not her place to approve or disapprove of his parenting when Worf gets defensive. Troi asks Worf to consider Alexander's feelings when he was sent away right after his mother died, and Worf concedes that the boy might've felt abandoned. She points out children don't know how to deal with their feelings, so they just act on them. Then she switches to talking about Alexander's mother, and how Worf felt about her before she died. He admits that he was angry and they argued because she didn't tell Worf about their son. Troi validates Worf's feelings, of course he was angry, but that doesn't mean he didn't love her. She points out that both father and son have healing to do and should try to do it together.

Staff Meetings: 2
1. The Doctor running the propulsion test explains it to senior staff. The Enterprise will need to stay really close to the test ship to get the readings.
2. Geordi explains that wave is growing, Worf arrives late having been called from a discussion with Alexander. Geordi has 2 plans for stopping it: (a try and create an inverse wave with their engines, or (b get ahead of the wave and create an explosion in front of it. (a means they'd have to match the wave exactly and it keeps growing, so that would be very difficult. (b is more likely to work, but dangerous to the ship because they can't go over it, they can't go under it, they can't go around it, so they'll have to go through it. With the shields damaged from the explosion it will be risky.

Won't Somebody Think of the Children?
Been a while since I used this heading, but as the episode focuses on a child it's appropriate. I understand Worf's concern about having Alexander on board, space is really dangerous, but Star Fleet is fine with it and lots of crew have their kids with them. I think my main query is, who's looking after Alexander when he isn't in school? Despite Picard giving Worf time to be with his son it seems that being Chief of Security involves being on duty outside school hours. (What are the school hours? There are obviously different shifts, but there's no natural day and night, so are there shofts of crew/families/classes that operate on different times to others? Or is there an arbitrary day/night shift, so some folk are forced to be a bit out of sync? Based on [night shift in Data's day - link?] I suspect it's the latter.) Is there a creche or childcare service that allows crew with unpredictable hours to leave their children with someone qualified/familiar? There's no sign of such a thing, though could be that Worf doesn't use it. When Worf is called to an important meeting he instructs Alexander to stay, even though he's just been told the child is defiant. How often are kids just left unsupervised? Or is this just Worf being careless? There doesn't seem to be a Computer setting or AI that monitors children and lets parents know where they are or what's happening. Alexander took his father's weapon to a holodeck unaccompanied, and Worf wasn't alerted until he asked where Alexander was. Plus Alexander was in a lab that should have been evacuated, and had a fire in it and the air was almost vented before Data noticed there was a life sign there. Shouldn't the Computer have flagged up that there was a person -a child- in there? Seriously all this future tech and young kids are just wandering around unsupervised, armed and able to wander into dangerous places.

The End
In sickbay Crusher confirms Alexander has few injuries. The boy asks if his father is in trouble, and then if he's in trouble. Worf gently tells him not to worry about that now. Alexander promises to behave at Klingon school and make his father proud, but Worf suggests that it could be a greater challenge to live on board but they can face it together. Alexander agrees. It's a sweet scene.

* Geordi even mentions what it would be like to actually see Zephram Cochrane and the first warp drive. Sound familiar? I recall that a few episodes ago Spock did a brief compare and contrast between Picard and Kirk. Is this the series where they got the ideas for the films? What next? Will Romulans "unsucessfully" try to clone Picard? Or... y'know, something about Insurrection?

14 June 2017

A Matter of Time

Episode: s5, ep 9

What Happens
The Enterprise is going to help a planet that has climate problems after being hit by an asteroid, when they encounter a temporal disturbance and a strange, small vessel. A gangly, eccentric man beams onto the Bridge and introduces himself as a Professor from 200 years in the future. He's fascinated by everything, makes odd comments and has frenetic energy.* Picard expresses surprise that he's of interest and others ask the Professor why he's there, but the time traveller tells them he can't give hints because he must preserve the timeline. He wants them to fill out questionnaires for his historical research.
Unlike in many episodes they get to the place they were originally going, the planet is rapidly cooling as dust from the impact (which was luckily on an uninhabited continent) fills the atmosphere, blocking heat from the sun. Geordi's plan is to use the ship's weapons to release underground carbon dioxide pockets, creating a purposeful greenhouse effect. It seems the Professor is there to witness this mission, and he asks Geordi various things before sneakily stealing a pad. Later the Professor hangs around the Bridge watching Picard with a weird intensity while orders are given and the planet's atmosphere is monitored. The mission seems to be successful as the planet warms again.
Troi tells Crusher that she doesn't trust the Professor. He knows Troi is suspicious of him and cheerfully talks to her about it. He then flirts with Crusher, but she isn't buying what he's selling. On the Bridge they realise that they've created geological instability resulting in eruptions that will make the atmospheric problems worse. After running the numbers by Data, Geordi reckons the only viable plan is to burn off the dust and use the Enterprise to vent it, but if the calculations are slightly off they could burn away the entire atmosphere. Picard is tortured by decision, which could save thousands or kill millions, and tries to get the Professor to tell him the outcome. They have a long discussion about timelines and ethics. The Professor seems serious and emotionally distant for once. Picard decides to try and takes the decision to the planet's leaders.
Geordi stays on the planet while they do the thing, it works! The Professor is keen to leave; Picard and Worf confront him outside his vessel, they've noticed things have been stolen and want to look inside. The Professor agrees that only Data can go inside, where he sees that the Professor has stolen various small things. The Professor pulls a phaser on Data and reveals that he's actually from the 22nd century; he encountered a real 26th century time traveller and stole his ship and outfit. He plans to take things back and "invent" them, but now that he has Data he can figure out cybernetics. The phaser doesn't fire and Data makes the "Professor" leave the ship. Data explains the truth, Picard reveals that the sensors couldn't penetrate the time vessel until the door was opened, when the Computer disabled everything inside.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard wants to go back and look at the temporal disturbance after Worf notices it. He delays their arrival at the beleaguered planet by about an hour, which doesn't seem like the best choice, even if Geordi says it's OK. He's so easily distracted by shiny space phenomena, he's like a cat or something.
When faced with the difficult choice Picard tries to get the Professor to tell him the outcome. They debate time travel philosophy and ethics with the Professor pointing out he can't do what Picard wants. The Captain tries arguing that this is a real situation involving people's lives, not a hypothetical and references his own prime directive breaches as examples of doing the right thing. It's all very eloquent and impassioned, naturally. The Professor points out that everyone already died from his point of view, then accuses Picard of trying to manipulate the future. This line will be parroted ironically back to him when Picard learns of the truth of the Professor's plan.

Does Not Compute
The Professor refers to Data as the Gutenberg Bible or Model-T of androids, suggesting there are more in the future. Data corrects him as he's actually the second prototype, not the first. Then Data asks if he's still around in the future, seeing as how he doesn't have a limited lifespan the way everyone else does. The Professor chides Data for curiosity, while also getting him to dry his hands like a servant, it's a very weird moment. Though this does tie in to my theory that everyone who meets Data knows he's an android (rather than an alien) even if they have no reason to think androids are possible, like in this case. Also curiosity about his future existence seems like a pretty human instinct on Data's part.

Doctor Doctor
Dr Crusher is fascinated by meeting someone from the future. She doesn't ask about herself or her future, but wants to know if a plague is ever cured. Later she invites the Professor to join a group in 10 Forward and is friendly towards him (though I'm not sure everyone else is necessarily talking about him, the regular crew mostly haven't met this guy and no doubt have their own stuff going on). He's attracted to her, but either she doesn't notice or ignores it. He observes that she sees history throw the filter of medical advances. Later she's eager to help with his research and gives him a neural scanner, but when he starts flirting she shuts it down straight away, suggesting she could be his ancestor (super unsexy).**

It's Not Easy Being Troi
She knows the Professor is hiding something straight away, but not even Crusher thinks that means much. Later she gets even more suspicious, sensing purposeful misdirection, but doesn't tell anyone besides Crusher, who's still not taking her concerns seriously. The Professor confronts Troi cheerfully and tries to disarm her with charm and vague references suggesting that her reaction is predictable and of no real concern to him. He also calls her "Picard's empath" not entirely wrong, but not her title nor necessarily how she would wish to be addressed. It all seems to me like a way of diminishing her and putting her down. He suggests they're similar, then he pulls the "some of my best friends are empaths" nonsense. This is not a good idea for convincing people and soon after this Troi decides to stop being polite and leaves.

Staff Meeting: 1
Near the start the Professor sits down with senior crew and explains that he can't tell them anything about the future, before giving them their assignments. Everything seems friendly and cordial. After Data takes the Professor to his quarters the conversation becomes more cautious with Picard seriously listening seriously to Worf and Riker's concerns. Picard says he's checked the Professor's credentials (as someone who has to check the authenticity of documents for a living I don't know how you could verify something from the future) and says everyone should treat the Professor well. Worf is dismayed about the questionnaires, clearly he does not respond well to surveys.

Future Is Better
Picard mentions that the climate/atmosphere issues on the planet could be like the nuclear winters of the 21st Century. This is not what I want to hear, that's where I live! Though honestly now warming is a greater threat than cooling, it's the only global measurement that is currently looking really bad for humanity. It's interesting that the scientist on the planet said they'd been so careful to avoid a greenhouse effect.

What we learn about 26th Century:
-They have time travel
-The time craft is very metallic and shiny on the inside, like it's trying to look even more futuristic
-There are still garments that look like they're made from old curtains (no idea how fashionable the time traveller was), but they have big pockets which are useful for stealing things
-A time traveller went back 400 years but didn't think to take precautions against crime

What we learn about 22nd Century:
-Humans don't have medical scanners, quarantine fields, phasers, androids, warp coils or  pads (What happened to Apple et al? Did all those nuclear winters destroy tablet technology?)
-Earth still uses the Western, Christian-based way of counting centuries.*** As opposed to whatever star dates are.

Security Breach
Oh look, another troublesome visitor. The Professor is an accomplished con artist, so even when he's explaining the truth to Data I don't believe that he was an actual inventor, that's just the persona he's now stepping into. What I don't understand (though I admit it's a niggle that could ruin the fun of the episode) is how the Professor knows who everyone is. It's fun the way he acts knowledgeable and excited about everything, whilst cleverly not having to give any definitive "future" info. He could have read the name and number of the ship on top of the saucer section, but that doesn't explain how he knows to be there at that point or who Picard is. I'm sure he's a quick thinker, skilled at picking up on things and improvising, but even so he knows a hell of a lot already. Also where was Guinan? There;s even a 10 Forward scene and she's not there, she would have seen through him super quick and probably said something awesomely cutting.
I wonder if the 26th Century guy was even more susceptible to deception than the Enterprise crew? Maybe people get less suspicious over time? It's far from the first time the crew assumed good intentions; though I think they're getting better. Riker asks about him being an imposter, because they've dealt with that before. Picard tells Worf he shares suspicions and has the Professor medically scanned to determine he's human (which they also could have done with Q at one point, so that's no guarantee of anything and it's not as though humans are inherently honest) plus the time vessel is put under guard.
Wait, the Computer can disable phasers and other devices remotely now? Picard says that they couldn't scan inside the time vessel until the door was opened, but then everything could be disabled. It seems like having the Computer disable phasers or other weapons is super useful and surely something that may need to happen again. Though I suppose there may be wiggle room there if you assume the Computer can only disable phasers belonging to the ship.

The End
The fake Professor is distraught as the auto-timer on the time vessel triggers and it returns to the 22nd century. He argues that he doesn't belong there and Picard says that actual historians will be fascinated by his 22nd Century perspectives. He ends by welcoming him to the 24th Century, which is kinda badass.

* There aren't a lot of staid and sober time travellers are there? This guy, Doc Brown, various incarnations of the Doctor, a whole lot of oddballs.
** Surely time travellers need to check their family tree carefully before going back in time. That just strikes me as good sense.
*** I get that BCE/CE (Before Common Era/Common Era) is a way of secularising BC/AD (Before Christ/Anno Domini - the year of our Lord), but it's still based on a presumed birth date of Jesus.
2017 AD is 5777/5778 AM in the Hebrew calendar (which sounds futuristic) and 1438/1439 AH in the Islamic calendar (which sounds historical). It's just occurred to me that I only know anything about calendars based on Abrahamic religions, obviously there are various other ones around the world. Time's a funny old thing, really.

7 June 2017

Ghostbusters (2016)

I was going to do a more general film catch-up post, but it turns out I have a lot to say about this film. I saw Ghostbusters a while back when it was in the cinemas and I very much enjoyed it (I didn't go to the loo during the screening even though I was pregnant). It's one of those rare films where the more I think about it the more I like it and notice stuff that was clever (usually it's the opposite way round and reflecting upon a film exposes its flaws).

The film is a fun, action-packed summer blockbuster, with lots of humour and great chemistry between the characters. There are strong themes of friendship, which feel very solid and some of the performances are incredibly fun, the portrayals of Holtzman and Patty especially. I loved the characters, and even though the comedy was goofball at times I always enjoyed it (goofy stuff can be kinda hit and miss for me). The only thing I didn't enjoy so much was how much Kevin was mocked for being stupid, and how his stupidity got very over the top at times, but that's a minor niggle and I know that that characterisation was included for a reason. Plus it looks like Chris Hemsworth is having a lot of fun with the part and that does shine through. The film absolutely works on this fun, entertaining level, but it also does more than that if you want to look deeper.

The story is about a group of scientists (and a colleague without a science background) struggling with credibility who discover that ghosts are real and then work to capture them both for their own research and to help the people of New York. Put like that it is similar to the original film, and features a lot of nods to the originals with loads of cameos, in fact there were more references than I was expecting. What I want to talk about though is the differences, because I found them very revealing.

There are some spoilers below, but I'm talking about themes more than plot points.

First off, the main characters are all women, that this was a point of contention shows just how messed up some things still are. In fact the way women are treated becomes a massive theme in the film, in both subtle and obvious ways. The first act feels a bit choppy in places, like it was heavily edited, and there were reshoots to include scenes which poke fun at some of the real-life, misogynistic detractors. It's a funny and creative reaction to awfulness. Erin is terrified of her past indiscretion -publishing a book about ghosts being real- destroying her serious, academic career, which it absolutely does. While a male academic who's close to tenure might well be as nervy and awkwardly eager to please, depending upon his personality. But would he have his entirely-appropriate outfit choices critiqued by a superior? Almost certainly not! This is just the setup and background for Erin's character, but it occurs to me that she's in a precarious position that perhaps a man in her position wouldn't need to worry so much about. She's made sure to fit in and stick to what is mainstream and ignore her past findings/research/belief in order to get ahead.

"Too sexy for academia?"
Secondly, I've heard people say that the villain isn't very epic, which is true. He's just an angry little man who's disappointed in his life, got obsessed with ghosts and enacted a plan to destroy the boundaries between worlds in order to make himself feel big (both physically and emotionally). The thing is, women have to deal with small-minded men all the time, the reaction to this film just existing is proof of that. Maybe they aren't fighting a gribbly, extra-dimensional being because their time and energy is filled by the enmity of an angry guy and they have to deal with that before they're able to get much else done. Also Rowan isn't shown to be specifically a misogynist, he's generally unpleasant because he has no joy. His life didn't turn out the way he felt it should and he decided everyone else must be to blame and therefore deserved punishment. Patty is the only character who is nice to him early on. She doesn't mock him for being weird and off-putting towards her, and though that is a requirement of a public-facing job (believe me!) Patty is very genuine in her interactions. We see that she tries to be friendly to everyone even though she's ignored and rebuffed she doesn't let it get to her (she's like an anti-Rowan). Later on the Ghostbusters try to save Rowan from himself and the sad thing is that he actually shares a major interest with them and was inspired by Erin and Abby's work. In fact he probably took it more seriously than anyone, so even in the execution of his plan he's inspired by/relying on the work of these women. Had they met under better circumstances the Ghostbusters would have probably seen him as a valuable collaborator.

The other big difference in this film is that although the authorities (the Mayor and the FBI especially) believe the Ghostbusters and already know that what they're saying is true, they absolutely will not acknowledge this publicly. Compare this to the reaction towards the original Ghostbusters team, the respect they receive, and the difference is massive. A PR lady from the Mayor's office makes very clear that all attempts to publicise their work and the existence of ghosts will result in them being derided and called crazy. All they are offered is the opportunity to continue their work discreetly and give the results to the authorities, who will of course disavow them while benefiting from their research. Basically doing useful and important work entirely for others while receiving no credit and being mocked in the process. Hmm, I wonder if this is based on real things that have happened?

While characteristion is a big factor within the story I found that parts of the plot stem from these differences in the character's status, respect and the treatment they received. IIRC the original Ghostbusters were laughed at, these ones are threatened and suppressed. It's a great example of how taking an existing story and changing significant things about the main characters can give you a very different tale and one that examines more things.

I just hope that the sequel moves the story along from here, expanding the ideas and letting us really see what these ladies can do.

30 May 2017

Unification Part II

Episode: s5, ep 8

What Happens
Previously: Picard was sent after Ambassador Spock who ran off to Romulus, and the Enterprise discovered an old Vulcan ship was stolen from a Federation scrap yard.

Picard confronts Spock in a cave, asks why he came to Romulus and tells him his father is dead. Spock says he came in the cause of reunification; an underground group of Romulans are interested in Vulcan culture and Spock thinks that the two long-divided cultures could come together again. Although this movement is suppressed by the Romulan government Spock's friend, Senator Pardek, says there's a reforming proconsul who is sympathetic and wants to meet Spock. Picard and Spock also discuss the latter's difficult relationship with his father and Spock accuses Picard of speaking with Sarek's voice. Data asks their Klingon escorts for computer access so he can hack Romulan intelligence systems and send a message to the Enterprise.
Meanwhile Riker is in a seedy bar talking to a four-armed, pianist who is the ex-wife of a smuggler somehow connected to the missing Vulcan ship. The investigation is not important enough to be filmed (I suspect they ran out of time). The pianist indicates that a fat Ferengi who frequents the bar was involved with her ex-husband's dodgy dealings. Later Worf reports the Ferengi has arrived, then Riker makes him reveal where the old Vulcan ship went. It was given to people who trade with the Romulans.
Spock meets a proconsul who seems happy with the idea of reunification and is prepared to publicly endorse opening talks. Spock is surprised this is going so well. The underground Vulcan-sympathisers are super excited, but Picard suggests caution. Spock says he will continue seeking reunification, even though he agrees with Picard that this all might be a trap. Spock helps Data hack into Romulan systems and they discuss their differing views on humanity. Now able to contact the Enterprise Picard learns from Riker that the people who had the old Vulcan ship sent the Romulans a coded message. The info in this message tells Spock that the proconsul has a plan that involves the stolen ship. As they realise the deception Sela (half-Romulan daughter of alt-timeline Tasha Yar) appears from the shadows and captures them. She reveals that she and the proconsul plan to invade Vulcan.
There are 3 stolen Vulcan ships, the start of an invasion. Sela tries to get Spock to give a speech saying the ships are peace envoys, but he refuses. She plans to use a holographic Spock instead. Picard, Data and Spock are left in the proconsul's office under guard, the Romulans haven't realised their computers were hacked, and Spock has a plan. When Sela returns her hostages are gone, then Riker and Star Fleet security officers appear. The Romulans shoot them and discover they're holograms, then Spock appears from a holographic wall and disables a Romulan guard, Data gets a Romulan weapon and trains it on Sela. She thinks the invasion will still be successful because of her fake-Spock message.
The Enterprise sees the 3 Vulcan ships coming out of the Neutral Zone, but they don't seem to match the one they've been tracking. At the same time Crusher gets a distress call from a planet that needs evacuating. They're about to go help when a broadcast comes from Spock, who says that the ships are actually a Romulan invasion force. The evacuation call was fake and so the Enterprise goes to intercept the "Vulcan" ships, but a Romulan ship de-cloaks and destroys their own forces rather than allow them to be captured.

Oh Captain My Captain
Picard acts according to his orders from Star Fleet, but also as a proxy for Sarek. He believes what he's saying, but his duty, his memories from Sarek and his own personality all line up very neatly, so there's no internal conflict. Instead he argues with Spock's course of action, causing the Vulcan (who is much older than him) to treat the Captain as a father-figure, and it's likely that Picard is expressing feelings he got from Sarek. It really is hard to tell where Picard ends and Sarek's influence begins, which explains Spock's reaction to him. Picard points out during a heated discussion that he is not just a mouthpiece for Sarek, which is nicely reflected at the end of the episode when Picard calmly and sympathetically offers to be a conduit for Sarek's memories to help a grieving son. Although Picard counsels caution, is compared to Sarek at various points and even described as Vulcan-like, Spock somehow also compares him to Kirk. Presumably the writers couldn't resist the temptation. I thought Picard is meant to be a very different kind of Captain, though his character contains enough range that he can be both Kirk-like and not as episodes require.

Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-management
In a brief log Riker explains why he's at the bar, which seems like both a cop-out and a relief. On the one hand much more investigating would've slowed things down. On the other hand it feels like cheating for the careful investigation of last episode to have magically tracked down someone useful off screen when all we knew before was that the ship stealing supplies was mysteriously unidentifiable and then exploded. There's no connection between where they were and where they get to; it definitely feels like something got cut. I can mostly forgive it for the scenes in the dodgy bar, with the pianist. Plus the pianist is cool and Riker is charming with her. After he got Troi to be placatory on his behalf last episode I notice he's fine with a charm offensive when he feels like it. He threatens a Ferengi and follows his lead to a place near the Neutral Zone, after which the hole-filled investigation is overtaken by events. I get the feeling that Riker was suspicious about what's happening, which is why he's skeptical about orders not to interfere and the evacuation elsewhere. I find it odd that Riker doesn't disguise himself while seeking information, he's doing it officially and presumably the bar is in Federation space (or somewhere friendly), but it's pointed out that it isn't exactly a Star Fleet place. He has no need for the kind of subterfuge Picard and Data had to employ behind enemy lines, but it seems like Star Fleet uniforms would attract unwanted attention and probably deter potential leads.

Does Not Compute
This episode bluntly compares and contrasts Spock and Data; it is only logical. There's little subtext to the exchange where they discuss how they relate to each other. Each has qualities the other aspires to and they both point this out. Data is more Vulcan-like than Vulcans, yet wants to achieve humanity; while Spock has chosen a Vulcan way of life, turning his back on his human heritage. It's not the first time someone has expressed confusion that Data is dissatisfied with himself (which seems like an emotion and a strong one as it's his driving motivation). This feels like a meeting of equals, which isn't surprising as Data was clearly designed as the Spock stand-in. Data points out that Spock's claim of "no regrets" is a very human thing to say, leaving the Ambassador deep in thought.

Security Breach
Shouldn't Spock wear a hood, or a hat, or something when visiting the proconsul? He's a very famous Vulcan and he's just wandering into a Romulan government office like it's no problem. The main trait we've seen from Romulans is that they're suspicious, and that's not just the military ones the Enterprise has encountered in space, there's the lady from the cafe last episode who felt the need to quiz out-of-towners. The furtive nature of the underground shows how oppressive the regime is, books and toys are objects of danger because they promote knowledge the government doesn't want people to have. I know that the security forces are in on the plan, but it seems like Spock should be taking more precautions when he's out and about.

Future Is Better
We don't get to see the seedy side of the Trek universe much, but it's nice to know it exists. The Federation and Star Fleet are so wholesome and shiny, and even when bad stuff happens within it, there's a sense that it's an anomaly. Nice to see that there are folk just getting by as best they can, even if they haven't got a fancy job. Having said that I kind wish this section didn't have decorative ladies, because they probably have interesting stories but we aren't supposed to care.

The talk about progressive reform on Romulus sounds good. Pardek says young people won't allow old men like him to "hold on to ancient prejudice and hostility". The young proconsul says "The old leaders have lost the respect of the people. ... Times are changing, and leaders who refuse to change with them will no longer be leaders." It is all lies. Just goes to show you can't necessarily trust people who talk the talk. Pardek betrayed Spock, but it's never made clear how long he was in on the plan. He's been friends with Spock for years, the Vulcan praises his unique viewpoint, and his political record certainly suggests he's an unorthodox Senator. Plus the underground clearly know and trust him, though they didn't show him all their secret caves, suggesting he might be new to them. Was he just recently used by Romulan security forces, and do they have leverage over him? Or has he been cynically playing at friend, ally and man of the people for decades in order to subvert the Underground and monitor a Vulcan ambassador? I think the show wants us to think the latter, though I think the former would have been more interesting.

Girl Talk
Troi has 6 lines, Crusher has 2, neither do anything of much import. The episode doesn't come near Bechdel-Wallace requirements, I'm not sure 2 female characters even share the screen. We do have the return of Sela who, as I commented  before, is a mastermind and a strong antagonist, though she doesn't feel as impressive this time. Her background was revealed at the start of this series and gave her some complexity, but the novelty of her appearance has worn off. Here she's a returning adversary and really just another devious Romulan strategist, though perhaps more bold than previous ones.

Amarie the fat, four-armed pianist is amazing and the kind of woman we don't usually see on this show (and not just because of the arms). She's not there as decoration and she's not treated as comic relief or looked down on. She's confident, flirty and a talented musician, who knows the music of various cultures, even a bit of Klingon opera. Plus she's had multiple husbands, so she's probably quite a catch. She thanks Riker for killing her ex and she's not at all intimidated by Worf, which is kinda badass.

The End
The rebel Romulan underground must go further into hiding after Pardek's betrayal, but say they'll keep teaching Vulcan ways to their children. Spock tells Picard he'll stay to help these people, though reunification is a long way off. Spock reveals that he never mind-melded with his father, so Picard offers Spock to mind-meld with him and see what Sarek shared with him.