Weekly Trek – December 5-11, 2016

I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the various final episodes and films across the Star Trek franchise.  I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to rewatching, “Endgame,” the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager this week.  Now I wasn’t facing this episode from 2001 with the dread that I have for the last two posts of this series, but the truth is that I don’t have especially fond memories of Voyager or this episode in particular.  

Voyager premiered with a great deal of hype in January 1995 as part of the launch of the United Paramount Network.  The fact that the series would have the franchise’s first female captain as a leading character (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home also featured a female captain in a small scene) made headlines, and the show’s overall concept had a lot of promise.  In the pilot episode, “Caretaker,” the USS Voyager and a ship of Maquis (a rebel group that wasn’t too fond of a treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians) are thrown to the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years from home.  The Maquis ship is destroyed, but its crew of about 20 end up joining the Voyager for the 70 year trip home.

It all sounded exciting.  A Starfleet ship all alone and forced to come up with ways to survive, a test of Federation ideals away from the comforts of home, and a crew made up of Starfleet Officers and Maquis, who wouldn’t necessarily get along.  There was a lot of potential in that set-up.

By the end of the pilot, most of the tension between the Starfleet and Maquis crews had vanished.  It would occasionally get mentioned, but for the most part they became one happy crew.  And being all alone didn’t seem to make life too tough for the Voyager.  Yes, they had their issues, but nothing that couldn’t be completely fixed by the next week.  Even the so-called “Year of Hell” (Which was chronicled in the aptly named “The Year of Hell” two-parter) was erased by the time travel reset button. 

Compared to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was aired concurrently for five of Voyager’s seven seasons, Voyager felt light-weight.  While DS9 was dealing with heavy issues of ethics, politics, religion, and racism with the fate of the Federation in the balance, Voyager was more in the vein of sci-fi adventure.  At the time, I was very hard on Voyager because of this.  On DS9, Captain Sisko is trying to decide how far he will bend his principles in order to save the Federation.  Meanwhile, on Voyager the crew is trapped as the French Resistance in a holodeck simulation while alien hunters play the Nazis.

With the distance of 15 years, I feel like I can appreciate Voyager more for what it actually was rather than what I had in my head that it should be.  This brings us to “Endgame,” the series finale written by Kenneth Biller and Robert Doherty from a story by Biller, Brannon Braga, and Rick Berman (who was the overall head of Star Trek at the time).  Unlike the DS9 finale, which is really part of a nine episode final arc and the culmination of years of plotlines and multiple characters, the Voyager finale really only has to answer one question: do they get home?

Because of this, you could really watch “Endgame” with no knowledge of the series beyond the fact that it’s about a ship lost a long way from home.  I wouldn’t recommend it, though, since the episode starts in the future, ten years after the USS Voyager made it back to Earth.   

“So they made it,” you said.  “Then why am I watching this?”  Ah, but it’s not that simple.  While it’s ten years after their return, it’s twenty-six years after the show’s “present.”  It took Captain (Now Admiral) Kathryn Janeway and her crew an additional sixteen years to get home, and as we learn over the course of the first half of the episode, she is not happy about that state of affairs due to the toll the journey took on her crew.

Admiral Janeway engages in some time travel shenanigans to go back to Voyager twenty-six years earlier and show them a way to get home earlier.  There are just two minors problems.  First, there are Borg swarming all over their shortcut, and secondly, Janeway’s younger self wants no part of the Admiral’s plan.

Upon going back to watch this episode for the first time since it aired, I quickly discovered that the version of “Endgame” that had existed in my head for the last 15 years wasn’t quite accurate.  I remembered it having a short future sequence but that most of the episode involved battling the Borg and getting home.  Instead, “Endgame” really takes its time in the future sequence to show where everyone is and what is motivating Janeway to want to change things.  It’s rather well done, and I found myself feeling a fondness for these characters that I hadn’t really seen much of in a long time.

I was also reminded of just how damn good Kate Mulgrew is as Janeway.  Her affection for her crew is evident, and she is able to play everything from compassionate concern to capable commander convincingly.  I have no trouble believing that she can handle everything the universe has to throw at her.  Moreover, she spends large chunks of “Endgame” playing scenes against herself.  In interviews she has stated that it was tremendously difficult due to the technical demands as well as they fact that she was often acting against nothing.  In the finished episode, the conversations are seamless, which is a testimony not only to her but also the effects personnel and editors involved with the series.

Beyond Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine, and Robert Picardo, who plays the Doctor, are both excellent.  Robert Beltran, who plays Chakotay, was a vocal critic of the show over the years, but he is also quite good in his scenes with Seven in the episode.

Is the episode perfect?  Absolutely not.  The premise borrows a bit heavily from some aspects of the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale, “All Good Things…,” as well as other Trek time travel stories.  Garrett Wang, who plays Ensign Harry Kim, is given a speech in the second half of the episode that is supposed to be inspiring but just isn’t well-written enough to pull it off.  He gives it his all, though. 

The episode’s villain is problematic.  When the Borg were first introduced on TNG, they were this scary force that could not be reasoned with with.  Their hive mind made the billions of them act like one, and they just seemed unstoppable.  Star Trek: First Contact introduced the concept of the Borg Queen, which didn’t really fit what we knew of the Borg up until that point, but I can understand it from a storytelling standpoint.  The villain needed a face and form that could be fought.  

Voyager brought in the Borg as a major adversary (They’d been mentioned sparingly prior to this) at the end of their third season.  The aforementioned Seven is a human who had been a drone for years before being freed from the Borg Collective.  Janeway and company dealt with the Borg and their Queen on multiple occasions leading up to “Endgame,” but having a single ship consistently overcome such overwhelming odds defanged the Borg quite a bit. 

“Endgame” was able to bring back the First Contact actress, Alice Krige, to play the Borg Queen again.  In prior Voyager episodes, a different actress had played the role, and she does what she can with the role.  For much of the episode, though, she’s basically the Wicked Queen from Snow White, watching events unfold in her magic mirror (or viewscreen in this case) as she cackles to her drone minions.  Throughout it all, the Borg come across more as a minor nuisance than a major galactic threat.

My biggest issue with “Endgame” though is that it is attempting to do too much.  The writers are trying to have an adventure, wrap up the characters (which is doesn’t really, since it’s showing an alternate future), and end the story all in the space of about an hour and a half.  It is rushed, and some major events are just glossed over or not shown at all.  I feel like the episode tries to get around some of this criticism in Kim’s speech, which states that it’s all about the journey.  Viewers spent seven seasons with these characters, and, unlike with the TNG cast, it was not like these characters were going to be making the jump to the movies (Well, one did, but we’ll talk about that next week.).  It would have been nice to have a bit more closure. 

Still, as far as finales go, “Endgame” was a lot better than what was to come.  Brace yourselves.  These next two weeks are going to be rough. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 28-December 4, 2016

I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the various final episodes and films across the Star Trek franchise.  This week, we have reached “What You Leave Behind,” the final episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9), which aired in June 1999 at the end of the series’ seventh season. 

To be honest, when I first came up with the idea for this series of posts, I knew this was going to be the problematic one.  How the hell can I talk about this episode on its own?  Sure, it’s the final episode of DS9, but it’s also the culmination of a nine-episode arc tying up not only the main cast and many of the recurring characters that have become prominent over the show’s run but also two plotlines that have been going for multiple seasons.

In short, this IS NOT a standalone episode.  As such, you absolutely should not watch it unless you’ve seen the episodes leading up to it.  And by “episodes leading up to it,” I mean pretty much the entire series.  Sure, there are a few in the first couple of seasons that you could skip (Let me know if you need a list), but DS9 spent years developing the characters and plotlines that “What You Leave Behind” deals with.

Much of that is due to the nature of DS9’s situation.  Unlike any Star Trek before or after it, DS9 was set in a single location.  Sure, the USS Enterprise or USS Voyager are locations, but each week they are somewhere new.  Space Station Deep Space Nine is in Bajoran space near the Cardassian Empire.  It has a history predating the series, when it was Terok Nor, a Cardassian station in use when the Cardassians conquered and ruled over the planet Bajor.  As of the pilot episode of DS9, “Emissary,” the station is situation at the entrance of a wormhole leading thousands of light years away to the Gamma Quadrant (Star Trek’s Milky Way galaxy is divided into four quadrants.  The Federation and Klingons are in the Alpha Quadrant.).

The crew wasn’t just going to swoop in, have an adventure, and then move along to the next star system.  They were there dealing with these species week in and week out.  As such, Captain Sisko and his officers had many encounters with Gul Dukat of the Cardassians, or Winn Adami of Bajor, or the Vorta Weyoun, or the “simple tailor” Elim Garak.   The final episode had to resolve all of these stories (Fortunately, the lead up episodes had wrapped certain other characters, such as Rom and Leeta.).

Also, unlike the final episodes of the original series and Star Trek: The Next Generation, “What You Leave Behind,” which was written by showrunner Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler, is truly an ending.  Storylines are resolved.  Some characters leave.  Others die.  By the time its runtime as completed, everything has changed.

Ok.  I just spent several paragraphs explaining why it is hard to talk about this episode.  So what can I say?  It’s a satisfying finale with space battles on a scale that TOS and TNG could only dream of, emotional moments, and excellent performances.  In some cases, its reach exceeds its grasp, since it’s trying to show a galactic war on a television budget.  Some areas, particularly scenes on Cardassia, suffer from the show’s inability to stage large sequences.

I would also argue (not that I think there’s much of a counter-argument) that the two main plotlines “What You Leave Behind” is wrapping up mesh particularly well.  Most of the episode is dedicated to one story, and when it cuts to what two other characters are doing far removed from everything else, it feels more like an annoying interruption.  Get me back to the important stuff!  And then after the main plot is resolved, getting to that second seems almost like an afterthought.  Oh wait.   I need to go over here now and do this totally unrelated thing.

Still, even having not seen the episode or any of the ones leading up to it in years, I was quickly sucked back in.  I know most people argue for Kirk or Picard as their favorite captain, but for me it is Avery Brooks’ Captain Benjamin Sisko.  He was an excellent commanding officer, but also possibly more human than any of his counterparts.  He was a husband and father and had so much more to his character than his Starfleet career. 

Rewatching “What You Leave Behind” also instantly reignited the crush I had on Nana Visitor’s Kira Nerys through much of the 1990s.  While he doesn’t get as much to do in the episode as some of his others during the run, but Jeffrey Combs, who plays Weyoun, is perfect in every scene he’s in.  He’s so good at being awful. 

Near the end of the episode is a montage sequence showing the main characters getting ready to move on to the next phase of their lives.  It’s incredibly sappy, but it absolutely works.  It is to this day one of my favorite sequences in all of Star Trek.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can be a little tough to get into.  The first two seasons have some solid episodes and some…ehhh…ones as the series establishes its setting and characters and finds its way.  But I recommend DS9 whole-heartedly.  It’s well worth the time investment and has some of the best character and storyline work in the entire franchise. 

“What You Leave Behind” is a worthy and satisfying conclusion to DS9, but you really need to take the entire journey to appreciate it. 

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 21-27, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am spending these last several posts talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended. 

When Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) premiered in the Fall of 1987, there was a certain amount of skepticism among fans that this new show would measure up to the legacy of the original Star Trek television series.  Yes, Gene Roddenberry was back in charge, but suddenly there was a bald British guy pretending to be a Frenchman (without the accent, fortunately) commanding the ship, the bridge looked like a living room, and they had a Klingon and, even worse, kids on board.  The show’s first two seasons did little to ease these concerns.

But by Season Three, TNG really hit its stride.  Whether or not Gene Roddenberry’s failing health and reduced involvement with the show had anything to do with this is up for debate.  Regardless, the show’s quality improved, and over the ensuing seasons TNG reached a level of popularity TOS never achieved during its original airing. 

Season Seven was to be TNG’s last, but the show was going out on its own terms and at the height of its popularity.  The finale in the Spring of 1994 was not to be the end of the adventures for Captain Picard and his crew, though, since they were moving straight from the series to the movies.  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, released three years earlier in 1991, had marked the end of the films with the TOS cast, and now Paramount wanted to hand things off to the TNG crew. 

Ronald D. Moore and Brannon Braga were tasked with writing both the TNG finale and the subsequent film, and I imagine the pressure was immense.  For the finale, they had to provide a satisfying ending to a massively popular television series while still leaving everything in place for a feature film with those exact same characters.  According to Moore and Braga, they had to write both at the same time and occasionally ended up confusing the two stories in their minds.

Despite those challenges, the resulting episode, “All Good Things…” is fantastic.  In it, Captain Picard, played by Patrick Stewart, finds himself moving back and forth through time from his present (Stardate 47988) to first day on the USS Enterprise-D seven years earlier to a period 25 years in the future.  In each of these time periods, he is faced with the mystery of a spatial anomaly that threatens to destroy everything. 

The scenes in the past do an excellent job of bringing the series full circle, and it’s fun to see Tasha Yar and Miles O’Brien back on the bridge.  As for seeing the first and second season uniforms again…well…it makes you appreciate the newer uniforms that much more.  And the future scenes, other than some dodgy old age makeup on Jonathan Frakes’ William Riker, are nicely done, and it’s enjoyable to see what happened to the members of the command crew.  Data’s future is probably the most fun, but it’s great to see where Dr. Crusher has ended up as well.

I’ve tried to avoid too many spoilers in these posts, but I need to get into that territory here.  If you really don’t want to know anymore, skip this paragraph and don’t read the guest star credits of the episode.  Everyone ok?  Good.  As I implied a moment ago, the opening credits unfortunately give a big spoiler about the source of the mystery by revealing that Q, played by John de Lancie, is in the episode.  I assume Screen Actors Guild rules were involved in this.  In any case, seeing his name pretty much lets you know that the godlike Q is behind all of this somehow.  More than that, though, Q’s appearance helps bookend TNG, since he was in the pilot, “Encounter at Farpoint,” as well.  His actions then have quite a bit of relevance to the events of “All Good Things…”  And de Lancie is in wonderful form, seeming to relish every bit of dialogue given to his character.  Q later shows up on several episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, but if this had been his final appearance, it would have been a great one to go out on.

While “All Good Things…” does give every member of the main TNG cast their moments, it really is Picard’s episode.  Patrick Stewart is in practically every scene in all three timelines, and he’s particularly good as the older Picard trying desperately to convince his comrades that he isn’t a crazy old man.  The best scene of the episode for me, though, is its last when (and here’s another spoiler) Picard joins the rest of his crew for a poker game.  The universe isn’t at stake.  There’s no great drama and no sad goodbyes.  It’s really just Picard realizing how much these people mean to him as the Enterprise-D sails on to its next adventure. 

The title of the finale may have invoke the phrase “All good things must come to an end,” but Star Trek was far from done.  We would next see the TNG cast in movie theaters along with a few members of the TOS crew in Star Trek Generations that November.  Meanwhile Star Trek continued on television with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which had premiered in January 1993.  DS9 was soon joined by Star Trek: Voyager, which premiered in January 1995 as part of the launch of the United Paramount Network. 

With all of that happening, the mid 1990s were a great time to be a Trekkie.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – November 14-20, 2016

As this 50th anniversary year winds down, I am spending these last several posts talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  Last week, I discussed “Turnabout Intruder,” the final episode of the original Star Trek television series.  After that episode, Star Trek may have no longer been producing new episodes, but it was not off the air.  Thanks to syndication, the series found new legions of fans, leading to the animated series, which ran for two seasons, and then plans to revive the live-action show on a new Paramount television network.

The new network never happened, but thanks to the success of Star Wars, the executives at Paramount decided to relaunch Star Trek as a film.  The result, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, isn’t exactly beloved by fans, but it was a huge hit at the time, which meant sequel!  That film, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan was a success in both story and financial terms, and so, in true Hollywood fashion, the sequels just kept coming.

In the summer of 1989, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier arrived in theaters with big expectations.  The previous film, Star Trek IV: The Voyages Home had been a massive hit and, thanks to its modern setting and comedic sensibility, had drawn in more mainstream audiences.  Also, in 1987 Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered, putting Trek back on TV on a weekly basis.  Everything seemed to be in place for Star Trek V to be the biggest Trek film ever.

That…did not happen. 

Even if you don’t remember the summer of 1989, a few films came out in those months that you may have heard of.  BatmanGhostbusters II.  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  It was a great summer to be a movie fan.  I saw Batman in the theater seven times! 

Star Trek V could not compete with that, primarily because it is just not a good movie.  It has some moments I love.  I still think Kirk’s “I need my pain” speech is one of his best.  But the movie overall is pretty terrible.  To give you some idea, it’s sitting at a lowly 21% on Rotten Tomatoes, while its predecessor, Star Trek VI, is at 85%.  The box office bore this out with Star Trek V only making $63 million worldwide against a $33 million budget.  By comparison, Star Trek IV cost $21 million and grossed $133 million.

The relative failure of Star Trek V scared Paramount and put plans for a sequel in doubt.  However, the 25th anniversary of the franchise was just two years away in 1991, and Paramount wanted to do something to capitalize on the event.  Harve Bennett, who had produced the Star Trek films starting with Star Trek II, pitched the idea of doing a prequel set during Kirk and Spock’s days at Starfleet Academy and showing how they and the other members of the Enterprise crew met.  Tossing the original cast aside met with resistance, though, and Bennett left the project.

Paramount, at the urging of Leonard Nimoy, turned to Nicholas Meyer, who had written and directed Star Trek II and also worked on the script to Star Trek IV.  Together they developed an idea based around current events: specifically the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.  Meyer went on to write the screenplay with his friend Denny Martin Flinn and also directed the movie.

The resulting film, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, was released in December 1991 shortly after the death of Star Trek’s creator Gene Roddenberry at the age of 70.   It had the biggest opening weekend of any Star Trek movie up until that time and went on to earn close to $100 million worldwide against a $27 million budget.  It currently has an 83% positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Star Trek VI does indeed closely mirror real-world events from the time of its release.  It begins with an explosion on the Klingon moon of Praxis, which is the Klingon’s main source of power (Think Chernobyl).  With their empire crippled by this event, the Klingons, under their Chancellor Gorkon (Think Gorbachev) open peace negotiations with the Federation via the Federation’s envoy, Captain Spock.  Spock then volunteers Captain James T. Kirk and the USS Enterprise to escort Gorkon to a meeting on Earth.  The trip does not exactly go as planned.

Along with the Cold War themes, the film tackles racism and resistance to a changing world, ideas that are just a relevant today as they were with the movie was released 25 years ago.  Kirk has a very hard time accepting that Klingons, a species he has viewed as the enemy for his entire career, could be serious about wanting peace with the Federation.  And he’s not alone.  As Gorkon says to him, “If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” 

The movie also acknowledges the ages of the characters and the fact that they are nearing the end of their Starfleet careers.  As the film begins, the crew is due to stand down in three months.  Later in the story Kirk and Spock have a wonderful discussion about whether or not they have outlived their usefulness. 

Star Trek VI is an all-around good movie with an exciting story, relevant themes, and a fantastic soundtrack.  The cast outside of the main crew, including Christopher Plummer, David Warner, and Kim Cattrall, is top notch. 

More importantly, the movie serves the main characters well and works as a last hurrah for the entire crew as they literally sign off.  William Shatner has become almost a joke over the years for his portrayal of Kirk, but he is particularly good in this film.  Watch his facial expressions when the Klingons visit the Enterprise and during his fight with the large alien on Rura Penthe, particularly when he gets back into a corner.  He doesn’t make a big deal about it, but he is always in the moment.

The film was the final time the entire original crew was on screen together, including the final time that Kirk, Spock, and McCoy shared the screen.  In reality, though, it was actually the last appearance in the Star Trek universe only of DeForest Kelley’s Dr. Leonard McCoy (Chronologically he shows up again in the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, but that was filmed in 1987).  Kelley died in 1999 at the age of 79.

Jimmy Doohan reprised his role as Montgomery Scott in an episode of TNG in 1992 and also in the next film, Star Trek: Generations, which was a handoff from the original cast to the TNG cast.  He died in 2005 at the age of 85.

Walter Koenig also appeared as Pavel Chekov in Generations as did William Shatner, putting an end to his time on screen as James T. Kirk.  George Takei would show up as Sulu in a 1996 episode of Star Trek: Voyager.  And, while they are unofficial, Takei, Koenig, and Nichelle Nichols (Uhura) have all appeared as their characters in Star Trek fan films.

Leonard Nimoy appeared in two episodes of TNG around the release of Star Trek VI to help promote the film, but then he was absent from Star Trek for the next 18 years until his appearance in JJ Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek film.  He also had a brief role in 2013’s Star Trek Into Darkness, his final appearance as Spock before his death in 2015 at the age of 83.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Sweet Update-y Goodness on 'The Disappearing Act' and 'nightwalk'

"Hey remember when VampireNomad was promoting that short film she did makeup for called The Disappearing Act back in August? Did that thing get made? What's up with that?"

"Hey remember when VampireNomad implored us over and over again to vote for a StoryHive project called nightwalk? Did they win? Is it being filmed? What's up with that?"

"DO ANY OF THE SHORT FILMS VAMPIRENOMAD TELLS US ABOUT EXIST AT ALL? WHAT IS UP WITH ANY OF IT?"

I hear your questions, pretty mortals. I hear you loud and clear. And today I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all people [who care about The Disappearing Act and nightwalk].

I present to you: UPDATES!

That's right, just click on the "UPDATES" and it will take you to the official Kissing Habit Films site where writer/director/producer Andrea Beca has written updates on both films for you to eagerly consume.

Long link, for those who like to see what they're clicking on: http://kissinghabit.com/blog-1/2016/11/6/update-the-disappearing-act-and-nightwalk

TL:DR Both films exist. One is heading into post-production in December and the other is currently in pre-production. CLICK ONE OF THE LINKS, DO NOT BE LAZY. Reading is a privilege and you shouldn't squander the ability.

That is all, I love you, now go back to your regularly scheduled day.

xo Corinne