Weekly Trek – December 26-31, 2016

At long last we have reached the end of 2016 and with it the end of the 50th Anniversary Year of Star Trek.  I have talked about a lot of specific aspects of the franchise over the course of this year, but as we come to a close, I wanted to take a look at the state of Star Trek at the half century mark.

In many ways, 2016 was something of a mixed bag for Star Trek.  Yes, we got a new movie, Star Trek Beyond, and a new television series, Star Trek: Discovery, is in the works.  However, despite Beyond’s generally good reviews (I felt the film was a lot of fun, as I talked about in THIS POST.), the film only made $343 million worldwide against a $185 million budget.  That’s the least of the new films by far.  By way of comparison, Beyond made $159 million over its entire domestic run in theaters (91 days).  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story almost made that in its first weekend of release and passed that number on its fifth day. 

Before Beyond’s release, Paramount was already talking about plans for a fourth film, Patrick McKay and John D. Payne had been selected to write the script.  That talk has dropped to almost nothing since the Summer.  That doesn’t necessarily mean that we won’t get another movie, but I imagine that the studio is going to think long and hard before greenlighting one with the budget of Star Trek Beyond

While nothing has been said officially, on December 6th, Simon Pegg, who cowrote Beyond as well as playing Montgomery Scott in the new films, tweeted a picture of himself and cowriter Doug Jung sitting at laptops working on…something.  Could it be the next film?  If so, what happened to McKay and Payne? 

On the television front, I was skeptical about CBS’s announcement of a new Star Trek series because it was only going to be available on the CBS All Access streaming service.  I love Trek, but I wasn’t sure that I was willing to pay $5/month for a service that had absolutely nothing else of interest to me.  Granted, if I only subscribed for the months the show aired and then cancelled, I would probably be paying less than the cost of a DVD set.  Still it was the principle of thing.

In any case, my reluctance to subscribe vanished once Bryan Fuller was announced as showrunner.  I thought he was a fantastic choice, as I expressed HERE, due to his experience and great love of Trek.  However, in October, we learned that Fuller was stepping away (See HERE).  Officially, it was because he was too busy with other projects, but Discovery would still be using his plans and his scripts for the first couple of episodes.  In December, Fuller stated that he was not involved in the show at all anymore.  Rumors abound that he was butting heads with CBS.   

Even before this, though, things did not seem to be going smoothly for the new series.  Despite an announced January 2017 premiere, no real news about the show, including anything about casting, had been released with only a few months to go.  Then in September, we learned that the premiered had been delayed until May. 

With that news, Fuller leaving the following month, and the disappointing performance of Star Trek Beyond, I honestly started to wonder if the show would premiere at all.  Finally at the end of November, though, things were officially moving forward again with the announcement that Michelle Yeoh, Anthony Rapp, and Doug Jones had been cast in the new series as Starfleet Officers (See HERE).  On December 12th, we learned that three actors had been cast as Klingons (Article HERE).  And then on December 15th, news broke that Sonequa Martin-Green, who currently plays Sasha Williams on The Walking Dead, had been cast as the lead in Discovery (Story HERE). 

Star Trek: Discovery seems to be back on track, which is good news for it.  Hopefully once it premieres in May 2017, it will prove to be good news for fans and the franchise as a whole.  Movies are great, but Star Trek really thrives on the kinds of stories that can only told television away from the big budget action expectations of the films.  Discovery is the best hope for Star Trek to bring in the next generation of fans.

But is that hope really any hope at all?  Not to get too maudlin here, but is Star Trek just too…quaint for this day and age?  Are its notions of people getting along and trying to better themselves and humanity hopelessly naïve.  Fifty years ago when the original Star Trek premiered, we had tensions with the Russians abroad while at home women and minorities struggling for their rights in society.  Now it’s 2016 and we are dealing with the same things.  We haven’t advanced at all in half a century, yet a mere three hundred years from now, we’re supposed to have grown beyond many of our current issues?  I know Star Trek bills itself as science fiction, but that’s pure fantasy! 

Perhaps that’s why we need Star Trek just as much as ever, though.  The series has always given us things to aspire to.  Scientists and engineers have looked at Star Trek for inspiration.  The folks at Motorola that developed early cell phones have been quite upfront about the influence of Star Trek on their thinking.  And, as the Building Star Trek documentary that aired on the Smithsonian Channel earlier this year clearly showed, that influence continues today.  We may not be far away from a universal translator, and strides are being made toward tricorders and even tractor beams.  I also don’t believe that anyone is going to be truly satisfied with virtual reality until we manage to create the equivalent of a holodeck.

Compared to changing human nature, the science seems easy.  Human beings with all of their fears and prejudices are much harder to change.  I’m not convinced that we can change anyone else, certainly not unless they want to.  Growing up, though, I saw Star Trek as a world in which I wanted to live and its characters, particularly the crew of the Enterprise-D on Star Trek: The Next Generation, as people I wanted to emulate.  As silly as it sounds, I wanted to be in Starfleet, and I fantasized about the Enterprise showing up in the 20th century and whisking me off into the future (They needed me for reasons I cannot remember at the point). 

Yes, I get that Star Trek is an entertainment franchise.  CBS/Paramount isn’t looking to change the world.  They just want to make some money off of this property.  And there’s even a great deal of debate in the fan community and even among those who worked on the various series about whether or not Gene Roddenberry did more harm than good by pushing Trek toward the utopian vision of humanity presented in TNG.  For a lot of us, though, including me, the utopian vision is what appeals to us.

If we’re going to get to anything approaching Star Trek, we have to work for it.  Every.  Single.  Day.  It means not automatically rejecting a scientific discovery because it goes against something I already believe.  It’s not assuming that another person is bad because they live their life differently than I do.  It’s realizing that the only way life on this planet gets any better is if we all work together to improve it.  Even in Star Trek, the Vulcans didn’t swoop in to save the Earth.  They only made contact once they saw that someone had been able to do the work necessary to reach out into the stars.

Thank you for joining me this year for these Weekly Treks as we celebrated the franchise’s 50th anniversary, and I hope some of them have been interesting and/or entertaining.  Star Trek continues to be nearly unique in its presentation of a future where things are actually pretty good for humanity and the world hasn’t descended into one variety or another of dystopian hell-scape.  There’s a decent chance that I’m going to still be around fifty years from now, and I sincerely hope Star Trek will still be viable as it hits the century mark.  Even then, I’m sure Star Trek’s vision of a brighter future, will still sorely needed.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – December 19-25, 2016

We’re almost at the end of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary year, and this week we have reached the last post talking about the way the various Star Trek series, both on television and in the movies, ended.  It’s the final finale (for Trek so far).

When Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled in 2005 after four seasons on the air, it marked the end of 18 years of continuously televised Star Trek.  Combining those years with the original  and animated series added up to 726 episodes.  That is…well…a lot.  And while Enterprise’s ratings weren’t terrible, they certainly didn’t measure up to the shows that came before it.  Perhaps viewers were tired.  The term “franchise fatigue” was tossed around quite a bit.

I just think the show was doomed from the start.  Creators Rick Berman and Brannon Braga had been working on Trek for over a decade (Berman almost from the start of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1986), and their decision to make Enterprise a prequel smacked more of “Well, Star Wars is doing it” than a choice made because of any real creative spark.  They have also said in interviews that the network, UPN, imposed certain ideas on them (Namely the temporal cold war plot). 

Enterprise also tried to distance itself from Star Trek.  When it first premiered, Star Trek wasn’t even part of the title.  The show became Star Trek: Enterprise later in its run.  It also went against the tradition of orchestral openings, instead opting to use a version of “Faith of the Heart,” a pop song by Diane Warren that was originally featured on the soundtrack of the 1998 film Patch Adams.  This choice was…controversial, to say the least.  I can’t say that I ever liked it, which is a shame since the opening credits, which used images from the history of exploration, were great visually.

The series also had the misfortune to premiere two weeks after the events of September 11, 2001 shook the world.  Star Trek has a history of commenting on society, and something as major as 9/11 couldn’t help but affect the show.  I have no idea of Berman and Braga originally intended the series to go in a darker direction, but it definitely did.  This culminated in the third year’s season long arc, in which Earth is attacked by the Xindi and then the Enterprise attempts to prevent the Xindi from returning with a weapon capable of destroying the entire planet.

This darker turn didn’t serve Scott Bakula, who played Captain Jonathan Archer, well either in my opinion.  Based on his work on Quantum Leap, I felt that Bakula was a fantastic choice to take the lead in Enterprise, but I quickly realized that his everyman persona didn’t really fit with commanding a starship.  Even before the Xindi arc, he seemed stiff in the role, but by season three Bakula’s Archer just seemed to be angry all of the time.

The remainder of the main cast never really got their due.  I don’t know if the writers were just having problems coming up with stories for them, but, outside of Archer, T’Pol (Jolene Blalock), and Tucker (Conner Trinneer), the cast got very little development.  By the fourth season, I started comparing the Enterprise crew to the crew on The Love Boat.  They were there week in and week out, but the show was really about the guest stars.

Enterprise was really three different shows over the course of its run.  For the first two seasons, it was a prequel in name only and, other than a few episodes with the Vulcans and Andorians, made episodes that weren’t too far removed from other Star Trek series, giving viewers a sense that it had all been done before.  Season Three was the aforementioned Xindi arc that took the show into much darker territory.  Then in Season Four, Berman and Braga stepped away, and a new showrunner, Manny Coto, came in.  At this point, Enterprise became more of a prequel to the later series, using several two and three episode mini-arcs to tell stories that set up things we would see again later. 

At this point, I felt the show really came into its own.  When anyone expresses an interest in watching Enterprise, I suggest that they watch the pilot episode, “Broken Bow,” which is quite solid and then skip to the third episode of the fourth season (The first two have to wrap up some nonsense involving Nazi aliens that was leftover from the previous year.  As a side note, over the course of Star Trek’s history, there are three different storylines involving Nazi aliens.  It’s at least two too many.).  From there, I tell them to watch up until the next to last episode and skip the finale.

“But…we’re here to talk about the finale, aren’t we?” you ask confused.

Yes.  Yes, we are.  Unfortunately.

Despite the major improvements in Enterprise’s fourth season, the damage was done, and UPN cancelled the show.  Manny Coto wrapped up his last arc in the show’s penultimate episode, but Rick Berman and Brannon Braga decided that they would write the overall series finale themselves.  More than that, though, they wanted to mark the end of 18 years of continuous televised Star Trek with an episode that they hoped would be a valentine to their fans.

The resulting episode, “These Are the Voyages…,” ended up being one of the most reviled episodes in all of Star Trek, disliked by the fans, the actors involved, and even Rick Berman and Brannon Braga themselves.  I give Berman and Braga a lot of credit for that.  They did quite a lot for Star Trek over their time with the franchise and don’t deserve a lot of the fan hatred sent their way.  In the case of this episode, I believe they really wanted to do right by the fans and Star Trek.  But now they admit that their idea backfired horribly.

So what was that idea?  They made the final episode of Enterprise  an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Seriously.  The entire episode is squeezed into the middle of the Seventh Season TNG episode, “The Pegasus” with Commander Riker (played by Jonathan Frakes) taking advice from Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) to observe events on board Archer’s USS Enterprise in the holodeck as Riker struggles with whether or not to tell Captain Picard about what really happened on the Pegasus.

Viewers really need to remember the events of “The Pegasus,” which originally aired 11 years earlier for Riker’s dilemma to have any impact.  Yes, Riker and Troi spend part of the show’s very brief runtime (Minus commericals and credits, it’s about 38 minutes long) rehashing the issue, but it suffers from a lot of telling rather than showing.  Additionally, a large amount of time had passed since the original episode, and Frakes and Sirtis had definitely aged since their previous appearance.

The events that Riker visits on the holodeck aren’t all that momentous, certainly in comparison with the series finales of TNG, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and Star Trek: Voyager.  In terms of the Enterprise timeline, the episode jumps six years beyond the previous episode, and the ship is on its way back to Earth so that Archer can deliver a speech at the signing of what we are led to believe is the Federation charter.  On the way, they encounter an old ally who needs their assistance with a personal problem.  They do, some things go bad, but they make it back to Earth so that Archer can deliver his speech…

…which we don’t see because Riker has made his decision.  He shuts down the holodeck and walks out with Troi.  That’s it.  Watching the episode again for this post for the first time since it aired, I was struck by how lifeless the whole thing felt.  I didn’t care about the characters or anything that was happening on the screen.

Worse than any of that, though, is the fact that this storyline makes the Enterprise cast guest stars in their own series finale.  I didn’t count, but I would wager that Riker has more lines and screen time in this episode than every Enterprise character except Archer and possibly T’Pol.  Tucker is also a big part of the episode, but, without spoiling too much, that aspect was also something that angered fans.  Reed, Phlox, Mayweather, and Sato are left with little to almost nothing to do in their final appearance.

It’s sad, really, and I completely agree with the near-universal dislike of this episode.  “These Are the Voyages…” is so bad that the official Star Trek novels, which treat every bit of filmed Star Trek as absolute gospel, retconned it out of existence in their series of books based on Enterprise, chalking the whole thing up to a historically-inaccurate holodeck program.  But as far as filmed Trek was concerned, “These Are the Voyages…” was how Star Trek ended, at least in terms of the universe that began in 1966. 

The website Memory Alpha summed up the situation very nicely, “The poor performance and reception of Nemesis – hard on the heels of the equally dismal performance of Insurrection – , combined with the failure of Enterprise (even though its last season was a triumphant one), was for the franchise conglomerate the reason to cease any and all further investments in prime universe Star Trek. Pursuant the cancellation of Enterprise, the studio one-and-a-half years later sold off their entire warehouses' contents of Star Trek production stock assets in the 2006-2009 40 Years of Star Trek: The Collection, and It's A Wrap! sale and auction wave of auctions, save for a limited amount for exhibition purposes, making it abundantly clear that Paramount was done with Star Trek as has been.”

Star Trek would return four years later with the 2009 movie directed by JJ Abrams, which created the new timeline (Officially called the Kelvin timeline, after the ship that is destroyed at the beginning of the film) and went back to the early days of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. 

With announcement of the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, which is scheduled to premiere in 2017, “These Are the Voyages” is about to go from being the final televised Star Trek episode ever to just the ill-advised ending of a troubled series.  I think we would all be better off, though, if we just pretended that it doesn’t exist.

And so we have finished the finales, and we are almost done with 2016 as well as these Weekly Trek posts.  One more to go.  See you next week.

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

Weekly Trek – December 12-18, 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.  This week we are have reached the final film featuring the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast, 2002’s Star Trek Nemesis which…

“I don’t want to watch Nemesis again.”

Do you mind? I’m trying to do the intro here.

“You’re introducing Nemesis, which means we’re going to watch Nemesis.  I don’t want to watch Nemesis.  Please don’t make me.”

Come on.  The Voyager finale was a lot better than we remembered.  I’m sure it will be fine.

“We’re going to regret this.”

Hush.

ONE MOVIE LATER…

So perhaps my inner voice had a point.  Before I go into specifics, let me preface this by saying I love Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG).  While I still think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) is the better series overall, I am more attached to TNG and its characters.  If you asked me what sci-fi universe I wanted to live it, my answer is the Enterprise-D in TNG’s 24th Century. 

As I covered a few weeks ago, the final episode of TNG, “All Good Things…,” is beautifully done and leaves our characters heading off to new adventures on the big screen.  The first two films, Star Trek Generations and Star Trek: First Contact did well, but the third, 1998’s Star Trek: Insurrection, was a critical financial disappointment.  In the ensuing years, DS9 and Star Trek: Voyager wrapped up their television runs (Voyager’s Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew, is actually in the film briefly.), and a prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise, premiered but was not generally well received.

Nemesis was put into development during was could be considered a troubled time for the franchise, and overall Star Trek head Rick Berman went in a different direction for this film.  Instead of using writers and directors with past Trek experience, he turned to screenwriter John Logan for the script and Stuart Baird to direct.  Logan, who wrote Gladiator, was a Star Trek fan and also a good friend of Brent Spiner, who plays Data.  Baird was best known as an editor, but he had moved into directing action films, such as US Marshalls

The resulting film was released in December 2002.  The best comparison of what this move was like is perhaps the release of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which came out in the summer of 1989 against films like Batman, Ghostbusters II, and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  In the face of that kind of competition, Star Trek V got crushed.  Nemesis was released in the same general time frame as Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Die Another Day, and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.  But none of those powerhouses were direct competition the weekend Nemesis was released.  That particular weekend, Nemesis was up against the Jennifer Lopez vehicle Maid in ManhattanNemesis lost that head-to-head battle as well.

When it was all over, Nemesis made only $43 million domestically, the lowest amount of any Star Trek film, and $67 million worldwide against a $60 million budget.  The general rule of thumb is that a film needs to make back three times its budget to be successful, so…ouch.  The critical response wasn’t any better with the film ranking just 37% on Rotten Tomatoes.  Only the aforementioned Star Trek V is worse. 

But is the movie actually that bad?  I didn’t like it the first time, and, after watching it again with some distance, I can say yes, it really is.  If you were to go into Nemesis without any Star Trek knowledge, much of it would seem silly; however, the spaceship battle in the end might come across as kind of cool.  If you are a TNG fan, though, large chunks of Nemesis are just plain painful.

I took a bunch of notes about the things that bothered me as I was watching the movie this time, but I don’t know that it’s fair of me to inflict the whole thing upon you.  Let me just cover a few main issues I had. 

  • Picard is once again put in action hero mode, careening across a desert in a dune buggy chase and single-handedly taking on multitudes of alien warriors.  But in other scenes, he just stands there when he really needs to DO SOMETHING!  This is particularly egregious at the end of the film when he stands around at the climax and basically has to wait for Data to show up to save the day.
  • Since he presumably had a lot of input into the script, Spiner is able to give into make of his worst comedic impulses as the Data prototype, B-4, a truly annoying character who exists somewhere between Data and the country bumpkin Bob that Spiner used to play on Night Court
  • The rest of the main cast is treated shabbily by the film when they aren’t being ignored.  I get that the TNG movies became the Picard and Data show, but LaForge is reduced to spouting clunky exposition, Troi is abused, Riker ends up in a ridiculous fight scene, and Worf is used for a couple of bad jokes and then ignored (Also no explanation is given for why Worf is there given his character’s development on DS9.  Michael Dorn, who is now the actor with the most hours of Star Trek under his belt by far, deserved better.).  Only Dr. Crusher escapes relatively unscathed but is absent for most of the last half of the film.
  • Tom Hardy, who plays the villain Shinzon, seems to be in a completely different movie, a campy one where he gets to have much more fun chewing scenery and generally hamming it up.  In fairness, our beloved site mistress much prefers this movie.  She’s edited Nemesis in her mind down to just his scenes.  As a side note, that outfit must have been impossible to move it.  He’s encased in rubber for most of the film, and I swear as I could hear it squeaking as he moved.

There’s more, but I’ll stop.  The point is that the TNG characters that I love are really done a disservice by this movie.  According to Rick Berman, there are about 50 minutes of character scenes that were edited out of the film.  Some of them have been included on the home video releases, but it’s not enough to salvage Nemesis as a whole.

That said the movie does have a few bright spots.  The ship combat is some of the best we’ve seen in Star Trek, and I enjoyed much of the wedding and bridge banter that takes place at the start of the film.  I also quite like the final scene of Picard walking through the Enterprise’s corridors.  It ends the film on an optimistic note that is fitting for Star Trek.  Overall, though, it is not a great film and is my least favorite of the TNG movies.

Nemesis was advertised with the line “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins,” but it was not intended to be the final film.  Nemesis screenwriter John Logan was developing a second movie to wrap up TNG.  Nemesis’ poor performance ended that idea in a hurry, though.  The movie also marked the end of filmed Star Trek taking place in the 24th century setting originally established in TNG and continued in DS9 and Voyager

For the next seven years, Star Trek would be absent from theaters, and on television it was only represented by Star Trek: Enterprise.  The embattled prequel series didn’t have that much longer to live, and in a very odd decision, TNG would play a big part in its ending.   

- Alan Decker

@CmdrAJD on Twitter

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

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