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Star Trek: Voyager – Inside Man (Review)

Inside Man is a curious episode.

It is a seventh season episode that feels very much like a first season episode. To be fair, this is perhaps par for the course with any long-running series approaching a definite ending. Both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got a little nostalgic in their final seasons. The Next Generation neatly bookended Encounter at Farpoint by picking up on the dangling thread of Q’s trial of humanity in All Good Things…, while Deep Space Nine revisited first season ideas like the “one hundred” in Chimera or Quark mistakenly thinking that he was replacing Zek in The Dogs of War.

“I’d counsel against that.”

Star Trek: Voyager was always going to be a little bit more nostalgic than most, given that the nature of the show involved a long journey back towards the familiar and the recognisable. The closer that Voyager got to home, the stronger the urge to look backwards. The seventh season of Voyager evokes the early seasons in a number of ways, such as the manner in which Repression tries to resurrect the Maquis conflict and even brings in a guest star last seen in Learning Curve or the surprise return of Joseph Carey as a guest star in Friendship One.

However, Inside Man has its own very strange nostalgia at its core. The episode builds on sixth season episodes like Pathfinder or Life Line, even including a number of recurring guest stars from those earlier episodes. However, its tone and its plot elements feel like they belong a much earlier script. Inside Man is an episode that treats the Ferengi as semi-serious antagonists who would murder more than a hundred people for a profit, which ignores a lot of their development on Deep Space Nine and jumps right back to their characterisation in early Next Generation episodes like The Last Outpost or Peak Performance.

“I mean, to be fair, they also couldn’t outwit the Kazon.”

However, at the core of the episode is a plot device that the series largely moved past in its second season, and one which feels strangely out of place on what amounts to the home stretch of Voyager. The plot of Inside Man revolves around a promise to get the ship and crew home ahead of schedule, the kind of promise that was frequently dangled in front of the crew in earlier episodes like Eye of the Needle, Cold Fire and False Profits. While it would be teased in later episodes like Hope and Fear or Bliss, it was never with the same intensity.

The irony with these earlier stories was that the audience understood, on some level,how unlikely it was that the ship and crew would be getting home. After all, the entire premise of Voyager was that it was a starship stranded on the far side of the galaxy, isolated from familiar support systems. To bring the ship home would represent a complete betrayal of the premise, even more than downplaying the tension with the Maquis or completely ignoring questions about which set of rules the crew would follow. If Voyager brought the ship home in a random episode in those first seasons, it would be a catastrophic admission of defeat.

Just a Reg-ular Barclay.

In Inside Man, a slight variation on the same central tension exists. Any audience member with any level of televisual literacy would understand that the ship and crew would be returning home at the end of the seventh season; this was the end of Voyager, and that ending had to involve the fulfillment of the show’s basic premise. However, given the show’s conservatism, it was highly unlikely that the crew would be getting home in such an early episode and certainly not as part of a plot involving the Ferengi. Inside Man is the most obvious sort of shell game, where there’s nothing hidden under any of the cups.

However, what’s most striking about Inside Man is that the script seems almost self-aware. The episode is glib and wry, repeatedly seeming like an extended joke being played by the savvy audience and the smirking writers on the series itself. Inside Man is based around the promise that the crew might be returning home, but is immediately established to the audience as nothing more than an empty hustle. The cruel irony (and the most wry punchline) is that the characters themselves remain in the dark even after the con is long over.

Getting into her head.

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ménage à Troi (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

So, here we are again. We almost made it. Two episodes away from the series finalé and… boom! Lwaxana Troi episode. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

Still, this is the point where we reflect on how far the show has come in a season. Ménage à Troi is hardly the best episode of the season, but then Lwaxana episodes rarely are. We need to compare like with like, to get a sense of how far the show has come along. It’s not enough to say that Star Trek: The Next Generation is a better show when it made Ménage à Troi than it was when it made Manhunt or Haven, but it’s close.

Ménage à Troi is a problematic episode, much like Manhunt and Haven are both problematic episodes. There’s a weird awkward dated quality to the show’s attempts to do relationship humour – a vaguely unsettling sexist undertone about how confident older women are inherently hilarious and its great fun to see them involved in embarrassing relationships. Unfortunately, Ménage à Troi continues that trend.

Two Ferengi walk into a bar...

Two Ferengi walk into a bar…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Imzadi by Peter David (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

As far as tie-in novels for Star Trek: The Next Generation go, Imzadi is the big one. It’s Peter David’s magnum opus for The Next Generation – a wonderfully clever character study that allows David to bask in the character dynamics of the show, while playing with big ideas and grand themes. It’s very easily the strongest Next Generation novel published while the show was on television, and remains a strong contender for the best Next Generation novel ever published.

tng-imzadi

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Price (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Well, the streak had to end some time. After seven episodes ranging from “flawed but still interesting” to “pretty great”, the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation hits a bit of a snag. The Price is the weakest episode of the show’s third season to this point, and confirmation that the writers really have no idea how to write for Deanna Troi. It’s still the best episode to focus on the ship’s half-Betazoid counsellor, but being better than Haven or The Child is hardly an accomplishment for the ages.

All that glitters...

All that glitters…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Bonding (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Bonding is a pretty pivotal and momentous episode for Star Trek: The Next Generation. On one hand, it’s the first episode overseen by incoming executive producer Michael Piller. Piller would go on to become one of the most influential producers to work on Star Trek. Aside from steering The Next Generation towards success, he also created Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager, as well as overseeing the production of the first three Next Generation films.

However, The Bonding is also the first script written by Ronald D. Moore. Obviously, the version that made it to screen had been revised and tweaked by Melinda Snodgrass and Michael Piller, but The Bonding still feels like a Moore script. Ronald D. Moore would go on to be one of the more influential writers on The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. He also worked (very) briefly on Voyager, before departing and heading up his own reboot of Battlestar Galactica.

So The Bonding is the beginning of something new, an original direction for The Next Generation. Featuring a powerful and wonderful opening half, The Bonding suffers a bit from falling into conventional Star Trek tropes towards the end of the episode. However, it’s still a clever and powerful piece of television.

A bit of shadow...

A bit of shadowplay…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Survivors (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Michael Wagner remains something of a forgotten figure among Star Trek fans. While anybody familiar with the behind-the-scenes workings on Star Trek: The Next Generation is aware of the contributions made by the wonderful Michael Piller, and quite a few would be familiar with the work of Maurice Hurley during the first two seasons, Wagner’s four-episode tenure as executive producer and head writer is something of a mystery.

Situated right in the middle of that four-episode run, and the only Star Trek script on which Wagner does not share a credit, The Survivors seems like the most obvious indicator of what Wagner’s version of The Next Generation might have looked like. Of course, it’s impossible to extrapolate from a single episode of television, let alone a single episode of an era that was over before it already began, but it is interesting to look at how Wagner’s work here differs from the style that would be imposed by Piller.

The Survivors is a decidedly high-concept science-fiction mystery, feeling almost like an episode of an anthology featuring the regular cast. Built around a guest star, The Survivors is very much radically opposed to Piller’s vision of character-driven Star Trek.

"Nice house. Can't see much about the neighbourhood, though."

“Nice house. Can’t see much about the neighbourhood, though.”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Icarus Factor (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Icarus Factor is a character-driven story. At least, it wants to be a character-driven story. The problem is that Star Trek: The Next Generation hasn’t reached the point where it can really do character-driven storytelling with a measure of consistence. (The fact that Picard confronting his future failures in Time Squared worked was more down to Patrick Stewart than the episode’s script.)

The Icarus Factor is a story focusing on Riker as a character, and it suffers from the fact that Riker hasn’t really been well-defined to date. We’re repeatedly told that he’s ambitious and career-driven, but most his on-screen characterisation has fluctuated between reckless, jerkish and horny. So The Icarus Factor tries to compensate by giving Riker the most generic back story possible for a lead male character on a television show.

This is the story of Riker’s daddy issues.

Somehow, this image just sums up Riker as a character...

Somehow, this image just sums up Riker as a character…

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