Part Two of what happens if you wait twenty years to finally watch a beloved scifi series and find yourself baffled by it.
8. The Battle:
The Ferengi are back to offer a ship ‘as a gift’ and since none of the crew have ever heard the phrase ‘Trojan horse’, they accept. It contains a Picard-specific magic box, the effects of which are too silly to go into here.
Despite their obvious shiftiness (including significant pauses and actually rubbing their hands together) no one, including Troi, picks up on their hidden agenda. Her empathic abilities are limited to saying quickly ‘ooh, I felt something too,’ when Picard lurches out of his chair, clutching his forehead in agony.
I’m going to stop ragging on Troi now, I promise, because a) it’s not exactly sporting and b) the character has an inbuilt flaw, viz. that psychic abilities are dramatic death to any plot which requires ambiguity. If Picard could turn to her and say ‘These Ferengi – lying little weasels, or total mensches?’ and she responded with a curt ‘Blow them out the airlock, Captain’, then bam, episode over. So her powers have to have this vague, now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t quality. The lesson is: don’t write psychic characters. You’ll spend the rest of the script thinking of ways for their powers to not work so they don’t ruin the tension.
Wiki Trivia: The name Ferengi was taken from the Middle and South Asian word Ferenghi, meaning ‘foreigner’ or ‘European’. Denying that the profit-obsessed, big-nosed, untrustworthy, runty species was an offensive Jewish caricature, the writers stated that “the Ferengi are us. That’s the gag, the Ferengis are Humans.” Ah. That’s the gag. I didn’t even spot there was one.
9. Hide and Q:
Firstly, props to whoever decided on that name. It makes absolutely no sense.
ST often gets flack (deservedly) for dragging its feet over including any LGBT characters, but this episode has a powerfully homoerotic, Satan-tempting-Jesus-in-the-wilderness thing going on. Q (the weird, campy alien you may have tried unsuccessfully to forget from the first episode) is back, this time with his eye on the chiselled features and baby blue eyes of Riker. So far, Riker hasn’t really had a personality much beyond ‘performs his duties’ but now gets tested by Q with the offer of godlike powers and some pretty outrageous flirting.
As ever, the parts which ramble on about the nature of humanity are turgid stuff, with Q and Jean-Luc quoting Shakespeare at each other like sixth formers, and the assertion that humanity is destined to become ‘godlike’ presented totally without irony. But the bits where the crew are in the bridge, facing their own personal temptations are actually quite enjoyable. Plus the actor playing Q (John De Lancie) is hamming it up to such a degree, prancing about and rolling his eyes like a Batman villain, that you take your hat off to him. At one point, he sighs like Oscar Wilde and wafts away Riker’s insistence that the ship not be delayed on its mission of mercy with an airy “Your species is always suffering and dying”.
It’s a Deanna Troi episode! Testing my resolve not to mock her “abilities” to the utmost. So I won’t mention that when she communicates telepathically with her mum, they both pull faces and wave their arms around in such a clear pantomime of their words that you end up wondering if the whole Betazoid race has confused “being telepathic” with “playing charades”.
Troi gets told that she is going to marry (or “be bonded to”) some dude her parents promised her to when she was a kid. She goes along with this, despite not wanting to because FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE PASSIVE.
She is half human, half Betazoid. He is all human. So what’s with the weird ‘promised to each other’ shit? The two options are:
a) It’s a Betazoid custom, which a human family is going along with for reasons which remain unexplained.
b) Humanity has reverted to promising children in marriage to each other, like the aristocracy in the Middle Ages.
This brings the under-developed Riker-Troi love plot to the fore, with them sort of looking meaningfully at each other a lot. We also catch Riker watching some porn in his cabin. OK, it’s two women playing harps, but we KNOW. We also learn that, like being a headmistress in the 30s, or the cute one in a boyband, it’s heavily frowned on for Starfleet captains to get married.
And there’s a plague ship off the starboard bow, full of humans, with a virus, and blahblahblah. This series hasn’t quite got a handle on the ‘Main plot – subplot – the two get tied together’ structure, and handles it pretty clunkily. Troi’s fiancé ends up aboard the plague ship, because he’s been dreaming about a woman’s face all his life and drawing pictures of it, and the woman on the plague ship has been dreaming about him and doing the same, and they see each other and They Just Know.
This introduces the idea of god into Star Trek, since you can’t have Fate or Destiny without a guiding consciousness to make those calls. Since a god is “a supernatural immortal consciousness which takes a hand in the affairs of humanity” and this one has shown that it cares about such trifles as one human being bonded to another and has been prepping them their whole lives, we have to assume that a similar level of care has gone into assuring every single other outcome that humanity faces. Hurrah! There is no free will in the Star Trek Universe, and they are all just puppets, dancing at the ends of their strings.
11. The Big Goodbye:
Riker opens the episode with some tantalising plot exposition about the Jaradan, an insectiod race who are a) very hot on protocol and b) very violent when displeased. There’s a collective sinking feeling when it becomes clear that this promising start is the subplot, and most of the episode is going to consist of Jean-Luc titting about on the Holodeck pretending to be a private detective in the pretend 1940s. He puts on a period-appropriate suit (which he must have packed on the off-chance when he started the mission) and gathers a posse of Dr Crusher, Data and “visiting historian” Dr Whalen. Dr Whalen is so clearly marked for death that there might as well be a shot of him completing his will and deleting the porn off his hard-drive before joining the others.
This episode honestly feels like it was cobbled together during a writers’ strike, or the day after the whole team came back from Glastonbury. There’s a dame who gets murdered, a mcguffin so lazy that it’s only ever referred to as “The Object”, Data causes alarm by knowing things about sporting events from the future and everyone says things like “A wiseguy, eh?” Even the murder-mystery aspect is simply left unresolved, since no one knows who murdered the dame and what happened to The Object. It’s always a stretch to care about the here-one-episode-gone-the-next characters that come aboard The Enterprise, but when these characters are just light particles in a video game, it becomes actively insulting.
The Holodeck moves from “stunning technology” to “Oh. Apparently it’s magic” when the system gets damaged (preventing the team from leaving) and the “security protocols” get overridden. These protocols are the only things enforcing the laws of reality, since once they’re out of the way, not only can the holograms touch the humans, they can shoot them (resulting in them actually getting hurt, there’s a surprise, Dr Whalen) and even leave lipstick on the captain’s face, which is still there when they leave. This means that the Holodeck is capable of synthesising actual matter. It was also programmed by a sadist, since the characters inside believe themselves to be real, and it comes as quite a blow to one of them when Picard tells him, gently, sensitively and entirely unnecessarily, that he isn’t real, and neither are his wife and kids.
Wesley fixes the system, the captain rushes back to the bridge and delivers the required welcome speech in flawless Jaradian, and the trade negotiations can begin at last. Hurrah.
The Jaradans were never shown on screen, due to budget restrictions, which resulted in this slick bit of dialogue:
RIKER: I suggest we commence screen-to-screen communication so we can see each other?
JARADAN: You offend us! We will not show ourselves to a mere subordinate!
RIKER: Oh. OK.
That’s all for this week, folks. Leave a comment if you can think of way that the Holodeck makes sense that doesn’t involve it being the Room of Requirement from Harry Potter.