Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Star Trek Retrospective III: 1992-2001

And Now, Something Completely Different
As The Next Generation began winding down, Paramount got to work on its replacement. A fresh approach was called for; something darker, something edgier. We'd seen two series of a crew exploring new places weekly in not-much-depth, what if there was a series that stayed in one place and explored its sole setting in very-much-depth? If Star Trek & TNG were a "Wagon Train to the Stars," Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1992-1999) would be a "Gunsmoke in Space." Set on a far flung wild west space station (town) at the gateway of a crucial trade route, DS9 explored politics, war and character to a much deeper extent than its predecessors could and featured a more heavily serialized story line. For a variety of reasons, the show was a harder sell and lost much of TNG's massive audience but the quality never suffered. Like fine wine it just got better with each passing season as the arcs grew in complexity.

With the best cast, the most complex characters, the best drama and an a certain someone named Garak, this is easily my favorite of the Trek shows. It is not necessarily better than TOS or TNG, merely a particularly good orange to their perfectly ripe apples. Where TNG established the utopian ideals of humanity's future, DS9 threw them all against a wall and saw what stuck. It's different, it's risky and it's rich.

Best Episodes:
- "The Visitor" (Sisko is apparently killed in an accident but keeps reappearing to son Jake every ten years or so, who can't bring himself to let go. a father/son story that would have even frat-doucheys in tears)
- "The Die Is Cast" (exiled Garak is offered a return trip home if he assists in a Romulan & Cardassian assault on the Changeling homeworld. The changelings pwn them anyway)
- "Duet" (Kira confronts her hatred of Cardassians when a Cardassian war criminal/concentration camp manager turns up on the station)
- "Rocks & Shoals" (the crew is marooned on a planet with an also-marooned platoon of enemy soldiers, who hate their leader and who the crew try to win over)
- "In the Pale Moonlight" (with the war going very badly, Sisko decides it's time to convince the stubborn Romulans to join. He sells his soul & enlists Garak's help, darkness ensues. This is one of my favorite TV episodes of all time.)
- "Taking Into the Wind" (when Klingon leader Gowron starts mismanaging the troops & endangering the galaxy over a petty vendetta, Worf is ordered to do 'whatever it takes' to stop him, including treason)

How it ends:
"It's like they always say: the more things change, the more they stay the same."

The Zenith
TNG was ending on a (ratings) high note, early-DS9 was still holding it's audience, and Kirk & Picard made it into the cover of Time Magazine. The next movie was rickety, but only because the producers had so much other success to manage...

Star Trek Generations (1994) - Passing the torch to the TNG crew, Kirk & Picard unite in a space-time-fiddly-doodly to stop a crazed scientist from destroying a star for this and that reason. Some good ideas and themes regarding aging, time and life regrets, all beautifully filmed, but it lacks drive. A boring & muddled affair.

Best Line:
"It was fun. Oh my..." - Kirk

How it ends:
"Think they'll build another one?"

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) - aka the one with the Borg. Learning from the mistakes of the previous movie, First Contact is a terse, efficient thrill ride that starts with a bang and... lets go at some points, but most of the time holds. There are a ton of great moments, every character gets something to do, and James Cromwell stumbles around drunk. Like The Wrath of Khan, this is a B-movie cheesefest, but holy crap what an awesome one.

Best Line:
"Assimilate this." - Worf

How it ends:
The Vulcans make first contact with human society: tequila shots and Steppenwolf.

Things Start Going South
Only two years into Deep Space Nine's run Paramount decided it was time for yet another spinoff TV series. Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001), the story of a ship flung into deep space a hundred years from home, ala Lost in Space, was born. Serve it would as the flagship series for then-new network-upstart UPN. Voyager has its fans (usually mutually exclusive from DS9 fans), I am not one of them. Distancing itself from the oft-hard drama and political intrigue of its cousin, Voyager went the summer blockbuster route and embraced stand alone action/adventure stories with little attention paid to character. This would be fine if it wasn't so damned dorky; Voyager is the epitome of every negative stereotype about Trek one could think of. It did do one good thing however: it drew the attention of the meddling execs away from DS9, which from the moment of Voyager's launch was pretty much allowed to do whatever it wanted storywise. Yay.

Best Episodes:
- "Timeless" (Kim & Chakotay's experimental warp drive thing gets Voyager home but rips it apart in the process, they try to change history and reverse the mistake)
- "Scorpion" (Janeway forges an alliance with the Borg so that they can both survive the onslaught of A SPEESEE!Z MOAR POWRFUL THEN TEH BORGZ! OMGZ)
- "Message in a Bottle" (using alien technology, the crew is able to transmit the Doctor's hologram to home and finally let Earth know they're alive)
- "Equinox" (the crew finds another stranded Federation ship, this one using the bodies of some alien animal to propel itself home, making the animals really angry. it's actually pretty badarse)

How it ends:
Really stupidly.

Yet Another Movie
Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) - Picard & crew must tamely rebel against an Admiral looking to steal a fountain-of-youth planet from its 600 inhabitants, for the good of the many. A light & sadly forgettable film with some cute moments. Would make for a good drinking game.

Best Line:
"Saddle up, lock and load." - Data

How it ends:
Everyone lives happily ever after.

Coming soon: Parts 4 & 5, 5 being the movie we're seeing tonight...

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