Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Manhunt

The Next Generation, Season 2
Airdate: June 19, 1989
44 of 176 produced
44 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is set to ferry a pair of Antedean delegates to a peace conference on Pacifica, when Lwaxana Troi appears and informs the Enterprise is she is the Betazoid delegate to the same conference. But Lwaxana has another purpose in mind for asking the Enterprise to escort her to the conference. She is looking for a new husband, and has set her sights on Captain Picard. Will the crew of the Enterprise be able to handle this latest "threat"?
Would you like to join the Three Dolphin Club, Jean-Luc? Mr. Homm is in the other room...


Kevin: It kills me to say this, but as much as I love Lwaxana Troi as a character, and Majel Barrett as an actress, the episodes in which she appears tend to....suck. There is no real conflict in this episode. Lwaxana goes through Betazoid pon farr and the stakes are...her dignity? Well, that's pretty much out the window at this point. It certainly leads to some down right funny scenes. I loved the dinner between Picard and Troi and Data, and the scene in the transporter room with Wesley and Worf was pretty good, too. Wesley almost gets statutorily raped and Homm made the most awesomely inappropriate gesture to refer to Geordi. What's not to love?

Matthew: It almost goes without saying that there is no science fiction here. Yes, it's on a starship, and yes, the  horny female here is an "alien." But this could just as well have been an episode of the Golden Girls. Which isn't a crime in and of itself - but this is Star Trek. I want to see people trekking. Through stars. Exploring strange new worlds and such. I don't want a "comedy" in which the humor is based on how funny horny old people are. I get the feeling that this episode was heavily re-written, perhaps to suit Barrett's scene-chewing whims (though I should stress that this is merely suspicion on my part). Original scriptwriter Tracy Torme hated the changes so much that he would only allow the pseudonym Terry Devereaux to be placed on screen, and quit the show shortly thereafter.

Kevin: I do have some issues with the setup of the Betazoid phase, though. I understand a woman going through a particularly fertile period before the onset of menopause; it happens to human women. But the idea that this is when Betazoid women become "fully sexual" just seems odd. I did like the look on Riker's face when he hears that Troi's sex drive could more than quadruple and Troi, dead serious, responding she didn't want to frighten him. It was a nice moment.

Matthew: I can believe that such a biological response might evolve naturally and present a certain survival value to a species. Perhaps this response prevents old raggedy Betazoid men from chasing after young women, thus allowing offspring to have pair-bonded parents for more of their development? Now, if this had been the crux of the story, we might be able to call it, without stretching definitions too far, science fiction. It would have involved showing how this life cycle differs from the human one, and drawing comparisons and conclusions on it. Perhaps this is a better arrangement than our current Viagra-popping/trophy wife one? It would still be tenuous. But what we get is basically just cheap laughs and fluff. In fact, things nearly go off the rails permanently for the Lwaxana character when she bogarts Riker, despite knowing that Deanna has deep, unrequited feelings for him. This is relationship-ending stuff, and it was played for laughs with nary a second thought or explanation.

Kevin: The holodeck scenes, for obvious reasons, feel like they cribbed notes from Big Goodbye, right down to Data's South American alter-ego. Why did Data become so enthusiastic and ask for time to change and go with? He's been in this program before. Also, Picard seems too stunned by everything. For an amateur  historian and someone who is a fan of this particular series of novels, it should not surprise him to hear a mention of World War II. The litany of thugs threatening him was well acted all around, but makes it less credible that Picard is actually a fan of the genre given he doesn't actually like interacting with it.

Matthew: Although I agree that the holodeck scenes seem superfluous, they actually are one of the two saving graces of this episode for me. I really enjoyed Rex and his bar, I loved seeing Dixon Hill's secretary Madeline again, especially acting as if no time had passes, and some of the dialogue ("As jumpy as Haircut Lipinski trying to land on a fraction" springs to mind) really tickled me pink. I did have questsions with regard to why the computer couldn't alter the parameters of the Dixon Hill program to involve relaxation. I mean, Madeline even says that they haven't had a case since Hitler and Stalin were busom buddies. So why not tell the computer to rewind to that point? I also agree with you that Data's enthusiasm is weird, especially since he is leaving his duty post to dress up and play on the holodeck. The other scene which really salvages the episode is the Data anecdote scene. Hilarious, and built perfectly upon established characterizations.

Kevin: Lastly, everything about the Antedeans was stupid, stupid, stupid. What, exactly, can the transporter actually detect? What was the point of this subplot other than to give Lwaxana something non-sexual to do? How well thought out was this plan? If Lwaxana had not been on board, wouldn't one of the other telepathic delegates detected this the moment they beamed down?

Matthew: It's hard to call the Antedeans even a B plot. More like a "Z-plot" to the main plot's "B" status. She essentially intimates that she could sense their intentions from the first second they were in her presence. Why in the hell didn't she mention the EXPLOSIVES in their robes earlier? It was just a stupid, utterly inconsequential, throwaway. And when a full ten minutes of your episode are a throwaway, you've got problems.


Kevin: Like I said, writing aside, I love Lwaxana. Even if they give her crap dialogue, she delivers it with such gusto, I can't help but be charmed. Her deadpan lines during Data's speech cracked me up, and I still love the line "I didn't just stroll in. I took that thing." It's a shame that with a couple of exceptions in later TNG and early DS9, they don't give her meatier things to do.

Matthew: The scene of Majel Barrett talking to herself (i.e. the computer) was a great in-joke, and played well. I think Barrett is a heck of an actress, and it's a shame that, basically, "Half a Life" and "The Cage" are the only two good roles we see her in (with the possible addition of some TOS fare such as "What Are Little Girls Made Of?") Although I imply above that, in my opinion, Barret's status as the wife of the boss may have led to too many scenes being thrown her way, this in no way means that I don't enjoy watching her. I just enjoy watching Star Trek more. So if she can be integrated into a real Trek episode (such as "Half A Life,") then all the better. But what we get here scarcely approaches that.

Kevin: The rest of the crew do a passable, if not extraordinary job. The scene of Riker, Data, and Wesley gossiping on the bridge was cute and felt entirely organic. Worf and Wesley's dialogue was cute, and Patrick Stewart's awe of the Dixon Hill setting was genuine, just narratively misplaced.

Matthew: Spiner was very funny in the anecdote scene. The main cast in general is charming, and it carries this otherwise stinking turd much further than it deserved. The guest cast was good, too, including a pre-Gowron Robert O'Reilly as a mysterious thug, Rhondra Aldrich as the charming Madeline (she really nails the 40's moll role), and Rod Arrants as Rex. They really cut fine characters in their brief scenes, which made me want the episode to linger on the holodeck, as opposed to heading back out the door to the Antedeans and Lwaxana's hot flashes.

Production Values

Kevin: Mick Fleetwood was one of the Antedeans and that fact that, gun to my head, I couldn't tell you which one was Mick Fleetwood should pretty much sum up my commentary about the Antedeans and their make-up.

Matthew: Aah, the dress uniforms. Thank goodness they trimmed them and made the leggings less like tights. The Antedean costumes were a big whiff for me. The heads looked OK, but as you imply, were not very expressive. Very Mos Eisley Cantina-level.

Kevin: The Dixon Hill set was pretty good, as always. The film cut of a car on a street was a pretty obvious optical effect, though.

Matthew: I love Rex's bar. The window was lovely. It would have been a nice recurring set like Chez Sandrine in Voyager.


Kevin: This is a 2, almost a 1, if only for lack of a plot of any kind. It is saved for me by my fondness for Lwaxana Troi. I just can't stay mad at the episode when she breezes on screen and effortlessly dominates the room. She's kind of who I want to be when I grow up. That doesn't make it a good episode, but it does save it from being unwatchable.

Matthew: There were, perhaps, two episodes here. We could have had a fully-fledged Dixon Hill story. But we didn't get it. We could have had a meditation on sexuality. We didn't get that, either. Instead, we got a cheap, tawdry melange of crapola - the sex comedy would only have justified itself as a B plot on a real episode. But things are salvaged somewhat by a few charming scenes and performances. And if we can talk about "salvage," then we're very likely in 2 territory. A 1 on our scale has to be essentially devoid of value. "Code of Honor," for instance, would find it almost impossible to be salvaged by "charm," since the actors weren't comfortable enough in their roles yet, and the writers could not play to their strengths.  So this is a 2. a low 2. A low low 2. Like, an "I really hate myself for giving this a 2" 2. Which brings our total to a 4. But watch out, Lwaxana. There are going to be some serious 1 ratings headed your way if things don't improve on these little showcases of yours.

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