Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: The High Ground

The Next Generation, Season 3
Airdate: January 29, 1990
59 of 176 produced
59 of 176 aired

Introduction

While delivering medical supplies to the world of Rutia, the Enterprise becomes embroiled in a struggle between a separatist faction on the world and its dominant government. Doctor Crusher is abducted by the terrorist leader, Kyril Finn, and becomes a pawn in his high-stakes game of violent political expression. What will the cost to the Enterprise be for occupying the wrong place at the wrong time?


Consarn it, we lose more Robot Worfs this way...



Writing

Matthew: I went into his episode with a less than charitable attitude. In my memory, this episode was preachy and a little boring. But, as a plot, I actually found this episode relatively exciting. There are several action sequences that are pretty well paced and directed. There is a fair amount of menace in the Finn character, and the sequence in which they attempt to destroy the Enterprise is pretty good. There were some relatively juicy scenes in the terrorist base, too, with conflict between characters. So, whatever else its problems were, I don't think being boring is one of them. Even though the plot revolves around an alien of the week, it puts principal characters in direct contact with danger and antagonism.

Kevin: There are a few good moments, and the set up from the teaser is pretty awesome. I like that they picked Crusher to be the target. It ratchets up the tension pretty quickly, and it gives a sorely underused character an opportunity to shine. I would agree the episode is not boring per se, but in the end, I think the lightweight way in which everything was handled still ends up with the show being fairly uninteresting.

Matthew: Another thing I liked was the Wesley-Beverly bond on display. The episode could just as easily have ignored this obvious character bond, but we got two or three good scenes of Wesley being distraught, and Picard/Troi actually caring about this fact and considering how to handle it. Their reunion was nice, too. Some other good continuity nods were the mention of saucer separation, and a pretty bad-ass Picard punching Finn, showing us shades of Kirk. As far as the plot setup goes, why don't they beam up the two wounded people in the restaurant to sickbay and treat them there? The name of the terrorist was ridiculously Irish sounding, "Kyril Finn." The dude could open up an Irish pub on the south side and no one would bat an eyelash.

Kevin: I was willing to give the writers just enough leeway on Irish comparisons until the name thing. Narratively speaking, any portrayal of violent separatists is going to evoke threads of Ireland or Palestine, and that's really no one's fault. Giving in and not doing enough to make the conflict its own is. I enjoyed Wesley in this episode not just because of the emotional core, but it's one of the better displays of his talents. He remembers enough to start them down the road; he doesn't solve the problem on his own in his room with a tricorder and some pluck. Wesley is most effective, and at his least Mary Sue-ish when he is a remarkably young but worthy part of the team, not someone who can steamroll experienced officers.

Matthew: The problems are ones of ambition vs. execution. Melinda Snodgrass apparently wanted to play up the American Revolution angle much more, and had this idea nixed. There are still traces in the story, in one line of dialogue and in a line where Data acknowledges that terrorism is often effective politically (mentioning the Irish Unification of 2024, which apparently got this episode banned by the BBC for a good 15 years). But as it stands, this story lacks nuance and impact. It would have been very helpful to the drama to actually see some of the atrocities that are attributed to Finn and the Ansata. Let's actually see a bus full of schoolkids get incinerated. But let's also see the torture and totalitarian response from the Rutians. It would put a real face on the issues. In effect, Ron Moore redid this show on BSG and gave it the teeth it needed - it made the good guys the terrorists and showed the violence.

Kevin: I agree with everything you said. As it stands, the Ansata seem just pretty bad, all around. Some examples or discussion of pre-terrorist Rutian sins might have helped. The script glosses over whatever historical oppression there was, and it robs the conflict of depth. I would have also liked to see Federation ideals pressed a little. Riker refuses to allow what we will eventually call "enhanced interrogation" techniques to search for Crusher, and it would have been interesting to see him get more desperate and question how much his ideals are worth versus Beverly's life.

Matthew: There ended up being some odd bits and pieces. What was the point of the "Finn as sketch artist" angle? Is it to humanize Finn? If so, it's unnecessary - he already has plenty of conversation with Crusher that advocates his position. Then, we get the mega-tease between Crusher and Picard, "I want to tell you something, in case we don't survive this..." LAME! Don't pull stuff like that if you're not going to pay it off later. The killing of Finn has some interesting Bin Laden parallels. Would it be better to kill or capture? Is it moral to kill in the service of a greater good, as chief Devos intimates?

Kevin: There are days I think they did the conversation with Picard and Crusher just to piss you off, Matt. Like, you, personally. I also would have liked a post-script where he really gets pissed, maybe even formally reprimands her, for disobeying orders. She didn't leave a dangerous situation when ordered to, and good intentions aside, it literally put the entire ship at risk, and potentially dragged the Federation into a violent, endless conflict. The Hepburn/Tracy banter was pretty good, but not enough to resolve what I think is a pretty important plot point.
Matthew: In the end, the point of the story is muddled. The Enterprise really did get involved, and just ended up handing the separatists to the oppressor. The terrorism ended up not being effective, after the whole thrust of the story had been to question whether or not this is so. The conclusion was smarmy in the extreme, with a homily about "the first child putting down a gun." In the end, I think the writing punted on all the hard questions.  Is terrorism a legitimate means of political expression for the downtrodden? Is torture justified? Who's to say in this topsy-turvy world of ours? Not this episode, that's who.

Kevin: I agree. The episode stops short on every front. It doesn't resolve the political or personal conflict it admittedly does a good job of setting up. It's disappointing. I think issues like these get a fuller airing in DS9, and it's to the franchise's benefit. Also, on a sidenote, Worf got his ass handed to him again. I'm sure TV Tropes has a name for this, but it escapes me at the moment, but basically, we've established Worf as a badass by fiat, so the best way to establish the cred of a bad guy is to have him takedown Worf. The problem is they go to that well a lot, so all the onscreen evidence is that Worf gets creamed every time an intruder walks on the bridge.
Acting

Matthew: I liked pretty much all the guest stars in this episode. Richard Cox had a tough job with an emasculated script, but still did a pretty good job of conveying menace without being able to actually perform menacing acts onscreen. I don't think any of the problems with the character are due to the performance. I also like the head of security, played by Kerri Keane. She had good chemistry with Frakes (though I'm quite glad they didn't go there), and seemed very much like a young-ish but world-weary law enforcement official who wants to end the violence but hates what she has to do to accomplish it.

Kevin: I think it would have been fun to see Finn and Devos to have a scene together. Both were passionate for their causes while imbuing their characters with depth, and it would have been neat to watch them clash and maybe come to some middle ground.

Matthew: Gates McFadden has to carry this episode, and I think she does an alright job. Some of her line readings, the certain lilt and enunciation she has in her voice, may not have lent themselves to the sermonizing dialogue, making the lines seem even more preachy than they are. On the other hand, her character's emotions feel quite real. Her reunion with Wesley is touching. Wil Wheaton also did a good job - he was restrained but it was easy to read his character's emotions.

Kevin: Gates McFadden deserved an Emmy for her scene when Finn implies he is attacking the Enterprise. Her barely contained desperation was pretty damned affecting.

Production Values


Matthew: The "shopping mall" set at the beginning is actually pretty nice. It would have been helped by some windows and mattes, but it was large and expansive-seeming. There were lots of extras, which helped. The alien "makeup" was pretty cheap, though, just a streak of gray hair on the men. I guess you can either choose 5 "Westmoreheads" or 15 extras. The costumes were also quite similar to the previous episode, "The Hunted." Not good choices right after another "alien of the week" show.

Kevin: The streets scenes were pretty good. I was annoyed that the divide between the Rutians and Ansata were so obvious, clothing-wise. Just round up everyone wearing purple; problem solved. I liked the security office. The screens were some nice touches that lent some veracity to the plot.

Matthew: There was a nice optical effect on the dimensional transporter. The planet looked good. This was a very visually dark episode overall, which lent the episode a laborious feel. The music in the Enterprise attack was really good.

Kevin: The cave set was pretty expansive, which I liked, but overall, I'm never a fan of cave sets. The claustrophobia never translates properly on screen in a way that leaves the episode interesting to look at. Overall, production values were solid, if not extraordinary.

Conclusion

Matthew: This is between a 2 and a 3 for me. The acting was somewhat above average, the production values were average, and the writing had problems. I'm going to have to go with a 2, because the questions left unanswered were precisely the questions that a viewer wants to have answered. This episode fails to take a stand on the issues, but it also doesn't go deep enough into the issue to let itself off the hook by saying "Look how hard these questions are, is it any wonder we don't know the answer?" This show was bloodless, on a topic that needed blood the most.

Kevin: After this long, the characters acting well despite a weak script doesn't buoy an episode for me the way it used to. I've been spoiled. I expect uniformly average to above average acting all the time. There's not just enough here to flesh out an episode. I agree with the 2, for a total of 4. This is definitely a skid in an otherwise pretty good run of episodes. Still, it's not offensively bad, and a 1 was never on the table. It should still say something about season three that even the weak point is "unrealized ambition" as opposed to the "Dear God, why?" that marked a few season one endeavors.

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