Monday, May 2, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: The Vengeance Factor

The Next Generation, Season 3
"The Vengeance Factor"
Airdate: November 20, 1989
56th of 176 produced
56th of 176 aired


The Enterprise is responding to distress call from a Federation outpost. They find a group of nomadic thieves who call themselves "The Gatherers" are responsible. They are a splinter group from a planet called Acamar. The schism that separated them is a century old, but given increasingly bold incursions into Federation space, it falls to the Enterprise to try to mend the rift. A young member of the Acamarian leader's staff, Yuta, catches Riker's eye.Complicating matters, a Gatherer is mysteriously killed during the negotiations. While Picard brokers a delicate peace, Riker must investigate the death. Who is responsible and is Yuta somehow involved?
She'd better be, because Riker's about to do something he can't take back...


Kevin: I go back and forth on this episode. The science fiction element is largely absent, minus some undeveloped exploration of artificial immortality. The story focus on the conflicts of an Alien of the Week, which normally signals the death knell of an episode. That being said, between Picard's scenes with Marouk and Brull and Riker's scenes with Yuta, the conflict is breathed some life that makes it, at least to me, fairly interesting. For a romance of the week situation, I thought the Riker/Yuta romance was pretty well done. Riker got some nice lines about equality in romance, and the Yuta's internal conflict came off well.

Matthew: Personally, I find Riker's interest to be just too quick. Do you really start hitting on your honored guest's servants immediately upon their arrival onboard? Now, Marouk took it pretty well, and I liked how Troi was understanding about it (she had, of course, just jumped Devonani Ral's bones...).

Kevin: The mystery elements for me were pretty well done. Maybe mystery is the wrong word since the audience knows the whole time who is responsible. The investigation was well done. Doctor Crusher has some nice scenes of displaying her competence. Riker and Data get some nice scenes sussing out the truth. Wondering how and when Riker would discover the truth adds tension to the budding romance scenes with Yuta, and it made me care about the Acamarian conflict. Little touches like the photograph of the Penthor-Mul trial gave the background some nice depth and veracity.

Matthew: This might be the ultimate "enhance!" moment in all television. Not only can they enhance a 50 year old photo, but they can enhance things that weren't even photographed. Wow! Take that, CSI! I agree that the mystery elements were nice. It was especially cool that Dr. Crusher got to be a scientist. They really should have gone back to this well more (she did, of course, get the episode "Suspicions" to scratch her forensic science itch).

Kevin: The fact that a bunch of random Acamarian scientists apparently discovered the key to eternal youth goes a little unremarked upon, doesn't it. It doesn't wholly derail the episode, since the trial could have been yesterday, and Yuta's presence in the photo would still have been a smoking gun, the age thing is just supposed to add some tension and scale to the plot. The definite weak spot of episode is the scenes with the Gatherers. They read more as pirates from a Gilbert and Sullivan musical than actual dangerous nomads, and the scene between Wesley and Brull came off as notes of similar scenes in Outrageous Okona, and that's never a good thing.

Matthew: In the final analysis, this story is a bit of a mess. It never focuses on one element and develops it fully. Could the Acamerian story be interesting? Sure, maybe. What drove their cultures apart? Is there prejudice against the Gatherers? It could be an interesting "diaspora" type story, with parallels to various real-world stories. But no. They're just sort of hooligans who "value their freedom." Yawn. Then, as you say, the discovery of a cellular immortality treatment is skipped over. There could have been so many interesting angles. Does it drive you crazy? Does it make you frigid, as the Yuta character seemed to suggest? Does it make you a sort of Typhoid Mary who can't touch anyone? (I'll return to this idea shortly...)

Kevin: Overall, I thought the ending didn't feel quite right. The vaporization was shocking enough, but it left everything a little unresolved. A scene after the climax where Yuta and Riker talk would have helped bring the episode to a more satisfying resolution. She could admit she genuinely cared but felt no remorse for what she did or was trying to do. It would have had a little more impact than the scene in the Ready Room with Picard.

Matthew: This was by far the biggest problem for me. Was it really necessary to have only Riker intercede, and only with a phaser, and only set on kill? I can imagine Worf coming along and subduing her pretty easily with physical force. Or Riker. Or anybody else in the room. So in effect, I can't help but feeling that Riker executed Yuta in cold blood, without trial or appeal. In addition to violating simple story logic, it flies in the face of everything I believe about the Federation's stance on killing accused criminals. This could have been fixed quite easily, and been done quite well in fact - Yuta could have demurred when asked to taste food and drink for the sovereign, owing to the fact that her deadly touch had been activated. This deadly touch could have been murderous to all humanoids, not just those of the clan Lornak. I realize that this would necessitate some rewrites insofar as the historical detective work, but I think they would have been worth it. Her refusal to touch Riker, despite her desire to, would have been even more poignant. It's just a huge missed opportunity. Getting into these sorts of changes as a "payment" for her genetic life-prolonging treatment could have added both good sci-fi and good emotion to the tale, and would have extricated us from this regrettable death scene.


Kevin: I'll say I think the acting is what carries the episode. Nancy Parsons as Sovereign Marouk really brought it, I have to say. She exuded authority and gravity. I really liked her scenes with Picard, Brull, and Chorgan. Lisa Wilcox's Yuta read a little too flat. I understand she was supposed to be withdrawn and a little crazy-obsessed, but it came off a little boring. I thought she did pretty well in the last scene though. The only real disappointments for me were the Gatherers. None of them were bad per se, and a lot of it's the writing, but I found myself slightly annoyed whenever they were on screen.

Matthew: Actually, I liked Joey Aresco as Brull quite a bit. His performance was quite charming, and he portrayed a leader who was torn between a desire for improvement and saving face before his peers quite well. I wish he had been given more interesting things to say, as I mentioned above, he could have told the story of the Gatherer split, or the racism against them, or the awful clan wars, or anything, really. Instead, as you mention, he just gets to read Thadiun Okona's lines over again.

Kevin: As for the main cast, I thought they did a pretty good job. Patrick Stewart played the part of mediator well, which lends credence to every time someone calls him a good mediator. Frakes did a good job of looking appropriately torn about what he knew he had to do. Marina Sirtis deserves some praise for her scene with Riker and her well executed "I'll get out of your way so you can have sex now" maneuver. It really lent some veracity to the idea that they are actually friends now.

Matthew: I found Frakes' line readings irritating in the extreme. "Parthas a la Yooo-TAH!!!" It would be like me howling "Pizza a la Keh-VIN!!!" The emp-PHA-sis on the syll-AB-les was annoying - especially since he had heard Marouk pronounce it quite normally within earshot. It's the sort of acting choice that adds to what I think is a story problem - Riker's undue horn-dog behavior.

Production Values

Kevin: The Federation base in the teaser was interesting. The matte painting outside the window was pretty cool, but where was this outpost, Oz? Everything was so damn green. The Gatherer world and ships were kind of just there for me. Someone ordered generic a vaguely dystopic scene made of metal and that's pretty much what we got. The re-use of the warp jump was neat though, both visually, and for it giving the opportunity for a nice piece of dialogue between Marouk and Riker.

Matthew: Fun fact - the matte painting was a re-use from the planet Altair 4 in "Forbidden Planet." I sort of liked the greenness of the outpost - TNG hasn't really used light filters and gels to the degree that TOS did. It went overboard perhaps, but I still liked the visual variety. Costumes kind of stand out here - the Mad Max-style gatherers and the flowy Acamerians. Were they great? No. But they certainly created characters for the actors who wore them. One more small note - this was the last episode aired in the 1980s. Now you know.


Kevin: This week's conflict is squarely focused on people I don't know or really care about, but it is achieved with sufficient skill and vigor to keep it from dragging the episode down. The mystery and abortive romance plots were okay, not great, but okay, and some of the broader implications of the plot go uncommented on. The acting was pretty good, though. So there's some good and some bad, but I am largely entertained, so this gets a 3.

Matthew: This episode reminds me a bit of a story like "The Cloud Minders." It's all about the struggle between alien group X and alien group Y. To make this palatable to the viewer, you either need a good allegorical story (which "Minders" had in abundance) or some really great performances. "Vengeance" had none of the former and was spotty on the latter. So I have to go with a 2 on this, for a total of 5.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah that scene where he vaporizes the poor girl was just krass and out of line, as well as out of character for Riker. That the others were just sitting around doing nothing, including Picard - or that Riker didnt even bother trying to physically stop her (or couldnt just keep the phaser focused on her on the stun setting for a bit longer until she breaks) and thus being FORCED into vaporizing her was overkill.

    I mean how do you live with yourself knowing what you did? Especially Riker.

    And then, of course, that is not explored. They spent a gran total of 10 second on the emotional fall out of what Riker had to do and then it was over. It almost felt rushed.

    Personally I find it unbelievable that Federation officers who are always hesitated to fire a shot or engage in aggressive behavior of any kind unless forced into it and who keep pandering the principles of diplomacy and negotiation, would think it ok to just murder this person in such a horrible way and then go about their business as usual. I mean even Picard was strangely put together and not phased by this. How is that possible?


    And all for what? These uncivilized thugs? Like sure, these low grade cave men who's goal in life is to "value their freedom *grunt *grunt" could ever enter into meaningful dialogue and an even more meaningful co-existence with the other Acamarians? Not like Yuta was about to stab Troi or take out Picard that Riker had to resort to this desperate, horrible act. These are strangers, what's it to him?

    And peace or not, is it really worth it to become that which you hate, so that a peoples you dont know anything about it, have a shot?