Friday, August 12, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: The Wounded

The Next Generation, Season 4
"The Wounded"
Airdate: January 28, 1991
85 of 176 produced
85 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is fired upon by an enemy they thought they were on peaceful terms with, the Cardassians. It turns out the Cardassians are firing in retaliation for strikes upon their people by another Federation vessel, the USS Phoenix. The captain of the Phoenix, Benjamin Maxwell, was on the front lines of the previous war between the two powers. It is up to Captain Picard, and Maxwell's former tactical officer Miles O'Brien, to sort things out whilst simultaneously preserving a hard-won peace.

A war so bloody it resulted in orthodontic headgear for its veterans.


Matthew: One way this episode deserves to be judged is as an introduction to a new antagonist species on Star Trek. As far as TNG goes, the Ferengi were an unmitigated disaster, only rescued as comic relief by a later series. The Borg were a smashing success, but are perhaps a one-note villain on the level of a Q - too powerful for the good of continuing stories. The Cardassians are definitely in the success column. They are credible - part of this owes itself to acting, but part to the writing. Like it or lump it, TNG is very much a "conference room" show. A lot of plot and intellectual drama gets developed in conference scenes. And so showing that a villain can hold their own in the conference room goes a long way towards establishing them. The scenes with Picard and Gul Macet squaring off really work and crackle. Later shows flesh out the back story of the Cardassians more, but what we get here is good enough to build on.

Kevin: I always thought this was the the writers' second swing at the story they started with the Talarians. The color palette is similar, as is the idea of the extended border conflict. Introducing the Cardassians in Suddenly Human may have solved most of the problems with that episode, actually. In any event, I think the thing I appreciate the most about the Cardassians is how three-dimensional they are. They are not simply devious or aggressive. With a story that centers around an old war and the risk of a new one, we get a Cardassian captain who is trying to stop a war, and a Federation captain trying to start one. It really makes the conflict seem credible, and the Cardassians genuinely interesting.

Matthew: The other "story" here is a rogue captain tale. How well it functions rests on two axes - the plot itself and our interest in the rogue captain. The plot... had some holes. Nobody on the Phoenix disputed Maxwell's orders? Will none of them be punished? "The Pegasus" would treat a very similar story much better. Picard's trusting Maxwell to follow the Starfleet orders seemed foolish on Picard's part. Why should he trust him? The transporter cheat was just bad writing - not only does it contradict decades of plot orthodoxy (you can't beam through shields!), but they could have simply had O'Brien on board the Phoenix anyway as a chaperon back to the Starbase. This would have been more dramatic, too, allowing O'Brien to protest the Phoenix veering off course, perhaps while also showing him that Maxwell was right about the illicit weapons.

Kevin: I agree the shields thing was just a contrivance, and one that was otherwise easily fixable. I think what saves and elevates the story line is first, the battle sequence viewed on the viewscreen. Our nerd-love of Okudagrams aside, it was an awesome and tense way to depict a complex battle sequence they probably would not have been able to do as well in person. The tension of seeing the overlapping weapons' ranges and the helplessness of watching Maxwell kill 600 people really made the episode a nail-biter. Second, is the (absence of a) resolution. That last conversation between Macet and Picard is awesome on several levels. Does Macet know? What are the Cardassians really up to? It was a great way to keep the Cardassians relevant as villains without undercutting the central premise that Maxwell was wrong to do what he did.

Matthew: Maxwell himself was interesting, and his relationship with O'Brien was responsible for this I think. On his own, Maxwell seemed a bit flat - in his opening scene with Picard, he was practically wearing a sign on his forehead that said "I've gone cuckoo!" I would have also liked a stronger parallel between him and an historical rogue general like Douglas MacArthur. But pairing him with O'Brien (despite the obvious questions of how a tactical officer has become an enlisted transporter chief who nonetheless wears two pips) really helped keep my interest. The scenes with Miles and Keiko were a nice alternate perspective for events on the ship, and O'Brien's reminisces with Maxwell were genuinely affecting, as was their singing.

Kevin: Agreed. The great thing about all of O'Brien's scenes were how organic the dialogue was. Keiko asked questions that assumed she had actually met her husband before, so the result is exposition that does not rely on an Exposition Fairy. Like I said in Data's Day, moreso than any other couple with the possible exception of Tom and B'Elanna, the O'Briens are the most like a real married couple in the way they interact. The dialogue was good with Maxwell for the same reason. It doesn't sacrifice the organic nature of the lines to shoehorn in extra information. The information we got was enough to keep me interested and informed, but the genuineness of their interaction was what made it compelling.

Matthew: As far as the racism aspect of the show, I think it was interesting for what it was, but could have been developed way further. O'Brien was portrayed as a self-denying racist, which is nicely realistic. But his conversion, especially after a rather cutesy speech from Picard, was too quick (Picard's speech could have mentioned, the Borg to give it more punch). Troi was underutilized - she sensed strong feelings from O'Brien... then did nothing about it. She could have had scenes counseling O'Brien, or maybe other members of the crew who had fought Cardassians.

Kevin: I thought O'Brien's scene in Ten Foward was particularly heartbreaking. The way O'Brien was looking at nowhere when he was recalling the massacre. The way the Cardassian acknowledged it was a mistake. It really gave the scene and O'Brien's character gravity and depth.


Matthew: Colm Meaney gets a rare two spotlight episodes in a row. It's clear why the DS9 team thought he could be a regular. He really seems to have an inner life. When he describes his mother's cooking, we believe it. His relationship with Keiko is totally natural. His personal struggle with his feelings simmers under the surface. And he has a nice singing voice, to boot.

Kevin: I would like to have a beer with Chief O'Brien. I get annoyed when people try to argue that quality qualifies them to be President, but in my secondary characters, it's quite good. There's an everyman quality to O'Brien, particularly once he has kids, that makes him the perfect person to screw with over and over again to watch him react and try to get his life back to normal. It's really a credit to the actor that he is so comfortable in technobabble, but it never consumes the character.

Matthew: Our other major Starfleet guest stars were competent, as well. John Hancock reprises his role as Admiral Haden, and is effectively admiral-ey. Bob Gunton, who also played the warden in "The Shawshank Redemption," is a very convincing captain. You definitely feel like this is a guy who's paid his dues. Any failures of the character are script-based.

Kevin: I liked Gunton as Maxwell. Like all good guest stars, they are not simply spitting out lines. He clearly knows his character's back story and believes it. The moment he realizes he's beaten is particularly wrenching. You can't condone what he's done, but the desperation and sense of loss is credible, and it makes him sympathetic in a way rogue Starfleet captain tend not to be.

Matthew: Marc Alaimo is the prototypical Cardassian, and for good reason. Not only is he the first we see, he is arguably the best. He conveys cool menace, mixed with a teensy amount of subsurface crazy, like no one else. He holds his own against Patrick Stewart. He delivers the character of the race in a way not unlike Mark Lenard did for the Romulans in "Balance of Terror." It's really a great "guest villain" outing, and it was a good thing the DS9 producers recognized it - DS9 wouldn't have been half the show it was, at least in its early, meandering seasons, without Alaimo's Gul Dukat.

Kevin: Yep. No two ways about it, he's very good at his job. He is in a class of actors who can just work the hell out of heavy makeup. The way he delivered the line about losing his own sons and how some people crave war was really well done. It made his character interesting and implicitly made Cardassian politics more interesting.

Production Values

Matthew: We get two new ship designs in this episode - the Nebula class Federation vessel, and the Cardassian Galor class ship. The Nebula is kind of an odd duck. I like it in terms of its relationship to the Galaxy (being an obvious kit bash and all), and its tie to the Miranda class from the TOS movies. But it is not particularly graceful, as the Ambassador, Akira, and Excelsior classes are. It looks sort of like a pooping frog. The Galor class looks cool and fits the design aesthetic of the species - vaguely reptilian. The color scheme is a bit drab. It might have been nice for someone to go really colorful for once.

Kevin: I liked the Nebula a little more than you did. I liked the obvious relation to the Miranda class. I like that they clearly went all out on the model. No grainy triangular ship for Captain Maxwell. I liked the more compact feel. It feels like a more of a warship than science vessel. I agree on the Galor class. The monochromatic browns work for the species as a whole, but it is a little drab. Maybe they didn't want competing primary colors with the main cast.

Matthew: I was really bummed we didn't get to see the Phoenix bridge. Even an Enterprise or battle bridge re-dress would have been acceptable, and it could have afforded the opportunity to cast some extras as the crew - the Phoenix read as a one man ship piloted from the ready room - which had a dedication plaque for some reason. There was, however, a nice view of the Enterprise from outside Maxwell's ready room window.

Kevin: The shot of the Enterprise was great, but being only in the ready room was a little limiting. My favorite design aspect of the episode, even more than the ships, is the sensor overlays on the bridge during battle sequence. Somehow the three dots were more tense and action filled than an actual battle sequence would have been. The distance allowed our imaginations to take over for the destruction, and the cool, detached display helped accentuate the feeling of helplessness. It's probably the best example of an Okudagram matching and accentuating the plot so far.

Have we mentioned how much we heart Okudagrams?


Matthew: This episode is entertaining and emotionally deep. But I can't go above a 4 due to the obvious problems and missed opportunities. I would have liked fewer holes with regard to the Maxwell plot, and a lot more focus on the issues of racism and post traumatic stress. The acting really elevates it, with great turns by Alaimo and Meaney.

Kevin: I'm going to go with a 5. I agree that it lacks a science fiction element, but the story it does tell, it tells so well, that I want to give this the 5. The story they present is complex and rich, but they still manage to tell a tightly-paced story that neither gets bogged down in exposition or leaves too many unanswered questions. The crowning jewel of the episode is the well-acted human elements that really compelling. Everything about O'Brien's story from his wife to his wartime scars are organic both in their origin and their presentation. It's enough to overcome a few flaws and place in the highest tier of episodes for me. That makes for a total of 9 from the both of us.


  1. Matt likes to watch them in order, but I am impatient and I tend to skip around on the Blurays. I watched this one the other day, and the transfer is gorgeous. A couple of highlights include

    -The Phoenix herself, which looks stunning.

    -The Cardassian make-up has a lot more detail and you can see fine vein in the actors faces. Something I learned from the special features is that Marc Alaimo was cast first as Macet before the makeup was designed and Westmore had a cast of his head when he started on the design. He noted Alaimo's long neck and designed for it. So, part of the reason that Alaimo is the quintessential Cardassian is that the species is modeled for his features. The More You Know.

    -If you were concerned that the battle scene done on the viewscreen would little chintzy or dated in HD, let me assure you that the sharper text and deeper blacks make everything even better.

    -In the scene with Maxwell in his ready room, you can actually see his eyes water just slightly when he stumbles over the words "children who never got the chance to grow up."

    We've been singing the technical praises for ages, but I'm increasingly realizing how much the transfer meaningfully increases the drama as well. The cast and crew worked on fine details that TV just couldn't transmit, and seeing the show the creators made as they saw it increases my enjoyment in a way I hadn't planned on.

  2. I love this episode on so many levels. From the breakfast and dinner conversations between O'Brien and Keiko to the subtle things, like when the Cardassians beam on board and the look Troi gives O'brien as they are about to step out, sensing his disdain and negative feelings for them. I love how they developed the O'Brien character and explored the roots of his distrust of Cardassians (all of which we will get to revisit later on in DS9).

    I found Maxwell to be very likable and truly understood why O'Brien was loyal to him and held him in high regard, despite all that was precipitating. I rooted from him a lot and as a kid never liked how Picard made him surrender, even though Maxwell was right about the Cardassians.

    It was hard to watch but that's the point, right? Politics and governance (good politics and good governance that is, not the failures we see in the political landscape of today) are all about hard decisions - making them and executing them and peace - both acquiring and maintaining it - is especially about making the hard choices.

    I liked how this episode really tied it all back to the core principle of the Federation, an organization which is all about diplomacy, cooperation and finding common ground. Picard is not just an explorer, he is a trained diplomat because going out there and meeting new life forms you have to be. You cant be a cowboy about it. That is recipe for war and conflict. And among other things, diplomacy in the realm of peace-keeping is about not letting disputes - petty or seemingly serious ones- escalate to the point where everyone is in a continued state of war (as we are today as a nation).

    So achieving and maintaining peace is hard. It is damn hard. It is the hardest thing ever as far as foreign policy is concerned because the powers (and industries) that be tend to gravitate toward war and conflict. Peace is not a natural state humans gravitate towards, it has to be created and forged. In other words, a world free of conflict, adversity and war is not created by magic and good will alone, it is created through hard work and hard decisions. Decisions that cannot be made with the heart but have to be made with the head.

    And Picard did just that. he made the tough call even though it was damn hard and even though he KNEW the Cardassians were damn liars using the outpost to smuggle weapons. But he had to becasue the cost of not working to preserve that peace was unacceptable. So, while as a kid i was annoyed with him about it, I so much respect him now and realize how important (and hard) what he did was, even if it resulted in disgrace for Maxwell.

    I love that Star Trek took on this very important issue, the backbone of the Federation really and something that is very relevant to us today on many levels, and solidified it into an episode. This is why I love Star Trek, instead of just merely liking it a lot.