Friday, May 11, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Force of Nature

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Force of Nature"
Airdate: November 15, 1993
160 of 176 produced
160 of 176 aired


Introduction

The Enterprise is searching for the Fleming, a missing medical supply ship in the Hekara corrdior, a volatile stretch of space light years across, complicating their search. They discover a pair of Hekaran scientists have been trapping and disabling ships in an attempt to attract Federation attention to their claims that the use of warp drive is damaging subspace. They seek an outright cessation of warp travel around their homeworld. The crew is understandably outraged at their tactics and skeptical of their claims, but the implications if they are right could irrevocably alter life in the Federation.

Poop on my desk again and it's into the warp core with ye'.




Writing


Kevin: The idea of a doing an allegorical episode about environmental issues was one being tossed around the writer's room for some time, and they never felt they found the right vehicle, eventually trying this episode. I think they should have kept looking. It may be sentimental, but I tend to give TOS a bit more of a pass on its heavy handed allegory episodes. They just feel more creaky on TNG. If nothing else, it felt like they started with a point and built a story rather than building a story and organically developing a point.

Matthew: I think in principle that I'm on board with the topical allegory, even in TNG. My evaluation hinges on two questions - how well is the issue dramatized, and how deep does the sci-fi investigation of the topic go? Personally, I kind of liked the scientist characters, and was somewhat involved in their struggle. What I felt was lacking conceptually was more of an exploration of what it would mean to abandon the very technology that allowed humanity's paradigm shift as a species. Imagine if we had to stop using electricity in order to save the planet. How would our cultures change? Who would resist? Would it be a dark age or presage a burst of innovation? These are interesting questions, and they were only lightly glossed over in one line of dialogue in Ten Forward.

Kevin: The entire Ferengi bit was really filler and boring filler at that. The entire episode drags really. The missing Fleming is as generic and unengaging a threat as it gets without a vaccine involved, which happily they weren't carrying. The b-plot, to extent you could call it that of Data attempting to train a cat was a feeble attempt to have another story about "forces of nature" and could have been air dropped into any other episode. I also found the Hekarans themselves really annoying. Rather than appearing to be passionately advocating a point, they seemed like the worst, and least effective, of their modern analogues, the PETA of outer space, if you will. Making them a little less extreme, or a tad more sympathetic, would have gone some way to make their position more interesting and identifiable. And I found Serova's suicide not only a tad much, but silly. If she could demonstrate her point by her death, I get that, but she accelerated the harm to her homeworld she was seeking to prevent. It's one thing to burn down a ski resort to protect a forest creature, it's another to pour more benzene in the water supply to prove how dangerous benzene in water supplies are.

Matthew: I agree about the Ferengi plot as well as the cat story - they definitely smacked of padding. I can't say I minded them terribly, though. If anything, the worst example of filler was the Geordi stuff - spending five to ten minutes of Data and Geordi just chatting about various things while repairing sensor modules might be realistic, but it doesn't do a whole lot to further the episode. Now, getting to the Hekaran characters - I agree that they were painted in strokes that were a bit too broad. But I kind of liked how they were at odds with each other, as well as the sibling dynamic, and I actually would have liked to see more of it. So the character death was a bit abrupt and, as you say, somewhat counter-intuitive. Also, can I just ask, what the heck ended up happening to the Fleming? This seemed like a "Chekov's Gun" that just disappeared into a static warp shell.

Kevin: As for the idea of warp drive harming the galaxy, it's an interesting idea. They just didn't develop it enough. The idea of restricting warp travel is a universe altering event. It would be like asking our world to abandon the advances of the Industrial Revolution. Not only would it be difficult, it would be impossible. There are simply too many people for a pre-industrial economy to feed. Even if you could make the food, you couldn't transport it or store it before it went bad. If you really want to give this allegory some teeth, you need to make the threat a little less nebulous and the reasons to not care a little more compelling. The two scientists seem fine effectively isolating their homeworld from the galaxy, but what if they depend on commerce with other worlds for a stable economy? Is the threat of eventual environmental chaos enough to make immediate economic disaster worth it? Without even really exploring these issues, it keeps the environmental allegory as wishy-washy as possible.

Matthew: As should be obvious above, I agree with you on this point. The questions asked were not deep enough. So then the issue becomes, how should they have been dramatized? It may not have been doable with the budget, but one idea would be to actually visit the planet. Do people on their world agree, or are these scientists lone nuts? Will little Suzie get her insulin if they close the corridor? Barring that, I could have gone for a nice old-fashioned ethical debate in the Captain's quarters, a la "Pen Pals" or "Where Silence Has Lease." Spending five minutes on that rather than Geordi and Data crawling though Jeffries tubes aimlessly would have helped the episode quite a bit. It also would have ameliorated the criminal lack of Troi and Crusher parts in this show.

Acting


Kevin: Everyone did okay...I guess. I don't have a lot to say here. I liked the Geordi and Data scenes, particularly about Geordi's friendly rivalry with another engineer. It was a nice little slice of life for the pair. Their banter about Spot was pretty fun as well. I also thought Burton did a good job portraying defensiveness about his profession.

Matthew: This was one of the best Spiner performances for me. I seem to recall hearing that Spiner hated cats, so his work in these scenes is even more admirable. It was perfectly in tune with the character. He wants to train the cat, he wants it to have a good life, but he doesn't feel anything, which somehow makes it more touching. He also had the best laugh line of the show: "Geordi, I cannot stun my cat."

Kevin: The scientists were a little cookie cutter for me. I thought Doctor Fallon in "The Quality of Life" did a much better job of giving her monocular scientist a little more life and depth. Serova was a two-dimensional bundle of points to make without a clear motivation or reality. Rabal seemed a little somnolent to me. He was just kind of there.

Matthew: I liked Michael Corbett as Rabal. He has a very Christian Bale look and sound, for one thing. But he seemed like a sort of earnest Clark Kent kind of character, and I was rooting for him. The script didn't give him or Margaret Reed's Serova much to do, unfortunately. And for however dumb the Ferengi material was, I really enjoyed Lee Arenberg's Prak. He's got a great voice, and the scene in which he tries to stare down the much taller Riker is funny.

Production Values


Kevin: I like the effect of the breach and the Enterprise coasting at warp was a fun effect, though it raises some questions about the physics of warp travel that are a little unresolved. Overall, it was a solid effort. The aliens of the week looked very similar to the aliens from "Frame of Mind," and that's about all I have to add on that one.

Matthew: I thought the rift looked cool, too. The Okudagrams were nice and fit the episode well - except for the misspelling on the name of the corridor, that is. I actually kind of liked the alien makeup. The little yellow strands emanating from their temples were a slightly different look. Was it great? No. But it was at least slightly memorable.

Conclusion


Kevin: I am going with a 2. The plot is boring and fails, I think, to make the point it intended, but the intentions were good enough to keep this from a 1. And as often as the Enterprise got to break the warp speed limits, it does set up a nice continuity arc for a few episodes. A defter hand at weaving the allegory could have made this a highlight of the season, but the unengaging missing ship plot, and everyone having a two-dimensional position on this issue certainly keeps this well away from average territory.

Matthew: I wanted to like this one. There were elements I liked. I don't think a 1 was ever on the table for me. I was even pondering a 3. But the pacing is so weird, and the filler material, though moderately enjoyable, lacks so much relation to the A plot, that it seems as though a 2 is where this has to sit. Had the writers really dived into the true sci-fi aspects (what would happen if we had to abandon technology X?), some really good Trek could have occurred. Instead, we get some blandly enjoyable vignettes smooshed into  a plot that is too thin by half. Our total rating, then, is a 4.

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