Hello hello, I’ve been really bad at updating this blog due a combination of general busyness and pandemic brain. I am, however, hoping to get back into the saddle, including Things I like and Rating Star Trek episode By Bobbinsness. On which subject
This is a Q episode and a Borg episode.
Basically in this episode, Q shows up and is all like “you need me Picard baby, tell me you need me” and Picard is “go away Q” and then Q is like “fine, in that case I’ll teleport you to the other side of the galaxy, then sit back and laugh as you all get murdered by creepy space robots.” And then Picard is like “fine, I do in fact need you in this specific context of needing you to get me out of the problem that you got me into.” Foeyay intensifies. And now I’m trying to work out if Picard/Q is my favourite Star Trek ship. Or if I prefer Sisko/Gul Dukat. I mean, Sisko/Gul Dukat is just constant toxic mind games with each other. Whereas Picard/Q is Q being incredibly needy and Picard being like, “I’m trying to read Proust.”
ANYWAY, Picard/Q emotional dynamics aside, it’s interesting to see the early iterations of the Borg because, in some ways, they changed even more than the Ferengi over the course of the series. It’s really notable in this episode they have no interest whatsoever in the actual crew and seem to particularly want to “assimilate” Federation technology, rather than Federation peeps. Hell, we even see baby Borg, which is a) adorable and b) a strong implication that they were originally envisioned as a specific species that augmented itself with cybernetics rather than a kind of invasive cyborg hivemind.
It’s also kind of impressive how far in advance the Borg get set up. My limited understanding of what went on behind the scenes is that there was kind of a power struggle between Gene Rodenberry who very much wanted the over-arching villains to be the Ferengi and literally everyone else who wanted them to be literally anything else. And, thankfully for space opera fans everywhere, we got the Borg instead of antisemitic stereotypes in space.
This is a fully 1 bobbin episode. It’s great.
The Samaritan Snare
And from the highs to the lows. This episode is, um, in the words of its antagonists, not smart. Basically the crew of the Enterprise encounter … I don’t know how to describe this. Like, members of an alien species whose whole thing is that they are either congenitally or culturally “not advanced” with all the either ableist or colonialist implications that carries but who have elevated themselves beyond the level they are “supposed” to be at by nicking other people’s tech and abducting people. This is not quite as terrible as Code of Honor (from Season 1) in that they at least aren’t coded as a specific human ethnic group but it’s really not good.
Also the one aspect of this episode worth commenting on, which isn’t really about this episode at all, so much a sort of a meta-observation, is that it’s another good example of Troi getting an undeservedly bad reputation for being rubbish. Because they really specifically had to keep her off the bridge here because otherwise having a highly trained psychologist with literal psychic powers sitting there saying “no, they’re up to something” would have blown the plot wide open in the first ten seconds. As it is she comes in about halfway through and Riker’s like “hah hah, look at these comedy aliens” and Troi’s like “dude, they’re totally going to screw you, what the hell are you doing.”
Actually, in order to avoid having to talk about this terrible episode (although I will come back to Picard and his artificial heart subplot) I might talk about Troi for a bit. Because I strongly remember thinking in the late 90s / early 2000s that having a counsellor on the bridge of what, despite protestations, is clearly a warship would really date the show and Troi as a character as a character has received quite a kicking down the years. But, looking back, it’s really interesting to see that, perhaps unintentionally, the show ended up making a woman doing emotional labour quite an important part of the functioning of the Enterprise’s mission. Like, she is genuinely useful and good at her job if you accept the premise (which in the 21st century we’re slowing beginning to) that people’s emotional state is important to their wellbeing and job performance, and supporting people emotionally is both valuable and a specific skill. Which should be recognised not just assumed to be something that certain types of people (usually women) generically do.
Anyway, Picard’s heart. Picard has an artificial heart as a result of an act of youthful badassery that he is now embarrassed about and Wesley has to take him to hospital in the most uncomfortable shuttle ride in Federation history. This is by far the best bit of the episode. Indeed, I would watch an entire bottle episode of Picard and Wesley having awkward silences in a runabout.
That does not, however, save this from being a full 5 bobbins episode.
Up The Long Ladder
Oh my God. So the one saving grace of the previous episode is that the offensive stereotype aliens weren’t based on a specific human ethnic group.
In this one, there’s a bunch of comedy Irish people who are always drunk and/or horny, have basically no technology, and are surrounded by farm animals at all times unless they’re the hot one who is banging Riker. To be fair, the hot one is very, very hot. Although she’s also a sharp-tongued, red-headed Irish farmgirl who is constantly going on how useless men are. Basically, she’s a very specific type of histrom heroine.
The plot of this episode is that there were two colony ships that left Earth centuries ago and got separated. And one them is all rural and back-to-the-soil and drunk and Irish, while the other is this highly technologically advanced group of science clones. And, oh do you see, they have to come together because something something strength through diversity something something.
Like a lot of science fiction stuff from the 90s with progressive intent this series goes to some fucked up places. The core message that these two very different societies are stronger together is nice, don’t get me wrong. But, well, one of those societies is a ludicrous ethnic stereotype and the other is really creepily acephobic. You see, the technologically advanced society suffered massive casualties when their ship crashed and have been kept alive only through cloning, as a result of which they basically don’t reproduce sexually and they find the idea of having sex a bit weird and gross. The show makes it very very clear that finding the idea of sex weird and gross is bad and wrong and will destroy society, and people who are like that have to change.
There’s also the fact that the eventual union of the two cultures very specifically delegates to the women of the racist Irish stereotype culture the responsibility to repopulate a planet. Which the attractive redhead very briefly objects to but then she decides she’s fine with as long as she gets to bang a hot guy. And don’t get me wrong, I’m all for women who like to bang hot guys, I think that’s an important thing to see on TV, especially in the 90s, but going from “I didn’t sign up to be Eve” to “three husbands, you say?” in the space of two minutes seems to elide a whole lot of issues. Because fundamentally liking sex and wanting to be constantly pregnant for as long as is technologically feasible are very much not the same thing. Also, I’m not convinced one hot woman gets to consent to this on behalf of every woman in her society.
Anyway. This is another 5 bobbins episode for reasons I think are self-evident.
So there are some elements of the Star Trek universe which make it incredibly obvious that it was originally invented in the 1960s. One of those elements is the … kind of default assumption of a ludicrous level of sex positivity just being what stuff is like in a utopian future but in a way that is often played for laughs and/or shock value if it transgresses any of the still quite socially conservative norms of mid to late 20th century America.
You see this early on in Angel 1 where you have the very sex positive society where they bonk all the time but, oh my God, it’s female dominated and Riker has to wear a skimpy outfit like a girl. And you see it again in the character of Lwaxana Troi who is an older woman who likes sex and this is hilarious. Plus it sort of double dips on the 60s sex vibe because it’s very specific that a lot of her rampant hornyness is inherent to the Betazoid species (at least the females of the Betazoid species) which is relevant when you remember that Troi was originally conceived as a four-breasted nymphomaniac.
Anyway, the premise of this episode Betazoid females (I can never tell if the term women is correct for non-humans, it tends to vary from episode to episode) go through sort of a menopause analogue called “the phase” where they they just get mega mega mega mega mega mega mega mega randy. And this entire episode is Lwaxana Troi trying to bone down on Picard, and Picard not being up for it. Which is extra funny because not only is there an older woman who wants to have sex there’s also a man who doesn’t. Lol lol lol lol lol. Sigh.
The thing is, I do love Lwaxana Troi because it’s always great to see Majel Barrett getting work and she’s clearly having a fabulous time with the character. And in some ways it is quite a liberating character because Lwaxana Troi tends to come out on top (so to speak), is genuinely respected for what she does (although that does raise some fucking weird questions about how Betazed is governed) and clearly gives no fucks what anyone thinks of her. Besides, if you let yourself ignore the fact that her sexuality is constantly played for laughs it’s actually really nice to see a woman in a late-50s who is allowed to be beautiful and flamboyant and unabashedly sexual.
Unfortunately I don’t think there’s a single episode where the idea of Lwaxana Troi being attracted to you isn’t presented as a bit gross. Which is particularly annoying when it’s Picard because he’s only about eight years younger than her and has had repeated plotlines where he is romantically involved with women who are shall we say somewhat more than eight years younger than him. And that have been presented in a very positive light. Not to bang on about this too much, Majel Barrett was born in 1932, Patrick Stewart was born in 1940 and Gate McFadden was born in 1949. So, actor-wise, Picard is slightly closer in age to Lwaxana Troi than he is to Beverley Crusher but the show frames Lwaxana/Picard as weird and inappropriate but Picard/Crusher as totes cool to the extent that there’s a fan theory that he’s Wesley’s real dad.
ALSO, at the end of the episode Lwaxana pwns everybody by casually explaining that two fish people ambassadors are actually assassins intending to blow up a peace conference, and one of the fish people in their giant fish people costumes is Mick Fleetwood from Fleetwood Mac.
Mick Fleetwood and Majel Barrett between them save this from being a 5 bobbins episode. 4 bobbins.
KLINGON EPISODE KLAXON.
Worf’s ex shows up, they argue, then bang, then argue some more. There’s some kind of plot about frozen Klingons who think the war is still going on and Worf has to pretend to be in command of the Enterprise. Honestly, I don’t care. This is just fabulous.
I love this episode that I’m not even going to fine it a bobbin because I know that K’Ehleyr gets fridged in a later episode.
Ferengi episode klaxon? That’s a way less happy Klaxon than the Klingon episode klaxon. It does get happier in DS9 because we all love Quark but this was from the era where they were still trying to make the Ferengi scary villains and it was still super not working.
Also was Armin Shimerman, like, the only person who fit in the Ferengi costume? Because he’s played at least two Ferengi prior to playing Quark.
Anyway, thanks to the sudden revelation of the Borg threat (check out the continuity) the Enterprise (which is definitely not a war ship, despite the fact it carries loads of torpedoes and has massive phaser banks) is a participating in a simulated war game exercise type thing overseen by the campest alien. I’m going to talk about The Campest Alien later, but for now let’s talk about the war game. The setup is specifically that Riker, along with forty members of the Enterprise crew, will be given command of a derelict ship with no weapons or engines and required to fight the Enterprise.
How is this supposed to work?
Obviously it does because Riker is a major character on Star Trek and so you could give him, to take a completely random example, nothing but a piece of crystal and a bed spring and he’d be able to make a completely functioning laser pistol out of it. But, like, the structure of this exercise implies incredible genre awareness on the part of Star Fleet. Because it seems to suggest that they specifically train their officers to improvise bullshit solutions to obviously unwinnable situations. And, to be fair, that is how their universe works so … I guess they’re onto something?
Where was I? Ah, yes, The Campest Alien. The Campest Alien, like most Star Trek aliens, comes from a culture that values exactly one thing: in this case, strategy games. I mean, how does that society even work? Then again, how does Klingon society even work? How do you buy peas in Klingon society? I assume you have to go into a shop and say “I’d like to buy some peas” and the shop keeper says something like “you are a patak, you not deserve peas” and then you have to, like, punch him in the face. After which, you both laugh uproariously and he claps you on the back and says “you have spirit, you may have all the peas you wish.” So anyway, The Campest Alien hates Riker because Riker keeps smiling at him, which leads him to conclude that Riker is a dangerous maverick instead of a serious strategist. Like all alien cultures that only value one thing The Campest Alien’s culture apparently hate innovation in the field of the one thing they’re supposed to value.
Riker does surprisingly well in the war games because he and his crew essentially cheat (Worf hacks the Enterprise’s computers and Wesley nips home to grab his science homework which is a fully functioning matter anti-matter reactor because of course it is Wesley) but in the middle of this Armin Shimerman shows up and is all “why are you fighting this Federation vessel and why are you now protecting it” and then tries to blow the Enterprise out of space for no clear reason.
So the Enterprise crew and Riker’s motley band have to team up and use the very improvisional tactics they’ve just been training to defeat the Ferengi. Which, I suppose, immediately validates Star Fleet’s decision to train all of its officers to fight exclusively with technobabble and plot devices.
There’s also a side plot with Data and The Campest Alien where Data challenges The Campest Alien to a game called something nonsense like Strategema…? Like apparently in the 24th century people say “What should we call this strategy game? Strata … game … ah? Yeah that’ll do.” Loses, has a crisis of confidence, which is fixed in large part by Troi (Troi is amazing) – although in what I suspect of a realistic depiction of 24th century gender roles, the strategy she does have to use is to tell Data something, realise he’s not going to listen to her, then get Picard to tell him the exact same thing. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. And finally Data realises that he can’t “beat” The Campest Alien, because the Campest Alien is inherently really good at Strategma, but he can … like troll him into rage quitting?
So basically this is the episode where Data invents Xbox Live.
I’m really torn on this episode because it’s really enjoyable to watch but it has so many classically bobbins Star Trek things in it. I mean the Ferengi are bobbins, monocultural aliens are bobbins, Wesley having a ridiculously sophisticated and specifically useful homework project is bobbins, the Enterprise solving a problem with a trick that they should just be able to do all the time on anybody but never reference again is bobbins … Ahhh. I think 3? Maybe 3 and a half?
Shades of Gray
This is the episode where the show ran out of money. It’s an honest-to-God clip show shot on two recycled sets and the premise is that Riker is dying because he got a booboo from an evil plant. The thing that acts as justification for most of the episode being material from other episodes is that Riker is in a coma because the evil plant booboo is binding to his neural system (on the “molecular” level, which is why the biofilters can’t fix it, seriously why do they even have those biofilters) and suppressing his brain activity. So Noted Robot Racist Dr Pulaski in what is fated to be her last appearance sticks acupuncture needles into his brain to keep him alive by making him hallucinate clips of old episodes.
What is this, I can’t even. In a way, I feel bad dunking on this episode because they did genuinely run out of money so they’re clearly doing all they can. But it’s the little things, like the way it feels like everyone is … talking … slightly … slower … than they usually do because they’re aware that they’ve got to make this scene fill the time and they’ve got nothing to actually do in it. And all the dialogue is just exposition clumsily split up between characters as they narrate to each other why they’re doing the slightly tenuous thing they’re now doing.
The two weirdest parts of this episode for me were the bit in the transporter room where O’Brien has bants with Noted Robot Racist Dr Pulaski, despite a) there being a medical emergency on and b) his knowing that she’s nervous about using the transporter. I just feel if I worked in a transporter room, I’d be more sensitive to people who aren’t comfortable having their atoms split up and blasted across space—although I suppose, to be fair, it’s quite well-established technology by the TNG era so maybe being anxious about transporters is the TNG equivalent of being an anti-vaxxer. Although, even with that analogy, I think the big difference is that I’ve never heard of a vaccine having a malfunction that causes you to, say, become two people or manifest your negative and positive qualities as different versions of you.
The other scene I found odd, amongst all of this oddness, is the scene where Noted Robot Racist Dr Pulaski randomly decides to make Riker horny to see how it will affect the evil plant booboo. Unsurprisingly, it makes the evil plant booboo worse. Also, blimey, there are lot of scenes of Riker being horny.
In terms of bobbins, while this might seem like a classic 5 bobbins episode, I actually feel 5 bobbins requires effort. This is just 4 bobbins of what the fuck, oh my God I’m embarrassed for you right now.
And that brings us to the end of Season 2. Only 5 more to go! Which, at this rate, means I’ll be finished by the early 2030s.