Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Bad


This is a list of guilty pleasures. Any show will have its share of stinkers; maybe the guest star can't act, maybe the script is bad, or maybe someone thinks a story about stealing Spock's brain is a good idea. Whatever it is, this list serves to put together my selection of episodes so bad they're kind of fun. These are failures on many levels but still entertaining enough to go MST3K on them. 

You will notice that none of these episodes are entitled "Shades of Gray," because seriously, don't.

5) "The Loss" My first choice is a Deanna Troi vehicle. Essentially the Enterprise gets stuck in a swarm of two dimensional creatures. The massive feedback caused by the impact of the swarm on the ship causes injury to Troi's empathic region. Because the only reason early season Troi seems to exist is providing redundant insights into alien minds, this serves as a major career crisis. So much so, in fact, that Troi delivers an impassioned plea to Picard about her right to quit Starfleet. Ugh.



So this is the 'temporary blindness' episode. Except, usually in these stories, the hero gains some kind of compensatory increase in his/her remaining senses and that doesn't happen with Troi. Okay, she is able to finally deliver some tough love to a whiny ensign but other than that, this episode goes a long way to showing exactly what a one-note character early seasons made her. 

I was pleasantly surprised in my rematch how much better Troi becomes over time in the show. But that hasn't happened yet. At the moment we get Marina Sirtis snapping at everyone she sees, Riker, Crusher, the aforementioned Picard. It's tiresome but not nearly as tiresome as the mishandling of the Flatland aliens as this week's countdown towards doom device. 

The real problem here is this is a particularly glaring example of the reset button problem episodic television suffers from. Troi is informed shortly after her injury that the loss of her empathic powers is likely permanent, except, you know when there's one minute left on the episode and then everything's fine.

4) "Masks": The seventh season had it's share of great episodes (Parallels, Pegaus, Lower Decks, and, of course, All Good Things…) but it was also plagued by dismal failures. Masks is one of the more interesting duds, if only because Joe Menosky's script contains a genuinely interesting sci-fi concept. The Enterprise encounters a mysterious rogue comet harboring an alien archive at its core. After the database scans the Enterprise, artifacts from the culture that send the archive begin to appear all over the ship, ultimately transforming vast chunks of the ship into a vine-strewn Tikal. Oh, yeah, and the archive beams a series of alien personalities into Data's positronic net, giving Brent Spiner an opportunity to try on more silly accents. But all of that is buried under a surprisingly tone-deaf performance from Brent Spiner, a total collapse of disbelief suspension (significant parts of the Enterprise's Engineering deck is converted to alien stone temple and the power still works? huh?) and a lack of stakes. Seriously, what was this episode even about? Menosky was able to mine a similar concept of alien communication to far more success in "Darmok," but here we're left with a serious head-scratcher without much motivation to figure it out. Still, the final confrontation between a silver masked Picard and a gold masked Data spouting mythopoetic nonsense at each other shows how much campy fun this episode could've been.



3) Sigh. The first season. I was warned, you know. By friends and the internet, the first season has been all but written off. I think the only remarkable thing about this season is that it somehow permitted the show to get to a second season, an act apparently undertaken through faith alone. Rather than fill this entire list with first season failure, however, I'll let "Lonely Among Us," stand in for the rest of them. The Enterprise is on route to a peace conference after picking up representatives of two hostile races (The mustelid Antican and cobra-like Selay). Along the way the ship passes through a mysterious cloud, apparently picking up some kind of incorporeal being which passes from sensor array to crew members one after another until it finally takes up residence in Jean Luc. Picard, perhaps mind controlled by the phantom hitchhiker or perhaps deluded by the promise of incorporeal exploration (the true motivation isn't explained), decides to jump ship and beam into the cloud. This works out not at all and eventually Picard's mind has to be scooped out of the cloud and beamed back together (and how does that work exactly? SCIENCE!). 



The biggest problem here is the script. None of it makes any sense on any level, not in terms of storytelling, character development, or speculative fiction. What it does have, in one convenient place, is a run-down on all first season tropes. Ethereal god-like entities? Check. Warring species? Check. Poor grasp on characters? Check. Convenient deus ex machina to resolve everything at the end? Check. Interspecies cannibalism? Oh, wait, that's just this episode (thankfully). Bonus points, however, for introduction of Data's affinity for Sherlock Holmes.

2) "Devil's Due": This is a very dumb idea. Satan (oh wait, I meant space Satan) comes to a planet after a number of portentous natural disaster on the eve of the prophesied return of a malicious being known as Ardra.


You see, a very long time ago, planet Ventax signed on to a Faustian bargain, trading a millennium of peace for an eternity of servitude when this demonic entity Ardra returned. Also, the planet gave up on all advanced technology, because this apparently helps with making people happy. This being your typical Trek monoculture, everyone on planet Ventax immediately believes that a woman claiming to be Ardra is the real deal and are more than happy to turn over the entire planet. Picard and the rest of the crew are all that stands in the path of this obvious con artist. This is an example where the direction is adequate, Picard and Data put their game faces on and act the hell out of some spectacularly bad material, and it all doesn't matter because this episode is just so completely dumb! Actually, the dumbest part of the episode, that Picard would think a trial using Data as the impartial arbiter would be a good idea, is almost the most entertaining. As we learned from "Measure of a Man," Picard is a natural fit for courtroom dramas.

1) "Genesis": Speaking of dumb. In this episode, Dr. Crusher uses what appears to be a fairly routine technique of artificial DNA to treat long-suffering Reginald Barklay of some sort of space flu. Crusher apparently got the prescription wrong because very shortly everyone on the crew starts acting very strangely, Barkley becoming more and more agitated, Riker losing track of conversations and Worf getting seriously aggressive, ultimately spraying face-eating acid all over Crusher's face. 




Yes, this is the episode where Brannon Braga really needed to have a crash course in biology/genetics/common sense. When Picard and Data return to the ship after a plot convenient excursion, they discover that the crew has de-evolved into various species. Species that in many cases have no direct connection to human beings: Barklay becomes a spider, Data's cat becomes a lizard and still gives birth to kittens, etc. etc. etc. Really none of this matters because this is a list devoted to bad entertainment and what you need to know is that as bad as this episode is, and it's plenty bad, it's also a lot of fun. Gates McFadden's one foray into directing provided some surprisingly effective work here. Crusher's face melting off, Worf running around in shadows (so you never see the zipper) Picard's nervousness and paranoia as he begins to de-evolve into some kind of lemur, are all memorable, even if the rest of the episode is just ridiculous.
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