Monday, March 30, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Projections

The Doctor wakes up on Voyager and the ship is EMPTY! It's a MYSTERY! Cut to the opening sequence.

So after I watched the cold open for this one, I went in the kitchen to make an ice cream cone (because obviously) and told Scott that I'd got to an episode where I couldn't remember what was going on. I was SO excited. And I kept waiting for the moment to roll around when I would eventually go, "Oh yeah. This one."

But I sat there, my ice cream long gone, going, "Is it Seska?" "Is it...Vidiians?" No. "It's too early for Species 8675309... right?"

And then Barclay showed up and I totally lost it. I finally just bought in to the fact that I couldn't remember what was going on. I know I watched it. I know I watched it recently. I remembered everything that happened as it happened. But the whole supposedly sinister, probably complicated element behind the Doctor's experience completely eluded me.

In the end, the solution isn't actually complicated or sinister. And maybe that's why I forgot all about it the resolution. This episode isn't really about opposition or conflict. It's about the Doctor's character and about the way he's already grown so much. He's no longer a limited-use hologram without any ambition beyond fixing up whoever it is that's having an emergency. He's a person with hopes, dreams, fears and, as it turns out, love and the beginnings of a family. His experiences (in this aptly named episode) are projections of all these things and they show someone who has already exceeded the limitations of his programming. It's a powerful episode for that reason. Its power is in its simplicity and its reliance on character development rather than a thrilling, rug-pull ending.

Bonus Points:
-This one was directed by Jonathan Frakes (my BFF, obviously)
-This is also the one wherein we get a kind of lampshade for why Paris looks so familiar. Supposedly it's because he's modeled on Barclay's cousin Frank but actually because Robert Duncan McNeil played Nick (the Nova Squadron leader who made Wesley tell dirty, dirty lies) in TNG's "The First Duty."
-Barclay! Anytime Reginald Barclay shows up it's a good day.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Voyager Re-watch: Initiations

When I was a kid I had long, blond curls that (like me) ran wild. I freaked out if anyone tried to pull a comb through my mop and absolutely refused to let anyone near me with a brush. The fine, abundant but curly nature of my hair means that it tangles easily and stuff gets caught in it all the time. Bugs, twigs, bits of lint, you name it. When I was little, and it was really long and completely unmanageable, the inevitable finally happened--I fell asleep with gum in my mouth and woke up with a wad of Fruit Stripe plastered to my already absurd tresses. There was only one option. I don't know if things are different now but this was the 80s and Pinterest didn't exist. My mom chopped it off.

I was thinking about this recently as I re-watched the second season episode, Initiations. In this one, Chakotay goes off to do some spiritual biz and winds up entangled with a bunch of Kazon jerks. Every time I do a re-watch of Voyager, I'm happy to get away from the initial Delta Quadrant aliens. The Vidiians, the Kazon. I'm just not overly fond of them. With the Vidiians, it's the phage--even though I think it's a fantastic idea for a species, a great idea for Trek, and a perfect idea for Voyager--it just bothers me. I feel bad for them and I loathe them at the same time and those are uncomfortable feelings. With the Kazon, I just feel like these guys are a missed opportunity--a bunch of almost Klingons too goofy to really be a menace. Plus, I don't like what's happening on their heads.

What's in there? Seashells? Banana peels?
Fairly sure that's a Nestle Crunch bar lodged in there. 
These kids don't stand a chance. 
Is it a headdress? Is it an autumnal wreath purchased from Michael's? According to Memory Alpha, it's hair--I guess with some stuff in it. Apparently I'm not the only one who had a problem with the Kazon's coiffure. Lots of Voyager fans sent letters to the studio complaining about this species and their number one issue was the hair. And I suppose it is distracting. But, I think more than anything else, the Kazon just never really seem like a viable threat. They always seem a little ridiculous. They're total jerks who run a jerk society, they're mostly morons and they put loofas in their hair. The loofas are the thing that just pushes it over the edge. It's hard to take them seriously.

They remind me a lot of the Ferengi. It seemed clear in TNG that, initially, they meant for the Ferengi to be a real threat. They were to be Picard's Klingons. But, I mean, come on.
When I was a kid, they were only ever referred to as Butt Heads.
In TNG, these guys were all over the place. They were incompetent at times yet managed to find Picard's (supposed) long-lost son and re-sequence his DNA. It wasn't until DS9 came along (with regular characters who could grow and develop--and actors who did an amazing job filling out those roles) that the Ferengi became anything other than a sub-par Klingon knockoff. 

Interestingly, it's one of those talented actors who manages to bring some much needed gravity to Initiations. Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog in DS9, portrays the Kazon kid trying to earn his Ogla name by murdering the crap out of Chakotay. When it doesn't work, they both have to run away and, in hiding, they each learn more about the other. Both Beltran and Eisenberg bring some real emotion to this episode and I'm fairly sure it's the most I ever like the Kazon. 

Oh, and by the way, my hair is still a crazy mess. That's why yesterday (totally unprovoked by a gum/loofah incident, I assure you) I had it cut. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: The 37s

I'm just gonna get to it--this is the one where Janeway finds Amelia Earhart on a planet in the Delta Quadrant and wakes her up.

It all starts when they come upon a 1930s truck spewing rust into space and then follow an SOS signal to a planet where a bunch of people have been stored on ice for the last couple hundred years. (One of them happens to be Amelia Earhart.) Soon, some other humans show up and spill the beans about how, back in the 30s, a ton of people were abducted from earth and brought to the Delta Quadrant as slaves but they revolted and took the planet for themselves and now they have a great (apparently--we never see it) society that's a lot like Earth. They offer the 37s (the humans who've been in cold storage this whole time) and the Voyager crew the option of staying and making a home there.

Alright, in spite of this episode's slight unevenness, I always find it really endearing. It's the Season 2 opener but it feels a lot more like the Season 1 finale--probably because it was actually written to be so. There's not a lot of danger here. There's not any alien race bearing down on them. There's no phaser fight or dangerous space sickness or imminent need for fuel or any of the stuff the Voyager crew often face. Yet, this is a uniquely Voyager episode. No other Trek  crew would've needed to even consider an offer to stay on an alien planet. Only the Voyager crew, so far away from home, might be tempted by an earth-like society populated by real, actual humans (and not just folks who look like humans but have some variation of a turtlehead or points on their ears) and that's what ultimately makes this episode special.

The last two acts of this one are spent with characters discussing who might stay behind. B'Elanna and Harry consider their options. "Do you really want to be trapped on a ship forever? Don't you want to feel the breeze?" (or something like that) And, when Neelix is questioned by the 37s about whether crew members will elect to stay on Voyager, he becomes more and more unsure as the conversation goes on.

In the end, Janeway has a heart-to-heart with Amelia about the whole issue. She says the crew members who've decided to leave will be in the cargo bay and she's headed there now.

And here's the moment that so endears not only this episode to me but Janeway and, beyond that, Kate Mulgrew. Her performance, as she enters the cargo bay and realizes that no one has decided to leave--that each and every one of her crewmen will stay on Voyager--is beautiful and true. Janeway's glad they're all staying because it shows loyalty and a commitment to their mission and a commitment to her but, more than that, it must be a relief for this character. After all, it was the choice she made that stranded them all in the Delta Quadrant. She must have felt some level of guilt about this over the last six months and now, when her entire crew makes the choice to stay with Voyager--to stay with her--it must be a powerful comfort. They're in this together and, for the first time, this crew really feels like a family.

Bonus Points:
-Holy crap, they land the freaking ship. Seriously. They land Voyager. What more do you need?

Monday, March 16, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Learning Curve

Ok so this isn't exactly a huge secret but--I am not the military type. I'm just not. I suck at taking orders. I get really mad when people tell me what I'm doing wrong. I am the WORST at ironing my clothes--literally all I wear are t-shirts and jeans and chucks. I really, really, really hate being around a lot of people for extended periods of time. It's a whole bad scene. And, of course, I'm not overly fond of jogging. Running flat out like a five year old on a sugar high? Yes. Jogging? No.

Anyway, one time when I was eighteen years old and didn't have any money for college and was terrified of the crippling debt I would have to take on in order to pursue my degree--I walked into the Air Force recruitment office in my hometown and asked about my options. "Of course," said the recruiter with all kinds of enthusiasm, "You'd be a great candidate." I'd taken four years of foreign language, my ASVAB test scores were very high, and, this being about 6 months after 9/11, I had all kinds of patriotic spirit. I almost did it. But I didn't. The day of my physical I had a crisis of faith and called a friend who basically laid out all the reasons I mentioned above as to why I should not sign up for military service.

Turns out, I wouldn't have been able to go anyway. As my sister learned, ten years later when she tried to join the Navy, psoriasis--a skin condition that makes vaccines necessary for military service overseas potentially deadly--will get you disqualified. We both have it. Neither of us could go. (My sister's smarter though and managed to hustle herself a nearly full scholarship to a swanky liberal arts college.)

I bring this up because it's what I was thinking about as I watched the last of Voyager's first season episodes--Learning Curve. This one starts out with Janeway in her creepy gothic holonovel. Some glitches occur and soon we realize Voyager's a bit under the weather. Meanwhile, Tuvok encounters a few Maquis crewmen who still aren't adjusted to Starfleet life and he decides to change all that. Mostly by jogging. But also by re-enacting several elements from Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan. In the end, Tuvok figures out a cheese making experiment (it was Neelix) produced a bacteria that essentially made Voyager's biogenic gel packs sick. By the time The Doctor comes up with a plan to give the ship a fever, Tuvok and his Starfleet washouts are stuck in a deathbox cargo bay.

Now, I love a good dairy based catastrophe as much as the next guy but this episode never really appealed to me all that much. Probably all the jogging. Re-watcing it this time, I had another opinion. I just liked it more. Maybe my expectations were lower. Maybe Leonard Nimoy's recent passing meant The Wrath of Khan was on my mind and maybe this near-tribute of an episode hit me a little harder than it usually would have. Maybe I've been thinking a lot about my sister. Maybe I've spent the last couple of years figuring out exactly who I am and who I am not. Not everyone's cut out for military service. Or Starfleet service for that matter. This episode really reminds me of that. As much as I'd like to have put on a uniform, as much as I'd like to picture myself in a bi-color spandex unitard, the truth is I'm just not cut out for it.

Bonus Points:
-The class takes the Kobayashi Maru.
-Tuvok basically quotes Spock's sentiments about the needs of the many.
-Neelix' speech to Tuvok about learning to bend is genuinely awesome.
-B'Elanna literally says, "Get this cheese to sickbay." I love it.
-"I don't want to get to know you...and I don't want to be your friend."--I feel ya, Darby.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Voyager Re-Watch: Jetrel

Ok, over the years, I've gotten some crap from strangers on the internet about how I love Neelix and how I must be an idiot because he's such a terrible, annoying character, etc etc. And, yes, when Voyager first started and they didn't really have a handle on this guy, he wasn't great. But, really, who was? (I mean, obviously, besides Janeway who is almost always perfection.)

It took a while for Voyager to find itself and even longer for it to find what was truly special about its crew. The Doctor really is just a cranky hologram the first few episodes. Kes is a wide-eyed child. Tom Paris is a poor knock-off of Riker. And Neelix is an over-protective boyfriend/quirky alien without a whole lot else going on.

Truly, it isn't until after Kes and Neelix break it off that they both become more interesting, deeper, better characters but the first season episode, Jetrel, is a glimpse at the great stuff Neelix' character would eventually delve into.

In this one, we encounter a wartime scientist, Jetrel, who (a few years ago) blew up pretty much everyone Neelix knew and then he makes Neelix' day 9000% worse by letting him know he's also going to bite it thanks to the latent effects from Jetrel's bomb. Eventually we get to the bottom of Jetrel's visit and Neelix comes out a more interesting character in the process.

Neelix suffers from survivor's guilt, from the guilt of having made the choice to not fight, from feeling as though he was a coward. He's never forgiven himself. But, he did go back and experience the aftermath of Jetrel's metreon cascade. He worked in the rescue effort and saw firsthand the effects of the bomb. The scene in which he's describing his experience there to Kes is absolutely beautiful.

Trek has done a lot of these parable-type episodes over the years, dealing with war or race or social stigma. DS9 dealt with the Nazis in the episode "Duet" and Voyager touched on the bombing of Hiroshima here in "Jetrel." Neelix' memories of the metreon-poisoned population of Talaxia echo the radiation poisoning in Japan and Jetrel's sentiments about remorse and guilt are clearly reminiscent of Oppenheimer's statements after WW2.

It's nicely done. Not too much. No one's hitting it too hard here. In classic Trek fashion, it's obvious but gentle. A history lesson without too much lecturing. The characters feel real emotions thanks to the real stakes brought out naturally through the course of the story. The revelations found here would go on to inform Neelix' character for the rest of the series--his feelings of being an outsider, his homesickness for his own people, his guilt at not having been there when his family and friends were killed--all these things will come up again and Neelix' isn't just the grumpy boyfriend, the quirky alien, or the Voyager crew's comic relief any more.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Salute

Five decades ago Leonard Nimoy appeared in a pilot for a TV show that would eventually become a phenomenon. He would be the only actor from the pilot to stay with the show. He would become possibly the most recognizable character in the history of television. He would change lives.

Three decades ago Leonard Nimoy quit smoking.

A few years ago Leonard Nimoy was diagnosed with COPD.

Several days ago Leonard Nimoy was admitted to the hospital.

A few days ago, Leonard Nimoy died.

On that day, I was sitting on the floor, working. My husband said, "Hey, AshleyRose," in a tone that actually said, "I'm about deliver some bad news."

In that moment, I sighed. I blinked. I began to cry.

I'm glad it was Scott, and not the internet, who broke the news about Leonard Nimoy's death to me. While I'm just a Trek fan, just someone who knew Nimoy from his most famous role, his death felt personal.

Here's another chronology:

Nearly five decades ago, my dad sat too close to the TV, watching a show that would change his life. My dad isn't like other folks. His brain doesn't work exactly the same way. It's always spinning off in different directions--into uncharted territory and unexplored lands. His creativity is boundless and it's only ever checked by circumstance. He has no filter and he doesn't seem to feel things the same way other humans do. He's from another planet and he's always half-jokingly claimed that planet to be Vulcan.

Nearly five decades ago, my mom went outside to play with her little brother. They wandered around the fields and hills and creeks near their mountain home and pretended the landscape was a faraway planet. They fought aliens. They saved the ship. They stuck together. And, through it all, they didn't speak. My uncle was born completely deaf. He uses signs to talk and, before he went to deaf school and learned ASL, he and my mother had their own sign language. But one sign, they didn't create. They saw it on TV. It was the Vulcan salute.

Three decades ago, my mom and dad met and a very short time later, I came along. And, a very short time after that, I was introduced to Star Trek. I've always said I can't remember not knowing about Trek. I can't remember learning the Vulcan salute. It's always been part of my life.

One decade ago, I lay awake at three o'clock in the morning talking to a guy on the phone (can you imagine?) I thought he was smart and sexy and funny but it wasn't until three o'clock in the morning that I fell in love when he said, "It's like that episode of Star Trek..." 

Two years ago, when I was at the bottom of a deep, dark pit of emotion, I decided to watch all of Star Trek in a year. I'd watched and re-watched nearly every episode throughout my life but I wanted to do something intense, something crazy, something different. And I did do it. I watched approximately 750 hours of Star Trek in 365 days, wrote about as much of it as I could, and it absolutely, completely changed my life.

Several days ago, I read that Leonard Nimoy had been admitted to the hospital and I pushed it to the back of my mind. "He'll be alright," I said to myself.

A few days ago, my husband gently told me of Leonard Nimoy's passing and I was so overwhelmed with emotion that I honestly couldn't even process it.

That same day I got a heartfelt email from my mom, expressing her sadness over Nimoy's death and asking whether I was alright. I got another email from my dad who was upset that he couldn't find my old Vulcan ears and had just ordered a few new pairs.

And then an email from a friend--asking whether I was alright and telling me how much Spock had meant to them. And then another, telling me how upset they were.

And then I finally went on Facebook and was pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of love for this man. Thousands of tributes appeared throughout the next two days. The words, "Live long and prosper," were uttered again and again. Old pictures were recovered. Old memories re-hashed. One friend from High School put up photos and then a video from a visit to Universal Studios' Star Trek Adventure. Everyone had their own chronology, their own memories of Star Trek and Leonard Nimoy's legacy.

And then something interesting happened. New photos were snapped.

People all over the world held up their hands in a simple gesture, captured the moment in time, and shared it with everyone they knew. And it didn't only mean, "Live long and prosper." Not anymore.

The Vulcan salute suddenly meant something new. It meant, "I knew this man. I knew the character he played. He made a difference to me. He made a difference in my life."

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