Friday, March 4, 2016

These Awkward Early Episodes

Last week I watched Code of Honor, The Last Outpost, and Where No One Has Gone Before. Yesterday I watched Lonely Among Us, Justice, and The Battle and, guys, these early days are just... so... weird.

Every Trek suffers a little from an identity crisis when they premier. Who are we? What are we? What makes us different from the Trek that went before? And, of course, Next Gen would have the greatest problem with this. Star Trek wasn't so much a dynasty yet and Next Gen wasn't the legendary SciFi pilar it would become. It was more like an upstart kid with a famous parent. Naturally, TNG was informed by TOS. But, like any kid trying on its parent's shoes, it awkwardly stumbled--it's not that the child can't walk, just that the shoes don't fit.

When TNG first began, I was a little kid and my parents were still getting their start in life. They'd watched TOS as children and (I didn't know this until I started this blog in 2013) my mom actually considered not watching TNG. She felt like it was, in some way, a betrayal of the crew she'd grown up watching with her brother. Still, she sat down and tried it. And my parents fell in love--with the show (their marriage was already falling apart by TNG's premier.)

But I'm sure when TNG began there was a lot of back and forth between the network, the studio, the show runners, and Gene Roddenberry about what this show would be, who these characters would be, what did they want it to become, what about the costumes, the music, the sets, the relationships, the mission, how big is the space they're exploring?

Watching these early TNG episodes is like looking at old pictures and being reminded of the weird stuff you used to be into--the person you were before you figured yourself out. It's weird that Westley is such a huge part of this show. It's weird how non-scientific the medical and exploration side of things are. It's weird that the chief engineer isn't Geordi--that Geordi is clearly the science guy but he's pretty much just driving the ship. It's weird how the score could be plunked down in TOS and you wouldn't notice the difference.

Honestly, a lot of what holds TNG together at the beginning is just that it is Star Trek and that the performances are, all around, good. Even if the dialogue is clunky or dated and no one knew who anyone was yet or what their job on the ship really entailed, the performances are solid. The Battle is a good example of this. Even though the Ferengi are basically just nouveau-Klingons with more malice than sense and even though they somehow have the technology to influence thought on a level so sophisticated it seems like magic and even though Deanna Troi's whole contribution in this episode (as in many, for a long time) is being beautiful and having feelings--The Battle still sticks together and works because of the performances. Of course, the bulk of the credit here goes to Patrick Stewart whose return to The Stargazer is legitimately poignant and it helps to set this captain and this show apart from Kirk and The Original Series. This episode's outline and maybe even complete script (with a few name changes) could have been pulled straight from TOS but it's Stewart's performance that completely sells him as a new captain, a different captain, in charge of a new and different ship.

The next generation might be stumbling here, in its first season, but it's beginning to get the hang of it.

On a personal note:
I'm hoping to get back to writing about individual episodes ASAP. I've been coming to terms with this whole Ehler's Danlos thing and that's had its ups and downs. I've been catching up on my other work but my desk is beginning to clear and I can't wait to get back to being here more often!

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