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Focksbot
Sun, Aug 2, 2020, 12:53pm (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S2: The Catwalk

My "Wait what" moment in this episode came early: you have four hours before the storm, you can travel in any direction at Warp 5 ... and you can't get out of the way?
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Focksbot
Wed, Jul 22, 2020, 10:41am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Fortunate Son

@Jason R. Your point about their appearance would make sense if Star Trek make a consistent effort to give us 'ugly' aliens that were peaceful and human-looking aliens that were warlike, but it's almost always the other way round. The Federation-worthy Bajorans get tiny nose ridges, while the oppressive Cardassians look like pale lizards; lovely Dr Phlox has a mildly differently shaped head, while the greedy Ferengi get pointed teeth and a snarling, troll-like face.
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Focksbot
Wed, Jul 22, 2020, 6:31am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Fortunate Son

I was rather enjoying watching a Star Trek series and reading Jammer's reviews alongside it without the eye-watering far right sourness as a side helping, and then I got to this episode!

I notice that the whole sprawling debate above seems to spiral out of a comparison between the Nausicaans and Somali pirates, which highlights a real failure in the writing - namely, that we don't really get any background on the Nausicaans. Archer talks about forming better relations between "our two peoples", but we have no idea if the Nausicaans want that, if they represent an entire people or are - like Somali pirates - one particular group within a larger culture.

It doesn't help that they're depicted with tusks and hideous faces, and thereby coded as evil. The writers make no effort to help us understand why they're attacking cargo ships. Are they desperately in need of supplies? Or is their culture somehow formed around the principle of reaving, like the Iron Islanders in Game of Thrones? It's important to know this, as these two possibilities suggest completely different solutions to the problem. Many of the commenters above seem to assume they're just straight-up arseholes.

Given the argument between DLPB, Mike and others, I think what might have been really interesting is to base the Nausicaans on early European settlers. Since Enterprise is set at a time when mankind's foothold in space is tentative, where we're a 'young' species, what would it be like if there were massive, established spacefaring cultures who simply saw us as prey for plundering? Archer's negotiations would have to be careful not because of his innate sense of fair play, but because he knows that the Nausicaans have superior numbers of ships and better technology. He would have to reason with them in the hope that they proved to be more compassionate than Europeans did when dealing with native Americans and other less aggressive cultures.

Maybe I just like this idea because I know how much it would irritate those cry 'political correctness' at the drop of the hat, but I think it would also make for compelling drama - and it would invert the normal way Star Trek pursues these parallels.

Finally, sorry if this reignites a five-year-old debate, but on the subject of Islam - it's here to stay, and the various hawks and doom-mongers across the world will simply never drum up sufficient support for the rest of us to go along with mass suppression. So whether you think it's, on balance, worse or as bad as Christianity or Judaism doesn't really matter - the question is only what can be done to limit the growth of extremism and nurture the growth of moderate forms. The more we accommodate the latter alongside other cultures, the more we do to strangle the former. That's the history of mankind's various tribes learning to live with each other, after all.
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Focksbot
Wed, Jul 22, 2020, 6:08am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Dear Doctor

Sorry, just to add - I agree that some judicious changes to the plot would have made the story even more compelling, and probably damped down people's rage at the same time.

In particular, I think it would have been better to have Phlox state that a cure is only potentially possible *if* he, assisted by other Earth doctors, dropped all other duties to perform a decade or so of research. Once you start looking at what else has to be sacrificed in order to play God on other planets, it gets a lot harder to deny the need for a prime directive.
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Focksbot
Wed, Jul 22, 2020, 6:03am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Dear Doctor

I really appreciate the commentaries by @historypeats and @Elliot, as well as others who have argued the minority position here.

I myself would have gone against Phlox and Archer, and their decision at the end shocked me. Even after giving the matter a lot of thought and trying to acknowledge the ways in which I could be wrong, on balance I would still side with handing over the cure.

But I do think the opposing argument has its merits. It's a shame it wasn't argued as well in the episode itself as fans have argued it here. Completely brushing off the scale of the intervention on the basis of "We should always help people" is a deeply reductive position to take. Phlox and Archer are not condemning the species to certain death, and do help them to extend their lives, potentially enabling them to find a cure themselves. They're not rigidly adhering to some principle of non-interference but stopping shy of giving themselves total freedom to change the course of another planet's history. It's a compromise position, and in most moral dilemmas we recognise compromise as reasonable, don't we?

While the most compelling thing about the episode is that it asks a question with no existing real-world parallels, it is, of course, reminiscent of debates around euthanasia and intervention in armed conflicts. We have to recognise that the pitch of the debate - the comparisons to Hitler and general hatred directed towards a single TV episode - is more the result of our own intense fear of death and what it represents, more than it is a coolly rational stance. At the end of the day, with events on this scale, you simply do not know how many lives you are saving or condemning with your actions.

As I say, I personally would take the risk and deliver the cure.
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Focksbot
Tue, Jul 21, 2020, 3:40pm (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Silent Enemy

@Artymiss "I like his childlike delight (and he is delighted, this is how some English people express delight, in a relatively low key way) at the end that his Enterprise colleagues have bothered to find out what his favourite food is."

I wanted to comment on this episode just to say the same thing. So far, I'm finding Enterprise's approach to characterisation a refreshing change from the way it was done in the previous series, because it's a lot more subtle. You tend to get brief moments like this, rather than entire episodes where the point is hammered home relentlessly, ending in a contrived moment of growth.

Compare what's done with Reed here to how Riker's relationship with his father is handled in whichever episode it was - Frakes is forced to spend much of the episode looking like someone just slapped him in the face, and ends up pouring out his soul over the course of a bonkers space judo match.

Also, Reed gets the job done, but not without conflict and frayed nerves right up until the end. I feel like if this was a Next Gen episode, he'd have spent the first three quarters angsting about being undervalued, then go and talk to Guinan for five minutes before pulling it all together to save the day in the final five minutes.

Overall, to my mind, Enterprise is still holding its own as a different kind of Star Trek show. I'm much more impressed with it than I was with either season of Discovery.
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Focksbot
Mon, Jul 20, 2020, 6:41am (UTC -5)
Re: ENT S1: Breaking the Ice

First comment on an episode of ENT. So far I've found this show more enjoyable than Voyager - which is the Trek series I've bounced off hardest. In general, I feel ENT benefits from having a different feel and focus to the three 90s series, while sharing some of their major weaknesses, ie. stiff action scenes and a tendency toward rushed, anticlimactic endings.

The frosty relationship between humans and vulcans is rather overplayed, but it does result in some interesting scenes. What struck me in this episode was Trip's remark that humans are free to make their own decisions. I think that line hits on a major theme that runs through much of Star Trek, which is the tension between the individual and their duty, between - effectively - freedom and society.

One poster remarked above how it seemed wrong that Vulcans should have arranged marriages and other 'backward' social norms because they're 'intellectually advanced'. But the Vulcans have always been portrayed as a rigid society - the adherence to their particular idea of 'logic' is far more constraining than most of the rituals and conventions portrayed in this show. If individual members valued practicality over social convention, they would learn to project a certain degree of emotion in order to be better diplomats. The fact that they don't has always seemed to me more of a marker of a kind of religious fealty than is displayed by, say, the Bajorans. 'Logic' is intoned exactly as one intones the name of a deity - the word starts to lose its normal meaning because of the sense of reverence around it.

(As a sidenote, it irritates me that no one every points out to the Vulcans that logic cannot exist except as a method of reaching a goal, and the goal has to be decided by some sort of impulse, even if it's simply the intinct to stay alive. Maybe that conversation is had in TOS, which I haven't seen a lot of).

But then, most races in Star Trek are fairly rigid, because of the shows' need to introduce and summarise them briefly at the start of individual episodes. Even humans - who are usually shows in contrast to the conformism of other races - are portrayed mostly through the prism of Starfleet, a strict elitist organisation. Much of the conflict then ensues from individuals acting out of line with the protocols of their civilisations.

ENT puts an interesting spin on this dynamic by trying to show Starfleet itself, in its younger incarnation and as represented by Archer, as individualistic and impulsive. It's inevitable that that comes across as antisocial - a 'free society' is really a paradox. To the extent we are individuals, we are antisocial, and to the extent we are socially conforming, we are anti-individual.
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Focksbot
Wed, Jun 10, 2020, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S6: Suspicions

This episode is mildly fascinating to me, in that I've never seen a Star Trek episode that feels so much like it used a first draft of a script.

There's plenty here that should have worked, and yet it seemed like a kind of sketched outline of a plot, with filler dialogue that crudely establishes the story beats, and plot holes that could easily be ironed out with a keen editorial eye.

The kind of tech being developed here should have required a well-funded team, not a single mad scientist, and a fuller version would have delved more fully into the different sides of the various alien cultures that are revealed through science symposiums. You wouldn't have needed any more actors - just dialogue that established the characters were representing various programs or divisions, and had actually read each other's research.

The dialogue over the instability of the testing site star was, on the other hand, entirely unnecessary. It's completely absurd that Jo'Bril 'dies' from the extreme and unsafe nature of the testing conditions, and all interest in the potential of the shield technology is thereafter dropped. It would have been a matter of a simple rewrite to have him volunteer to take the shuttle out in relatively safe conditions (edging into the corona of a weaker star, with a transporter lock as a safety net), only to have him sabotage the expriment in such a way that the *shields themselves* cause his apparent death.

Instead, we get to watch the Enterprise bridge crew stand calmly by while they shoot a man into an unstable sun, banking on technology that only two people in the room have any faith in.

Then there's the problem of every other regular character seemingly acting out of sorts in order to isolate Crusher. This is just a case of weak dialogue - there are ways they could have performed that same role without coming across as completely uninterested in the possibility of murder.
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Focksbot
Wed, Jun 10, 2020, 6:07am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S6: The Chase

The comments section has prompted me to look up Tim Lynch's review of the episode, and weigh in on intelligent design theory. I'm not an evolutionist/biologist, and I certainly don't believe that intelligent design should be taught as a plausible theory in schools, but I'm still not sure I agree with Tim's criticism of its use in this episode.

Yes, evolution is the process by which a species survives, and you would expect adaptations to be traits that guaranteed survival in a particular environment. So the reason human beings have evolved a sense of morality, for instance, is that rules beget cooperation, and the ability to intelligently cooperate with one another is a top notch survival mechanism.

But let's suppose that an ancient alien species had authored some stowed some secret code in the DNA of early life forms in various planets, designed to sit dormant until certain conditions are met, and then to begin asserting itself.

Tim uses a deck of cards analogy. So what if they stacked the deck? This pre-programming would either work in concert with evolution, tweaking the adaptations along a certain path, or - if the environmental conditions were wrong - it would doom the species to mutating in a non-optimal way. Hence why it's a gamble.

Why does Geordi say that what he's seeing must be 'authored' rather than random? Well, to go back to the deck of cards, imagine that after shuffling, every card came out in order of number and suit. In other words, a pattern that serves no purpose except to appear to be a pattern tends to point toward intelligent design. The patterns of evolutionary or biological design are *telic*; they are there to achieve an end result within the organism. But if there is an observable pattern within a sequence that does nothing except draw a map of a nearby star system, that rather suggests someone intentionally put it there.
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Focksbot
Sat, Jun 6, 2020, 6:28am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S6: Chain of Command, Part II

On the subject of the Jellicoe plotline:

I found this to be generally well handled, and the reactions of the crew realistic. It's true that you would expect a military outfit to have more discipline, but Starfleet is only quasi-military and the crew have an established familial relationship. The tension between their roles as friends and officers is well realised.

I also think it was a bold move to let Jellicoe succeed. This is again one of those occasions when the writers get it right by making an issue more nuanced than fans with more rigid expectations would like it to be. I see people here reacting with disappointment that 'our' characters weren't shown to be in the right, saying that it undermines or confuses the message.

On the other hand, I also see the opposite reaction: that these episodes are poorly written because Jellicoe is a straw man militant who we're "supposed" to dislike (Admittedly, this is just one person, and it's the site's resident right-winger).

I disagree strongly with both of these interpretations. The 'message', as far as there is one, is that different approaches can yield results, but the tensions between those different approaches can be unresolveable. We know that in a typical episode, Riker might have been able to rescue Picard in a daring raid. We know that Jellicoe succeeded here by being willing to sacrifice Picard in order to play for time and come up with a broader plan. But it nearly came to the point where neither plan could be brought off, because convictions were equally strong on both sides.

Although it could have been handled better, Troi's line about Jellicoe's uncertainty greatly strengthens this theme. Jellicoe isn't 'arrogant'; he's acting in a way that he thinks he needs to in order to get results. It's a calculated risk - hack people off, including your own officers, in order to force the outcome you need. As he tells Troi, there's simply no time for bedding in, winning trust. But he knows it's a risk.

It makes me think of all those scenes in TNG when the Enterprise is being fired upon, or facing some other immediate threat, and the crew take time to debate different solutions to the problem - or, in more absurd instances, assemble in the meeting room. As much as I want to give these scenes a free pass (because I do fundamentally agree with the philosophy that cooperation and thoughtfulness is the only route to avoiding annihilating ourselves), in most of these situations as written you would fare better with a well-oiled machine: Picard taking charge, commands carried out without thinking. In the time it takes them to have a conflab, most other ships in the series have been blown apart.
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Focksbot
Sat, Jun 6, 2020, 6:06am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S6: Chain of Command, Part II

I have a couple of comments to make about this two-parter, mostly in response to the audience-show dynamic evidenced on this site. Episodes like this get 3.5-4 stars from Jammer, and the consensus seems to agree with that. The lighter episodes like 'Rascals' tend to get 2-3 stars, and people really tear into them.

I found I've been enjoying the episodes more or less the same. 'Rascals' is much more cartoony, but establishes that tone from the start, so that I find no need for nitpicking when it gets super-silly. It's kind of like watching a different show - and episodic fiction can have a certain amount of elasticity to it in that respect. DS9's comedy episodes are more wearying because there is a tighter continuity throughout, reducing that degree of elasticity.

On the other hand, episodes like the 'Chain of Command' two-parter are seriously hampered by their sillinesses. Higher highs, maybe, but lower lows. The contrivance of Picard, Crusher and Worf acting as ninja spies is completely unearned, shreds the drama of their situation in Part 1, and undermines the torture scenes in Part 2.

The use of the Ferengi smuggling route is completely slapdash - Picard doesn't even know the Ferengi in question, or the extent to which he can be trusted not to rat them out. Crusher's turn as a seductress is offensively crass, and her lack of injury from dozens of rocks falling onto her head makes that entire scene pointless.

I agree that the torture scenes are well acted, but these too are undermined by various things. First and foremost, it's a weaker rip-off of the same scene in '1984', but loses much from there being no point to the torture. Picard knows nothing worth extracting, and Madred is a weak man acting out a power fantasy - it says nothing about the effectiveness or otherwise of the Cardassian state, or of any particular ideology.

Secondly, it runs up against the fan/writer hero worship of Picard. As a character, he's an ideal, and that's fine in a fantasy series. But if you're going to tackle torture, you ought to be prepared to be truthful - and the truth is that torture breaks people. Compare this with what happens to Jim Prideaux in 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy' - an intelligence agent trained to resist torture. He talks matter-of-factly about how he starts off giving them the cover story, is gradually forced to give up everything, and ends up saying absolutely anything he can think of, relevant or otherwise, to get it to stop. He ultimately runs out of things to say.

But we're not allowed to see Picard overpowered in this way - instead, ludicrously, we get him turning the tables on his torturer, and defying him until the end. Equally ludicrously, the Cardassians never carry out any physical mutilations - a time-honoured method of psychologically breaking someone.

Picard is a hero and Star Trek is an optimistic show - we're not meant to see him 'lose' so badly, so hopelessly. But for that reason, this show should not be tackling a subject like torture so brazenly. In doing so, it straight up lies to us. And a lie like this - that 'heroic' people can stand up to torture - is ironically, one of the things that allows people to accept torture in the modern day. The idea that it gives us an advantage over our enemies, because our enemies are weakling villains who will give up the goods more readily, is just pervasive enough to mute what ought to be persistent moral outrage that any nation practises such methods.

(I'm going to go onto another comment for the Jellicoe stuff).
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Focksbot
Fri, May 29, 2020, 10:29am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S5: Silicon Avatar

Aha! Yet another episode that I found mediocre to middling, but which is enlivened by my coming to the comments section on this site and finding people reacting to it in a bizarre, angry way, full of wrongheaded certainty. eg. "Anyone who thinks it wasn't right to destroy the entity is being foolish."

The writers ticked off a basic criteria for good fiction by making it so the correct course of action is, at the very least, debatable. If you're angry because every character didn't conform to your view of the right course of action, then I suggest it's because you're narrowminded.

Picard's view is understandable. Riker's view is understandable. Dr. Marr's view is
understandable, if rather unprofessional. The tension between these views is part of what the episode explores, and it does it competently.

Picard's reasons for wanting to communicate with the entity map directly onto the reasons why wiser people in the real world urge dialogue, understanding, study. You need as much information as possible, in order to make the best choices and to widen your range of options.

What if the entity was one of a race, which themselves had the capacity of revenge? What if destroying it proved to be like smacking a wasp nest? What if it was only a child, and the adults were far more aggressive? What if, as Picard suspected, it simply did not recognise what it was eating as a kind of sentient life form, would be horrified to learn that, and could be sustained by other means?

What if it were artificial - a weapon created by a still more powerful enemy, hiding in the shadows?

It's telling that most of the posts on this page decrying Picard for being wrong pervert and misrepresent his position in order to try to make their point. He would certainly "shoot first" if the creature was in the middle of destroying another planet or presented a mortal threat to the Enterprise. He is only considering the communication option because they will be encountering it in the middle of space, and have the opportunity to find out more about its nature.

Equally, though, Riker's objection is reasonable - they don't know if failing to take the initiative at this point will result in the Entity working out a means of avoiding them in future. That's certainly a risk. But destroying the entity carries risks with it as well, as pointed out above.

It never ceases to amaze me how people credit themselves with being pragmatists and realists for wanting to take revenge or perform preemptive destruction, when they're usually just acting on primitive instincts. Yes, there are dangers inherent in attempting negotiation, or in an excess of hesitance around a dire threat, but if human beings weren't prepared to face those dangers in order to gain a greater degree of understanding of the destructive forces arrayed against us, then we'd all still be living in caves, cowering from the lightning.
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Focksbot
Fri, May 29, 2020, 6:10am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S5: Ensign Ro

Given what has been posted already on this page, I think this is a fair enough place to add my general feelings on the TNG vs. DS9 debate. I've rewatched all of DS9 recently and have just come up to this episode in a TNG rewatch. In general, I think the tussling between fans of the two shows is completely unnecessary - they're really very similar, with very similar flaws.

For me, the serialised stories and more conflict-heavy premise of DS9 edges it out, but this is almost for purely technical reasons: serials give writers more freedom in the kinds of stories they tell, and a backdrop of continuous conflict/unease raises the tension level throughout. This gives DS9 richer flavours and more options - a light-hearted episode can be played out against the background buzz of an oncoming storm and set up plot points for a more serious follow-up.

But that aside, the two series both have some exceptional stories and actors, and a lot of goofy plots and bad acting to balance it out. The idea that DS9 mocked TNG or went against the values of Star Trek up to that point is hugely overplayed (eg. by @Eliot, although I think his views have softened since 2012)? The premise of the universe permits multiple conflicting, reasonable accounts of humanity, and different characters and episodes took on different philosophies. Both series are guilty of drastically simplifying one view or another in order to make a point.

On the subject of Ensign Ro - the character is stiffly written in this episode in a way that is merely mediocre. But the same can be said for the majority of the guest characters in this series the majority of the time. Someone above observed, quite correctly, that fans seem to fly off the handle at female characters that don't act the way they expect 'women' to, and that certainly seems to be the case here. Ro isn't particularly unrealistic by the standard of characters generally in this series - she's just not one of the best.

I suppose a general problem with TNG is that while DS9's Kira and Dax had some good episodes, Crusher, Troi and Pulaski never really rise above being serviceable foils for the plot. In that context, Ro does feel like a bandaid - an attempt to quick-fix a problem that needn't exist.
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Focksbot
Mon, May 25, 2020, 5:29am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S4: The Loss

This is one of those Star Trek episodes that isn't very well put together, and is often downright frustrating, but raises some very interesting questions in a provocative way. Hence why I am commenting on it straight after watching.

Seeing Troi turn almost immediately into a brat after losing her powers makes for challenging viewing, in part because it reminds us of times people around us have behaved insufferably in reaction to setbacks. On the one hand, we want to empathise and understand them - the episode makes it clear that this is a parallel to a major disability. Picard compares it to blindness or being in a wheelchair.

On the other hand, Riker's reaction in Troi's quarters embodies the other angle: that Troi is merely brought down to the level of everyone else, and her attitude is actually very insulting. This really hit home for me, particularly what Riker says about her having control. I've had experiences with brilliant and supernaturally charming people throwing a tantrum when things don't go their way, simply because they're so used to being able to manipulate the situation - and Troi's reaction here rings true to life. Such people are blind to the privilege they enjoy, and seem to hate the idea of an even playing field.

With this in mind, I totally understand people's bitchy comments about Troi on this page and others - it's an aspect the show rarely, if ever, delves into, but there would be understandable resentment of a betazoid counsellor with the ear of the captain. She is essentially appointed to spy on the crew constantly, to make sure that no one can cover up their personal misgivings with professionalism. Imagine you bloody hated Riker (an understandable position) but were determined to get along with him for the sake of your career and the rest of the crew. Now imagine that his ex-girlfriend was always hanging around, able to read your emotions and report them to the captain. What a hideously unfair and impossible situation to have to deal with.

So this episode gets points from me for making Troi realistically hateful in the instance she loses her powers, but the show as a whole is docked points for never making more of this, or allowing her to confront this very unpleasant aspect of her character and grow to be a better person. We have multiple episodes where Data reacts to new limitations and flaws, and has to puzzle it out; Troi should have been given the same treatment.

-

Also, an interesting point that gets quickly lost in the mix: Troi compares how she sees people without her powers to holodeck characters. This strongly suggests that the holodeck is completely unconvincing and unnerving to Troi - something like the equivalent of the uncanny valley. It wasn't programmed to simulate actual feelings and emotions on whatever wavelength she picks them up.

This begs the question, however: why did the writers put this line in here? It tells us (and Riker) nothing about Troi's present condition, because the rest of the crew *do* find holodeck characters convincing.

Additional: Guinan was great, and one of the weaknesses of the episode is that it's really not clear why she *shouldn't* be the ship's counsellor rather than Troi. Her style is to listen and respond, rather than impose her ideas on a situation, which I would have thought is the better technique for helping people with their anxieties.
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Focksbot
Sat, May 16, 2020, 10:04am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S3: The Most Toys

I really enjoyed this episode, and really felt for Data at points throughout. I'm also enjoying the discussion it has prompted, but for what it's worth, I think a lot of what's been said rests on the assumption that Data is correct when he claims to be incapable of 'feeling'.

In my opinion, this is a very contentious conclusion to draw from the available evidence, and I find it odd that most of the TNG crew go along with it most of the time. Thankfully, there are points (such as in "The Offspring", when Dr. Crusher (I think) hints that Data is entirely capable of loving Lal, or the episode where Pulaski suggests Data has hurt pride) which show that not everyone buys it. And the conclusion to this episode dares us to apply the same skepticism.

It's clear that Data is incapable of *the same range* of feeling as humans, and certainly the same intensity. But it seems to me equally clear that many of his decisions and actions have an emotive component to them. For a start, it's really not uncontentious that curosity, which he regularly owns up to, is outside of the realm of emotions. It's a feeling which we act upon.

In the context of this episode, the notion of a "respect for life" is also, to my mind, something that has to be based in feeling. You can't program a computer to have "respect". You can program it to avoid particular results, but those results would need to be quantifiable. If a robot is not supposed to harm humans, then that means it avoids actions which will lead to humans making certain statements, or producing certain sounds, that are unambiguously categorised as evidence of harm.

A robot with Data's processing capacity, operating according to a wider remit of protecting 'life', would be constantly calculating the ramifications of actions, policies and procedures so as to minimise the net amount of suffering and death. But Data devotes himself first and foremost to his duties, prioritises immediate problems and acts primarily to protect those around him. This plainly evinces an emotional response, since he is prioritising proximate stimuli, rather than viewing all available information dispassionately.

In other words, respect requires a qualitative judgement. It requires emotion.

So to my mind, the questions TNG keeps posing are: to what extent does Data 'feel' and what are the ways in which that differing extent of feeling is an advantage or disadvantage? This episode is built around one variation of that question: is Data restricted, in a way that we are not, from being able to assert his own freedom, through lack of feeling? Is he bound to remain imprisoned because he cannot weigh his own needs above that of a person's life, however villainous and cruel that person is? Can he be gamed simply by presenting him with a situation where more lives are endangered by his independence than by his total compliance?

And the episode answers it, in essence, by saying that the more a being like Data is pushed into that situation, the more likely they are to develop exactly those feelings necessary to escape that trap.

@Skeptical wrote, above: "But if that was the writers' intention [to ask whether or not Data could make the big decision], then they failed. Because in 106 comments, no one has yet come up with a plausible solution that doesn't involve either A) Data remaining kidnapped, B) Fajo killing another crewmember, or C) Data killing Fajo."

I would argue, firstly, that there needs to be some measure of ambiguity in the treatment of this topic, so it's a strength of the episode that we can support Data's actions through cold moral deduction. It would be overly blunt to simply have an episode designed to say: "Data can become emotional when he needs to be."

That ambiguity is also the device which leads us to question where our own feelings end and our moral deduction begins, and therefore what makes us so different from Data. Who's to say that all our actions don't amount to logical calculations, based on values that have been 'programmed' into us? We might not like to admit that when we act rashly or destructively, we are operating on the basis of short-term preservation, but perhaps the only difference between Data and us is that he's far, far more intelligent, and an intelligent being sees solutions to most situations that don't involve emotion.

This episode puts Data in a situation where a moral calculation supports the act of killing his captor, but perhaps that moral calculation *requires* that he also feel some measure of anger in order to get him over the hump of how wrong it is to kill. Feeling as an emergency override.
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Focksbot
Mon, May 11, 2020, 12:42pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S4: Paradise Lost

@DLPB:

"Complaining that something is left wing propaganda means I want it to be right wing propaganda? No reasoning with people like you."

Your views are so ideologically narrow that you regard any degree of honesty or realism as an incursion of 'liberal' views, whether or not there's any consistent or coherent agenda behind them.

Generally, it's one of the more gently amusing aspects of sabre-rattling right-wingers that they attempt to use the word 'liberal' or 'leftist' to enclose a massive, unwieldy range of different political philosophies, movements, aesthetics and styles of government. DS9 has a fascinatingly nuanced (and often confused) approach to most of the issues it raises that rarely reflects one singular worldview. In fact, I would say that the dominant agenda is drama, and various philosophies are greatly oversimplified in pursuing that goal. The idea that this episode or any other consists of propaganda is just rather silly.

But what is clear from your comments over many of these pages is that you think it ought to be. You're not satisfied with drama that doesn't reflect your own deeply conservative views absolutely.
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Focksbot
Mon, May 11, 2020, 12:16pm (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S3: Who Watches the Watchers

I agree with Jammer's star rating. This was a very frustrating episode for me, in that I think the premise and story beats were all very worthy, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired.

I love the idea of the crew trying to shut down a "cultural contamination" and making it worse in the process. I also think a story like this is an excellent vehicle for examining the role religion plays in a society. In both cases, I found the way events unfolded unrealistic.

The contamination issue could all too easily have been nipped in the bud, in that the explanation Picard gave at the end was by far the best course of action from the point where it was confirmed Liko and his daughter had both seen the base and the transporter in action. Trying to kidnap back the injured observer, then beaming the group's leader onto the Enterprise was farcical stuff.

The issue of religion could have been played any number of ways, but one of the worst is to suggest that supposedly rational people can be turned into murderers by one supernatural experience and a thunderstorm.

This handling of the premise reveals, to my mind, a very shallow understanding of religion on the part of the writers. It's true that it can make people do wild, evil things, but I would contend that they are usually acting under other pressures and using religion as a way to rationalise desperate acts or a deeply instinctive conformity.

Religion is a powerful and attractive notion because it offers an *order* to things, a series of simple answers to terrible dilemmas. Terrified of outsiders and the threat they pose? No problem - just believe that you're God's favoured people and that heretics must be killed. Crops failed and family dead? Sort it out by believing that you broke a rule and needed to be punished, or that these events have some greater purpose.

But Liko and the others appear to be under no such mental pressure here. There's the germ of the idea that he's suffering from the pain of his wife's death, but it's nonsense that you would jump from that to wanting to murder someone for a decision you disagreed with.

It would have been more realistic if Liko and others had wanted to form a kind of monk-ish order and devote themselves to the careful study of 'Picard' and the signs of him in the world. The Enterprise crew could still have been tearing their hair out at the prospect of this previously atheist race wasting their time on a stupid misunderstanding.

What's more, the idea that the group leader would have such a hard time accepting that Picard isn't all-powerful is far-fetched. Unless someone is habituated to explaining away unusual events by reference to the supernatural or divine, I can't see them having a problem with conceiving of a more advanced race. If it's true that this race of people have moved beyond religion at this stage in their development, that necessarily implies that they regard things they don't understand (like thunderstorms) as explicable phenomena awaiting further investigation.

Surely, religion operates on the basis of a *practised willingness* to rationalise things in a certain way, coupled with a *lack of contradiction* from whoever or whatever is being idolised. If God or Allah appeared in the sky today and told everyone that he was simply a technologically superior being observing us, there would be plenty of people calling this entity a false god, but I doubt there'd by anyone saying, "Mate, I believe you are who you say you are; I just think you're having us on with the whole 'not actually divine' thing."

Anyway, that is all to say that I think this premise could have been handled much more smartly.
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Focksbot
Wed, May 6, 2020, 7:17pm (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S2: The Measure of a Man

I've also just watched this episode on Netflix, and it's certainly the best TNG episode of the run so far. I'm also not surprised to see it's generated a lot of healthy discussion on this page. A few points:

* It's inevitable that the legal proceedings are rather unrealistic. You cannot stage a hearing of the sort we have today, deciding an issue of this magnitude, for a TV audience. You couldn't do it in five times the running time. There would be far too much evidence to consider, legalese to unravel, and nitty-gritty back-and-forth argument to work through. The events of this episode are best thought of as a debate for the benefit of the audience, thinly disguised as a legal hearing.

* Once you accept that, it's a relatively simple exchange of ideas - and that's why the episode works so well. Riker bases his approach on the presumption that a machine and a sentient being are two opposing concepts. A machine can be owned and a sentient being can't, so therefore all he has to prove is that Data is more the former than the latter. Hence his case is based on demonstrations of 'machine-like' qualities.

* Picard realises he doesn't need to operate on the same assumption. He can argue that it's possible for something to be a machine *and* a sentient being. So first he sets out to demonstrate that sentience is impossible to prove to any greater degree in a human than in Data. Having established that, the force of his argument comes from pointing out the devastating consequences of treating sentient beings as property. It follows that if you cannot firmly disprove sentience, it is better to operate on the assumption that it exists.

* This all works completely fine as a logical exchange for a general audience. The only problem is that at a few points they start talking about 'life', which - as others have pointed out - is a different concept. It doesn't make sense that the argument should hinge in any way on whether Data is alive, because houseplants are also alive, and no one has a problem with these being property.

* The Guinan exchange is an entirely worthy element of the plot. For the sake of drama, it's a good move to show Picard thrown off his game by Riker's case. He knows that it makes for a relatively weak rebuttal to simply say: "The truth is we cannot prove Data, or any one of us, is not sentient." Logically, that swings it, but emotionally, it's very flat. Guinan tips Picard off as to how to develop that argument into something much more dramatic - something that brings wider issues of morality into it.

* I continue to shake my head, as I did over that DS9 Vic Fontaine episode, at how some people react to any character mentioning or implying race as if they were being slapped in the face with political correctness. Must be a US thing.

* The acting in this episode is a step up. It feels like the characters are really starting to own their roles for the first time. Can't agree enough with what @philadlj says above.
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Tue, Apr 28, 2020, 10:41am (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S3: A Matter of Perspective

I knew the comments board would be lively for this one! And ... look, I tried to ignore DLPB acting, as usual, like an annoying, badly written antagonist, but seriously, just how deluded do you have to be to lecture other people about the law and not understand basic legal concepts?

Perjury requires that a witness (not an 'eyewitness', but a witness, which is a term that applies to everyone called to the stand, including the accused and the victim) be shown to have lied. But failure to convict a person accused of rape doesn't require that the jury believe the accuser lied - only that there's reasonable doubt. So in many (if not most) cases, no one is convicted.

In the context of the episode, there's no evidence outside of witness statements as to what went on in the guest room, so no way to tell if anyone was lying. The differing accounts seem very plausible to me, for the reasons people have gone into above. Of course, it's also understandable, psychologically, why people are so resistant to the evidence that our memories are 'made up' - if we were honest about how unreliable they are, we would doubt everything.

I've had some amazing arguments with people who remember specific things differently to me. Nothing as serious as this, but certainly on matters that you would think are so clear that it's impossible to misremember it. From the occasions when we've been able to verify it with objective evidence, I've only got it right about half the time.

I've also had, on one occasion, someone recount my own behaviour back to me in a manner that was offensively (and dangerously) inaccurate. I was so taken aback that it took me several days to process the accusation and summon up the courage to challenge it. When I did, she immediately retracted her previous account, saying that she was emotionally worked up at the time and had genuinely remembered it that way, but since calming down she'd come to realise she'd got it wrong. I believe her. For one thing, there's not much point in lying when the only other person you're telling is the other person who was there - unless you're gaslighting them, which is a whole other story.

I enjoyed the rest of the episode, and the way the differing accounts exaggerated different dimensions of people's characters. You could tell even before you saw the wife's account that Riker's was slanted - he was far too stern and professional. There's no way he wouldn't at least have grinned like a goon as he was refusing her advances.

But as Peter G says above, the clever part of the episode is that while everyone's accounts of their own behaviour is warped in their favour, they all remember details that add up to a much more impactful truth. (This is also, for what it's worth, my experience of how a good case is built in court - you build up a picture from the evidence that's not in contention and generally work around the competing character testimonies.)
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Focksbot
Fri, Apr 24, 2020, 6:15pm (UTC -5)
Re: TNG S1: Angel One

Impressively terrible episode, but strangely fascinating for just how jumbled its message is. The whole effort puts me in the mind of someone who has vaguely heard of feminism getting on their soapbox to make a speech about it, and kind of cobbling their points together as they go.

Often when Star Trek tackles controversial or topical issues, it at least does so in a way that prompts interesting discussion, but having read through a good chunk of the debate on this page, the episode has plainly failed to give much of a steer to the usual back-and-forth. (Then again, I'm not sure any work of fiction could successfully dent DLPB's misplaced faith in his grasp of facts and logic.)

One detail that could have been interesting, had more been made of it - Picard says that the women on Angel One are larger and stronger than men. This is a useful starting point for a thought experiment around how such physical strength plays into the power relations between the sexes. What if men had still evolved to be the risk-taking, aggressive, highly competitive part of the equation, but were less suited to physical tasks? They would probably all be regarded the way skinny teenage boys are, and a matriarchal society might have a good argument for keeping them as second class citizens.

It would have to be a very extreme and notable trend though. Ultimately, the reason why race and sex discrimination amonst humans is so pathetic is because human physiology is extremely varied - even before you get to talking about nurture, the way minds and bodies are trained to different specialisms. Slight trends in the average across populations of millions tells you absolutely nothing about the next person you're going to meet.

It's beyond question that societal restrictions, bad luck and hardship prevent the vast majority of people from reaching their full potential, and that the best hand you can be dealt at birth - in terms of fewer negative assumptions weighing against you - is being wealthy, male, white, straight etc. That's why the case for feminism and similar civil rights movements is so strong.

But it would be genuinely interesting, I think, to have an episode of Star Trek that asked the question: what if the imbalance of abilities between the sexes were such a constant, and so extreme, that prejudice was rational? What if the average woman living on Angel One had a 9 out of 10 chance of being more intelligent and better at almost any task than the next man she runs into?

Ramsey's arrival on the planet would then throw a spanner in the works, since an average human male they would be a genetic outlier by their standards. You could even have Ramsey and his posse be incredibly smart and tough by the standards of Angel One women, to the point where he knowingly manipulates the dim-witted male population into an uprising.

It's hard not to come away from an episode like this with a whole load of ideas for how it could have been done better.
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Focksbot
Thu, Apr 16, 2020, 6:47pm (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S7: Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang

Like some other commentators, I'm taken aback by the number of comments on this page (spanning most of a decade) that are hyper-reactive to the Sisko/Yates exchange about race. I really think it reveals more about your own ignorance than the episode.

At a push, you could say it was 'shoehorned' in, since it came and went rather quickly, but as @PeterG says above, it's consistent with Sisko's character - as someone who takes a particular interest in black history - and it provides an in-character reason for Sisko turning up late to the party. The fact that it wasn't stretched beyond that point us arguably praiseworthy precisely because it stops *well short* of being preachy. Yates' response even convince Sisko to drop it.

Essentially it's a scene of one character having an understandable objection in line with their own interests and knowledge, and another character reasoning it out with them so they change their mind.

The fact that people can't stand this - and seem to be really keen to criticise Brooks for its inclusion - is incredibly ugly. Frankly, I'm pretty sure we'll still be fighting about race well into the 24th century and beyond if this is how some people in the early 21st century choose to try to 'move beyond it'.

As for the rest of the episode, I rather enjoyed it, but I concur with the general criticism that the writers were trying to have their cake and eat it by interleaving an ongoing war plot with light-hearted capers. It doesn't help that the casualty lists reported in other episodes are unrealistically high - I'm presuming there's no draught of the civilian population, so if the Federation were losing thousands of officers every week, they'd be wiped out in fairly short order.
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Focksbot
Mon, Mar 23, 2020, 6:47am (UTC -5)
Re: DS9 S4: Paradise Lost

I'm currently rewatching all of DS9 and reviewing these comment threads at the end of every episode, which makes for a fascinating experience, particularly when it comes to episodes like Homefront and Paradise Lost.

It's true that we can point to various technical and structural flaws - the idea that the Federation has sufficient localised transporters and armed personnel to instantly deploy on every street on Earth is particularly difficult to swallow - but the portrayal of different human behaviours and the problems that arise from them is broadly realistic. In fact, some of the criticisms of this two-parter clearly emanate from its realism, and the fact that some of us really don't like to be 'seen'.

For example, @DLPB writes: "Rather than tackle the very real issue of a Changling being a massive, massive threat to security, it instead uses the episode for leftist propaganda. And that's a shame."

The character of Leyton is drawn to reflect exactly this view - that hand-wringing over whether or not one is being too paranoid is a fatal weakness, and the *real* issue that needs to be tackled is the threat posed by outsiders. But the fact that you would need to use guile and chicanery to remove politicians with opposing views isn't "leftist propaganda"; it's realism. As is the fact that the military officer best placed to carry out this coup would probably be someone whose motives are tainted by an itch for absolute power.

So @DLPB's complaint is really that the episode *isn't* rightist propaganda - it doesn't erase the existence of people with contrary views who would try to stop you taking what you see as necessary steps to oppose a global threat. 'Paradise Lost' portrays Sisko as following a different moral code, and it lets him win, but it also ends on an ambiguous note, with Leyton continuing to suggest Sisko has made a mistake.

In terms of realism, I'm also struck by Sisko's dad going from angrily refusing the blood test to happily going along with it within the space of a week. Writing this during the middle of the UK's response to the coronavirus, it's a startlingly accurate portrayal of how the average citizen resists the imposition of authority up to a point, then completely changes their attitude as soon as the government starts actually leading. This is neither a negative nor a positive trait in itself - it's useful when a government is being sensible, and terrifying when they're losing the plot.

Finally, a lot of people seem to have dismissed this two-parter as dealing in 'paranoia', and while that is a thread of the plot, Leyton is no General Ripper. The fact that the Dominion are a real threat means that these episodes are primarily about how we let such threats shape our society. I think anyone is walking away from this story thinking that DS9 is preaching to them has missed the point. Sisko and Odo were totally on board with stepping up security up until the point where Leyton overreached. Odo, as a character, is frequently used to represent the conflict between a desire for order/safety and a desire for freedom/risk. This show goes out of its way to avoid giving one-sided answers.
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