Scotch and Star Trek

Scotch… the final frontier.

This is a quest I embarked on thanks to the influence of /r/DaystromInstitute and the realization that I have never actually seen much of the original Trek. This provided me with an excuse to go through from the beginning to see the process by which a cohesive, generation-spanning and inspirational setting is presented to viewers. In the end, though, it’s an excuse to get snarky and pick apart a show I’ve loved since childhood.

Why the drinking? Because every time I reflect on the scope of this project I realize there are over five hundred hours of Star Trek ahead of me.

Here’s to you, Scotty. 

Today’s feature:

TNG: S4E06: "Legacy"

In which Data plays poker, hits on his ex-girlfriend’s sister, and lacks a certain degree of self-awareness. 

"Sir, I believe you are full of bovine waste excrement."

“Sir, I believe you are, in the vernacular, full of bovine waste excrement.”

A cold and musicless open on a sparse poker game. Geordi is not present, at least. Maybe he’s on duty, or maybe he’s finally on a date that’s going well. I still have to wonder what they’re playing for, because nobody shies away from letting Troi into the game and every time I’ve tried to play without some kind of important stakes nobody takes the game seriously. Data, however, is getting fairly good. Or at least less naive. He and Riker have all the chips, in fact, but Riker offers to take the pot with a magic trick. One that Data is not fooled by, because he has superhuman powers of observation and a digital memory. As Data smugly takes the pot, the Enterprise receives a distress call from Tarkana IV, where Tasha Yar grew up. So we’re finally going to see just how terrible it was living there.

The Enterprise bops up to Warp 9.6, which is at or close to its maximum speed, approaching 2700c. So when I tell you that Picard manually tells the helmsman to drop out of light speed, understand that in order for the Enterprise to drop out of warp within transporter range (a sphere with a radius of 40 thousand kilometers) the timing required would have to have been to within 0.0001 seconds. And that’s if their course passed through a diameter of that sphere, which would be a collision course with the freighter. I grow increasingly suspicious that they don’t teach Command division candidates in the current era just how much of the helm is actually automated. Now it’s time to play good news, bad news.

Good news: There’s an escape pod. Bad news: the escape pod isn’t in space any more. Good news: there’s an ion trail that leads somewhere. Bad news: The escape pod is long gone. Good news: It’s headed toward the colony. Bad news: The colony’s government fell, and the last Federation ship to make contact with it was warned that anyone who beamed down would be killed. Man, that place sucks. Although, given that literally the only other thing we’ve heard about it was “rape gangs” it would be more of a surprise if they weren’t actively refusing Federation presence.

Weapons ready? Balanced stances? Tactical formation? I thought I was watching Star Trek! What happened to rank security incompetence?

Weapons ready? Balanced stances? Tactical formation? I thought I was watching Star Trek! What happened to rank security incompetence?

Crusher demands to beam down, despite Worf’s objections that she should wait until the area is secured. It’s kind of implied that he’s worried about her because she’s a woman, but she refuses to back down and Riker agrees. Also, Worf served under and had great admiration for Tasha Yar, so it’s way more likely his objection was that she’s got less experience with combat missions. Plus, the Enterprise must have recently conducted drills for this, because lo and behold and for the first time in ever, they beam down with weapons drawn. It’s like I’m dreaming.

The colony currently consists of underground tunnels with a very postapocalyptic vibe. They don’t immediately get slaughtered, but they have a run-in with a bunch of lowlifes on the run from The Man (whoever that is) and decide that they can help each other. Also, the lowlifes are all wearing subdermal glowing proximity detectors.

There is a colonial civil war going on, it seems. The Coalition, who Riker and the away team seem to have fallen in with, are in contention with the Alliance, and between the two of them they’ve divvied up the city. The Coalition wants weapons to fight off the Alliance and claims that the Alliance just found weapons so they want to maintain the balance of power. To be fair, anyone who grew up in a Federation school studying old mission logs could recognize this as the way the Federation used to do business back when Kirk was loose. It’s all in the name of keeping the peace, although when Riker mentions that he didn’t hear much about peace from their former crewmate, the Coalition looks interested and gets his second to check up on the Enterprise.

Now, here’s a puzzle. If the last time the colony had contact with the Federation was six years ago, and the Enterprise launched only four years ago, then in order for the Coalition leader to expect to find anything out about the Enterprise, not only would the freighter escape pod have to have information about the Flagship in its databanks, but the Coalition would have to have been lying about not having it. Unless there are just news bulletins that get broadcast over subspace and the Federation hasn’t changed its encryption in fifteen years. Either prospect seems worrying.

"Do these backwater yahoos think they can bribe me with cheap whisky?"

“Do these backwater yahoos think they can bribe me with cheap whisky?”

Picard isn’t impressed by the situation on the ground, but diplomacy is still the name of the game while they have missing persons to rescue. The Coalition leader calls up and introduces Ishara Yar, Tasha’s sister, in an effort to play on the heartstrings of her sister’s former crew. Also, the Coalition leader claims that helping the Enterprise avoid paying a ransom to the Alliance is good enough, and offers to help them gratis. Seems suspect, and Troi confirms that the Coalition leader is definitely being deceptive about helping for free, but not necessarily about Yar. It’s nice to have confirmation, at least.

Ishara offers up a general map of the colony, a clear resentment of her sister, and a broad outline of the history of the colony. The Coalition and the Alliance are all that remained of a massive civil free-for-all, and were given police powers and proximity implants to keep the two sides under control. As bad as it seems to have gone, at least someone recognized that privatized police forces with competing jurisdictions was bound to go poorly. Although the fact that it only took months to break down is a little worrying.

Escape pods apparently have vital sign telemetry, which Geordi can boost if they can find it, and Ishara knows where it would be and offers to be a distraction, since her proximity implant will go off. The plan gets the go-ahead, and apparently the proximity implants don’t have loaclized alarms beyond ‘someone is nearby,’ because nobody homes in on her based on what rooms she’s triggered. She does, however, get taken out eventually, and her phaser goes wild as she does.

The one time the low framerate has helped me get a good screenshot instead of forcing me to discard great ones.

The one time the low framerate has helped me get a good screenshot instead of forcing me to discard great ones.

So hey, have you ever noticed how in every firefight, the order of the day is to line up a shot, send a short beam at the target, and then take your finger off the trigger? Why would you do that with a beam weapon that has enough energy to heat iron molten in seconds? This shot clearly shows that phasers don’t have some sort of internal safety that prevents them from being swept side-to-side, and it can still do enough damage to spark off whatever the heck she just accidentally shot. So… I mean… why not? I have no answer for this one. Hit me up in the comments.

Riker is able to save her from getting double-tapped just in time to confirm that she is truly Tasha’s sister. 24th century medicine has her back up and running shortly and ready to be bitter about her sister. Picard then gets the chance to explain why he kept Tasha around given how many times she almost shot something that ought not to be shot.

Data gives a short treatise on what it means to him to be friends with someone, which is either really sad or an apt description, possibly both. Geordi comes up with a plan to phaser-drill a shortcut to the bottom of the tunnels, but the map is so out of date only Ishara could reliably guide them around. Unfortunately, her implant would set off

How could you distrust this face?

How could you distrust this face?

the alarms, and it has an explosive which goes off if it’s removed conventionally. How fortunate that the Enterprise probably has a way to deal with that, like a force field full of Xenon. It’s not like this was exactly why she was introduced to the Enterprise and her help offered free of charge. She seems to imply that she’d want to get out if she could, or at least Riker seems to interpret this. She waxes poetic about the chance to get out of the thug life to Data, and she even considers joining the Academy.

Troi senses ambiguity, and warns everyone not to take everything at face value. Of course, Troi doesn’t advocate leaving Ishara in such a terrible place. She goes to tell her commanders that she’s going to leave after the mission, and gives Data a kiss. And in a scene that surprises nobody, she tells the Coalition leader that her plant to gain the trust of the crew is working. That was almost so obvious that I expect a double-bluff.

She leads Riker, Worf, and Data into the heart of the Alliance and to the prison, and all seems well until she fails to properly subdue a guard, who then triggers an alarm. Seems like she’s going off-mission to blow up the Alliance fusion generator and turn off the defense system. The Coalition is ready to go to deliver the decisive blow. After a few tense moments, Data stuns her and turns off the trap.

So after all that, Picard is going to let her beam back to the planet and to the only family she’s had for a decade or two. As a perfect ghost agent, invisble to Alliance sensors. Data gets a fairly unsatisfactory conclusion, however. He remains puzzled by how easily he was fooled by Ishara, by how he wanted it to be true and that led him to trust unwisely. It is interesting, though, that although Data continues to believe he is incapable of emotions, he certainly shows the outward signs. Without getting into qualia and philosophical zombies (in this post) I think it’s the intention to portray Data as the Tin Man who had a heart the whole time.

Did we miss something awesome?