Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep8: Justice

The one, the only Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sarcasm aside, Season One is clearly not indicative of the series' strengths in later seasons. At least, finally, we get the hottest ass to appear on Season One to date.
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Welcome to Fantasy Island.
I was thinking Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 8, Justice might have been better served as Shore Leave 2 or Shore Leave: The Sequel as the creators continue to make their efforts to link the series to Star Trek: The Original Series. As it stands the new generation of Star Trek simply doesn't do The Original Series justice in its first season. It fails to honor the original or does it do so by offering such pale imitations?
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Eventually, ST:TNG does find its identity, but it doesn't begin here. Clearly, at this point in ST:TNG's development, there is an element of damned-if-you-do or damned-if-you-don't. My friend [he's not imaginary I swear], who staunchly defends ST:TNG to the death, does make a valid point about ST:TNG Season One, which does keep things in perspective for me. He indicates that much of what I'm seeing now will take on a greater resonance later. Perhaps this is true. Could it be ST:TNG Season One will have greater meaning by building on its pilot season? Babylon 5's Season One had far greater depth once Writer J. Michael Straczynski was able to complete the arcs of Season Two, Three and Four. This of course remains to be seen, but as entertaining science fiction, ST:TNG fails to deliver. Mythology-building be damned if the stories fail to engage, crash and burn as many do in this inaugural go of it. But I did like my friend's perspective on the subject and it certainly opened my mind to the possibilities.
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"Seriously, mine is that long. Honest."
Justice instantly reminded me of ST:TOS. ST:TNG's attempts to bridge the two series in form, content, theme or feel have been a hallmark of this unsuccessful season. But once again, ST:TNG doesn't do it well and misses the mark. It's certainly understandable that the show would make efforts to connect the two series in concepts and certainly the idea of shore leave is something that is going to be in play for employees of a starship vessel.
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Unfortunately, Justice isn't nearly as good as the far superior Shore Leave. In fact, in some ways, it's a little weird. I found the ancient Greek-style of free love exchange and sex parlors just a bit odd as Riker and company walked about sizing up this rather "nice planet" as Worf so eloquently captured it. Better yet, Riker simply can't help but notice, "They certainly are fit."
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Likewise, the female figures are certainly fine eye candy, but when you get right down to it, the classic series really had some stunning women [Mudd's Women] that even ST:TNG has failed to top. The women in ST:TOS also seemed to have a more important dramatic role than the caricatures presented here. At the very least, you had wonderful costume design and detail to pine over. Once again, the scripting in ST:TOS was far more interesting, well-penned and memorable in its presentation. The superior camera work of ST:TOS cannot be discounted either. There was some tremendous talent behind the lens of that series. The writing here is stiff, forgettable and ridiculously obvious in presenting its morality tale and the camera work merely serviceable. I did enjoy some of the playful moments, but it's not enough to save another weak episode with another Picard heavy conclusion.
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Synopsis: The crew of the Enterprise-D takes a shore leave into a seeming paradise among sensually bodacious women dubbed the Edo on Rubicun III. Unfortunately, Wesley steps in it, a flower bed that is, and all hell breaks loose as the Edo's law demands that Wesley be killed for entering one of their forever shifting forbidden zones. Picard works to secure Wesley's life while assuring Dr. Beverly Crusher he'll be okay. A Tron-like mechanical station orbiting Rubicun III meanwhile scans Data's brain and demands the Enterprise-D and her crew leave its "children" unmolested referring to the Edo. Ironic, given there doesn't appear to be any laws against that. The sexual overtones were something Gene Roddenberry allegedly added to the script according to the Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion. Roddenberry and Worley Thorne had a strong hand in altering John D.F. Black's original terrorist-based themes. Picard makes every effort to honor the Prime Directive and respect Edo law and the dress code or lack thereof. Inevitably he relents to a willingness to utilize force to save Wesley, but little action transpires despite the fact the people of Edo are essentially wearing underwear as battle gear. Of course, there is that thing in orbit.
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I'm reminded of my kitchen magnet from ST:TOS - Phasers: ... Because Sometimes Diplomacy Fails. Of course, Justice offers little in the way of physical excitement or arousal in any form. Unfortunately, the god-like machine is unwilling to allow the crew of the Enterprise-D to leave until Picard graces the episode with one of his preaches, I mean speeches. My shots at the writing aside, I'm more than aware of ST:TOS and its willingness to pontificate on a theme, subject or moral lesson, but it was always written better than ST:TNG Season One and allowed to be executed better. At the very least, ST:TOS was far more successful visually on every level. This is unfortunate since Justice is the second episode to feature on-location shooting for the fledgling series.
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Thinking...
In the end, Justice feels a bit like Fantasy Island meets Law and Order and seeing the crew thrown into another court room styled setting a la Encounter At Far Point, does little to move the excitement meter's needle. Perhaps the crew needed to heed Captain Jean-Luc's earlier words of caution and "avoid temptation" as noted in ST:TNG, Season One, Episode 3, The Naked Now. That could have saved us all a lot of grief.
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... More Thinking.
The writers behind the concept of the Prime Directive once again play fast and loose and allow Wesley to be placed on trial with death on hold pending its outcome so that Picard can respect the laws of the planet as required by the Prime Directive. When the noose tightens he finally summons the courage to bail the crew out of harm's way. Picard does little to reassure Dr. Beverly Crusher that her son will be safe. Picard makes overtures that he will remain unharmed, but there's nothing in the series to suggest he'll be safe. The character's haven't developed enough to know where these people stand. I would suggest that Picard is clearly a principled man, but his cerebral nature and ability to over think a situation may get someone killed and this is certainly part of my experience watching this series. I wouldn't be overly confident having my son's neck under the guillotine with Picard in charge. I wouldn't allow a child to be on trial for stepping on flowers either. I certainly understand the point of just how ludicrous laws can be, but this takes the cake. Picard, too, may have had his hands tied to some degree, but again this is strange stuff, and not very good.
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...Yes! Still thinking.
In the end, Picard grows a pair of nuggets and begins preaching to the Edo people of Rubicun III and to the audience [again]. While I think some of his points are good, the sum of his speech makes for yet another preachy affair about justice. "There could be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions." These are certainly facts of life and they ring true and give us food for thought. Still, where is the fun in ST:TNG and the fascinating story material? This is a strange story with an outlandish plot to the point of preposterous. I certainly like the aforementioned line, but there appears to be a number of exceptions in logic in this first season and it creates a fairly imbalanced experience.

Edo, where Nipple is the law.

I got to thinking about the Remastered ST:TOS and just how wonderful that series looks now. It looks vibrant and amazing decades after its release. As I take snapshots of ST:TNG I find this series in serious need of help. It's near impossible to take a good image. But you know something, the stories never change. The material remains the same. They went back and put a shiny coat of paint on those amazing stories, bridged the meat of the series with some amazing FX shots and the experience is all the better for it. There are plans to revisit ST:TNG in the same manner as ST:TOS, but no matter how much wax or new paint you place on the first season of ST:TNG, the material, just like ST:TOS, stays the same underneath it all. In other words, there's no coat of paint that can rescue this first season. Nothing will change the fact that ST:TNG Season One offers poor, lackluster storytelling. A strong story for this worthy cast of actors before the end of the season would be something. That my friend would be justice. Then again we did get the near naked women of Edo. Perhaps that is justice after all.
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Justice: C-
Writer: Worley Thorne and Ralph Willis [pen name for John D.F. Black]
Director: James Conway

8 comments:

crowmagnumman said...

Yeah, definitely not one of the finer moments of TNG. But good grief, that girl Wesley seems to be talking to sure is a hot one.

I had heard some rumors about a remastered TNG, but nothing concrete. All I can say is: as long as they treat both original and remastered versions equally (as they've done with TOS), then I'm all for it.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Couldn't agree with you more. ST:TNG would definitely benefit visually from some love and care. I'm sure those stronger later seasons would be a real treasure for it as well. Thank you.

John Kenneth Muir said...

Hi SFF:

Great post, my friend.

I know this will surprise everyone -- especially Will -- but I rather enjoyed "Justice" in comparison with the other entries in the first season. That could be because it was the first planetbound adventure after several shipboard ones. Or it could be because of the Kinkiness Factor (a very enjoyable element of the Original Series, as you rightly point out). Or maybe it's just because after "Lonely Among Us" anything else would look like Shakespeare by comparison.

That stated, I can't really disagree with any of your well-enunciated arguments/criticisms. The show is pedantic, as usual, with Picard doing a lot of explaining and lecturing instead of "acting."

And the "nemesis" in space -- the Edo God -- is integrated poorly into the plot; yet another God Being-type thing testing humans and judging the 24th century brand okay. Jean-Luc Picard: approved by three out of four God Beings...

I would like to raise my voice in support of a TNG re-mastering. I watched "Relics" recently (the one with Scotty...) and it was almost unwatcheable because of atrocious picture equality. Some of the special effects shots actually looked like they weren't in focus.

So I offer my support there. However, there is very little chance a re-mastering could add much color to what is a colorless show. Where the Original had flamboyant, bright hues, ST: TNG is a study in beige.

Beige production design and beige storytelling...

Great post!

best,
JKM

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

JKM

Thanks again John for lending your additional, focuused commentary to this entry.

I can certainly understand why someone might enjoy Justice. It does feel liberating seeing the crew on that planet.

Your point about that Edo God is really right on. It was a story element that remained ambiguous to a fault in some ways.

I definitely think the remaster is badly needed. The picture quality of this series is abysmal. I would much prefer to have sharp beige over blurry beige. : )

An episode simply doesn't go by where I don't cringe at the poor picture quality. Some shots are far worse than others but capturing moments from an episode for a clear picture is extremely difficult.

Like yourself, ST:TOS was just an amazing candidate for the remaster and it is truly sensational.
To think it was more colorful than TNG before the remaster.

Thanks again my friend!
SFF

le0pard13 said...

Another of your fine examinations of the less than stellar first season of ST:TNG, SFF. Though I rather admire Picard finally stating that bit in his speech...

"There could be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions."

Still, the inanity of that garden breach by the gangling teen Wesley just seems like lazy plotting by the writers, IMO. Unless, they were attempting to make a statement about the ridiculousness of structured religions and their prohibitions and the like (but that may be giving them too much credit, here). And the time Picard takes to ponder leaving Dr. Crusher's only child to die for the PRIME DIRECTIVE and an obviously stupid reason would be just a tad too long in any parent's mind. But, I'm sure there was no such thing as fragging in the 24th century ;-).

But, this was a fun look back at this episode (plus reading the comments on the post), SFF. And put me down as another hoping to see a remastering of this series' effects. For some of the later eps, I think it would be a stunning addition, and couldn't hurt. Thanks.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Thank you so much for your thoughtful remarks L13.

I agree with you and mentioned that in the post. I liked the line as well. It was a sensible line and better than most of the gobbeldy gook Picard had been spewing to date.

Anyway, you make some great points about Picard's contemplation of the Wesley question - his life hanging in the balance.

Again, I understand these point of the story pointing out how rediculous laws and cultures can be, but they certainly took it to the extreme to make yet another preachy point. It seemed a little bit much and as you said "lazy."

And lazy is saying alot coming from Lazy Thoughts From A Boomer. ;D

Will said...

I can defend much of TNG's first season but certainly not this episode. A great synopsis. I actually feel sorry for you when you have to go through these terrible eps!

Justice, however, is odd for TNG since TNG, once Roddenberry died, became very stiff and regal. Women tended to wear MORE in TNG as time went on. Even in DS9, it was damn near shocking to see Dax's leg or Kira's midriff every now and then. . .Trek, until the shameless Enterprise (imagine 'Justice' every week). . .became nearly puritan with depictions of sexuality (though it still, as I have written, been brave in broaching sexual subjects). The only other overly sexualized TNG guest I can remember was Ardra (or whatever), the sexy devil-magician lady in 'Devil's Due'.

Other then that even Troi stopped wearing sexy suits (when Officer Bogamill joined the ship and ruined it). So Justice, if I'm looking for SOMETHING, seemed a bit free and less antiseptic.

That's all I got. Oh, and Picard rules.

*PS: Sci-Fi Fanatic, I am working on a Trek project and want some input and your involvement. . .shoot me an email*

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Will.
Loved your comments. Interesting insight from you regarding the covering up of the Star Trek franchise. Interesting.

I completely get your point about Justice feeling a bit "free". I can see that. So nice way to sum it up and clearly you and JKM are very much on the same page.

"Picard rules." Hmmmm? : )

I'll Be in touch my friend.