Friday, June 21, 2013

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep11: Haven

Why do I torture myself so?  Twice even.
I considered jumping ahead in the season where the conflict becomes considerably more robust (Heart Of Glory) versus the sometimes subdued slog here in the middle for the likes of Haven.  Still these old episodes look new again.

It has been some time since planting myself for a Star Trek: The Next Generation Season One viewing experience.  This is my first entry to be viewed on the newly remastered Blu-Ray releases.  I can assure you there is no amount of technical exceptionalism that can elevate the substance of any series or some of these earlier episodes and Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 11, Haven is no exception, but the series finally looks out of this world amazing as it should.  Admittedly, I found myself enjoying the experience that much more thanks to this fresh new coat of technical paint.  With more vibrancy and stronger audio, it was far more appealing to watch by comparison to the muted and poorly transferred DVD issues that only compounded the often dull Season One episodes.  There was a marked difference between the two formats.  It may not have saved Haven, but it was a stronger science fiction experience for geek technophiles like myself.


As I've said before, Babylon 5 could benefit significantly from such an examination and remaster.  Kudos to the folks working on these expensive ST:TNG re-releases.  Catch them on sale. It's worth it - even Season One.  The stunning, bodacious Mediterranean beauty that is Marina Sirtis.

To be truthful, I'm not spending a great deal of time on these Star Trek entries going forward until I reach one worth my time.  Just giving myself over to this short post is time I'll never get back. Nevertheless, despite my lack of affection for this first season I am still having fun with it.  I shouldn't complain too much.

There are surely interesting production facts surrounding the making of Haven.  Gene Roddenberry's dear Majel Barrett guest stars as Deanna Troi's mother, Lwaxana Troi.  A much younger Robert Knepper also guests.  Knepper had made a tremendous name for himself appearing regularly on Heroes (2009-2010), Prison Break (2005-2009) and the fantastic HBO series Carnivale (2003-2005). He has also appeared in Dragon's Teeth (1998) on Star Trek: Voyager, and an episode of Chris Carter's Harsh Realm (2000).  He even joined on for the second season of Stargate Universe (2010).  I've never been a huge fan, but his work is impressive.

Additionally, Richard Compton directs.  Compton once appeared on Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969) in the Season Two episode The Doomsday Machine.  He would one day direct five episodes of Babylon 5 (1993-1998) Season One and two episodes of The X-Files (1993-2002) during Season Eight.  Haven was written by Tracy Torme based on a story by Lan O'Kun, but even Torme, who wrote the excellent alien abduction script for the film Fire In The Sky, based on the true story of Travis Walton, was never entirely happy with the end result of Haven and with good reason.

Tracy Torme noted in Starlog Magazine #143 why Haven never entirely worked.  "Love Beyond Time And Space (as Haven was originally called) was written by a writer who I really don't think understood science fiction.  When they offered it to me, I had mixed emotions.  The bad was that I couldn't even get through the outline that had been written, and the good was that I thought it was so unusable, that anything I did would be an improvement.  It was a no-lose situation for me in a way, so I basically told them that I thought the story would only work as a comedy.  I wanted to do a broad comedy about these two families who couldn't really stand each other, but wanted to go through with the wedding.  My version was more caustic and the comedy had a sharper edge to it.  ... most of the comedy was softened and taken out of the original piece, so the net result was that I didn't particularly like it when it first aired, and it's still one of my least favorite shows that I've been involved with, but for some reason, it's popular among fans.  I'm grateful for that."

These production notes are possibly the most interesting aspects of the underwhelming episode.

Haven, a leisure planet, is under the threat of destruction by a plague-carrying Tarellian vessel carrying eight survivors.  The focus of the story is on Deanna Troi, a Betazoid, slated to give her hand in a pre-arranged marriage to Wyatt Miller, a human, played by Knepper.  Wyatt dreams of a woman, but not Deanna, and as it turns out one of the surviving Tarellians.  The two story components merge nicely in the final act.

The funniest moment comes when Lwaxana's attendant, Mr. Homn (played amusingly by Carel Struycken) exits for the transporter and turns to Picard after being silent, tall and strange throughout the entirety of the episode and says, "Thank you for the drinks." Now that's a highlight.

Haven is a generally sweet story of destiny, love and the freedom to love and centers on Wyatt, Deanna and to an extent the budding affection between Deanna and William Riker. There is a stunning use of color and mattes to project a sense of romance, affection and ultimately passions between the characters on Haven.

In the end, Wyatt beams over to the plague ship as something of a human savior.  Likewise, the Tarellians have dreamed of their savior.  Wyatt will never be able to return to his family again.

Performances are delightful, but there's hardly much a of a pulse to the sweet, thoughtful, but generally slow tale. The story never seemed to materialize any real threat tension.  The character dialogue was also fairly bland like a bad meal at a wedding reception.

Haven does deliver information on the Betazoid traditions and the culture in some detail.  It's just not very compelling stuff.  Majel Barrett, while undeniably a Star Trek matriarch of sorts, does tend to grate the nerves, the Great Bird's bird or not.  In fact, she's so overbearing and entitled, Picard is a gentleman in swallowing his pride and rank as the ship's Captain on behalf of Deanna.  Thus, Lwaxana actually serves to generate a surprising amount of sympathy for Picard.

Haven offers a subtle mix of emotions between Deanna, Number One and Wyatt for the proverbial love triangle, but the material with which they have to work is weak at best.  Despite the facts relevant to Betazoid culture, it was still difficult to accept Deanna's general willingness to give herself over to the ways or deeply held mores of her race so suddenly.  It's credible enough, but executed so quickly within the short framework of the episode it is difficult to swallow.

Generally speaking Haven was not well-received.  James Hunt of Den of Geek wrote that, the "Troi episodes tend to test the patience of even the most devoted Trek fan."  Keith DeCandido of called the episode "painful to watch."  So imagine my pain here.  DeCandido noted that all of the "worst sci-fi TV show cliches are in evidence."  While he found Barrett "ever-radiant" Zack Handlen of The A.V. Club dubbed her performance as "agonizing" while the episode was filled with "lazy shoulder shrugs and half-finished ideas."

Haven is yet another example of Star Trek: TNG at its most boring.  Season One continues to wear down the most ardent of Star Trek fans.  I'm hanging in there because I really want to say something positive about this series soon.

Picard keeps telling his crew to "Engage."  Deanna was engaged.  Wyatt was engaged.  As Star Trek viewers go, and we are loyal and many deep, there are entirely subjective expectations when it comes to an ST:TNG episode.  Each entry has its assets and problems like HavenStar Trek offerings vary widely, but there's generally something for those who love a certain character or enjoy the subtle details within the mythology. Each installment is a piece to a much larger tapestry and on those terms can be enjoyed.

Haven, despite landing Episode 11 was actually production number five in the season order right behind Code Of Honor and The Naked Now.  Now either that grants the episode some good will or explains why the beats for this one seem to lean more uncomfortably toward the first half of Season One.  That and the fact Torme came in for a re-write of the entry and still had his version compromised.  His version would have been the preferred option because Haven doesn't go far enough.

While Haven is not a great episode, I can see where some might have been engaged right along side the delightful Sirtis as Deanna Troi finding refuge in Haven like comfort food on a Sunday afternoon.  I can also see others heading for the church exit.  But Haven ultimately falls into a sizable pool of average ST: TNG episodes that aren't necessarily forgettable but hardly energize the mind like some of the series very best. Many of the former have something special to offer from a great performance to a great science fiction concept left unfinished.  I've hardly been kind to ST: TNG to this point, but truly there is nothing like the television journey that is Star Trek: The Next Generation and discovering its inevitable and gradual transformation into that classic series. Until that time, I welcome the challenge of digging a little deeper here, warts and all, and with a little patience.  Patience - yes, make it so.

Haven: C-.
Writer: Tracy Torme, Lan O'Kun.
Director: Richard Compton


le0pard13 said...

Yeah, I'd have to agree. Certainly not the worst in S1, and not near the best. Fine look at this, SFF. BTW, looking at the upcoming BDs you've listed, I better start saving up ;-).

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

A little lacking to be sure. Thanks L13! Yes, so much to watch. Not enough time or funds.