Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Star Trek: TNG S1 Ep14: Angel One

Sometimes watching Star Trek: The Next Generation in all of its sometimes smug and sanctimonious glory and self-absorbed perfection (in these early stumbles), it feels like watching a certain federal agency maneuvering the personal records of its private citizens with the arrogance of an untouchable elite.  That is, of course, when employees of said departments aren't busy making Star Trek spoofs on the public dime.
With history affording us 20/20 hindsight we are well aware the crew of the Enterprise-D do get off their high horses and out of those stiff, perfectly framed positions on the new Enterprise-D bridge to eventually deliver us true signs of humanity on a more regular basis.  This happens in fits and starts as Season One would progresses.  It's then that I find Captain Jean-Luc Picard and company far more palatable and acceptable as representatives of the human race.

When the crew of the Federation starship makes mistakes, show imperfections and act like the flawed human beings that we are and they still truly are it is then I embrace ST:TNG as a much more interested and actively engaged participant.

When they get on that horse and look down on us like Tasha Yar from her center bridge console standing over the crew, it feels rigid, sometimes pompous and uninviting.  It's no fault of the performances.  They are working with the material and the direction provided by the creators.

It wasn't easy capturing this shot.  Angel One puts us on ice.

Fortunately, the previous two installments, The Big Goodbye and Datalore, even Haven, to a certain degree, were improvements upon the series shortcomings in Season One.  At least people were laughing and exhibiting a little humor in Haven.  The series is learning and like people, making mistakes and then improving upon them.  Where does Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season One, Episode 14, Angel One take them?

The latest entry actively takes a political posture and the message is far more distracting for its lack of subtlety.  Angel One is a planet.  The episode presents the inhabitants of Angel One as a matriarchal society whereby the females are the dominant gender.  Even Picard narrates how this Class M planet essentially presents the cultural reverse of male domination on Earth hundreds of years earlier.  Those damn men. There's nothing good about them. Episodes of science fiction that present the male/female relationship dynamic on a political and cultural level of this type tend to bore.  Stargate SG-1, Season One, Episode 3, Emancipation immediately comes to mind when the preaching overcomes the entertainment value of a potential story.  ST:TNG's, Season One, Episode 4, Code Of Honor is another example.  First seasons have their awkward growing pains.  The gender politic angle gets incredibly old, not to deny that these issues don't provide some relevance at any given point in out history yesterday or today.  My distaste for the wedge issues of gender and race, while certainly relevant, just tend to bore me personally.  Instead of driving home a message with grace and subtlety, the message often feels like a political argument with which to beat the viewer.  It becomes tiresome and heavy-handed.  Spoon feeding political messages never makes for the best entertainment.  These efforts are mildly distracting. Avatar (2009) comes to mind.

For Angel One an away team is assembled including Number One, Deanna Troi, Data and Tasha Yar.  The quartet is beamed down to Angel One in the hopes of finding survivors of a downed vessel called Odin.

On the Enterprise-D, Picard informs Worf that Romulan battle cruisers have been detected by the neutral zone.  A short time later, Wesley Crusher, Worf and Picard contract a strange respiratory illness quite similar to the common cold.  Of course, we can't have the common cold because the common cold has been eradicated, but not this seemingly familiar virus. Dozens more cases begin to crop up across the ship.

Number One goes native on Angel One wearing a dress-like outfit to meet with the head of Angel One. It's a highlight and does provide for a bit of humor seeing Jonathan Frakes hairy adorned body on full display. (I'm sorry I'm even about to say this but I will.) I have to admit, it's actually refreshing  to see a man who is not waxed and chiseled on display here.  Frakes presents himself as a hairy man's man.  That's actually excellent stuff.  Too often our heroes are manscaped and sculpted to modelled perfection.

No wonder his real life wife Genie Francis (General Hospital) fell in love with the guy.  Mind you, I loved Genie Francis as Laura Baldwin. Back in the day, Luke Spencer and Laura Baldwin (eventually Laura Spencer) were all the rage.  And us younglings we positively loved and adored Genie Francis.  I recall being on vacation one summer and desperately trying to make it back to the hotel for the latest on their love affair.  The action and drama that surrounded the ultra cool Luke and the positively gorgeous Laura years was absolutely riveting because the series did such a fine job infusing it with action that appealed to young males.  They even cast the late John Colicos (Star Trek: The Original Series, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) in its heyday as a 007-styled villain and scientist Mikkos Cassadine, arch enemy of Luke and Laura, hell bent on freezing the Earth.  My gosh, placing efforts into seeing that series as a younger was a sickness I tell you.  Today, bless your heart Jonathan Frakes for getting that girl.  That hairy chest must have done the trick and put the deal right over the top.  As a matter of fact, Frakes and Francis wed in 1988.  It may not be far from the truth.

Clearly, based on all of the evidence to date, and here with the inhabitants of Angel One, Jonathan Frakes was indeed providing the William Shatner factor.  Number One is the Captain James T. Kirk of the ladies.  It wouldn't be Star Trek without that variable, while certainly the bald, cerebral thinking Captain that is Picard never fared too badly either, Frakes is the more traditionally handsome looker.  He was indeed cast with that element in mind, but Frakes was indeed no William Shatner and nor did he try to be.  Remarkably Frakes crafted his strong character into someone quite special and unique within the franchise.  That's a real testament to his talent.  He never pretended to be something other than Number One.

I've been tough on Denise Crosby or at least her portrayal of her character Tasha Yar.  Whether, for me, she is too wooden or operating with less-than-stellar dialogue she has been something of a disappointment.  Still, she was more tolerable for me in Angel One.

With Picard relieving his Captain's chair to Geordie LaForge, LaForge appears to make efforts to do his job while simultaneously running the ship.  A virus suffering Worf counsels LaForge to allow others to perform the work.  In other words - delegate.  LaForge thanks him.  It's a nice simple character exchange, but the kind of moment that is memorable throughout the series.

It's the Tasha Yar/ Denise Crosby auto card.


Beata, Angel One's leader, calls the survivors of Odin anarchists.  Interestingly, the survivors are in hiding, have taken up residence and call the planet their home with little concern for rescue. A more subtle allusion to such threads might point to the Jewish/Palestinian settlements and/or the troubled Mid-East. The survivors have essentially become a male insurrection. Elsewhere Beata seduces Number One for a straight up erection of her own making.

So to further illustrate my point regarding the Number One character as the lady killer, it's always fascinating how he can compartmentalize his affections for Deanna while in the service of the Federation.  Clearly he has absolutely no trouble bedding Beata with Deanna in the room next door.  There is no qualm whatsoever.  When it comes to the matter of his loins, loyalty is left at the bedroom door for now.  There are no rings on this man's finger.  But this Deanna/ Number One dynamic was indeed confusing and lacked sure-footing as to the direction the writers wanted to go.  Still, ultimately, this kind of confusion and lack of focus is pretty true to real life.

Data, Tasha Yar and Deanna find Ramsey and the survivors.  Ramsey discovered there was a lack of a voice for men on Angel One. No votes. No respect.  Data informs Tasha if the survivors wish to stay on Angel One they are not bound by the Prime Directive.

Beata condemns the captured Odin survivors to death.  With everyone ill aboard the Enterprise, Number One suggests the others depart.  The empathic Deanna is, well, concerned, as one would come to expect.  Nevertheless, the men have survived for years.  There's also very little logic or sense invested into Beata's motiovations and determination to kill men or hate them.  Angel One comes off as a rather inflexible and hardened stand on gender intolerance to make a point.

Beata allows for the entire group of men to leave to the Enterprise, but in a show of political defiance, Ramsey and the others refuse to leave.  Data reminds Number One if these people are removed unwillingly it would be in violation of the Prime Directive.  Like many other Star Trek case studies, Number One is more than willing to violate the Prime Directive on his own moral high ground despite being more than willing to leave them behind in hiding just moments earlier.  The Prime Directive is often waved around like race or class warfare card.

Number One sends Data back to the Enterprise to reach the Neutral Zone.  Dr. Beverly Crusher refuses to allow the others to return to the ship so long as the virus runs rampant aboard the vessel.  Of course, these people are going to die by execution on Angel One.  So which is the stronger imperative here?

Number One launches into some political discourse, platitudes and pontificating explaining to the (not-so-believable) leader of Angel One, Beata, that gender attitudes toward women and men are changing like the political winds that are always changing.  Beata stands uncomfortably listening to Number One who chastises her like a bored school child.  And we are uncomfortable with her.  It's no way to hammer home a message to a planetary leader. And thus, my fear, based on Angel One is that ST:TNG might return to the kind of sanctimonious and smug superiority the series characters portrayed in Encounter At Far Point and elsewhere early in the season.  Number One plays the role of a legal defense team during closing arguments.  Number One warns her that their deaths might elevate them to martyrdom and that martyrs can never be silenced.  So endeth the lesson.  And despite the Prime Directive, the Federation intervenes long enough to potentially interfere, alter and change the political and cultural views of Angel One.  With this I cringe this is simply a minor setback.

Following a brief alien recess, Beata has decided to exile the survivors and limit their development to a slow evolutionary crawl crediting Riker, a man, for being clever.  Can we credit the script for being fairly weak?  To see a belief system change, a system led by a matriarchy, based solely on the single speech of a hairy man and essentially a guest is preposterous.

The intent of Angel One according to producer Herbert Wright was one of Apartheid in South Africa, but that effort fails miserably here.  Actress Gates McFadden dubbed it "One of the most sexist episodes."  Executive producer Maurice Hurley called it "terrible."  One is indeed holding ST:TNG to higher standard than this attempt.

In general, as Larry Nemecek noted in his Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, the "teleplay is a one-note morality tale with yet another shipboard disease as a subplot" and not a very good shipboard disease at that considering it sounds an awful lot like the common cold and it originated from the holodeck no less.  Star Trek is replete with diseases and thank God or we might never have had the pleasure of truly diving into a character like Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy as envisioned by DeForest Kelley or now, Dr. Beverly Crusher as portrayed by McFadden.  These are top tier character entries anchoring the franchise.

One additional point, Deanna notes that Angel One seems "very much like" Betazed, her homeworld.  I can't help but have sympathy for her character.  Thus far, between the cultural information gleaned on Haven and the suggestions here in Angel One, Deanna's back story is less than intriguing and by no measure joyful.  Could we not do better?

Some decent performances are upstaged by a weak idea, a weak lesson-driven tale of gender politics, a generally poor script and less than interesting wardrobe.  There is no rhyme or reason for the inflexible positons of Angel One - only that they are.  The analogy to male and female roles as a form of racial strife certainly still exists in some parts of our globe, but it doesn't make for the story to be any more interesting than a political fact hitting the Senate floor.  "We don't understand the source of your misgivings," says Riker.  Quite frankly neither do we.  Nevertheless, the conflict/resolution is wrapped in an overly talky affair with little of the tension and conflict that underscored the strengths of The Big Goodbye.  Quite frankly, even the planet's name, Angel One, is silly even if it is green and beautiful in this new edition.

Angel One: C-. Writer: Patrick Barry. Director: Michael Ray Rhodes.

The images to this Blu-Ray edition look stunning particularly in comparison to earlier coverage here at Musings Of A Sci-Fi Fanatic.  It's not even close.


John Kenneth Muir said...


You are so right about the failings of this episode.

The smug, self-satisfied superiority of the characters, and their dogmatic, unthinking pursuit of political correctness is really...unpalatable.

I may be left of center in my beliefs, and you right of center in yours, but we absolutely concur on the general ickiness of this episode! :)

In fact, it's funny how episodes such as "Code of Honor" and "Angel One" -- which are apparently designed to undercut racism and sexism -- come out feeling utterly racist and sexist.

This has got to be one of the worst programs in TNG's history. I have recently looked at a lot of cult-tv matriarchies (on Otherworld, Doctor Who, The Fantastic Journey, Space:1999, etc.) and any discussion of the nature of female rule in such shows is almost entirely undercut by sexist portrayals of the women rulers AND the men of the society in question. "Women in charge" stories thus are really an excuse to pander, it seems to me.

Also, one other point: the Enterprise rushes off to meet the Romulans in this episode, but then in "The Neutral Zone" claim it has been almost a century since anyone has heard anything out of the Romulans. What about "Angel One?"

Early in TNG's history, it wasn't even good in terms of staying true to its own continuity.

Great review, as usual, my friend. I enjoyed reading your thoughts. I think your C- may even be a tad generous! :)


The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha. You got me! I actually toyed with giving this one a D/D+ but I was in a generous mood. :) So this comment puts it on record where we lean on it.

I'm thinking they need to abolish these kinds of stories. If a scriptwriter comes forth with such blantant appeals they should be fired immediately. J/K.

I haven'ty done my re-watch of The Neutral Zone, but I'm sure I would have remembered this point, but great observation and a worthy note concerning the negatives of Season One.

Bad continuity and general sloppiness have a certain impact as the series seems to be making efforts to find its legs.

All politics aside, sometimes bad is just bad. These overtly politically-infused stories are rarely good. It's as if they put the politics before a good story and that is a bad idea.

Thanks for writing my friend.

Roman J. Martel said...

I had never seen this episode until my revisit of season one a couple years ago. At the time I was marveling at the oh so 80s clothing, but when the episode ended I pondered the story and it was just... bad. As John pointed out, it is so strange that an episode trying to make a point about sexism comes across as really sexist.

I had completely forgotten about the illness subplot in this one. That is how memorable this episode was. This may be one of the worst episodes of the season. I wonder if there was a way to salvage this story... but I think it would take a huge rewrite.

Looking forward to more explorations with TNG crew and your musings!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Cheers Roman!

That's generally true about any of these science fiction programs when they get overly heavy-handed.

Suddenly the topic they attempt to shed light upon becomes the focus and essentially overtakes the point becoming a problem for the story rather than one that delivers a message with some subtlety.

Raciscm, sexism, class envy. It becomes central and generally sinks the effort. I agree.