Hey, did you know that it’s not a great idea to fall in love with a hundred-year-old woman who has sworn to finish a genocide? Riker finds that out in “The Vengeance Factor”. Hey, did you know that you shouldn’t trust Romulans bearing intelligence? Well, Picard finds that out in “The Defector”.
Hello Eric and Richard.
I’d like to start this off with a small apology. I’m sure you’ll say that one is not needed but I feel it is never the less. For the last two episodes I have squeaked by on my somewhat dim recollections of the episodes in question rather than taking the time to properly reacquaint myself with the episodes under discussion. This is an oversight that I have rectified starting with this missive and will further rectify by watching the episodes you will be featuring before listening to your next episode so that I might give you my views both without and with the influence of your thoughts. I know it might seem as if I’m making a big deal over nothing, but I feel that a show that offers such wonderful and thoughtful commentary on Trek deserves more effort than one might give the average podcast. Now on to… The Vengeance Factor.
This in many ways is a horribly formulaic, tedious, and underthought out episode. The “Only Starfleet cum The Federation can help two less enlightened groups make peace” trope is one that would get repeated so often on TNG that it would come to seem as if it were on a schedule. Fortunately the performances of the regular cast and most of the guest cast manage to save it. It is also despite its limitations very much in the purest Trek tradition by taking a real world situation, making it alien enough to make it fresh and offering pointed (if sometimes overly simplistic) commentary.
The history of the Acamerians is the tension between Israel and Palestine, between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland, and even in many ways between the South and the North in the United States. More than that though it is also about any time throughout history that a people have embraced true progress and meaningful change and then had to deal with members of their society who wanted to cling to the old ways.
As you two pointed out early in the first season of TNG the mystery is as usual meaningless (a fact made evident by the fact that the writers don’t attempt to hide anything that Yuta does from the audience) something which I had honestly not really realized until you had made mention of it. What is more important than the mystery is how the events in question effect the cast, most noteably in this case Riker. It’s a game attempt, it really is, and in a few more years maybe they’d have been willing to be more daring, but unfortunately I feel that the limitations of tv writing and directing and acting at the time result in a lot more showing than telling. Yes we are told that Riker has feelings for Yuta, and to be sure Frakes does his level best to show that, but where the romance is reduced to a b plot I feel it ends up being underserved. The ending doesn’t exactly help on this front.
Another issue I have is with the two actors playing the Gatherer leaders. While they have some good moments, too often their choices are over the top and seem jarring against the much subtler acting of both the regular cast and the person playing the Sovereign. The scene in Ten Forward with Wesley would have been much better if the guest actor had just dialed the bluster back a bit.
Despite its problems and despite the crapfest that was the previous episode, there is something pretty awesome about this episode and I feel about Trek in general, especially starting with TNG. Namely its fairly positive portrayal of both healthy masculinity and healthy sexuality.
Most of my time growing up I really didn’t feel as if there were any examples of masculinity that I could relate to. They all either seemed completely disconnected from their libido, or seemed to be bundles of testosterone with no subtler considerations. Then along came Commander Riker (and to be sure he wasn’t the first example of a different more balanced kind of masculinity but certainly he is one of my favorite). Here was a man who enjoyed life, enjoyed being a man, but never in a way that was a denigration of others, nor of feminity. This was someone who was secure in himself. He also was secure in his sexuality. The character is very sex positive, and also is clearly seeking partners who will meet him on an equal footing and give and receive of themselves as freely as he is willing to do.
However as wonderful as the episode is for what it shows us of Riker, it’s not so great in my opinion for what it shows us about violence. Given that Trek from its very beginning has attempted to advocate for the idea of violence as a last resort, sadly it all too often manages to give quite another message all together and much more clearly than the non violent one.
The fact that Picard offers his services as a negotiator is all well and good, right up to the point where he basically points a gun at the leader of the Gatherers head and says, “Negotiate or else.” Now I’m sure that many people will dismiss this by saying, “Well these people only respect force. etc.” but I honestly don’t know that this cuts it as a legitimate excuse. If you are trying to show people another way of doing things then giving in and doing things their way might work in the short term but in the long term it kind of pushes you right off the moral highground.
Personally I think that the approach Picard takes is rooted in part in the limitations of trying to put complex issues into an “hour” long television show. But also I suspect that it also has a great deal to do with the fact that with 12 years of Right Wing interventionist doctrine driving America’s foreign policy that the idea of just going in and forcing people to talk, or behave, or what have you was so accepted as the norm that no one involved in making the show really stopped to question it. This incident of the near glorification of threat as a solution would be easy enough on its own to dismiss, but it is the ending of the episode that I find particularly horrifying.
Unless I missed something it was not established in any way shape or form that Acamarians as a species, nor Uta with her altered genes is immune to a phaser set on stun. Now maybe that is meant to be implied when they show where Riker has the phaser set before he turns it up to full, but without a clear sense one way or another frankly it has always looked to me as if he basically executes her and even worse everyone stands around and lets him do it. The end scene would have played out much more dramatically in my opinion if some of the other Gatherers had at least attempted to reach her to stop her seeing as how she was only a threat to her intended target.
I also wish that it had been established at the end of the episode that Riker would have to go through some kind of Starfleet review process. I mean he killed someone, who was not posing an immediate threat to him, his crewmates, or the ship, and with no declared war. Sure he should be cleared due to extenuating circumstances but the idea that you can just vaporize someone and not be subject to review is kind of chilling.
Over all while I feel this is mostly a decent episode sadly it is still saddled with what I view as Trek’s long standing ambivelance towards the moral uses of force. In the end I give it 4 loud obnoxious Gatherers.
And now on to a genuine classic…
I believe that it is safe to say that this is TNG’s quintesential Romulan episode.
James Sloyan is pitch perfect giving us a character who on the one hand manages to be arrogant and obnoxious, at the same time makes it clear that he has nobler aspirations in mind that what we may have seen from Romulans previously.
But even better than the acting are the underlying themes. Trek is good when it takes things going on at the time it is made and addresses those things. But it is at its best when it takes big or universal themes and addresses those. In this case the idea of is someone who takes government secrets and shares them with an enemy power hoping to secure the betterment of both his own people and the enemy as well a hero or a traitor is always evergreen and in the light of Snowden and Manning very very up to the minute topical as well.
I also like that we are shown that the Federation is not perfect. Their prejudices against the Romulans hamper the process of deciding whether or not to trust the person who turns out to be a high ranking Romulan military official.
Finally although not over stated the appearance of the Klingons is just brilliant. A genuine surprise, but also a great way of reminding the audience just how much things have changed since Kirk’s day.
Over all I give this episode 10 exploding scout ships.
See ya next week guys.
Without spoiling anything for Richard (does he ever read this stuff?), I feel compelled to point out that James Sloyan will prove to be an all-star actor for ST from this point forward.
(My earliest memory of his work was in an episode of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century and he impressed me even then. Imagine my delight when he turned up in TNG, and then kept turning up in every subsequent spin-off series. He may not be considered a great actor, but he’s certainly a versatile actor.)
Richard does read this stuff! I didn’t even realize James Sloyan was in this week’s episodes… actually, I don’t even know who James Sloyan is. I’m such a bad trekkie. 🙁
Yes you are. *goofin* Seriously though the make up has probably helped to disguise him. I have a computer in my head where voices are concerned though so that rasp of his always gets my attention. A quick run down, Sloyan has also Trekked as… Future Alexander, Odo’s father, and a mass murderer of Talaxians. He may have had other roles as well but I’m not currently thinking of any.
This makes me think, I wonder if anyone has ever put together a master list of recurring Trek guest actors.
I don’t believe so. Although Memory Alpha may have that as a searchable tag.