Monday, March 13, 2006

Trek Top Ten

Here's my entry in's "Desert Asteroid Episodes" feature, just in case they don't have the wisdom to post it over there.


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Only ten episodes out of over seven hundred hours? yata, yata, yata. Let's just get on with it.

1) The Best of Both Worlds (I & II) (TNG) - This is indisputable. The attack of the Borg when they were truly alien and terrifying. Picard as Locutus. "Mr." Simply the greatest cliffhanger in television history, period.

2) The Doomsday Machine (TOS) - If only this episode could have been made with today's special effects! But it was William Windom's emmy-worthy performance that made this story a classic. His attempt to describe the planet-killer to Kirk, and his "going Ahab" with the Enterprise as he had with the Constellation, and his expression as he rode the shuttlecraft straight into its maw - absolutely riveting.

3) Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - TOS's greatest villain at his villainous best - Khan's raging calm, his cathartic order to fire on the Enterprise, and his orgasmic reaction to Kirk bellowing, "KHANNNNN!!!!" from inside Regula were palpably emblematic of a man long-ago consumed by his own demons. But it was just another day at the office for Kirk - until he lost his best friend. The greatest irony was Khan didn't live to see it.

4) In the Pale Moonlight (DS9) - The title is the latter half of an expression that begins, "Did you ever dance with the devil..." That's what Captain Sisko does here. The Federation is on the brink of defeat at the hands of the Dominion and it's up to Sisko to get the Romulans into the war. He doesn't mean to lie...then cheat...then become an accessory to assassination, which finally gets him what he wants. It just ends up that way, as the need to survive comes to trump all else, including the vaunted Federation idealism. Sisko addressing the camera at the end, trying to convince himself that he can live with it, is positively chilling.

5) Yesterday's Enterprise (TNG) - Did you ever ponder how history would have changed if, say, Hitler hadn't declared war on the U.S. after Pearl Harbor, or General Robert E. Lee had won the Battle of Gettysburg? Here we get the answer to what would have happened if the Enterprise-C hadn't come to the aid of the Klingons at Narendra III - a twenty-year war that would have destroyed the Federation. All the same characters, yet significantly different. Darker. Worn down. Beaten. Captain Garrett, and later Lieutenant Castillo, display courage and nobility in deciding to return to their own time and certain death, and yet none does moreso than Tasha Yar, who still lives in this timeline and vows to sacrifice her life for a better one.

6) Children of Time (DS9) - Another classic Trekkian moral conundrum. The Defiant discovers a planet on which they find eight thousand of their own descendents, the product of an accident that strands them there two centuries in the past. Only the accident hasn't happened yet, but will - or might - when the crew attempts to leave two days later. Do Sisko & Co. save themselves or their "hypothetical" children? But if they do the latter, Major Kira will perish. O'Brien balks at abandoning his wife and kids, but eventually sees the moral handwriting on the wall. And ultimately it is Odo's "older" self who makes the decision for them out of unrequitted love for Kira, and leaves him holding the moral bag, and, ironically, bearing her outrage.

7) The Die is Cast (DS9) - The torture scene between Garak and Odo makes the episode all by itself. It is starkly intense not because of the torture itself, but because Garak desperately doesn't want to do it. It is he who ends up begging Odo to tell him something, anything, so that he can stop, despite the fact that it is his reinstatement in the Obsidian Order and an end to his exile that Garak has dreamed of for years. And what Odo grudgingly admits is of no strategic value but comes from his very soul - that he does, after all, want to return to the Great Link. Okay, the Jem'Haddar massacre of the Romulan/Cardassian Fleet, and Enabran Tain's dumbfounded reaction at being checkmated, weren't dramatic impediments either.

8) Inter Arma Silent Leges (DS9) - The title says it all: "In time of war the law falls silent." An hour crammed to bursting with hopelessly convoluted Section 31 intrigue that has Dr. Bashir chasing his own tail and making some unpleasant discoveries - such as that Admiral Ross is collaborating with Section 31 in the interests of the Federation's survival. This produces an unforgettable "off the record" polemical debate between Ross and Bashir in which the idealistic physician condemns Ross and Section 31 for their "ends justify the means"-ism, and Ross retorts that it isn't Bashir who has had to order countless soldiers to their pointless deaths. It's the classic dilemma: are our ideals better served by upholding them even to the point of the destruction of the society that promulgated them, or bending them to ensure said society's continued existence?

9) In Purgatory's Shadow (DS9) - Answering the question of what became of Enabran Tain after "The Die is Cast," Worf and Garak find him (and General Martok) on a Dominion prison asteroid after they're captured in the Gamma Quadrant. While Worf runs the Mortal Kombat gauntlet against a serious of Jem'Haddar, Garak learns that Tain is dying, and asks him to do one thing: acknowledge him as his son. Tain resists instinctively, but ultimately relents because it is his last chance. This is a startling revelation, and sheds dazzling illumination upon both characters, whose motivations and actions remain entirely understandable given who and what they are. A wonderful death scene, spendidly played.

10) In A Mirror, Darkly (I & II) (ENT) - The only episode of Enterprise I ever recorded, and arguably the most fun edition of any Trek. Seeing a TOS ship in action with 21st-century special effects, Archer trying to chew scenery like Kirk (and be haunted by his "other" self), a CGI Gorn, T'Pol and Hoshi in various states of undress, Soval with a beard, and "Empress Sato's" masterfully played endgame. If only the rest of the show had been half this entertaining, it might still be on the air.