January 13, 2016
So this is one of those episodes where the Enterprise is more or less minding her own business, zipping along through space, when suddenly she’s dragged into a highly inconvenient adventure by an interfering, super-powered alien. This particular alien likes to kidnap samples of random species to put them on display, like museum pieces, and sometimes force them into elaborate games for his amusement. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s a little like the unaired, unlamented pilot, The Cage, but if you’re a Next Gen fan you might recognize an awful lot of other themes and actual subject matter in our villain of the week.
Meet Trelane, General, Retired. He’s omnipotent, omniscient, immortal, and Super Into Ancient Earth History. Unfortunately he’s got a few trivial details wrong – like the little matter of the passage of about four hundred years; he still thinks Earth is somewhere around the era of the Napoleonic Wars – making him the all-powerful alien version of a Fake Geek Boy.
This episode is both entertaining and frustrating, the former because Trelane is played by such a charismatic actor and the latter because he’s just so utterly irrational and intractable you want our brave crew to beat him just so that reason can prevail. We also get a lot of “we’re better than our past” protestation in this episode, which later on becomes a pretty solid basis for what makes Trek Trek.
If you love the Q, you’ll probably at least like this episode. It’s definitely the direct inspiration for the Q as we know them later, and as mentioned above, the episode itself has a lot in common with the Star Trek: The Next Generation pilot, up to and including humanity, or at least humanity’s representative, being put on trial for general savageness and barbarism. There’s some genuinely interesting discussion about relative “civilization,” and how progress might be measured up against a universe full of intelligent species whose lifespans dwarf those of puny human beings. You might find yourself getting sincerely upset on behalf of Planet Earth, which is something we all definitely remembered from Encounter at Farpoint, and something that Star Trek has always been good at making us feel: that no matter how badly we fuck up as a species, there’s good in us that’s worth fighting for.
BTW: Yes, the Enterprise can go up and down. Witness:
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