Now, here’s our top 10. Note that this includes a couple of multipart stretches.
10. “Star Trek: First Contact” — Easily the best of the TNG movies. It’s gritty, visceral and still optimistic with a good supporting cast while being the only TNG film that feels all that consequential. The flawed Borg Queen concept is a slight ding — and it paved the way to defanging the Borg on Voyager — but it’s still a great film.
9. “Azati Prime”/ “Damage”/ “The Forgotten” — Enterprise’s peak in arguably the most daring, and probably the most morally questionable, stretch of Trek episodes, which worked well in the years immediately following 9/11. It’s not Roddenberry’s Trek, but it’s good TV and as edgy as anything the franchise did.
9. “The Trouble with Tribbles” — Trek’s best comedy and also an episode that shows why TOS endures: the chemistry among the cast members. Kirk dressing down Scotty and others for getting in a fight with Klingons is still a thing of beauty.
7. “In the Pale Moonlight” — The episode where DS9 decided to not even pretend to be like the rest of Star Trek. It’s controversial as it makes Sisko, in effect, a criminal, which was just incredibly daring for 1998 TV. It might have been higher on the list if the scope issues that DS9 struggled with — i.e., a handful of people on the station can change and have no problem with changing the balance of galactic affairs — had been better handled.
6. “The City on the Edge of Forever” — Many fans’ favorite, but not ours. Arguably, it had been built up too much by the time we saw it and wasn’t as original in the 1990s as it was in the 1960s. Still, a great episode with Shatner, Nimoy and Kelley absolutely bringing it.
5. “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” — Trek’s best film. Shatner and Nimoy are pitch-perfect and the story is a great mix of action and science fiction. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not really a Trek fan.
4. “The Inner Light” — Simply an amazing episode in which Picard lives an entirely different life as a way for a dying civilization to not be forgotten. The final scene with Picard in his quarters, as he re-acclimates with his real life, is a gut punch in the best way. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t see more consequences in subsequent episodes and that Picard, more or less, is back in regular form the next week.
3. “The Visitor” — DS9’s finest episode as Sisko is lost and Jake spends the rest of his life trying to find him. We were often critical of Avery Brooks, but he was absolutely great in this episode. As poignant as Trek gets.
2. “Space Seed” — The setup to the second film is incredible to watch. That it was on television in 1967 is amazing, as Khan’s manipulation of Lt. McGivers is very edgy and provocative. Kirk’s decision to let Khan try to build a world rather than putting him in prison is classic TOS, in that it’s morally justifiable and intellectually curious but also a dangerous and questionable call.
1. “The Best of Both Worlds” — No surprise here. This two-parter has everything, and set the stage for cliffhangers for the next 25 years. Jonathan Frakes — often marginalized in late TNG — puts in his best performance and the Borg, as an implacable threat, still seem menacing today. Even the scene where Riker chooses his first officer is great. I would go as far as saying it’s a perfect two-parter, except for the somewhat rushed ending. It’s also bolstered by the idea that Picard wasn’t back at his desk the following week. In fact, he struggled with his experiences immediately after he’s rescued and in the following years.
10. “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” — The strangest entry in the film franchise. It’s light and jokey at points and heavy and ponderous at others — but it consistently avoids anything approaching subtlety. Co-written by William Shatner, the movie seems intent on lionizing Kirk while painting Spock as weak and evasive (the scene in the brig being the worst example). Worse, the script humiliates Scotty and Uhura.
9. “Course: Oblivion” — One of a handful of episodes that shows exactly what was wrong with Voyager. Instead of using a strong cast and a great concept to write compelling stuff with the REAL Voyager, the creators used those things with a FAKE Voyager. Worse, the fake Voyager should have easily known that it was a fake Voyager, invalidating the whole premise of the episode. And how did the fake Voyager crew build a fake Voyager and survive for like a year outside of the only environment that could support it?
8. “Code of Honor” — Weirdly racist and definitely uninspired. It feels more like third-season TOS than TNG, which sort of makes sense, as it was just the third TNG episode. Still, it’s hard to understand what the creators were thinking.
7. “Shades of Gray” — The awful Riker flashback episode partly necessitated by a writers’ strike. Yuck.
6. “Profit and Lace” — The worst of DS9’s awful Ferengi episodes. Quark in drag? What drivel. DS9’s obsession with having two Ferengi-centric episodes a year was just ridiculous.
5. “Fascination” — Lwaxana Troi comes to DS9 and everybody — well, at least the main cast and the regular guest stars, minus Sisko — gets horny. WTF, creators?
4. “Threshold” — The most scientifically awful episode in second-generation Trek. It didn’t make the top spot because there’s SOME good work by Robert Duncan-McNeil and it was an attempt at something new and different.
3. “A Night in Sickbay” — Archer as a total huffy asshole, with moronic aliens and a ceremonial apology involving a chainsaw. Oh, and a totally unnecessary sexual fantasy from Archer about T’Pol. The Archer/T’Pol relationship — at least in the prime reality — was professional and friendly, not romantic. Throwing a sex dream from Archer in there really belittled the show.
And, we have a tie for Trek’s worst episode:
1. “And the Children Shall Lead” — Wow. What an absolute train wreck. The kids are annoying and awful, the villain behind their behavior is horribly acted and conceived and even the editing is bad. While “Spock’s Brain” and “The Way to Eden” are the most infamous episodes of TOS, “And the Children Shall Lead” is BY FAR the worst.
1. “Sub Rosa” — Of all the awfulness in TNG’s seventh season — it’s worse than season one, folks, as the creators should have known better after six-plus years of the series — this episode is just cringe-worthy. Crusher was the most neglected of the TNG regulars, and it’s a shame that one of the few episodes to feature her is this hideous mess. She falls in love … with a freaking ghost.
As the Enterprise crew gets ready to break up — a newly married Riker and Troi are leaving so Riker can finally get his own ship — they detect evidence of positronic energy on a random planet. After a poorly done battle outing with some primitives there, Picard, Data and Worf recover another Soong-type android named B-4, apparently a prototype that looks exactly like Data, though he’s less advanced. Data links with B-4 in an attempt to help the prototype develop, though the results of the data transfer are hard to predict and could leave B-4 with Data’s personality. Meanwhile, the Enterprise is called to Romulus, by the mysterious new head of the government. Turns out the new leader, Shinzon (Tom Hardy), is a younger clone of Picard, whom the Romulans created for espionage some years back but who has led a coup to take over the government and now says he wants peace. Of course, Shinzon’s lying and he is really after Picard — he needs a blood transfusion to live — and has plans to attack Earth. The Enterprise and Shinzon’s ship engage in a massive battle, leaving both ships somewhat disabled. Shinzon then starts a buildup within his ship’s “thalaron” reactor that will wipe out everything nearby, including a disabled Enterprise. Picard beams over to stop him, and Data follows. Data sends Picard back to the Enterprise and then destroys Shinzon’s ship and himself before the reactor can go critical. Back on the Enterprise, with Riker and Troi gone, Picard talks with B-4 about Data. B-4 doesn’t understand what Picard is saying, but starts to sing a song Data sang at Riker and Troi’s wedding early in the film. A smiling Picard leaves B-4 and heads to the bridge, ending the TNG storyline.
Why it’s important
This movie is extremely flawed, as we’ll discuss. But it’s also incredibly significant in the Star Trek universe. Before the rebooted movies in 2009, it detailed the last events of the second-generation Trek timeline. It aired more than a year after Voyager’s final episode, and Enterprise, of course, took place in the distant past.
We learn that the Romulans didn’t remain allies with the Federation after the war with the Dominion, as they were in DS9, though this movie does effectively tie those events in by making Shinzon a former military leader in that conflict. We learn the Federation is still OK and apparently has recovered since the war. “Star Trek: Insurrection”, which we won’t review, takes place immediately after that war — but this movie shows things three or four years later.
Meanwhile, it appears that the events here could lead to some sort of a new relationship with the Romulans, as Riker’s first mission as captain of his new ship is said to be going to Romulus to begin peace talks (with Shinzon gone). How that plays into the reboot stuff in the 2009’s “Star Trek” is unclear. It’s also odd that there’s no mention of Spock — who was on Romulus as of TNG’s fifth season — in this movie.
What doesn’t hold up
To this film’s credit, it has fewer logical gaffes than “Generations” (though that’s not a tall order) and feels more significant than “Insurrection”. What doesn’t work is less about inconsistencies and more about poor execution and bad writing. But let’s talk about the inconsistencies and logic fails first.
Probably the worst logical gaffe comes early when Picard, Data and Worf recover B-4 from a primitive world. There’s not even a mention of how the trio is quite clearly violating the Prime Directive in its ground battle with the random aliens.
Beyond that, Shinzon’s plan is just completely ridiculous. Basically, he found B-4 (how is never explained), programmed him to be a sort of sleeper agent (he sends info to Shinzon while on the Enterprise) and planted him on the random planet figuring the Enterprise (on its way to Betazed) would just happen upon him and be the nearest ship to Romulus when he called for a Federation envoy. Then, the Enterprise would get called to Romulus with B-4 on board because it’s the closest ship.
But … how did Shinzon know that the Enterprise would be anywhere near the planet where he left B-4 (is Betazed really that close to the Neutral Zone)? Why did he feel the need to (apparently) draw the Enterprise close to Romulus? Why not simply tell the Federation that he would only deal with the captain and crew of the flagship? What would have happened if Shinzon hadn’t found B-4? That whole part of the story just makes very little sense and was pretty much unnecessary. It would have made more sense if Shinzon had built B-4, using stolen plans, or something, and demanded that the Federation send the Enterprise and only the Enterprise. Maybe he could have offered B-4 to the Enterprise as a gift?
There’s also the matter of Shinzon deciding to attack Earth. Frankly, that was just a twirling-mustache move that wasn’t necessary. Shinzon wanted Picard. Putting Earth into the equation was just overly dramatic nonsense.
Oh, and putting Worf back on the Enterprise was pretty goofy. His appearance in “Star Trek: Insurrection” was justified by a throwaway line — and apparently took place as the Federation was negotiating with the Dominion after that war ended on DS9. But in the final episode of DS9, Worf left to become the Federation ambassador to the Klingon Empire. I guess the idea was that he didn’t make it as an ambassador and some time over the next three years, he came back to the Enterprise?
Same goes with the situation with Wesley, who appears briefly at Riker and Troi’s wedding. Last we saw him, in “Journey’s End”, he resigned from Starfleet and was going to explore new realms of existence or something. But here, eight years later, he’s back in a Starfleet uniform. So, what the hell happened? It’s also odd that he had no lines in the actual film!
Logical problems aside, this movie fails because of its artistic choices and the idea that it has to jam some characters into the action. Notably, the Riker/Troi stuff (post wedding) was just awful. The whole business with Shinzon’s viceroy (Ron Pearlman) having mental powers and assaulting Troi is mostly uncomfortable — and Riker’s decision to fight the viceroy (after he boards the ship) was not at all interesting. As noted previously, the writers clearly ran out of things for Riker to do late in TNG. This is a great example of them struggling to get him involved.
Beyond that, there’s the homage/ripoff of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan”. I’ve never been offended, as some were, by the idea of the callback. But the implausibility of the situation (as noted above) just makes it feel way too forced. Data sacrificing himself and possibly living on in B-4 really wasn’t an awful idea, but the execution was bad.
The movie also has an odd tendency to include superfluous scenes (the Troi assault, the goofiness in the Romulan Senate to start the movie, the stupid action scene with the random aliens after B-4 is recovered, etc.) and to leave other matters unaddressed. Left on the cutting room floor were lines from Wesley at the wedding (I can’t imagine Wil Wheaton was thrilled with that) and a subplot about Crusher leaving the ship to go run Starfleet Medical. That last part would have been important (considering her relationship with Picard) and the idea that the family is really breaking up. Even before Data’s death, Picard would have had to deal with the loss of Riker, Troi AND Crusher.
As it is, the TNG sendoff feels forced — and overly dark. Removing the Troi assault, the Riker fight and the Romulan Senate scenes would have brightened up a dark film and allowed time for other, more important scenes.
Oh, and if you’re wondering why “Star Trek: Insurrection” didn’t get a review, it’s that it’s mostly inconsequential in the Trek universe. We never hear of the aliens in that film again (aside from one random mention on DS9) and the “insurrection” doesn’t have any last effects. The movie’s most interesting idea — that Starfleet, after all the conflicts in the DS9 years, was old and somewhat desperate — is not really explored. As a film, “Insurrection” is right up there with “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” in its episodic nature and overall quality.
The Borg are back, but the new Enterprise-E is told to stay out of the fighting, as Starfleet is worried former-Borg Picard could be a liability. Of course, he defies orders, heads to Earth and successfully destroys a cube in Earth’s orbit. Before it explodes, a small sphere emerges and travels back in time — apparently changing history. The Enterprise follows, and determines that the Borg want to stop humanity’s first warp flight by killing its inventor, Zefram Cochrane (see “Metamorphosis”). The Enterprise destroys the sphere, but not before it attacks Cochrane’s facility and beams drones to the Enterprise. Riker and Geordi head to the surface and help Cochrane (James Cromwell) — who’s a drunk and isn’t the paragon of virtue history paints him to be — while Picard must try to save the ship from the Borg. Data is captured by the newly introduced Borg queen (Alice Krige) and Picard sets the ship on autodestruct — to prevent the Borg from taking it over and stopping Cochrane. Before he leaves, Picard tries to save Data, who has apparently switched sides on the Borg queen’s promise of having real skin grafted onto his body (or something) but ends up double-crossing the Borg and allowing Picard to kill the queen. Cochrane’s flight continues (mostly) as planned and a Vulcan ship sees the flight and makes first contact. The Enterprise returns home, with history restored.
Why it’s important
This movie, aside from being mostly very good, explains a lot of Trek’s backstory and is a touchstone for “Star Trek: Enterprise.” Humanity joins a larger galactic community after these events, although it really makes its biggest steps about a century later.
This movie also shows more background on the Borg (some of which is dumb) and is consequential in that humanity was saved twice by the Enterprise crew (first in the initial battle and, then, in the 21st century).
Lastly — and maybe most importantly — we see the new Enterprise-E for the first time. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for its predecessor, but the new Enterprise was pretty badass.
What doesn’t hold up
The movie’s biggest conceit is that it totally ignores everything that happened in “Descent”. There’s no mention of the individual Borg seen in that episode or why Picard was allowed to defend the Federation then but not in this movie. Or, why Riker — who saved Earth from assimilation in “The Best of Both Worlds” — is excluded, as well. Basically, the reason for keeping the Enterprise-E out of the fight is dumb. It would have made more sense if the ship had been late to the fight because it was too far away. Of course, the fact that the Enterprise can leave the Neutral Zone and get to Earth in the course of the battle has never made even a bit of sense. Essentially, the battle would have had to last for DAYS for the Enterprise to make it in time.
One also wonders why the entire Enterprise crew (save Worf) is serving on the new Enterprise with the same rank. Seems like any one of them could have gone onto greener pastures, particularly with the natural break after the destruction of the previous Enterprise.
Speaking of Worf, it was fun to get him back into the fold by having him command the Defiant in the Borg attack. By this point in the Trek timeline, he was stationed on DS9. But it’s kind of ridiculous that he’s the only DS9 character on the Defiant during the attack. Even if Sisko and some of the others (Kira and Odo, certainly) stayed on the station, why Dax, O’Brien and Bashir aren’t on the Defiant is never explained. Also, the Defiant survivors got absorbed pretty quickly into the Enterprise crew (or, were assimilated).
There’s also the matter of Cochrane in this movie compared with his first appearance in “Metamorphosis”. Besides the fact that James Cromwell looks NOTHING like Glenn Corbett, the two characters sure don’t act alike. Corbett’s Cochrane talked about decency and was weirded out when he learned the Companion had an intimate relationship with him. Cromwell’s Cochrane is a drunk who built the warp engine to get to an island full of naked women. Hmmm …
Also, it’s odd that the Borg chose to try to stop Cochrane in the days before first contact. Why not go to Earth and kill Cochrane as a child — or destroy Cochrane’s complex weeks or months before first contact? There’s no advantage to them arriving right before the event, other than to allow the Enterprise crew to see and be part of the first warp flight.
There are a few other stray items, like why Picard brought Data down to the planet initially. There’s just no way to justify that, considering it’s a primitive culture in which Data sticks out like a sore thumb. But, basically, this movie sets up the Picard-and-Data shoot-’em up approach we see for the rest of the Trek movies. That’s unfortunate, because it doesn’t play to the characters’ strengths from TNG and it marginalizes nearly all of the other characters. Riker and Geordi essentially become the leaders of the B team starting here. The funniest example comes in “Star Trek: Insurrection” — which we won’t review — when the entire senior staff joins Picard, going against orders. Picard is in civilian clothes (planning to leave the ship) and Data, Worf, Troi and Crusher all arrive in civilian clothes as well. Riker and Geordi, though, are in uniform. At that point, it was unclear whether Picard would allow anyone to join him. But he relents, and asks Riker and Geordi to stay on the ship. It’s almost as if those two — and only those two — knew they’d be left behind and dressed appropriately. Or that Picard picked who would join him based on who had changed into civilian attire.
Back to “First Contact”, it does seem that Picard values Data more than just about anyone else. That’s not necessarily a problem — they are, of course, close — but Picard’s decision to go save Data is over the top. It’s justified by him realizing he’s been callous about his disregard for crewmembers who were assimilated earlier. But it’s awful convenient that he had that realization only in time to save Data.
This really is a good movie, even if it’s more violent than just about any other Trek film. The first contact stuff works quite well — the reveal that the aliens are Vulcans was nicely done — and the Borg action (particularly the space battles) is great.
But the Borg stuff on the Enterprise is kind of annoying. Why don’t more of the Starfleet officers start using bladed weapons — or even replicating bullets? To go to hand-to-hand combat after the Borg neutralize the phasers was really stupid. Hell, Picard uses a machine gun in the holodeck! Why didn’t he replicate a few dozen of those?
I’m not going to get too deep into the Borg Queen stuff, as I don’t absolutely hate the idea and realize it might have been necessary for exposition. But it does run counter to a lot of what we know AND the forced retcon from “The Best of Both Worlds” really was odd. Why the creators decided to make the queen an active part of Picard’s assimilation way back when never made a ton of sense.
Coming next week …
The Enterprise crew has one last mission before it breaks up — and the music of Irving Berlin plays a big role. Hmmm.
Retired Kirk, helping christen the new Enterprise-B, is believed killed when a mysterious energy ribbon slams the side of the ship during an unplanned rescue mission. Seventy-eight years later, Picard and Co. must investigate a Romulan attack on a science outpost where one of the survivors of the Enterprise-B rescue, Tolian Soran (Malcolm McDowell) now works. Soran then destroys a nearby star, kidnaps Geordi — thanks to Data’s cowering after installing his emotion chip — and takes off in a Bird of Prey with the Duras sisters (from “Redemption”). Picard and Data figure out Soran’s destroying stars so he can change space stuff and bring the energy ribbon to a planet where it can take him away from it all. The energy ribbon is actually the Nexus, a half-baked trope where “time has no meaning” or something. Soran wants to use it to be reunited with his family, killed by the Borg (Soran’s the same species as Guinan). Picard fails in a one-on-one attempt to stop Soran, but he’s swept into the Nexus, where he finds Kirk. The two go back in time and stop Soran, though Kirk is killed in the fracas (more on that in a moment). Meanwhile, Riker does a really lousy job in the big chair (more on that in a moment, too) and lets the Duras sisters destroy the ship’s star drive, forcing the saucer to crash on the planet. No one’s killed, but the Enterprise-D is wrecked beyond repair, and Picard and Riker beam aboard rescue ships hinting that another Enterprise could be coming soon. James Bond will also be back in ‘Thunderball’ …
Why it’s important
Let’s say a random main character from one of the many Trek series got killed — let’s pick Tom Paris from Voyager. That, alone, wouldn’t merit a review by this site’s guidelines, even though Paris was a pretty decent character and (probably) had a lot of fans. But James T. Kirk is James T. freaking Kirk. He’s a dude who led the Enterprise crew in saving Earth twice, his 5-year mission as captain of the Enterprise was one of Starfleet’s most historic, he can outsmart any supercomputer around and he can change the fate of parallel universes with a really good speech. His death is part of the Trek Tapestry. He’s James T. freaking Kirk.
It’s also pretty significant when an Enterprise (or a Defiant, or even a Voyager) gets destroyed. More on just how ridiculous the destruction was in a moment, as promised.
What doesn’t hold up
Get comfortable, people. Because this might be our rantiest review.
First of all, the creators fell back on the trope from the TOS movies that the Enterprise (or the Enterprise crew) is the only entity able to intervene in a crisis. We saw this in four of the first six movies, with varying degrees of plausibility. The idea here that the new Enterprise-B, on a training mission in Earth’s solar system, is “the only ship in range” is laughable — maybe more so than the previous instances. It would mean that Starfleet has no warp-capable ships in the Terran System, home to Starfleet headquarters and Starfleet Academy. Otherwise, one of them would have been “in range” to respond.
Also, it’s weird that the Enterprise-D looks so different since “All Good Things … “. Some of the changes are improvements, but there’s no dialog about a refit and it doesn’t seem like THAT much time has passed. Also, the use of normal uniforms along with DS9 jumpsuits was kind of strange, but forgivable. Less so is the weird new look Data’s emotion chip has (it’s grown since “Descent”). But whatevs. If we can be cool with Data’s cat apparently getting a sex change …
Now, there is the strange matter of Kirk and Antonia in the weird quasi-reality of the Nexus. Kirk indicates that he went back to Starfleet shortly after the events we sort of see here — which Kirk says occurred nine years earlier. The Enterprise-B launched in 2293 — less than a year after the events of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” — so that would mean Kirk makes Antonia Ktarrian eggs in 2284. But that doesn’t make much sense because the events of “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” occur around that time.
Are we to believe Kirk went back to Starfleet (essentially ending things with Antonia, despite the eggs) and had enough time to get bored and do the soul-searching that we see in the early parts of “Wrath of Khan”? I suppose it’s possible — but the creators could have saved themselves a LOT of trouble if they had simply made the whole Antonia thing occur closer to the date of “Star Trek: The Motion Picture” — there were 14 years between the events of the first and second movies — or in the six years between “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”. The second option would have been a good choice, because Kirk’s appearance, uniform, etc., could have been about the same. In other words, they wouldn’t have had to explain why 2293 Kirk didn’t look like 2285 Kirk (or 2277 Kirk).
The whole thing was poorly done considering we’ve never heard of Antonia before and that the creators didn’t need to include the whole “going back to Starfleet” thing. Antonia — or a more appropriate lost love, like Carol Marcus — could have been lost in a way that didn’t take a giant dump on Kirk’s backstory.
Oh, and considering that Scotty believed Kirk died in the movie’s opening moments, why did he ask if Kirk had come to rescue him when he’s discovered in “Relics” during TNG’s sixth season? I suppose you could argue that Scotty was hopeful that Kirk would be found or (and this is a stretch) that the slight degradation of his transporter pattern mentioned in “Relics” included his memory of Kirk’s apparent death. But, really, the answer likely is that Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley weren’t down for the minimal roles as Kirk’s companions on the Enterprise-B, so James Doohan and Walter Koenig got the call. Why else would Chekov suddenly know all about medical stuff?
Now, let’s talk about the Nexus. Apparently, Soran does everything he does because he’s desperate to get back to it — and he can’t get there in a ship. But, of course, our boy Jimbo was on a ship when he got swept into the Nexus and Soran was (briefly) in the Nexus and got there when he was on a ship (so was Guinan). Of all the dumb points of this movie, this is the one that could have easily been explained. A simple line about how being on a planet was a surer bet to successfully get into the Nexus would have covered it. Maybe Soran was simply shoring up his chances.
Then, there’s the whole matter of what it’s all about to BE in the Nexus. At times, it’s written as a sort of super-holodeck, where nothing is real and your greatest fantasies can come true. Picard’s fake family is proof of that and he uses the fact that the Nexus isn’t real in his attempt to recruit Kirk. Kirk learns the hard way that the Nexus isn’t real when he makes a jump with his horse and feels no fear — fear he would have felt had the jump been made in real life.
So, the Nexus allows you to recreate your past or create something completely new — again, like a super holodeck. And that’s all well and good, as far as it goes.
But then, Picard and Kirk stop using it as a holodeck. It becomes, essentially, a time portal that our heroes use to go back to a few minutes before Soran launches his rocket, figuring two against one will yield a different result (which it does). What I can’t figure out is why this use of the Nexus deposits Picard and Kirk in the “real” world near Soran’s launcher while Kirk was in a fake world when he was back with Antonia.
If the Nexus allows time travel, then Kirk should have been in the real world with Antonia (Picard’s situation is somewhat different, because he doesn’t actually go back and relive events that truly happened). But here’s the thing — if the Nexus works like a holodeck, then Kirk and Picard didn’t really stop Soran. They only thought they did in some sort of dreamworld, and Picard goes on living in that dreamworld and Kirk DIES in the dreamworld! And if the Nexus truly allows for time travel, then Kirk should have been back with Antonia in the real world. What’s really sad is that there was a better way to handle all of this — and it starts with making the Nexus a time portal and not a super holodeck. Here’s how …
After they enter the Nexus, Picard and Kirk could have really gone back in time to some point that they each longed for (which Kirk actually does). This would remove all the Picard family nonsense, which was really poorly done and much too cloying, anyway.
Maybe Picard could have gotten his wish to be back with Miranda Vigo (or another lost love) but realized (while he still has access to the Nexus time-travel stuff) that he needed to leave to save the people on Verdian IV. The drama would have been whether Picard is capable of making such a sacrifice — and it would have been compelling, particularly since he learns his brother and nephew died at the beginning of the film. He would have to pick duty over everything else.
To bring Kirk into the equation, Picard would have to somehow learn that Kirk was also taken back in time by the Nexus. Picard would have had to figure that Kirk, like him, would sacrifice his own happiness for the lives of millions of people. Picard would then find Kirk, ask him to come with him and then, the two could have stopped Soran.
To be sure, a lot of details would have to be figured out. But removing the “isn’t real” aspect of the Nexus would have made the movie MUCH more dramatic because Kirk and Picard would have had to make REAL sacrifices instead of just shrugging off weird fake versions of their lives. In the scenario I’ve outlined, the sacrifice is greater — and the willingness of both of them to make the sacrifice as a matter of duty would have been a more interesting connection. Both guys who were smarting over a lack of family would have had to pass up REAL families and not just some fake versions.
There’s also the whole matter of the Guinan “echo.” Guinan met Picard in the 19th century (in “Times Arrow”) so the 23rd century version who was briefly in the Nexus would know who he is. But would 23rd century Guinan know enough to give Picard the crucial info he needs to recruit Kirk? I can buy an echo of Guinan in the Nexus — beats hanging on the set of “The View” — but how does she know what she knows? Do we just chalk it up to Guinan-ness?
Last point about the Nexus: Even if we could reconcile the Nexus as some sort of super time-traveling creation/super holodeck, why did Picard choose to go back to a point when he and Kirk would have such a difficult time stopping Soran? Why not simply go back to Ten Forward when he met Soran and have Data and Geordi help escort Soran to the brig? Clearly, that negates the need for Kirk, but still. I bet poor Geordi would have liked Picard thinking of a way to keep him from getting tortured by Soran and the Klingons.
As for Kirk’s noble sacrifice, it really falls pretty flat (no pun intended). So, the main hero of Star Trek dies because he needs to jump for a control pad on a creaky bridge? It’s really weak sauce. His “original” death saving the Enterprise-B was way, way, way more appropriate. And the unreleased death (where Soran shoots him in the back) might have been better, too. It sure would have made Picard burying him at the top of a peak more believable, considering where Picard found Kirk (in a ravine) in the version that was actually released.
Now, let’s talk about the destruction of the Enterprise-D …
Before Soran and the Klingons return Geordi (in exchange for Picard, or something), Soran lets the Duras sisters see everything Geordi sees through his VISOR. Why they can see normally has always made me pause — shouldn’t they see something more akin to what we saw way back in “Heart of Glory” or “The Mind’s Eye”? — but whatever. I’ll grant the movie that detail.
Geordi eventually heads to engineering, where the Duras sisters get a glimpse of a panel that shows the Enterprise’s shield frequency. They tune their torpedoes to said frequency and start blasting through the shields. Now, sure, maybe they get a couple shots in before Riker and Co. figure out what’s happening — and maybe things would have made sense if one of the first shots caused a core breach or took out a nacelle or something.
But Riker, Worf, Geordi and Data just act like morons over the next few minutes. These are the dudes who took down a Borg cube and dealt with shield modulation for eight hellish days — in which it looked like the Federation might be reduced to nanites. You’d think modulating the shields would be like their go-to freaking move.
But what do they do when Lursa and B’Etor find a way to penetrate their shields but not damage the ship enough to where it’s a huge problem immediately? Almost nothing. They don’t remodulate the shields. They don’t head directly to the sisters’ ship and fire all weapons at a vessel that shouldn’t be any sort of match for the Federation flagship (shields or no). And they don’t warp out of orbit, with plans to return once they figured out what was going on.
Instead, Riker, Data, Geordi and Worf let the ship get pounded for several minutes while they come up with a way to trigger the Bird of Prey’s cloaking device and then fire at it with its shields down. Maybe this would have been an OK idea if — while Data was doing his thing — Worf and Riker had just started pounding the Bird of Prey or warped away for a few minutes. But to let the Enterprise continue to get pummeled? WTF, Will? Maybe Commander Shelby was right about you all along.
Of course, the last Klingon torpedo triggers a (slow-moving) warp-core breach, everyone’s evacuated to the saucer and the force of the explosion sends the saucer careening toward the planet. The saucer lands — in a cool visual scene, FWIW — but the events leading up to it are just stupid. Riker should have been drummed out of Starfleet for his performance in this movie and Worf and Data with him. Maybe Geordi, too.
There are countless ways in which the Duras sisters could have destroyed the Enterprise in a plausible manner. In addition to making their first shot more catastrophic, maybe they had procured a more powerful Klingon vessel (like Gowron’s from TNG) instead of their creaky Bird of Prey. At least then the shield thingy and the more powerful weapons could have realistically destroyed the Enterprise. There were still things Riker could have done, but his options would have been more limited.
Lastly, does anyone else ever cringe when Kirk and Picard talk about retirement? Picard is about 65 years old in 2371 and Kirk was about 60 in 2293. So, Kirk is talking about being put out to pasture to a dude who fights Romulans, Borg and Son’a well into his 70s. I guess Starfleet was cooler with older captains in the 24th century.
Oh, “Generations”. I don’t think there’s ever been a Star Trek movie that had such high expectations. It was released when the franchise was arguably at its peak — but it really didn’t get the job done. There are way too many logical gaffes and the Enterprise-B captain (Cameron from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) is just one of the worst plot crutches that I can think of — even if the opening scenes on the Enterprise-B are the strongest in the film.
Beyond that, the central concept of the movie — the Nexus — is just too flimsy and ridiculous. I think “Generations” is better than some of the other films — “Insurrection,” “Nemesis”, and “Final Frontier — but it is probably the most disappointing of the Trek movies.
Coming later this week …
The TNG cast and creators prove they can make a good movie.
Kirk and Co., three months from retirement, are assigned to escort Klingon Chancellor Gorkon (David Warner) to Earth for historic peace negotiations between the Federation and its long-time nemesis. The talks are spurred by Spock after the destruction of a Klingon moon — witnessed months earlier by the U.S.S. Excelsior under the command of Hikaru Sulu. Kirk, still hating the Klingons especially for the death of his son, blasts Spock for going behind his back to volunteer the ship. Later, the Enterprise meets up with Gorkon’s ship and has a rather tense dinner with the chancellor and his staff. Afterward, the Enterprise apparently fires on the Klingons without anyone giving the order. Kirk and McCoy beam over to help any wounded, but McCoy is unable to save Gorkon, shot by two unidentified men wearing Starfleet uniforms immediately after the attack. Kirk and McCoy are arrested and after a trial, sent to the penal colony, Rura Penthe. Spock, meanwhile, does his “Matlock” thing and conducts an investigation, piecing together some details of what happened with the help of his new protege, Vulcan Lieutenant Valeris (Kim Cattrall). After the Enterprise crosses the Klingon border and rescues Kirk and McCoy, Kirk realizes that Valeris was part of the conspiracy. Spock forcibly melds with her and learns she was working with Gorkon’s chief of staff, General Chang (Christopher Plummer), a Romulan ambassador, Starfleet Admiral Cartwright (Brock Peters) and a Bird of Prey that can fire while cloaked (which attacked Gorkon’s ship from beneath the Enterprise). With the peace talks back on at a neutral location, the Enterprise and the Excelsior head there, figuring they’ll need to stop another assassination. After a fierce battle with Chang and the Bird of Prey — where Spock and McCoy hone in on the invisible ship’s tailpipe to target a torpedo — the Enterprise and Excelsior save the day by stopping the assassin and revealing the conspiracy. Then, Kirk and Co. ride off into the sunset.
Why it’s important
Well, “The Undiscovered Country” is the first example of a TOS production that provides background in what’s been established in TNG (this wasn’t done in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” the only other film released after TNG debuted). This film was released during TNG’s fifth season — where it’s been clear for years that the Klingons are allies. To what extent “Star Trek VI” advanced that storyline is pretty murky, but it’s clear that the eventual alliance started when all hostilities ended here. And in the Star Trek universe, that’s a big, big deal — a message this movie rightly conveys. It’s also kind of crazy that the events of this film synced up so well with the fall of the Soviet Union, which, of course, was often the inspiration for the Klingons (and the Romulans, at times, too).
The film also ties up threads from the second, third and fourth movies — the Klingons announcing that there would be no peace if Kirk lived, the death of David Marcus, etc. — though it essentially ignores a lot of “Star Trek V,” the red-headed stepchild of the Trek movies (which has no relevant long-term impact on the Trek universe and won’t be reviewed on this site). Gene Roddenberry allegedly considered elements of that film apocryphal, though the mutual dislike between Kirk and the Klingons certainly was on display (if done in a comic-book manner). As for the greater Star Trek timeline, the only part of “Star Trek V” that is flatly disregarded here surrounds cooperation between the Klingons and the Enterprise at the end of the previous film. The tension around the Enterprise meeting Gorkon’s ship in “Star Trek VI” — “Never been this close” — and the fact the dinner was a momentous thing pretty much ignores the last 15 minutes of the previous film.
Of course, the decommissioning of the Enterprise-A at the end of this movie sets up the launch of the Enterprise-B in the “Star Trek: Generations”. More on that below.
What doesn’t hold up
This movie gets a lot right — and might even be up there with “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” as far as the number of great moments. But it also gets a lot wrong. There are logical problems all over the place. We try not to go all nitpicker in these reviews, but “The Undiscovered Country” has so many misfires …
There are a bevy of small things, like the fact that McCoy doesn’t seem to know that Sulu has been captain of the Excelsior for three years or that Starfleet apparently now has galleys and cooks. There’s also the matter of why the Enterprise and Gorkon’s ship were (essentially) stationary (or moving slowly) after they met up. Shouldn’t they have been heading to Earth at warp speed — and wouldn’t that have essentially prevented the attack? Later, how was Klingon security so bad that the Enterprise could get past its borders and fool its patrols with the WORST use of Klingon language ever (and why was the universal translator not sufficient)? Why wasn’t the very noticeable tracking device Spock put on Kirk noticed by anyone? Why is Klingon blood pink in this movie — and only in this movie? And on and on …
Oh, and why were there no ships in orbit of Camp Khitomer during the battle scene? How did all the dignitaries get to the planet? Shouldn’t a ship or two that brought the dignitaries have stayed to return them — and been there to investigate why two Federation starships were getting absolutely pummeled within visual range? We discussed this larger issue in Star Trek in last week’s review.
Bigger picture, there are a lot of things that don’t hold up with what we see in second-generation Trek. There are really two huge ones: How bad was the Klingon homeworld affected by the destruction of the moon Praxis, and what, exactly, was agreed to in this film (and in its immediate aftermath).
As for the homeworld, dialog in this movie indicates that Kronos was to be evacuated, as the destruction of Praxis was making the planet uninhabitable. This is a big part of the movie, in that it makes the Klingon position more vulnerable (beyond the economic issues facing the Empire after Praxis exploded). But, there’s no indication in TNG, DS9 or Voyager that the Klingons moved to another planet — and here and in DS9 and Voyager, the Klingon homeworld is called Kronos (it’s usually called “the Klingon homeworld” in TNG). So, did Federation scientists help the Klingons save their planet? Keep in mind that this isn’t a small point. Remember how big a deal it was when Vulcan was destroyed in the rebooted “Star Trek” in 2009?
There’s also the bigger question as to why an empire that’s such a threat to the Federation would be so crippled by the destruction of one moon and the problems it caused on one planet. But, oh, well.
Meanwhile, there’s some confusion about what actually was agreed to during the peace negotiations. It seems like Spock and Gorkon were pushing for an “end to all hostilities” — while some later Trek seems to indicate that the alliance between the Federation and the Klingons was forged here. TNG mostly stays with the ending-of-hostilities point, making assertions that the alliance is about 20 years old in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” and “Samaritan Snare”, among other vaguer instances. More on that when we get to TNG in our reviews.
But, in DS9, (notably in “By Inferno’s Light”) we hear about the Khitomer Accords in reference to the alliance, presumably a nod to the work negotiated in this movie and immediately after at Camp Khitomer. Also in DS9, Bashir explicit says that there have been “two decades of peace with the Klingons” prior to the events of “The Way of the Warrior”.
Now, you could argue that the peace treaty was negotiated at Khitomer in the 2290s and that it was the site for another set of negotiations that ended some other hostilities in the 2340s or 2350s, presumably after the attack on that planet by the Romulans when Worf lived there in the 2340s. Unfortunately, the Voyager episode “Alliances” has Tuvok tell Janeway about an alliance between the Federations and the Klingons that was spurred by a “visionary” named Spock, when Tuvok was a young man. That’s clearly an allusion to the events of “Star Trek VI” (see more below). Once again, Voyager ruins everything. 😉
The rift causes some issues in early TNG, when we see Klingons (“Heart of Glory”, “A Matter of Honor”) who are clearly not that comfortable with the alliance. That’s harder to swallow if 80 years had passed, but less so if the alliance was only about 20 years old. In the second scenario, Klingons in their warrior primes would have been old enough to remember a time when the Federation was still, sort of, an enemy — or, at least, not an ally.
It should be noted that the issues with the alliance timeline and the Klingon homeworld aren’t really the fault of this movie — we have been to the Klingon homeworld, though not necessarily Kronos, in TNG, before this film (DS9 and Voyager had not premiered when the movie was released in 1991). But they made the most sense to bring up here.
Last thing: The events here take place six or seven years after the events of “Star Trek V.” I’m guessing that was done in part to explain the aging of the characters, as the second, third, fourth and fifth films all apparently took place within about six months of each other in the Star Trek universe when seven years actually passed (and two more had, by the time “Star Trek: VI” was released). However, it’s odd that we know nothing of what happened since the last film (other than Sulu’s promotion). It’s not that big of a problem, but it would have been nice to know what happened since the Enterprise-A was commissioned other than the weird adventure with Sybok. It’s also odd that Kirk and other crew members returned to the Enterprise-A at the beginning of the film, apparently, after some time away, based on dialog. That works if the characters are channeling the actors, but wouldn’t Kirk be all about getting in some exploring before he’s set out to pasture? Were Kirk and Co. just chilling on Earth, waiting for V’Ger, a 20th-century superman or some whale-lovin’ probe to call them back into service?
Last, last thing: Isn’t it kind of odd that the Enterprise-A, which isn’t more than seven years old, gets decommissioned at the end of this film? We see in other Trek that Starfleet vessels can be around for decades (with refits, at times) including the previous Enterprise. I’ve wondered if the Enterprise-A was actually renamed after this movie, to set up Starfleet for releasing the new Excelsior-class Enterprise-B just a year later (which we see in “Star Trek: Generations”). More likely, the creators just figured it would be dramatic if the Enterprise-A and the crew were sent out to pasture at the same time, and didn’t care about anything else. Of course, if that were the one and ONLY conceit this movie required, I’d definitely grant it.
Clearly, I’m kind of ripping this movie. But, there are parts of it that work extremely well. The battle scene with Chang (who is performed with great gusto by Plummer) is truly awesome, the courtroom scene on Kronos is great, it was cool to see Sulu in command (albeit briefly) and the final scene on the Enterprise bridge was a nice sendoff to the original crew.
But beyond the continuity, there are other problems.
Shatner, for whatever reason, really didn’t put in his best performance. It’s a shame, too, because he was so good in the middle Trek films and he had a lot to work with here. He’s especially bad in the briefing room scene early in the movie. Maybe Shatner was still smarting from the bad experience in “Star Trek V”? Or, maybe, he decided a flatter tone was the better way to go during the argument with Spock?
Meanwhile, the insertion of Valeris just doesn’t work that well. Originally, the role was for Saavik, which would have been VERY interesting given the David stuff from “Star Trek: III”. But Kirstie Alley apparently wasn’t available and Robin Curtis (I guess?) wasn’t wanted. So, they rewrote the character. Not knowing why Valeris distrusts the Klingons seriously undercuts the film — whereas Saavik’s past dealings and implied feelings for David could have worked wonders. Valeris comes across as a plot element — and a mostly well-acted one — but nothing more. Could you have imagined a scene where Saavik would have called out Kirk for belittling his son’s memory? Speaking of which, why does Kirk say that the new Klingon chancellor has reaffirmed David’s faith at the end of the film? David never gave any indication that he was all that interested in galactic politics. It’s a glib line that doesn’t, actually, reaffirm David’s faith (unless a lot happened off screen).
It’s not the fault of this film, but later Trek seriously messes with the timeline of “Star Trek VI.” In Voyager’s second season (“Flashback”) we see events as they took place on the Excelsior, through a series of flashbacks brought on by an illness to Tuvok (this sort of ties into the reference above, which comes later in Voyager’s second season, where Tuvok talks about the events of this film when he was a young man). Tuvok was on the Excelsior and witness to much of what happened when and after Praxis exploded. It was meant as a nice tribute, as George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney (who played Janice Rand in TOS and is present on the Excelsior in this film) reprise their roles, as do other actors from the movie.
But the Voyager creators clearly didn’t pay a lot of attention to this film’s story, as they move up the assassination and everything that happening on Kirk’s ship to just DAYS after Praxis exploded. This cuts out a big part of the film’s backstory, in which Spock (on his own and at the request of his father) began a dialog with Gorkon that LED to the peace negotiations weeks, perhaps months, later. As Voyager would have you believe, Praxis exploded and the Klingons immediately asked for a meeting on Earth, like the next day. Note that this flub — which didn’t need to happen, as accelerating the timeline didn’t improve “Flashback” story — isn’t the fault of “Star Trek: VI”, but we don’t have any plans to review “Flashback,” as it’s not important to the general Trek Tapestry and it’s a dumb episode anyway as Tuvok’s illness is caused by some weird parasite that has nothing to do with the events of the movie.
Back to the movie, the most disappointing scene, hands down, is dinner on the Enterprise before the attack on Gorkon’s vessel. It’s hard to explain why — but it really, really doesn’t work. I actually think the direction is the problem, as a lot of the shots are boring and seemed crowded. But it’s possible the writing was too blame. It’s too bad, because that scene could have really rocked — like, it could have been one of Trek’s most famous scenes — but it never quite gets there.
Maybe that’s the way to generally feel about this movie. It’s not a terrible disaster like the previous film or the final two TNG movies — and there are certainly great moments. But it messes up enough smaller points that it really falls short. Shame.
Coming next week …
Back to episodic Trek. A French captain? A blind helmsman? Senior officers dressed like cheerleaders?!
What if a site focused on the really important Star Trek episodes, explained how they were important and how they tied together — while tossing in a healthy dose of snark?