Monday, 12 September 2016

Core Concerns in Embracing the Winds

The second episode this year from Star Trek Continues plunges us into very topical territory.

Tiff Groves steps in to helm her first review of the superb fan series and beware there are SPOILERS ahead.

However It is a sad fact that there is something of a state of flux within the corporate world of Star Trek at present and it is not of this series' making.

Exec producer and Kirk actor Vic Mignogna has addressed his concerns on the website and blog and like all non-profit Star Trek projects, he is awaiting clarification on the guidelines for the future of his work. If things remain the same this could well be the last episode of Continues to be made.

So to the seventh episode of the series; Embracing the Winds is a dialogue driven episode, and an opportunity for writers, Mignogna and James Kerwin to explore the nature of how prejudice affects important decisions.

OK, bit of background first on this one. The entire crew of the USS Hood, is found dead and adrift in their ship (the life-support system having failed under mysterious circumstances which are never really explained). The Enterprise is recalled for two reasons with the first being a salvage operation to bring back one of the seven remaining Constitution Class starships.

In the light of this tragedy, Starfleet command must decide on who is suitable to take over the now captain-less ship which leads to the second reason.

We are then introduced to the first of two guest stars, Commodore Gray played by Erin Gray (Buck Rogers/Baywatch) who reprises her role briefly seen in the last episode and this time plays a much more prominent part of the narrative rather than just being a face on a screen.

Gray has already selected two candidates for the captaincy of the now crew and captain-less USS Hood; Mr Spock, who has been earmarked for promotion for some time, and Commander Diane Garrett, played by Clare Kramer (most well known as Glory during the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Although keen to promote the first female officer to captain a Constitution Class starship, delicacies of diplomacy are involved especially adhering to Tellarite traditions and their male dominated society. Gray is loathe to commit and would rather Spock be placed in command however he and Kirk (initially) believe that Garrett with her extensive commendations and experience would make the better commander.

Garrett forces Gray's hand however and the decision on the assignment is to be made by a panel of three senior officers, including Gray, Vulcan Admiral Stom and Kirk himself. Despite accusations by Garrett that gender bias has always affected her career, it soon becomes clear that competency and suitability are arguably more essential concerns.

Mignogna has found his feet I think, displaying a more understated homage to The Original Series and letting the narrative of the script and its timeliness lead the way.

Overall it is a statement about the nature of prejudice, and whether it is even possible to avoid our own ‘inner prejudices’ when asked to make decisions. But the script does delve deeper and creates a riveting debate about gender bias and matters of competency in juxtaposition to desire.

There is much to admire about Star Trek Continues and their devotion to their craft, but I think this episode particularly will stand out in the future as courageous effort. Far from being a nostalgia trip or crowd pleaser that we have experienced so far with episodes such as Fairest of them All and Pilgrim of Eternity for example, the story is intimate and fully intended to be thought provoking.

There are definitely parallels with this story and what is happening right now in our world, certainly there is an air of uncertainty about the future direction of all Star Trek.

But also in this age where ‘diversity’ is the buzz phrase of the day, it takes head on accusations of gender bias being the decisive factor in female promotion, but also analyses the counter arguments accordingly.

Above all it actually makes us ask ourselves ‘what would we decide?’

That being said, amongst the relative ‘heaviness’ of the storyline there is still a parallel plot filled with exciting peril involving Scotty (Christopher Doohan) and a critically overloading warp core! It's a secondary part to the story with the Enterprise sans Kirk and Spock retrieving the Hood and does allow the engineer a much larger chunk of the episode than he has been granted before. Doohan definitely manages the scenes using that super-accurate new (for episode six) Engineering section. While not on the Hood, Chekov is given more meaty material to work with in the episode and his closing payoff is both a wonderful tribute to the character and explores the "continuing" nature of the show.

These are the ever growing strengths of Star Trek Continues; the stories feel genuine yet still leave room for traditional franchise adventurism.

The supporting cast are as ever, devoted and able, and more important than perhaps some people realize.

Cat Roberts (who was guest host on the sixth episode of our podcast) dutifully served as Lt Elizabeth Palmer and Michelle Specht as Counsellor McKennah, shares a wonderful dialogue with Spock in one key scene.

By having such an active ‘background’ of extras the production always benefits by looking more authentic. The only tragedy with both these two wonderful female actors and with Grant Imahara's Sulu is that they are given very little to work with in comparison to more recent stories. Chuck Huber's McCoy is AWOL right until the very end of Embracing the Wing and his sudden return does make you wonder where he's been for the last 40 minutes.

The Galileo Shuttle features greatly in the first act which will please many and the visual effects of the Enterprise and the Hood are just superb. It may not be ‘Hollywood’ but the SFX team must be very dedicated to create such convincing work.

The real heart of this episode though has to be Clare Kramer as Commander Garrett. Embracing the Wind because it is very much her story as both a woman in a seemingly male dominated environment plus having to overcome personal issues that have blemished her otherwise exemplary career. Having Spock even agree that she is the better candidate adds significant weight to the argument that Garrett is, logically, the best choice for the job.

Kramer gets a lot of the substance within Continues has always challenged preconceptions and controversial subjects much as The Original Series was intended to do under the guidance of Gene Roddenberry. Gender equality exists right now in our time and the focus here will remind you of its presence not only now but also within that fictional world of The Original Series. Just remember how many yeomen Kirk went through in the first couple of seasons or how many strong female characters were in senior Starfleet positions  and you'll see just how close to the bone the discussion Mignogna and Kerwin raise actually is. It may well be one of the best social commentaries on Star Trek we've ever had.

Kramer is utterly believable and her scenes with Todd Haberkorn (Spock), Mignogna and Grat especially are the best of the episode. It's tightly shot and the courtroom environment really helps to focus that section of the story. Balancing against the salvage operation means the episode retains a good pace and keeps your interest all the way; 43 minutes just flash by.

The closing dialogue of the episode is filled with hope and drive (and the mention of the possibility that one day a woman - and a Garrett - may captain a ship named Enterprise?) 

I hope that Star Trek Continues indeed, continues on and completes the episodes it plans to make.

Whatever happens in the future the entire cast and crew can be very proud of what they have created in what on the surface appears a very straight forward episode but in fact has a much deeper story to tell.

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