Monday, 28 August 2017

So What Are Ships For? - Star Trek Continues Episode Nine

The latest Star Trek Continues installment packs a story written by cast member Kipleigh Brown (Lieutenant Smith) and two stellar guest stars. 

The Enterprise arrives at the isolated Hylenas where it is needed to help with a dangerous virus which is attacking the native populace and evolves rapidly causing death and thereby the extinction of the people.

Not only that but the planet is subjected to such a high dose of radiation from the Hyleni sun that means everything is monochrome. Yep, we're delving into the world of black and white with this story and its just like when I first saw The Original Series.

Perhaps more notable than the two-tone look of the episode is the guest cast which boasts classic Battlestar Galactica actress Anne Lockhart and for The Next Generation fans, Q himself, John De Lancie. It's great to see him as something other than Q but there are a few moments where the omnipotent being's personality shines through in his performance. Even the attire they choose to dress him in has glaring echoes to the Napoleonic era uniform Q sported in Hide and Q. De Lancie is a big draw and will get a lot of people talking about this episode. 

His role within the story is key from the perspective of the natives and it is his attitudes that drive the conclusion. Lockhart on the other hand feels underused and while she is a major element to the story I just couldn't get excited or really involved with her role as it seemed more to be a plot device than a character to be developed.

While the lead guest actor gets to shine, it's a fairly ABC plot for a Star Trek Continues  episode as we are introduced to a neighbouring planet with whom De Lancie's people have some beef and in true form for the franchise it comes down to Kirk to mediate on their differences.

It's a familiar line with Star Trek and most relevantly The Original Series which took great pleasure on many occasions at playing the race versus race card.  Let This Be Your Last Batrlefield, A Taste of Armageddon and Patterns of Force being just three that spring straight to mind in a flash. It's a fairly established trope of the show and here in What Ships Are For it's strongly forecast from the start and never lets up. That's not to say that Brown's teleplay isn't enjoyable but in comparison to the previous eight episodes of Continues this is just not as dynamic when it comes to the impact of the story or the umph that the superb guest cast pack into the hour. It feels as though we've trodden this path many times over.

It does, to some extreme, feel like a box ticking exercise with Kirk falling for Inner Council intern, Sekara, one of the inhabitants of the planet they are helping to save. But then there's a twist when she beams up to the Enterprise which you can probably see coming through your black and white tinted spectacles. In fact the whole monotone thing itself is a thinly veiled allegory for the story of you think about it.  

Elizabeth Maxwell goes all out as Sekara, playing the vulnerable victim, the frightened child and the lover. Certainly the part in What Ships Are For allows her the most flexibility of the guest cast and also the most screen time of the visitors to Continues. The role is very much in keeping with the female guests of the Kirk era even down to the foil-esque costume and that sweeping vulnerability.

For me What Ships Are For - exploration and the discovery of the new if you go by Kirk's speech at the end of the episode - is a bit disappointing. The main cast are utilised well with Mignogna, Haberkorn and Huber all taking the expected fair share of the episode. It is heavily Kirk-centric with the romance between himself and Sekara (Elizabeth Maxwell) being the mainstay of the time on the Enterprise and considering very little else. It does come across as a very singular episode because of this with there being nothing outside the main thread ti really comment on. Everything hinges around saving Sekara to build up to the big reveal and just who the neighbouring Obeshians are.

While De Lancie is captivating whenever he is on screen, Lockhart can at times be a little overhammy even for a retro webseries such as Star Trek Continues. She acts as De Lancie"s conscience for the most part and is then a major part of the big reveal towards the end of the show and a factor in the resolution but it still lacks any punch. It is for me the weakest of the 11 announced episodes so far released and plays on a race playing very dumb. I suppose in some sense that is keeping with a few of the races encounters in The Original Series and I have to say that the style of writing for the script is incredibly in keeping with the Kirk era episodes. It feels authentic to the 60's classic as does the usual Continues attention to costume detail that beds it in the original show.

As for the ensemble behind the lead characters, everyone is back in play and doing their bit for a low amount of screen time be it Kim Stinger's Uhura, a fleeting appearance by SKoST friend Kat Roberts as Lieutenant Palmer or Grant Imahara's very underused Sulu. I wish with Continues that they had been able to use some episodes to explore their secondary characters more than they have as there is a ton of potential in there. Even Kipleigh Brown is under the radar in her own penned episode.

So as you can see for quality and presentation Continues still shines brilliantly strong but What Ships Are For attempts a big hit in its story material but just slightly misses the mark. Every minute is still inspiring from a fan film angle due to the level that the Continues team go to in order to remain authentic to The Original Series. The choice of black and white in the episode might not be in keeping with the desire for everything to be in bright colour for the TV of the '60's (had an interesting Twitter discussion over whether it was appropriate) but the storytelling is still well in keeping with the ethos of the show so why the heck shouldn't this be allowed?

That being said, given current political climate in the US this episode may have more relevance than we can really assess - or want to more by chance than design. A rewatch in a few months with the benefit of hindsight might well be worth it.

You can check out What Ships Are For HERE

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