Thursday, February 26, 2009

Of The People, By The People, For The People: Part 6e

(Minor administrative note: I've reconfigured the numbering for "Hidden Frontier" reviews. Seriously, it was getting out of hand, miles to go, yadda yadda...)

So we've finally reached the long-awaited sixth season of "Star Trek: Hidden Frontier". Does it redeem the mistakes of the past? Does it hit your brain like a particularly pleasant splash of acid, burning away the horror of "Santa Q"?

Yes. Yes, it does. To an extent. It would be more accurate to say that season 6 changes the type of criticism it invites, but before we get to that, let's take it episode by episode:

* "Countermeasures" is the Big Action Episode, as the Tholian/Breen alliance launches an all-out attack against the Federation. We've got ships exploding left and right, Commodore Cole delivering an Aragorn Speech that actually kind of works... and there's a last-minute surprise that really works.

Traya Knapp's been hit by the SORAS bug and is now Harvard-bound; I actually like her better at this age, as it lets her have her own storyline away from her father. In related cast news, Bobby Rice replaces Arthur Bosserman as Ro Nevin, and... let's just say it's a big step up and leave it at that.

One other noteworthy thing about this episode: the scene with Iliana suggests it's been three years since "Worst Fears", but that timeline just doesn't add up without mid-season time jumps every single season (because the finales and subsequent premieres are always two-parters). That's a lot of time to compress into half a dozen episodes, and we'll see the reprecussions of that towards the end of the season.

* "Dancing in the Dark": Oh, hey, Martinez! Long time no see. But the big revelation in this episode is Brandon Stacy as Betazoid interpreter Milo Surgant, who has this delightfully creepy way of alternating speech patterns between himself and his Horta partner. Brr. Meanwhile, we get a new tidbit of information regarding the Tetrahedrons: they're somehow connected to Omega, an ill-defined molecule that can somehow stop warp travel in the entire galaxy, forever. Not quite sure where the hell that came from, but... okay, I'll go with it for now.

* "Homeport" sets quite a few things in motion. First, the villains are starting to pull together, as Glinn Betras (from S4's "Grave Matters") joins Vorina (now played by Julie Anne Gardner, though I find she lacks the flourish Suzy Kaplan brought to the role) and Surgant (on a slightly shallow note, Brandon Stacy looks damn good in black; practically a dead ringer for the world's hottest serial killer).

I do have a slight problem here, though: it's never made clear why these individuals are working with Siroc. What exactly is Betras after? What's Surgant's motivation?(We can assume Vorina's getting paid.) The Tholians have no screen presence to speak of, so they're hardly important, but if we're getting to know Siroc's inner circle on a personal level, it would've been nice to understand their stake in this whole matter.

Meanwhile, there's a nice bit with S'Tal and Barrett exploring humor, though I still think S'Tal's depiction is a touch on the extreme side - she's basically being written as a flesh-and-blood Data, which makes her romantic subplot rather awkward.

We're also introduced to Tara Abis, a new love interest for Ro; this seems to put a quiet end to the Ro/Aster/Dao triangle (which never really seemed to go anywhere, as I can only recall a single episode where Jorian and Nevin were in the same room), but as we'll see later, the situation's not quite that simple.

Speaking of Dao, this is really the first time we see Jorian with his new gestalt personality, and I'm pleased to say that Adam Browne pulls it off, giving Jorian a quiet but solid well of confidence that most certainly wasn't there before. Nicely done!

* On to "Beachhead", and how's this for continuity: Aris and the trapped Ethereals, last seen in "Worst Fears", make a comeback. We also return to Vrijheid ("Security Counsel"), still under the control of the subtly menacing Vindenpawl. Knapp is promoted to Admiral (oy) and the Federation manages to sign up virtually every Alpha Quadrant power to take on Siroc, the Tholians and their Tetrahedron (no mention of the Breen anymore; are we to assume they backed out?).

There's also an odd twist with Aster and Dao, where Corey basically flies off the handle for reasons that don't make a lot of internal sense (though, from a plot-centric perspective, it's certainly obvious where they're going with that). More on that later.

* If "Beachhead" deals with internal continuity for the "Hidden Frontier" series, "Vigil takes intertextuality a step further: James Cawley (who plays Captain Kirk in "Phase II") guest-stars as Mackenzie Calhoun, Shelby's ex-boyfriend and the protagonist of Peter David's "New Frontier" novels. On top of that, this episode is a quasi-sequel to my second-favorite DS9 episode, "In The Pale Moonlight" ("Duet" being at the top of the list), as a Romulan commander exposes the Federation deception that led the Romulans to participate in the Dominion War. Unfortunately, that plotline gets aborted halfway through to deal with a more generic scenario (tension between former enemies dissolving in the face of teamwork).

Tension's also starting to mount between Ro, Tara and Aster. Let's start with the good: I loved how Tara's insight is so subtle, in that she thinks Ro doesn't like to talk and it turns out he just hasn't been talking to her.

Of course, the most noteworthy scene is the Big Reveal where Ro finally admits everything: that he lied about remembering Corey from the Academy (a nice callback to "Encke"), that he's been in denial all this time, and, of course, that he's in love with Corey. Now, granted that there's a bit of a fake-out here (which I loved), but... okay, it's pretty clear by now that the writers have done an about-face and they're set on Ro and Aster getting together. And I could see that working, except for two things: first, it's way too soon, Tara had only just started out and there hasn't been enough... hell, there hasn't been any groundwork laid to really sell this development.

The second issue is simply that the writers sold me on Aster and Zen back in the fourth season: they were cute together, the actors have chemistry, and there haven't been any significant Ro/Aster scenes in the interrim. To get Ro and Aster together, Dao's got to go, which explains the sudden and exaggerated bickering. It's all more than a little forced.

Oddly enough, there's no follow-through on last episode's cliffhanger. Hmm.

* And finally, we have "Her Battle Lanterns Lit" in which the Klingons make their long-overdue debut (excluding Qu'Qul from "Entanglement"), McCabe deals with his grief by visiting Sensei Kickass again (always a pleasure!), and the Alpha Quadrant powers move against Siroc.

Lest you think that Knapp's ascension to the top of Starfleet's food chain has in any way changed him for the better... no, he's still a douche. Uprooting Shelby just because he's comfortable on the Excelsior? Check. Folding in the middle of combat because of a personal threat? Check. I'd love to know whether he's supposed to come off as a complete idiot, or... no, I can't think of an alternative to that. It must be intentional.

The season ends on the best cliffhanger so far, which says a lot about how far the series has come over the years. Now, remember when I said the sixth season changes the type of criticism it invites? Here's the thing: in earlier seasons, the sentiment I found myself repeating over and over was that I could just about see what Caves and his team were aiming for on the conceptual level, and in those terms their ideas were sound and interesting. But the execution of those ideas was awkward at best, downright awful at worst, resulting in a consistent sense of missed opportunities.

That's not the case here. Or rather, I do feel opportunities were missed, but in a more general "spilled milk" sort of way. For example, Surgant's betrayal would've had a lot more bite to it if he'd been around in the fifth season; the problems between Aster and Dao should have started much earlier so that Ro's sudden change of heart wouldn't seem so convenient, etc. It's not the execution that's flawed here, it's the timing. And that's a different matter, because if you took the events of this season, intact, and simply rearranged the sequence of events so there'd be enough build-up over an extended period of time, those same events would've been much more dramatically satisfying.

So there's definite, tangible improvement here, all across the board. It's not an ideal jumping-on point by any means, and I don't rightly know if it's enough to keep less-patient viewers going through the earlier seasons... but for me, personally, this series just got a lot more interesting.