Friday, February 6, 2009

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

Well, the good news is that the second season of "Star Trek: Hidden Frontier" is a marginal improvement over the first. The bad news? It's largely because some of the episodes remix "The Next Generation" and "Deep Space 9". For example, "Yesterday's Excelsior" is basically TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise" only with Borg instead of Klingons; "Old Wound" is a take on DS9's "Rules of Engagement" where Worf is court-martialed for allegedly destroying a civilian transport, etc. It's an unfortunate creative decision, because I think the one thing fan films should avoid at all cost is inviting direct comparison to the source material; it's possible to let a lot of things slide when it comes to fan-created projects, but I'll never choose David Dial over Patrick Stewart, you know?

The cast has been juggled around a bit: after being promoted to Second Officer at the end of last season, Wesley's nowhere to be found; Rayvan the Iconian is also killed off-screen as an afterthought (pretty much a tacit acknowledgement that he was superfluous anyway), and we lose Toby Witzcak (sp?) midway through. Artim Ibanya, apparently a canon character from one of the later TNG films (the last one I saw was "First Contact"), is introduced as a new Ensign (Knapp is, of course, kind of a dick to him), and we also have a new Tactical Officer in Lieutenant Luko. Admiral Nechayev, another TNG import, assumes command of DS12.

And I've made this point before, but it bears repeating: a rotating, dynamic cast is a good thing. There's a lot of potential drama in the idea of characters disappearing into the night or suffering a quick and sudden death, leaving others to cope with the fallout. This was something "Exiles" did quite well during the Winick days: losing Thunderbird the first time was hard, and Blink's absence was felt every time Magik opened her mouth to cause trouble.

But for this tactic to work, you have to forge some kind of connection with the characters, an emotional attachment that gets you interested in them as people. "Hidden Frontier" is, at this point, still too concerned with plot machinery and doesn't offer enough "heart" for me to care about any of these changes.

The second season scales back the threat of the Grey considerably; as a result, after fifteen episodes we still know very little about them and their objectives. It might be because one element this series has lacked over the past two seasons is focus: the Federation's struggle against the Grey ostensibly glues the whole of "Hidden Frontier" together, and yet it's treated as an afterthought (if the Grey are mentioned at all) throughout the second season. Likewise, character moments occur in isolation, with no consistency from one episode to the next: Robin suffers a certain trauma in "The Great Starship Robbery" and it's never mentioned again, there's a Ro-centric episode after that except Ro has minimal screen time, and "To The Stars" delivers an origin story for Ibanya, a minor character whose presence is barely noteworthy. All of these represent what would ideally be the first step in an ongoing plotline, but they're completely scattered and, consequently, ineffective.

Noteworthy episodes:

* "Yesterday's Excelsior" does a cute '70s "Battlestar Galactica" homage, complete with the Colonial theme. It's worth noting that even in an alternate timeline, Knapp is an asshole. The episode is apparently missing its teaser due to... legal problems? I don't know, again, Caves seems to be dealing with problems no other fan production has had to cope with. Characterization of the Federation at large is also very problematic: we're supposed to believe Kirk-era Starfleet exterminated the Klingons en masse, and the present-day version abandons helpless civilizations to a superior threat. I'd applaud bringing the idealized United Federation of Planets down a notch, but this seems to go a little too far in the other direction.

* "Old Wound" has what may be the most contrived ending to a Trek courtroom drama ever.

* "Encke" introduces engineer Corey Aster as the first explicitly gay Starfleet officer we've seen (remember, this was filmed long before "Phase II"). When I reviewed "Blood and Fire" I mentioned that the two fan series treat the subject matter differently, and "Encke" is a perfect example: Ro is clearly conflicted about Corey's attraction to him, and it is about gender (contrary to what he says), which suggests that homosexuality is still seen as something "different". In "Phase II", it's just taken for granted that Alex and Peter are lovers, and the reaction would be exactly the same if Alex were a woman. To be honest, the treatment here is a bit on the clunky side, more concerned with The Issue than how said Issue affects the characters involved.

* "Fire in the Heart" is another Knapp-centric episode; surprise surprise, he's still a douchebag whose main concern during a reunion with his estranged daughter (after nine years of slavery!) is that she doesn't mess up his comfy life.

I hear ya, Captain.

In conclusion, I'm still seeing a lot of potential in this series, but so far they haven't capitalized on it. Maybe three's the lucky number?