Sunday, February 15, 2009

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

The fourth season of "Hidden Frontier" represents a step sideways rather than forward: we get some changes to the status quo, a few set pieces moving around, but in general the quality is equal to last season. Which means it's neither excruciatingly bad nor genuinely entertaining; an acceptable limbo in the short term, not so much for a span of thirty episodes.

Because of this, I don't have much to say about the fourth season, but some things merit attention:

* Last season's finale and this season's premiere constitute the "Hell's Gate" two-parter, in which we lose an old villain and gain a new one in Siroc, a man from Naros' past who's working with the Tholians against the Federation. Luko is sent off to command his own ship, replaced by Matt McCabe (formerly of Cole's crew). McFarland also seems to have disappeared, though she's still mentioned often.

Luko was a borderline character: far from fleshed out, but more sympathetic than earlier attempts in this series. We get a last-minute reminder that there was something going on between him and Lefler, but as has become par for the course, it doesn't go anywhere.

What this season does demonstrate successfully is a quality that sets "Hidden Frontier" apart from the canonical "Star Trek" on a thematic level: change occurs much more often in the former than the latter, and I'm referring to change both on the level of character and on the level of galactic events. In seven years of the Picard era, the core bridge crew changed exactly twice: Tasha Yar died in the first season, and Dr. Crusher was replaced for a while before coming back. The first Borg attack on Earth had no visible reprecussions (those turned up in the "First Contact" movie). The Klingon civil war that erupted in the fourth or fifth season (I forget) was about Worf, and ultimately led him right back to where he'd already been. Stability was very much part of the show's foundations at that time. "Deep Space 9" tried to change this with the Dominion War, and it worked (for a while), but on the other hand, the only main character to die throughout that series' run had a resurrection angle built into her backstory.

"Hidden Frontier" seems to openly oppose that notion of stasis and stability: people are always moving about, arriving and departing and dying, and the Federation can find itself fighting the Grey one moment and the Tholians the next (although this can be as much a weakness as a strength, as it leaves no room to develop the villains). Incidentally, this is one reason why I'm so fond of the established Mirror Universe, because it's also very dynamic and active, things can change and characters can die, and there's no obligation to stick to any particular status quo (one of the great tragedies of the Berman/Braga era was the eventual decay of the Mirror Universe into a repetitive farce; as a plot device, it worked wonders for characters like Kira, Quark and Sisko).

* We also have "Grave Matters" and "Crossroads", a pair of back-to-back episodes that complicate the Ro/Aster storyline, which I'm continuing to follow with some degree of interest.

We'd seen Starfleet dealing with post-Dominion Cardassia prior to "Grave Matters", but this is the first time we've had Cardassian characters interacting with our cast. When a science vessel uncovers a mass grave for Bajoran refugees, Starfleet and Cardassia launch a joint investigation, and Corey finds himself attracted to one of their junior officers (much to Ro's consternation).

Now, I know I'd decided not to criticize acting in these reviews, but... well, "Grave Matters" is the episode that should have made Ro Nevin. He's at the center of this story: still carrying the scars of the Occupation, still ashamed of his feelings for Aster, and quite possibly disgusted - racially - at the thought of Aster having sex with a Cardassian, which is the sort of thing "Star Trek" never did before with regards to race relations; what do you do if you're a Klingon and your quasi-love interest sleeps with a Romulan? What if you're a Bajoran and a person you're interested in falls for a Cardassian? After all, the aliens of "Star Trek" tend to carry personal baggage on species-wide levels (ie: all Klingons hate all Romulans, all Romulans hate all Vulcans, etc., though you always have a minority that opposes this).

But Arthur Bosserman, the actor who plays Ro, can't get any of this across. This was perhaps the pivotal Ro episode and it's botched because Bosserman doesn't emote, doesn't put out any kind of feeling beyond detached apathy and juvenile anger that doesn't even scratch the surface of what should be going on.

"Crossroads" complicates the romantic subplot by throwing Ensign Zen into the mix, an unjoined Trill who's fallen for Corey but doesn't want to get involved; if he's chosen to bond with a symbiont, he might not be the same person afterwards. As with "Grave Matters", "Crossroads" takes general facts already established in the Trekverse and asks very practical questions about them: we don't know what Jadzia or Ezri were like before Dax, so maybe Zen's concern is legitimate - could you have a relationship in which one person undergoes a transformation so profound and so permanent that they essentially become someone else? It's a metaphor for the way people change over time, except that for Trills the change is instant and the ramifications are immediate. At any rate, Corey's decision isn't a surprise, though I do think it's the more interesting of the two possibilities.

Meanwhile, the Federation has another encounter with the Tholians, and Starfleet is defeated. Again. For all that it's a welcome change to the perceived invincibility of the Federation in earlier series, I have to admit the losing streak in "Hidden Frontier" is starting to get a bit out of hand. By constantly being in the dark and on the defensive, they - and by extension, the viewer - still have no idea what Siroc wants with the Tetrahedrons (which were introduced two seasons ago and yet remain completely obscure).

* The season finale, part 1 of "Entanglement", follows the same broad lines as "Hell's Gate": Vorina and the rest of the Orion pirates return, now working for Siroc; it's still All About The Tetrahedrons, for reasons that are still unclear. There's also a subplot in which Henglaar's ex-wife visits with her new Klingon beau, and it's almost - almost - fun. Points for avoiding the stereotype of the shrewish ex: Sou (bad name for a pig-based humanoid) is likeable enough, and all she really wants is for the two men in her life to get along.

That's about all I have to say at this point; the fourth season doesn't really distinguish itself beyond the Ro/Aster/Zen storyline, which is still being handled a touch too clumsily for my tastes.