In the late spring of 1977, I did something that I’d never done before. I exited the movie theater on East 87th Street in New York City and and immediately walked back to the entrance on 3rd Avenue. Then I went up to the box office, bought another ticket, and headed back into the theater to watch the same movie again. Most of the audience did the same thing.
It wasn’t just that Star Wars was really good. No, it NEEDED to be watched again…to take in everything it was showing us, to catch things we probably missed, and just to try to process this life-altering, even world-altering cinematic experience.
While I’m not saying that the sixth episode of STAR TREK: PICARD‘s third season, “The Bounty,” is another Star Wars, the fact remains that for the first time in I-can’t-remember-how-long, I finished watching a Star Trek episode and immediately began watching it again. There was just so much to see, to experience, and yes, to LOVE about these 52 minutes, and even after two viewings, I’m still trying to process it all!
So rather than trying to find some unifying theme for this blog, I’m just going to watch the episode for a third time and write down my thoughts as I have them…
VADIC KILLS THE CAT
One of the “bibles” for Hollywood screenwriters is a book by BLAKE SNYDER titled Save the Cat! It literally argues that all movie scripts have the same basic story structure, and one of the common elements is when the main character “saves the cat” (like Ripley did the movie Alien) that shows the viewer that the main character, for all their flaws, is inherently a good person and worthy of being the protagonist of the film. Watch for it, and you will almost always see a “save the cat” moment.
After reading his book, I realized that there is also a technique used by writers that I like to call “kill the cat.” The villain does something nasty and vile, often to someone who doesn’t deserve such harsh treatment. The bad guy beats up or kills an innocent victim…or maybe they even shoot one of their own henchmen. “Yeah, this is one bad dude!” You’ll see this a lot, too, if you watch for it.
And in fact, Vadic “kills the cat” when she shoots one of her own Changeling henchmen (or rather, has one of her other henchmen do it) simply because he’s disagreeing with her. So, yes, we’ve now established what a truly evil baddy she is! (By the way, please excuse my pronouns. If you think about it, any Changeling really should be a “they.”)
If you don’t know the nameJAMES VAN OVER, SR., then you haven’t been reading the credits for Star Trek: DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, Star Trek Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, or Nemesis very carefully. Or maybe you didn’t look closely enough at the dedication plaques of the Enterprise NX-01, Columbia NX-02, Enterprise-B, or U.S.S. Defiant seen in DS9‘s “The Die Is Cast.”
Of course, those plaque names very often matched the Star Trek credits as a way for the creators to “sign their work” and honor those dedicated people putting their heart and soul into making this show that we all love so much.
James Van Over joined the scenic art department team under MIKE OKUDA at Paramount in early 1994, just as TNG was wrapping, DS9 was finishing season two, Voyager was ramping up, and Generations was in pre-production. Mike was super-busy and needed a new graphic artist to help make all of those LCARS displays and animations and anything else that needed to adorn the many, many sets that the various Star Trek series and movies featured.
In fact, one of the people Mike offered that job to was me (I turned it down…here’s the story of that decision). But a couple of months later, Mike hired Jim, and he ended up working on the ensuing Paramount Star Trek series and movies until Enterprise was canceled in 2005. Jim also worked on the STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES episode “To Serve All My Days” (the one starring WALTER KOENIG as Chekov and written by DOROTHY FONTANA).
I first met Jim at the “SAVE STAR TREK” rally at Paramount when he and many others on the production crew and writing team came out to see hundreds of Trekkies with picket signs protesting the cancelation of Enterprise. Jim and I got to talking, and when I learned of his job title and hiring date, I said, “Oh, you got the job I turned down.” And he replied, “Then I need to thank you for my house!”
A man in his sixties with two grown sons—Jim, Jr. and Jason—Jim, Sr. is wonderful, warm, and very funny guy. We’ve remained friends ever since meeting that day at Paramount, even going to Disneyland together a few times with other local Trekkers…
It was during his time working on Star Trek that Jim met the love of his life, NIKI ROSENBLUM DeMAIO, a wonderful woman who shared Jim’s life for two magical decades before tragically passing away last summer. But just as Jim was finally beginning to get over her loss (at least a little), he was taken last Friday to the E.R. with with mobility issues.
While at the hospital for several days, Jim had countless tests, an MRI, and a brain biopsy (his scalp looks like Dr. Frankenstein worked on him!). Unfortunately, a malignant tumor was found, and Jim is going to need some serious treatment, the details of which are still being determined.
No, it wasn’t that I saw a red door and wanted to paint it black…although I kinda did…didn’t you? And it wasn’t the dark lighting—which seemed to be a little better this week, did you notice?
If you want to know what almost bothered me about the fifth episode of season three of STAR TREK: PICARD, “Imposters” (and how I mentally overcame that complaint), you’re gonna have to read till the end. Or of course, you could just scroll down and skip the rest of the blog…that’ll work, too!
First, however, I want to tell you all what I didn’t complain about and, in fact, really LOVED about this latest episode.
OKAY, PLAY TIME’S OVER, KIDS!
It’s funny, but after four episodes of intensity, I wasn’t sure what to expect from episode five. However, I quickly forgot about those first four episodes because they seem like only a light appetizer! The main course is now being served, and…holy crap!
In many ways, the first four episodes served as the first “act” of this amazing play. They were, for the most part, a self-contained mini-story of the Titan engaging Vadic and the Shrike, Picard learning about his son Jack and connecting with him (or at least starting to), Riker getting his groove back, Seven (re)gaining some self-respect, and Captain Liam Shaw convincing fans that it’s not only okay to use swear words in the future but that we actually kinda like this “dipshit from Chicago.” And of course, there were mysteries to set up and begin to explain, like the antagonists being rogue Changelings and that a major weapon has been stolen from Daystrom Station. Oh, and we got to watch the events leading to Raffi teaming up with Worf.
But all of that pretty much wrapped up by the end of episode four. The Titan escaped, the crew was safe (for now), the Changeling on board was killed, and the only real “cliffhanger” was a strange reddish vision (red matter, red angel, red shirts…always red!) that Jack Crusher had at the very end. And considering that there’s only ten episodes total, I suspect that five-thorough eight will work together as a “second act,” setting up a big two-part finale of both Star Trek: Picard and the saga of the Next Generation characters.
And I am totally fine with that story structure. In fact, this second act brought in a whole bunch of new stuff that I honestly did NOT see coming, and it all kept me on the edge of my seat. Let’s take a look at what blew me away…
TO BOLDLY RO!
(You have no idea how many sub-header ideas I went through before deciding on the one above! Be happy I didn’t stick with “Ro, Ro, Ro, your boat”‘”!!!)
Okay, I need to compliment the rumor police for keeping any hint that MICHELLE FORBES would be returning as Ro Laren in this final season away from the general media. I HAD NO IDEA!!!! In fact, I’ve been chuckling at the fans conjecturing that DENISE CROSBY would be appearing as Tasha Yar (despite her character being dead) or maybe the Romulan Sela. Personally, I didn’t think it was likely, as such a cameo would likely have leaked by this point, right? Well, now I’m not so sure and am even wondering if DWIGHT SCHULTZ might show up briefly as Reginald Barclay! At this point, I am open to any possibility!
The inclusion of Ro in this episode was nothing short of masterful, not only in concept but in flawless execution both plot-wise and via characterization. As it happens, I watched the TNG penultimate episode “Preemptive Strike” fairly recently, so the intensity of Lieutenant Ro’s betrayal of Picard was reasonably fresh in my mind. Michelle Forbes is an amazingly talented actress, and with such a gifted actor as SIR PATRICK STEWART to play off of, the performances we were treated to rose to a whole other level. Picard held such resentment—even 30 years later—for Ro, and she for him. Their mutually soulful pain and hurt was almost suffocating and certainly heartbreaking for us viewers to watch…as it should be!
Now, what made this all particularly satisfying is the fact that the writers on Picard are assuming that their viewers are INTELLIGENT and are thinking about the plot—something that doesn’t always happen (ahem, DISCOVERY). So when you establish that the threat of the season is that shape-shifters have infiltrated Starfleet, the first thing a viewer is going to suspect when they suddenly see Ro Laren coming on board via a shuttle (not a transporter, which could potentially scan for a Changeling)—and she is accompanied by two tough-looking security guards—is certainly going to be: “She’s a Changeling!”
And the episode leaned into this in a big way, as Ro certainly seemed suspicious, and Picard was likewise unconvinced of her appearance. And the questions he shot at her were, dare I say, logical ones. After all, Ro Laren betrayed Starfleet on two different occasions. Fool me once, and all that! How does a person like that get to be reinstated AND wind up with two promotions to full commander???
Oh, and for anyone who is still wondering about that—even after the big reveal that this was, in fact, the real Ro Laren—let me plant a seed in your mind. Ro’s release from prison, reinstatement, and assignment to Starfleet Security would likely have happened within the last ten years or so. That would place the decision firmly in under the administration of Commodore Oh. Remember her? She was the highly-placed Romulan spy from season one of Picard. Somehow, the reinstatement of a former two-time traitor and assignment of her to Starfleet Security would seem a much more acceptable decision from a covert Romulan operative than it would have from an authentic Chief of Starfleet Security.
Anyway, the mind games and shadow dancing continued just long enough to satisfy viewers’ expectations that Ro might, in fact, be a Changeling infiltrator. Indeed, as the two entered the Holodeck and pulled phasers on each other, I was totally convinced Ro was not the real Ro. And of course, that’s when the writers assured us all that this was, indeed, the real Ro Laren…in a way that only the ensuing scene could have succeeded in doing.
And then things got really good…
ACTUALLY, I MEAN REALLY BAD!
There were four times in Star Trek history where Starfleet was nearly taken over from the inside, and each time, the writers kinda wimped out. One of those times was the aforementioned Romulan deep-cover operative, Commodore Oh, from Picard season one. With one Romulan in the highest ranks of Starfleet, what if there were more? After all, a Chief of Starfleet Security could “look the other way” as a lot of other operatives got placed in high positions. And indeed, the Romulan Zhat Vash villainess Narissa served Oh as the human-disguised Lt. Rizzo. But after at least nine years as a Starfleet top brass, Narissa seems to have been the only Romulan operative inserted. I consider that “wimping out.” (Now, it IS possible that Commodore Oh let in a bunch of rogue Changelings, as well…and that might be interesting.)
Back in the 23rd century, Starfleet Colonel West, Fleet Admiral Cartwright, and others took part in a conspiracy to assassinate Chancellor Gorkon and start a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. That secret plot died at the end of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.
And speaking of conspiracies, perhaps the biggest one lasted for only two episodes during the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And despite a final message being beamed into deep space by the bug-parasites who liked to eat live worms (gagh is best served live!), nothing more ever happened with them. One wonders if, maybe, they’re finally back, teaming up with the rogue Changelings…wouldn’t that be wrapping up a major loose end!
And of course, the Changelings themselves infiltrated Starfleet back during the middle of the run of Deep Space Nine. But in the two-parter “Homefront“/”Paradise Lost,” Sisko is told that there are only four Founders in all of Starfleet. Of course, developing tests for Changelings became a huge priority, and eventually, the idea of deep-cover shape-shifters was limited primarily to the doppelgängers of Bashir and Martok who were later discovered and disposed of. And that was that.
In all of the above cases, the real potential for massive fleet-wide conspiracies was never truly explored…at least in my opinion. Of course, the reasons were usually logistical: budget limitations to build new sets for those operatives to do their mischief, episodic-versus-serialized storytelling styles, everything needing to happen in a single movie (Trek VI), or just not knowing how to deal with such a “big” problem without overwhelming every other aspect of the show.
But in season three of Picard, they’re going all-in. The imposters are already infiltrated into all areas of Starfleet, the screening tests no longer work (oh, crap!), and the Federation is probably already screwed…along with Picard, Riker, Shaw, Seven, and what remains of the crew of the U.S.S. Titan. As I said earlier, all that “peril” with the Shrike during the first four episodes…just the appetizer! Play time is indeed over, kids, and now you need to put on your big-boy/girl/gender-fluid pants and deal with some REAL problems! Let’s hear it for serious threats close to home, which will make the ultimate “saving the day” moment in five more episodes feel even more satisfying…assuming that actually happens!
RAFFI, WORF, AND…RO?
I do have to admit that I was really hoping that Raffi would become more interesting and watchable now that Worf is sharing scenes with her. And admittedly, she is a bit more watchable because of it. But I’m still not really interested yet as a character. (This is not my complaint for the episode, by the way.) Raffi comes across as a truly tough, kick-ass character with some inner demons and a few insecurities that she hides behind bravado, but that’s really the extent of it, and those same notes aren’t really creating “music” for me as a viewer.
It’s a shame because MICHELLE HURD really is a gifted actress. In the same way, I feel frustrated for SONEQUA MARTIN-GREEN, who is also a gifted actress forced to play the very uninteresting, non-compelling, and somewhat grating (in my opinion) character of Michael Burnham, someone whom I have never managed to connect with.
That said, Worf never disappoints, and MICHAEL DORN plays the new, older Worf perfectly. Surprisingly, his character is also playing the same notes over and over, but somehow his character is making music for me. I suppose it’s a combination of having already had seven seasons of TNG, four seasons of DS9, and four feature films to develop a connection with, interest in, and concern for the character. Maybe he’s just getting better lines than Raffi. No idea.
But what really impressed me is how the writers continue to surprise me. I already had no idea that Worf was Raffi handler. And as I said above, I was completely shocked by this episode’s appearance by Ro. But the trifecta was earned by the big reveal that Ro was Worf’s handler! With her connections to Starfleet Security, of course Ro would have set up a covert agent or two (or more) under the strictest secrecy to figure out what’s been going on.
However, the episode was so engaging and enrapturing that my mind didn’t even have time to think about who Worf’s handler was until Ro revealed to Picard that she had two operatives uncovered details of the plot. And indeed, it was a perfect way to bring together the two separate plot-lines of the season so far: Picard and Riker on the Titan and Raffi and Worf on the hunt for clues. The band is finally getting back together!
HOW MUCH DO WE LOVE SHAW?
If you’d asked me to make predictions going into season three of Picard, one of the items far below the bottom of the list would have been: “They’ll introduce a new starship captain who is a complete asshole, and I’ll actually want him to star in the next Star Trek series!”
For over half a century, Star Trek fans have known exactly whom to root for and against. The “good” captains were brave and noble heroes, like Kirk and Picard and Archer. And sure, Sisko crossed some lines “In the Pale Moonlight,” but he kinda did the wrong things for the right reasons. And Janeway was a tough captain put in an impossible situation, so she needed to…adapt a little. But they were all good people with moral compasses who treated others with respect and courtesy. Even the new Captain Christopher Pike on STRANGE NEW WORLDS is a kind and decent guy, very easy to get along with.
And then there’s Shaw.
Each time I see him, he’s more of a sanctimonious schmuck than the previous episode. And yet, I love it…and I love HIM! I love to watch Shaw take down our heroes a peg or three. The following scene was, in my humble opinion, brilliant…
Now, we pretty much know that Picard and Riker will get out of trouble in the end. But all too often in Star Trek, the main characters either get framed for a crime or simply piss off someone and, by the end of the episode, their bravery and/or nobility in helping save the day makes everything all right with that person and turns their anger or resentment into forgiveness and admiration. We’ve seen it hundreds of times, and indeed, it would have been totally understandable here, as well. After all, Picard and Riker (and Seven) successfully got the Titan-A and her crew out of danger and helped find and stop a Changeling saboteur among the crew. Shaw should be thankful, right?
Of course, Picard and Riker (and Seven) pretty much got them all into that mess to begin with! And so Shaw’s not-so-subtle smugness and anticipatory glee to watch Picard and Riker get their comeuppance is equally understandable. So even though the expected response from Shaw (in the great Star Trek tradition) would have been to let bygones be bygones, instead we see Shaw being a totally arrogant prick…yet again. And he’s not entirely wrong, as Picard and Riker did try to pull a fast one on him to get Shaw to take them to the edge of Federation space in the first episode.
On the other hand, at the very end of this episode, we finally see Liam Shaw the captain take command and show us why he’s in the center seat. I am 100% on board for STAR TREK: SHAW…aren’t you?
JACK, GET BACK…COME ON BEFORE WE CRACK!
Actually, it’s Jack Crusher, not us viewers, whom I’m worried will crack soon. I mean, that boy ain’t right!
There’s still not much to say about Jack yet, as his story and backstory are still mostly a mystery. And that’s fine. A little mystery keeps us interested and watching…especially when that mystery is why Wesley’s little half-brother seems to be a combination of Jason Bourne, Batman, and The Terminator with violent homicidal hallucinations. I hope the ultimate explanation of this ticking time-bomb isn’t too far fetched, but thus far, this season isn’t letting me down…so I’m willing to trust them for another five episodes.
SO WHAT WAS THERE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT?
Vulcan gangsters??? Seriously??? Who thought that was a good idea? I mean, when I first saw those pointed ears, I thought: Romulans. That would have worked. Orions? Totally acceptable. An Andorian, Trill, or even a Betazoid. That would have been absolutely fine. But a Vulcan??? Vulcans are NOT gangsters!
Then Krinn explains: “There could be no utopia without crime. Ergo, an organized criminal enterprise is logical.” REALLY? You expect us to buy that felgercarb? The literal definition of “utopia” is a perfect society! Crime is NOT perfection. Indeed, it is very much the opposite.
Of course, we could ask: is the world of the United Federation of Planets really utopia, as Gene Roddenberry postulated all those decades ago? Even Star Trek itself argued against that, with criminals like Harry Mudd, con-men like Cyrano Jones, inmates at rehabilitation colonies like Tantalus V and Elba II, and butchers like Kodos the Executioner. Gene’s future, in fact, WASN’T a perfect utopia. Orion women were slaves in the very first Star Trek pilot. Star Trek III showed us the seedier side of smuggling within the Federation. TNG and DS9 showed us places in the quadrant where there totally was crime…even on DS9 itself! So if the future really is a utopia-with-crime, then maybe that Vulcan gangster on M’Talas Prime is right after all.
But he’s still a Vulcan, dammit! And Vulcans aren’t criminals and gangsters!! It’s not frickin’ logical!
Or is it…?
This was the point where I was about to complain. I even had a few paragraphs of the blog written in my head. But then I watched the episode again (I’m doing that a LOT this season!). And when Krinn explains that he grew up scavenging the streets of District 7 of M’Talas Prime with Sneed as a “brother,” I thought about theft as a means of survival—especially theft from those who would survive despite the loss of some wealth. Hmmm. I suppose that might seem like a logical solution. After all, Spock helped Kirk steal clothes in “The City on the Edge of Forever.”
But a Vulcan gangster? It seemed so unprecedented! If only there had been at least one other Vulcan in Star Trek history who had committed some kind of heinous crime. Then I could maybe accept a Vulcan gangster.
Then I remembered.
In the seventh season DS9 episode “Field of Fire,” Ezri Dax (with the help of her sixth host, the unstable murderer Joran) determined the identity of a serial killer on the station. And that killer was—wait for it—a Vulcan! And apparently, that Vulcan had mental trauma from an attack on the U.S.S. Grissom where all but five of his crew mates were killed by the Jem’Hadar. Well, if one Vulcan can go through hard enough times to justify criminal behavior, then perhaps I could accept a Vulcan gangster unable to escape a hard life a crime-ridden planet.
And there you have it…one almost-complaint taken care of…along with a blog marking the half-way point of this amazing and engaging Star Trek journey. We’re getting a real treat here, folks. I only wish it could last more than just five more episodes.
if showrunner JOSHUA IRWIN and his team from THE AVALON UNIVERSE can shoot three different and highly complex fan films simultaneously, then I can definitely do a blog that covers two things at the same time, right?
Those two things are 1) the release late last year of a new Avalon Universe fan film THE TRUTH WITHIN, starring CHUCK MERÉ as Captain Lance Ramirez and VANCE MAJOR as Engineer Erick Minard, and 2) Team Avalon’s current efforts to wrap up their fan series by tackling not one, not two, but THREE ambitious fan films all at once!
First, let me show you their latest fan film…
For those unfamiliar with the Avalon Universe, ChuckMeré joined the cast for their second episode, AVALON LOST, which also marked the departure of series lead TYLER DUNIVAN. Chuck stayed for two additional episodes, DEMONS and AIR AND DARKNESS, before departing the series along with co-star VICTORIA FOX. Tyler Dunivan returned to the series shortly thereafter with the episode COSMIC STREAM.
Meanwhile, Vance Major is a bit of a legend of Star Trek fan films, having written, produced,edited, directed, and/or starred in a total of 146(!!!) Star Trek fan films featuring his character of Erick Minard and the U.S.S. Constar. Many of his fan films feature interstellar “Facetime calls” between two or more characters, which are pretty easy to shoot (just record your lines into your computer or camera phone at home!). And indeed, The Truth Within looks more like a Minard/CONSTAR CHRONICLES fan film than a typical Avalon production.
Lots of questions abound, like why that simplified format, and does this mean that Chuck Meré is returning to Avalon or just making a cameo appearance? I ask both of those questions during this blog’s video interview below.
The second thing we chat about is something that I personally find even more intriguing. As some Avalon fans know (and are a little saddened by), the series will soon be coming to an end. The Truth Within marks the eleventh Avalon fan film (watch them all on this playlist), and only three more episodes remain: KNIGHTS OF THE VOID, CRISIS ON INFINITE EXCALBURS, and THE ONCE AND FUTURE CAPTAIN. (Dontcha just love the Arthurian titles?)
And these aren’t “little” episodes!
Knights is full of action and adventure. Crisis is a huge undertaking crossing realities with the same actors playing multiple characters from different universes and sci-fi franchises. (And thanks to Josh for letting me add a couple of fun characters to the script, including a “Space Elvis” tribute to STAR TREK: NEW VOYAGES‘s show-runner JAMES CAWLEY. You’re all going to love this character!) And Once and Future Captain is a gripping and poignant series finale with a huge cast.
But rather than shooting these three films one at a time, Josh has decided to produce them all simultaneously. And we’re not talking about taking a long weekend to work on the first film Friday, the second on Saturday, and the third on Sunday. No, sir!
I’m often intrigued by the complaints I read about this season of STAR TREK: PICARD…not because I agree with them but because I find it interesting (and sometimes surprising) to discover what people aren’t liking.
This time, two of the biggest complaints I’ve seen online (other than the ubiquitous “It’s too dark!”—which, apparently, is a problem with the streaming service that is being worked on at the source) was that this episode didn’t show any of the Worf and Raffi storyline and also that it was too slow at the beginning.
Not cutting away to the Worf/Raffi B-story was more of a feature than a bug. This episode was a “sinking sub” tale, purposefully designed to be self-contained in order for the characters to face their imminent deaths and inner demons knowing that help would no be coming. “The episode “No Win Scenario” was a crucible of concentrated claustrophobia purposefully plotted to increase tension and suspense. Cutting away to another storyline would have given viewers “relief” from that intense isolation and, in fact, worked against the impact of the focused drama.
As for “slowness,” I should point out that three of the most beloved episodes of The Next Generation—“The Inner Light,” The Measure of a Man,” and “Tapestry“—had little-to-no action. Instead, they gave us compelling character development stories that allowed fans a chance to get to know our heroes a little better. And indeed, the fourth episode of Picard‘s third season, “No Win Scenario” (needs a hyphen!) gave us that same kind of character development.
As I mentioned in my editorial review blog from three weeks ago, Star Trek isn’t just about boldly going but also about WHO is boldly going. If we don’t care about the characters we’re watching, it doesn’t much matter how good the story might be. That’s one of the reasons I don’t particularly love STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. But I am loving ever character on this latest season of Picard.
Of course, there’s no official instruction manual telling writers how to successfully to create compelling characters—and CBS Studios has admittedly been hit-and-miss with their various Star Trek series. But one primary ingredient in character development is, y’know, DEVELOPMENT…taking someone from one place to another place (hopefully a better place) and letting viewers watch and participate in the journey along with these characters. And to do this most effectively, a writer must put characters together to play off of, influence, and learn from each other.
And in that, “No Win Scenario” triumphed mightily! Let’s take a closer look at the character pairings that paid off most satisfyingly this episode…
Perhaps you can call SAMUEL COCKINGS “the hardest working person in Star Trek fan films.” I mean, sure, there’s a lot of fan filmmakers who work REALLY hard on these time-consuming projects, but even if there’s someone else out there who’s putting in more hours than Sam, the race is at least gonna be close!
The final two fan films in the above list were written and produced in a mock documentary (“mockumentary”) format much like PRELUDE TO AXANAR and The Romulan War, where a major event is described through an interview with someone who witnessed it.
And now there is a third mockumentary in the mix, this one titled THIS SIDE OF MORALITY, and it’s full of firsts for Mr. Cockings…and indeed, for TWO Mr. Cockings! I say “two” because Sam’s father, STEVEN COCKINGS, stars in the film.
This is not the first time Steven has appeared in one of Sam’s productions. In fact, he’s been in several of his son’s films, including the aforelisted A Long Way from Home, Sam’s epic TEMPORAL ANOMALY, and Sam’s recent Stargate Universe film NEW MISSION. Steven has also appeared in cameos in a surprising number of other Star Trek fan films that includes The Romulan War, Part I as well as STAR TREK: FIRST FRONTIER and YORKTOWN: A TIME TO HEAL.
With so many previous appearances, this latest release marked the first time that Sam gave his dad a leading role! And Steven did a FANtastic job. It was also the first time that Sam used digital CGI recreations of major Star Trek characters and the first time a Trek Short has ventured into the 23rd century, as Sam’s previous short offerings were all 24th and 25th century Star Trek. Sam also included a few other digital “tricks” which we’ll discuss shortly.
But first, let’s take a look at This Side of Morality…
And now, appearing for the umpteenth time in an interview on Fan Film Factor, the one-and-only Samuel Cockings…
Before I begin the blog, here’s a joke: Why are the scenes in season three of STAR TREK: PICARD so dark?
Because there are four lights!
Okay, if you’re one of those fans who’s saying that season three of Picard is some of the best Star Trek presentations in decades—if not ever!—and that you can’t believe that anyone is still refusing to watch the show at this point, then to you, I can only say one thing…
You’re 100% right!!
The third episode of this staggeringly superb season was all but flawless. I have nothing to complain about (other than the dark lighting, which, I will admit, is beginning to bother me just a bit). But aside from that, this show is firing on all thrusters.
So I’ve decided to write about the AWESOME. The episode was titled “Seventeen Seconds,” a reference to the time it took Riker to ride the turbolift from the bridge down to sickbay when Deanna was giving birth to their son Thaddeus and there were nearly fatal complications. For this blog, I am going to call out seventeen “moments” from this episode that I thought were either awesome or at least significant and compelling. Note that these are moments, not full scenes…
This is going to be a different kind of blog, and admittedly a wee bit self-indulgent. If you just come for the fan films and streaming Trek reviews, feel free to skip this blog…although a few fan films have, in fact, been filmed at the iconic VASQUEZ ROCKS—a frequent outdoor shooting location for numerous Star Trek episodes and movies.
Some of you might know that I’m a bit of a photography buff. In the springtime here in southern California, I’ll often drive hundreds of miles to the middle of nowhere to spend my day capturing amazing wildflower vistas on film, leaving home before dawn and returning long after dark. They say that one of the secrets of great nature photography is being in the right place at the right time. And if you’re not in the right place, the timing won’t matter.
That said, you may have seen on the news that the weather here in the Los Angeles area has been a bit ridiculous lately—and I don’t want to make light of it. People living in the mountain communities north of San Bernardino are literally trapped in their homes under 10-15 FEET of snow, with local stores and gas stations empty and closed because delivery trucks can’t make the trip up the winding roads to towns like Running Springs and Big Bear. A state of emergency has been declared, and the national guard has been called in to help.
On the other hand, this much snow in southern California is a once-in-a-generation rarity, and while I literally can’t do anything to help those poor people living above 6,000 feet elevation (I can’t even get up there under current road conditions), I nevertheless wanted to record this event on film in some way—not the emergency, per se, but the beauty and rarity.
A few days ago, a friend e-mailed the chat list of a local Star Trek fan club that I belong to. The group is planning a trip to Vasquez Rocks on Saturday day (sadly, I’ll be in San Diego that day at a robotics tournament for my son and won’t be able to join them), and this member reported that there was snow in the adjacent town of Agua Dulce, and the park might be closed on Sunday.
I imagined those amazing diagonal rocks covered in the white stuff and decided I had to go see for myself1 Of course, this would need to happen between the time I drop off Jayden at school at 8:15am and pick him up at 3:15pm. But since the park is only a hour’s drive away (mostly on freeways), that seemed doable.
The first clear day without rain or heavy wind was Thursday, and so I called up my buddy (and associate producer of my fan film INTERLUDE) David to see if he wanted to play hooky with me, and away we went.
MATTHEW BLACKBURN from Southern California has released six Star Trek fan films in total, although there were seven years between his first production, STAR TREK: SURVIVOR, and his second offering, SURVIVORS. But since then, he’s released five completed fan films in a little over five and a half years, each one EXACTLY fifteen minutes long (take that, Star Trek fan film guidelines!). It takes a lot of editing and discipline to get even one fan film to exactly that time limit, but Matt’s got it down to a science…or maybe an art form!
What I find so intriguing about Matthew’s releases is how much he manages to do with very, very little. His films are cinematic in scope with beautiful locations that utilize the scenic offerings of diverse terrain in the Mojave Desert and surrounding environs. Matthew’s films have also improved consistently, and you can check his subsequent three releases (along with accompanying interviews) on the following blog pages:
Yeah, lots of titles that start with “S” and “L.” And that brings us to Matt’s latest production, which starts with the letter “U” but returns to the survivor theme: ULTIMATE SURVIVAL. And you can check it out below…
Released this past December, this most recent installment again does a lot with only a little…featuring a mix of interior scenes and exterior on-location sequences, some minimal ship VFX and CGI dinosaurs, and a slightly larger cast than usual for a Matthew Blackburn film.
And speaking of Matthew, since it’s been a year since I last interviewed him, it felt like I was reuniting with an old friend as I asked Matthew about his latest release, Ultimate Survival…
One of the biggest challenges in setting up the final season of STAR TREK: PICARD is what to do about all the characters! You’ve obviously got seven very well-known and loved officers from TNG who each need a chance to shine. Plus you’ve got a few characters remaining from the first two seasons of Picard who need decent screen time or else you lose any and all connection to what was established over the past twenty episodes. (And yeah, I know that some of you are saying, “Maybe losing all connection to the previous two seasons isn’t such a bad thing!” And to you I say: “Quiet, I’m trying to write a blog here!”)
And of course, you also need to introduce compelling NEW characters, including a decent villain, in order to keep things fresh and, er, engaging. Oh, and you only have ten episodes to do it!
Now, keep in mind, those main seven characters need for this to be their big “send-off,” something they weren’t really given in the final TNG feature film Star Trek: Nemesis. So that’s going to eat up a lot of screen time.
Also, the season needs to make the new characters and returning Picard characters interesting. Otherwise, we’re simply waiting for the “big seven” to have their scenes and everything else is mostly boring and wasted time and money. So, yes, those new characters must intrigue us and leave us wanting more of their stories…especially if this season spawns a sequel series (something, at this point, that I would wholeheartedly endorse!).
And of course, the villain is oh-so-important. But making a villain interesting, compelling, and intimidating is no easy task! Compare a Khan or a Chang to a Ru’afo or a Shinzon. No contest. So this is where writing, casting, directing, and acting can all come together to either be magic or tragic, perfection or rejection. And as far as this season of Picard is concerned, I believe the creators and their cast members have captured lightning in a bottle—or maybe anti-matter in a magnetic containment chamber.
Let’s take a look at all of these characters, new and old, who have graced our TV or computer screens for these past two weeks…