Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Character Insight No. 110: The Borg Queen

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight, coming to you this week from the beach in North Carolina!  While cooling off my sunburn, let's take a look at the next villain on our countdown, a lady who has a complexion even paler than my own. That's The Borg Queen from Star Trek First Contact, who comes in at number 2 on our best Trek movie villains countdown. 
("Data, don't trust that face!") 

The Borg Queen represents a central nexus or representative member of the Borg Collective, introduced for the first time during the conflict where the Borg try to travel back in time to stop Zephram Cochrane's first warp flight for the human race, which eventually led to the formation of the Federation. 

In order to assimilate the Enterprise and finish her plot, the Borg Queen tempts Data with the possibility of becoming partly human, grafting a real human forearm onto his body. For most of the movie, it appears angry Picard with a gun and his crew will lose this conflict at the hands of Data. But Data proves to be loyal to his longtime Enterprise crew in the end, as he causes the torpedoes aimed at the Phoenix warp-capable starship to miss right before destroying the Queen's organic parts with warp core plasma coolant. 

Quote: "Resistance is Futile" (Data)

Her role is relatively controversial because the Borg were previously presented as a large collective hivemind with no leaders, and indeed they had to assimilate Captain Picard to serve as a spokesman during one of the initial conflicts with the Enterprise. But the movie writers struggled without a lead villain, so this queen became a new facet of the Borg Collective. When asked by Data for an explanation of how the queen relationship works, the response adds little clarity:

Quote: "bring order to chaos..."

The concept of the Borg Queen was further developed in the Voyager series and the TNG books. Essentially, the Borg hive mind operates with better decision-making efficiency when a queen is active, but the collective still functions without the queen when one is lost. This explanation kind of undermines the entire point of stopping the Queen in First Contact, but it at least harmonizes better with how the Borg were shown earlier in TNG. 

The quality of a villain can often be evaluated based on how many different stories can be told using the villain, and the top 5 of this countdown is mostly characters that show up in both TV episodes as well as movies. The Borg Queen just misses the top spot because while she is a truly memorable and evil representation of the greatest TNG villain race, the lack of explanation for her sudden appearance contrary to what we knew about the Borg before First Contact is a lazy writing choice taking slightly away from this villain. Still, the Borg and its Queen stand beside Q as the quintessential antagonists for Picard's crew and this #2 ranking reflects that.

Alice Krige played the Borg Queen in the movie, and she reprised the role one of the times the character appears in Voyager. She can recently be seen Thor: The Dark World and also in the new television series Tyrant.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, August 18, 2014

Character Insight No. 109: General Chang

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile General Chang from Star Trek VI, who comes in at number 3 on our best Trek movie villains countdown. 
 Chang (General).jpg
("One distinctive bald Klingon, right there") 

General Chang was chief of staff to Chancellor Gorkon, who led the Klingon High Council. Chang earned the sobriquet "the Merciless" after commanding many punitive attacks on Klingon rebels and others who dared oppose the Klingon empire. It was rumored that Chang lost his left eye in one of these battles, leading to his distinctive eye patch. 

But what makes Chang even more memorable is his strong fondness for Shakespeare, quoting the bard at every possible opportunity. 

Quote: "You do prefer it this way, don't you, as it was meant to be? No peace in our time. "Once more unto the breach, dear friends."

Chang leads the plot to try and sabotage the peace talks between the Federation and the Klingons, joined of course by Admiral Cartwright and Lietenant Valeris, among others. He uses an experimental Klingon ship that can fire while cloaked to cast suspicion on Captain Kirk for the assassination of Gorkon, which he had Valeris perform. He then becomes a prosecutor against Kirk and Dr. McCoy in front of the Klingon courts, turning in a great legal entrapment of Kirk. 

Quote "Admiral Kirk was broken for taking matters into his own hands in defiance of regulations of the law. Do you deny being demoted for these charges? DON'T WAIT FOR THE TRANSLATION. Answer me now."

When Kirk and Bones are sentenced to life in prison on Rura Penthe, Chang again employs more bad guys led by Martia to try and get the Federation crewmates killed in an escape attempt. However, the escape works and Chang has to hunt down the Enterprise and do combat with it and Captain Sulu's Excelsior. 

General Chang: [over the public address speakers] "I am constant as the northern star."
Commander Leonard 'Bones' McCoy, M.D.: I'd give real money if he'd shut up.

Unfortunately for Chang, the Enterprise crew is smarter than the average bear, as Uhura and Spock develop a way to cause a photon torpedo to track the plasma trail of his cloaked ship. And thus, Chang and his devious plot exit stage left, allowing the historic peace to happen. 

Quote: ""Tickle us, do we not laugh? Prick us, do we not bleed? Wrong us, shall we not revenge?"

Actor Christopher Plummer requested that he receive less prominent head ridges and makeup because he thought the look was not perfected well in previous iterations. Between his small ridges, bald head, and eye patch, General Chang looks more like a human than a Klingon. That actually syncs up well with his love of Shakespeare, although it does not jive well with other Klingons at the time. 

Chang's role is a lot like the historical German figure Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, who conspired to kill Adolf Hitler to stop a World War (but was unsuccessful). The depth and uniqueness of this character, plus an outstanding acting performance by Plummer, pushes this baddie into the top echelon of this countdown. This is easily the best of the Klingon villains, and it would be wrong to have an iconic race much farther away from the top of this list. 

As previously mentioned, Christopher Plummer played Chang. His best role likely came in the animated movie Up, although he also has memorable performances in A Beautiful Mind and The Sound of Music. Plummer continues to act today, some 60 years after his debut in 1953.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Character Insight No. 108: John Harrison - Khan

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile John Harrison, AKA Khan from Star Trek Into Darkness, who comes in at number 4 on our best Trek movie villains countdown.
("John Harrison doesn't look so tough, but then...")

Although the merits of hiding Khan's identity before the movie released can be debated, it should come as no surprise that Khan came back as a villain in the Abrams reboot movies. After all, this won't be the last time this character shows up on this top villains countdown, and he is the quintessential antagonist for Captain Kirk and the Enterprise crew. 

Quote: "Captain, are you going to punch me again, over and over, until your arm weakens? Clearly you want to."

Khan is the most prominent of a group of genetically engineered human augments who were developed to improve the leadership of the human race. When these augments became world leaders and began warring with one another, the eugenics wars were started to depose them from power. A group of these augments led by Khan escaped this war by going on a sleeper ship and taking a 200 year journey away from Earth, leading to the initial encounter in TOS in the episode Space Seed. 

This version of Khan was awoken from cryogenic suspension to help Admiral Marcus build warships and weapons to prepare for war against the Klingons. Marcus blackmails Khan by threatening to kill the other cryogenically suspended crew members. But Khan eventually turns on Marcus and tries to kill him and most of the other Captains and First Officers of Starfleet ships stationed around Earth. 

Quote: "Intellect alone is useless in a fight, Mr. Spock. You, you can't even break a rule; how can you be expected to break bone?"

That leads Kirk to go track down Khan on Kronos and try to kill him, but he captures him instead, which leads to the revelation of Marcus's plans. Kirk and Khan then team up to take down Admiral Marcus and the warship Vengeance before Khan turns on Kirk and the Enterprise crew. Much like the first Khan movie, one crew member (this time Kirk) has to sacrifice himself to save the ship and another (this time Spock) has to go take down the bad guy. Khan's super duper blood saves the day for Captain Kirk though, in an ironic twist of fate different than the original timeline.

Although there's plenty to nitpick about retelling a Khan story, it was refreshing to see another great actor Benedict Cumberbatch play this role. Cumberbatch really sells the motivations of being protective of his family, his crew over all else. His character is nuanced and complex, making you feel OK to cheer him on alongside Kirk during the battle against the Vengeance, full well knowing he would eventually turn on the Enterprise crew too. Just listening to quotes from this movie make you realize what a brilliant casting decision this was, even if it was made simply because Robert Orci couldn't handle having someone of color or middle eastern descent be demonized in a movie. 

Quote: "My crew is my family, Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?"

Let's hope that if this series of movies or a television series continues, Khan somehow gets to play a role once again some day with more creative writing than what was shown in Into Darkness. This is like Thanos or Darth Vader, we just can't get enough of this superhuman antagonist. 

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Khan, and he is best known for playing Sherlock Holmes on the Sherlock series. He also shows up in the Hobbit trilogy and in last year's best picture 12 Years a Slave. 

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, August 4, 2014

Character Insight No. 107: M'Ress

This is the latest installment in a series of "Character Insight" articles regarding the rich history of characters in the Star Trek universe.  An audio version will appear on the This Week in Trek podcast, available for direct download here.


Welcome back to Character Insight!  This week, we profile M'Ress, a recurring character on The Animated Series. Not to be confused with our friend M'Ress/Renee, who sometimes suggests good characters for this segment.

("A character far better left to animation back then, but now...me-ow")

M'Ress has the honor of being the first Animated Series regular character to be profiled on this segment, and she stands out as one of the more memorable additions to the crew. Although a feline life-form would not have been easy to pull off in the original Star Trek, in animation this is precisely the type of different species that adds more diversity to the crew.

M'Ress was the relief communications officer, although she also served as a backup science officer when Spock was off the ship. She is basically a younger version of the talented main shift communications officer Uhura, having risen to the Lieutenant rank just two years after leaving the Academy.

Most of the appearances for M'Ress are typical communications officer material, although she serves as a key contributor on a couple of missions where regular duty officers were stranded or taken hostage off the Enterprise. Her laid back demeanor and distinctive purr in her voice makes her an interesting analogue for Uhura. 

M'Ress was known as a practical joker, which sometimes led to her getting into trouble with the crew. She also had a brief romantic fling with Montgomery Scott thanks to Mudd's love potion, but it didn't work out after the effects of the potion wore off. 

Quote of the Week: Scott : (that was a) "hangover to shame all previous hangovers,"
M'Ress: "Not so loud, you fool."
Scott: "Yeah, well, all of a sudden, I don't like you much, either."

According to her character biography, M'Ress is passionate about studying history and anthropology, and she also writes poetry and acts in plays performed onboard. A well rounded cat, to be sure. 

It would be interesting to see M'Ress perhaps become a real character in the Abrams reboot movies because filmmakers today have CGI abilities that can make such a character realistic and believable...just ask Guardians of the Galaxy. Although most of the Animated Series can be left in the dustbin of time, this character is long overdue for a reboot. If you can do it for Khan, you can do it for M'Ress!

M'Ress was voiced by Majel Barrett, who of course voiced the ship computer in most iterations of Star Trek as well as played as Christine Chapel and Lwaxana Troi. She became an actress thanks to a failing grade in contracts in her first year of law school, and we can all thank the hell that is law school for giving us such a great talent. 

Until next time, live long and prosper...