Monday, October 20, 2014

Character Insight No. 117: Corporal R. Ryan

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 Corporal R. Ryan, a recurring character appearing on Enterprise.
 Jason Collins, Countdown
("Why is it the enlisted never look too happy to be around?") 

Ryan is one of the enlisted crewmembers who is part of the MACO force assigned to Enterprise during the Delphic Expanse mission. As a result, he shows up on many critical away missions and as a guard on multiple episodes, although his role is nearly always a background one.

The MACO, or Military Assault Command Operations, had access to weapons three or more years advanced than the Enterprise crew, keeping them on the cutting edge for future combat. Thus, Ryan is a sniper who has access to the newest toys, including better scopes and particle rifles. He uses this sniper rifle to shoot a mine foreman on a planet where Captain Archer needs to be rescued. That mission succeeds, as do many when this character contributes to them. It is interesting that this shooting role was written for the leader of the MACO's Major Hayes, but this was reconfigured during filming to give Ryan the spotlight in his first of a dozen appearances over 4 seasons.

His gunmanship comes in handy when Captain Archer needs to retake the ship. This includes kicking the Triannons off the Enterprise after they had taken over, and defending the Enterprise from a Sphere Builders invasion while the bridge crew is away on mission. Sometimes, he is just a simple security guard, holding unwanted visitors out of meetings and carting people like Arik Soong and Malcolm Reed to and from the brig. 

Having MACOs on board is a constant reminder that space exploration requires a strong military hand in the early days of Starfleet. Especially when conflicts arise like with the Xindi, these guys are the little known backbone that keeps the ship out of harm's way.

Ryan is one of the few recurring characters who makes more than 10 appearances while being played by two different actors. Both actors who played him are regular background actors, Jason Collins and Aaron White. Collins is more of a television actor, but he has appeared in the movies The Frozen Ground, National Treasure Book of Secrets, and Treevenge. Yes, TREEVENGE. White has not acted as much, but he did appear on the TV show 24 as well as in the recent movie Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie. This actor swapping can be a bit confusing when characters are a bit faceless without much personality, but it is a necessary evil of weekly episodic television sometimes for non-regular characters (who may have other acting gig or jobs).

We've covered similar small characters on this segment before like Engineer Alex, and guys like Corporal Ryan are good consistent background scenery for the most part. It would be nice to see some of these familiar faces develop more personality and character, like in the TNG episode lower decks, but it's hard enough to spread out sufficient time to an ensemble major crew let alone minor crew members. I guess that's what we have The Redshirt Diaries web show for!

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Character Insight No. 116: Michael Jonas

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 Michael Jonas, a recurring character on Voyager who plays a key role in the first long storyline of Voyager, the Seska storyline.
 Michael jonas.jpg
("Put on your constipated serious face...good, good") 

Jonas was one of the Maquis fighters who served aboard the Val Jean under Chakotay's command until their crew became stranded with Voyager in the Delta Quadrant. He, like B'Elanna Torres, serves as an engineer after joining the ship. He turns out to be one of the harder crew members to bring over to the Starfleet side, and his desire to look out for himself almost ends up in disastrous consequences for the entire Voyager crew.

Jonas was close friends with another former Maquis Kurt Bendera, who died at the hands of the Kazon. Bendera's death was the straw that broke the camel's back in the attempt to get Jonas to fully integrate into Starfleet. Jonas blames Captain Janeway's policies for Kurt's death, which leads him to secretly open communications with Seska to negotiate takeover of the Voyager by the Kazon.

Jonas transmits details of Voyager's new transwarp technology after Tom Paris breaks the Warp 10 barrier. Tuvok detects these transmissions, which were ingeniously sent in the waste energy emitted from the propulsion systems and the power grid. But that doesn't fool him, so he and Tom Paris set forth on a secret agent plan to flush out the traitor and figure out who has turned against the Voyager. 

Quote: (from Investigations)

When Jonas sabotages the magnetic constrictors of the USS Technobabble for Seska, Paris and Tuvok put a plan in place to make it seem like Paris is also defecting from the crew. Seska takes the bait, pulling in Paris, who then turns on her and the Kazon to determine that Jonas is the traitor. Meanwhile, Neelix also comes to the same conclusion in his own investigations aboard Voyager and he ends up trapped in a struggle with Jonas in main engineering. Neelix wins the day though, as Jonas ends up falling into a plasma fire near the warp core, a fitting way for a traitor to go out.

Jonas is a necessary evil character to fill a gap early in the show, although it is a bit lazy to have Tuvok always be ready to foil the rogue Maquis plans. Seska and the Kazon are the first great villains in the Delta Quadrant, and Jonas holds a special memorable role in this storyline, even as a small bit character. That's more than can be said for many recurring characters. 

Raphael Sbarge played Jonas, and his acting career began as a little kid on Sesame Street when that show was brand new. He has also played in various movies like Independence Day and Pearl Harbor, and more recently in TV series like Once Upon A Time. He's also a prolific video game voice actor, appearing in Mass Effect and Everquest, among others.

Until next time, live long and prosper...

Monday, October 6, 2014

Character Insight No. 115: Ro Laren

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 Ro Laren, a recurring character on TNG who almost became a major character on DS9.
 Ro Laren.jpg
("Nose ridges and earrings, yes indeed, it's a TNG era alien via forehead of the week") 

Ro grew up during the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, which means she spent most of her childhood in internment and refugeee camps. Her most traumatic moment was being forced to watch Cardassians question and torture her father to death, an incident that taught her not even her father could protect her. She felt ashamed to be a Bajoran in view of this weakness, and she ran away from her culture for a time before coming back to embrace it, once she was done grieving her father.

Ro decided to serve in Starfleet, and despite good accolades at the Academy, her first assignment results in a court martial. Her decision to disobey orders on an away mission led to the deaths of 8 crew mates while serving on the USS Wellington. Thus, when she comes aboard the Enterprise to help with a Bajoran terrorist capture mission, she is only at the rank of ensign and has been just released from a prison sentence. Needless to say, Captain Picard and Commander Riker don't trust her initially.

However, Ro quickly showed her potential guiding the Enterprise through this terrorist capture mission. Captain Picard decides he cannot let this promising young officer go, so she appears in several other episodes in the final three seasons of TNG. The most notable of these is The Next Phase, an episode where Ro and Geordi La Forge get sent out of phase by new Romulan cloaking technology and they have to find a way to inform the rest of the crew that they are not dead and also about the Romulan threat.

Quote: Ro Laren: I was raised with Bajoran beliefs. And I even followed some of the practices. But I never really believed in a life after death. And then suddenly I was dead... and there was this other life. And that made me feel like I'd been pretty arrogant, to discount everything I'd been taught, you know? Now I don't know what to believe.
Lt. Commander Geordi La Forge: Hmm... Well, maybe we should develop our own interphase device. If it can teach Ro Laren humility, it can do anything.

Ro is later assigned to infiltrate the Maquis. In the process of gaining the trust of the Maquis, she again found her loyalties torn because her heritage led her to be sympathetic to the Maquis cause, which is opposed by the Cardassians. She ends up defecting from the Enterprise, with an apology to Picard for betraying his trust.

Quote: Ro Laren: Could you tell Captain Picard something for me?
Commander William T. Riker: Of course, what is it?
Ro Laren: Tell him I'm sorry.

Ro Laren is a good late-season character because she was designed as a sharp-edged character to contrast from the well-known main characters. Her personal backstory lends itself to good stories about her path to redemption and acceptance of her cultural heritage, even when it doesn't align with her Starfleet mentors.

It is also interesting that the character of Ro Laren was slated to be a main character on DS9, but this role was turned down by actress Michelle Forbes. While it would have been fun to see another character from TNG develop more like Miles O'Brien did, we still received a compelling alternate character when Kira Nerys was plugged into the role Ro Laren was to be in.

Michelle Forbes played Ro, and she has had recent roles on television shows like 24, True Blood, and Battlestar Galactica. She can also be seen in the upcoming Hunger Games movie, The Mockingjay Part 1.

Until next time, live long and prosper...