Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Important Difference Between "Haven" and Heaven

The Good: Moments of humor, Acting, Character Development
The Bad: Plot, Predictability
The Basics: While it fails often in the clunky dramatic moments, the humor and character development in "Haven" make it worth viewing.

Taking a break from having so much attention on Captain Picard and Tasha Yar, who pretty well dominate the first three episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation, comes "Haven." "Haven" was produced rather early (as the fourth episode), but aired significantly later, as observed by the somewhat erratic order the DVDs are in. Out of order, the episode seems especially weak for such details as Deanna Troi referring to Commander Riker as "Bill" (later she adopted the nickname "Will," like everyone else on the Enterprise). "Haven" is pretty much the classic "a-plot/b-plot" storyline and while the plot is a bit dull, pointless, and predictable, it still delivers one of the first Star Trek The Next Generation episodes worth watching.

While in orbit around the planet Haven (not, it's important to notice, Heaven), Counselor Troi receives word that the arranged marriage that was planned for her as a child has come time to occur. Not at all excited, Troi reluctantly meets Wyatt, her fiance, who goes a bit of a ways to alleviating her fears about the experience. Then, Troi's mother, Lwaxana, appears and Troi's life is made far more complicated. Add to that that a plague ship from a race thought long dead appears in orbit around Haven and threatens the population of the peaceful planet with its very presence. Troi's life, complicated by her mother, is also plagued by her unresolved feelings for Commander Riker, who is forced to deal with those feelings himself. As the marriage approaches, the Enterprise seeks a peaceful solution for the victims of the plague ship, which conveniently involves Wyatt.

And you know it's first season Star Trek The Next Generation" by the fact that the tractor beam is used on the plague ship as opposed to firing warning shots or such. The first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is largely an odyssey of philosopher kings. Here we see a planet that has no defense systems and that's a worthwhile concept and the menace of a ship carrying a disease is a very real threat. It's a pretty tidy episode and there's not a lot to recommend it, except . . .

. . . Well, it's funny. And the humor stands up over repeated viewings. The interactions between Lwaxana and Wyatt's parents are downright funny and easily outshine the dramatic moments. Lwaxana is the embodiment of the free spirit (though ironically, she clings to many of the conservative traditions of her planet, which is very progressive) while Wyatt's mother is especially conservative. So, for example, the dinner scene where both families are interacting, becomes a humorous conflict between conservative and liberal philosophies and the show pulls it off fairly well.

Add to that that the characters are good. Troi faces - what she believes - is a real dilemma and she handles it with realism, like a person, instead of a character on a television show. So while we, the viewer, have a pretty good idea that Troi will be back next week not married to Wyatt, Troi doesn't appear to. In fact, as Troi deals with the ramifications of leaving the Enterprise, she makes some of the compelling arguments (outside "our parents arranged it") for leaving the ship, which lends some credibility to the character journey. As well, Troi adapts to the resolution of the episode with some realism and the viewer has the impression the character is actually feeling something.

Part of that credit deserves to go to Marina Sirtis, who plays Troi. She breathes life into an otherwise absurd part in the first opportunity she has had to do something other than declare what others are feeling. It's a welcome change. Sirtis plays Deanna Troi as realistically conflicted and there are moments she changes her whole body language to sell the transformations and dilemmas her character is going through. As well, she wonderfully expresses herself without speaking when Troi sees her mother. I've never seen an actress who can roll their eyes with their body language like Sirtis can.

Other acting kudos must go to Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who plays Lwaxana Troi. She plays her with such precision and annoyance that it's easy to see why Troi gets so upset with her. Majel is kooky as Lwaxana and her over-the-top portrayal makes the character. In short, Roddenberry gives the strong sense that Lwaxana has a history long before this episode. We get the impression, from her performance, that Lwaxana has been elsewhere before, annoying other people. She conveys this with the ease with which the character comes to her. Her performance is dramatically different from her serious role of Number One in the pilot episode of Star Trek ("The Cage") and very different from her serious role on Babylon 5.

The nice thing is that this is the first time the relationship that Troi and Riker had before the series began is explored. Faced with Wyatt, Riker must suddenly either make his move or prepare to lose Troi. It's nice to see the backstory explored. Part of what makes this episode worth seeing is that it moves the Riker-Troi backstory from something that is hinted at to something that becomes actionable, something to be explored in the future.

In all, "Haven" is a usually fun episode that is very accessible to anyone, as opposed to fans of Star Trek The Next Generation. And hey, if your ex-partner has an overbearing mother, this is a good episode to send them on their next birthday.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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