Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Unfortunate Necessary Evil Episode That Replays: "The Dauphin" Is All Right.

The Good: Good acting, Good character development
The Bad: Awkward special effects, Repetitive, Nature of episode
The Basics: A competent love story with Wesley Crusher, "The Dauphin" suffers for special effects and replayability.

If the video (or new DVD) of "The Dauphin" was to be true to itself, the video would replay itself five times after each viewing. Allow me to backtrack: back when the second season of Star Trek The Next Generation originally aired, there was a writer's strike midseason. "The Dauphin" had aired before the strike and while the Industry was frozen, reruns were played. "The Dauphin" became the most played episode of Star Trek The Next Generation that year. For a over a month, "The Dauphin" and "Elementary, Dear Data" were replayed. Over and over again. A month of this episode. So it's somewhat understandable that even now, years later, it's difficult to watch this episode given how many times, as a youth, I saw it.

"The Dauphin" is the somewhat necessary story of Wesley Crusher's first love. I mean, no one expected him to be a eunuch, right? So, when a visiting planetary ruler appears on the ship, Wesley is immediately smitten with her. It's a pretty convenient relationship in that regard; she's his age, she's been isolated from social contact and she digs guys with brains. Wesley and Salia begin a relationship, against the express wishes of Salia's guardian, Anya. Anya, it is soon revealed, has the ability to change her shape in order to protect her waifish charge. The episode continues as a pretty typical "love story of the week for an hour drama" episode. Which means, we know in the end Wesley and Salia part ways.

Oh, it's not like I just gave away the universe; I said she was a planetary ruler. Actually, Salia is on her way to take her assignment as a planetary ruler. But as a general rule, planetary rulers and ensigns (or Commanders, if we recall "Angel One") don't truly form long term relationships. In fact, Star Trek: The Next Generation was notoriously bad, even for episodic television, at creating relationships with the characters. Over the seven years of the series, Data and Picard emerge as the most emotionally connected characters (rewatch the series, including the movies and try to beat that concept down!). Romance does not last in this incarnation of Star Trek.

Okay then, why should you watch this episode? It's a pretty genuine portrayal of young love and it's a fun episode to watch when you want to be taken back to the excitement and naïveté of a first love. In fact, the writing on this episode is pretty sharp as far as catching concepts on romance and accepting young love for the potentials it actually has.

Even more than the rampant nostalgia and sentimentality of the episode, the actors are doing a good job on this one. Wil Wheaton delivers as Wesley Crusher here making it seem like he truly is clueless as to how women work and what they are. Whoopi Goldberg's cameo is refreshing and genuine and her delivery of her lines is expert, creating a sage in Guinan away from the comedian, Goldberg. In fact, one of the most delicious scenes of the season is a Guinan/Riker flirting scene in "The Dauphin."

But the real gem of the episode is Jamie Hubbard as Salia. Wheaton gives a performance that would not have been convincing had it not been for the brainy, simple beauty portrayed by Jamie Hubbard. The two work quite well together in this one. Wheaton and Hubbard have genuine on-screen chemistry and that goes a long way to making the viewer believe in the connection of their characters.

Outside of the acting, the character development is well done. Wesley Crusher matures a necessary step and it feels appropriate how this episode goes.

Unfortunately, midway through the episode, Wesley goes on a witless quest to understand what love is and in the process interviews everyone. Worf gives a bit that introduces us to Klingon love, but it's not as funny as it is as written. Especially when you've seen the episode five times (or more!).

As well, the special effects in this episode distract from the movement of the episode in their quality. Maybe the effects department was going on strike over their lack of computer special effects on this show (there's a morph here that was done as a make-up and lens effect and it's so dated now that it made me wish for the Star Trek 60s morph using fading), but despite the complicated nature of creating the effects in this episode, not a one stands up as realistic or, to beat a dead horse, special.

But, in the end, this is not an effects episode, it's a love story and it does what it needs to do on that front and it does it in a way that clearly delineates it from, say, a Riker love story. This one is accessible to all audiences and worth your time, just maybe not five times it.

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


For other Star Trek franchise reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2007, 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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