Monday, February 14, 2011

Come Back From War, My Son, Or Don't Bother: "The Hunted" Is A Compelling Episode Of Star Trek The Next Generation!

The Good: Well paced, good acting, interesting character, decent plot
The Bad: Thematically obvious and chase mentality drawn out
The Basics: In "The Hunted," a military prisoner becomes the forum for reforming a society's peacetime soldier problem.

Star Trek The Next Generation is known for taking on compelling contemporary issues and placing them in the futuristic setting disguised as other people's problems in order to get conversation begun on vital issues of the day. "The Hunted," then, is truly about the reaction soldiers who went off to Vietnam received once they returned home.

"The Hunted" tells the story of escaped prisoner Roga Danar, a fugitive from a world that is applying for membership into the Federation. Danar leads the Enterprise on a chase through the system, jettisoning much of his ship and escape pod until Data finally anticipates his next move and captures him. Once in the brig, Danar reluctantly admits his place in the society of the applicant planet; Danar was one of many individuals who enlisted to fight for their planet during a recent war. Conditioned to be a perfect soldier, Danar is now prevented from returning home for fear that the soldier instincts might erupt in less than military circumstances. Imprisoned against his will on the military jail on the moon, Danar is determined to escape.

This episode meets with a few rather unique problems. First, the pacing is fine. That is to say that it moves along with a reasonable sense that what is happening is happening in an appropriate time. However, the entire first act is a chase sequence and it seems, upon repeated viewings, to be stretched out. In short, a significant chunk of the episode is prolonged and it ends up feeling prolonged later on. Once one knows that the point of the episode is to make a statement about the way military volunteers are treated, the elongated chase sequence seems . . . well, long.

Add to that that this is not the most cleverly concealed current issue plot. Vietnam is never mentioned by name, yet the moralistic ramblings of Data and Troi are meant to spark some thought on the part of the viewer in the U.S. This is very heavy-handed in the way the episode illustrates and states the themes that the society that makes the perfect soldiers lives with the consequences of that when peace finally erupts.

This is not to say that "The Hunted" is not a worthwhile episode. It is. In fact, it ends up doing what it needs to do quite well. The illustrations of these important concepts are well-executed and cleverly devised to make the argument in an incredibly compelling and human way.

Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner are given the chance to act as Troi and Data, who spend the most time with Roga Danar. They have scenes with the fugitive that humanize him and those scenes work mostly because Sirtis and Spiner are doing some intuitive acting, anticipating and delaying as appropriate in their reactions. Also giving a great performance is James Cromwell, a supporting character. Cromwell plays Nayrok, the Angosian Minister and while he is a supporting role, he brings distinction to it.

Of course, the scene stealer is Jeff McCarthy as Roga. He makes Danar's lines into something vibrant and humanistic when the words on the page are stale and canned. He does this by playing the fugitive with a wonderful mix of helplessness and strength. Roga is not intrinsically violent and McCarthy fleshes him out with realism instead of obvious "I'm a prisoner, but a human, too" mentality.

"The Hunted" is remarkably accessible to the non-Trek fan. It has all of the details about Angosia in the actual episode and it makes minimal allusions to the rest of the Star Trek universe. Instead, it offers a tight, chase/political morality episode that will be enjoyable to anyone who likes an intelligent suspense flick.

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


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page for an organized listing!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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