Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A Factor Of Perfection: "The Vengeance Factor" Is Almost There!

The Good: Excellent plot, Acting, Character development. Wonderful pacing, Good writing
The Bad: Heavy-handed on the moral end at times
The Basics: While negotiations progress between two very different groups, Dr. Crusher investigates a murder and Riker falls in love with a tragic figure.

Most people will say that the fourth season of Star Trek The Next Generation was its best season. That's fine. They might even be right. But the third season gives it a run for its money by having some perfect episodes of its own. Earlier in the season, the surprise of "The Survivors" (reviewed here!) caught most off guard, especially fans of the series who are now going back and evaluating the body of work Star Trek The Next Generation created. Only a few episodes after that amazing episode is another perfect episode, "The Vengeance Factor."

"The Vengeance Factor" introduces the Acamarians, a race split into two cultures, the autocratic people of the Acamar homeworld and the Gatherers, a society of pirates and rogues. The Enterprise attempts to recover some stolen property from a Gatherer raid on a Federation outpost and in the process ends up taking on the political leader of the Acamarians for a mission to reunite the two groups. Acamarian society was once plagued by clan warfare and among the leader's entourage is Yuta, a beautiful young woman who serves as the cook. Riker and Yuta begin a relationship when the Enterprise heads toward its rendezvous with the Gatherer leader. While Dr. Crusher investigates a death that occurred at the Gatherer encampment, she begins to learn what the viewer already knows: Yuta is a killer. And her next target . . . the Gatherer leader.

"The Vengeance Factor" is an episode that could have been one thing poorly, but instead becomes a different thing better. That is, it could easily have been a murder mystery with the question "Who killed the old Gatherer?" The question then would have been "Who cares?" Instead, the episode gives us the killer early on and the entertainment comes from watching Dr. Crusher piece together the leads as Riker falls in love with Yuta.

If you're a fan of my reviews (thank you!), you know I don't throw around 5 stars and I use the term "perfection" rather infrequently. "The Vengeance Factor" is a perfect hour of television in that it makes a compelling problem and frames it with interesting characters. The climactic scene is excruciating to watch and we feel for Riker as he is forced to endure what he must.

The episode would be nothing without Jonathan Frakes. Frakes plays Riker like a savior partner, wanting to see the potential in Yuta. Of course, we know better and therein lies the tragedy. "The Vengeance Factor" is a tautly written tragedy wherein Riker's faith is ultimately disproven, yet he still believes in Yuta's potential. Frakes adds a sense of physical performance to his character in this episode that he is not given the chance to frequently. Frakes stands with dignity and bearing when he has to make difficult decisions and following the climax of the episode, Frakes slouches in his remaining scenes. It's a compelling performance and one most fans of the series fail to truly look at.

Patrick Stewart gives a predictably decent performance as Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Here Picard revisits the first-season conceptualization of Picard as Philosopher King. Picard is dealing with a series of complex negotiations and Stewart plays the part well with very even modulations of his voice and a controlled with that contrasts well with the jocular nature of the Gatherers and the stiff bearing of the Acamarian leader Maruk. His performance keeps the other plot flowing well.

And it's refreshing to see Gates McFadden, Dr. Crusher, given a juicy part. McFadden plays Crusher as the consummate professional, working her way around all of the technobabble quite believably.

And the episode holds up over several viewings. In fact, the only difficult aspect of the show to stomach - occasionally - is the moralistic heavyhandedness. When the Acamarian Gatherer confronts Wesley on the bridge and later in Ten Forward and delivers a pretty standard "I'm a thief to survive" dialog, it's hard to not roll our eyes. But it develops the character.

In fact, by the end of "The Vengeance Factor," the Acamarians are one of the most defined societies Star Trek The Next Generation ever presented. It's a shame this is the only time they are shown.

The nice thing about the episode is that while it clearly develops both our heroic characters, most notably Riker, it also creates intriguing guest characters. Yuta comes across as flat in the beginning, yet by the end is vital and important.

And what more can you ask from an hour of television? This is one that you may come back to again and again with different perspectives. Once it's a tragedy, once it's an action, once it's a political negotiations story. There are enough facets here for it to be accessible to anyone. If you like sociology or history, there are analogies to be made from "The Vengeance Factor."

In fact, if you're sick of television that you can call the end of in the first few minutes, "The Vengeance Factor" is the solution to your problem. Of course, it may cause you to raise the bar on your television watching forever . . . but, would that truly be so bad?

[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 or film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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