Saturday, August 13, 2011

Mistakes Of The Past Reappear In "The Pegasus"

The Good: Terry O'Quinn, Special effects, Mood, Acting
The Bad: Character, Timeline of Star Trek, Basic plot
The Basics: When Riker's former captain arrives with a mission for the Enterprise, Riker must face the consequences of his youthful actions with no real insight into his character.

One of the problems that the writers of Star Trek The Next Generation ran into in the seventh season was their attempts to go back and flesh out some of their characters, like they attempted with Geordi in "Interface" by introducing the viewer to his family. It became even more problematic in "The Pegasus," an episode that puts Riker's first mission on the front of galactic politics in the Star Trek universe.

Fresh out of the academy, Will Riker took a post aboard the U.S.S. Pegasus under the command of Captain Pressman. The ship was - apparently - destroyed with few survivors. Pressman arrives aboard the Enterprise with startling news for Riker; the Pegasus may have survived the explosion they witnessed from the escape pod and the Romulans may be attempting to locate the remains of the ship. Riker and Pressman both seem alarmed by that possibility, though they conceal from Captain Picard just why, and the Enterprise begins a search and a race to beat the Romulans to the wreckage.

There are several problems with this episode. The first is that it shakes up the personal history of Riker in a way that is very inorganic to fans of the series. Riker, very early in his career, was stationed on Betazed and chose StarFleet over Troi. However, according to the episode "Second Chances" (reviewed here!), it was Riker's assignment to the Potemkin that broke them up. They were supposed to meet again, but things came up and they didn't. If Riker's first mission was aboard the Pegasus, there could never have been that deep relationship that Riker sacrificed, at least, not in a believable way. "The Pegasus" completely trivializes what - until this point in the Star Trek pantheon - has been the deepest romantic relationship on record.

More than that, it seems like "The Pegasus" sets out mainly to answer the question "What happened to the cloaking device from 'The Enterprise Incident' (an episode of Star Trek where Kirk steals a cloaking device from the Romulans)?" Coming up with a reason that Federation ships aren't able to make themselves invisible when they did briefly in the original Star Trek seems interesting, but the answers here are unsatisfying. Given the difficulties that the Enterprise has had over the years with cloaked Romulan ships and considering their allies, the Klingons, have the technology, it seems unlikely that the Federation would sign away such a major tactical piece as part of a treaty.

Moreover, the portrayal of the young William Riker doesn't sit right with fans of the show. While an outsider might easily make the argument that leadership is something people grow into and that mistakes made as a youth could make a stronger adult personality, this does not jive with the established characterization of Will Riker. Riker's mother died at an early age and he lived for years with a father who was emotionally distant and it has long been established that the young Riker was very self-sufficient and that growing up in Alaska essentially alone toughened him up. It seems unlikely then, that a young Ensign Riker would have such blind obedience to Pressman as both Pressman and (the now older) Riker claim he had. That is to say that people who are self-sufficient and self-reliant tend to develop personalities that don't like to surrender that independent mindset.

And while truth of what the Enterprise is looking for by searching for the Pegasus is kept hidden from the audience in drawn out scene after drawn out scene, the perceptive viewer will easily figure it out when they first find the ship. Moreover, the scenes where Riker and Pressman discuss the technology without actually saying what it is do successfully create a mood of intrigue that keeps the viewer waiting and wondering. The mood ends up working successfully the first viewing, but less so upon repeated watchings.

The plus side of the episode really is in the casting of Terry O'Quinn as Pressman. O'Quinn is a genius character actor and he makes the part very distinctive. Playing Pressman with an energy that is not seen in most Admirals - much less any StarFleet personnel - we see on Star Trek The Next Generation, O'Quinn keeps the audience visually energized. O'Quinn takes the straightforward words on the page and infuses them with vitality. The result is that Pressman eclipses Riker and all the other characters for this episode. Our eyes are always drawn to O'Quinn, because he keeps his character constantly moving.

"The Pegasus" rewards fans of Star Trek The Next Generation with an answer to a long-asked question (much like "The Chase" did - more successfully - in the sixth season), but lets down those who truly care by sacrificing character to do it. It has little for non-fans to enjoy.

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

For other works featuring Terry O'Quinn, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 7
The West Wing - Season 6
The X-Files: Fight The Future


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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