Last night, I decided on a whim to start watching my favorite Star Trek: Voyager episode on Netflix. Now, Voyager isn't what I consider a great sci-fi series, or even a great Star Trek series. It's fine, but its premise (being lost tens of thousands of light years from home) is generally wasted. Throughout most of the show, Voyager is treated more like a heavily armed cruise ship with seemingly infinite resources than a ship with finite resources that is potentially in serious danger at every turn. It's this detachment from what should be the reality of their situation that often turns Voyager into a less interesting Star Trek: The Next Generation rather than the DS9-in-the-Delta-Quadrant with deep character development and story arcs that it possibly should have been. But even Voyager has its standout episodes — moments of greatness that rail against the rest of the series.
And that's what I'd like to discuss here today: moments of greatness in otherwise mediocre or even terrible TV series, movie series, book series, and video game series. I'll start.
TV Show: Star Trek: Voyager
Moment of Greatness: 'Timeless' (season 5, episode 6)
If you've seen enough episodes of Voyager, you've probably realized that the two characters with the least to do on that show are Commander Chakotay and Ensign Kim. Both had potential to be developed into interesting characters, but hardly any of that potential was ever realized. Chakotay acted mostly as Janeway's advisor (not unlike an advisor to a queen), and Harry Kim was just the best friend of Tom Paris and apparently had no personal life (at least none that we were shown) outside his relationship with Tom. But in 'Timeless', Chakotay and Harry Kim are the stars of the episode, and we finally get to see these characters shine.
It's fifteen years in the future, and Kim and Chakotay (along with a new Chakotay love interest) are trying desperately to reach back through time to correct a deadly mistake — a mistake that caused Voyager to crash into an ice planet, killing everybody on board. (Chakotay and Kim were in a shuttle at the time.) This episode has possibly the strongest performances I've seen on Voyager from Garrett Wang (Kim) and Robert Beltran (Chakotay), and I think it's because they had some great material to work with. Kim feels deeply guilty about what happened (because it was the result of his mistake), while Chakotay doesn't seem to have much to live for (even with a love interest) and just wants his old crew to be alive again. For me, this was Voyager's strongest episode, and it was certainly an appropriate one to place as Voyager's 100th episode. The Voyager series finale actually had a similar premise, but I think it was better executed in 'Timeless'.
Video Game Series: Halo
Moment of Greatness: Halo 2
I'm sure I'll get some flak for this, but I'm just not enamored with the Halo games. I think they're okay, and I really liked Halo 4's emotional Cortana B-story, but nothing else about them really grabs my interest. That is, with the exception of Halo 2. What an outstanding experience. It seemed to be pushing the limits of what the original Xbox could do graphically, and dual-wielding plasma rifles was ridiculously fun (a real shame that they got rid of dual wielding after Halo 3). The story was fairly interesting, and Keith David voicing the Arbiter was flat-out cool. If the rumor is true and a Halo 2 remake is released for Xbox One, that will be one clear reason for me to eventually buy one.
Movie Series: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles/TMNT (1990-2007)
Moment of Greatness: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Amazingly, this live action film about four mutant teenage turtles with ninja skills holds up well even today. It's a surprisingly dramatic film, yet it has enough goofball humor thrown in to keep things from ever getting too dark for too long. The action is about as good as one could expect from four people wearing cumbersome turtle costumes, and the movie has the most down to earth Splinter and Raphael characterizations I've seen. (That one scene early on with Splinter trying to teach Raphael to "possess the right thinking" is one of the greatest father/son scenes I've ever watched, and it's between a mutant rat and a mutant turtle!)
If you've never watched it, I highly recommend this film which at its core is actually a compelling tale about fatherhood (Splinter and his strong relationship with his sons; Shredder's fake fatherhood as a cult leader; and the strained relationship between April's co-worker Charles and his son Danny).