What Are We to Do About a Slave Named Lolani?
Fan films are well-intentioned, herculean efforts by a group of dedicated and hardworking fans who are trying to recreate the spark that made the original "Star Trek" series so thrilling. Some are amateurs. Others professionals using their talents to bring life to their childhood dreams. Fan productions often have the style but none of the substance.
Not since STARSHIP EXETER's "Tressaurian Intersection" and STAR TREK: PHASE II's "World Enough and Time" has there been a fan film that's come close to that substance. "Lolani" — the latest offering from STAR TREK CONTINUES — is one step closer, perhaps closer than a fan film has ever been. Why? Simply because it's about something and it's trying to say something important even if it falls short in places.
Not a Pew-Pew in Sight
The U.S.S. Enterprise
stumbles upon a Tellarite vessel with a sole surviving passenger — an Orion slave woman, Lolani. The episode unfolds as Kirk and crew try to keep Lolani free while investigating what happened aboard the Tellarite ship. Political pressures conspire to keep Lolani a slave and Kirk is torn between the law and a desire free her by any means. In the end, the sex/slave trade proves too big a problem to be solved by one starship captain in 50 minutes.
This is a large problem writ small. We see the quandary of slavery explored through the character drama on the Enterprise
. And without a pew-pew in sight. What a relief! STAR TREK CONTINUES has succeeded where many fan films have failed. It's relied on character to drive the story and engage the audience than space battles and effects.
More than that, the episode is daring enough to let the situation be a futile one. Kirk can't win this one. Lolani because of circumstances must go back to her owner. But even in the futility of the situation, there is a glimmer of hope at the end. The message of "slavery/sex trade is bad" and the ending's posthumous monologue is a bit ham-fisted. But you have to admire that CONTINUES set the bar high in tackling a large issue. However, I would've preferred more subtly in the script and in the performances.
Scars Should've Run Deep
Either because of the script or the performance, one didn't get the sense that Lolani had deep scars and years of abuse. It was good to see her do anything in her power, even use her "habits," to coerce both Kirk and Keneway to help her. Yet, she doesn't act like someone who's been abused (and I've known abused women). She too readily acquiesces to Spock's mind-meld — she should see it as another violation, as Maurice
points out. She should vehemently refused. She is too trusting of the crew too quickly.
Lolani's reaction to the news that Zaminhon is coming is a bit weak and too placid. There is no sense of desperation from her at the prospect of retuning to her abuser. Fiona Vroom's performance lacks nuance and the writing doesn't give her that nuance to play either. For example, Lolani is so traumatized by killing the Tellerites that she suppresses the memory. It would've been stronger had she hid it, refuse Spock's mind-meld then admit the truth and been more biting in her response to Kirk — "If you killed the men attempting to rape you, would you talk openly about it." I wanted Lolani to have stronger moments were she was both a strong person and a wounded one. And it would've been nice to have them happen within the same scene — though the mind-meld scene comes close.
A Lack of Color
In a story about slavery, there is a lack of any other color than green. Something I noticed upon second viewing was the whiteness of the main players in the story. Uhura has only one close up. Mostly we see her back. STAR TREK CONTINUES missed a great opportunity to have Uhura be the champion for Lolani. While I admire them using a woman with Dr. McKenna, the story would've been stronger with Uhura in that role. In the original show, Uhura was the representation of how far blacks would come, that they would make it into the future and their skin color would no longer be an issue. Had this episode actually been made in 1969/70, Uhura would no doubt have been in McKenna's role because of that.
Kirk, Spock and McCoy … Well, Kinda
This episode falls into the same trap that many fan films fall into — calling Starfleet Command. Usually, orders from the higher ups is an excuse to trot out the old war horses of TV Sci-Fi. The cardinal sin is that it absolves Kirk of any decision making. Here, it straddles that line. It would've been better had Kirk, much like he was in the original series, on his own to make a decision. As been pointed out by others in this thread, the drama and debate should've been with Kirk, Spock and McCoy as it was in the original series.
Fan films get the function of this trio so wrong more often than they get it right. Spock and McCoy are Kirk's thought process made manifest. It's the debate of logic and humanity within Kirk. And it's through that debate, he is able to take decisive action. STAR TREK CONTINUES, like PHASE II, underutilizes Spock and McCoy. At least, Todd Haberkorn's Spock is less "robotic" here than Brandon Stacey's performance. However, Larry Nemecek is woefully miscast as McCoy — his performance lacks the bite necessary for the character.
Finally, Kirk fluctuates between how Kirk was in the original show and Picard. His consultations with Starfleet and his dinner solution all smack of Picard. Kirk should've been more clever in resolving the situation, even if it backfired in the end. I kept expecting him to use the Tellarite ship somehow, either to hide Lolani or to trick Zaminhon. But at least he is less Picard-like here than he was in "Pilgrim of Eternity". And he's not Archer-like as Kirk was in PHASE II's "Kitumba." However, Vic Mignogna performance is strong in the role. He has presence and you feel he is in command.
Second Star to the Right …
I have other quibbles, but I've mentioned those before (the TNG elements, etc.). Yet this episode is a step in the right direction. The elements are there — character, story, theme — now those elements have to be refined. And hopefully the next episode will be even closer to recapturing the spark that made the original so special.