Hello, all you folks whove never really cared a whit for Star Trek! Goodbye. Our usual mix of petty events and tendentious observations resumes tomorrow. For now: deep into the Geek Sector. Deep. Indulge me, if you want its not like this is some insignificant pop culture artifact. Tote all the seasons up, and Trek ran for 28 seasons. It started with LBJ and ended half a decade into the 21st century.
Are we among friends now? Okay.
One of the good things about the End of Trek: Ill never have to listen to the bitching of fans. The more I troll the message boards and forums and Usenet groups, the more Im convinced that the entirety of Trek Fandom is made up of people devoted to proving the inadequacies of the thing they supposedly love. Oh, that episode was horrible. Worst season ever. That show wasnt anything like the wonderful perfect original series remember that show where the computer ran the entire planet? No, not the one where the planet looked like the backlot for an Old West movie. No, not the one where the planet was some sort of jungle with Caucasian Polynesians who shoveled fruit into the mouth of a big computer-god. No, not the one where the planet was actually an asteroid. Oh wait, yeah, that one. No wait, the one where the planet was full of Indians, and the computer saved them by pushing away an asteroid a different one than the one where McCoy was dying and fell in love with the priestess, because it was turn to get some - and Kirk was like a big war brave chief or something. Miramanee! Man, he knocked some moccasins that one. Yes, the new Trek sucks, theres nothing like that Nazi planet episode well, except for the Nazi planet two-parter. (Which sucked!) There was nothing that had Q in it, like in Next Gen, when he would take them all back to Robin Hood times and it wasnt even a holodeck because he used his Q powers. For that matter, where were the holodeck stories on Enterprise? Not one! Okay, in the last one, but you know what I mean. You want to talk Trek, you talk Next Generation, and that means Whoopi Goldberg in a cardboard hat and a warship with a daycare center.
Complaints and trekkier-than-thou nitpickery. Ye canna change the laws of fandom.
I have an article on this very matter in the current issue of the American Enterprise magazine, my first new TV column. Go forth and buy. I was under a word-count constraint, which I blew by a factor of two, but I could have gone on for 5000 words. Trek is the lingua franca of sci-fi geeks, and anyone deeply concerned with the subject of ray-gun-and-spandex-uniforms visual fiction (like that? Makes it sound all po-mo and fancy: visual fiction) has an opinion about it. And I am one of those sorry souls. My deep concern consists of watching whatever they put out, once or twice a week, since 1987; prior to that, I watched the original show as a kid and watched the reruns in adolescence. Its just a few steps up from a Buck Rogers serial, of course, but those steps keep it from being an entirely stupid way to amuse yourself for an hour or so. I dont know why Im sounding so apologetic. Maybe because I know how deep into the hole Im going to go here. Ah well. If Id written a 6000 word essay for the New York Review of Books about the social implications of Buck Rogers (Rayguns and Auschwitz: views of utopian militarism in the totalitarian age) I would get respect. No one would read it; they would look at the pictures, smile, fold the magazine in two and place it on the toilet tank. But two weeks later at a party I could mention the article, and people would pretend theyd read it. Instant respect. Trek gets no such respect, and probably shouldnt; its pulp, its a soap. But its my pulp, my soap, and this is my site. So:
I watched Voyager, I defended it, I thought it found its legs eventually and did some nice work. But it had a crippling problem: boring characters who never changed. It had a boring relationship modern Trek is generally incapable of portraying romance, and the relationship between Hotheaded Devil-May-Care Tom Paris and sullen, sour, uber-bitchy half-Klingon Whatzrname was never believable. Who would put up with her crap for a day, let alone get married to her six years into an 80 year voyage? Voted Most Likely To Be Found Trussed And Gagged in a Jeffries Tube at the Academy, that one. Deep Space Nine was everything the nerds and geeks say they want from TV sci-fi, but oh, how they picked the nits. Half the fanbase peeled off during DS9, because it didnt have with Patrick Stewart screwing up his shiny mug and saying Engage in his patented stentorian baritone. Granted, it had the usual shaky start, but man: did it get good. It also had bad romances; Worf and the sparkly debutante: right. Soulful butch Kira with the shapeshifter: uh huh. I could see her giving him one mercy toss, but that was it, his shapeshiftery notwithstanding. The pairings didnt work, but they were still good characters. Even the Wesley Crusher of the show, the captains son, was operating at 73% Crusher-irritation-factor. Ill even forgive the teenage Ferengi. Thats how far Ill go.
Next Generation has many classic moments, but so much drearily earnest tripe and in retrospect the Federation looks so weak and touchy-feely its a wonder the Romulans didnt just knock them over for target practice. Bad romance: Worf and Troi? The big mean feral warrior and the ships shrink? I NEED TO MATE. IT IS MY TIME. Worf, I sense you are feeling stress. I HAVE MANIFESTED THE SWORD OF KAHLISS IN MY LOWER UNIFORM. I AM . . . CONFINED. Lets have some tea and discuss this. YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND. MY PHOTON TORPEDO IS READY FOR THE LAUNCHING TUBE. Sit, you silly fellow! Right here. Mind the flowers. I DO NOT KNOW HOW MUCH LONGER I CAN USE ANALOGIES TO DESCRIBE MY CONDITION. Well, if you have to get back to work, fine, but drop by later and we can talk. Worf! Put that away! Ick! The writers for the show admitted on one of the commentary tracks that they loved to show Worf getting knocked around precisely the problem. The audience wanted Worf to do the knocking, again and again. Clobberin time, etc. It wasnt until DS9 he got to command a ship and blow stuff up well, no, not entirely true. During the Next Generation series I think he resigned his commission six times to join the Klingons in some pointless internecine scrum, and of course every time he got his old job back. Done with meddling in the affairs of a nominal ally in a way that contravenes all Federation laws and traditions, are you? Jolly good; we kept your room waiting for you. Its all there, even that stupid sculpture in the corner with the balls on sticks.
But Enterprise ah, now that was something different. I am tired of defending the show, and have never understood why it attracted such ire. Especially the last season, which was one long love letter to the entire history of Star Trek. Some people didnt buy Scott Bakula as a captain as someone who never watched Quantum Leap very much, he was new to me, and I bought it from the start. I liked the bitter little Limey as the weapons officer; I though Trip brought someone quite rare to the show really good TV acting that found things in the character not present in the script. The Doctor the requisite disinterested alien commenting on these curious Humans was expertly rendered; Herbert Wests Andorian was another wet kiss to the fans on six different levels. Jolene Blalock, the Vulcan chick, was . . . painfully attractive, and the only actor to ever suggest that Vulcans had emotions that needed suppressing. And Enterprise had the only relationship that ever seemed to work, which is what made the finale work so well.
The true finale was the second part of Terra Prime. Trip and TPol have had some genetic material stolen to create a cloned baby to warn Earth against the horrors of interspecies miscegenation again, Trek confronts the issues of the day and the kid doesnt make it. The Day Is Saved, The Conference Goes Forward (its a curious nod to Roddenberrys utopian delusions that the plot often hinges on the saving of a conference) and the Enterprise once more Does Her Duty. But the episode ended with Trip coming to TPols room to discuss funeral arrangements for the baby, and that one scene contained more emotional power than any scene since Scotty tootled Amazing Grace as Spock was buried in a torpedo casing and Kirk gargled the word human. Of course, its always the weeping that defines great acting in the groundlings book, but this wasnt a scene played for cheap emotion. It felt real in a way that reminded you how little else in Trek truly felt real. Everything was so frickin mythic. Not this. At the end, it was two people from two places holding hands over the death of a child and the possibility of another. That was the end of Star Trek, and it couldnt have gotten there without Enterprise.
The finale was candy. Apparently the cast wasnt happy, and when I heard that I was seized with the fear that the entire Trek story would be revealed as a dream Gene Roddenberry had while passed out in a plane wrec. But no. They were mad, it seems, because their finale contained a heapin helping of Jonathan Frakes, and was essentially a holodeck story. But please. What else could we have had? Enterprise defeats the Borg! Enterprise is thrown into the Gamma Quadrant! Enterprise saves the world at the last minute when Trip vents the plasma conduits and reroutes auxillary weapons through the EPS manifold! Enterprise goes forward in time to defeat a gigantic single-cell organism shaped like Shatners toupee! Theres almost nothing else left to do. And so we saw the entirety of the Enterprise story as something that had become Distant History, a story you read in second grade. The ship was Old Ironsides interesting, inert, historical, a relic. That was a fun tour, lets have lunch. It was a contrast between the tone of a standard episode (what happens now is incredibly important and the Federation hangs in the balance and any one of our heroes may be killed, despite the fact that they have signed a contract for the next season) and the cool regard of history, for whom these events are simply a matter of record. What Riker was worried about would be history in the same way, eventually. Thats the point. We think that Today is incredibly vital and pertinent; surely history will see it as we do, feel it as we do. Well, no. Not unless its a very bad day, and certainly not if its a nice one. Battles turn into paragraphs. Sunk ships are footnotes, if theyre lucky.
Thats what I think they were trying to do, anyway. To end it without ending it. Each character got to walk on stage and converse with the Chef, whod been mentioned but never seen for four years. That was their last turn in the footlights. The story ended before Archer gave his speech, and of course the dolts on the message boards complained that we didnt hear what he said. Of course we didnt. Thats the point. Write the thing yourself in your head. Imagine it. Consider what had to be stated at that moment in human history. Dream, you morons.
It ended with the three ships. (Interesting how they didnt show the 1701-E, perhaps because the design wasnt really beloved; it owes too much to the Voyager-class shoehorn look, and the notch on the nacelles looks distinctly unFederation-like. And yes, I just crossed over into the land of unredeemable dorkheadedness, but Im past caring.) Ive always liked the design of the Enterprise Enterprise. The 1701-D looks computer generated. But the original ship, the Constitution class thats the one that still has a hook in your heart. Maybe because it was actually real. They built a model out of wood and painted it and stuck wires in it and filmed it, and those few frames brought the whole story to life. I bought the original model kit and flew it around my bedroom. (I considered buying another and burning it to look like the one in the Doomsday Machine, too.) That was the archetype; that was what Icarus had in mind. And that was what hung in the Smithsonian that day they opened the Star Trek exhibit. All the cast showed up, except for Bones. I met them all: press tour. On the way out I found myself standing next to James Doohan under the big model of the Enterprise, floating above in the hall. I walked up next to Scotty. We looked up.
Ah, shes a beautiful thing, isnt it? he said.
That she was.
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