Mr. Worf... fire!
June 21, 2015 1:59 PM   Subscribe

'Star Trek': The Story of the Most Daring Cliffhanger in 'Next Generation' History To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the original airing of the classic cliffhanger, Ron Moore, Jonathan Frakes and more reveal how writing themselves into a corner for "Best of Both Worlds" changed Trek forever: "All of us were quite thrilled they had the balls to leave Picard on the Borg cube."
posted by Servo5678 (85 comments total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm amazed they hadn't decided on the second part - 'eh, we'll let the next season writers figure this out out'.
posted by temancl at 2:05 PM on June 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Stewart wasn't in the middle of negotiations for a new contract, was he?
posted by jamjam at 2:10 PM on June 21, 2015


I remember watching that as a kid and it was my first real...experience...I guess? of the cliffhanger. I remember asking my dad when we would find out what happened and learning we had to wait till next year/season, he also went on to explain where 'cliffhanger' came from in his own "calvins dad" sort of way.
posted by Captain_Science at 2:10 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I read this article last night, and it motivated me to bring up the "Family" episode on Netflix. Partially, it was to watch it after having not seen it in such a long time, but I mainly wanted to try and figure out why Roddenberry had a bug up his ass about it. I still can't quite figure it out.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:12 PM on June 21, 2015


"Family" was an exceptionally good episode, driven by little more than old interpersonal disagreements, which is the sort of thing that Gene "Everybody is Perfect in the Future" Roddenberry hated. It added depth to Picard's background, dating back to before he even joined Starfleet.

And then they killed off his brother and nephew offscreen in Generations for some cheap pathos. I was so pissed.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:19 PM on June 21, 2015 [40 favorites]


I've been watching TNG since I was little and I still watch it but I can't bring myself to watch Best of Both Worlds again. OR "Chain of Command".

This is hilarious:
Gene just said "this isn't the 24th century." "These brothers reflect outdated, 20th-Century modes of childhood development. Mankind had solved these kind of issues by then. I hate this."

This is such a boring view. I'm glad they just went ahead with the episode anyway. The idea that mankind has solved all its issues and now it's just flying around the universe solving everyone else's problems isn't as interesting as realizing that that model isn't realistic and mankind's issues will never really go away. Even a seemingly perfect specimen like Picard.
posted by bleep at 2:19 PM on June 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


Makes me think that Rodenberry obviously didn't have siblings??

Part of what is actually great about that episode is that the tension between the brothers Picard in part stems from the fact that the Robert and Jean-Luc's father didn't think the future was all that and a bag of chips. So you can see why Rodenberry might not have been into that idea.
posted by dry white toast at 2:23 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


And then they killed off his brother and nephew offscreen in Generations for some cheap pathos. I was so pissed.

I had forgotten that bit in Generations. Of course, I've forgotten most of Generations.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 2:23 PM on June 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm amazed they hadn't decided on the second part - 'eh, we'll let the next season writers figure this out out'.

Even moreso, Ron Moore was the only writer carried over into the next season.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:25 PM on June 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


But then, that goes further to what makes it such a brilliant set-up for the episode. Picard has just been traumatized by technology taken to the most inhuman extent. So part of what he's seeking is escape from the technology.
posted by dry white toast at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Spending the summer worrying about Picard is one of my earliest memories, and the earliest I can unambiguously date. I was 5.

Looking back, I can't believe my dad let an imaginative 5-year-old girl watch that stuff!
posted by town of cats at 2:26 PM on June 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


To be fair, your dad might not have seen that coming any more than most of the fans did.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 2:30 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Every weekend at a convention, someone will say to me it was so nice to see a competent woman on a TV show who wasn't "the bitch." Troi was strong and professional, but took a pride in her appearance. It was kind of a first, to have a professional woman, who wasn't "the bitch."

I never thought of Troi like that. To me, she was mostly a lazy tool for exposition and externalizing the crew members' psychological states.

Also, I never knew just how small their budget was. Filming stuff in people's basements? That's ridiculous.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:30 PM on June 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


It's a shame they changed so many of the writers. Season 3 has always been my favourite of TNG. Seasons 4 and 5 are good, sometimes great, but all of Season 3 has this really balanced tone of character exploration, intergalactic politics, and adventure. But then, Season 4 had so much Klingon-y goodness.
posted by dry white toast at 2:30 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was always a bit disappointed he didn't stay borged-up.
posted by Artw at 2:37 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Twenty-five years?

Excuse me. I need to go do some things before I become part of a collection.
posted by nubs at 2:37 PM on June 21, 2015 [11 favorites]


I just watched The Best of Both Worlds with my sister and brother-in-law the other night when I was visiting family. We'd all forgotten how incredibly good both parts are. It's around then that the show started getting really interesting. I was especially impressed with Riker, since the first couple seasons really don't make him that interesting (he gave the same smirk to every single woman he talked to).

Also, as an aside, one time I was looking at Memory Alpha and thinking "man, I can't imagine the dorks who use this site all the time!" And then I realized I was busy trying to figure out what you called that weird boar-animal Worf had as a pet when he was a kid, in my millionth such visit to the site. In that moment, all became clear.

And then I actually smacked my head and went "ohh, of course, a targ."
posted by teponaztli at 2:40 PM on June 21, 2015 [24 favorites]


I bet you drink your blood wine cold.
posted by Artw at 2:51 PM on June 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


That quote from Sirtis is surprising to me as well, at least at first glance, because Troi was such a awkward device for exposition for most of the series run. But, on the other hand, a woman portrayed as being sexy, competent and nice all at the same time while getting at least occasionally serious parts to play in the drama was really unusual at the time.
posted by skewed at 2:56 PM on June 21, 2015 [14 favorites]


I've always thought that First Contact, as fine a movie as it is, would have been better without the time travel plotline. Keeping the focus on Picard and his hatred for the Borg as a result of these two episodes, alongside the threat the Borg represent, could have made it a rip-roaring action film right alongside some very strong character work as Picard grapples with his hate and need for revenge...Imagine the possibilities of having Picard have moments that echo Khan from ST:II, but he's the one we're rooting for, while the Borg cut their way through Federation space.
posted by nubs at 3:00 PM on June 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Oh, and that Roddenberry quote ends up underlining almost everything that was ever wrong TNG; the show drew so much of the drama by pitting the perfectly rational, ultra-moral, hyper-competent Enterprise crew against that week's alien threat, which was almost invariably a less developed species with some moral or logical failing that made them almost comically uncivilized. They got a bit better as the series went on, but so many episodes where the aliens were just humans plus one hugely exaggerated human failing were really tiring.
posted by skewed at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I read this article last night, and it motivated me to bring up the "Family" episode on Netflix. Partially, it was to watch it after having not seen it in such a long time, but I mainly wanted to try and figure out why Roddenberry had a bug up his ass about it. I still can't quite figure it out.

I've read a bunch of pieces that basically point to Gene Roddenberry as someone that held back The Next Generation as much as he helped it, mostly because of his insistence that the future was a utopia where humanity has conquered the stars, eliminated poverty, and abandoned the concept of interpersonal drama almost entirely. You can even see this tendency working against scripts in the original series. Obviously, it's really hard to write a compelling television series when one of your rules is "everybody loves each other on the Enterprise and never ever fights."

Sometimes I wonder if the only reason Gene Roddenberry doesn't come off as badly as George Lucas did during the Star Wars prequel era is just because Roddenberry never managed to stay healthy enough to really leave his mark on TNG.
posted by chrominance at 3:03 PM on June 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


Sure, they were willing to leave Picard on the ship, but how much really changed for the crew by end of Part II? Other than a few things here and there, they went back to the A/B plotlines really quickly.

Perhaps this is why Moore wasn't afraid to make Pegasus a permanent part of the fleet after its introduction in BSG. I know I was expecting it to get blown up right away like its predecessor in the original series.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 3:05 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


One thing I've had to keep in mind as I rewatch episodes now, so many years later, is how dated the show can be. Especially in its treatment of women, TNG seems to have much more in common with the original series than with today.

It kind of makes sense - more time has elapsed between now and the end of TNG than between TNG and TOS.

Also, I remember hearing a quote from LeVar burton where he said, basically, that he was angry the show had given a love interest to almost every character, even the android, before it finally gave one to the black man.
posted by teponaztli at 3:05 PM on June 21, 2015 [37 favorites]


I was the age to have enjoyed PART of the original series first-run (but then they moved it to 10PM which was PAST MY BEDTIME). Fortunately, I caught everything when it got rerun Monday-Friday at 7PM by L.A.'s channel 13 (a desperation move for the lowest rated station that paid off big for the station and the show). But when TNG began, I was 30 and getting cynical... of all my one-line explanations for the first seasons, my favorite was "Riker is Kirk spelled sideways".

"everybody loves each other on the Enterprise and never ever fights."
Which was probably the best thing about Spock; he was alien so he could argue with the humans.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:13 PM on June 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


Also, I never knew just how small their budget was. Filming stuff in people's basements? That's ridiculous.
IIRC, they had a budget of about $1 million per episode, which was unheard of for a syndicated series—or really anything—at the time. But they were also trying to do a lot with that money, and they had to economize. Every shot of a starship exterior was 4 (?) separate shots composited together, which got expensive. And they would manufacture excuses to drop out of warp drive because showing the stars streaking by cabin windows was too expensive.
posted by adamrice at 3:13 PM on June 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


We saw a restored version of this (enhanced special effects that basically make them not look dated) on the big screen at our local movie theater a few months back. For 95% of it we were surprised at how well it held up. 5% of it was "oh nooooooo." There is this line the admiral has about Lt. Shelby in which he says something about "an old man's fantasies." The entire audience burst out laughing because it was so appallingly sexist.

Totally worth it for that other 95%, though. They didn't quite stick the landing on part 2 but I'm hard pressed to think of a way they could have without killing off a regular.
posted by rednikki at 3:18 PM on June 21, 2015


Star Trek has lots and lots of problematic aspects and often being dull was way, way up there, but it always seemed the most fundamental point of the universe - in its TV, movie, and book incarnations - for a long time was the utopian view of the federation as an unalloyed force for good and almost all the various beings in the federation as contributing to that good.

It doesn't seem like something than can be excised without making it less special (in the sense of being unusual in its outlook).
posted by humans are superior! at 3:26 PM on June 21, 2015


We look back on Roddenberry from the perspective of our time, when current television has some of the finest filmed entertainment ever done, and find him wanting.

What we are not doing is considering him as someone that simply never changed over time. Star Trek is a TV Western with different costumes but the same morality plays that had been on radio and TV for decades. It's Wagon Train, it's Hopalong Cassidy, it's Gunsmoke -- in the case of Deep Space Nine, it's a very direct Gunsmoke rip-off.

So you can't pine for a Roddenberry that would have known better. He didn't know better. He aspired to be Rod Serling and never wanted to be anything different.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:29 PM on June 21, 2015 [9 favorites]


I don't know that you need to excise the inherent optimism in Star Trek (or even its vision of the Federation as a utopia, though that one I think is harder to work with). You just need to drop the idea that people are always friends and never fight or do bad things to each other. Ultimately, that would be a bigger statement to me anyways: not that we have the perfect society because we all became perfect individuals, but because despite our problems we learned how to work with each other towards a common good.
posted by chrominance at 3:30 PM on June 21, 2015 [12 favorites]


we all met in Gene's office and Gene just said "this isn't the 24th century." "These brothers reflect outdated, 20th-Century modes of childhood development. Mankind had solved these kind of issues by then. I hate this."

I feel almost obligated to push back against the in-thread consensus that Roddenberry was obviously the one in the wrong here. Too many people easily endorse, in retrospect, Moore, Braga, et al's endless retellings of this kind of Roddenberry-as-obstacle story, as if his vision for Trek weren't internally coherent and just very different from theirs. "Family" is a great episode for acting and character development and I love it too for what it allows us to see about Picard. But it's also completely recognizable, in retrospect, as one of the places where TNG begins to change into something that isn't — or didn't seem, then — really Trek-like, in the sense that it's hardly SF at all. "Family" is just a familiar 20th-century middlebrow-prestige family drama, to the extent that it's shot in a McMansion and about winemaking — Sideways with a light veneer of technobabble, a "Picardysomething" episode about sibling rivalry over inheriting the family business that makes zero sense in a post-scarcity, post-money society.

Ron Moore and the later writers have always liked to represent Roddenberry's utopian vision of humanity as narratively boring, but it doesn't have to be, if (more like, say, Le Guin than Ron Moore) you can imagine human conflicts and emotional situations that are different from the stock plots of late-capitalist TV drama.
posted by RogerB at 3:34 PM on June 21, 2015 [32 favorites]


Random Star Trek TNG aside:

I can remember when I 'discovered' ST:TNG but not the specific episode. I only recall the show being on every night at 9 pm. And something about it clicked. I was maybe 12 or 13 and I didn't even realize there was an Original Series until a few years later. Just never registered there was a whole Spock/Kirk series. I did eventually watch those. But TNG will always hold a special place in my heart. I can look back now and see the problems, the flaws with the Prime Directive and the kind of imperialist world view that the show sort of exemplifies.

But at that age it was all wonder, exploration, the joy of watching an android play with his cat 'Spot'. With regard to the 2-part episode structure. This show was definitely one of the first that introduced me to that format of television and the idea that some things are worth waiting for.
posted by Fizz at 3:35 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


If we're talking about ways to improve TNG I'm fine with the part where they never fight amongst themselves, but I would rather have seen more & better lines for Worf, Geordie & Troi. It's great to have diverse casting but then you can't just never give them anything to do.
posted by bleep at 3:36 PM on June 21, 2015


"Family" was an exceptionally good episode, driven by little more than old interpersonal disagreements, which is the sort of thing that Gene "Everybody is Perfect in the Future" Roddenberry hated.

Also, it is famously -- in the seven-hundred-odd episodes of all five series -- the only episode where no scene takes place on a starship bridge (or space station command centre for DS9). Gene Roddenberry was a product of fifties and sixties TV, where you did not break the format that much. Twenty years later, it was possible for The West Wing to have episodes which never set foot in the White House, but in 1990, this sort of thing was just not done.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:36 PM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


IIRC, they had a budget of about $1 million per episode, which was unheard of for a syndicated series—or really anything—at the time.

Seems to me the original Battlestar Galactica broke that barrier about ten years earlier. Unless Starlog lied to me.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 3:38 PM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would rather have seen more & better lines for Worf, Geordie & Troi

But Worf has the speech about love poetry and hurling heavy objects!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:51 PM on June 21, 2015


Gene just said "this isn't the 24th century." "These brothers reflect outdated, 20th-Century modes of childhood development. Mankind had solved these kind of issues by then. I hate this."

Replicators? Sure.

Warp Drive? Why not.

Holodecks? Absolutely.

Sibling Rivalry? Let's not get crazy here.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 4:11 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


He aspired to be Rod Serling and never wanted to be anything different.

That feels like selling Serling's own ambitions severely short.
posted by Artw at 4:25 PM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Replicators? Sure.

Warp Drive? Why not.

Holodecks? Absolutely.

Sibling Rivalry? Let's not get crazy here.


this is a great way to completely and 100% miss (ignore?) the point he was trying to make.
posted by JimBennett at 4:27 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now I'm imagining Rodenberry insisting on Heinleinesque poly families for everyone.
posted by Artw at 4:32 PM on June 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


That feels like selling Serling's own ambitions severely short.

I actually don't get bringing up Serling in this context at all. Rod Serling was well ahead of the television curve, and the only thing emblematic of his era that held him back was the massive smoking habit that ultimately killed him much too young. If anything, science fiction that highlit character and conflict over whiz-bang and flash was pretty much his whole bag. It's very difficult for me to imagine Serling siding with Roddenberry in the cited discussion -- far from it.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:34 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I didn't even realize there was an Original Series until a few years later. Just never registered there was a whole Spock/Kirk series.

This is horrible, but when I was very young I initially thought the Original Series was some sort of low-budget daytime version of The Next Generation in the same way that there were daytime versions of Wheel of Fortune with different hosts than the "true" version which aired in the evenings.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:42 PM on June 21, 2015 [16 favorites]


"Yesterday's Enterprise" must really have freaked you out.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 4:44 PM on June 21, 2015


Seems to me the original Battlestar Galactica broke that barrier about ten years earlier.

Wasn't the original Battlestar Galactica a network program?

Star Trek: The Next Generation was airing in first-run syndication, alongside such big budget shows as Small Wonder and Out of this World
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:47 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


The greatest thing about this storyline was the fact that the menace of Locutus is entirely due to Picard being too smart -- Riker can't beat him through military force. After the Enterprise kidnaps him back, he's the absolute epitome if confidence: "Don't worry, I won't try to hurt any of you. I don't need to." Finally in the end Picard saves the day by sheer effort of will. Not "I'm finally motivated enough to box the enemy leader to a pulp" but literally thinking the Borg ship to its demise. Bonus content: Picard back in his old job and skin, except troubled and dark. It's the ultimate power fantasy for a certain kind of teenager that I definitely was not, no sir.
posted by No-sword at 4:57 PM on June 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I don't know that you need to excise the inherent optimism in Star Trek (or even its vision of the Federation as a utopia, though that one I think is harder to work with). You just need to drop the idea that people are always friends and never fight or do bad things to each other. Ultimately, that would be a bigger statement to me anyways: not that we have the perfect society because we all became perfect individuals, but because despite our problems we learned how to work with each other towards a common good.

Frankly, the best show right now with the message "we're all different, and if we all contribute with our own different strengths we can all reap the benefits" might well be My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic.
posted by Faint of Butt at 5:06 PM on June 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


I saw that remastered version of Best of Both Worlds at a movie theatre a while ago as well, and all in all it was fantastic.

Except! They totally fucked up the cliffhanger! During the big scene, they edited it so that after Riker says, "Mr. Worf, fire!", it cuts directly to the exterior shot of the Enterprise firing. No smash cut to black with the ominous DUN DUN DUN music, no "To Be Continued", nothing. Just the ship firing, it doesn't work, and we move on. It was completely anticlimactic!

The best part, though, was that it was a theatre full of Star Trek fans (duh), and so this audible grumble of surprise and dissatisfaction rose from the entire room. I was SO happy to not be alone in my nerdrage for once.
posted by maqsarian at 5:21 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Also, this right here is maybe my favorite line read in the whole franchise. Motherfucker looks like he's about to cry, and I LOVE IT
posted by maqsarian at 5:29 PM on June 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


The Borg were SO much better in this episode.

I like to think that Borg Queen was a kind of brain tumor of the collective consciousness, gathering so many resources to itself and maintaining its control that it cause the ultimate collapse of the system. The Borg we meet in 'Best of Both Worlds' are asymptomatic; by Voyager, they're effectively crippled.
posted by Grimgrin at 5:32 PM on June 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


Re: Rod Serling ... Recognize that Serling and Roddenberry were only 3 years apart in age, came from similar backgrounds (both veterans), started out writing Westerns and went on to create TV series with sci-fi themes amid old-school morality plays. If you don't see the parallels ...
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:37 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is peak Borg, from this point on they'll be continually needed to the point where Voyager just transports bombs on board their ships and flies on.
posted by Artw at 5:44 PM on June 21, 2015


I remember a quote from Rodenberry that said a lot about how he filtered his perspective:

"No, aliens didn't build the Pyramids. Human Beings did it because they're smart, and they work hard!"

Also slavery, Gene.
posted by dry white toast at 7:22 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of the things I appreciated most about this episode was Cmdr. Shelby's bafflement at Riker and Picard's reluctance to separate the ship. It nicely echoed fans like me who were like "WHY DON'T YOU LEAVE THE SAUCER SECTION BEHIND???" every time the a enterprise went into battle.

Also IIRC, Part II is the last time the ship separates until it's destroyed in Generations.
posted by dry white toast at 7:27 PM on June 21, 2015


I went to Netflix tonight, thinking I might watch Best of Both Worlds...but holy crap, was Season 3 ever good. Yesterday's Enterprise. Hollow Pursuits. Sins of the Father. Sarek. It wasn't just the season ending cliffhanger - overall, the show found it's footing and it's own voice, rather than imitating ST: TOS.
posted by nubs at 7:47 PM on June 21, 2015 [7 favorites]


Season 1 is just painfully bad from a modern perspective, like "how did this not get cancelled?" bad.
posted by Artw at 7:53 PM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


Season 1 is just painfully bad from a modern perspective, like "how did this not get cancelled?" bad.

Well, as I have remarked elsewhere on the blue, it is hard to understand late eighties TV if you weren't there. The #1 show on American TV in 1987-88 was The Cosby Show, which even overlooking the shadow that Cosby himself casts backwards over a half-century career, is probably just about unwatchable for a 2015 audience.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:01 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah the saucer separation! wtf? "Uhh, yeah, but the saucer has that nice bathroom. You know, with the good air dryers. And the Keurig machine is there!"
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:33 PM on June 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


And yet TOS remains perfectly watchable.
posted by Artw at 8:41 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eh, I'd beg to differ, if you're comparing a bottom 25th percentile episode of TOS or TNG, they are both execrable. They both had the habit of doing episode where nothing really happens after the first sequence until the final 10 minutes.
posted by skewed at 9:00 PM on June 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also slavery, Gene.

Or not. (Though I'm not sure whether the "slave labor" myth had been overturned at the time Roddenberry said this.)
posted by mbrubeck at 9:01 PM on June 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


dry white toast: Recent excavations have suggested otherwise. The people who built the pyramids may have been partly corvee laborers, but the archeology indicates that they weren't slaves. Cynicism is easy and often wrong about history; whether he took it too far or not, I appreciate that Roddenberry didn't try to apply it to the future.
posted by Grimgrin at 9:02 PM on June 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


Ron Moore and the later writers have always liked to represent Roddenberry's utopian vision of humanity as narratively boring, but it doesn't have to be, if (more like, say, Le Guin than Ron Moore) you can imagine human conflicts and emotional situations that are different from the stock plots of late-capitalist TV drama.
posted by RogerB at 6:34 PM on June 21


I think this is an important point. You can find a lot of faults with Roddenberry-era Trek and the strictures that Trek in general placed on its shows (Oh, you're in the middle of a war with the Dominion? How about a random comedy episode!), but Trek lost something distinctive when Berman and Braga took over and the franchise began to lose its optimism. Some of what makes DS9 compelling, I think, is the tension between that Trekian optimism and some of the show's darker elements.
posted by mr_deerheart at 9:30 PM on June 21, 2015 [2 favorites]


"Where's your starship now, shee"
posted by clavdivs at 9:43 PM on June 21, 2015


And yet TOS remains perfectly watchable.

TNG is just so slow and boring (and beige) now but most TOS episodes are still fun to watch.
posted by octothorpe at 10:56 PM on June 21, 2015


Some of what makes DS9 compelling, I think, is the tension between that Trekian optimism and some of the show's darker elements.

BRB, watching "In the Pale Moonlight" for the nine thousandth time
posted by maqsarian at 11:15 PM on June 21, 2015 [6 favorites]


"It's a FAAAAAKE!"
posted by Artw at 11:34 PM on June 21, 2015 [5 favorites]


"It's REEEAAL!"
posted by maqsarian at 12:34 AM on June 22, 2015


What does God want with a vineyard?
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:08 AM on June 22, 2015


“Jean-Luc Picard”—Eclectic Method, 21 June 2015
posted by ob1quixote at 4:52 AM on June 22, 2015


WRT Roddenberry's attitude,David Gerrold (WRT Trek, will probably always be known as the "The Trouble With Tribbles" guy, although he's written a lot of other fine work besides) claims that a lot of the "all humanity is perfect in the future" mindset actually comes from Roddenberry's lawyer, who in Gerrold's telling becomes like the people in the TOS episode "Patterns of Force" who use the leader as a figurehead who doesn't really know what's going on. However, Gerrold is the only person that I've seen claim that this guy was controlling the show to that degree, and in addition to that (not to mention that Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett, was also a semi-regular on the show), there's the description of the meeting with Roddenberry here that doesn't mention the lawyer guy. It's possible, though, that at this point they'd managed to cut Roddenberry out of the decision loop pretty effectively.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:17 AM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I remember hearing a quote from LeVar burton where he said, basically, that he was angry the show had given a love interest to almost every character, even the android, before it finally gave one to the black man.

I've heard this quote before and it never holds water for me. Geordi was such an engineer. He would get ridiculously excited about warp drives and start blabbing on, which (present company excluded) is realistically very socially awkward even in the 24th century. So it struck me as expected that it would take longer for him to find his match. He was the total over eager nice guy. The android got ladies because so many women go through their "emotionally detached man" phase, sadly, just look at askme, so people like Tasha Yar (trauma background) and ensign what's her name (whose previous guy was detached) falling for him just made sense. For these subtle details I think the writing was a lot better than people initially give it credit for.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:27 AM on June 22, 2015


I'm not meaning to suggest I'd prefer a cynical view of the future. I wouldn't like Trek if that were the case. I just meant Rodenberry occasionally seemed given to seeing things in a particularly rose-coloured way.

I still prefer the idea that humanity got over itself.
posted by dry white toast at 5:50 AM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Recently finished a rewatch of TNG with my fiancee, who'd never seen any Star Trek prior and was hugely into it starting around - surprise! - Season 3.

A few notes:
Doctor Crusher and Counselor Troi finally, finally start getting taken seriously around Season 6 when the writers began running a bit dry on high philosophy and Data/Geordi antics. I knew this was coming, but the wait on her behalf was excruciating. That said, the few protracted conversations between Crusher and Troi - typically during morning yoga - are fantastic. They almost never pass the Bechdel test but there's both a distinctly libertine-for-the-80s attitude and the two somehow always convey a subtle mutual awareness that they're what's holding the crew together.

On a very-related note, both of us loved Doctor Pulaski far more than the general fandom, because she was never the slightest bit afraid of telling Picard to shove it or to call Data out on his idiosyncrasies. Not - except perhaps at first - within any sort of mean-spiritedness, but rather a willingness to reflect just a bit of a normal person's "cut the act" cynicism. At times she feels like the only halfway normal person on the show. It's depressing how badly she's been passed over both as a character and an actress, and that the only reason for her existence was Maurice Hurley's bullshit vendetta against Gates McFadden.

Seriously fuck that guy - it's no coincidence the quality of the show jumped several hundred percent after he left at the end of Season 2.

As to the comments above, I very much wish there was more media that was distinctly optimistic about the future both in societal terms and interpersonal ones. I loved "Family" specifically because Picard's relationship with his brother is regressive in the context of their society. It reflects the roots of their upbringing which makes it all the more believable. "In The Pale Moonlight" works for the same reason - Sisko understands what an amazing thing the Federation truly is, how close to ideal it is compared to every past human civilization and nearly every one of their present contemporaries as well. He can't let it go, and betrays it spiritually in order to save it: there's ends-justify-the-means, conflict of state vs. the individual, and a corruption of power dilemma all wrapped tightly together in a wonderful fashion.

On the other hand, I consider the entire Section 31 arc an outright betrayal of literally everything Star Trek stood for, and I'm kind of glad Gene didn't live to see it. That is precisely the kind of "same as it ever was" bullshit attitude that Star Trek was created to overcome. It's the exact moment the writers finally sold the aspirational nature of the franchise down the river, and since that first episode it's never recovered its basic faith that people on the whole will someday be something fundamentally different and better than what they are today.

I deeply miss that, and I wish there was literally any decently funded and written media at all attempting to do something similar.
posted by Ryvar at 8:04 AM on June 22, 2015 [13 favorites]


I very much wish there was more media that was distinctly optimistic about the future both in societal terms and interpersonal ones.
This is not an unreasonable wish, but perhaps it helps to look at each iteration of Star Trek in the context of its time. TOS was made while the Apollo program was active. If that didn't create a general sense of optimism in society, nothing would. It's too bad the show was off the air by the time of the first moon landing.

Critically, all the other shows were made after Watergate and the loss of the Vietnam war, both of which greatly raised the ambient level of cynicism in U.S. society. TNG started at the tail end of the Reagan era, right around the time the Iran-Contra affair was blowing up. DS9 was made right after the first Iraq war. Nobody could have taken seriously the shiny, uncomplicated vision of the future, and the deafness to the echoes of American imperialism in TOS by then.

Ursula LeGuin wrote that science fiction isn't predictive, it's descriptive. Certainly it isn't created in a vacuum apart from society at large. Although it's interesting that Neal Stephenson has taken his fellow SF writers to task for failing to put forward a vision of the future we can aspire to. He's talking about social organization so much as technology, but the idea that SF should be inspirational is still out there.
posted by adamrice at 8:33 AM on June 22, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's a fair point, and I should probably clarify that I don't think Science Fiction - or even one entire franchise - should only be about perfect people in a perfect society dealing with presently abstract philosophical questions made concrete by new technology or civilizations. Doing so risks glossing over the enormous moral failings of the present that need to be addressed in order to move the human race forward.

That said, most of the failings in Star Trek TNG are purely human ones that don't clash with the vision of a better tomorrow: Geordi is objectively terribad at women, Troi has horrible taste in men and (initially) is disinterested in her career, Riker can't keep it in his pants AND is perpetually lying to himself about his ambition. Worf is a lonely fanboy for a culture that only exists inside his head and is continually crushed by the reality. Picard hides inside his career, Crusher hides inside her maternal and professional roles.

All of these things are failings which exist outside the prospect of a better tomorrow: people will still suck at romance, lie to themselves, and intentionally bury themselves in their work. Those failings will lead to conflicts both interpersonal and against external nature, but none of them are overtly atavistic within the context of a culture that has overcome poverty, crime, corruption and shitty government for the vast majority of its people.

My point is: a future in which the human race has grown up a bit need not restrict conflict or personal growth, it simply changes where the emphasis in those things lies. Trek's eventual failure to respect that was born of creative laziness and a lack of vision by those left holding the reins, and it's kind of tragic things turned out that way.
posted by Ryvar at 9:02 AM on June 22, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's around then that the show started getting really interesting. I was especially impressed with Riker, since the first couple seasons really don't make him that interesting (he gave the same smirk to every single woman he talked to).

He smirked and grinned through the whole series--wasn't he constantly baked on set?
posted by LooseFilter at 11:04 AM on June 22, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've always thought that First Contact, as fine a movie as it is, would have been better without the time travel plotline.

I've always thought that First Contact would have been better without that dumb thing they made James Cromwell wear on his head the whole movie.
posted by Atom Eyes at 4:07 PM on June 22, 2015


Star Trek in general would be better with way, way less time travel.
posted by Artw at 4:23 PM on June 22, 2015


If they ever want to get started on Season 8, there is a host of ideas on Twitter.
A Ferengi attracts the Borg towards a colony he wants to loot. Riker's replicator catchphrase, "Steak, for mouth, hot," needs work.

Emotional awareness threatens the collective after the Borg assimilate Troi. Geordi & Data's elaborate musical numbers upset Worf.

A planet of of sinister alien vintners try to ferment Picard. Riker challenges the ladies of deck 6 to a massive game of "dare or dare."

Picard hand-builds a makeshift rocket to escape Ferengi captors. Geordi & Data feverishly try to repair an antique vase before his return.
And my favorite: Worf is framed for the murder of a depraved Klingon poet. Data & Geordi panic after trapping a hornet under a cup.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 4:36 PM on June 22, 2015 [3 favorites]


Emotional awareness threatens the collective after the Borg assimilate Troi.

Why hasn't that happened already? The Borg are constantly assimilating individuals who don't want to be assimilated. If they can only grow by incorporating others into the collective, you'd think the collective would eventually decide that it didn't want to be a collective anymore and simply dispand.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:37 PM on June 22, 2015


Star Trek in general would be better with way, way less time travel.

I was thinking about that yesterday while watching Yesterday's Enterprise (interestingly, more time has elapsed between that episode's air date and today than the time jump that the Enterprise-C goes through...)

Anyways, it seems to me that most Trek time travel stories involve the crew going back in time, trying to be careful not to influence the critical moment of history they find themselves at, only to discover that their interference is what leads to history unfolding the way it "should". Yesterday's Enterprise reverses that usual setup - the crew stays in the present and is faced with a decision about doing something that alters the past (from their perspective) to ensure the timeline we all know stays intact. Which is part of the reason it is an effective episode, I think - in addition to giving the audience a look at a more militaristic Star Fleet, one where Picard is more of an autocratic leader than the democratic style we are used to.

Maybe my memory is faulty and they've tackled timeline problems in some other inventive ways (and Enterprise might have; I barely watched any of that, but I know they did a lot of time travel).
posted by nubs at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2015


Time travel in Trek would be a lot better if they'd make up their fucking minds as to how it worked. Even with shifting limitations and explanations of basic technologies such as transporters, warp drive, holodecks, etc., they're not as bad as the simultaneous and mutually contradictory theories of time travel throughout the various iterations of the franchise: either interfering with the past creates a new timeline that doesn't really change the original one (the reboot movies, sometimes referred to as AOS (Alternate Original Series), and the original continuity as continued in the MMORPG Star Trek Online), or it does alter the original timeline (almost every other occurrence); the original Enterprise crew could use an ordinary starship to travel back in time by slingshotting around a star, but they were the only ones who could (one fan theory is that Spock is literally the only person in the galaxy who can do the math); the Borg seem to have the ability to travel in time at will, but only used it once; and so on. The Federation of several centuries beyond the TNG era had a special Temporal Starfleet (Timefleet?) with dedicated chronoships, bu they were almost comically bad at managing repairs to the continuity, and an alien race called the Krenim had a sophisticated set-up that could not only alter history but track the changes and even predict likely consequences of those changes to some extent, but they got stymied by a couple of Voyager crewmembers that they inexplicably recruited (I guess they couldn't predict that). It's probably not surprising that the last TV series, Enterprise, was supposed to have a series-long metaplot involving a Temporal Cold War, that could both potentially change previously established continuity and/or fix continuity problems, but it never got seen through.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:15 PM on June 22, 2015


Timey Wimey... even a show supposedly about time travel can't make it's mind up on how it works.
posted by Artw at 9:58 PM on June 22, 2015


He said it was like a ball of stuff, didn't he? I mean do you go around sneering at, like, geologists and astronomers too? Man, there's just no pleasing some people.
posted by No-sword at 11:38 PM on June 22, 2015


In short, Halloween Jack, we need to go back in time and get the writers of Star Trek to stop fucking around with time travel as a plot device.
posted by nubs at 3:48 PM on June 24, 2015 [2 favorites]


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