My thoughts on Star Trek, round one

This is spoiler-free, because I’m not really reviewing the movie per se — more talking about why I never cared about Star Trek (in any of its incarnations), and why this movie managed to hook me where the previous attempts failed. I’ll still put it behind a cut, though, for length.

Let me say up front what my familiarity with the franchise consists of: the most recent four or five movies, The Wrath of Khan, and a double handful of random eps of the different series (TOS, TNG, Voyager, Enterprise — the only one I’ve missed entirely is DS9, which ironically is the one I’d probably like best). So if you find yourself wanting to make a comment in the vein of “but you’re wrong, they did that thing over here in this part of that series,” consider it made. I’m talking about my perception of the show, not an exhaustive survey of its texts.

Having said that: the future of Star Trek just never interested me.

I read a recent article by one of the old TNG writers, and discovered that one of my main gripes was no accident; it was fiat from On High, i.e. Gene Roddenberry. Namely, the lack of internal conflict. The guy actually believed (or at least dictated for his setting) that by the twenty-fourth century, the human race would have evolved past social conflict. No, really. And the instant I read that, I thought, huh — no wonder the Federation always bored me.

Don’t get me wrong; if I had to pick a future to live in for real, that one sounds pretty nice. But I don’t believe in it, and I don’t much care about it, because if you have no internal conflict then it all has to be external (evil aliens! moster of the week!), and that gets old for me real fast. I want both. I want political disagreements and philosophical disagreements and characters who plain don’t like each other and never will, without it being a matter of villainy. Which is not to say I require bleak and gritty futures, either — I like a balance. And that’s what I got here. Two responses friends of mine have made to the movie pulled out the exact words I was looking for, which is to say that this film came across as optimistic, but not utopian. Star Trek always felt too utopian to me, the Federation too perfect, for it to engage my interest.

It manifests in small ways, too. One of the things I loved about Firefly was that the world of the narrative looked lived-in: things got scratched and dirty (and not just in climactic battles), rooms looked inhabited, clothes looked like people actually wore them. Star Trek’s locations always looked like sets to me, and the clothes always looked like costumes. This is partly a matter of budget, of course, and when you get down to it I wasn’t a fan of the new movie’s Starfleet uniforms, which pretty much looked like long-sleeved shirts. (I liked the cadet uniforms, though, because the fabric was heavy enough not to rumple.) But the mechanical underbellies of the ships, the scratches on the shuttles, the Academy dorm room . . . those things looked more real to me in this iteration. Less utopian. Less fake.

When Enterprise got canceled, I got into a discussion with some friends about these reasons for my disinterest in Star Trek, and what I would love to see out of an ST series. You see, I’d read a very salient argument from someone, that the dedicated fanbase was too attached to a rigid model for the premise: a series has to feature a ship, which travels around to different places encountering aliens they have conflicts with, and the protagonists are the ship’s top officers. DS9’s the only one to substantially break that model, and only partly then. But that premise limits the stories you can tell, and to some extent requires a consistent bit of illogic: in reality, as people have often pointed out, the top officers are not going to be the ones beaming down to a planet to go exploring. You can do political plots with them (as BSG did, quite well), but not so much with adventure. Therefore, what I really wanted to see was a series about a group of hotshot young ensigns fresh out of the Academy and bent on making names for themselves in the Fleet.

Mind you, every time I say this, people respond in horror: “You want an entire series of WESLEY CRUSHER?” Which, no. But that character type doesn’t have to be annoying. And the advantage of it is that you have characters with ambition and room to grow — which means you’ve given them personal goals — and limited resources, influence, authority, with which to achieve them — now you’ve created obstacles. They’ll be inexperienced, they’ll doubt themselves, they’ll try for and sometimes achieve the impossible because they don’t know it can’t be done.

In other words, this movie.

And that’s the biggest selling point for me. That’s what’s fresh. I adore watching people prove themselves for the first time; I live for the moments when they get to take their native talent and untested education and see just what they’re capable of. It isn’t the only kind of story I can enjoy, of course, but it’s a new angle for Star Trek (at least in TV and film, though I understand the books have covered it), and it’s one with the power to hook me. Give me a universe with prejudice, conflicts of authority, fistfights in bars — all the interpersonal and intrasocietal conflict that always seemed to be lacking — and a bunch of characters with a whole arc of growth ahead of them, and I’m halfway bought already.

Which is why this is the first Star Trek film ever that I was actively excited to go see. And I enjoyed it very much.

I’ll probably post more of a review-type response later, talking about specific details and how they struck me (mostly good, a couple of bad, several highly interesting, especially from a writing-craft standpoint). But I wanted to toss that out there. The things I liked are probably the very aspects pissing off the purists, but hey. If they want to relaunch the franchise, they need a fresh expansion of their audience. And for my own part, if they do more movies or a TV show that take this as their starting point, I’ll be in the theatre or on my couch, ready to be entertained.

0 Responses to “My thoughts on Star Trek, round one”

  1. gornishka

    I come from a “grew up watching TNG, but am not hardcore Trekkie purist” background, but I agree with you completely about Star Trek’s narrative possibilities in general being hamstrung by the anti-internal conflict mandate.

    It’s been a while since I watched any DS9, but if I’m not completely misremembering it, yes, they did make a fair amount of use of internal conflict.

    • Marie Brennan

      I just . . . don’t understand setting things up that way. Probably because I start with the narrative, not with the philosophical agenda I want to promote, which seems to have been more of a driving force for Roddenberry. But it’s like Valdemar for me: nice place, living there wouldn’t suck, but the stories feel like a pair of jaws with teeth on just one side. They never really manage to bite down as hard as I wish they could.

  2. celestineangel

    I can see what you’re saying, definitely, and I still think you should give every series other than the original one a try, from the beginning if you can.

    TNG has internal conflict. Not as much as DS9, mind you, but it has it (the episode that comes immediately to mind is the one wherein Picard and the crew have to fight a legal battle over Data’s viability as a person to save him from being dismantled and studied by a scientist who considers him nothing more than a sophisticated bucket of bolts). There are incredibly psychological episodes as well, and one that explores the beginning of and connection between the humanoid races in the galaxy (with reactions from the Klingon and Cardassian characters I think you would enjoy).

    Not every episode has what you’re talking about, no, because I believe the series started out still heavily influenced by Gene Roddenberry and his decrees, but there are episodes where you’ll find it… episodes where Picard and his crew have to fight other members of the Federation, or Starfleet, to accomplish the goal they know is the right course of action.

    Voyager makes use of internal conflict as well, though I don’t know how much you’d consider it that way, as in the beginning there’s definitely a mentality of us vs> them as in Starfleet vs. the Maquis characters on board. Part of the goal of at least the first couple of seasons is for these groups with vastly disparate philosophical differences to learn to live and work together.

    Yes, definitely DS9 is the series for you, there’s loads of conflict there from external to internal. All I’m saying is that the other series (again, other than the original) don’t entirely lack that quality. It’s just more subtle.

    • Marie Brennan

      I still think you should give every series other than the original one a try, from the beginning if you can.

      If I try this approach, I will fail. Because I’ve tried to watch the beginning of TNG, and stopped a few eps in. It’s the same problem I have with Babylon 5: you can tell me all you like that there are important things in the first season, setting up stuff that comes later, but when I’m watching it for the first time, none of that means much to me. All I see are the scripts I desperately want to re-write. The only real hope I have of enjoying TNG is if I start in season three or thereabouts, get invested with the good stuff, and then back up to the earlier eps.

      (I am also, I should admit, kind of poisoned by the mantra I’ve heard from way too many Trekkies: “Well, yeah, the first season or two of each series kind of sucks, but you have to watch that and then it gets good.” To which I say, how many shows get the luxury of sucking for a year or two before they shape up? I honestly do think that’s led to some laziness on the part of the shows’ writers, because they know they’ve got a built-in fanbase that will stick with them while they figure out what they’re doing. Me, I don’t have that kind of patience.)

      I know the various series aren’t utterly devoid of internal conflict; you can’t have that many cumulative years of episodes without some kind of strife inside the Federation. But your TNG example still sounds like Our Heroes vs. The Other Guy; what about within the crew? How often do you get serious personality clashes between Picard and Riker, or Worf feeling betrayed by Troi, or other large-scale interpersonal drama? (Names and situations picked out of a hat, for the record; I’ve probably created at least one really bizarre scenario in people’s minds.) Plots like the Federation making peace with the Klingons are moderately interesting to me, but I also want to have a bigger range of dynamics among the core cast, and conversations with other Trekkies have given me to understand that what I’m looking for really isn’t there, not strongly and consistently enough to engage me.

      I don’t mean that to rain or your parade, btw. There are plenty of other things to enjoy about the shows; they just aren’t the kind of things that attract me enough to overcome the other hurdles in the way.

      • celestineangel

        But your TNG example still sounds like Our Heroes vs. The Other Guy; what about within the crew?

        Watch any episode with Barclay. ^_^ Not only is he adorable in a “so shy and socially inept he can hardly speak” sort of way, but he nearly drives Geordi up a wall. The first episode about him shows that people in this “utopia” are still capable of picking out a single person who is different from they are and being just a little cruel. After the first one, people learn to deal with him, but there’s always a sense of “Barclay, Reg, come ON, man” when he’s in an episode. People lose their patience with him. He brings out the worst in them.

        Beyond Barclay, I can’t think of other episodes off the top of my head (at least not any where the conflict didn’t originally arise from an external source). This only goes to show how much I need the series on DVD.

        (Also, bizarre scenario not-so-bizarre after all. Hee!)

        I am also, I should admit, kind of poisoned by the mantra I’ve heard from way too many Trekkies: “Well, yeah, the first season or two of each series kind of sucks, but you have to watch that and then it gets good.”

        I strongly dislike this sort of statement; I don’t think the first season or two of any of the series suck so much as the writers have this cast of characters they think they know, but they don’t really get to know the characters completely until they’ve lived and worked with them for a while, much like writing a novel. It’s not that the first seasons suck, it’s just the writers didn’t hit their stride until a couple of seasons in, and I believe it will be like that with any TV series.

        Anything will get better with time, and writers of TV series don’t have the luxury of being able to consider the first season of their shows a first draft and going back to fix them as writers of novels or even feature film screenplays can, they have to live with what they put out the first time around. They have a limited time to work, and even having planned for months before the first episodes are shot… well, we all know how those characters can be, taking you off in different places than you ever imagined once you give them the time to do so.

        Bottom line: I boo the people who say first seasons suck just because the tone and characters change later on. Those first seasons are necessary for character growth to get to those oh-so-brilliant later episodes, and they’re worth it just for that.

        • Marie Brennan

          I believe it will be like that with any TV series.

          Yes and no . . . certainly there’s an aspect of getting to know the characters and situation better as time goes on, but I can name off plenty of shows that started strong right out of the gate. Which leads me to:

          Anything will get better with time

          If only that were true. <thinks mournfully of series, in books and TV, that started out great and then fell off a cliff>

          The major break-point for me is this: sure, you’ll get to know your characters better as time goes on, but certain aspects of story construction can (and ideally, should) be done well right from the start. So if I see an early episode and it has wooden dialogue, a cheesy premise, and/or plot holes that make me want to bang my head, I have a hard time cutting the writers any slack. I can get past it if I’m given something else shiny enough (like a really awesome setting, or a favorite trope), but the more of those craft flaws I run into, the harder time I have getting into the story. I’m too busy mentally editing the script to become invested in anything.

          And that, more than a change in tone or characters, is what I usually hear people complaining about wrt early seasons.

          • celestineangel

            I’m too busy mentally editing the script to become invested in anything.

            I guess that’s the difference, then. I tend to do that more with books (if I think “I could so do this better” somewhere in the first third of the book, I’m likely to put it down). With TV and movies, I’m more in a mindset to let go and just enjoy myself, so I probably forgive more things than I would otherwise. Especially in scifi and fantasy. Then again, it takes a lot to make me watch a new show anyway, so the shows I do watch, I tend to enjoy because… well, if there’s something thre that made me interested enough to tune in despite my creature of habit tendencies, it’s probably enough to keep me watching.

            (I’ll admit, there’s also the 12 year old in me going “But but but but it’s my favorite SHOW!!”)

          • Marie Brennan

            And I can totally understand that. ๐Ÿ™‚ (Hell, there are things near and dear to me which I cannot discuss rationally at all. I can have detailed squee, but critical dissection? DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.)

  3. nonnycat

    I think you probably would like DS9, from what you’ve said about internal conflict. Unlike the other shows, there are massive amounts of conflict within characters and between characters, and that’s not counting big-picture external. Of all the shows, its characters are the most rounded IMO. Shades of grey, and it’s hard to pin down characters as a certain archetype and that alone (which I like).

    TNG and Voyager had internal conflict, as another poster mentioned, but it’s not as visible from episode to episode as it is in DS9. (Although, I’d caution that DS9 does not really develop until the 2nd season and if you catch 1st season eps… don’t expect to be grabbed. When I re-watch the series, I skip it entirely.)

    I just got out of seeing the movie. I loved it. I’ve been a closet Trek fan (2nd generation!) for awhile but have been extremely disappointed ever since DS9 ended and Voyager became the Seven of Nine Soap Opera. Let’s not even talk about Enterprise…

    • celestineangel

      May I butt in here for a second just to say, Seven and Chakotay, whut? I never did understand that.

      • nonnycat

        I never saw that far. I gave up very early into Season 5.

        • celestineangel

          I can’t tell you what season I stopped following the series religiously, but I do know that somewhere in the last season, Seven and Chakotay start having a romance. Personally, I think it was a desperate attempt by the writers to kill any last remnants of the hinted Chakotay/Janeway relationship.

          Eh, I sound like such a shipper. I’m not really, it’s just one of thsoe things that made me put on my WTF face.

          • nonnycat

            After what I saw in Season 4 and 5, I decided the writers had gone on crack and decided not to waste my time any longer. ๐Ÿ˜‰

            Outside of watching the final episode, which I thought they did an awful hack job with. Stargate Atlantis’s ending was much more along the lines of what I expected Voyager’s to be, and they just… failed.

          • celestineangel

            Don’t the writers of all series go on crack at some point? ;o)

            I never did get in to SGA. I’m not big on most spinoffs (with the exception of Xena), it’s hard for me to begin to love a new cast of characters in a familiar world. I want to know what’s going on with the characters I already know, thank you.

            Though, the “finale” of Stargate SG-1? That was some epic fail right there. So epic, I can’t decide which series’ finale failed mroe epically, that one or Battlestar Gallactica.

    • Marie Brennan

      As I said above, if I decide to give any ST series a concerted second chance, I’ll probably skip the first season. Yeah, that means I’ll be confused about some things, but if I’m to have a chance of caring, I need to start with the good stuff. And ST shows have too much of a pattern of weak first seasons.

      Enterprise . . . I saw one ep, and the entire plot would have never happened if a single character stopped to rub two brain cells together. Watched a second ep, and well, let me just say it was either the same week as or the week after Firefly’s “Out of Gas,” and the contrast between two “the ship breaks down” plots could not have been more painful.

      Sadly, I wasn’t even that impressed by “The City on the Edge of Forever,” which is always held up as one of the classics of the entire franchise. It wasn’t terrible, but it also didn’t move me, even on a script level (divorced from the acting).

      • wadam

        Don’t skip the first season of DS9. The first episode is very good, and is a manifesto for how it is a different kind of ST from what came before.

        Enterprise sucked. I made it through the first season and quit.

        And “The City on the Edge of Forever” is not really the one to watch. It’s a classic, but (I think) because it fits so well with the kind of moralizing that lots of Trekkies really want to see. Harlan Ellison didn’t exactly disown the script, but he has talked about how much it was tamed by the ST powers that be to make it fit Rodenberry’s vision of the ST universe.

        I’d recommend having a look at “The Naked Time.”

        • Marie Brennan

          It’s kind of odd, given that Roddenberry’s the one who gave us Star Trek in the first place, for me to say that I might be a lot more interested in the whole thing were it not for Roddenberry’s influence. But it’s true.

  4. mrissa

    I think one of the things that doesn’t work for me about the conflict-free humanity inside the Federation is that the humans we see don’t behave enough differently to make it plausible to me. If we were going on the assumption that the other species were more human than the humans any more, because the humans had developed past internal conflict, that might be interesting (briefly), but it’s not at all what they’ve done with ST.

    • Marie Brennan

      I almost said that, if we’re talking about a conflict-free race, we aren’t talking about Homo sapiens anymore.

      But I can’t imagine that working as the premise of a TV series. A really neat short story or even a couple such, maybe. In the long haul, though, you need to be able to empathize with the characters, and it’s hard to do that when they’re fundamentally alien.

      • mrissa

        Right, and while you could have an alien race (or androids or something) for the characters the reader can understand, I’m not sure why it would be better to do that more than once at short story length than to just have comprehensibly human human characters.

  5. mindstalk

    I was going to recommend Babylon-5, but I see you mention it. Still, bad 1st season scripts notwithstanding, I think it had a lot more general social conflict than even DS9 had. Labor strikes, fights over money, political disagreements, dealing with religious issues, how to treat telepaths… eventually, full blown civil war. It’s terribly flawed but if you were going to get into any SF TV I’d rec that one. (Or maybe Blake’s 7, I’ve heard of it as “the world for which ST is the propaganda”, but never seen it and it’s hard to find.)

    And if you’re willing to skip a season, I suppose starting with season 2 B-5 could work. Or partway through season 1.

    ST TOS at least still had money; I think Roddenberry’s utopian vision got cranked up even more in TNG, though you had “we’re beyond money” in ST4:”Save the Whales” too. But that’d be late Roddenberry too. The Prime Directive was another source of conflict, sort of. You never actually see much of the Federation to judge its conflict, just rogues like Harvey Mudd; social conflict probably gets offloaded onto all the human worlds they ran across, racism and warfare and weird cultures. Interpersonal, well, there’s the classic Spock-McCoy griping.

    • Marie Brennan

      I actually believe that if I were to watch the rest of B5, I would like it. And I intend to do that . . . someday. But the first season (of which I watched the entirety) just really underwhelmed me.

      I think Roddenberry’s utopian vision got cranked up even more in TNG

      That fits with what I remember of the article by the TNG writer. He kind of came out and said it got better after Roddenberry passed away, and wasn’t there to control things so much anymore.

      • mindstalk

        A lot of the early episode do suck. (“Infection”, half of “TKO”, I’m looking at you.) And the time-travel ep Babylon-Squared, though arc, has, well, bad time travel science problems (“he aged to death!”) and a genuine “as you know, Bob” moment. Some good arc eps though: “And the Sky Full of Stars”, “Signs and Portents”, “Chrysalis”.

        OTOH, if you couldn’t care about the characters at all, even the alien ambassadors (generally better acting there), hrm.

        FWIW my summary of the ST movie plot holes.

        • Marie Brennan

          “Infection” was the exact episode that made me wonder why I was bothering to watch the show. (Answer? I was making a costume piece for Changeling, and it was easy to just let the DVDs roll while I worked.)

          My biggest problem, character-wise, was Sinclair. HATED him. But he goes away, I know. The others were more a victim of fan-hype than anything else, I think: they were fine, but not a quarter so amazing as everybody’s enthusiasm had led me to expect. I’d probably stick around to watch them grow if there was better plotting and no Sinclair.

          • mindstalk


            Ah, Sinclair. He goes away between seasons, S2 starts with Sheridan. (Same initials: Jason Sinclair, John Sheridan, JMS). Sinclair got a lot of grief for being “wooden”, as did other humans; I thought they did pretty well at portraying “commander with a hole in his life who has no idea what he’s doing there, iron maiden, recovering alcoholic there by the grace of friend-nepotism.”

            And if anything everyone was far too cavalier about the fact that B-4 *mysteriously vanished on camera*.

            But yeah, “Infection”‘s horrible. I think JMS claims it was the first script written and he was doped up on cough medicine and doesn’t remember anything. Which doesn’t make the episode itself any better.

          • Marie Brennan

            Re: Sinclair

            . . . yeah, I’m in the camp that found them wooden. I’ve seen performances of similarly closed-off types that impressed me much more: Colin Firth achieved the most amazingly expressive expressionlessness I’ve ever seen in the Pride & Prejudice miniseries, and Roy Marsden was nothing short of brilliant in The Sandbaggers. Sinclair was just a piece of cardboard to me.

            As for cough medicine — dude, Stephen King doesn’t remember writing Cujo because he was on COCAINE at the time, and I’d take that over “Infection” any day. JMS, you have no excuse. <g>

  6. akashiver

    I’m with you.

    Personally, I really enjoyed many of the post-1st season episodes of STTNG I saw. It was too many years ago for me to analyze their script structure, but some of them I remember as being great standalone stories. The one in which the ship keeps being destroyed and the narrative keeps restarting, for example. The vaguely Philip K Dick-esque Game episode in which Wesley has to save the crew from an addictive computer game that’s really a form of mind control. The one where they meet the Borg for the 1st time. The last Moriarty episode, with its fictions inside of fictions and Picard breaking the forth wall.

    I can’t remember a multiple episode arc in STTNG *apart* from Picard’s capture by the Borg. I remember it as an anthology of sci-fi tales that used the same characters week after week, and occasionally did something to tweak their relationships. That’s really the format “ship traveling through space! Very little human conflict!” encourages.

    I remember watching the first couple of seasons of DS9 as they aired and losing interest. The utopian politics of Trek was heavy-handed, and their opening arcs were clumsy. I just didn’t care about any of these characters, and the standalone stories weren’t enough to grip me. I hear that the later seasons of DS9 improved as they stopped trying to be a stationary STTNG and began to be more independent from the Trek format, but by that time I’d stopped watching.

    The problem, in other words, is that Trek’s basic storytelling format was perfectly adapted for an older, pre-DVD model of television. By keeping the characters the same and placing them in different situations each week, anyone who tuned in would be entertained, and wouldn’t have to do a lot of mental legwork to catch up on what was going on. Shows that departed from this model – i.e. Babylon 5 – really suffered, because the fact was that only hardcore fans were going to tape and catch up on its storylines. I remember an old boyfriend trying to get me hooked on Bab 5 by lending me the first three seasons – on about 200 video tapes. I had to stack them up in a small mountain in my living room. I tried to get through them all, I really did, but in the end they had to go. People kept tripping over them.

    DVDs changed that, confirming our place in a multi-episode arc era. You can write a show differently now, when it has become the norm for people to start watching shows on DVD and transfer over to watching them as they air. It’s one of the reasons I guess it’s appropriate that Paramount gave the new movie to Abrams, whose name is pretty much synonymous with the long tv arc.

    • mindstalk

      Oh hey, Abrams did Felicity and Lost. Those… aren’t recommendations for me.

      200 tapes, ow. He must have gone for quality. If you use the long tapes, T-160? high density recording, and cut out the commercials as it tapes, you can get 11 episodes onto one tape. I’ve got a medium-sized box of all of B-5, Angel, and Buffy, on about 30 odd tapes. Which I can’t watch since I sold you my TV, but I’ve got DVDs for B-5 and Buffy, if not Angel.

      “utopian” and “DS9” amuses me but I only saw the later seasons.

      Of course, rumor was that DS9 was literally stolen from JMS’s pitch of B-5 ideas to Paramount.

      • Marie Brennan

        Abrams, for me, comes out as a net neutral. Everything of his I’ve seen was very engaging on certain fronts, not so much on others.

    • Marie Brennan

      I think you’re completely right about the mode of storytelling. And it’s definitely true that I’m an arc-plot kind of girl; even shows like Buffy, which have episodic monster-of-the-week stretches, are usually developing character arcs around the edges of the one-off plots. Which is kind of why I keep using The Sandbaggers as my touchstone for comparison; it aired ’78-’80, so it’s old, and it’s very much one-off plots with only occasional callbacks to previous eps, but its writing and characterization blew my head up. Then again, not everybody’s Ian Mackintosh.

      Some retrospective I read argued that DS9 hit its stride after TNG went off the air (thus getting it out from under that shadow). Which kind of fits with what you said.

  7. jenlyn_b

    Count me down as another one who’s only seen a bit of the different TV series, always got bored very quickly and moved on, but absolutely LOVED the movie. The character arcs! The funny dialogue! *happy sigh*

    • Marie Brennan

      Yup. The characters had PASSION. And I don’t just mean Spock/Uhura; I meant they burned with the kind of energy I don’t usually associate with Star Trek.

  8. sartorias

    Yep, yep, yep.

    I watched the original–not at the time, as I was a teen and my dad controlled the TV. He had no interest in sf, so I only heard about Trek from friends. But when he was given a second TV in 1969 for a business boost, and the folks set that in their bedroom, I got to watch Trek on reruns, and of course was still close enough to the timeperiod for the cheesiness factor to escape me–everything was cheesy in those days.

    But I lost interest in the rest of the franchise later, for exactly the reasons you named.

    I am so looking forward to this movie.

    • Marie Brennan

      It isn’t perfect, of course. But it gives me enough to love that I happily skate right past the logical inconsistencies and appallingly bad science. And you know, I’m more than willing to enjoy that kind of thing.

  9. Anonymous

    Probably the best strategy would be to find friends who know the opening seasons of DS9 and B5 (not to say later seasons of the former) very well, who also understand your complaints (which are quite valid {g}), and then have them give you a list of “critical eps”.

    Which, on the other hand, is harder to do with those two shows because the writers have a habit of building in long-running plot points as secondary material. So you’ll be watching an ep with an A-story that doesn’t necessarily amount to much (though as everyone has said, there’s a lot more internal conflict in those two shows than what you’ve seen of ST so far), but the B-story is ultra-super-important.

    On yet the other hand, since you’ve already watched several B5 first season eps, you could poll concerning critical eps for the first season (and I would say also the second season–after about 2/3 of the way through Season 2 all the eps become critical out through the end of season 4, where you might as well end the series {wry g}); see if you’re missing any you haven’t seen yet; watch those; and then proceed onward.

    Bonus: unlike other Star Trek shows, DS9 actually lives up to its pluralism ideals in taking religion seriously, for better as well as for worse. B5 kind-of does, too (though in another way it might be said that the resolution of the cosmic arc near the beginning of season 4 rather backhands that premise. But still, between the two series I’d have to go with B5 overall for density of quality, so to speak.)

    Hope that was helpful. {s} Back to lurking.

    • mindstalk

      Though B-5 still suffers from a bit of alien monoculture problem. Aliens have conflicts — power struggles in all three main races — but Centauri and Minbari just show one culture. For the Narn, there is a hint that G’Kar and Na’toth don’t follow the same religion.

      DS9 seemed a bit schizo to me. Bajoran worship of powerful aloof wormhole aliens was treated respectfully, Dominion worship of powerful aliens who’d actually created the Dominion races was treated as an abusive fraud. Not that the Founders *weren’t* abusive and controlling, but still…

      • telepresence

        I’d disagree with you about the Minbari being a monoculture, given the amount of conflict and contempt that were generated between the 3 class factions, particularly the religious and the military castes. It may not be religion, exactly, but it’s…worldview or philosophy taken to essentially religious levels.

        • mindstalk

          I was seeing that as class conflict within a government/culture, or military/civilian conflict. But perhaps we quibble.

      • Anonymous

        In regard to B5 monoculturalism: JMS actually addresses that a few times during the series, to the effect that humans are distinctly different from other galactic cultures in that they form multi-cultural communities. It’s a pretty big theme later, come to think of it: when one ambassador (no spoilers {g}) is exhorting the league of non-aligned worlds to side with B5 in its counter-revolution, he points out that none of _any_ of them would have conceived of Babylon 5, much less stuck with it to make it work. The Drazi wouldn’t have done it for the Pak-ma-ra, the Minbari wouldn’t have done it for the Narn, etc.

        Granted, it’s a still just a way to get around the limits of fictional narrative, but at least the author tries to make it work _for_ his story. {s}

        • mindstalk

          Campbell’s special humans

          Ah right, I’d forgotten that. One version of the “humans must be special” trope.

          Offsetting that claim might be early statements that aliens were migrating to and buying land on Earth, which was one of the triggers for the Earth First! movement.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve actually watched the entirety of B5 S1. It just left me with an overwhelming amount of inertia, even though I’ve been told by many fans that it gets loads better just 2 or 3 eps further on.

      Part of the problem, of course, is that there’s all kinds of other TV shows competing for my time and attention now (not to say movies and books). So it’s extra-hard to backtrack for an old show when there are newer shinies I don’t have inertia problems with.

      • Anonymous

        Never mind then. {g} Despite the complexity and depth of the overarching narrative (which is quite good), it still only works if you’re invested in the characters; and if you aren’t by the end of Season 1, you might as well move along.

        (Also, although I would say it gets increasingly better as it goes along, including in Season 2, I don’t think I could say it gets _loads_ better just 2 or 3 eps into Season 2. Plus, as you may already know, the station commander changes very abruptly in a way that seems more than a little bit clunky even though it was planned way in advance.)

        • Marie Brennan

          I detested Sinclair so much that I don’t care how clunky the plot is that gets rid of him. And I think people’s point wrt S2 is less an abrupt change, more, “It gets better in S2, and if you watch for two or three eps you’ll see it improve.” (Partly because Sinclair GOES AWAY.) The other characters probably would have seemed acceptable to me, if not immediately enthralling, if I hadn’t been subjected to so much hype about the series in advance.

          • Anonymous

            Moral: avoid hype. {g!}

            Yes, I know, it can’t really be done. After all, you started watching it on recommendations. By now I simply react against hype, not because I think the material must actually be bad if it’s hyped, but because I’d rather keep my expectations conservatively low and be pleasantly surprised instead of otherwise.

            Like, y’know, with the Star Trek movie. {lol!} (Eomer is a pitch-perfect Dr. McCoy?! Srsly!? That… that just can’t be true. My mind is boggling trying to conceive of it. EOMER?!?! Yet fans of the OS keep telling me it’s true.)

            I really don’t know why I love B5 so much, because objectively you’re right: Ivanova and Sinclair are not the kind of acting I would normally enjoy. Londo (objectively speaking) seems too cartoonish and over-the-top. As does G’kar. (This however was planned in advance so that their characters had room to grow in other directions; ones foreshadowed in that great speech from the “Gathering” pilot movie where Londo, half-drunk in the bar, laments the decline of his culture. “See the Great Centauri Republic! Open seven days a week, nine to five. _Earth_ time… nice shark. pretty shark.” He thinks of himself and his people as a remora, attaching himself to the new “shark” in the sea, the humans. As you may remember from Season 1, this attitude looks ready to lead to some very very very serious problems, and not in regard to allying with Earth.)

            Ivanova gets better after the first season; Sinclair goes away but returns in a fashion that (knowing you) you’d admire and despise about equally. {g} (But briefly.) Garibaldi, the security chief… if you liked him in Season 1, he keeps being that way but more hard-boiled and dumped on. If you didn’t like him by the end of Season 1, forget it. The doctor doesn’t change much (though he has a slightly interesting addiction arc that comes and goes.) Neither of the telepaths (the red-haired one, Lyta Alexander, comes back eventually) will do much for you, I’d expect. The Londo/G’kar side of the plot takes on Shakespearean proportions; I can’t see that you _wouldn’t_ like that, but I could see being annoyed with their initial Season 1 establishments. Vir remains Vir (but gets thinner. {g}) The Minbari aide, Lennear, has a really nice development as a character, but it doesn’t amount to much in the great scheme of things I guess. G’kar’s aide, Na’toth, practically vanishes (the actress got married or something) during Season 2, which is sad because she was awesome. (The actress returns for one ep in Season 3 as a lawyer. A different actress plays Na’toth for a few eps, and does _so_ poorly…) I can take or leave Delenn’s story and characterization (important though that is to the plot). The Evil Rod Serling guy (Morden) continues to do what he did in Season 1 but better.

            And the new commander, Sheridan, is… well, my parents thought he was worse as an actor than Sinclair. Take that for what you will.

            Oh, and a renaissance fair guy is added to the plot in Season 3 (one of the Rangers). {g} He has a lot to be said in his favor, but he’s also kind of goofy (which, to be honest, is something that could be said about a lot of the characters. But then, that’s true about the Firefly series, too, which I adore as much or moreso than B5. So…{shrug})

          • mindstalk

            I think Na’toth’s actress turned out to be allergic to the latex makeup, unless I’m confusing her with the aide before her. The replacement actress… yeah no.

            I seem to be one of the few fans who found the Rangers frigging *creepy*. “We live for the One, we die for the One.” Everyone thinks this is cool, not a fanatical personality cult.

  10. beccastareyes

    One of the things early (TOS and TNG) Trek had was a very episodic structure — there are a few episodes that do follow each other pretty closely*, but most of them are pretty stand alone. It does make it easier to be a casual fan, and to some extent, a space ship out exploring is harder to do ongoing plots, but I agree… there could have been more on-going conflict. DS9 does it a bit better, in that it starts with characters in conflict by having non-Federation main characters and a Federation character suddenly put in an unfamiliar role, and another dealing with family issues**. It still takes the writers about the first third of the series to figure out what they’ve got to work with, though. (There is a couple of good episodes early on. Duet is one of my favorites.)

    * The Data episodes, or the ones with the Borg in TNG. Picard and Data get the best episodes in that sense. Well, and Worf and his coping with discovering his own culture.

    ** I recall an interview that said that, if they were going to do DS9 over again, they’d make Jadzia have Ezri’s backstory, in that she was a young Trill that suddenly had a symbiont and nine lifetimes worth of memories. I could also imagine they’d integrate in the Bashir-genetically-engineered backstory they sprung out of nowhere. They might also stretch out Sisko’s healing around his wife’s death to more than the pilot, or do more about the O’Briens’ marriage (though they did a lot with Keiko trying to deal with making her own career now that her husband was transferred).

    I wonder if seeing that arcs can succeed in SF/dramatic television — see BSG and most of Joss Whedon’s work, not to mention things like Lost — would make a new or retelling of Trek series different than the older stuff. Personally, I’d rather see a mix of character ages/spots in life — I liked DS9’s mix of characters, actually.

    • mindstalk

      Babylon-5! I think it defined “story arc” for American TV SF. And actually was planned ahead, whereas I don’t believe that of anything Joss has done.

      • beccastareyes

        True. I’m a big B5 fan, for that matter. (I also like how JMS said he had written in some ‘escape clauses’ for the characters if an actor needed to leave. Granted, it did probably sacrifice some depth for flexibility, but it sure came in handy.)

    • Marie Brennan

      Yes, someone else made that point above, and it’s very true. And in some ways, I can’t say for sure whether it would be better to have intra-crew conflict that keeps repeating. Like, “Riker’s a hawk who always objects to Picard showing mercy to the bad guys.” Having that iterate in one episode after another, without the characters growing past it, might hook me initially, then drive me away subsequently. I really do want characters to grow.

      I suspect a new Trek series would aim for the same balance the writers of Supernatural try to achieve: their characters are on a constant road trip, which imposes a monster-of-the-week structure, but they work on building character and metaplot arcs as a framework in which to place the one-off episodes. (With the metaplot briefly taking over toward the end of each season.) It’s tough, but it can be done, and I suspect that in this modern age of TV they’d have to try.

      • beccastareyes

        This post has started me re-imagining Star Trek: Voyager, actually — since it had a basic metaplot from the premise (stranded crew bands together with other (non-fleet and technically criminal) crew and tries to survive and find a way home). One problem was that it didn’t do as much as it perhaps should have with the diverse crew backgrounds — a couple of times, it produces conflict, then the thread is dropped. Though some of that could just be my dim recollections of the first season.

        (I also think I lean towards Voyager and DS9 because they include more civilians and people from backgrounds outside of the ‘career Starfleet’, and lets you see a bit more of the universe and its people. Granted, I think one of the flaws of the newer Star Treks (this movie excepted) is that it takes the writers a lot of time to figure out what the heck they are doing. One plus to series like Supernatural or Babylon 5 or whatever, is that it isn’t a franchise, so there isn’t an expectation of ‘we need to follow the previous formula, despite the fact we have a different premise now’*.)

        (Ironically, I look to things like anime as well — most series are written for one-half to two seasons, so have to pace out their one-offs between/among their plot arcs. Never-ending series like Naruto and Bleach and Pokรฉmon are exceptions.)

        * One plus to JMS is that he said he wouldn’t do another TV show in the Babylon 5 universe just for the fans. Unless he got an idea that needed to be there, and needed a TV format, he was letting the thing die. Granted, he had several attempts to do followups, so this might be gotten by experience. (Crusade and Legends of the Rangers.)

        • Marie Brennan

          And “diverse crew backgrounds” is a freaking GOLD MINE of narrative, which is why I go crazy when it doesn’t get used. The uses to which Abrams puts such things aren’t always to my taste, but at least the man gives his characters history and then has those histories butt heads.

          If I had to sum up the weakness of the ST franchise in two words, those two would be “moralizing” and “formula.” The latter perhaps above all. BSG has plenty of moralizing, but it also wandered around trying different kinds of stories, because there wasn’t the inertia telling them they had to follow a pre-existing template. I never really fell in love with that show, but my favorite episode hands-down is “Final Cut,” which focuses on a fleet TV crew doing a documentary piece on the Viper pilots, who are collectively on the verge of or having nervous breakdowns. Powerful bits of character, and a perspective that isn’t the one you’re used to.

        • mindstalk

          No, JMS was saying that on the newsgroup long before B-5 ended. Crusade was “his idea that needed to be there”, though the eps I saw sucked so hard I went back to watching Farscape.

          • Anonymous

            Crusade was, sadly, trash. As was Legend of the Rangers. And, come to think of it, Season 5, while not exactly bad, was… hard to bear coming off the climaxes of Season 4. (On much the same principle, I routinely skip the second half of _Into The Woods_. {g} It isn’t that the material is poor, exactly, but the preceding conclusion works so well story-wise, that the continuation is dispiriting. Even when that’s the whole point, it’s hard for me to care.)

            To be fair, JMS was rushed into compressing what ought to have been the last two seasons into Season 4 (if I understand correctly) and then to his surprise got greenlit for Season 5; so he tried to use it as an opportunity for the the series to fit a five-part story structure. (Introduction; Rising Action; Complications; Climax; Deneumont. Or however it is the French spell it. :ppp ) In reality, though, making the fifth-aspect JUST AS LONG AS THE OTHERS is begging for a fail. Or at best a meh.

          • mindstalk

            Yeah. I don’t remember S5 in much detail. I’ve seen someone else LJ about watching it though, and advice given her was that second half was better than the first half, with the telepath arc wrapped up and the characters getting back into shape (especially the new Lochley.)

            Another thing is that in S1 and S2, JMS oversaw everything but wrote only a few, important (or not) scripts. He wrote every single script himself in seasons 3,4, and 5, except for Neil Gaiman’s guest episode. I’d be unsurprised if he didn’t burn out, especially after shooting off hsi main story.

            But yeah, the existence of S5 was uncertain, so he crammed the story into S4.

  11. kendokamel

    …how many shows get the luxury of sucking for a year or two before they shape up? I honestly do think that’s led to some laziness on the part of the shows’ writers, because they know they’ve got a built-in fanbase that will stick with them while they figure out what they’re doing.

    Wil Wheaton (who played the aforementioned Wesley Crusher) has written several bits about this very notion. It was interesting to hear it coming from someone who’d been “on the inside”, since it confirmed what many of the rest of us have thought.

    I can see how the “Utopian society” of the Federation has been used as a series of morality plays dressed up in space suits, and I can also see where (especially to contemporary audiences) that pattern can start to get old or boring rather quickly. (I find myself skipping over the preachier bits when I’m watching. Give me the action! The actual conflict! I don’t need characters on a tv show acting like my dad.)

    I think First Contact did a halfway decent job of addressing the cracks in the veneer of the shiny Federation ideals. (Once you look past the convenient time-travel plot, of course.) There is a scene where Picard is determined to carry out his plan of trying to defeat the Borg by fighting them down to the very last man (because someone has to make a stand, goshdarnit!), and an “outsider” character calls bullshit on his notion.

    All that being said, I really loved the new movie. I’ll admit, I was very nervous going in, because I didn’t want it to suck. In a way, it kind of did the same thing for me as that scene in First Contact did for its characters – it showed that, well, maybe The Way We’ve Always Done It does not work, anymore, but here’s a different way to do it (that might be scary because it’s Different) that just might work.

    • Marie Brennan

      Wil Wheaton (who played the aforementioned Wesley Crusher) has written several bits about this very notion.

      Can you give me a quick summary, or point me at an easy place to find his thoughts?

      I’ve always better with the Star Trek movies, probably because they spend less time moralizing. And I agree with The Way We’ve Always Done It vs hey here’s a different way — though the downside, of course, is that you have some fans of the franchise complaining that it “didn’t feel like Star Trek” to them. It depends on what an individual fan believes is fundamental to the Feel of Star Trek. If you want less action, more moralizing, Abrams’ approach may be off-putting . . . but it also has the potential to create a new generation of fans, and the franchise needs that if it’s to be viable in the future.

      • mindstalk

        “moralizing” sounds so negative. :p I haven’t seen anyone saying they missed moralizing… but saying they missed thoughtfulness, or thought-raising, I guess often about moral issues, vs. “shiny action! don’t think at all! the engines won’t take it!”. B-5 might have been better at raising issues without dropping an authorial answer, but eh.

        • Marie Brennan

          Okay, “moralizing” isn’t quite what I mean. But I wouldn’t say I mean “thoughtfulness,” either — it does feel to me that ST (especially back in Roddenberry’s days) had a particular philosophical agenda to explore and advance, and that took a more central role than it does in your average show, to the point where it (unfortunately) tended to trump other narrative concerns.

          The new movie isn’t the world’s most thought-provoking thing, no, but in a way I suspect it’s better that it isn’t. The broader function of Abrams’ film is to get enough people excited about the franchise to make a continuing reboot viable, and space-dives followed by sword-fights on top of giant planet-destroying drills are more likely to spark a mass sensawunda reaction than moral meditations.

          If, however, they relaunch a series that is nothing but shiny mindless action, I’ll agree with the purists that it’s a travesty.

  12. wadam

    And the advantage of it is that you have characters with ambition and room to grow — which means you’ve given them personal goals — and limited resources, influence, authority, with which to achieve them — now you’ve created obstacles. They’ll be inexperienced, they’ll doubt themselves, they’ll try for and sometimes achieve the impossible because they don’t know it can’t be done. In other words, this movie.

    I’m not sure that this movie actually had those things. I know it’s an alternate continuity, but it’s pretty much predetermined that Kirk must become great, that Spock must become wise, that Scotty must be clever, etc. The problem with the idea of a re-launch is that it’s very obviously melodrama: there isn’t a lot of room for outcomes other than the ones you already know you’ll find.

    That said, I did very much like the movie. I agree that it’s a ST universe that looks lived in (for the better), and I did like the interpersonal conflict between the crew, even when it was over the top. I’d like to see more ST done in this style; though I’d like to see some different creative teams and different interpretations going forward.

    Can you imagine, say, Guillermo del Toro doing an ST movie? Or J. Michael Straczynski? Or Russell T. Davies for that matter?

    It seems like the biggest innovation in this film is jettisoning Rick Berman.

    • telepresence

      I think they’ve set up an interesting space for Spock’s development. I get the distinct feeling that Spock Prime was trying to nudge New Spock on a different path than his own, one that embraced his human side and going with his gut a bit more. Careful writing might also mine some interesting material from Spock/Uhura. I agree Kirk and the rest are probably relatively constrained by their overall expected destinies, but Spock bears some watching.

    • Marie Brennan

      The predetermined end doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the journey, though. You could start with the funeral of Kirk, and everybody giving eulogies talking about him and his crew and the great things they did, and I’d still be along for the ride once you flashed back to them as snot-nosed kids. Though it comes back to character: I’m on the edge of my seat near the end of Apollo 13 every. damn. time. not because I’ve forgotten whether the astronauts get back okay, but because it sucks me into empathizing with the characters, who do not know, and who are very afraid indeed.

      What I said I wanted to see in a series wasn’t precisely this movie, because (being a movie) it more or less compressed that entire arc to two hours. But it came close enough to scratching that itch to make me very happy indeed.

      I’d love to see different creative teams, absolutely. It’s a big universe; there should be room for lots of different flavors of story.

  13. Anonymous

    Yes yes yes, this is exactly how I feel about ST. I grew up as a marginal fan, watching lots of TNG and DS9, but very little after that. I was pretty bored with its central premise, and the reset seemed like just what the doctor ordered. I haven’t seen it yet (I’m in Romania), but I’ll hopefully get a chance to check it out when I get back into the country.

  14. Anonymous

    After reading all of the comments, as much as I want to respond to a lot of them I’ll just respond to your original post.

    I liked the movie. I loved that they basically rewrote the continuity from within the universe instead of just externally saying, “Hey we’re doing it over so we’re going to ignore previous continuity that would be restraining.” With something as major as the destruction of Vulcan, I’d say that pretty much gives them carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want with the story and ignore previous continuity because, no Vulcan would directly and indirectly effect pretty much everything in the Star Trek universe.

    I will echo what a lot of people have said, I would recommend watching DS9. It’s final season is probably one of my favorites of any TV series. I will freely admit though that seasons 1 and 2 are kind of rough. I’m actually rewatching the series right now, and I’ve been thinking about making an “essential episode” list for seasons 1 & 2, that way anyone who’s not a big Star Trek person and just wants to watch the important/good stuff can.

    Most of the important episodes in season 1 are really just to establish character relationships, and some to establish the political situation of the station. In season 2 there more episodes that are important from a character perspective, as well as the first mentions of the Big Bad of the entire series. There are also some good stand alone episodes in season 2 that aren’t necessarily super important character moments, or important for later meta plot reasons but just decent stand alone Star Trek episodes.

    Although I’m still in season 2 on this time around, I think once you get to season 3 the bad episodes are few enough that you’re safe to just watch entire seasons from then on.

    Should I actually create such a list I will send it to you.


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