Guest post! Guest post! Aaltomies has some PC troubles so you know that’s a perfect moment for me to start yelling about Star Trek. I’m taking a small break from Enterprise this time around, but I still hope you’ll enjoy it in some capacity.
Maybe this topic has been discussed to death, I don’t know. Maybe I just felt like getting this off my chest. There are many things that can be said about Star Trek Voyager and I think it started off very promising. Sadly, they squandered their potential.
Voyager start off with the Maquis crew and we very quickly get introduced to them in their old ship, before being transported away. There we have the plot for the first part of the episode: Where did they go? And that’s where Voyager comes in, they are tasked to find them and bring them back. Added to that is the fact that a Starfleet security officer is still on board (and undercover), so it would be pretty cool if he could be retrieved as well.
The region the ship is lost in is known as the Badlands, an area of space that has been frequently mentioned in Deep Space Nine. An unstable area of space, lots of space tornadoes, not safe to fly in, you get the gist. So how does Starfleet get in there? By using an ex-Maquis pilot – enter Tom Paris played by Robert Duncan McNeill.
Just describing him as a cocky pilot is doing him a disservice. As the son of a distinguished Starfleet admiral he has always felt the pressure of living up to his fathers’ reputation, which wasn’t easy. Growing up the distance between the two grew larger and larger, turning Tom into a bit of a rebel. After finishing Starfleet academy he got involved into a cover-up incident in which three fellow officers died. Despite telling the truth later, he got dishonorably discharged from Starfleet and became a bit of a drifter – just out there looking for trouble. And trouble he found in the form of the Maquis which he joined as a mercenary, but only two weeks after joining on his first mission he got caught and thrown in a penal colony for treason. One cannot really blame the guy for being pretty cynical and sarcastic at this point.
His reputation is also quite well known at this point, with many an officer not wanting anything to do with him. Still, he gets recruited since he’s the best shot Starfleet has to find the missing ship. And that’s when you throw Harry Kim into the mix. A young, naive young man just fresh out of the academy. Even after being told what happened with Paris, he still gave him a chance and actually asked why he did what he did, starting a long-running friendship on the series
Now, Tom could have been one of the most interesting Voyager characters. You have the two allegiances and with mutiny being a real possibility he could join either party (if they would be willing to accept him). …but nothing of the sort happened, short of a small a what-if holodeck episode, so he just assimilated into the Starfleet crew without a hitch. Like everyone did. A major plot point (the cooperation of the two crews) got resolved way, way too early and should’ve been a (multi) season long struggle.
But let’s rewind a bit, how did the character of Tom Paris came to be on the show? For that we have to jump back to The Next Generation with the episode The First Duty (also known as the best Wesley episode). In this episode we see another character played by McNeill called Nicholas Locarno, which can easily be described as a proto-Paris in his student years. He’s in an elite-student group along with the beloved character Wesley Crusher called Nova Squadron.
Being on the verge of graduation, Locarno wanted to go out with a bang by performing a dangerous five man shuttle maneuver. Sadly, one of them made a mistake and paid for that with his life. Locarno convinced the rest of the squadron to lie about the whole ordeal and started the cover-up, but it was found out by captain Jean-Luc Picard, who told Wesley Crusher to either come forward, or he would. With this being Star Trek, of course he did. Over the course of the episode Locarno becomes increasingly more hostile and panicked to truly become the villain of the episode, but in the end he takes full responsibility and becomes the only one that’s expelled from the academy while the other members would be held back one year.
So now we can compare these two characters. Their backgrounds are very alike, it’s the same actor, what happened here? One reason, given by the producer at the time (Jeri Taylor), stated:
We had liked the idea of a character like Tom Paris ever since we had done “First Duty” and had Lecarno [sic.]. We didn’t make Lecarno the con officer, because he was somewhat darker and more damaged. We felt Lecarno couldn’t be redeemed and we wanted to be on a journey of redemption.
Locarno seemed like a nice guy, but deep down he was a bad guy. Tom Paris is an opposite premise in a way. Deep down he’s a good guy. He’s just made some mistakes.
I disagree with these statements, the redemption. The biggest difference between the two characters is that Locarno had his history shown on the older episodes – you saw his reactions and you knew his motives. With Paris however, the actual details of the incident have always been kept vague. There could have been many other circumstances to Paris’ incident, but it’s never told. Was this just to minimize the risk of a ‘slightly darker’ character like Locarno? In addition to that, why is Locarno irredeemable? They both created an incident, covered it up, and came forward in the end. The only difference being in Locarno’s case is that it was his teammate that did it. But let’s also take a step back here, Locarno was younger than Paris as well. You make stupid mistakes when you’re young. Does that mean he can never be redeemed? Doesn’t that give an even bigger road to redemption?
The writers on the other hand have a very different view on it and they too see no reason why Locarno couldn’t have come back. Both their histories were serious, why could one be redeemed? One possible reason was given (in a slightly joking manner), that the Voyager crew just didn’t want to pay royalties to them and that he also wouldn’t have minded cashing in said hypothetical cheques.
Finally I’d like to finish with a what-if. And don’t worry, I won’t go as far in-depth as those 36-part long Dragon Ball Z videos that cover What if Raditz turned good? or the like. What if Locarno got on that ship instead of Paris? I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that Locarno would’ve ended up with the Maquis as well and he has about the same piloting skills as Paris. With the character being played the same, the friendship with Harry would’ve still started. We would just have a character whose history was a little more defined, instead of a vague story.
Guest Post Time! Your editor A9 is back to rant more about Star Trek Enterprise. If you haven’t read earlier parts, it’s not a requirement, but you could read part one, two and three on this blog. This time with a small change in format – no more long and winded episode summaries as they are not relevant. There’s gonna be more focus on what it did for the series as a whole. Now buckle up.
As the armory officer on Enterprise, he was a military man through and through and the guy you called when you wanted to blow some shit up. At the same time, he was a very reserved man in his private life and quite shy at times. When you have a character like that, it’s clear that you’re really have to go and think about how to get a character like this out of his shell. While the writers did come up with one or two episodes, that was also kind of the end of it. Reed was never really expanded upon, proven by the fact that he only really has one friend on his ship, namely Charles Tucker. Ironically this friendship began with a rivalry which is a nice start for a friendship.
The first character highlight episode of his deals with a very simple question: what is Reed’s favourite food? In the process of getting an answer to that question, it’s only underlined how distant Malcolm is from the rest of the ship, but also his family. The way the answer is revealed is by an extensive background check, and finally a medial background check. In other words a big breach of privacy, just to underline the fact that he’s a very private man. While the answer is revealed (pineapple), does this actually progress his character at all? He doesn’t get featured in his own B-plot, as he’s busy with arming Enterprise in the A-plot. It does get him just a little bit closer to the rest of the crew, but that’s it outside of confirming what the audience already knew: that he’s a private, military guy.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s where you go from there and we don’t get much more until later in the first season, in one of my favourite episodes called Shuttlepod One. It’s a bottle episode, which means that it’s an episode without any real budget for new sets or guest characters. Make do with what you have, and try not to make it too boring. The episode revolves around Reed and Tucker being stranded in a shuttlepod, thinking Enterprise has been destroyed. In the face of death (since they will never make it back to Earth in that shuttlepod), Reed starts writing letters to his friends and family, even all of his exes back home (much to the annoyance of Tucker). What this episode brought to the table for me, was that much of Reed was just hidden, and not that it was lacking. He does care about friends and family, and even admitted he started to feel at home on Enterprise (which was what he more or less tried to avoid by staying professional as much as he could). At the end of the episode, they shares a nice bottle of bourbon and are laughing in the face of death before finally getting rescued by Enterprise. It also changes the dynamic between Reed and Tucker from rivals to friends – for better or worse. Reed would continue to star on the show and would have small moments of more fleshed out backstory such as his new rivalry with the captain of the MACOs (Military Assault Command Operations, part of the United Earth Military) and finally his involvement with the beginnings of the secretive Section 31.
This was the first time since Deep Space Nine that S31 was mentioned, and unlike the newer series that can’t stop namedropping it every other episode, it was very much a hidden part of the United Earth that was already getting involved in interplanetary affairs.
One thing I was hesitant to write about, but will add in the end, is regarding his sexuality. While on-screen, Reed has always been written as a heterosexual character (with how he likes T’pol’s bum, his many female exes or how he gets affected by Orion slave girls), the actor Dominic Keating has mentioned once jokingly, once more serious (page 5) that he has always played him as gay. In the script bio for Reed, it was stated that Reed was ‘shy around women’, and this is certainly one way to interpret that. Let me be very clear, I have no issues whatsoever about what someones or a characters sexuality is, just do it normally. Subtly. If someone’s gay, will that person always scream it off the rooftops? Does the series need fifteen episodes revolving about gayness? No. If we take those earlier examples away (or just consider him bi), does that change anything about him? No. In my opinion, if Reed was actually gay on the show, it would’ve been the absolute best portrayal of a gay man in Star Trek who was just doing his job. This isn’t just a critique about current Star Trek alone, it’s also Hollywood as a whole who frequently go so over the top with the the portrayal of gay characters that it gets annoying. They are shouting off rooftops that a character is gay. Nevertheless, if it ain’t on screen, it ain’t canon.
As promised, this time we’re going into the three ‘loose’ episodes of the season that aren’t part of a larger arc. The first one is Deadalus, which revolves around Emory Erickson, the inventor of the transporter, that wants to borrow Enterprise for an experiment: sub-quantum teleportation. An improvement to the regular transporter, which would’ve been able to beam an object or person from planet-to-planet with an unlimited range. But the real reason Emory wanted to this experiment is to save his son who was lost during the initial tests of this technology many years ago.
This episode isn’t terrible by any means, but it’s not a great one either. It can be quite slow or even dull at times, and the episode comes across as a semi-horror / mystery story. It does give more story about how the molecular transporter was invented, but it doesn’t really add anything in the grand scheme of things, except for inspiring the transwarp beaming technology in Star Trek ‘09.
In the end, it’s necessary for the show to limit the transporter. After all, why travel somewhere in a ship if you could get there immediately by beaming there? Whilst there has been a lot of different kinds of transporters in Trek, the rules always seem to change as the plot demands. Take the Dominion for example, who can transport people over three light years away.
Frankly, the show should have done away with the teleporter as a whole, or severely limit what it can do. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if it only was featured for non-organic stuff? That way the use of shuttles could be explained more and it would reinforce the ‘low-tech’ angle they were going with.
Time for a bit of a love letter to The Original Series, here come the Organians! Famous for their future Treaty of Organia between the Federation and the Klingon Empire, here they are in a different light. After they found a deadly silicon-based virus on a planet, they kept their eyes on it to see how other lifeforms would react to it. When finally humanity visits with the NX-01, they take over the bodies of Reed and Mayweather and start observing the crew while still maintaining the personalities of the crewmembers. As Hoshi and Tucker get infected and quarantined, they inhabit different people to ask more and more questions. Tragically, Hoshi and Tucker die to the virus, but the Organians inhabit them again regardless, arousing a ton of suspicion because they were, well, dead. They eventually reveal that they were monitoring different species here to see if they would begin an official first contact. In this case, one of them broke a 10000 year old protocol by telling them this, since their refusal to kill or eject their infected crewmembers really shows compassion. They heal all the infected crewmen, erase their memory of this incident, and leave.
Another ENT prequel to a classic TOS episode. The viewpoint of this episode is mainly the Organians, the observers, as they question what the crew does at certain stages of the illness. As they have been here for over ten thousand years, they have seen it all happen to other species. What would the humans do differently?
The answer that the episode gives, compassion, is not the strongest in my book – but the road leading up to it is. The Alpha quadrant species in Star Trek are historically often a little one-dimensional: Klingons kill people, Vulcans think about shit, Andorians get angry at you, etcetera. That weakens the humans’ solution (as it were) since it’s just.. telling the other to keep it up. With how Andorians are portrayed in Enterprise with their loyalty to one another, one could say the Andorians could’ve solved this in a similar manner. Humans are still the jack of all trades, and from our perspective nothing really straight up defines them. Combine that with Archer giving a speech, and you’re left with not much. Frankly, this episode almost screams for Jean-Luc Picard to give a speech.
The Organians frequently change host bodies and keep conversations going regardless, and it’s a fun way of displaying their powers and really holds your interest, unlike the previous episode. Even without the knowledge of who the Oganians are (which was my case when I first saw this episode many years ago), it still works. The world of Star Trek is filled with many, many strange creatures after all. Talking about strange creatures..
Time for more Orions! A well spoken male Orion offers the Federation a joint mining agreement. What could possibly go wrong? Oh, he’s just giving Archer some Orion slave girls, that’s fine, right? Oh, whoops, they start causing trouble! They are using pheromones to ‘brainwash’ all the males on the ship to do their bidding! They are about to be sold to the Orion Syndicate when Trip, Phlox and T’pol save the day by stunning the slave girls and disabling the Orion ship.
Bound is the most TOS-like episode in of all of Enterprise. I’m pretty sure I’ve used the term ‘love letter’ a couple of times already, but this episode is the quintessential love letter to Star Trek in so much that you could see this episode working as a TOS one. Sure, the Orion slave girls are one thing, but the sets and costumes also really bring back those feelings. Last but not least, the ending scene features a group ensemble that is a clear nod to ending of many TOS episodes where the whole cast is on the bridge, reflecting on what happened in that episode.
I have mixed feelings about the episode itself however. While it features my favourite portrayal of a Orion male, Harrad-Sar, I felt a bit wanting about how the Orion females are so attractive. While before this episode, it was just that they were incredibly attractive and almost exotic, this episode changes that to a biological reason why (most) men cannot resist them. It also makes you wonder if you would be fine if you held your nose shut when being near one.
The twist in the end is a really interesting take on the Orion slave girl trope. After all, if the Orion females are always secreting these pheromones, wouldn’t the men be affected too? And exactly, that is the case. One cannot help but wonder what the plan as a whole is with the slave trade then: sell all the women, brainwash them, take their assets?
In the end, this episode revolves around the slave girls seducing the male crewmates. There’s not much that happens otherwise, and the female crewmen are just sitting idly by and are observing. It takes too long for the other characters to do something about the situation, in order for their ploy to work. Again, this is television, it’s fiction, it’s fine. But if I could magically add something to this episode, it would be more meat to the middle. But all in all, it already almost feels like a nostalgic episode.
And there you have it, part four is done. I hope the lack of synopsis’ made it more fun to read this time, but at the very least it was more fun to write for me. Next time we’ll visit the best arc of the season, the Babel arc.
You guessed it, guest post time. We talking more Star Trek, until I run out of things to say, so see ya at part 12. As the title says, this is part 3, so feel free to read up on part one and two. Or just click my username, I don’t know man. Every time I’m forced asked to write one of these it turns into a big mess of words that hold some meaning for me, I just hope it’s mildly entertaining or informative enough for people to read. One of these days I’ll actually tell you what I think it should’ve been.
T’pol and Vulcan depiction
Sex sells, that’s no secret. So why don’t we just cast a model for an acting role where she barely has to do any emoting? Maybe I’m too harsh with that sentence. Look, I like a sexy Vulcan in spandex as much as the next guy (though I prefer T’Pau myself), but she’s really a repeat of Tuvok which was a repeat of Spock. Vulcan science officers are a staple, but it took a long time for her character to bring anything new to the table apart from early ENT Vulcan snobbishness and not liking the smell of humans.
The weird portrayal of the Vulcans before season 4 hurt her, and every other Vulcan character in the series. Sure, you can use that as a steppingstone to create character growth, but that was not what was intended, they were created as assholes. In this regard, Soval got the better deal, but we’ll talk about him another time.
Let’s start with mind melds first, another core staple of Star Trek, especially The Original Series. It’s one of those things people who aren’t that much into Star Trek have heard of, along with the Vulcan salute and the Vulcan nerve pinch. It’s classic, and iconic.
So let’s fuck that up (which they’ll do again in Star Trek Discovery) and add an element of rape and HIV into the mix. She was mind melded with against her will, and because of that she got the condition Pa’nar Syndrome (a neural disease that resulted in the degradation of the synaptic pathways). Am I saying it’s wrong to raise awareness for these things in media? No, not at all. But attaching it to a beloved concept just feels tacked on, without any respect for the source material. The Pa’nar Syndrome was even introduced a whole season after the mind meld happened, giving me the impression that the writers were looking for something to attach an HIV storyline onto (as part of a Viacom’s HIV awareness campaign).
But enough of that. What about her character? Vulcans are notoriously to get likable if you play them straight. An actor has to emote, after all (another lesson they forgot in Star Trek Discovery, with the main character) to come across as believable. One can obviously play with this concept a lot – as there can be moments when a Vulcan does emote. Spock is the most obvious example, even if he was half Vulcan and that was what made him so interesting in the first place: the battle between his human side and his Vulcan side. Then you have Sarek, his dad, which actor ages along with the shows he’s in. In The Next Generation, he’s an old man with an illness that hampers his emotional control. He cannot accept that, one could almost say his pride prevents him from doing that. Then we move to Tuvok. He’s Vulcan. And.. yeah. He’s one of the most boring characters on Voyager (not that that’s a feat). There’s just not much going for him.
So with that lesson learned, how was T’Pol different? OK, sexy, check. She comes from the technologically superior Vulcans (in this era), and comes along as an observer of sorts while also filling the Science Officer role. She’s very skeptical. She doesn’t really like humans. She wants to do her job and meditate. Her being Vulcan helped her on numerous occasions because of her different physiology, but nothing really happened to her until episode 17 of the first season: Fusion. This is the episode where a mind meld is forced upon her by a group of Vulcans who, instead of suppressing emotions embrace them. I’ve liked this concept as a whole: it expands the Vulcan culture with this ‘weird’ band of misfits.
As much as I dislike the idea of the whole Pa’nar Syndrome in season 2, it does give T’Pol some development. It isn’t easy to live with serious illnesses and a stigma that surrounds it (as is/was with HIV). But this episode was just too on the nose with it, it could’ve used some subtlety, and it felt out of place for Vulcans to shun an illness. Why would you ban researching an illness? Of course, this is traced back to the changes brought to the Vulcans as a whole, and the governing body of the High Command. First only in charge of space exploration, but transforming into a government over time.
During all this stuff, the writers are really trying to push the T’Pol and Trip shipping. By making her massage Trip to help him sleep, or something. But it’s just to show a scantily clad T’Pol touch a scantily clad Trip. It’s just to make people think about sex. IT’S SEX! BUT NOT SEX!
In the Expanse (Season 3), it was found that a substance called trellium-D could shield the Enterprise against dangers unique to the Expanse. Unfortunately, this was also a neurotoxin for Vulcans. It’s never made clear how it’s a toxin, as you’d normally scan something like this before using it. Or why there’s a toxin in a rock. Would’ve made more sense as radiation. Anyway, the constant exposure to trellium-D lowers her emotional barriers, causing her to have outbursts of (negative) emotions. The more it happens, the more she wants to explore these emotions, as it’s functioning as a release for her. To do this, she injects herself with processed liquid trellium-D. Drug awareness anyone? On it’s own, I like the ideas and the setting, but again feels too on the nose. She eventually has to go through withdrawal and recovers, but she’ll always have a lower emotional barrier. She can finally use some emotions for the writers to make use of. Only took 3 seasons.
And now, we finally arrive at season four. She goes back to Vulcan with Trip, only to be guilt-tripped into an (arranged) marriage with Koss. Due to her actions while on board the Enterprise, her mother got fired from the Vulcan Science Academy, but with Koss’ family’s help and influence she can get it back. Should they get married, of course. Meanwhile she’s still kind of involved with Trip, so this is all a bit awkward.
“You’re sorry? You brought me sixteen light years just to watch you get married to someone you barely know.“
For me, T’Pol never became much more than eyecandy. She provided technobabble and had some good moments with Trip (especially season four), but we got too little too late.
Enterprise has no shortage in reoccurring guest stars. As far as I’m concerned, the three most important ones are Maxwell Forrest (Starfleet vice admiral, Archers’ superior officer), Shran (Andorian captain and ally of Archer) and finally Ambassador Soval (Vulcan ambassador to the United Earth). This arc sadly ends the life of one, and lifts the others up to new heights. This arc is where the Vulcans finally get ‘fixed’. This is the arc where the new showrunner, Manny Coto, takes over the reigns and does fucking amazing work with what he’s handed. Kudos to you, Manny.
The first thing this episode does is to take another look at Vulcan – United Earth relations. We’re on Vulcan for once, with Maxwell Forrest visiting the United Earth embassy along with Ambassador Soval. First, it’s addressed why the Vulcans act the way they do against humans.
“We don’t know what to do about Humans. Of all the species we’ve made contact with, yours is the only one we can’t define. You have the arrogance of Andorians, the stubborn pride of Tellarites. One moment you’re as driven by your emotions as Klingons, and the next you confound us by suddenly embracing logic!”
“I’m sure those qualities are found in every species.”
“Not in such confusing abundance.”
“Ambassador … are Vulcans afraid of Humans?”
“Why?” “Because there is one species you remind us of.” “Vulcans.”
Moreover, it’s also set up how much the Vulcan High Command operates on a need-to-know basis and how long Forrest and Soval have been working together, clarifying the working relationship, but also their friendship. After this scene, of what I believe is the best scene in the whole arc, the embassy gets bombed and Soval is pushed out of the way by Forrest at the cost of his own life.
The Enterprise is called to Vulcan to investigate along with the Vulcans since the embassy is technically United Earth soil. The head of state, Administrator V’Las and his entourage boards and explain they have two suspects: the Andorians, or the Syrranites– a fringe group opposed to the current government but not violent. The Andorians are dismissed right away (for good reason, as they are on good relations), so the search for the Syrranites begins with Archer and T’Pol looking for them in The Forge: a hellish desert landscape.
Before this, Soval also has a scene with Archer, where Soval talks about Forrest’s hopes for more cooperation between Earth and Vulcan but also to warn him to not trust everything that the High Command tells them. In the desert they meet Arev, which takes them along on a pilgrimage of the path of Surak. On their journey, they encounter a fierce desert storm filled with lightning, a sandfire. They have to take shelter, but Arev gets mortally wounded by a lighting strike, but before he dies, he performs a mind meld with Archer. Although Archer and T’Pol lost their guide, Archer keeps on going, somehow knowing where to go. They make it to the sanctuary of the Syrrantites and promptly get captured.
Meanwhile, on the ship, the crew analyze some Vulcan DNA they found on one of the bombs that didn’t detonate. While the DNA does belong to a Syrranite, T’Pau, it’s revealed it has been tempered with. They also have one survivor from the explosion, the guard at the entrance. He’s in a coma so they can’t question him, but a mind meld might be able to reach him. Soval reveals that he is a Syrranite, and performs his first meld and sees that the one that planted the bomb is someone from T’Las’ entourage – Stel, the Vulcan chief investigator.
Meanwhile, it’s revealed that Archer carries the Katra of Surak, his spirit or essence. It cannot be removed and so is stuck in Archer, who starts having visions and conversations with him. He insists that Archer has to find the Kir’Shara, his original teachings so that the Vulcan people can find a new path of enlightenment. So, of course Archer goes and finds it, ready to bring it to the capital. But oh no! They are discovered by Administrator V’Las and he just decides to carpet bomb the whole area to be fucking done with these mind melding deviants. Other ministers think this is kind of crazy, but hey, he’s the boss.
T’Pol’s mother (T’Les) is also revealed to be a Syrranite, and she tries to reconnect with T’Pol. She’s rejected, as she just sees this group as a cult. After the area gets bombed, she dies while T’Pol holds her in her arms. In the long term, this means the grounds for her marriage with Koss are void.
Archer, T’Pol and T’Las now need to bring the Kir’Shara to the capital to bring in this new path of enlightenment, but they are constantly under attack by Vulcan commandos. Will they ever reach their destination?!
Quite frankly, I can’t bring myself to keep writing episode synopsis. It was a bad idea in the first place. I hope you kinda get the picture. Sorry.
They do make it to the Vulcan HQ, revealing the true teachings of Surak which had been lost for ages, and revealing that V’Las was not acting very rationally. Especially as he was also orchestrating an attack against the Andorians while the whole Kir’Shara thing was going on. A battle between their fleets was actually ongoing – with Enterprise in the middle. Trip was trying to prevent a war, by ‘betraying’ the alliance with Vulcan to warn the Andorians. The episode ends with V’Las reporting on his failure to someone.. and that was.. a Romulan!
It’s no secret that the portrayal of the Vulcans was vastly different in Enterprise in comparison to the later series and this arc tried to explain why. Although they can never make a scene where a Romulan and a Human see each other (due to canon) – showing the Romulans interfering in Vulcan affairs is fair game, and a good idea too. It gives the hardcore fan a little more background as to what the Romulans were doing before their debut episode Balance of Terror that doesn’t hurt canon by bringing back a classic villain faction (unlike what happened to the pretty bad Ferengi episode). This also was the setup for my favourite arc of the series, the Babel Crisis.
The previous arc with the Augments was more of a love letter to, well, The Original Series. This arc was to fix one of the many faults this series had and bring it more in line with TOS, and I applaud that. Sadly, as good as it is, if the Vulcans hadn’t be fucked in early Enterprise, this episode would’ve been pointless. It’s a great solution to a stupid portrayal.
It also shows us the Romulans for the first time in Enterprise since Minefield, in which only the ships were shown along with some audio-only communication. This time, however, the Romulans have a purpose in the story. We only get a glimpse of the single Romulan and not a silly firefight with Archer or something. Moreover, we also get an idea about what four factions are doing in this arc:
The Romulans want to interfere in Vulcan affairs to unify their species once again (under their rule)
The Vulcans were being controlled by a Romulan puppet that wanted to wipe out dissidents and wanted another war with the Andorians to weaken both powers
The Andorians were preparing for another war with Vulcan, because they were expecting another attack
The Humans are trying to prevent war, in all forms. Be it a civil war or space war, they’re trying to prevent everyone from blowing up.
This was your Alpha Quadrant News Bulletin, thank you for reading. Next time, we’re looking at the only three loose episodes in this season, and I’ll pick a random character to feature. Maybe Reed. I’ve always liked him.
That time of the month is here again, time for a guest post. I’m just here to rant about Star Trek Enterprise yet again, and it looks like I will be for a while if I keep going at this pace. Here’s a link to part 1, should you need a refresher or want to check it out. Enjoy the ride.
Character Spotlight: Charles ‘Trip’ Tucker III
Tucker is a damn good chief engineer, plain and simple. You got something broken, he’ll fix it with a can-do attitude. Never having visited an alien world, he is somewhat naive when it comes down to shared values between species. He hails from Florida and is top 5 most American characters in all of Star Trek, foiled only by former U.S. President Lincoln and the like.
When Enterprise finally started its mission to explore space after a rocky start with the Klingons, Tucker had to change his expectations for space quite a bit when they encountered a friendly, more advanced species called the Xyrillians. Being almost freaked out by the extremely alien ship (as opposed to something like Vulcans), he then decided to stick his hands into a bowl with marbles along with a Xyrillian, after which he got pregnant. Although this last element kinda ruins the episode for me (especially since they play it for laughs, it’s just throwing me off), the portrayal on the ship itself helps with his character a lot, since he really is hands deep in alien tech now – and it creeps him out.
As the seasons go on, he keeps proving his worth and expertise and even gets command experience during a conflict with the Vulcans and Andorians. Point being: you can count on Tucker.
His character undergoes a massive shift in the third season, as the Xindi weapon hit the U.S., but Florida in particular. Not too long after he hears that he lost his sister Elizabethin that attack. While she wasn’t seen or mentioned in any episodes before this, it changes Tucker to the hard-working smiling engineer to a bitter man with a lot of grief and anger who just wanted revenge. While not every first contact may be peaceful, outright hate towards another species from the humans hadn’t been portrayed like this before (you could make a point for the Borg, but they are hated by everyone or the Cardassians, but relations had been smoothed somewhat since that war concluded).
On their way to the Xindi, Tucker is so emotionally wound up that he cannot sleep anymore – so he’s forced into ‘Vulcan neuro-pressure’ with T’Pol by Doctor Phlox. These scenes usually felt quite hollow to me, a blatant attempt to put more sex appeal in Star Trek, but I suppose it is a way to get those two closer together with some glimpses of romance.
So when we finally enter season four, we still have this extremely handy engineer, but way more seasoned. He decides to travel to Vulcan together with T’Pol, only for him to get cucked and suddenly attends her wedding with Koss. What a bummer! Then more stuff happens and he blows up in the finale. What a bummer!
This season is the season of three-parters. We kick things off with (more) remnants of the Eugenics Wars as a small group of rag-tag adolescents take over a Klingon Bird of Prey. Now, where did those Augments come from? Let’s ask the guy that stole a couple about 20 years back, Arik Soong. Oh, and also the Klingons are threatening with war if the Augments aren’t found. Soong promises to bring the Enterprise crew to the Augments but instead leads them in a wild goose chase in which multiple members of the crew get captured by Orion slavers.
After failing to escape and with the rescue of the sold-off crew members, he sits in the brig again, moping. Thankfully his Augment children tracked down Enterprise and bust him out and they are preparing to save the rest of the Augment embryos, or as he calls them, his children.
He arrives at Cold Station 12, where all of the Augment embryos are kept, and threatens to kill the scientists there if they don’t hand them over. We are introduced to Phlox’ long time friend Jeremy Lucas from the Interspecies Medical Exchange. Enterprise arrives, but cannot do much since the Augments are sitting on a bazillion deadly pathogens and are keen on using them. After killing one doctor, Phlox is exposed to a pathogen and Lucas gives in and gives them access to the embryos to save his friend. Soong and the Augments escape again, but not just with the embryos, but with a melange of deadly pathogens as well.
Soong wants to hide and stay away from Enterprise, but one of the Augments, Malik, is more interested in finding the mysterious ship of Augments, the Botany Bay, but he gets overruled.
On their way to their hiding spot, the Briar Patch (the same one as in Star Trek: Insurrection) Soong starts editing the embryos again, to remove aggression and violent behaviour in the Augments. Malik is furious and comes up with another plan: loading up all the pathogens they collected, load them all up in a torpedo and fire at Klingon colonies! As the Klingons already know humans (Augments) stole one of their ships, they would declare war for sure. Soong is taken aback because that’s pretty much mass murder. Shortly after he’s locked in his quarters as he’s more trouble than he’s worth for Malik.
Soong escapes with the help of another Augment and rides an escape pod to safety – Enterprise, which is still following the Augment ship. As he’s being thrown in the brig yet again, he tells Archer about the plans of mass murder. In a truly dramatic finish, the Enterprise manages to arrive at the colony just in time to shoot the torpedo, and saving the Klingon colony. Malik refuses to surrender, and his ship explodes not much later, killing all the remaining Augments.
..or so you’d think, because when Soong is escorted to the brig (again), he drops from the ceiling of the corridor, and tries to kill him, having beamed aboard at the last second. In the end, Archer is forced to kill him.
The episode ends with Soong having lost confidence in genetics and the Augments, and decides to start work on an android of some type, which might be able to be created in a few generations..
This arc gives the audience a lot more information regarding Augments and some of the Eugenics Wars, such as being manipulated in the embryo stage, and not when a baby is born. We still see the ruthlessness of Augments, even in a younger state and the superiority complex regarding ‘lesser’ beings. Soong argues in the beginning that the source of Augment problems wasn’t the lack of high-grade technology, but the inability of humanity to put them to good use. Throughout the episode, he is steadfast in that he wants nobody to be killed, and that he just wants to live with his ‘children’ in peace. After the Augments defied his wishes, he became disillusioned and tried to fix the remaining embryos and thus admitting their flaws. After the close mass murder and the destruction of all the embryos he stopped work on it altogether.
Strangely enough, my personal favourite part about this episode was Jeremy Lucas, whom we’ve only heard about in letters from Phlox or in conversation. Phlox is often underwritten and underutilized, so the fact we actually see this friend from which he has learned so much about Earth (and vice versa) is a nice development for Phlox. It’s a shame it’s just this once, and he gets brutally tortured, but I’ll take it.
The Augments in this story are very young, and all fathered by Soong on a remote planet. Having taught them everything it’s no wonder he’s seen as their father, but he got arrested at some point and couldn’t return anymore. So the first time we see the Augments taking over the Klingon ship, they’re all wearing torn, stretched rags, remnants from their childhood clothing. With Enterprise’s focus on sex appeal, they couldn’t just leave that be and had to introduce a faux-romance plot within the Augment group as well, which did serve as to give them more character, but it felt a little shallow and just an excuse to show a lady in nothing but panties and a tank top.
Using Brent Spiner as Arik Song, and the android reference at the end was a nice nod, but in the end, this arc feels like a mildly enjoyable but unnecessary adventure. This arc was already in production before the Soong angle, as it previously featured Colonel Green, the infamous dictator after WW3. But because Spiner had expressed interest to appear again on Star Trek, this arc was rewritten to feature this Soong ancestor. It’s not surprising then that Spiner got a lot of screentime, and in my opinion, too much screentime. Sure, we get some nice moments, a small moral debate with Archer about his dad’s illness that could’ve (or might’ve) been cured with eugenics, but most of the main cast isn’t very personally involved in this event, as opposed to the upcoming arcs that have higher involvement for the cast.
In the next post, we take a look at the Syrranites arc, along with a look at T’Pol. Maybe more, I don’t know. It’s just more and more clear that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew.
Hey there! Editor and guest post writer A9 here, known from the Digimon posts ( 1234 ) and a long ramble about Mass Effect. I promised to write Aaltomies something while he was moving, but I couldn’t quite deliver on time. Plus it got split up into parts because I’m not a very clever dude. Now, I sure hope you like Star Trek, otherwise these posts might be a little out there. Regardless, enjoy.
Star Trek: Enterprise is a bit of a corny spin-off show, with too much emphasis on sex and action. Now, that’s not a great introduction to a science fiction series, but hear me out. Or a few times, if you like what you’re reading. This is the first post in a three or four-part series about the last season of Enterprise, which did many things right, but too late. It’s a look back on the last season that could. This post will mainly focus on the departure from the third season and a (re)introduction to the series. Future posts will go more into the production (troubles), characters and ‘what-ifs’ would the series continue.
Enterprise was the first prequel series for Star Trek, with its setting being 100 years before The Original Series with Kirk, Spock and Bones. It was meant to be a series full of ‘firsts’; how is humanity doing in the years before the mighty United Federation of Planets?
This isn’t an insane idea. Humanity is doing amazing for itself, especially during TNG, but how did they get there? How was war ended? Poverty? Hunger? How did the Federation form? All very interesting questions.
But one of the most prominent aspects of the show was the more low-tech look and feel of Earth ships. As it’s supposed to be more primitive than The Original Series that creates quite a challenge. The response to this was to design a starship that almost looks like a submarine: tight corridors, very spartan looks, and tons and tons of buttons. But more important than anything else: an inexperienced and unfamiliar crew. Humanity has basically only met the Vulcans at this point and they’re being absolute cunts, constantly holding back any progress or slowing it down. But after a crisis opportunity presented itself, humanity went out there and didn’t return to ask for the go-ahead.
Lessons from Season 3
Season 3 ended like an 80s action movie: after Archer jumped away from the exploding Xindi superweapon, he wakes up in the Second World War in the Nazi-controlled USA! He saved the world, but not he’s being held hostage by an SS-trooper. What a twist!
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m an absolute sucker for alternative history stories and through that lens, I think this episode is enjoyable, but unfitting for modern Star Trek. It’s a cheap way to instill drama and to raise the stakes as quickly as possible. When in doubt, bring in the Nazi’s!
So Archer gets captured by Nazi soldiers and sees a mysterious grey-skinned, red-eyed alien before he luckily gets rescued by the American resistance forces. He gets nursed back to health whilst being mistaken for a sailor from the Enterprise of that time period, the aircraft carrier Enterprise. After claiming he’s on a top-secret mission he gets involved with the resistance to figure out why the Nazi’s are occupying a part of the USA and why there are aliens involved.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise gets yoinked into WW2 era earth as well and get visited by a mutated, dying Daniels, the Temporal Agent from the future warning them and slipping into a coma. In the meantime, Archer manages to find one of the aliens to find out they’re trapped here and are working on a portal to make it back home, no matter what happens to the Earth. Besides from that he also steals an alien communicator, so he can finally get reunited with his crew. Daniels also finally speaks about why everyone is here, the Temporal Cold War isn’t cold anymore. How that works, nobody knows but it’s up to the Enterprise crew to stop them.
Now if you love, hate or tolerate this episode, it ends the Temporal Cold War arc that has plagued Enterprise since it’s first episode. You might even ask: Hey, guest spot writer, what even is the Temporal Cold War? And to that, I barely have an answer. It’s a conflict, in the future, where all the parties possess some form of time travel. If your faction has some time travel tech, be it projecting yourself in the past to relay information or just having time machines, you’re in! Nobody likes the changes the other factions are making in the past, so everyone is fucking everyone else over
For me personally, the whole concept never worked but one specific element did: the Suliban. The idea of a species that relies on genetic enhancements (or a portion of the species, in this case, the Cabal) is an interesting one that can be shrouded in mystery. Sadly the Suliban were very underutilised and only appeared in 9 episodes, which is a very sad count for the initial primary villains.
At the end of the episode, Archer meets Daniel for the last time while they’re standing in the time stream and ‘history is correcting itself’ because the Enterprise destroyed the evil Nazi aliens. At this point, I’m just glad it’s over with no matter how rushed this was ended. Sure, we may never know who Future Guy is, but I can live with it. Finally, Enterprise is back home. That would make for a great episode name..
The episode Home is both a reflection of the new showrunners taking a look at the series up till now, along with the crew of the Enterprise as they face repercussions from their journeys in unexplored space. Captain Archer is almost disillusioned with the idea of peaceful space exploration, Tucker visits Vulcan with T’Pol and the crew is shown the rise of xenophobia on Earth. Sure, they’re heroes – but if they hadn’t gone out there, none of this would’ve happened, or so the argument goes.
For Archer, this episode is mainly about his naivete when first starting out. He has to explain all of his actions while being in the Delphic Expanse and is being grilled on each and every explanation. After a (forced) recess is announced, he’s gone out hiking with the captain of the second NX-class vessel Columbia, captain Hernandez, and they have a talk about Archers’ hero status and the many things that happened on Earth while he was away. He appears less enthusiastic about space exploration and wanting to be way more prepared than when they first started out. Combine this with some slight PTSD-like dreams and it seems like Archer is really done with it all – he doesn’t feel like an explorer anymore.
On Earth, lieutenant Reed and helmsman Mayweather are enjoying their hero status by sitting in a bar with the doctor, Phlox, whilst being showered in attention. This is all well and good until one chap starts implying that all aliens should be distrusted because of the attack of one alien civilisation. Xenophobia is on the rise. Finally, T’Pol gets married on Vulcan and makes Trip watch. How cruel, but this will be discussed more in a future post.
It was crucial to re-center the show after a season-long arc in a different part of space, completely cut off from the rest of humanity. It had to re-establish its own universe and the problems that inhabit it. It’s also the setup for the rest of the season since things will be closer to home this season to really see what humanity is doing to build the Coalition of Planets, the precursor to the United Federation of Planets. In other words, what the show should’ve been about from the get-go: the journey of humankind, not the one captain going out there and becoming an action movie star. Instead, we got humanity stumbling through every broken door to let everyone know they’ve arrived at last.
Now, this was quite a lengthy setup, now I can finally start telling you about the things season 4 did right. In the next post, that is. Sorry! I really should’ve thought about the length of this damn thing.
For the last decade or so I have seen a change how some consumers view science fiction and fundamentally misunderstanding it. The core argument is that something isn’t science fiction after all, despite being labelled so for numerous years, if not decades prior, because it’s not realistic, or the science that it supposes simply couldn’t happen. Sidelining Clarke’s law about Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, for now, this is a patently false view on science fiction. It does, however, fit hard science fiction, a sub-genre of science fiction that is all about diamond-hard fiction without breaking the current understanding of science. By their very nature, their view on science will be obsoleted in a few years as science advances, they’ll turn what some people call soft science fiction.
The audience knows that the science presented in a science fiction work is largely fictitious. It’s part of the silent agreement with the author, where the viewer has been presented more or less a world where some elements are more believable than others regarding science. Some stories, like The Andromeda strain, stick extremely close to the guns and doesn’t veer away from possible reality. The suspension of disbelief happens with the whole point about a virus coming from outer space and being able to evolve like it does in the book, the rest what science fiction is at its core; it asks the question What if… SF handles concepts more than straight fantasy does, though SF in itself is a branching genre from fantasy. While fantasy is about grand themes and builds upon those themes, SF explores concepts. For example, in Asimov’s short story Jokester a question was passed to Multivac, a Superintelligent computer, where do jokes come from as they seem to be something that everyone tells, but nobody truly invents. To spoil over this sixty-year-old short story, the end result Multivac ends up coming with is that all jokes humanity tells are by some other extraterrestrial power that is implementing jokes into humanity as a control device. It also came to the conclusion that when the first human figures this out, jokes and humour would cease to be implemented as the testing has now been sullied and a new factor would replace it. Multivac in itself isn’t the science fiction element in this short story, nor are the god-like extraterrestrials, but the concept of humanity being used as lab rats. Asimov took a look at the concept and wrote a small story around it with a humorous, even if dark, angle. Similarly, Haldeman’s sequel novel Forever Free to his masterpiece Forever War was ultimately about the same concept with completely different kind of approach and realisation.
Asimov’s Foundation follows this the same kind of path. To describe the works shortly, it is about how to shorten the Galactic Dark Age that follows after mankind’s Galactic Empire falls. How the Galactic Empire, or how it has formed, how people interact across the planets and so isn’t the science fiction part, neither is the fall itself. The fall, in actuality, is merely background material and is based on the fall of the Roman Empire. That parts historic, not SF. The part that makes the Foundation series pinnacle of science fiction literature, something that makes it practically unadaptable, is psychohistory; a fictional field of science that combines statistics and psychology. Through psychohistory, one can make accurate predictions on how large groups of people will act based on those people and surrounding events, as long as they remain unaware of the analysation. The modern field of Big Data largely follows the same ideas, but in practice, the two are very different entities. Psychohistory is the fictional science element that in itself is a concept worth exploring. It opened more doors for Asimov to explore from how one group of people could control others through representing technology as a kind of religion to how it all can be taken down by one element that isn’t in the calculations. Asimov is famous for setting rules and regulations to his works with Laws of Robotics being his most famous. What most people don’t realise is that Asimov extensively explores these concepts and their failings to the point that his works alone are the best arguments why the Laws of Robotics are flawed. Similarly in the Foundation series, he explored how one inhuman element, a mutant, can throw a monkey wrench to otherwise perfectly working system. He then proceeded to explore how such things could be prevented or perhaps even corrected. Space travel and all that is merely flavour and the background to which the main dish is served.
Similarly, Star Trek is often seen as a science fiction show because there are people in space going swish in a space ship. A hard science fiction writer wouldn’t be placing any space vessels outside our own solar system, as the science we have now doesn’t give any realistic methods to achieve even proper portions of the speed of light. We’d run out of time if we’d begin to travel interstellar space, the distances are just too large to get across. Star Trek could be said to be the archetypical positive work of science fiction, asking what if humanity had socially evolved to be a benevolent entity. Much like Asimov, many episodes question the Federation of Planets’ standards and ways of living to creator Roddenberry’s chagrin. Star Trek as the wagon show set in space itself could be regarded as science fiction, though much like with other popular SF works of the time, it gathers science facts of the time and makes assumptions in order to build that veneer again. The science in itself may be spotty, yet the function of science was aimed to be valid. The writing team employed some NASA members to ask what was possible and what wasn’t, but as with anything, the story comes first. Captain Kirk fighting a giant green lizard may seem hacky and laughable, yet at the core, the episode is about two completely alien cultures being forced to face each other to the end. The episode takes the initial What if… about humanity being able to become a force of good and reach the stars, challenging it in face of death and destruction, then given the possibility to destroy this malevolent force. Little things in Star Trek have become reality in a way or another, like the whole thing about portable phones and communicators. In the same manner, Orwell’s 1984 is effectively the opposite of Star Trek‘s positive view and explores the possibility of the world becoming a totalitarian hellhole akin to the Soviet Union. The telescreen technology is a possibility, but that is simply a tool to be able to tell the story through, much like how thought policing is.
Mecha, giant robots, is often taken as a method to tell an SF story. However, just like Star Trek, mecha is the framing device for the main dish. It’s the flavour something is painted in. One of the best examples can be found in Mobile Suit Gundam, in which most people would coin mechas and space set to be the whole SF thing. However, the main SF element in Gundam is exploring the next step in human evolution; the Newtypes, humans with an extra sense of space and time that they are able to share among each other. The space setting is necessary, as the show asks What if humanity would need to evolve in space, and how it would proceed. Then it explores what political and social implications it would yield to mankind in the guise of a war story. You could change the mechas Gundam to something else, powered armour or space tanks, and it’d work just as well. However, remove Newtypes and the core structure that holds both the setting and show’s concept together falls apart wholesale. Much like how Asimov explored the faults of his concepts, Gundam has seen numerous entries questioning the validity of humanity being able to share their thoughts across space and time. Yes, everybody knows mechas like Mobile Suits are impossible, impractical at best. That doesn’t take away the fun and interest in building on the idea and enjoying the flavour, basking in the intricate designs and history built on the already set up fiction.
As mentioned earlier, science fiction will always grow old. If SF work emphasize is mainly in the science or how it works based on then-current understanding, it’ll always be out of date. Giving a fictitious explanation based on the scientific method will always age better. Simply leaving something important unanswered often leads to weak world-building. Jurassic Park is an example of a work with extremely detailed and well-maintained world-building and explanations for its science. It is also an example of a work that, despite being heavily rooted in science that was possible, it is now an example of a work where we know about dinosaurs and cloning so much that the book is out of date. Nevertheless, this doesn’t take anything away from the story itself, or from the question What if humans were able to bring dinosaurs back. It brings more than just that on the table and explores more than one concept, like certain applications of the Chaos Theory. SF Debris did anexcellentseries on Jurassic Park this summer, which I wholeheartedly recommend watching.
Even older works of science fiction seem rather weird to our modern eyes. For example, the classic Lensman series of books by Doc Smith has no computers in them despite an extremely advanced form of space travel that can cross galaxies and even dimensions. Everything is done by a slide rule, which is an analogue calculator. Or if you want to use the term used for people who used to compute numbers, an analogue computer. Some of Asimov’s earlier works lack computers as we understand them as well. Some of Asimov’s works began to include the aforementioned Multivac supercomputer but described some of them taking the size of whole planets. This was as according to science as understood at a specific time when it was assumed that only a few computers would be built due to their sheer size. Nowadays we have computers in our pockets every day that would have been considered impossible half a century ago. If science doesn’t have answers at the time to a problem a writer has, fiction has to take its place. The writer has to come up with a fictional explanation to the issue that hasn’t been solved or doesn’t have an answer. We can imagine many things based on popular culture and relevant science, but if neither presents any relevant information, we can’t imagine such things existing. There are things we can’t imagine existing because they haven’t been invented yet, nor has the science they’re based on. To use Lensman as an example again, it plays with the concept of negative matter. Not anti-matter, but negative matter, which would react the opposite it as it was interacted with. For example, if you pushed it, it would move back towards you. Anti-matter would be detected only later and its properties were found to be wildly different, but Doc Smith had some foresight into a concept of opposing matter. Lack of any kind of knowledge on the papers, however, forced him to use his artistic license. Even things like warp drive have been suggested to be a possibility, namely with the Alcubierre drive, but even in this, some elements are missing. The drive would necessitate negative energy and anti-gravity, neither of which Einstein’s theory of relativity considers impossible. In practice, it may be, but there hasn’t been any conclusive evidence to either direction.
Science fiction expects the science found in the work to be fictitious. Unless it is hard science fiction, the science itself does not have to be real, merely consistent with itself and the established scientific method. However, it is always taking back seat the moment the story needs it to. Star Trek, despite its science mostly bullshit, is largely consistent with itself. Nevertheless, what the scientific concept ultimately truly is often isn’t all that clear. Spaceships, lasers and all that we consider as old tropes in the genre used to be new and cutting-edge ideas. A raygun was a valid concept in the form fiction often describes it, before further exploration in the technology ultimately deemed it more or less impossible due to materials and physics involved. Material science, science overall, evolves at its own pace, always improved by necessity in burst-like motions. Many times we don’t even consider small things in our lives to be the end result of massive leaps and bounds in technology and science. The fact that we have a small diode, smaller than the size of your fingernail, now being able to be brighter than the sun and lit up a whole room. I’m looking at an old lightbulb on my desk I found today in my mother’s storage and wondering how this more than twenty-year-old bulb can last less time than my LED bulb, how it eats more energy and yet gives less light. The concept of itty bitty lights in a torch from fifty years ago is now a reality. The way science fiction, in general, represents its impossible science doesn’t matter, but what it does with its concepts and how it tells its stories, is.
The concept is well tested and solid; have your main story supplemented with additional works, such as comics and novels, that expand on the core work. This sort of franchising has become extremely popular to the point of being a standard practice and very few standalone projects get made any more. Even the Marvel Cinematic Universe has seen its stories expanded in aforementioned media. This always leads to the question of canon, where the main piece always trumps over whatever the side material has stated. Hence why canon barely matters, when anyone in charge can say what really happened, sometimes wiping few comics away, sometimes erasing whole decades of supplementary material.
Nevertheless, they’re secondary at best. Licensed works to make some money out of the IP while the main thing is wiring its next stuff up. The stories and characters told in these works don’t really matter, and never have. Only decades later, when fans who grew up with these materials, may make references to them in proper works, giving them some legitimacy in the eyes of fellow fans. That’s all fine and dandy, no harm done by having someone in the background mentioning Life Day and reminding the people in the know how bad Star Wars Holiday Special is. It’s butt of the joke, it’s done to death, we get it.
Star Wars and Star Trek are great examples of this as both have extremely extensive supplementary material to go with the main works. The general rule has always been that what’s on the screen overrides whatever’s in other works. While they’re advertised as further adventures of our heroes, and for the time being they probably are, they’ll always be overridden when the IP owner comes up with something new, something that can be capitalised on. Prequels and midquels are sort of comfortable ground to many, as they’re mostly based on sayings and history told in the main works, so it’s easy to take the premise and go town with it. It doesn’t exactly require creating something completely new from the ground up. Hence why you often see sequels lifting material from the old stuff or reusing characters and settings. Jean-Luc Picard and all the re-used assets from the cutting room floor in Disney Star Wars movies are examples of this.
All this a somewhat inconvenient arrangement, but it makes two things possible; it doesn’t demand the audience to rummage through hundreds of pages to understand a new TV-show or a movie, but also allows them to engage with the IP and characters further. There’s this silent agreement with all the parties that it is probable that all the side content will be ignored when a new movie or show rolls in. Which happens all the time with pretty much every single large franchise out there.
There are of course times when this fails. The Rise of Skywalker had a collaborative event in Fortnite, where Emperor Palpatine’s speech was introduced. The returning villain and one of the major points of the plot, which was used in the beginning crawl, The Dead speak, was introduced and used in the aforementioned event. This effectively cut a section out from the movie, the message Palpatine send to the galaxy to announce his return, something the characters all react to and is the impetus behind the movie’s events. If you weren’t playing Fortnite at that time, you effectively missed something the core work, the film, should’ve had.
Too often Star Trek and Star Wars novelisation have been used to correct mistakes and loopholes in the main body of works. Loads of Trek novels based on The Original Series episodes were used to effectively fix continuity and conceptual errors within the episodes themselves. Similarly, The Rise of Skywalker‘s novelisation reveals that the Palpatine in the movie was a clone. Whether or not this is canon is of course for the fans to debate, as none of the corrections and fixes are rarely talked in the main body works. It’s not uncommon to see books and comics being published that fill in holes with some plot putty, sometimes even explaining whole backstories and events that were completely lacking from the main works. We can understand that a movie can’t set up decades worth of background story in a short time, and sometimes it doesn’t need to. The original crawl at the beginning of Star Wars Episode IV is work of sheer genius, setting up the premise. Further into the movie, short discussions about the Clone Wars as a background material elaborated on some bits, but those there to colour the world further. With Disney movies we have the gap between Episode VI and VII, which is just a void. Even after the last movie we barely know what happened, where did the First Order truly come from and why did the Emperor allow the Empire to fall just to wait thirty years building Star Destroyers under ground with gimped navigation systems. Maybe it’s Abrams’ mystery box killing the work again, maybe it’s just outright bad writing. These explanations of course are found in the supplementary material, meaning the work can’t stand on its two feet.
You could of course argue that this weaves the main work and the supplementary works together better, that it allows exploration of these events and concepts in a grander scale compared to what movies and television could. This is completely true and has been supported by multiple franchises for some decades now, mixing and matching each other punch to punch. The problem is of course the future. Be it removal of old canon or a new “real” work taking place of that timeframe and overriding the current works, supplementary material never really can stand the test of time. Not unless the creators are adamant on keeping one continuity and will always take notice what happens across the whole franchise. That task is nearly impossible, though if you were to hire bunch of people just to follow what the hell’s going on in your setting across all media, it would become manageable. Imagine if your day job was to read every Star Wars book and comic just to tell the future writers of whatever series or movie they’re making what stories and settings have already been used, and what are their historical consequences. Somebody’s dream job right there.
While you could boil this down to Canon doesn’t matter because it always changes, but that’d be missing the point here just slightly. We’ve seen the main work been put on the chopping block and some of its important elements have been cut off, only to appear elsewhere. This weakens the main work, but it also makes the story’s canon that much weaker. If you’d need one more example of this, the 2009 Star Trek reboot movie doesn’t ever tell what Nero was doing in the past after he came through the wormhole. In the movie, he’s just sitting there doing nothing and waiting for Spock to pop in. However in the comic he was captured and enslaved by the Klingons, making his escape and reclamation of the Narada that much more important. After seeing his home world destroyed, seeing Vulcans’ inaction as betrayal despite putting everything he had in their hands, and then forced to the past and for years being unable to do anything to prevent that from happening, Star Trek could’ve had its best and most understandable villain. All that was from the movie, making him just a jackass with a vengeance. It’s only a matter of time before someone writers a new book or a comic that explores this further, erasing already established events in the comic, which already is questionably canon. The comic version’s story is that much stronger compared to the movie, but it’s the not the story. It’s just an alternate take, which some people supplement the movie itself with.
Here’s a way you could make cross-media function for their own benefits without taking away any from the main work. The Mad Max game from 2015 was supposed to be tightly connected to Mad Max Fury Road, but ultimately wasn’t. The two would have supplemented each other, but only in a manner that there would not have been anything missing from either work. For example, the Pursuit Special is missing its spoiler in the movie. Not a huge detail, something most people probably missed altogether. However, in the game it would’ve been a collectable item with some story tied to it, adding to the overall story of Mad Max. We don’t know what these details were going to be, as the game was completely revamped and reused two decades worth of abandoned concepts alongside concepts for possible future movies. If you’re a fan of Mad Max, the game should look and feel extremely disjointed and somewhat schizophrenic because of this.
This is really convoluted and lengthy way to say how works, even sequels, need to be standalone enough to be consumed as-is without any surrounding media taken into account.
If you’re a fan of some long series of books or comics, games or TV-show, chances are that you’ve partaken in discussion pertaining canon. That is, discussion (or more often than not, flamewar) of events that happened within a given fictional setting and how these events relate to each other. It is the nerdy version of two historians or otherwise more well-versed people discussing real world history in its proper context, perhaps even debating different points of views past scholars have made.
Let’s be honest here; canon is something that can and will change however the author, group of authors or the property owner wants at any any given point in time. It is completely malleable, everything that has been put on paper or on screen can be waved away for whatever reason given. Retroactive canon is nothing new to any enthusiastic follower of a given story with multiple entries throughout the years. Small events are changed here and there, additions and retractions. Larger stories become a mess due to constant additions. New stories set in different time frame contradict previous stories either directly or introducing stuff that wasn’t there before for no other reason but to inorganically tie this new story to the older. Then you have remakes breaking the older canon by introducing all this new stuff and supposedly fixing what was broken in the old. Unless the work in itself is completely finished and the author is resigned from changing it, no fictional story is ever set in stone.
Silly Aalt, we just didn’t know they existed before the story told us about them. I don’t play the canon game like that. They didn’t exist in the canon until they were retroactively inserted there. Discussing things as they happened is fine and dandy. However, ignoring the real world situation and events when something new and out of place is introduced, like the aforementioned relatives, the thing muddles. The authority of course will try to play things in order to placate the fans, or in some cases, the investors. This doesn’t remove the fact that something like Spock’s adopted sister in Star Trek Discovery was pulled out from their ass. At this point oh so many fans will point out different variations of canon, how TV and silver screen events are only true canon and numerous books, guides, comics and whatnot do not count. Though even then, what’s on those screens doesn’t add up all the time, and then they have to issue a magazine article or a book to cover their asses.
Sometimes changing canon can change the whole motif of the work. For Muv-Luv, if you take into account the later explanations how the dimension travel and branching timelines work outside the main body of work, you’ll find out that there are multiple continuities within the BETAverse continuity itself, making Takeru’s sacrifice all but meaningless for all those other continuities. Takeru didn’t end up saving that world at the end of Alternative because of the timeline retcons, just one version of it. The literary motif of a person going through groundhog day loop to save in the name of true love was effectively destroyed.
Is that headcanon I see? No, that’s common sense. I said I don’t play these games. The obsession toward canon strong enough for people to invent new terms and ways to deal with it, like headcanon, i.e. a personal interpretation of events. In the current era of personal feelings and opinions being the height of argument, yeah just go with it then.
Though to be serious, that’s another issue with the whole canon thing. Unless the events are made crystal clear with no ambiguity, you’re more or less asked to refer to a source material like some book, or in modern cases, wikis that just list everything under the sun. Memory Alpha, the Star Trek wikia, is special spectrum kind of levels on the details they list in each entry. Things like how Warp Factor’s speed changed between The Original Series of Star Trek and The Next Generation. Nobody makes a fuss about it on the show or even acknowledges it, but writers’ guides changed how the speeds were represented. In The Original Series, you could go past Warp 10 speeds, but in The Next Generation Warp 10 was maximum speed you could go. The Star Trek Magazine did recognize this and made it work, but that’s not from TV or movies, so according to owner rules, it ain’t canon. It just stays one of numerous discontinuities between the two shows, but we fans are very apt at making excuses for sloppy writing and changed rules on a whim. For all we really know, Warp 10 as the max speed would apply to The Original Series as well and anything that went over Warp 10 should be corrected proper.
Star Trek is the most overused and driest example anyone could use for a discussion about canon, but its so persistent in our global pop-culture that there’s nothing like it. We know Spock, Kirk, Picard and so on. It’s easy. Not so much with Star Wars, but that’s a whole another topic. The fandom is known for its religious level of knowledge of the show and everything surrounding it that it’s become a living joke in itself. A respected joke, but a joke nonetheless. A Trekkie or Trekker, same deal.
That’s not being fair. No, it it isn’t. The whole deal isn’t fair to the consumer and fans overall, and yet there is this obsession on canon, on what really happened. Well nothing really happened, but the question I always ask Why can’t we treat these as their own stories? What is it that makes fans so keen on sticking to canon? I really don’t know, and I doubt anyone has a wholly satisfying answer to give. Perhaps its the fact that these stories we love are modern myths and legends, that we find something to love and shower ourselves with the how interesting the world and its characters are. We want to know more about all of it and how it all works together as wholesome piece.
The obsession persists in every corner of each fandom. It can’t be escaped. Perhaps long-form storytelling became popular because of this, but even them most shows that try it are episodic in the end, allowing the episodes to have standalone stories within the larger line. Y’know, something some TV-shows like Buffy did well beforehand.
All this demerits each of these stories as a single standalone piece and as a totality. For whatever reason the holy pedestal of canon can’t deal with stories that stand and use the overall frame as the main part of the fictional world. For example, can’t we take all Star Trek series as their own work with works within them all the while dismissing the overlooming canon? Apparently not. People get rivaled up for everything. Reality is, of course, that Spock did not have an adopted sister or a cousin looking for God in The Original Series, but the obsession to fit everything in a single fictional history overtakes this. This is very marketable. Perhaps time and effort would be better spend in discussing the merit of the work rather than its fictional history that is very much dependent on the whims of the author.
Using very sources or examples is never really a proper thing to do, but recently I can’t help but to feel that as of late more and more companies have been trying to expand their franchises at the cost of the core audience. I don’t mean the usual memetic way, but at the expense of the franchise themselves.
Take both Star Trek and Star Wars as an example. Hell, throw in Ghostbusters in there for good measure. I’m not wondering what the hell happened, because we know what happened in both cases. With Star Trek, we first had the Abrams’ reboot films, which weren’t great to any degree. He didn’t care about the franchise, he didn’t get it. Whatever he did wasn’t in the spirit of Trek and it showed on-screen. The same applies to the second movie, revisiting the same beats for characters like Spock being essentially reset to his original form in the first movie. The PR team directly lying to the audiences about the villain disn’t do any favours. After all, trying to remake what is considered the best of Star Trek movies is a tall task, something the writers and directors weren’t up to. Into Darkness is considered the worst in the series for a good reason, even if it hamfists the usual Trek message in like a truck. Third film may be a fan favourite from the reboot timeline, bu that’s little worth when the movie itself made the least amount of revenues.
All this is really ramps up with Star Trek Discovery, the least viewed Trek if we go by what Midnight’s Edge’s latest Trekvideo. The overall reaction to it has been less than favourable, but this is not surprising. Les Moonves micromanaged the show to the point of failure. He didn’t care for the franchise, but saw the potential in it to make money. What he or the rest of CBS’ staff didn’t seem to realise that failure would mean further losses on the long run. Any person running a franchise with fifty years of history and a cultural position will tell you that you don’t play the game for short-term gains. The Next Generation‘s later seasons, and the subsequent series didn’t dabble in current politics too much. Instead, good storytelling was at the front with the occasional thematic comment, much like how the Original Series had gone. Deep Space 9 had few episodes that were about racism and culture, yet these were woven into the story in a significant way. The same can’t be said about Discovery, which sadly pushes the politics over the story to the point of the main character Michael Burnham being unable to do anything wrong and comes out the most unpleasant main spot character across the franchise. Pretty much everything was driven by political ideology, with Klingons being turned into representation of political views.
Star Wars suffers from this same approach. Rather than tell a good story, a fitting story for the franchise, Episode VII gave us a terrible story that only got worse in the next mainline movie. The current Expanded Universe has seen vehicles for further one-sided agenda both in books and comics in a similar manner, and it all shows in the falling revenues.
There is no respect towards the franchises or the stories in either camp.
The best stories in either Trek or Wars have been fantastical character pieces. The comparisons of current politics have always been present, but largely in an allegorical method or as motif that is woven in to the overall fabric. You may not notice them, but your brain sure does. This is where so many modern stories fail. For example, the struggle between the Rebel Alliance and the Empire is an allegory to certain war with small and technologically weak group fighting a large and overpowering enemy, the Viet Cong against the United States. However, that isn’t emphasized to any degree within the Sequel Trilogy outside the setup.
The First Order from the new movies abandon this altogether and simply makes them sci-fi Nazi Germany, both in action and visuals. This lack of any sort of subtle approach undermines whatever the writer wanted to say to the point of making the First Order seem like Saturday morning cartoon villains, especially in Episode VIII.
The difference between the two isn’t just that Nazi Germany, or Nazis overall, aren’t just largely irrelevant nowadays as a political power, but also shows the fundamental misunderstanding of the franchise and its visuals. This applied to the older Expanded Universe as well, which explain clearly how the Third Reich marched into the cinemas. Abrams can tell us he is a fan of Star Wars how many times he wants, but the end result shows that he isn’t up to the task to write a good Star Wars movie like so many other before him. The same applies to largely almost every piece of SW fiction produced under Disney rule. It is understandable that Disney didn’t want to start making movies based off the Thrawn Trilogy or the like, as that would have meant they’d need to pone up some money for the original writers. The less they have to tie themselves to pre-existing stories and can make whatever the hell they can all the while milking fans’ affection towards characters like Thrawn, it’s all good to them.
Except when their movies are bombing and toys are barely selling. Disney is now trying to course correct the franchise with their next mainline movie, despite being adamant that nothing has been going wrong. Hollywood PR mandates a studio to keep their shit straight and tell nothing’s wrong, until sometime later they can just admit everything being gone to hell and silently try to fix stuff. It’d be better PR to admit they’ve gone wrong and are looking into ways to correct the matter. You’ll never see a studio do this though.
Trek is also taking a new direction, trying to capitalise on the success of The Orville of all things. ST Discovery‘s second season trailer already shows that they have a new direction, with emphasize on more adventure and fun, with Lower Decks being a straight out comedy from the writer of Rick and Morty. While we shouldn’t pass a judgement on series that haven’t even aired an episode yet, but an educated guess about their intentions isn’t hard to make. Discovery, by all means, has been a failure. Rather than looking at what makes a good Trek show and how to go on about it, CBS has opted to see what the direct competitor was doing and wants The Orville audience. Doing comedic Star Trek isn’t the way, doing proper Star Trek and not whatever Discovery ended up being should have been their first course of action, but that’s not how business is done when blind data is looked at without any consideration to the franchise.
Maybe all of these companies should look into making new IPs rather than bastardise existing ones to function as their vehicles. The Orville did it, against all the odds.
With the recent new of Patrick Steward returning as Jean-Luc Picard in his own Star Trek spinoff after the questionable ST Discovery. With CBS now footing the bill for the second season after Netflix essentially paying for the ride for the first one, Abrams’ Trek movies effectively being dead in the water as main cast members are walking away from it and Les Moonves of CBS still wanting to screw things up to the point crashing the franchise. Midnight’s Edge’s recent video goes over the background events of the Abrams’ Trek movies, what the current license and copyright mess is and dire the situation for the franchise is overall. To put it short; the man currently in charge doesn’t like SF and wants to remove all the history of Star Trek by somehow collapsing timelines in-fiction to justify to do whatever kind of story he wants.
The thing is, he always could.
The worst decision that franchises like this do is writing prequels. By doing that, the staff is essentially tied to defined future of the story. If they break the future, the overall story and canon makes less and less sense with each little breakage. One drop doesn’t break a damn, but enough drops turn into a tidal whale. For long time fans of any franchise, they know how prequels often turn out. Not all that great, sometimes even sullying the story they’re based on.
The better option is to move forwards. If Star Trek Discovery had been another Trek show set in whatever time span after Star Trek: Nemesis, there would have been far less cacophony from the audience. No strings attached, no character references needed, no plot points to follow, everything can be made new and shiny.
But that takes effort and references seem to something Hollywood and TV writers and execs things are needed to bring in the fanbase. They seem to treat their audience as some sort of imbeciles.
References to past parts of a franchise is the easiest way to make sure the fans and general audience in the know understand that the series is part of it. For Star Trek, it’s the recurring species of Klingons and such with the occasional visitor from other shows, like how DeForest Kelley made an appearance in the first episode of The Next Generation as an older Leonard McCoy. While it supposedly gives legitimacy to the series as a sequel, it all really ends up being useless fan pandering. Similarly, Picard appeared in Deep Space 9‘s first episode to give it a sendoff, and that was about just as needless. The story had already tied itself to a past even, the Battle of Wolf 359. It can be argued that this was more a necessary cameo due to Picard’s role as the enemy in that battle, and to showcase the difference between Sisko and Picard. Problem of course was, the show could’ve done this by itself. At worst, a cameo like this makes a show look weak, as if it couldn’t stand on its own two legs. This was one of Discovery‘s worst weakness, as it was directly tied to the Original series through introducing yet another relative to Spock, and using Spock’ father Sarek prominently throughout the first season. The second season will have Spock in some role as well, meaning Discovery further loses its unique status as a show and as a story, making the world so much smaller.
Of course, it is financially more viable to do this. Referencing and using existing characters and actors ensures the fans, or at least part of the fandom, will flock and pay for these characters. This allows modern versions to be made of these characters and these modernisations then can be licensed onward to toy manufacturers and such. It makes money, and is a safe bet to give that aforementioned legitimacy. It’s a no-brainer why CBS told Abrams and Paramount that their Trek wouldn’t be the only game in town in terms of licensing. I don’t believe there ever was brand confusion among core fans, or even with general audiences to any significant extent, as the visuals between Abrams’ Trek and old Star Trek shows were like night and day, or rather, difference between well shot scene and one filled with lensflares. Any audience, fans or not, are willing to pay for products that they have connected with when it comes to franchise merch, and considering how low quality Abram’s Trek is, it’s no wonder why its toys and other merch didn’t sell. On the other hand, the culture at large has direct emotional connection to the classic Star Trek shows, especially in the US, which means its much easier to sell new merch based on those series.
And as I’ve beaten this dead horse, using those characters to which the audience has emotional contact with in other shows is just good financial sense.
In a way, it is always risky to start with new characters as they have no history or properly set path, and it’s a slight gamble whether or not the audience will like them. The audience may no connect with the characters. Neelix from Voyager is a great example how not to do a character in Trek, as he was never improved upon. He stayed a shithead throughout the series. Character like Bashir is a great example how to improve your character throughout the series, as he started as annoying prick, and then evolved into one of the more likeable and stronger characters of the show.
However, despite the risks, starting from a clean table with new characters and new stories without any of the baggage of old yields better rewards than tying things down. All it takes is proper planning and using the heart of the franchise to its fullest extent, and building up a new story with brand new characters. A new Star Trek should just be that, a new Star Trek, advancing what the series can be about and going toward the future, but ever since Enterprise, everything has just stepped backwards and stalling the franchise.