Thursday, September 14, 2006

Nerd Business II, or
If Mike Can Post About Star Wars Novels, I Can Post About Trek

I've been watching a lot of Star Trek - The Next Generation lately (Don't judge me!) It's on when I eat dinner, so it's perfect for mindless vegetable viewing. I mean, I don't really watch network TV anymore, and while it's certainly not as if Star Trek doesn't insult your intelligence, it's a different caliber of insulting than, say, House (a stupid, stupid show of which a number of otherwise intelligent people seem to have become unusually fond).

Anyway, I saw all the Treks many years ago, when they first ran on the TV. I haven't seen any of them since then, so thanks to the wonders of old age, I don't remember any of them! It's pure nostalgic wallowing of the most puerile, and boy is it fun. I am surprised by the amount of continuity between episodes, with different storylines and character arcs being continued from season to season. My memories of the show were that it had been totally episodic and self-contained, so seeing stories continue is kind of cool.

But, also, it points to the show's biggest problem, at least in my eyes: the Borg. Now, don't get me wrong, the Borg were badasses. And it was cool to realize that they had been laying the foundation for the Borg even in the first season (which I of course did not remember), coupled with the return of the Romulans. So, based on the evidence, it would have been easy to assume that any threat that would pose such a menace to the Federation and the Romulans would be a big deal (the first hint of the Borg was in the first season when Federation and Romulan outposts were destroyed by a force we would later learn was the Borg). And then when we first meet the Borg in season two, wow, were they cool. So then everyone's thinking that the Borg are going to be the big baddies from here on in, and the intrigue with the Klingons and Romulans would naturally focus on this new, devastating Alpha Quadrant player, the existence of which would throw any previous balance of power into total upheaval.

And then they ended the third season with "The Best of Both Worlds", and that was indeed good. Very good. Undoubtedly a series highlight, if not the series highlight (although I'm partial to "All Good Things...") But then a weird thing happened. Apparently the Borg only had one cube in the entire galaxy, and it was destroyed at the end of "Best of Both Worlds". Because, you know, they just never bothered to follow up. One cube almost destroyed the entire Alpha Quadrant, you'd think a second cube could have just come in and played clean-up, but no. For some reason the Borg only appeared twice in the show's remaining four years, and both times sucked pretty badly, going as far afield as you could possibly go from the basic concept while still calling the characters "Borg". Next thing you know they're slumming around with Data's brother in a 1978 Subaru Brat, throwing empty beer cans at the season one Ferengei with the animal skin clothing. I remember being confused at the time - and it still wasn't cleared up on a second viewing - as to whether or not the entirety of the Borg were destroyed, off-screen during "Descent" (torn apart by Hugh's corrupting influence). Obviously they weren't, as they showed up relatively intact in later Treks, but just the fact that the issue was handled in such a sloppy manner means that I don't think the Trek writing staff was really putting a lot of effort into things at that point. The early and middle seasons of the show had some real snappy writing, the later seasons . . . not so much.

Of course, the really cool war & politics narrative that they had foreshadowed in TNG finally did materialize in Deep Space Nine, only the Federation and their allies weren't fighting the Borg but the Dominion, who were cool but, let's not kid ourselves, were no Borg. A big disappointment, and I remember thinking at the time (and thinking now, for that matter) that the people in charge of Trek really had (and have) no idea what their fandom - their audience in general - wanted. Less shuttling diplomats around. More blowing shit up. Fewer quiet character studies. More high-stakes action. Absolutely no fucking Dixon Hill. Ever. Not even just a few minutes in the opening scene.
Just don't.

The very thought of the next iteration of Trek being a movie set during Kirk and Spock's academy days just makes my stomach churn. The only real option if they want to make a real go at a new series is just to swallow their pride and admit that the Next Generation template, as well as nostalgia for the original series, has basically been worn into the ground. They set the state of the art for television sci-fi in 1968 and 1990, but now all the shows that have followed in their footsteps (including even the later Trek spin-offs!) have advanced the genre to the point where another Trek series or movie in the same mold would just be infuriating. They need to do what they did in 1987: realize that they can't go back and just go forward. Leap another fifty or seventy-five years into the future of the Federation. Have lots of war and much less of the shuttling diplomats around crap. Assume that the audience that used to watch Trek is now watching and loving Battlestar: Galactica and act accordingly (however, I still refuse to watch the new Battlestar: Galactica on principle). Considering how much money has been sunk into Trek through the years, it's inconceivable to imagine that it will lie dormant forever. Wouldn't it be cool if, when they do bring it back in some form, it's actually worth watching?

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