#96 – putting the Q-bosh on it

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It’s gonna be weird when we find out that the entire multi-series franchise run of Star Trek was just something that young Wesley Crusher saw while staring into his holographic snowglobe.

Where was Geordi going to go with this whole Vash thing, anyway? It seems like such a throwaway episode, just a cute little callback from a TNG thing and an excuse to give Quark some more screen time doing his deal. But Geordi had plans! Plans!

Like, maybe Vash was originally gonna stick around after all. Maybe that curious glowing artifact in a box that caused so much trouble in the actual episode was going to turn out not to be some weird station-threatening energy vortex bomb thingy after all, but rather…A TEAR OF THE PROPHETS! And Vash, in possession of it for reasons she can’t totally explain, is actually Sisko’s spiritual double, coming to the wormhole circuitously but inevitably, to become Sisko’s co-Emissary. And as he struggles to reconcile his cynicism and irreligious inclinations with the demands of the Bajoran religious polity, Vash would struggle likewise to make a compromise between her wanderlust and profiteering instincts and the need for selflessness and stability from the believers.

Eventually, Vash would find that peace, and embrace her role as an Emissary. But she’d go further! Unlike Sisko, who was always drawn tight in both directions by his role as an officer of the Federation and the call of the Prophets, Vash would once she abandoned her previous Indiana Jonesing ways have nothing left to pull her away from a full commitment to her role. She would in fact become radicalized, would be not a grudging but a zealous Emissary, and the long arc of the the story would involve an eventual idealogical confrontation between Sisko and her.

Is probably what Geordi was planning, I’m guessing. Oh well!

#95 – Qception

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Of course, a year or two later Wes would start attending Starfleet Academy, where he would sit around with the other Nova Squadron cadets smoking synthweed and having structurally very similar conversations.

Q is such a problem for this franchise, because he’s It Was All Just A Dream incarnate. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love watching John de Lancie doing his thing and they’ve had a good time with some of the wacky What If stuff as individual episodes, but he’s hugely problematic as someone who is implicitly always out there, everywhere, able to appear at a moment’s notice, at a mere mention, to pull some I Dream Of Jeannie bullshit at a galactic-slash-existential level, like some psychopathic Space Kibo. Because when he can do that any time he wants, and nobody could possibly stop him if he didn’t want to be stopped, and he seems to delight specifically in mussing with the affairs of his pet humans, then…why does everything work out?

A big part of the problem with Q comes down to his contradictory role as a limitless trickster god who nonetheless cooperates unerringly with the maintenance of the status quo. He can and often does do the otherwise impossible with a snap of his fingers — make people disappear or appear, change history, even grant other people likewise godlike powers — but he can never seem to commit on any of it.

As an in-universe criticism of the tyranny of syndication over rich continuity and character development, you could argue that it’s subtle and brilliant. But I think that’s giving the whole thing far too much credit, overall. Even if you’re lampshading a problem in your show, it’s still a problem in your show.

#94 – You’re The Man Now, Doggerel

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Go Picard, all elevating the cultural milieu with classical poetic forms and shit. As metered rhyming poetry it’s no Ode To Spot, but then Ode To Spot has not yet actually been written yet in this timeline; one wonders if (assuming it ever does get written) Data would have been inspired largely by the Captain’s impromptu sonnet composition.

Also, if you squint a little the middle panels of this strip are basically the Brady Bunch credit sequence. Hmm.

Anyway, for those not carrying encyclopedic knowledge of Larp Trek canon around in their heads, this is of course a reference back to the notional future-Picard’s handling of the Battle of Morton’s Fork.

Sisko in the series more or less dropped the grudge-against-Picard stuff after the pilot, probably on account of how (a) it’d probably be hard to get Patrick Stewart to make recurring cameos on the show and (b) it’d also feel a little weird and coattails-riding probably and besides, (c) either you keep having Sisko butt heads with a beloved character over ugly past events or you have them hug it out and become bros and both feel like not total winners in the Star Trek aesthetic.

But Picard-as-Sisko in the game wouldn’t want to let it go so quick, I don’t think. It’s a meaty character detail, if one that leads to him engaging in a weird self-emasculation in front of his crew during rec hours, but, hey, the Captain does what the Captain wants even if it’s just to revel in his own strange insecurities.

June 21st is a Not Today Friday.

1 Comment on June 21st is a Not Today Friday.

Poor planning and poorer sleep have contrived to make this one of those days when it ain’t gonna happen, folks. We’ll pick up with Vash & Co on Monday.

Consolation prize: another Metafilter thread about Star Trek, this time nominally about Star Trek Voyager and why it’s the best Trek but the thread’s actually mostly about how that assertion is poorly made and poorly defended in the linked article and also some arguing about what if anything was good about Voyager.

SPOILER ALERT: People end up disagreeing about a lot of things.

#92 – Basically it’s Old Yeller In Space

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Poor ol’ Tosk. In the actual episode, he gets to live, of course, but Geordi’s not having any of that; I guess he’s channeling his Straczynski instead of his Roddenberry at the moment.

Because that feels like the difference between Star Trek and Babylon 5, a lot of the time: this episode would have ended about ten minutes sooner, with the station crew simply miserable at the revelation that their good intentions had, instead of bearing fruit for themselves and their culturally mysterious “guest”, led to a situation more ignoble and unhappy than the one they might have thought they were helping avoid. Like that one time that Dr. Franklin secretly gave some alien kid surgery and his parents found out and they euthanized the kid because that’s how they roll, dawg.

Although to be fair to DS9, that’s a bit more how some of these stories go later in the series too.

But here, what we got was some sort of feelgood escapist fantasy resolution — literally an escape, in fact, with O’Brien conspiring with Tosk to make a break for it in the station and even explicitly (if slightly indirectly) assaulting the alien hunters while he’s at it. Which Sisko just sort of winks at, which, hey, Sisko, he’s kinda great specifically for that reason but still. It’s a bit, I dunno. It’s a bit easy.

Because Tosk is still just going to be hunted down and killed, is the implication. The Niners get to feel a bit better about the whole thing but it was no skin off their backs in the first place, and Tosk is still living a monomaniacal existence as a sentient being bred solely to be hunted and slain by a group of beings that have him outgunned and outnumbered. That’s pretty fucking grim, basically, but the episode doesn’t land grim, it tries to land on sort of a wistful “attaboy” note.

Geordi ain’t havin’ it.

#91 – At least it wasn’t nanites

29 Comments on #91 – At least it wasn’t nanites

Wesley Crusher, you dumb little genius.

There are so many things that bother me about the Universal Translator, and I think I’ve talked about some of this before (probably specifically in the context of Darmok, but it applies more generally), so I won’t go on at length about it again and will just suffice to say that I understand that making workable TV that is not about the realities of translation is a fair explanation for why it’s so goddam dumb. But still: so goddam dumb, and worse, they basically never do anything interesting with it. Which is central to the classic argument that Star Trek isn’t so much science fiction as it is fiction in science drag; it’s a show about society and morality more than it is about warp drives or alien worlds, and fine.

But the UT, both as specified in the handwavey technical justifications for it that exist and as presented subjectively to the viewer, is this incredible, powerful, slick-as-shit, galaxy-changing technology. Why don’t people mess around with it more? Why not just adopt a new accent that you feel like people would enjoy? Or do stupid translator tricks and stunts? Or play a game of enforced Telephone where thanks to a quick twiddle of the UT’s settings what you say is by definition not quite what the next person hears?

We see people do random stuff (though not random enough IMHO) on the holodeck all the time, because it’s obviously intended as spectacle and the stuff of fantasy. But the UT is no less powerful in theory; in practice, they’ve just sublimated it in the presentation of the show to where it’s simultaneously miraculous and wholly unworthy of mention or notice.

In other news, one of you has clearly been busy. I was delighted to see this when someone pointed it out to me the other day; I’m not sure if it’s healthy in an inevitable-death-by-recursion sort of way to have something of mine written up on TV Tropes, but I’m willing to take that risk.

#90 – What We Have Here Is A Failure To Corncob Dinosaur

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Somebody’s in trouble. I’m betting there’ll be more details on Friday, based on some rumors I heard from the guy who writes this thing, though I also hear you’re welcome to speculate.

Also I sort of got to writing more on Monday about what I mentioned in that strip’s commentary, about what was sort of disappointing about “Babel” not tackling the language vs. communication aspects of the dilemma. So you can go read that if you want as well!

Also also, as a periodic mention sort of thing, we’re five episodes in now to that nutty Hellraiser film review/rebuke/regret podcast I’ve been doing, We Have Such Films To Show You, and the films have started getting properly and truly bad at this point in the series, so if you hunger for schadenfreude or feel like mapping the bridges between cinematic pleasure and pain, go give it a listen.

Also also also, butt striding.

Babel kinda punted on the interesting “what do you do when you lose language” question

5 Comments on Babel kinda punted on the interesting “what do you do when you lose language” question

Some elaboration on my thoughts from earlier on the episode today’s strip is referencing: seriously, it is a little bit of a downer that in the episode of Deep Space Nine that I’m riffing on here, Babel, the writers treated being struck aphasic by the mystery ailment as a good reason to just stop paying any attention to that character for the rest of the episode. You’ve got a problem? Okay, go be off-camera now, you’re clearly useless.

(The very brief synopsis, if you don’t remember this one: back when DS9 was a Cardassian station as part of the decades-long occupation of Bajor, a brilliant Bajoran scientist/rebel planted a language-virus device intended to fuck with the Cardassians by rendering them mutually unintelligible. Instead, it stayed dormant until the Federation showed up, and first Miles O’Brien and then a bunch of other folks started getting sick; first some flu-like symptoms, and then aphasia, and then apparently death not long after which makes you wonder why the aphasia was even part of it but okay. It’s a race against time as many main cast members also start speaking nonsense! Kira saves the day by finding and infecting a guy who helped design the virus, who finds the antidote even as Kira herself succumbs! End.)

And, so, I get that that’s just the story they were writing — it’s an epidemic plot, first one person gets sick and then another and then it’s everybody and OH GOSH RACE AGAINST TIME FOR THE CURE — and I can totally understand that accordingly they were focusing on the narrative through-line from infection to discovery to urgent race for a solution. I’m not saying it’s an inherently problematic plot or anything.

But at the same time, what if they’d actually tackled the idea of a clever, headstrong motley command staff reacting to being struck effectively dumb by this virus by working around the verbal barrier? I mean, when, in any good Star Trek story, has a core crew’s reaction to adversity been “oh well, I suppose I’ll lie down now and wait for someone else to come up with a solution”?

If Bashir can’t keep working on his attempt to cure the virus in his usual way because speaking to the computer is out, why not try and work with a still-able assistant via drawings or touch? If Sisko can’t give commands verbally or read console text, you think he wouldn’t try and work off visuals on the dozens of displays in Ops? And so on. These people do not accede willingly to affliction or roadblock.

Considering how beloved Darmok turned out to be, it feels conspicuous in retrospect that an episode from the same period of Star Trek production and one similarly premised off a linguistic conceit (however deeply hazily presented) didn’t do more to engage with the communicative consequences of that conceit. It could have easily been a far more interesting episode of television had they gone in that direction.