Fella, you were dead the minute you fired at that holo-emitter.

#1 – You were dead the minute you fired on that holo-emitter.

11 Comments

I feel like I should note here that (a) the Aquans really are an alien race in the Star Trek universe and (b) they are in fact fish people, and (c) they only ever appeared in one episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series, and (d) that apparently qualifies as series canon, and (e) I only know any of this because I looked it up on Memory Alpha when I needed some aliens for Picard to blow up.

I like Star Trek a lot — I have watched more of it than the average person, that much is safe to say — but I’m not an encyclopedic superfan, so it’s handy that there is an actual encyclopedia maintained by actual superfans.  Because I’m gonna be leaning on that thing a lot.

See also: ancient Earth beverage, "Mt. Dew"

#4 – It’s like holograms in your BRAIN

5 Comments

Poor Wesley, being a kid on a starship; poor Wil Wheaton being stuck playing that kid to an unkind audience.  (Though Wil seems to have come through the dark tunnel of being Wesley Crusher and then some at this late date.)

The problem with Wesley Crusher, if I’m gonna argue it, was mostly that the show wasn’t built to showcase a kid’s wonder.  And as The One Kid On The Enterprise (in terms of major recurring cast members) he didn’t really have a peer group to build stories with either; there was no one we, as viewers, really cared about who wasn’t mostly too busy to hang out with Wes and too old to have a non-condescending, non-twee, non-Very-Special-Episode emotional arc with him.

So Wes was stuck trying to be a grownup on the sidelines even though he wasn’t (and so we got to watch him be bummed that adults we liked were annoyed by him being inconvenient or underfoot, nominal pat on the head at the end of some episodes notwithstanding), or having Wes-centric episodes where he gets up to who knows what random nonsense this time with some one-off guest star kids who we have zero investment in.  It’s a bad setup, for a kid whose backstory was already sort of glum and dicey.

And I can’t blame people for not liking the character, because he didn’t get used well; but it’s kind of a shame when you think of Wes’s potential with slightly different plotting and setup as the kid living the greatest goddam adventure a kid could have.  How great would that be?  But maybe that’s just not Star Trek.

Anyway, I’m taking a shot at Wes having his miiiiiind blooooown here but I think what I’m saying is that it’s an affectionate shot.  If Wes didn’t get a chance to have his mind blown by the actual insane future scifi world he was living in, he ought to at least get a chance to get a little bit OMG HAVE YOU EVER REALLY LOOKED AT YOUR HANDS? about the concept of old-school roleplaying.

Bill Striker laughs in the face of condoms.

#5 – Bill Striker laughs in the face of condoms

2 Comments

A fact about me: I have DMed exactly one pen-and-paper RPG session in my life, and I was I think a junior in high school at the time, and I was not very good at it at all, but I had drawn up a bunch of random encounter tables for it, and also there was this spooky mansion and in the basement of the mansion was some weird complicated glowing magical trap thing that reacted to character alignment in a way that I thought was super clever but the players mostly thought was kind of confusing and annoying, and I stayed up till four a.m. running it for a bunch of gamer/theater friends and two of them ended up sort of making out under a blanket instead of paying any attention, which was kind of rough because I totally had a crush on one of them.

I haven’t really comported myself that much better as a player over the years, either.  One time, I stabbed a horse in the neck with an arrow?  To try and slow down some dwarves?  Basically it was like pushing over a bunch of Hell’s Angels bikes outside a bar, except in the Forbidden Realms.  So that was a thing.

Basically what I’m saying is I have a lot of respect for anyone who can manage to run a game.  I’m not sure Geordi knows what he’s getting himself into.

Riker: "My character can fly."  Wes: "Yeah, uh, well, I can fly twice as high!"

#9 – Seriously, the Enterprise crew go through datapads like toiletpaper

17 Comments

I feel like the pro forma thing to do here is apologize for the obvious Reading Rainbow joke but (a) at least it’s out of the way (twice-over if you check the alt text on the comics) so we can all stop thinking about it and (b) seriously, Reading Rainbow is awesome.

I grew up on it as a kid, and something about the way LeVar delivered the whole thing was just great; I was a weirdly cynical kid about children’s media for whatever reason, and had trouble trusting overly earnest or twee stuff (I found Mr. Rogers, of all people, unsettling, though I think that was mostly the puppets and the weird falsetto voices he did for them because Trolley was fantastic and oh man the crayon factory filmstrip and I think I got lost a bit here) but for whatever reason when LeVar would start talking about books and how they were great that stuff just clicked for me. I hear I was an early reader, and Reading Rainbow didn’t hurt on that front.

And man, that title sequence. Earworm. I apologize, but not really.

But! Yes. Beyond the whole nostalgia kick, the neat thing is that RR’s a straight-up 21st century product now: you can get it on your dang iPad. With @levarburton and everything. Crazy future kids ebook reader. Some Roddenberry shit right there.

WHO'S THE BLACK STATION HEAD WHO TAKES *ALL* THE DABO GIRLS TO BED? wockachickawickachucka BEN! (I can dig it)

#11 – Picard will spend a whole session at some point just making Sisko brush his hair ad nauseum

10 Comments

Character introductions! Now we get to see the rubber meet the road. Or the…nacelles hit the spacetime fabric? Do cars even have rubber wheels or drive on roads in the 24th century? I don’t know, future metaphors are a problem.

In fact, I’m willing to argue that Darmok wasn’t actually an episode about communicating with a species with a fundamentally alien (and Universal Translator-defying) language but rather a cautionary tale about being four hundred years out of date on your internet memes.

Anyway, as character picks go I felt like this was sort of a gimme, right? Picard’s idea of branching out is “me but cooler”. The demotion stung a little but he decided to take one for the team so long as everyone else has the good sense not to outrank him. (Riker knows which way the wind blows and quietly scraps Admiral Beefstrong, goes back to the cartoon-penis-drawing board.)

I get the impression of Picard that, for all his merits as a Captain, he’s not one of those bosses who really digs on the whole inverted-power-dynamics Carnival sort of deal; he’d grit out a smile through the first couple of disrespectful jokes and then he’d lose his cool and people would start getting fired and that’s the end of that office party, etc. He’ll laugh with you, but he won’t laugh with you laughing at him.

Wes doesn't have a lot of outlets on this ship.  And lately he can't even deck off.  It's trouble.

#12 – Oedipal underwear

33 Comments

I know there’s a lot of jokes and or uncomfortable straight-faced discussions to be had about (a) the dilemma of being an adolescent boy with essentially no peer group on a sterile, surveillance-state environment like a warp-powered submarine and (b) the dysfunctional dynamics of spending most your time around your hot mom and your adoptive-but-actually-pretty-seriously-not father figure who sorta got your real dad killed, but:

Let’s talk about Counselor Troi. Specifically, about her duties as psychological counselor on the Enterprise. There’s about a thousand people on this ship, yeah? And she’s the ship counselor. There’s no clear indications in the show that she has staff; she’s The Ship’s Counselor, and that’s that.

How does she spend all that time chillin’ like a villain on the bridge? We see her actually counseling someone in a regularly-scheduled sit-down session like…five times? Maybe? In the entire run of the series. We see Picard specifically ordering some tea to drink more often than we see Troi doing what is ostensibly her vocation. She does plenty of little ad hoc “let’s just have a chat where I say observant things and we make expressions” moments mid-narrative but that’s not a J.O.B., that’s being there for your Bs.F.F.

A thousand crew members, let’s guess that maybe 30% of them need a monthly hour-long session (or a couple of half-hours, or a quick weekly check-in) for recurring mental health / evaluation / misc. counseling reasons. Most of it’s not dramatic, but it’s basic due diligence, crew-maintenance stuff that’s important in its own right, yeah? That’s 300 hours a month, or 10 hours a day and no weekends off. Plus drop-in hours. Plus emergencies. And that’s ignoring paperwork (PADDwork?), briefings with the senior officers, coordination with Bev’s medical staff, etc. Every single time she gets paged off screen, it should be interrupting a session or some bit of office hours.

"What about your reality TV cooking show program?" "Deanna, I am not *pretending* to have a scrumptious gagh recipe."

#14 – Today is a good day to (roll a twenty-sided) die

12 Comments

I realize that Worf being who he is in Next Generation — a Klingon warrior by blood but naturalized significantly into human cultural and military structure via his adoptive parents and his Starfleet career — is part of what makes him an interesting character, but do you ever get the feeling that maybe he got dicked over a little bit by being stuck serving on the Enterprise?

Because he seems so hemmed in. I like a good “struggle with the conflicts generated by setting your cultural and emotional instincts against a differing but valued-by-you context” episode as much as anybody and Worf working to reconcile his Klingonness and his Starfleetery isn’t bad fodder for that sort of thing, but man the guy seems like he could really tear some shit up if he was a little more free to move or, maybe more to the point, on a different crew whose own aggregate character arcs and puny human builds didn’t require him to be constantly put in check just to make sure it doesn’t turn into The Worf Is Awesome, Let Worf Handle It science fiction badass hour.

I mean, seriously: he is constantly denied. It’s like the DM of whatever game TNG itself is being played in either hates the guy playing him or nerfed the character to keep the party equitable.

I like Worf a lot. He makes a good comedy foil, he’s entertainingly uncomfortable with emotional development, and behind the gruff exterior he’s got more emotional fragility and depth of feeling on the table than even Wesley most of the time. But man does he feel like he got stuck on the wrong show somehow and never found the exit home. Like some tragic Quantum Leap shit but without the leaping and Count Bakula is on the wrong ship in the wrong century and ZIGGY IS NEVER GOING TO ANSWER, WORF. ZIGGY ABANDONED YOU.

I think I lost my train of thought there. Anyway, it was also Michael Dorn’s birthday yesterday. Cupgaghs for everybody!

A: "I love this coffee." B: "I loved that waiter..." A: "...who shouted at your son!" A + B: "Jean Luc!"

#15 – He assimilates entire background characters and I fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here!

13 Comments

Oh Six Hundred already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin’ Ashley Judd
By a bloody red Cardassian stream

JUST ANOTHER WESLEY WEDNESDAY

It turns out that I can’t think of anything good to rhyme with Wednesday, at least not at seven in the morning, so let’s just put down The Bangles right there for your sake and mine.

Would it be unreasonable to suggest that a central part of Picard’s character is a disinclination to share? I’m not busting on him here, I mean that more in a straight-faced characterological way, as part of what makes him an interesting and complicated guy. He’s a thoroughly decent man, with strongly-held principles and an apparent desire to do good and see that others do good in the universe, but he’s also clearly ambitious and occasionally impulsive and it seems like messing with his stuff is about the best way for someone to get on his bad side.

The “someone” in the show when it comes up tends to be an alien race treating the Enterprise or by extension Starfleet as an entity or a concept with disrespect — e.g. shooting at his shit, ignoring his ethical boundaries, turning him into a Borg, being Q at all — but it’s there in his discomfort in crew interactions too if you look. Arguably the series ends on an admission of this, with Picard’s acknowledgement when finally joining the crew at the poker table* at the end (“I should have done this a long time ago…”) that he has been too reticent about sharing simple ritual fun-times with his own senior staff, the folks who are mostly clearly his friends at this stage in his life.

So Wes bogarting his fictional kid seems like it would set him off pretty well in its own right, is my feeling.

* And don’t think that poker table scene at the end of All Good Things… hasn’t kept me up at night given its implication that Picard wouldn’t go in for This Sort Of Thing. Though that is in itself a bit of an odd scene, because there were plenty of episodes where Picard holodecked it up with other crewmembers. Maybe he meant specifically confining himself around a gaming table in a small room, disintermediated from the protective conceit of a holoscenario? Which required a massive meta-existential life event to get him over? Which sounds like about what the holodecks going down would represent to the crew. Et voila, the circle has been squared and this all makes perfect sense after all.

Jean Luc!

Miles: "Keiko."  Michael Bluth: "Her?"

#18 – My girlfriend lives in the Canada sector…

25 Comments

So here’s a thing: when I sat down to try and refresh my memory of the backstory of Miles and Keiko’s relationship, I figured I’d need to check out two or three episodes of Next Generation prior to their wedding in the middle of season four (in Data’s Day).

There aren’t any. I’d gotten so used to the O’Briens as fixtures on Deep Space Nine that I’d sort of internalized their presence on the Enterprise in TNG and assumed that there were just a lot of little Keiko tidbits I’d forgotten about. Like, hey, they were on the Enterprise together, she was in a bunch of episodes, some of that had to be courtship stuff, right?

But, no! We only meet Keiko Ishikawa on the day she gets married. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but man that’s sort of weird to think about in retrospect. Her defining character introduction to the Star Trek viewership is as “that lady who got all hysterical and threatened to call off her wedding”.

When did Miles and Keiko meet? Who knows! How long have they known each other? Beats me! The one bit of canonical backstory I could find was a reference in Data’s Day to the idea that Data is the person who introduced the two of them, though how and when and where and why is left totally unclear.

There may be further hints in later episodes of TNG and DS9, though if so even the folks who collectively maintain the encyclopedia specifically dedicated to Star Trek TV trivia didn’t bother to mention it. And I have already spent more time trying to research the issue than I have any number of actual historical events, so I’m not going to try any harder at this point.

Aside from being sort of weird and disappointing in retrospect, though, this is also super duper convenient for me, because it means I’m beholden to just about nothin’ in writing any Keiko-and-Miles stuff at the point in Star Trek: The Next Generation history where this is all happening. So thanks, TV writers! Your abrupt mid-series introduction of a secondary character for a secondary character has paid off.

More about Miles and Keiko on Friday. Because there’s always more to say about Miles and Keiko.

Next up in the continuing adventures of Bill Striker, Sexual Frontiersman: "In the Lair of the Dungeon Mistresses..."

#21 – pecking order more like holodecking order amirite

8 Comments

Easing into the actually-commencing-with-the-roleplaying phase of this whole thing (and it only took twenty strips to get there! When that’s the core premise! Concision, that’s what I’m into…) and I think it’s inevitable that some of these next strips will be RPG basics disguised as Star Trek jokes more than they’re Star Trek jokes disguised as RPG setup.

Which if you aren’t particularly familiar with the structure of role-playing games might actually be handy? I don’t know! It could be educational. This might be worth college credit. I am willing to write your school registrar a letter of reference, just let me know.

But, yes, this goes back to that thought the other day in strip #15 about Picard and not liking to share, and I think not liking to share esteem or social standing is part of that. He fought his way up to Captain, dammit, earned every bloody inch of it, and no Engineer with a fancy dancy eyepatch gets to take shortcuts there.

And of course Picard wouldn’t drop petty shit like this on the actual show. And, look, Next Generation is an artifact unto itself, and provides the context for all the Star Trek stuff that has come since (and a cultural context against which other modern space serials are contrasted as well), so I wouldn’t really want to see it changed even if I had a magic wand or a favor to cash in with the Q Continuum. It is what it is, and that’s sort of historically important.

But there are times when I fantasize a little about some of that interpersonal conflict that showed up on Deep Space Nine (or other series like, notably, the new Battlestar Galactica) finding its way into TNG; a little more edge to the way the crew interacts could have been pretty interesting, and could have opened up some more possibilities for the show in terms of character development and the meaty territory of opposing desires held in tension by the demands of duty and career, of friendship vs. ambition vs. self-preservation.

Conflict on Next Generation is almost always the crew or a crew member against some externality (Riker’s ambition for his own command vs. his love of serving under Picard on the Enterprise; Worf’s desire to embrace his Klingon heritage vs. his sense of obligation and duty to Starfleet; Wes’ desire to locate the galaxy’s ugliest sweater vs. his eagerness to please Picard and fit in with the crew…) rather than being between members of the crew themselves, and even the rare interpersonal conflicts that do arise between major cast-members are routinely neatly resolved by the end of the episode and we’re back to status quo. It preempts a lot of potential interesting character friction that, if TNG were being made new today, I think writers and directors would likely want to take serious advantage of. But they’re not making it today, and it is what it is, and that’s okay too.