Editorial: Lament for the Star Trek Ethos

by Matthew R. (R.41.61001)

I don’t intend to go on an extended rant about this, as the internet is already full of those, but since the theme of this site is sci-fi and STAR TREK in particular, I want to document my reaction to the last episode of PICARD.

In my opinion what makes STAR TREK unique is that is the unabashedly optimistic vision of what humanity COULD achieve. It is not a direct reflection of our current social problems in the portrayal of the protagonists; they are already an evolved vision of the best of what we can be. Bigotries and social problem are addressed, but rarely are those negative aspects attributed directly to the protagonists. The Federation is not America, the Federation is what America should be. This aspirational aspect of TREK is what makes it unique.

I have not felt that “new Trek”, those properties made after the auctions and sell off of sets, props and costumes following STAR TREK: NEMESIS, have been very aspirational. Much has been written of “Roddenberry’s Rules” and the limitations many writers felt those rules placed on their creativity. I personally cherish the work done under those rules, and I feel that THE ORVILLE has demonstrated that the Rules can still be effectively implemented.

I’m not going to debate whether JJ-Verse, DISCOVERY, PICARD, or even DEEP SPACE 9 are “Real Trek”. It says Trek on the box so that’s a moot point. But I can say they aren’t thematically the TREK I enjoy, because of the inherent and pervasive pessimism of the universe they present. That’s just my opinion, my tastes.

PICARD has been a difficult journey for me, as I really want to see the old TNG characters I grew up with again, but I constantly feel that I’m watching a different universe and often different characters played by the same actors. This came to a head, yet again, with episode three of the third season.

Setting aside the minor things… Picard advocating for first strike against the SHRIKE, or Riker blaming Picard for the failure of Riker’s acceptance of Picard’s advice. I recognize this as a transparent response to Roddenberry’s Rules. However, Worf and Raffi torturing a prisoner really bothered me. Yes, this is the kind of scene I’ve seen Jack Bauer in numerous times in 24; but again, TREK is not supposed to be the morally grey world of post 9/11 America. So, I watched as a hero from my childhood is involved in the extra-judicial torture of a person, the dénouement of which is Worf executing the prisoner with a phaser blast. Straight, unadulterated murder. All I could think of was the seminal Vietnam War photograph of the Saigon police chief summarily executing a Viet Cong guerilla.

I don’t understand how this scene was created. One of my most favorite episodes of TNG was “Chain of Command,” the premise of which was the extra-judicial torture of Captain Picard by Gul Madred. A key revelation of the episode is that the torture had Picard on the verge of providing false information that he was coming to believe because of the torture… the line that he actually believed he could see five lights. Pregnant in this episode is the unreliability of coerced information, yet now with “Seventeen Seconds,” not only are protagonists using torture, but they murder the subject afterwards – something even the evil Gul Madred never contemplated. Has 9/11 scarred the American psyche so deeply that torture and murder of a captive is now a heroic action?

To me, this is an irrevocable break with the brand that I identify TREK with, and I’ve chosen not to pursue the series any further. It’s heartbreaking, because I love Jonathan Frakes as a human being, and I REALLY wanted to see those characters back together… but I don’t want to see them like this.

However – because I do try to stay positive as a fan – I do wish to share that I have just discovered STAR TREK: PRODIGY, a show which has still not been release here in Japan yet, and I absolutely love it. It’s everything I look for in TREK. I hope you love it as much as I do so, I’ve shared the second episode from Nickelodeon’s YouTube channel:

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