An Editorial By John Camarena
Growing up, there were two types of geeks: those that liked Star Wars and those that liked Star Trek. Though there was certainly some overlap, you were usually relegated to one camp of the other. The original series of Star Trek premiered in 1966, a time that was rife with civil unrest, and made for a great vehicle to convey social commentary along with an optimistic view of a future where humanity has learned to work together for a common good. Then in 1977 Star Wars came along and blew that boring Trekkie nonsense out of the water with an epic space opera about good vs evil, with lightsabers and awesome space combat. The popularity of Star Wars reinvigorated interest in science fiction, so in 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture was released, and it had to be one of the most boring movies ever made. It was slow, plodding, and dense. This is where the distinction between the franchises became the most contrasted; while Star Wars was entertaining popcorn fare, Star Trek became a philosophical and character driven venture with deep clinging to actual science. The lines were drawn and Star Trek became known as the franchise for the uber-nerds. For the rest of the decade, Star Wars would be over and Star Trek kept pumping out movies of debatable quality with the original cast. Then in 1987, Star Trek returned to the small screen with The Next Generation. Featuring an all new cast, a continuation of the story taking place about 80 years after the original series ended, and updated production value and special effects; this series would pump new life into the aging franchise, attracting fans old and new alike. I would catch episodes randomly when they first aired between 1987 and 1994, but didn’t care much for it. I was loyal to Star Wars and looked down upon trekkies as they were considered geeky even by geek standards. And yet, there was always a curiosity about the series, and a pandemic has a way of opening up opportunities to binge several seasons’ worth of shows. So I dove in head first to experience the entirety of Star Trek: The Next Generation and finally go where so many others have gone before.
Some preconceived notions before going: I had assumed that Captain Picard was a bad ass, Commander Riker was a ladies man, and there would be no overarching story line, mostly just a story of the week with the occasional call back to other episodes. I was very wrong. While Captain Picard was, in essence, fearless, he was also a skilled diplomat who only resorted to violence as a last resort. He was always composed and exhibited an air of class and sophistication. Also, it turned out that Picard is a consummate ladies’ man in his own right, having possibly the most chances at romance compared to Riker, or at least wasn’t exploited as much as Riker. While there is much to dive into, I’m going to start with the big unanswered questions left over in the show. These are some of the things that I thought had a good set up, but are never resolved within the show or direct films. Some of these plot points have been covered further in the companion books or spin-off series, but I don’t read so these will remain unsolved mysteries.
The Dyson Sphere. Season 6, episode 4 titled “Relics”. The Enterprise rolls up on a distress signal coming from a very old shuttle and find it crashed on the outside of a Dyson sphere. Inside the shuttle they find Montgomery “Scottie” Scott in an energy stasis he rigged up while waiting for rescue. The main plot is Scottie coming to terms with now living 75 years later, so the relic in the title is both the Dyson sphere and himself. Now, a Dyson sphere falls into a science fiction trope I’m actually quite fond of: the Big Dumb Object. Typically this is an impossibly huge and derelict alien structure. Part of their mystery comes from not knowing who built these objects, how they work or what their purpose may be, with technology that is far more advanced than what the protagonists usually can understand. Dyson spheres are structures designed to enclose entire planets, or in this case, a solar system, as there is a sun at the center of this sphere with what looks like a planetary surface complete with atmosphere along the inside of the sphere. Basically it’s a giant enclosed Halo ring. What is its purpose? Who built it? Where did they go, as it appears to be abandoned? Who knows. They have one throwaway line at the end of the episode about sending a research team to study it and that’s it, onto more important things I guess. This drove me nuts, as this is exactly the kind of thing that I would have loved to watch an entire episode about, but the fact that the main plot is actually quite good lets me forgive it, this time. Side note: they also completely brush off that Scotty basically created an alternative to cryogenics for preserving/extending life. Up until now, we’ve had characters from decades if not centuries prior being reanimated from cryogenic freezing, but Scotty’s improvised method would have been a major leap in the field of life extension.
Klingon Jesus. Season 6, episode 23 titled “Rightful heir”. So Worf has a crisis of faith and goes to a sanctuary to pray for a while. That’s all fine and everything, but then he thinks he has a vision of the Klingon Jesus name Kahless. This is no vision at all, but rather a flesh and blood reincarnation of the messianic figure that founded the Klingon Empire. At first everything seems to check out; they ask him questions only the real Kahless could know the answer to and looks exactly like the depictions in the cave paintings; you know, the way you would authenticate any resurrected mythological hero. Worf jumps right in to accepting Kahless but soon the cracks start to show. Long story short, it’s revealed that this Kahless is not divine transubstantiation, but rather a clone created from genetic material from an ancient knife that belonged to him. Basically it would be like someone took the Shroud of Turin and Jurassic Parked a Jesus out of it. The cat is let out of the bag and rather than killing the clone, Worf helps convince the current Klingon Chancellor, whom Worf also helped get into power mind you, to accept Kahless as emperor in name only, serving as a figurehead with the chancellor still running the day to day side of things. Ok, so what happens to the Klingon political atmosphere next? Do all Klingons accept this as truth? Is there a mass shift within the factions that were constantly trying to obtain power in the empire? We never find out.
“Thomas” Riker. Season 6, episode 24 titled “Second Chances”. In this episode, the Enterprise goes back to an abandoned Star Fleet base where Commander William Riker performed some heroic rescue operation a few years back. They are trying to retrieve some old data when they come across a survivor that has been living in isolation for 8 years, and this is no ordinary survivor, but an exact copy of Riker! How can this be? Well, the explanation is that there was a disturbance that was affecting the transporters at the time, and this caused a feedback loop that made an exact copy of Riker, and one got transported successfully while the other remained back on the base. So Riker now has an exact copy of himself with all the same memories up until the transporter accident, meaning they are essentially the same person up to a point. What kind of challenges does this pose? Well for one, Enterprise Riker is a higher rank, so copy Riker has to take orders from his other self. Second, this Riker never broke up with Deanna Troi, the ship’s counselor with whom he had a relationship prior to the beginning of the show. Enterprise Riker and Troi agreed to go their separate ways to further pursue careers in Star Fleet, and only coincidentally ended up together again on the Enterprise several years later. So when copy Riker sees Troi for the first time, it’s like nothing has changed and immediately wants to continue their relationship. The two Rikers have to learn to work together despite their differences and eventually come to an understanding. Copy Riker accepts that Troi moved on and decides to continue his own career in Star Fleet by taking an assignment on another ship and… that’s it. Copy Riker adopts their middle name of Thomas as his first name in order to more clearly distinguish himself from the other Riker, but aside from that, we never find out how Thomas Riker shakes out after the events of this show. Original Riker had a troubled history with his still-living father that received some resolution in a different episode, but Thomas would technically still have those paternal hang-ups, unless he off-screen decided to pay their father a visit in order to have the same catharsis. Did he struggle with living in the shadow of the other Riker? Did Star Fleet want to study him and see if the accident was repeatable and there was practical application to the copying? Though he does make another appearance Deep Space 9, his ultimate fate is unknown.
The Seed Race. Season 6, episode 20 titled “The Chase”. Another episode similar to the Dyson sphere plot, this one has Picard’s former archeology professor on the verge of a huge discovery with galaxy-spanning implications. The professor is attacked and dies before he can complete his research, but other alien races are interested in his discovery also, particularly the Cardassians. After piecing together the clues using markers found in the DNA of several of the galaxy’s sentient races, the Enterprise converges on a distant planet along with some Klingons, Romulans and Cardassians. The other races believe they are being led to an ancient and powerful weapon or power source left behind by a long extinct alien race. Once they collect all the necessary DNA, a hologram of a humanoid alien appears and explains that they explored space millennia ago and found no other intelligent life, so they left samples of their DNA on different planets and let evolution takes its course. The other races were not impressed by this information, and the Cardassians were downright offended at the thought that their origins were tied to the other races. The episode ends with Picard and the Romulan captain sharing a moment where they imagine that perhaps someday, all the races could come together over their shared origin instead of quibbling over their present differences, but that’s it. This seed race, like a more benevolent version of the Engineers in Prometheus, is a fascinating concept and also helps to explain why the majority of the alien races in Star Trek all basically look the same. But who were they really? Besides their DNA, did any of their tech or structures survive? Did they build the afore-mentioned Dyson sphere? I would think that a scientific discovery of this nature would also have far-reaching consequences, both good and bad, but this episode makes it seem like the handful of people that saw this revelation are going to keep quiet about it, as it may not be worth the trouble it could cause. Very unsatisfying. Perhaps we are meant to infer that this microsample of reactions is indicative of how the rest of the galaxy would have handled the news.
Wesley Crusher. Season 7, Episode 20 title “Journey’s End”. Regardless of how one may feel about the character in the early seasons, Wesley Crusher seemed to be poised for a promising future. Being a gifted student that got to serve on a star ship while still very young, it was pretty much a given that he was going to have a luminary career. He is also the son of two Star Fleet Officers; his father died while under Picard’s command on a different ship, and his mother was the chief medical officer aboard the Enterprise. Early on, a random episode introduced a character known only as the Traveler; an alien with the ability to travel to different dimensions and across vast stretches of space seemingly at-will. In Wesley’s last appearance on the show, he goes on a vision quest that basically convinces him to leave Star Fleet and follow the Traveler to begin learning how to expand his mind and explore the universe and other dimensions. I guess. While it’s not a bad thing that he was presented as some wunderkind meant for greater things, the real question here is why did he return to Star Fleet? At the beginning of the final Next Generation movie, Nemesis, Wesley is present at Riker and Troi’s wedding, in Star Fleet uniform. He very decisively abandoned Star Fleet in that TV episode, but then here he is, back at it apparently. There’s no explanation for this and there is a deleted scene where he says he’s working as an engineer on Riker’s ship. That’s fine, but what happened with the Traveler? Did he accomplish enlightenment and decide to come back to a more mundane existence? Did he fail in his endeavors? For what was seemingly a pretty epic and open ended story arc, it would surely be disappointing to end up exactly where he didn’t want to be after everything that happened. Perhaps he will appear in a future season of Star Trek Picard and have a throwaway line about how he realized he had some unfinished business, but I’m not holding out for a satisfactory resolution.
There are still plenty of other mini-mysteries to wonder about in this series, such as Worf’s time-traveling son, multiple paradoxes and time loops, and of course, the Q. Join me again next time as we wonder what the hell was the point of it all!