The next month is:
25 May 2001
Harry: But when I think about everything we’ve been through, maybe it’s not the destination that matters - maybe it’s the journey. If that journey takes a little longer so we can do something we all believe in, I can’t think of any place I’d rather be, or any people I’d rather be with.
Tom (toasts): To the journey.
All: To the journey.
- Star Trek: Voyager, “Endgame”
Star Trek: Voyager’s season finale “Endgame” recently aired to some 8.8 million viewers in the United States; not quite the 12 million who tuned in to watch Voyager’s premiere, but nearly four times as many who normally watch the show every week. If you didn’t see it I recommend reading Jim Wright’s synopsis (parts one and two).
In “Endgame,” the USS Voyager returns home after seven years in the Delta Quadrant. In what may have been my favorite part of the episode, the series’s seven years are nicely summed in Harry’s speech, above. I would have liked the final shot to have been held a little longer, but otherwise it was a fine ending to a frustrating journey.
But this isn’t a review or synopsis of the episode; there are plenty of those on the net and most of them reinforce my theory that when I watch television and they watch television, we’re watching two different programs. I just want to give folks a little background before launching into the main part of this entry, which is of course “Why Old Trek Doesn’t Suck but New Trek Does.”
My girlfriend’s a die-hard JetCer, which is to say a die-hard devotee to the idea of Captain Janeway and Commander Chakotay (Voyager’s first officer) getting together. She’s introduced me to the world of fanfic and slash. Fanfic is fiction written by the fans of a show, using the familliar characters and setting, often detailing the relationships the author wishes to see; Slash originally described homoerotic fanfic written by women about Kirk and Spock but is now a general term for fanfic that centers around a relationship that is usually contrary to the show. Slash is so called because it is abbreviated with a slash between the two characters in question. Kirk and Spock becomes K/S, Mulder and Scully becomes M/S, Janeway and Chakotay becomes J/C, etc.. Merrystar’s theory is that Jet/C derives from J et C. That’s one mystery out of the way.
Needless to say, my girlfriend was a bit upset at the relationship between Chakotay and Seven, the catsuited star of the show. Merrystar wasn’t throwing things or anything like that, but it definitely made her grumpy. But this weekend she really surprised me.
She observed that she would have liked the series to have ended with the USS Voyager not getting home. It’s a problem that most of the modern Treks have suffered from, she said, but especially DS9 and Voyager. Jim Wright pointed this out when he said:
It’s that they never really have to face the consequences of their actions. They have their cake and eat it too on a weekly basis.
The original Star Trek presented authentic dilemmas. They made their choices, they faced their consequences, and the stories had more impact because of it. Let’s take a look at some prominent examples.
- In “The City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk must choose between the life of the woman he loves (Edith Keeler) and the fate of the galaxy. He chooses the galaxy. Love doesn’t conquer all.
- In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Spock gives up his life to save the ship.
- In Star Trek III, Kirk gives up his career, his ship, and his son to save Spock and Bones.
- In Star Trek IV, they save the whales, which isn’t topical but is a lot of fun to watch.
Contrast this with Janeway and Voyager. In “Endgame,” Janeway is confronted with a choice - blindly follow her future self and get home earlier but leave the Borg unharmed, or stay and beat the crap out of the Collective but have the journey home take 16 more years.
In the end, of course, she’s able to do both. The only reason it doesn’t feel like cheating to me is because I’m so numb from watching it happen every week on the show. Unfortunately, this is common to the recent Star Treks; “In the Pale Moonlight,” a Deep Space Nine episode where Captain Sisko finds that he will go to great lengths to save the Federation, is a DS9 fan favorite that supposedly illustrates how much darker that series is from TNG or Voyager. Sisko doesn’t make any hard choices in that episode, though; he claims that he gives up his integrity, but I just see a leader coming to grips with what a war for survival is all about and tossing aside the gentlemanly concepts which have heretofore bound him.
But I digress.
Much like “Endgame,” “In the Pale Moonlight” is a letdown to watch if you read and believe the hype. A story about a commander coming to terms with war is presented instead as a grand “breaking the principles of the Federation.” Sisko, with Garak’s aid, deceives the Romulans into joining them in a war of survival against the Dominion by killing one convict, one senator and three guards.
Hey, Sisko! Ever heard “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one?”
It is a moral debate, but it’s not ‘Sisko embraces the Dark Side of the Force.’ Is he right? Is he wrong? Tough to say. Do we really have to listen to him debate it while he symbollically undresses himself? Is the internal debate that interesting?
Deep Space Nine has produced episodes where the characters make genuine sacrifices: Worf ends his career to save his wife, Bashir reveals his genetic enhancements and risks his career and liberty. But these episodes are few and far between; the storytelling of Star Trek has lost its bite. I remain skeptically hopeful that Enterprise will reverse this trend.
No, Brett; tell us what you really think.