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The world-wide Tribble infestation and Star Trek: Picard dropping make this an apt time to address our most philosophical sci-fi franchise. 44 years of thought experiments (with photon torpedoes!) about what it is to be human should have taught us something, and Brian, Erica, and Mark along with Drew Jackson (Erica’s husband) reflect on what makes a Star Trek story, world building over generations in Gene Roddenberry’s land, canon you don’t remember vs. something that just hasn’t been shown on screen, Trek vs. Wars, and step-children like The Orville and Galaxy Quest.
We have gathered a heap of articles for further cogitation:
- “Star Trek Picard: 5 Things Trekkies Loved (& 5 Things They Hated)” by Tim Buckler
- “Is There Any Hope for Picard?” by Angelica Jade Bastién
- “How many Picards are there?” by Anthony Pascale
- “How Picard Fits Into the Star Trek Timeline” by Eliana Docterman (Read more about the timeline on Wikipedia.)
- “Discovery’s Michael Burnham Obsession Is Hurting Star Trek Canon” by Dusty Stowe
- “Why Michael Burnham is Great and ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ is Not” by Christina Escobar
- “Hear Me Out: JJ Abrams’ Star Trek Movies Are Better Than His Star Wars Films” by Sean O’Connell
- “Report: Paramount Eyes Chris Pine To Reboot ‘The Saint’ As They Await Noah Hawley’s Star Trek Script” at trekmovie.com
- “Quentin Tarantino Clarifies—Then Confuses—The Timeline For His Star Trek Project” by Anthony Pascale
- “Star Trek 4 Has Some Big Hurdles To Overcome” by Dusty Stowe
- “10 Strange Star Trek Timeline Continuity Errors” by Liam Horn
For some suggested episodes to catch up on, there are lists online recommending those from the original series and from the franchise overall. There are also fan creations like these original series episodes, a Star Trek musical, and of course the Improvised Star Trek podcast. For some relevant words from Rod Roddenberry, check out episode 55 of the Mission Log podcast. And the Ferengi-looking Coneheads variation was In Living Color’s Buttmans.
This episode includes bonus discussion that you can hear now by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop.
This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network and is curated by openculture.com.
August B Denys says
I must admit that this was the first episode of this podcast I have listened to and that is mainly due to the subject material. I don’t consider myself a trekkie, but that is mainly because I am only as old as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and only began watching Star Trek in 2018. I had seen the 2009 film with my sister when it first came out, she is a much bigger sci-fi fan than I was and am, but the point is that it didn’t leave much of an impression on me at the time. Nevertheless, I began watching Star Trek; I started with the Original series and I watched The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine to completion on Netflix. I’ve tried watching Voyager and Enterprise, but they have yet to catch my interest.
But what is my purpose in stating this and telling this story? For one, it is to say that the people in this podcast have definitely more knowledge and experience than I do, but, for two, I feel that the general attitude of the podcast was veneration for TNG and the OS, but the others accepted as yes these exist. So, with my limited experience I would like to put forth my two cents and say that Deep Space Nine has moments that outshine TNG and the OS. But this isn’t to say that “I like DS9 better, why didn’t you talk about it more;” rather, I think DS9 goes to places that would frighten the TNG cast or the OS cast, and that there are some really creative episodes.
It was stated that when TNG was released the writers tried to make the Ferengi the new “bad guy” and that was a silly thing to do. That they were saved by the accident which was the Borg. It was also said that the Ferengi become the butt of the joke in DS9; however, I would like to content that that is not the case. That is, the Ferengi in DS9 are the most human race. There are some funny episodes, like when the Ferengi go back in time and try to make a profit on 1947 America, to which they discovered that humans eradicated parts of their own planet. But there are also really great character moments when Nog becomes the first Ferengi to join Starfleet against the wishes of his uncle Quark, but blessed by his failed Ferengi father Rom. In fact, events like these lead to character development. Rom, when working at his brothers bar, leads the other workers when the exploitation becomes too much, leading to a strike and Rom quoting Karl Marx (after the strike ends, Rom quits the Bar to forge his own non-Ferengi path working as a mechanic for DS9). There’s a funny thing here because there is an episode in which they aren’t on Deep Space Nine; rather, the cast is a group of science-fiction writers for a magazine. Not that they were placed there, but these are entirely different people played by the same cast to show the effects of racism on human creativity. I bring this up, because beside this being a powerful episode and Avery Brooks does a damn good Job acting, Armin Shimerman, who plays the greedy Quark, is another writer who was rooting for the Communist Revolution. That there is a mixture of the fun and the serious in a kind of paratext(?) of the show.
But this is just what DS9 does with the Ferengi (and they do much more than this). Jadzia Dax gives us some potential for trans narratives while also helping Worf in later seasons by helping him express his Klingon Heritage. Doctor Bashir gives us a look into the ethical question of Human Genetic Mutations. Odo asks the questions of different ways of knowing things; we know things through representations in some epistemes, yet Odo can become the object that he studies. His subject becomes the object; or rather, his “I” becomes the object. There are many other characters, but one of the things that DS9 gets away with, because Rick Berman wasn’t able to hover over their shoulder, are playing with the themes of War and Religion… the two things that Gene Roddenberry told them not to play with. You get this with Major Kira Nerys and Captain Benjamin Sisko. With the subject of War we come up against more existential questions, especially with the Klingon empire. Is the Klingon Empire a dying one? Another great addition in DS9 is Section 31. A part of the Federation comparable to the Romulan Tal Shiar; however, while the Romulan’s know of the Tal Shiar, Section 31 is completely hidden from the Federation. They are hidden from the view of Starfleet while being apart of the original charter in 2140.
Nevertheless, DS9 has some great aspects that can be and have been overlooked. For that matter DS9 was a show that was a precursor to the modern Binge shows like Game of Thrones. DS9 has a continuous storyline unlike the other shows so they have the ability for character growth and longer stories. DS9 has the Dominion War and as such the Dominion are shown to be a threat comparable to the Borg. The Borg assimliates while the Dominion growths fully grown soldiers every three days and has the ability to completely blend into any opposition they are fighting. However, I’m not one for the battles, I think that DS9 asks better questions. There is a great episode on race and class relations in season 3 called Past Tense. This is a time travel episode where due to Star Trek Shenanigans, parts of the crew travel back in time to the year 2024, and it comes to pass that this was a make or break moment for the human race and they have to make sure that it happens else Starfleet will disappear. So, don’t count out the Ferengi or shows other than TNG because DS9 has some great stories to tell and has some voices that still need to be heard where other shows don’t have the same voice.
Excellent contribution, August! I’m still very much enjoying DS9 myself and have certainly warmed to the Ferengi characters (though I can’t decide whether the guy who plays Nog is actually a good actor or not).
August B Denys says
Aron Eisenberg, who played Nog, and who passed away last year, does, in my opinion, get better. I can’t really say much, because I don’t know how far into DS9 you are; however, I feel that he does get better in the later seasons. Because if you are in the early seasons, then his character is still trying to be friend of Jake Sisko and unable to read and write with a fear of his uncle not approving of him. In the later seasons he has better and more independent material to work with. While Cirroc Lofton grew into his role as Jake Sisko, he was 15 at the time, a kid playing a kid, Aron Eisenberg was 24 at the time. But even a good actor can make up that difference (it also helps to have script writers who know how kid characters should act and talk). There is something to be said about people who have limited options due to their physicality, that is, Eisenberg has a stature that is very different from normal, and as such, in fields like acting where you are chosen by how you fit a character, you can be limited on what others will offer. Armin Shimerman, who played Quark, was a shakespearean actor, he play role like Hamlet, but Eisenberg, while he could read for the role, would face a bias against getting a role like hamlet due to his body. So, in a sense, a different body can limit the amount of experience and practice one gets for acting. But again, this is speculative and not speaking to the performances made, it is in fact apologetic. So instead, I think a turning point for the character and actor is Season 3 episode 14, Heart of Stone.
When you finish DS9 you should check out the 2018 Documentary film about DS9: What We Left Behind.
I think the character is well constructed in that you can’t tell what’s foreignness and what’s bad acting. But yes, Armin and the other actor who plays his brother are excellent, and I enjoy all the engagements with species ideologies/religions. Like I said on the episode, I think DS9 found a good formula for still asking philosophical questions without just harping on the same core concerns about humanism: Stuff about living with guilt, about balancing competing ethical claims (associated with different races/contexts), etc.