Myriad Universes: The Broken Moon

(10 comments)

So I wasn't originally going to do the 1992 annual. It's good, but it doesn't quite hold up to the likes of “Thin Ice” and “The Gift”, or even some of the most recent serials in the monthly series. But it turned out, quite frankly, that I needed an extra essay here and this was an easy pick.

But I'm going to do more than just kill time and fill space with this one, as there's still a fair amount of interesting things to say about “The Broken Moon”. The first thing to note is that, like the two previous annuals, this story is predominantly about one specific character. This isn't too surprising, as since “The Gift” was about Captain Picard (and Q) and “Thin Ice” was about Commander Riker (and Captain Lyrinda Halk), it's to be expected “The Broken Moon” would follow suit and predominantly feature another main character. What's interesting is who that character ended up being: Given his crippling overexposure in the TV series, we would naturally assume the next character to get a prominent spotlight in an extra-length Annual issue would be Data. But no, Data is actually barely in this story. In fact, it's actually Geordi La Forge! Which is good, because there's a good deal more for us to say about Geordi La Forge.

My reading of Geordi should be fairly obvious and clear by now. Because of LeVar Burton's presence on both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Reading Rainbow, and the comparative similarities of his performances on both shows (not to mention the fact D.C. Fontana essentially conceived of Geordi as being “LeVar Burton as himself” anyway), I see Geordi as filling the narrative role of a children's educator or children's television personality on a series that can be succinctly described as “children's television for adults”. This is why he's the chief engineer; the heart and soul of a starship. The problem is that, for whatever reason, very few writers who have jobbed for Star Trek: The Next Generation seem to have picked up that this is straightforwardly and self-evidently the correct way to conceptualize who Geordi is, what he does on the Enterprise and what his relationship with the rest of the crew is (especially Data, who is plainly a child analog).

I am reminded most of all of Ira Steven Behr's assessment of Geordi while talking about his episode “Qpid” and the infamous mandolin scene in Star Trek: The Next Generation 365:
“Geordi was a very sweet character who was kind of underused. He didn't have much of a dark side about him. He's the kind of human that Klingons would have devoured. And Worf-you know, from a Klingon perspective-I was sure that Worf would lie in bed at night thinking, 'Can't they at least let me kill Geordi?' So taking the mandolin and smashing it was the Klingon view of the Federation and the 'perfect society' the show portrayed.”
So just take as read for now my usual raft of complaints about Behr inasmuch as I think he is almost, but not quite, completely wrong about absolutely everything in spite of how much I respect and admire his talents as a writer and focus in on what he thinks about Geordi. Because I think Behr's complaints about him are common amongst the fandom-To but it bluntly, fans think Geordi is a wuss. That he's a shy, inoffensive nerd who doesn't offer anything to the show and the crew dynamic apart from mechanophile jokes. I would argue they're plainly wrong, obviously, but the fact remains Geordi is arguably the toughest character to write for out of a cast that's fairly universally tough to write for.

Even Michael Jan Friedman is not immune to tripping up over the Enterprise's chief engineer. Way back in the early days of the second volume of the comic series he gave Geordi a two-part story called “Seraphin's Survivors” and “Shadows in the Garden” that depicts him as being so fixated on being reunited with his old flame that he doesn't realise her people are trying to kill the crew and eat their life force, and he gets uncharacteristically belligerent and confrontational about it. Thankfully, Friedman drops this bit of characterization after that little outing and goes on to more or less nail a believable personality for him. He was fantastic in Separation Anxiety, and here Friedman gives him a whole Annual to play with. In fact, “The Broken Moon” plays out like nothing so much as a decisive, definitive refutation of the criticisms people such as Behr and fandom-at-large might be inclined to level at Geordi.

The Enterprise is meeting with a delegation from the Onglaatu empire. They're allies of the Federation, though wary ones, and typically prefer to meet in unorthodox ways. This time is no exception, with representative Kalonis bypassing all formal diplomatic channels and requesting to speak to Geordi La Forge, and Geordi La Forge alone, in private. It turns out that Geordi is the entire reason the Onglaatu are allied with the Federation in the first place, as on a previous assignment he twice heroically intervened on the part of a high-ranking Onlgaatu official named Kastren, once saving her life and once keeping her from escalating a negotiation that had gone south and turned into a brawl. The Onglaatu are a warrior society that values strength, courage and heroic acts, but also a fiercely matriarchal one where men are seen as second-class citizens. Geordi's actions proved his valour in the eyes of Kastren, who bestowed upon him a great honour: By giving him half of her sacred moon pendant, Kastren symbolically made Geordi her blood-sibling; rare for anyone not a woman and unheard of for an off-worlder. But Kastren's voice held sway, so their union helped pave the way for for more diffusion between humans and Onglaatu and a new era of cosmopolitanism for Onlgaatu society.

It turns out that Kalonis is actually Geordi's “nephew”, that is, Kastren's son, and he's come to the Enterprise to request his help once again (and it's neat to think of Geordi playing an uncle role, which is very much in keeping with the extroverted travelling educator LeVar Burton is so good at portraying). It seems Kastren, and a number of other high-ranking Onglaatu matriarchs, have recently started behaving extremely strangely, making uncharacteristically radical and sweeping administrative changes that seem to be a prelude to civil war. Kalonis wants Geordi to come back to their home planet of Glaa to find out what's troubling Kastren, and hopefully talk her out of whatever is bothering her. Understanding the mission's deep personal importance to Geordi (and its potential, if successful, to further strengthen diplomatic ties with the Onglaatu), but also realising this would more or less constitute a violation of the Prime Directive, Captain Picard gives Geordi the go-ahead to investigate...But he'll have to do it as an independent private citizen without help from the Enterprise or the rest of Starfleet. So Geordi takes a leave of absence to travel to Glaa and see for himself what's going on.

The biggest problem, if you could call it that, with “The Broken Moon” is that about 75% of it is backstory delivered through flashbacks or characters somewhat clumsily forcing exposition from one another. Get ready for a whole bunch of “As you know...”s and rather clunky dialog that painfully obviously only exists because the book has to invent a brand new alien civilization, culture and pre-existing history for Geordi sheer out of wholecloth...And then tell a brand new story about them all at the same time. This very likely could have been an entire season-long story arc or even a plot thread that reoccurs across multiple stories over *several* seasons, and it all has to be crammed into this one book. This is not a particular high point for naturalistic dialog, to be sure.

This is pretty much what the rest of the Enterprise crew is doing when Geordi is off romping around on Glaa, but that's not *all* they're doing. One clever thing about this story is how it handles their characterization: Just about everyone is deeply worried about Geordi and doesn't think he'll be able handle a gig with a people as tough as the Onglaatu all by himself. Chief O'Brien is nervous about how tough the Onglaatu seem, Captain Picard is constantly fretting about Geordi's safety, and Commander Riker has to reassure Worf that Geordi is a “big boy” who can “take care of himself”, even if he admits to us that even he's not so sure. Here we're getting another diegetic performance where the crew insert themselves into the roles of interlocutors the metatext requires, even if they wouldn't normally say these kinds of things. Here, they're speaking (albeit benevolently) for the fan concern that Geordi is a weak, wussy, useless character, and it's up to the story to prove to them, and thus us, that he's not.

(Tellingly, the only people who aren't worried sick about Geordi are Data and Ro Laren. Yes, this is mostly because they barely have two lines between them in this story, but I prefer to read it as an indication of their intimate familiarity with him. Because Laren and Data are the two characters closest to Geordi of anyone in the crew, they have the most faith and confidence in his strength and abilities and don't need to remind us of that.)

The actual plot is pretty thin on the ground, though not unengaging: There's a requisite capture-and-escape sequence that all stock genre fiction serials are required to have by law where Kastren throws Geordi and Kalonis in a dungeon basically for talking back (after suspiciously not seeming to recognise Geordi or the significance of him being her Moon-Brother), and then we find out that the reason for all this weird behaviour is that those parasites (you know, the ones from “Conspiracy” way back in the first season? Don't worry, Laren doesn't remember them either, so she gets Data to explain for us) have invaded Glaa, and of course Kastren is one of the hosts. There's a phaser battle, the parasites are all safely removed from their hosts and a generous Kastren overjoyed to see her Moon-Brother again petitions Glaa to join the Federation on their behalf.

But it's this very action sequence, the same kind of action that attracted Kastren's admiration in the first place, that should prove to any remaining doubters that Geordi La Forge is in truth a strong person. And it's a very Geordi sort of action sequence too, being as it is ultimately about helping a person rediscover their true self. It's Geordi's empathy, combined with his strength of will, that has earned him the love and respect of a culture of proud warrior women, and I think that's sort of a lovely moral. I also kind of love how the book doesn't seem to have any problem whatsoever with a society where women rule and are warriors and men are second-class citizens (critically all men, that is, except for men like Geordi). Not only is it a nice inversion of Klingon society (Worf even points this out) and an acceptable recompense for “Angel One”, it's just fun.

I also want to take a little time to briefly touch on Geordi and Kastren's relationship here. Although we don't get to see the “real” Kastren and her interactions with Geordi very much (a definite flaw of the story, especially considering neither she nor the Onglaatu ever reappear), what little of it we do see is really sweet. They definitely seem to have a kind of playfully belligerent brother-sister relationship where affection is conveyed primarily through roughhousing and gentle insults. It's cute and really enjoyable to see, and I'll admit my earlier readings of this story almost had me shipping them. But no, they really are siblings with all that entails, a fact that's subtly reinforced by Laren's presence here too. (Laren, tellingly, also being a warrior woman who presumably respects Geordi a whole lot, but in a different way). I only wish Laren had a bit more dialog (really, any) that drove this point home: She offers a specific nuance and contrast in that regard this story could have used.

In spite of its (really comparatively minor) structural clunkiness though, “The Broken Moon” is a cute and fun little story that's worth a look. It's definitely the best “solo Geordi” story that we've seen to date, possibly a contender for the best in all of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It more than makes up for stuff like “Galaxy's Child” and “Interface” and gives him a level of depth and respect that is seemingly somewhat hard to come by. And it's worth noting once again that *this* is what can be considered mediocre for the comic book line: Sci-fi serial action that's stock, though inoffensively so, but still also manages to be cute and endearing.

I hate to keep beating the proverbial dead horse with a negativity stick, but there it is.

Comments

SK 2 years ago

Reviewers who criticise a story not for its flaws, but simply for not being the one they would have written.

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Daniel 2 years ago

Hello,
I just discovered your site and have been loving your take on Star Trek in all its forms. Have an unusual question for you; I noticed your posts on Phase II episodes. For the last several weeks for no particularly good reason I've been obsessed with trying to track down all the actual Phase II scripts (for which I've found only 3). Did you write your posts based on those or were you going from the excellent Reeves-Stevens book on the series?
Thanks!
Daniel
Danielhandlin@gmail.com

P.S. Your site is awesome, I've sunk half a day into it... Sorry for posting OT on this post, figured you'd be more likely to see it than commenting on a year old post!

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Daru 2 years ago

"It's Geordi's empathy, combined with his strength of will, that has earned him the love and respect of a culture of proud warrior women, and I think that's sort of a lovely moral."

Sounds like a lovely story and one that Geordi ceryainly has deserved. I have never liked the general assumption by most Trek fans that he was wussy, as I always found his empathic character as being something I could really identify with. Really sad that he often gets slightly ridiculed by the writers (i.e. the awful, insulting holodeck comeback episode with the Enterprise's creator).

So often I found as a similar person to Geordi that I was similarly ridiculed for being a soft, feeling male and in the end I decided not to lose who I was and I found the positive stories with TNG to be an inspiration at that time.

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Josh Marsfelder 2 years ago

Hey Daniel! Welcome aboard-Glad to have you!

My take on Phase II was indeed based on the Reeves-Stevens' book: I would read their summaries of the scripts and than extrapolate what an episode made out of that brief might have looked like. Then I wrote a review of that hypothetical episode with the conceit it had actually gotten produced. The only exceptions were "In Thy Image" and "The Child", both of which I did have the original scripts to work from as they were reproduced in the book, and "Devil's Due", which was half a Star Trek: The Next Generation essay.

Sorry I couldn't be of more help, but good luck in your search!

(And don't worry about commenting on old posts-I read every comment that gets posted no matter how old the topic!)

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Josh Marsfelder 2 years ago

I find that to be such a strength of this show when it's working properly. I'm really happy it could help you in that way!

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Daru 2 years ago

Thanks Josh, glad to hear that for you too.

One of the many things I have gotten from this blog is a better perspective on the character of Geordi, as when I was a lot younger I was swayed by the poor writing in the show that didn't understand him.

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elvwood 2 years ago

"One of the many things I have gotten from this blog is a better perspective on the character of Geordi, as when I was a lot younger I was swayed by the poor writing in the show that didn't understand him."

This. Whereas I could always see the potential in Beverley Crusher even though she was frequently poorly served by the scripts, Geordi seemed kind of...just filling space. I empathised with him more than, say Riker, but didn't find him as interesting. That has now changed.

I wonder if never having seen Reading Rainbow makes a difference? It doesn't matter now; this is a limitation of my perception that has now been bypassed. Thanks, Josh!

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Josh Marsfelder 2 years ago

You are most welcome-It makes me really happy whenever I hear my work has had a meaningful impact on how people read things like this. And of course Geordi being my favourite character, well, that just makes me all the happier!

I do sort of think Reading Rainbow is really key here. It was that show, not Roots, that caught the eyes of Gene Roddenberry and D.C. Fontana. There's the stuff that's in the writer's guide too, but for me the kicker was comparing those two performances: LeVar Burton *really is* playing the same character in Star Trek: The Next Generation that he does on Reading Rainbow, or at least he defaults onto that unless he gets specific instructions to the contrary. And I do think that's significant.

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Daru 2 years ago

Cheers josh & elvwood. I guess I had a pretty similar experience elvwood, as I not only had never seen Reading Rainbow but had never even heard of it until this blog. Without having any prior benefit of LeVar's work and performance there I can see how I just wouldn't have gotten him.

So glad you opened my eyes Josh!

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Daibhid Ceannaideach 1 year, 1 month ago

This is fascinating. As someone else who never saw Reading Rainbow, I'm kind of reminded of a throwaway line in the not-very-good Star Wreck parody novels. Kirk and Picard (I won't bother trying to remember the "hilarious" parody names) are discussing how their crews aren't getting along, and one of the problems is that Scotty sees engineering as secret knowledge and Geordi wants to do a Reading Rainbow segment about how the warp drive works.

And even only being vaguely aware that this was an American kids' programme LeVar Burton did, the line struck me, because I think it's the only occasion Star Wreck made a meta reference to an actor's outside career. I don't recall any jokes about Kirk being TJ Hooker, or Spock joining the Impossible Missions Force, or even Picard and Shakespeare. But apparently, "Geordi LaForge is LeVar Burton from Reading Rainbow" makes so much sense even an increasingly sour parody dealing in character cliches could see it.

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