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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.


  1. Ross
    January 23, 2015 @ 2:39 am

    Natural selection is not teleological. A species does not evolve from an inferior state to a superior one, it changes in response to new environmental circumstances. There are no “higher” forms of life

    This is not a sentence I ever expected anyone to say in the context of Star Trek, what with all the orthogenisis and lamarckism.


  2. Adam Riggio
    January 23, 2015 @ 7:05 am

    Some thoughts on Wesley. As I reflect on the character and how you relate him to the utopianism that is essential to Star Trek, I can see the most significant stumbling block that prevents him from truly entering that vision of progress.

    In simple terms, Wesley Crusher is a dick. And this episode basically says to him, that if he does not curb his dickishness, he will become a terrible arsehole. It strikes me that this is a slightly clichéd way of articulating the same point you've made before, Josh, about Wesley's nature as the distilled essence of Western masculinist entitlement.

    But the desire not to become an incurable dick is just a negative mission, something to run away from. Unless you have something to run toward, or at least some potential to become better within you if you can't identify a specific goal, you will eventually be unable to run anymore. Given this, I think I can say precisely what my own take is on the inherent and inescapable problem of his character.

    He has no character traits of his own that are not somehow dickish. The most he can ever manage for a positive direction for his own character is emulating someone else in the cast. As I recall, he tries to emulate Riker in his personal life, Geordi as an engineer and pilot, and Picard as an ethical role model for the principles of command. But none of these style of existence are available to him from his own nature.

    Wesley is in a utopian project, TNG. But he is forever shut out from his path precisely because of who he is.


  3. Adam Riggio
    January 23, 2015 @ 7:07 am

    Whoops. Wesley is forever shut out from TNG's path because of who he is.


  4. K. Jones
    January 23, 2015 @ 11:11 am

    "… but one also has to remember how easy it is to get lost in this kind of storytelling such that broader themes and ideas are left behind in favour of deeper and deeper voyeuristic probing into the psyche of characters to the point it becomes little more than pointlessly masturbatory navel-gazing. The challenge from here on out is going to be learning how to balance this newfound emphasis on characterization with the show's pre-existing commitment to idealism: How does getting to understand our characters better tie into the show's larger and grander utopian vision?"

    Certainly has me thinking. Obviously there's going to be a delicate balance, and obviously no matter how "good" they do at balancing in the future, there does seem to be something of a lean toward that overt, writerly probing of character psyches that is not bad in every case, but is certainly one of the hallmarks of hack writing. We'll get our fair share of it.

    I'm a guy who likes Seasons 1, 2 and 3 the best and feel like as "classic" and enjoyable as they are, the later seasons of TNG lose something. Lose an edge, lose a sense of world-building. Now, world-building is a constant struggle for Star Trek and possibly an understandably difficult one (space is in three dimensions, in constant motion, on a nearly unmappable scale) … much more on that later, I'm sure.

    But edge, edge comes in a few forms. It often comes from the excitement and newness of properties and writers, but more often than not I think it comes from characters maintaining mystique – even for the actors. You can unwrap a little of the wrapper around "what makes them tick" but once you get into later seasons where you've unwrapped the whole thing, they lose their mystique and edge and become comfortable old shoes who can no longer surprise you or change positionalities or really do anything unexpected. At this point a character becomes "dynamic in name only".

    Of course even this is reflective of the human experience as a whole, and getting to REALLY KNOW somebody, so TNG's hardly not worth the adventure.

    But Star Trek is about exploration, and exploration if it's not going to be about Western imperialist patriarchal capital-hunting expansionism has got to be about discovering things sure, within – the whole "test your mettle against nature and other Man Versus" angles – but also frankly about drawing maps. And then being shocked to find out somebody else has drawn that map and drawn imaginary lines on it indicating conflict.

    Defaulting The Neutral Zone isn't going to cut it.

    This isn't really about Evolution.

    Nor do the nanomachines actually evolve, really, do they? Evolution by way of the guiding hand of a wunderkind human? That's just the Hand of God, isn't it? It's a common literary trap that because nothing in the story is randomly placed there … nothing in the diagetic narrative is actually random. Destiny alert.

    Bad enough Wesley is a chosen one archetype.


  5. Daru
    January 26, 2015 @ 10:52 pm

    One of the things I loved in this episode (maybe the only one) was the images of the binary stars – beautiful, and they have stayed with me. That opening sequence is pretty wondrous and amazing too and was a huge part of my teens into twenties. Great to hear the discussion about the influence of Michael Piller beginning, and I don't have much more to say about Wesley as it's all been said above.


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