“Don’t push it or I’ll give you a war you won’t believe”: The Hunted
“Welcome aboard. Now rewrite act three for me and have it on my desk by this evening.”
That’s how Ira Steven Behr was welcomed to Star Trek: The Next Generation by Michael Piller on his first day as producer and staff writer. That gives you an idea of what this show’s behind-the-scenes climate was like during the third season: Behr recalls how even though he was a veteran writer and producer, this was like no other show he’d ever worked on before. Everyone was frantically writing and rewriting stories, absolutely nothing was ready to go, and it stayed like that for the entire year. The insane workload eventually burned Behr out so badly that he walked away from Star Trek after only one season, and only came back to the franchise at Michael Piller’s personal request four years later when he and Rick Berman were drafting up what would become Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s sister show. We’ll talk more about Behr and his influence once we get to the fist story he actually wrote himself (as opposed to ones he did an uncredited rewrite of at the eleventh hour to get them into a marginally filmable state), but that script that Behr rewrote the third act of on his first day happens to be this one: “The Hunted”.
“The Hunted” is perishingly easy to explain. It is straightforwardly First Blood on the Starship Enterprise and, in spite of its positively ridiculous production history, it works and is a solidly watchable hour of television. There are moments in which it reveals its functionality as a work, and, frustratingly, when it does it’s at its most Original Series-esque: Even that third act Ira Behr worked on is one big chase through a bunch of pre-existing sets with a lot of flying fisticuffs and choreographed doofy fight scenes (Which isn’t altogether surprising as Behr, for a number of reasons, was never entirely comfortable with Star Trek: The Next Generation, being much more familiar with the Original Series). That’s not to say it’s entirely without merit, as the gambit our John Rambo analog, Roga Danar, pulls off is truly laudable in its cleverness and sophistication, even if he does kinda end up making the Enterprise crew (save Worf) look like a bunch of idiots in the process. Also memorable to me are the scenes where Danar is clomping around the Jeffries Tubes trying to misdirect the crew: The sets are some of the best interior designs of the year, exuding a palpable sense of being a sprawling, labyrinthine maze of corridors. Furthermore, Marvin Rush’s use of subtle red mood lighting really sets the tone for these scenes and also happens to look really cool. Actor Jeff McCarthy’s presence and swagger compliment this splendidly; he really sells the tension and walks around like he owns the place.
Which leaves examining the wisdom of doing First Blood on Star Trek: The Next Generation in the first place, which there is, even if it’s not entirely intuitive. Although later eclipsed by the blockbuster Sylvester Stallone franchise they spawned, the original book and movie both tell the story of displaced Vietnam veteran John Rambo who returns home only to find he’s no longer welcome in his country. Constantly harassed by a thuggish police force and shunned by his peers, Rambo eventually runs off into the wilderness and snaps back into “Vietnam mode”, launching a manhunt against his tormenters by treating them like enemy combatants in a war. What makes First Blood so effective is that, the one-man war action climax aside, Rambo’s experience is almost note-for-note the same as pretty much every real-life returning Vietnam veteran, who came back from an unethical, unjustified and piss-poorly managed war to face the brunt of the blame by an uncaring government, a disgruntled populace and a radical left that was neither coherent nor effective enough to seize the discourse of the time.
Readers of this blog will undoubtedly, and correctly, leap to condemn any act of imperialism and warmaking as inherently oppressive and destructive to freedom, egalitarianism and quality of life. I would sympathize and agree. But it’s our responsibility as the new radical left in an era where once again the counterculture has atrophied to the point of irrelevance to not make the same mistakes as our forebearers in the 1970s did-The operational parameters of the corporate-state war machine were not the same in 1973 as they were in 2003 or the way they are now, for that matter. While certainly no-one would, or should, take up the mantle of “Support the troops, not the war” after that philosophy was appropriated and turned into a propaganda catchphrase by the George W. Bush administration, we always have to remember that when we talk about soldiers in the Vietnam conflict we’re almost universally talking about people who had absolutely no desire to go over and fight a war, but who had no choice in the matter because they were drafted. These were people coercively taken and forced to become weapons of war by a paranoid and sadistic US government, which is why the mental and chemical “reprogramming” of Roga Danar in “The Hunted” is such an apt metaphor. These people were literally used and thrown out like the tools of capitalism they were.
And the radical left of the 1960s and 1970s utterly failed to pick up on this or react to it in any remotely constructive large-scale manner: The discourse of the time was dominated by the Hippies, the Yippies and the Situationalists and their self-indulgent psychedelic street theatre performance art pieces that they did an abjectly shitty job of explaining to everyone else who wasn’t them. Yes, protest the war and stand against imperialism and oppression, but for the love of God understand and clearly explain what those things are and why and how they’re so destructive. Material social progress by and large comes from people opting out of a decaying system until it collapses and a better one can spring in its place. Change comes through education and winning hearts and minds (and sometimes large-scale populist uprising), not from one miniscule and statistically irrelevant subculture flipping off the world and running away to live in a commune somewhere. We lead by example, we don’t yell and scream incomprehensible slogans at people who don’t care about or understand us anyway.
I know this as well as I can know anything, because it’s exactly what happened in my family. My father was drafted for service in Vietnam and came home to shoulder the blame for the whole ordeal. His experience with the childish and counterproductive radical left of the time soured him on any form of activist leftism from that point onward, and that made life difficult once my own political leanings started to become apparent. To this day my father has immense difficulties trusting anyone, a habit my mother’s own unique neuroses have simply compounded. The two of them moved to Vermont to hide from the rest of the world and surround themselves in an echo chamber. This is how right-wing fundamentalists are born. The radical left of the Long 1960s failed about as decisively and catastrophically as anything is capable of failing, as with the election of Richard Nixon, the subsequent conservative counter-revolution and stories like that of my father’s, it can be not unconvincingly argued its biggest material legacy was bringing about the exact polar opposite of what its stated intentions were.
But this is the 1980s. A new generation has stepped up to bat. The Enterprise crew is rightly horrified at what the Angsosians have done to their soldiers, but they also demonstrate boundless patience and empathy when faced with an angry, bitter and confused man who only ever wanted to live a normal and fulfilling life. It’s particularly a fine showcase for Deanna, who convinces Danar that even he is worthy of happiness and a future and Data, who delivers one simple, yet powerful line: “My programming can be overwritten. Yours cannot?”. This is also another strong episode for furthering the show’s theme of placing the Enterprise and the Federation in conflict: Picard sides with Danar, but his hands are tied by the Federation, who would have him turn Danar over dispassionately and emotionlessly to uphold their treaty with Angosia. Instead, he gets by on a technicality: The Enterprise reminds Danar a better life is possible, than gives him a fight for survival through its corridors because that’s the only way he knows to communicate. And in the end, the crew has facilitated an armed populist uprising against a stolid hegemonic authority without actually getting themselves in trouble with the Federation: As Picard says, he’s seen all he needs for his report and he’s returned their prisoner to boot.
The beginning of empathy comes through understanding the perspective of others, even if we don’t always agree with the descisions it leads them to make. And on top of that, this episode gives us yet another of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s iconic quotes when Captain Picard sadly observes “’A matter of internal security’. The age-old cry of the oppressor”.
Apart from First Blood, this episode also puts me in mind of the Original Dirty Pair episode “Red Eyes are the Sign of Hell”, in which Kei and Yuri investigate the inexplicably renewed hostilities of a group of rebels fighting a decades-long civil war, but who were on the verge of signing a peace treaty. It’s eventually revealed the increased tension is the work of a series of unprovoked and incredibly brutal attacks on both sides by a third party, an elite group of super-soldiers who, like Danar, were forcibly taken from their home worlds and reprogrammed to be killing machines. The soldiers are being remotely controlled by, of course, a hyper-capitalist arms dealer from atop his solar system sized star fleet who profits from endless war. But Original Dirty Pair took the theme one step further, by slaughtering the entire guest cast violently and senselessly. With each death, Kei and Yuri become visibly more shaken and disturbed until they finally adopt the mask of the Destroyer Goddess and smite the arms dealer’s entire fleet *by hand*. The point being, of course, that there can be no winners in this kind of situation, because such a situation only exists to poison and to hurt.
I’m not sure how I feel about Star Trek: The Next Generation positing a far more hopeful outcome. On the one hand, its job is to show us utopian solutions to problems, so that’s only to be expected. But I can’t help but feel that when it comes to war and imperialism, the only real solution is Kei and Yuri’s: To bring forth our inner Kāli and just burn everything to the ground, because death brings rebirth and moves the cycle of time. Once that’s done, we can rebuild our lives around the principles espoused by the other Mahavidyas, those of empathy, love and divine protection. This also unfortunately dates Star Trek: The Next Generation somewhat: As I said above, the military industrial complex doesn’t work the same way it did during the Vietnam conflict anymore, which means this episode’s moral, while a good one for the time, is somewhat ironically stuck there.
February 13, 2015 @ 1:46 am
This is also one of my favourite episodes of the third season. Despite its similarities to TOS in terms of its third act as a sequence of chase and fight scenes, I actually found it more subversive of the old show's more insidiously conservative norms. Given the simplistic moralities of most of TOS' creators, Danar would have explicitly been the villain of the piece, and justice would have been served by returning him to the villains in chains.
Because we did actually get something of a Kali moment at the end of The Hunted. If Danar had just given into his programming, as he fatalistically suggested in his cell, he would have just killed the Angosian rulers and forced the Enterprise crew to kill all the soldiers and stoically walk away, leaving the Federation to take over the government and clean up the mess.
But there was that line of Data's: My programming can be overwritten. Yours cannot?
The experience of being in touch with the Enterprise crew, the first people in a long time other than fellow supersoldiers to respect, reach out, and try to understand him, partially reprogram Danar. The Enterprise crew are the properly sympathetic and intelligent radical left in this story that never existed in the 1970s (and don't really exist among modern hippies today, who are mostly ignorant and easily manipulated, while the real radical left are the people in anti-austerity, environmentalist, and indigenous rights social movements or organize properly via the internet).
They help the war veterans recover, showing that another way of life is possible, and give them the space to organize themselves. The end of this story produces a revolution, which Picard knows is the politically right course of action, overthrowing a government that's clearly demonstrated how corrupt they are. If the left could organize themselves like this, for sympathy with such different people as professional soldiers who are severely traumatized, our society would end up with fewer soldiers like Chris Kyle and more soldiers like Roga Danar.
And one last note: Isn't James Cromwell perfect in his role as the simultaneously tired and icy bureaucrat? That moustache brings his performance to a whole other level.
February 13, 2015 @ 7:08 am
Let's see… SFDebris dislikes this episode and I think it's middling. Therefore, Josh will love it.
Yep. You're getting predictable. =P
Good article, though, and it's very, very true. The left, and the USian left in particular, is very prone to shooting itself in the foot. We outnumber conservatives and pretty much run pop culture, high culture, and education; we OUGHT to be winning handily, but somehow we always contrive to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. (Of course part of this is that our entire culture is designed to divide everyone who isn't a beneficiary of conservatism against one another, which is why I favor the apocalypse as a tool of social reform. As, actually, does Star Trek–World War III has to happen before the Enterprise can.)
This story reminds me very much of the tragedy of Cherenkov in the video game Xenosaga. He also is a genetically engineered supersoldier, who when he is unable to integrate into society after the war is over (due largely to HORRIFICALLY unethical behavior by his social worker that amounts to emotional and sexual abuse), ends up a victim of the criminal "justice" cycle, continually being placed into situations that trigger his engineered-in propensity for violence and continually being punished for it by being placed into situations that… yeah.
Also he's nearly killed by the aliens* that serve as the initial villains, and his resulting transformation leads to the player learning that everyone** who survives physical contact with them turns into a monster.
He was basically the initial reason I went from playing the game for the cool monster designs and smoking-hot main character*** to playing the game because I was seriously invested in the characters and story.
In other news, I have found an LGBT NPC in Star Trek Online, and am exceedingly pleased they exist, since Trek usually tries to pretend queer people only exist in the Mirror Universe. (It's a Bolian woman in Quark's. When you're trying to get a holosuite for the Deferi ambassador, she mistakenly thinks you're asking her to get a holosuite with you, and is quite enthusiastic about the idea, then gets mad when she realizes you're not. The dialogue is identical regardless of your character's gender, and stops just short of explicitly stating she thinks you're asking her for a one-night stand.) Particularly for a game that censors the word butt, it's surprisingly open-minded.
Yes, I know. We'll call them aliens for simplicity.
Again, I know. Simplifying.
Look, I watched The Slayers when I was 13, it had a profound impact on me. I am incapable of not being attracted to smart, petite, temperamental redheads who are both nerdy and kind of mean.
February 13, 2015 @ 7:47 am
Actually I think being stuck in its time is precisely what makes this episode relevant for current leftist counterculturalists as well as aging new conservatives who are in fact stuck in 1989. A more timeless theme would ironically probably be lost on say, my dad, who was thrilled to miss the Vietnam draft by one year but who I constantly chastise now for being a bitter old hawk.
He already lives in the 80s in his headspace, he refuses to adapt, so I imagine when he comes across this episode now and then, at least the relevance is the same as it always has been for him, unchanging.
I'm not sure I've ever seen a scenario where something being dated is the keystone connecting a generational bridge before, but there you have it. And while I don't want to devolve away from the episode too far, I do want to at least echo my disdain for the heartless sloganeering of the phrase "Support Our Troops". As anything coming out of the P.R. Machine of Capitalism, it's the most reductive thing I've ever heard.
February 20, 2015 @ 12:03 am
"Yes, protest the war and stand against imperialism and oppression, but for the love of God understand and clearly explain what those things are and why and how they're so destructive."
I've had my fair share of seeing the destructiveness that gets seeded into culture and families from the fallout of my relations experiences in various wars and the lasting effects. My grandfather (on my mother's side) was in WWII and ended up in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and witnessed the Hiroshima blast . He remained a scarred man inside and out – even though he hid this from us as kids – but unfortunately my mother received the results of those scars.
My uncle (same family branch) was in the army and went over to Northern Ireland during The Troubles. There was always a latent aggression in him when I knew him in my teens and I vividly remember him going and dealing with and abusive neighbour by masquerading as hit man and threatening him, which resulted in my father's car being set on fire.
The ripples of the wars fought and how they turned many of our men into monsters are still being felt.
I like to think that in the story Danar and the others take down the government and get the healing they need. As you say above K.Jones, I feel angered at the "Support Our Troops", especially during the UK Poppy appeals.
February 20, 2015 @ 12:06 am
Josh – I have been trying to access the previous post with the title "“And love, having no geography, knows no boundaries…' – but the page just doesn't load and kicks me into either the post before or after. All of the rest are working fine.
February 20, 2015 @ 8:14 am
Huh, weird: It works fine for me, maybe just keep trying?
February 20, 2015 @ 8:18 pm
Yeah it is weird, emptied cache etc & still happening. But will keep trying, thanks!
February 22, 2015 @ 11:55 pm
I managed to read it Josh but couldn't comment there weirdly – but interesting essay (I'll comment here if that's ok). You make a good point about when Moore in the episode was problematising the Federation, he really needed to not include the Enterprise crew in that net. Agreed. I think as a kid I got off on the stories that had action, double-crossing, or were more serious, but now, especially when I see races like the Romulans being reduced down to one type, it becomes boring for me. Do love the Shakespeare parts!