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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. Dustin
    October 30, 2014 @ 11:06 pm

    The demise of television, as mentioned in this episode, is surely Star Trek's darkest prophecy.


  2. Ross
    October 31, 2014 @ 12:32 am

    Well, when I say that I of course mean except for the Romulan Warbird, which is predictably a breathtaking, awe-inspiring masterpiece of design and one of my favourite bits of Star Trek: The Next Generation iconography.

    Also, it's the only one of the first-generation TNG starship toys that will sit presentably on a flat surface in spite of the boneheaded decision to not include display bases.

    And you can hold it like a gun when you're running around the living room playing space battles.


  3. Froborr
    October 31, 2014 @ 3:12 am

    I love the design of the Romulan Warbird. It is one of my favorite spaceship designs ever, not just in Star Trek. Like the Enterprise, it possesses an enormous amount of grace, but the Enterprise's strong horizontal emphasis makes it look like it is fixed to the plane. By contrast, the juxtaposition of the Warbird's very horizontal rear section with the very vertical fore section evokes three-dimensionality, and so has always felt much more like a "real" spaceship for me, where the Enterprise feels like it was designed for space-as-metaphoric-ocean.

    I like the model of a post-scarcity future Star Trek depicts, always have. My only issue is that it depicts utopia, but is generally not utopian–that is, it doesn't usually offer much in the way of suggestions as to how to get there from here. It more or less posits a magic box, the replicator, which eliminates scarcity for us. With the exception of one DS9 two-parter–and even there you have to read pretty heavily between the lines to reconstruct what's going on–there's suggestion that scarcity may be artificial, that capitalism might cause scarcity rather than the other way around. No suggestion that we can change our own society–no, we're supposed to just wait a few centuries for someone to invent the replicator for us.


  4. K. Jones
    November 1, 2014 @ 1:29 pm

    The Romulan Warbird is my favorite, and I always felt like it was a criminal shame not to get at least half as good an understanding of the interior of one as we get for the Enterprise, though I understand how costly that would be. Of course in those days, TV, particularly TV adhering to the classic paradigm of a predecessor episodic show, didn't quite realize how important "knowing your enemy" is to a strong narrative. You can't have it both ways – an ever-threatening, recurring enemy … but one with as much mystique and scarcity as any given one-off villain-of-the-week.

    The Warbird always felt decadent to me. You have to imagine there's engineering sections in the upper and lower "wing" pylons but there would be no way to fast travel or access the bottom quickly from the top or vice-versa, so we have to assume engineering is in front of the "split" and the biplane wings themselves are filled with non-essential systems like cargo and maintenance. And for it to be splayed like that compared to the pragmatic, centralized chassis of the Enterprise, feels rich, luxurious and completely impractical.

    Another pet-peeve of the Romulans – the logic behind Westmore's make-up. What purpose does adding the "We are clearly Space Vampires" V-shape to their foreheads to distance them from their TOS incarnation, when the same is not done for any Vulcans who eventually come to TNG? Of course even that is less of a pet-peeve than the hair.

    I'll say this, though, as divorced as the Romulans are from their TOS themes and iconography, they still adhere pretty well to the mold of "Dark Elves". Their ships are instead of Federation-esque, eerie green and vampiric. Their (hideous) uniforms and widow's peaks are full of exaggerated angles. Even their ship's engines are powered by black holes. Dick Dastardly, indeed.

    I hate it, but I do understand why they were made into more of a cartoonish villain. What I don't understand is how TNG could possibly eschew the necessary addition of a Vulcan to the crew to properly represent the "Light Elf" side of the equation.


  5. Josh Marsfelder
    November 1, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

    "Another pet-peeve of the Romulans – the logic behind Westmore's make-up. What purpose does adding the "We are clearly Space Vampires" V-shape to their foreheads to distance them from their TOS incarnation, when the same is not done for any Vulcans who eventually come to TNG? Of course even that is less of a pet-peeve than the hair."

    FWIW, Westmore says he did it to make the Romulans look more "menacing" (so that they could be taken seriously as villains), and that he usually "gravitates" towards the hairline area to define alien species. Unfortunately, I don't think he put much more thought into it than that, or if he did, he doesn't talk about it.

    The full Vulcan connection hadn't been established yet either (the Romulans being offshoots wouldn't be established until Season 5, and Spock only said they "shared roots" with the Romulans in "Balance of Terror"). Certainly magicaklly speaking the Season 1 team dropped the ball, though we do get Dr. Selar next year at least. Unfortunately, I doubt they were thinking along our lines here.

    I don't mind the Romulan chain-mail as much as others do, but I certainly get the complaints. If it makes you feel any better, Ron Moore and his staff absolutely hated them and kept begging to be allowed to change the whole Romulan aesthetic, but Rick Berman never let them.


  6. Daru
    November 19, 2014 @ 11:56 pm

    “The challenge, Mister Offenhouse, is to improve yourself. To enrich yourself. Enjoy it.”

    This is what captured my heart in TNG, the idea that people take on the roles we see because they choose it. I still nowadays as you point out, also feel that the Starfleet structure is at odds with this worldview. The post-scarcity universe I also always found inspiring.

    Oh and the Romulan Warbird is a thing of sheer beauty.


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