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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.

5 Comments

  1. Alex Wilcock
    September 16, 2013 @ 1:36 am

    Oh dear. I’d kept meaning to post another comment on one of the stories you don’t like much and I do… But instead I leap in to say that I absolutely can’t see what you like about this one, even with the ‘anti-censorship’ flag out (I was in a debate against censorship at a political conference just yesterday afternoon, and while it’s one of my best buttons to press, it doesn’t work on me with this). I think it’s pretty awful – and much more offensive than ‘Space Spunk’ to boot. The offense isn’t in using the Nazis, but in the shockingly dim way they’re used, and no, to take offense or to criticise is not to wish it were banned, merely to wish it were better.

    “Hitler's National Socialist party are pretty much the default villains for any kind of genre adventure story in the history of ever.”
    I’d say – all right, I have said – that there are at least three types of default villains, and other than the generic scary ‘other’ of which both series have been guilty, for what are probably historical and cultural reasons the Nazis were obviously the attributable default villain across the Atlantic in Doctor Who at the time (and pretty much ever), which at least mitigated against the ‘othering’, in ’60s Star Trek the default was the Communists, and very definitely in an othering way. Some of which you’ve covered already, and the worst example of which is going to be just around the corner…

    The good thing about Patterns of Force is that it tries to do something more complex than ‘Nazis – I hate ’em’ – I think its heart’s probably in the right place in trying so hard to say ‘the Germans are not intrinsically evil’, but its brain’s not in effectively saying ‘…So, really, there were only one and a half people actually doing evil at all’. Which makes the bad thing about it almost everything about how they try to do that (aside, I suppose, from the naked Kirk/Spock S&M scene that launched a thousand shippings). Is it about “authority”? Well, perhaps, but it doesn’t work for me either as ‘it could happen here’ or ‘all power corrupts’. All right, I’ll agree with you about some of the closing lines, too, despite what isn’t said and the comedy music undermining what is, but between the initial concept and the homily a lot goes wrong.

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  2. Alex Wilcock
    September 16, 2013 @ 1:37 am

    The good thing about Patterns of Force is that it tries to do something more complex than ‘Nazis – I hate ’em’ – I think its heart’s probably in the right place in trying so hard to say ‘the Germans are not intrinsically evil’, but its brain’s not in effectively saying ‘…So, really, there were only one and a half people actually doing evil at all’. Which makes the bad thing about it almost everything about how they try to do that (aside, I suppose, from the naked Kirk/Spock S&M scene that launched a thousand shippings). Is it about “authority”? Well, perhaps, but it doesn’t work for me either as ‘it could happen here’ or ‘all power corrupts’. All right, I’ll agree with you about some of the closing lines, too, despite what isn’t said and the comedy music undermining what is, but between the initial concept and the homily a lot goes wrong.

    So… Kirk talks of the fantastically slim odds of mutual development – which sounds like a welcome rewrite of the basis of several of the previous year’s stories… Until the Zeons are, as you point out, all blatantly Jewish, and that the war just happens to be termed a “final solution”. It’s not even an analogue. Compare it to A Piece of the Action and this just seems so crass and ill-thought-out, and all its own ‘comedy moments’ pretty horrible.

    Pieces of it are effective, particularly early on, despite the ‘It’s not coincidental except when it is, but it becomes too small, too simplistic and too ‘terrible things can happen, but they’re only obeying orders’. It seems to say the Nazis were evil on a big scale, but shy away from making any but one individual Nazi fit that profile, fatally pulling the punches. It’s all just one mistaken man and one evil man at the top, and no-one else has any sort of culpability – particularly when it seems everyone’s in the Resistance. So how did any of it happen, then? Who actually did the nasty stuff? How were they persuaded to do it? Because we don’t see any of that. It’s just the Holocaust-lite where hardly anyone really meant it so it’s all right, really.

    It’s ludicrously ahistorical. The whole point of Nazi methodology is adopting a victim methodology and hating them, uniting in hate. And John Gill just can’t be a cuddly old man with that as his method. He seems to claim all he wanted was the uniforms. How did he manage it with no ‘hate’ and zero charisma? The Führer’s speech is done without showing his mouth, and cutting together random sentences, so how does that rouse the populace? Melakon’s chant of “Death to Zeon” simply doesn’t have anything to kick off from. Blaming everything on The Führerprinzip and ignoring how leaders get people to lead them, or why people want to follow, just turned my stomach in its punch-pulling refusal to say anything at all viewers might not want to hear. Free speech? Grouping some people and scapegoating others? Now, if Gill had modelled his system on the most successful 20th Century society, America, and turned Nazi by mistake, that might have had something to say…

    ‘Evil-free Space Nazis – I hate ’em.’

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    September 16, 2013 @ 8:21 am

    I think what "Patterns of Force" is about is the concept of authoritarianism and totalitarianism: The Nazi stuff is mostly there for shock value and rhetorical exaggeration, i.e., "let's take the most extreme form of a totalitarian regime we can think of and have someone try and make a benevolent version of it".

    The Ekosians Nazi party is not the result of mutual development, it's the result of John Gill coming in and introducing a whole bunch of authoritarian rhetoric and motifs by flagrantly violating the Prime Directive. I don't think we were supposed to see the purges as part of his original plan: Gill seems pretty horrified to learn his party has gone down the same route Germany has (not that he shouldn't have known this was the path he was setting them on: Think of Alan Moore's concept of anarchic and fascist poles to the globe of human society: Start heading in the fascist direction and you'll eventually get there).

    I'm also not sure "everyone" is in the resistance, and Melakon at least is pretty clearly the guy who "did all the nasty stuff", as you put it. Also, don't dismiss Eneg: He may be sympathetic to the resistance, but he quite explicitly still favours a totalitarian model of government which makes him just like Gill: I think we're supposed to be put off by that.

    There's also the numerous party leaders, officers and soldiers we meet throughout the episode: Surely they were complicit in Melakon's final solution and aren't going to have an easy time acclimating to Daras' and Isak's new society. But, as the Zeons say, the Enterprise crew has done enough and now they have to leave and let them take over. To have Kirk, Spock and McCoy continue to meddle would make them no better than Gill, so we can only hope the new leaders recognise what the real problem always was.

    Rather, I think what the episode is trying to say is that any time you have a group in power who operate via fascist techniques and claim to have a superior government and way of life, it's not going to take a whole lot for that group to go down the Nazi path. Gill may not have approved of Melakon's xenophobic beliefs and brutally oppressive tactics, but he created an environment where someone like that could exist simply by virtue of installing an authoritarian power structure. Melakon considered Gill soft on the "Zeon Problem" and too old to be an effective populist leader, so he drugged him and took his place, ruling in his name (and I think we were supposed to take away that Gill was charismatic at one point in time but eventually got too old for Melakon's liking: Remember he had been on Ekos for several decades).

    I agree "Patterns of Force" is maybe not quite as effective as it could have been, especially in the climax ("now we'll start to live as the Führer meant for us to live" is definitely a problem, although I think it was supposed to be a reference to Gill's overall peaceful goals) but I do think Kirk's line at the end makes it pretty clear what the intent here was.

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  4. K. Jones
    September 16, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    My walkaway this episode has always been Spock's "You would make a very convincing Nazi," but less for the nuance of Spock-to-Kirk and more for the joke of one Jewish actor saying it to another – a distinctly Hollywood sort of scenario, and the nature of performers.

    The episode was fairly stock-pulp but reactions, like adding a bit of humor to the cliche of "getting a local disguise so we can sneak around", as well as the comedy of when they finally got Bones down to the surface and he had no idea what was going on, cut a very strange, offbeat direction.

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  5. Froborr
    October 9, 2014 @ 9:39 am

    This run of episodes is shaping up to be a sort of Star Trek version of the Cartmel era. Lacking, alas, the Cartmel era's incandescent rage and consistent devotion to opposing the ills of the society around it, but sharing with it that both eras are consistently quite good and yet too little, too late to save their respective shows.

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