The bodies on the gears of the culture industry

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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. David Faggiani
    October 15, 2015 @ 11:13 pm

    Brilliant. Worth waiting for. And just a wonderful Pilot.


  2. K. Jones
    October 16, 2015 @ 8:11 am

    Things are … complicated. And they trust us to wrap our heads around it.

    Only now do I realize that the Enterprise was the destination. Here's Chief O'Brien, whose years of experience as a life-saver have earned him the gift of being the new Scotty … in what at first glance could be a hellhole. It is what you make it, clearly this will be a show about building and creating. But it's evident from his boot hitting that console that he's going to reshape that damn station in his image. The universe has told him that it's time for him to face his hang-ups about Cardassians, and the universe means, REALLY face them. Daily. Tough love.

    Everybody is introduced. This isn't surprising. But everybody is introduced with a path of backstory traveled, aiming them for some future (does that celestial temple look like a target).

    I didn't get the Prophets when I was younger. Cool effect, I thought, neat deus ex machina, now let's get back to the realpolitik. How am I supposed to wrap my brain around nonlinear time. It was ages before I realized time is as fictitious in tangibility as math or geometry. It's a unit of measurement for approximation and interpretation – for artifice – a way to measure a certain angle of timespace. Meditation helps. We're all just Pahs in entropy. Realpolitik? It doesn't get much more real than that.

    A spiritual being might understand that, while a logical Starfleeter might take a minute to wrap their head around it. A fanatic might not understand what they're experiencing, choosing instead to interpret it in their favor. (I see the Cardassians plunder religious artifacts – taking another page from the Nazi playbook – it's about to get Raiders in here) Meditation required. I can't help but notice (it used to confuse me) they call nonspherical objects "Orbs", when they're blatantly little wormholes. I know now that a wormhole, a hole in three dimensions, appears spherical. The nature of a wormhole is linear. Something with a Point A and a Point B is linear. Something with an entrance and exit is linear. The prophets are trapped inside a linear construct of … somebody's making. And, they can trap other life forms in similar, smaller constructs, and whisk them back to DS9.

    The continuum can't just allow any omnipotent species to roam the galaxy. At some point we might have to end their roaming by creating a static point, a 'home', a 'temple', a 'prison' to house them. Imagine the chaos of prophets across the galaxy, ruining timespace's divine linearity! We'll be by to check on this Sisko chap we've put into motion in a couple of episodes. Gotta be artful in the presentation, though. Don't want him thinking about a Q and the wormhole prophets in the same sentence.

    Bashir's something new. More later.
    Dax is something new, too. And something old. And something female and something male and something uniquely important. Note that she's already the confidant of the protagonist and will soon be confidant to … well everyone. Not to equate equivocally, but she's this show's Riker … times 10. More later.
    Jake is not Wesley Crusher, though he has a near identical origin. More later.
    Kira's grouchy. We don't know she's an ex-freedom fighter yet, just a voice against Federation dogma. At this point she's still a little bit Ro Laren, though the effort is already underway to delineate. More later.
    Odo's grouchier. Oh there's a wormhole? I came from there. More later.
    Dukat's just another reptilian military man in a line of Cardassian Guls, though the prophets hiccup and close the wormhole the first time he enters it. They know him when they see him. And I just realized that Gul is basically Ghoul.
    Quark … another Last Outpost? More later, more later.

    It's Sisko's game.


  3. Froborr
    October 16, 2015 @ 8:55 am

    Brilliant post. Exactly right for this episode.

    I'm reminded of the very similar structure I used for one MLP post. There, I used it to reflect the nature of trauma, how it shatters identity and distorts time, making you cycle back to that moment again and again even when you try to leave it. It's not linear, and of course that's what the Prophets' "You exist here" is about: Sisko has never stopped raiding that particular fridge.

    But then, it somehow feels fitting that trauma and enlightenment should be more or less indistinguishable from without.

    10,000 yeses to your discussion of Dax. I'd add another role she eventually serves for Sisko: daughter. At least, that's how I've always read his relationship to Ezri.


  4. Froborr
    October 16, 2015 @ 8:58 am

    Ooh, I like this characterization of the Continuum as being Star Trek's version of the Time Lords. It makes Q work even better as the Star Trek version of the Doctor. Which he is: Q is the Doctor as written by people who think the good guys are authoritarian militarists, while the Doctor is Q as written by people who think being the good guys are anarchic alchemists.


  5. elvwood
    October 24, 2015 @ 10:53 pm

    Lovely post – the structure reminded me of the Doctor Manhattan focus issue of Watchmen, and, as Froborr says, it's entirely appropriate.

    I can't believe anywhere would schedule TNG against DS9 – how screwed up is that?

    Regarding Emissary itself: I've just watched it for the second time in my life, and I have that curious double vision of half-forgotten 1994(?) memory combined with fresh 2015 eyes. Which is also appropriate. Then, I am initially put off by the mystical trappngs; Now, I remember (vaguely) how it's going to turn out and accept them.

    In these days of rapid-fire TV, I really appreciate the pacing of the second part. It's slow, but not in the sense of dragging; rather, it's taking its time, letting us find our own way in. It's something that you wouldn't find in (say) Doctor Who on TV. (But of course, Doctor Whoisn't on TV, it only exists on the printed page.)

    And the characters! Again, that double vision: watching it the first time I am all "yay, we've got Miles O'Brien! Where's Keiko? I wonder what the others are going to be like? Sisko's very stiff, isn't he? That Odo seems intriguing". Now, I have enough foresight to pay them more attention in a less…anxious way. And my word, what a well-crafted ensemble! The best out of the gate that I know of, pre-Firefly. Each has a way to clash and a way to bond with almost everyone else, and their styles contrast interestingly, with a great range of variability: the rigidity of Sisko (with the man beneath shining through the cracks); the calm, still point that is Dax; the down-to-earth practical humanity of Miles; Odo's mask of Belonging, which hides (from the man himself) the fact that he does belong; Bashir's nervous enthusiasm; the fire of Kira. A few others are little more than caricatures, but that's still an impressive number to introduce in 90 minutes (as well as the whole of the premise of the show).

    A word about Major Kira. I remembered her as (initially) being simply Anger, and therefore not very interesting; but it's not like that at all! Nana Visitor's face (along with the set of her shoulders) just shows everything, emotions flying across it almost too fast to see. Yes, there's a lot of anger there; but it's part of a dynamic whole. I could watch that face for ages.

    I managed to watch four episodes last night, so I'll hopefully have more to say elsewhere…


  6. Daru
    December 19, 2015 @ 11:03 pm

    "Art is neither a system for transmitting information nor a mode of self-expression. It does these things no better than any number of activities. Art is the seizure of a vision that exceeds language."

    Absolutely – what a beautifully written post, thank you Josh.


  7. Daru
    December 19, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

    I should add that this I feel is one of my utter favourite episodes of Trek ever.


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