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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.

10 Comments

  1. Cleofis
    September 11, 2013 @ 6:55 am

    "I will admit the more and more a show delves into a character's inner psyche the less interested or invested I often find myself. I know conflict and character development are important, foundational elements of drama and narrative going back to Aristotle. Maybe that's also part of the reason I actually dislike so much drama."

    I actually see where you're coming from here, and feel similarly myself. I feel like television in particular (and film, to an extent) has gone to an extreme where characters and their development have become very heavily "internalized", for lack of a better phrase. We have to get every nook and and cranny, every darkest depth, every agonized decision making process in explicit detail, to say nothing of the incredibly wearying violence and anti-social behavior of the prestige show anti-heroes currently in vogue that now composes dramatic. Or take Batman in the movies, to give another example; compare the Nolan films to the Burton films, the latter of which (inasmuch as they were even concerned with development, which is to say not very) keep Batman at the margins and allow us only fleeting glimpses into his head, thanks to the wonderfully internalized (in a good sense) performance of Michael Keaton, as opposed to the former who tediously spell out the tortured psyche of it's protagonist in every possible way.

    There's no -distance- from characters nowadays; maintaining such from them allows the actual instances of development to be that much more effective. If Picard, say, were given the kind of treatment most protagonists are today, would "The Inner Light" and "Tapestry" worked nearly as well as they do in context of the length of our association with the character, much of which was just seeing him in his (albeit extraordinary) day to day affairs? I think not. Granted, it's a delicate balance to walk, and honestly I though TNG skewed too much onto the non-conflict/drama side for me, and that moments like those episodes were too far between, if not necessarily few. One of the reasons I've always loved DS9 best is that I felt they nailed just the right balance between Competency, as we'll call it, and Drama; turns out, disagreeing with your co-workers and having to get along with troublesome and often extra-legal types is as much a part of Competency as it is a source of drama, as opposed to TNG's no-fighting-everyone-gets-along-always general rule (the occasional philosophical conflict or malevolent alien influence excepted).

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  2. Josh Marsfelder
    September 11, 2013 @ 9:11 am

    I think a lot of it maybe comes from the voyeuristic nature of cinematic works. There was a severe backlash against overt violence and sexuality a few decades ago, so we just shifted what we were voyeuristically lusting over.

    As for the difference between The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine I'm a bit torn. I love both shows almost equally, sometimes for different reasons and sometimes for the same reasons. I confess I'm not as bothered by the "no inter-crew conflict" rule as others, because while in theory having your characters able to argue with each other sounds like a good idea IMO in practice it tended to result in generic betrayal and emotional fallout stories: Conflict that was shoehorned in for conflict's sake. And anyway, I really enjoyed the familial atmosphere this ended up cultivating and the way it forced writers to get creative. Sometimes this paid off in droves.

    Yes, DS9 struck a good balance, at first, although I think "We have to get every nook and and cranny, every darkest depth, every agonized decision making process in explicit detail" is a pretty apt description of what that show became under Ron Moore and Ira Behr, personally.

    But of course, that's largely for the future, although my take on conflict and drama in Star Trek is actually a bit of a theme in the next few posts.

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  3. Flex
    September 11, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

    Thanks for commenting on the bright-and-garish aesthetics of the show. It's certainly a big reason for my love the series, so it's nice to see it get some time on the blog.

    Re: this story, I think this is one I remember reading the novelization of first. That was a pretty fun one for a kid, with the Kelvans feeling very alien and the Andromeda Galaxy stuff sparking a great chord in the imagination for the vastness of the universe. This is another episode I came to later in life, and while I wouldn't call it awful it definitely didn't live up to what my imagination concocted all those years ago. Still, it's another serviceable episode in the only real stretch where the show seems more or less comfortable with itself.

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  4. K. Jones
    September 12, 2013 @ 5:10 am

    This is actually my favorite episode of Star Trek. Shakespeare by way of Lovecraft. A rewatch once I've read the article to get my synapses firing should yield neat results.

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  5. K. Jones
    September 12, 2013 @ 5:24 am

    Of course, verily some of the absolute best of Next Generation is in later seasons when they relaxed on the "no inner conflict" rule. (Best example off my head: "Ethics" and the relationship Riker and Worf have, comes to mind.)

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  6. Josh Marsfelder
    September 12, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    Yes, TNG handled itself well. I think it's because the keyword there is "relaxed" and not "repealed". Now late-period Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Star Trek Voyager and Enterprise on the other hand…

    Well, let's just say I'm inclined to believe conflict can mean things aside from the main cast screaming at and betraying each other or having a nervous breakdown every five minutes.

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  7. Josh Marsfelder
    September 12, 2013 @ 11:35 am

    I agree. "By Any Other Name" certainly isn't a disaster, but it does feel like it didn't quite live up to its potential.

    I definitely second that this stretch of episodes feels remarkably solid and has an impressive baseline for quality and ambition (FWIW I think it begins with "The Immunity Syndrome" and ends with…well, the one you'd imagine it ends with). I'd say its one of the weaker episodes of this stretch, but that we're in a stretch where "By Any Other Name" is one of the weaker stories should really say everything.

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  8. K. Jones
    September 12, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    The episode works in spite of some of the unbearable elements. And that's of course because of the four leads and their opportunity to do both extreme dire seriousness and comedy in one bipolar episode. There's also two elements of Continuity thrown in.

    I'm more interested in the subtext. Transmutation is everywhere. The Kelvan power is that of transmutation; themselves into human forms, us into Bucky Balls. One could extrapolate that their ships operate on transmutation and that is why they, “superior”, were destroyed by the Galactic Barrier, but the Enterprise is not. But why shouldn't it be able to enter our Galaxy? Because transmuting magic isn't native to the Milky Way Galaxy – – but it is native to Andromeda, as we saw with Korob and Sylvia. Moreover, Spock's mental images imply that their true forms might be magical (or at least, multidimensional) in origin.

    The story transmutes as well! Kirk loses it, he's almost defeated mentally, but running out of action hero options has him transmute the high-stakes thriller into farce by doing what humans can do; be creative. Sense and emotion are the magicks of our galaxy, so Kirk knowingly shifts from Stoic Hero to Shatner Drag to win. It turns out, this wasn't a “Doomsday” episode, all along. Star Trek as “takes itself seriously” couldn't defeat this external force; but Star Trek as “lighthearted adventure” could. And that's what humans do; they shift dramatically from Tragedy to Comedy.

    Shatner's excelling at the humane and the humor. His reaction to the crewman's death, or Uhura, his near losing control, had weight and his manipulative treatment of Kalinda is slightly elevated by the twinkle in his eye as we all are in on the plan. She seems to be slightly aware of it too, and just plain curious about it. What is this twinkle? Some kind of magick is at work. Nimoy does great work with Spock's alien body language, and plays the devil well, as he deadpans comedy that is the funniest stuff in the episode. Spock himself, for a guy with little emotion, is certainly an authority at weaponizing it. Kelley gets to do something he doesn't get to do often (until the films), and that's be sarcastic instead of belligerent. And he's aces. (“I'm delighted …”) Doohan subverts his stereotypes. Any time you pair him with Nimoy, it really is competency porn. The emphasis on Scotty's Number 3 rank feels more important here than when left in command during away missions, and the graveness of his gambit with Spock is incredibly thrilling in the first half, which makes the shift into slight buffoonery in the second half something earned, not jarring. We know how competent he is, and that it's high-stress. So the guy enjoys his downtime.

    Kalinda certainly undergoes a bit of uneven gender depiction, but she never feels helpless. Much of this is a level of intelligence from the actress, and a chemistry with Shatner. In some ways, it's a prototypical, slight example of subversion of the norm – not the first time, but also not enough to properly break convention (Oh, we're going to have fun talking Diana Muldaur). The flower metaphor is a little tortured here (an Eldritch Alien Woman is still a Beautiful Flower?). I've also got to admit, in hindsight that much of my favoritism for this episode rests on the comeliness of Barbara Bouchet. With Rojan it's evident from the second you see his height, build, and haircut, he's a mirror of Kirk. He even gives “We're not so different …” speeches. But there's a wasted opportunity here – why have it be implicit when it could be explicit? The Kelvans chose human form to utilize the human ship. Would it not make sense that Rojan modeled his human form very much on Kirk? That in doing so he accidentally copied Kirk a little too closely. It would go a long way toward Kirk and Spock's effective manipulation of his emotions, and knowing just which were his weaknesses; jealousy, possessiveness, competitiveness.

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  9. Josh Marsfelder
    September 13, 2013 @ 7:50 am

    See, this is why I need commenters. You can take the episode and my post and distil more interpretations by bringing in your experiences.

    My post on "By Any Other Name" was always going to be experimental and autobiographical. This is a terrific reading that plays off of the continuity references the episode already had.

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  10. Not A Kelvan, I Swear
    December 9, 2018 @ 10:47 am

    Ha! I ran “Drea Star Trek” past Google just now and it sent me to this blog.

    Don’t know if you’re checking your comments on this after 5+ years, but I had the EXACT same reaction to that character when I re-watched “By Any Other Name” last night. You’re right that Lezlie Dalton brings a sort of serene, confident presence to a particularly wacky role in a particularly wacky episode, even for this series, and I was intrigued to find out she went on to be a featured player on Dean Martin’s variety show.

    I’m not usually the sort of person who thinks too hard about minor characters in something like Star Trek, but there’s something about Drea, right…? Her gang is on a life-or-death mission to save their entire species from extinction, a desperate quest that saw them travel through the void for centuries, escape the destruction of their ship and adopt drastically different physical bodies, apparently permanently. And, of course, by the end of the episode, most of them are emotional wrecks, because non-humans trying to be human on Star Trek are lucky if they survive their first bad mood.

    But while the rest of the Kelvans go bonkers in minutes from booze, jealousy and smooching, Drea’s all business, calmly piloting the Enterprise through intergalactic space, diligently reducing cast members to cuboctahedrons with her belt buckle and generally acting like a professionally-minded “immense being… with a hundred tentacles” while everyone else parties.

    It’s easy to imagine a scene following the end of the episode with Drea greeting her boss’s snap decision to turn around with a strained, thin-lipped smile and a sigh through the nose… “Sure, I mean, it only took us three hundred years to get here, and now I’m the one doing all the work, but, you know, whatever the angry, horny drunks think is best…”

    Your idea’s a happier ending though, consigning her dissolute companions to off-camera obscurity while she sticks around to teach our heroes about maneuvers at warp eleven. If this episode had somehow premiered in the present day, even on a TV show without heavy serialization, I feel like you’d have a small mob of fans clamoring for a “what happened to Drea?” story. Hey, it’s already a part of the fan-constructed pseudo-history that this episode helped force the Federation to re-write the book on “warp speed”, so, who knows, maybe that was Drea’s day job as a four-limbed primate. A girl can dream…

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