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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.

4 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    January 26, 2015 @ 1:38 am

    This is actually one of the episodes that I've seen quite a few times, by the same random coincidence and luck by which you kept missing it. The story itself is very simple, by comparison to what TNG can do on its best days, but also quite troubling as I think on it. Just as you indicate when you say this is basically the current production team defaulting to their take on TOS mode, I find The Survivors today to be a sci-fi morality tale that implies a dangerous morality.

    Kevin is a superbeing who's retreated to his private world to live out the rest of his days in exile and shame for an act of mass-murder that he committed in the name of revenge, with a replica of the woman he loved. But he was also responsible for the circumstances that led to his most horrific act: his superpowers could have stopped the alien invaders easily, but he chose not to fight them because of his pacifist values. As a result, the aliens overran the colony and killed his wife, and in his grief and rage he wiped their entire species from existence.

    The story amounts to an attack on pacifist values. Not only does the end of Kevin's story amount to a condemnation of pacifism as leading inevitably to a more destructive outcome, but it depicts Kevin's pacifism as simply sitting back and doing nothing while his home is overrun by aggressive invaders. Pacifism is depicted as a privilege of creatures like Kevin, who normally live above the ordinary attachments and dangers of moral humans. The rest of us must deal with conflict by taking up arms, as Rishon did.

    Yet when I first watched this story as a child, and would catch it again in reruns in my teen years and early 20s, I was personally fascinated by the puzzles of the strange phenomena on display, intrigued at the layers of weirdness and what the underlying cause could be. I was so distracted by the puzzle that I missed the story's moral, which is so repugnant to my own values today.

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  2. EclecticDave
    January 26, 2015 @ 4:21 am

    The bit I can never quite get past when I see this episode is the exchange between Kevin and Picard you quoted above:

    “We are not qualified to be your judges. We have no laws to fit your crime”

    Errr, what? The Federation have no laws against Genocide now?

    Of course whether the Federation would be too keen on prosecuting a being capable of destroying all humans everywhere on a whim is an entirely different question.

    Adam – while I see what you mean, I'm not convinced that the anti-pacifist message was intentional. The fact that Kevin was inconsistently much more aggressive in his attempts to protect his secret than he was to prevent the invasion, leads me to suspect that the "would not kill" speech simply wasn't given a lot of thought. A more consistent characterization would at least have had Kevin doing everything he could short of using lethal force to protect the planet, but having that not be sufficient somehow.

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  3. K. Jones
    January 26, 2015 @ 1:01 pm

    The first thing I thought when I applied a critical lens to Survivors, was "this could just as easily be TOS". This isn't bad; itwould've been a great TOS and while it's not beholden to repeating TOS, it's not like it's intrinsically wrong for TNG to do so. I like that Next Gen is capable of doing a TOS episode if it wants to.

    It occurs to me that while they do a capable job here – with some genuine pathos once things get rolling – this would actually be better were if it were Spock having the freakout and Kirk and McCoy sussing out the mystery and the moral challenge (particularly McCoy). Playing the role of "wait, WTF? acre of land?!" an exasperated Uhura, Sulu and Chekov would've been dynamite, and I think Scotty might've been a good sub for Riker's role.

    But you get what you get.

    This is one I really remember having seen as a child in two stages – first I was five years old sneaking downstairs and barely breathing because it was past my bedtime … and second when I was an early teenager and these hit SpikeTV.

    And it's one that really connected with me even if I didn't particularly like it. As a five-year-old this was a scary, suspenseful mystery. The creepy-factor of the music scared me, I was really along for the ride, as I imagine most five year olds always are.

    I guess my biggest takeaway is the pathos – something that I understood when I was 5, when I was 14 and what I still understand now when I watch it – is Kevin's anger when he's finally provoked. My relationship with this can be illustrated through those same stages.

    I am a pacifist. When I say this I don't mean I am a millennial hippie fan who has peace sign stickers on his car window and hates war. I mean I genuinely can not get angry anymore and have never been in a fight. (Interesting enough considering the kinds of people I grew up with, live with and am friends with.)

    But I was a historically angry child. By age five I lost my temper a lot. Prior to that I'd already had outbursts that had resulted in serious injury to my older brother, attacked my father, probably punched my little sister regularly. Since I have no actual memory of these things happening, my parents filled me in later on the details and as it turns out, blinding rage is a very real thing. By the early teenage years (which I have practically no memory of) it still happened, less regularly, but was starting to be pointed in healthy directions at least. At this point it doesn't exist. Nothing phases me. Nothing shakes me. (Conversely, it takes a lot to motivate me.)

    But I still get where Kevin was coming from. Somewhere deep down in the trace memory. Because fear of losing my temper kind of always gnaws around the fringes of my interpersonal relationships and is one of the factors that goes into forming connections with other people. It's not a moral conviction at this point, or a philosophical quandary – it's kind of the opposite. Having no beliefs, no controversial opinions or desire to rock the boat. No convictions or expectations. Few personal connections that could get me dragged into a conflict, having basically exorcised all the concerns or cares worth fighting about from my mind, and then scabbing over the open avenues with scar tissue so new concerns and things worth fighting for can't get in. Pacifism has the very real potential to become Passive-ism.

    The trouble then, is that if something, say a Rishon manages to smash through, you might end up putting all your eggs in one basket. Kevin failed specifically because he considered his "special conviction" something special about himself, and he counted himself as an exception or thought his way of thinking was "better" than others, instead of truly making it into his personal nature.

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  4. Daru
    January 26, 2015 @ 11:15 pm

    Lovely hearing about your praise for the cinematography here, as I thought that around this time the filming became particularly interesting – so great to hear about Marvin Rush.

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