Gaze not into the abyss lest you accidentally write a book

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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. Ross
    January 21, 2015 @ 2:43 am

    I do not remember this one very well. Just two scenes really. Data murdering an innocent aqueduct to prove a point, and Picard rules-lawering the vaguely-anthropomorphic-coal-pile-standing-in-the-middle-of-the-1996-TARDIS-collumn. I remember that I enjoyed both those scenes at the time. But I am no longer 10 and looking back now, I have so much less tolerance for dick-waving and rules-lawyering that it rubs me wrong to have Picard pat himself on the back for working out a technicallity he can exploit to screw over the Shelliak's legitimate claim.


  2. EclecticDave
    January 21, 2015 @ 4:30 am

    Although I get and agree with your positionality with regards to aboriginal peoples – I think in this case the treaty had been signed prior to the colonists crashing on the planet – so I'm not sure the situation here is entirely analogous. In fact it could be argued that here the settlers, having established a colony on Sheliak land, actually puts them in the position of colonials, albeit unwittingly in this case.

    Moreover there's no reason to believe that the Enterprise has the freedom here to make a stand for the colonists' right to remain here, even if they wanted to. While other stories do indicate that the crew has significant latitude when it comes to interpreting and bending the rules, certainly there are limits – they still ultimately have to follow the edicts of the Federation or they'll presumably be simply removed from command.

    Undoubtedly these are themes that we'll be revisiting when we get to the Maquis. I'm looking forward to that.


  3. Ross
    January 21, 2015 @ 6:20 am

    So much of it, especially once you get to the Dominion War era, will actually go so far as to tacitly equate the moral positions of the Enterprise crew, and Star Trek: The Next Generation itself, with that of the Federation party line.

    I think "party line" is particularly apt here; there are plenty of times across the whole of Star Trek where the Enterprise crew comes off as "The people who genuinely believe and live up to the comforting lie the Federation tells itself about its nature."


  4. Burl Bird
    January 21, 2015 @ 7:06 am

    Did you notice the Kei&Yuri reference in this episode? It is in the middle of the actual text of the Treaty – "cute girls with big guns" that Okuda places everywhere. Which is, when you think about it, a strangely ironic place for the Lovely Angels: a text which is basically a bureaucratic nightmare (and it is also very ironic that the text actually shown on the background screen is a little anarchy of randomness).


  5. K. Jones
    January 21, 2015 @ 10:40 am

    Specific shades of things to come; this is the preface to things like the Enterprise forcibly relocating colonies on the Cardassian border – though at least in those later cases they do interesting things like play the Enterprise as unwilling relocators and portray the inevitable terrorists that arise from the situation as entirely sympathetic.

    This episode has a lot in common with Journey's End. And like … DS9 Season 3 …

    Key things I remember about this episode are familiarity with that kind of provincial stubbornness … empathy with Data's confusion and frustration at it … and just how nice it was to see an alien as … well, "alien" as some of the wild TOS alien designs. I always like it when TNG brings in a bit of designwork that feels like an updated TOS concept.

    We'll certainly get more into the Troi-as-Enterprise-Anthropologist beat later, I'm sure. It's really a perfect job for her, when you factor in everything not just about her (like the logic behind her being Picard's confidant), but how she comes from a family where her mom functions in an ambassadorial way as well.


  6. Josh Marsfelder
    January 21, 2015 @ 2:31 pm

    This is an excellent catch, and an even better interpretive analysis. There are a lot more of these than fans have ever been able to tabulate, and I'm still finding new ones myself. Evidently not every one, though: Looks like I know where I'm going to start with my revisions.

    As I've said before, this is why I need commenters.


  7. Daru
    January 21, 2015 @ 10:55 pm

    I thought too that it looked like the Tardis central column in that picture above! (couldn't recall episode vividly)


  8. Daru
    January 23, 2015 @ 1:05 am

    You make a great point Josh about how Troi's character was lot more empowered and interesting in the role of anthropologist – that makes a lot of sense and I would love to have seen her in that role. I did have difficulty with her character when I previously watched the show, and I admit I was watching with little or no analysis. Reading your character backgrounds in previous essays and everything else you have said tells me that I simply didn't get that she really was poorly served in a lot of ways and that Sirtis did a mammoth job under difficult circumstances.


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