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Abracadabra! (We just destroyed capitalism)

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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.

7 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    April 8, 2016 @ 2:18 am

    You know, I don't think I ever saw this episode in the first place, and your thoughts on it certainly don't encourage me to seek it out. What I find most interesting is the essential concept of the episode, how it so faithfully echoes the concerns of 1960s scifi to its detriment. Being a cyberpunk heyday, keeping up to date would mean exploring transhumanist and mind-bending themes as some of the best TNG episodes in its last season did. Or class exploitation in a futuristic setting as the better Ferengi stories of DS9 do. Even some Doctor Who novels of the time did their best. It's sad to see that focus on at least current trends in scifi slip away from Star Trek. If this mediocre episode does nothing else, it can at least teach us that.

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  2. Ross
    April 8, 2016 @ 10:13 am

    I totally used to fall for it, but as I grow older, I get more and more cheesed off at just what an amazing place of privilege you have to come from to advocate luddic neo-agrarianism. I'm sure the one in thirteen women who die in childbirth, the one in three babies who die of jaundice or the whatever other percent you like who die of treatable medical conditions (or, for that matter, live but with treatable pain or impairment) in their technology-free paradise really appreciate the simple life.

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  3. K. Jones
    April 8, 2016 @ 10:18 am

    Yeah, the situation with the anti-tech movement in sci-fi is weird and untenable in the Star Trek universe. While it sort of almost maybe worked in The Original Series that some of these Federation colonies were weird agrarian ranches (with alien sunflower spores) it always felt more like a result of a field trip off the dour studio sets to some nice California sunshine in farm country than a necessary plot element of space colonization. (And always ignored the second step after the establishment of a self-sustaining human colony on an alien world – the stripmining of that world's resources, and probably the cultural appropriation of that world's natives by the Federation.)

    But lest I diverge from my DS9 points … because I did feel a TOS rant coming there … the simple fact of the matter is the anti-tech movement is flawed. Inherently, stupidly fucking flawed. Agriculture IS technology. Shovels and pitchforks and steel hand-plows are technology. Steel itself is advanced technology. Next Gen had the decency to show us anachronistic Mariposans as being at least a bit eccentric in their willful attempt at going backwards. But even they weren't stalwartly refusing the help of the Enterprise, shocked or not, they adapted rather well – indeed they adapted rapidly, whereas the … whatever the fuck other colony – the cloners – couldn't adapt to shit without the certainty of doom being the only other option and the Enterprise mediating.

    So we have O'Brien meeting with more anachronisms, except these ones don't even have the benefit-of-the-doubt of having settled their colony back in "Old Federationy Times".

    And it's rubbish, I agree. And rather a waste, too, as the separate issue of a world of scarcity putting Sisko and O'Brien into bondage is a goldmine – and I'm not even just talking about the potential of a black man and an Irish man (who we know from other context are very up on their own personal cultural Earth tribal histories), but also the notion of two family men in those dire straits, but also, just generally the notion of Avery Brooks and Colm Meaney being the ones who get to act in those situations, which is perhaps the only aspect of this episode I do like – their rapport and demeanor, dignity and comradeship as a duo here. They should be teamed up more often.

    But yeah, otherwise this episode is kind of painful to watch. One notable beat though, for me, is the actor who plays Alixis – she might be one of only a few characters or actors on any show that just oozes a vibe that repels me on a visceral level to the point where I find it hard to watch her as a character because I find it impossible to be in her presence.

    Of course, the other major character who does that for me is Oscar Winner Louise Fletcher's Winn Adami.

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  4. Adam Riggio
    April 8, 2016 @ 10:41 am

    I agree entirely. Though I think Fletcher's doing that repulsion on purpose.

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  5. Daru
    April 10, 2016 @ 12:46 am

    I think the only good thing about this is the chemistry between Sisko and O'Brien. The rest of it feels to me like a story dead-end as far as Trek is concerned.

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  6. Dustin
    April 21, 2016 @ 12:11 am

    This episode could have been so much more interesting if it hadn't taken that wrong at Albaquerque and ended up being about some crazy brainwashing cult leader. Because, by making the architect of this primitivist cult so ridiculously evil, while on the other hand having the residents all agreeing with her in the end, the story not only fails to explore the causes of such Arcadian longing but also comes damn close to a "but she made the trains run on time" argument, i.e., "Yeah she imprisoned us and straight up tortured and killed a bunch of us, but we're glad she did because we like the feeling of dirt under our fingernails or something."

    Is this episode supposed to about how turning one's back on modernity makes one more human in some pathetically Romantic way? No, because it was a trap laid by a total nutjob, and they were all coerced into this way of life . Is it about the dangers of powerfully charismatic leaders who justify their brutality in the name of the greater good? No, because they all end up deciding it was fine, that it helped them "find themselves." Although what parts of their selves are more easily found by killing someone with an arrow instead of a phaser? Beats me.

    So I almost liked this, at first, when I thought it would actually explore tensions between modernity and Romanticism. But then it chickened out, went off the rails, or whatever metaphor you want for a storytelling f*ckup. Nice points, Josh, as always, about the writing staff's TOS hard-on and their obsession with sticking it to TNG.

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  7. Dustin
    April 21, 2016 @ 12:12 am

    However, I liked the boo box.

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