"JUST SO WE'RE CLEAR..."


This is an essay about Star Trek. It's posted by someone who watches Star Trek for others who watch Star Trek and like discussing it. If this does not include you, make sure you understand:

I don't want to get a review from you saying I'm wasting my time with this. It's my time to waste. If you don't want to waste yours, just don't read any further.

I don't want a review from you saying that you have better things to do than read this. If that is true, go do them with my blessing.

I don't want a review from you saying nobody cares about this stuff. I care. That's why I wrote this. If nobody else does, fine...but if you don't, why are you still reading this?


"I'VE READ FANFIC BETTER THAN THIS CRAP..."


Okay, last Wednesday I saw what had to be the absolute worst episode of "Star Trek" I've seen since I first started watching it (and I was six years old back then, and it was a really sucky rerun of an episode from The Original Series). The episode I saw Wednesday was "Damage", an episode from the third season of the latest Trek series "Enterprise." For those not watching this (and if you're not, congratulations on your good judgement), Season Three is a season-long story arc, where the experimental Earth Starship ENTERPRISE is sent to an alien region of space after beings from that region send a weapon to Earth that kills millions of people. The ship's mission is to stop these aliens from making an even more powerful weapon and sending that to Earth to finish the job. "Damage" is set after the events of the previous episode, in which the Captain of the ship, Jonathan Archer, tries to make a suicide run on the enemy weapon, fails and gets captured, while ENTERPRISE gets her "aft thrusters" handed to her by enemy ships. Without boring you with the gory details, here are some of the lowlights that made "Damage" so craptacular:


-For no discernable reason, the aliens that were supposed to be interrogating Archer just returned him to his ship. (Okay, you've got the enemy Captain dead to rights and you let him go? Huh?)


-In spite of all the other repairs they managed to make to what is essentially now space junk, ENTERPRISE's warp engine can't be repaired because her crew didn't bring along (and apparently can't jury-rig) a replacement part about the size of a garbage can. (You know you can't get to another star without a working engine. Even then you couldn't find room for ONE spare??)


-To get the part, Archer decides to go pirate and take it from another group of aliens...but he wants to be a "kinder, gentler" pirate and not kill anybody, so he ends up turning what would have been a simple snatch-and-grab (they could have just beamed the part out of the other ship) into a dangerous running ship-to-ship gun battle and complex boarding operation which adds yet more casualties to the already extensive list of dead and wounded.


-And completely from Left Field, we find out that the Vulcan in the crew has been shooting up small quantities of a metal they found in the region that makes Vulcans go crazy (?) because it helps her control her emotions better (???). This is tantamount to the Joker telling us he sucks Laughing Gas in tiny doses to help him focus better when he's destroying Gotham City and trying to kill Batman.


"STARFLEET COMMAND, WE HAVE A PROBLEM..."


I could go on, but the above four situations are pretty much emblematic of the general quality of the writing displayed in "Enterprise, Season Three," and may be just the latest symptoms of an epidemic of bad writing that has been plaguing the entire franchise. (The latest movie, "Star Trek: Nemesis", tanked at the box office for good reasons.) It isn't just the scientific inaccuracies and failures of logic (though there are plenty), it isn't just the tendency to talk down to the audience (though that tendency is widespread among the franchise's writers). These would be excusable if the show were at least consistently entertaining. Therein lies the problem. Star Trek has NEVER been "consistently" entertaining.

Think about it. There have been five series and ten movies based on the original concept. If you consider yourself a Star Trek fan and just flat-out love everything associated with the brand, more power to you, but I would submit that you're a rarity. It's more likely that someone who calls himself or herself a Star Trek fan is a total fan of maybe one series out of the five, thinks about a third or half of the movies reeked, and absolutely hates at least one of the remaining series. Feel free to tell me if I'm wrong, but I doubt it. A franchise that fluctuates so often between good writing and bad isn't capable of generating a monolithically appreciative fan base. Everybody separates the wheat from the chaff.

Yet even inconsistency shouldn't necessarily be the death of a multi-million-dollar franchise. Highs come with the lows. There's always the possibility of reviving it by studying it and trying to figure out what you did that made the franchise reach the heights.


Here's the problem: Star Trek's writers are rarely (if ever) required to take more than a cursory glance at the franchise's history, and whenever they actually do study it, the techniques and practices they try to emulate are usually the ones that make an episode or a movie suck.

The current state of the "Enterprise" series is a perfect indication that these habits are finally catching up to Star Trek's creators. It can also be seen in the general fan reaction to Star Trek: Nemesis. In real life, there are only so many times you can recycle a material before it becomes unusable for any purpose. The same goes for Star Trek's written material. To save the franchise, the writers have to learn that they're rapidly heading for the point where their writing practices will fail them completely...and then decide that it's a problem that needs fixing.

I say that last because I think there's a level of denial at work. Take comments reportedly made by Marina Sirtis at a recent convention, for example. When asked if there'll be another "Next Generation" movie she gave an emphatic "No" in response, citing the poor reaction to "Nemesis." Her reasoning for the movie bombing was that it was released "two weeks before Lord of the Rings." This complaint is dubious at best. LOTR didn't take any fans away from Nemesis that would have watched it otherwise. All LOTR could do was take away potential newcomers to the fan base, which is a risk every franchise takes in a competitive film industry. Marina's assertion fails to take into account all of the already Loyal Fans of ST that were turned off by Nemesis. Those losses weren't LOTR's fault.

Marina's not a writer, but taken together with other comments made by other actors (like Patrick Stewart), producers and writers, we get a picture of what the creators as a group feel about their work: They think they're doing a great job, and any problems that the franchise is having are obviously the result of the narrow-mindedness of the distributors and the fans.


"NOBODY ASKED ME, BUT..."


Well, it's not the fans' fault, or the studio's, or any of Star Trek's competition. This is an internal matter for Star Trek's creative team. They're going to have to fix themselves first and their product second. They will have to cast off some old ideas and accept some new ones, and they're going to have to risk losing more fans now in order to create a franchise that will bring in lots of new fans in the future.

Over the course of this essay I'm going to detail what I think Star Trek's problems are and offer solutions on how they should be fixed. If you're a "Trekkie" reading this now, I'll leave it up to you to decide if you'd like to see these changes made. Of course, feel free to leave your two-cents in a review.