Star Trek

Star Trek

Monday, June 1, 2015

Star Trek: TOS Series Overview

Roomie and I took a mid-day train going anywhere this weekend, and encountered the collision of the internet with real life. The first guy that we noticed was wearing a Doctor Who t-shirt inspired by the series 8 opening theme; a Doctor Who-Van Gogh baseball hat; a Doctor Who lanyard; and, hanging off the stroller his kid was sitting in, a leather TARDIS knapsack covered in (you guessed it) Doctor Who buttons. Standing between him and us were a pair of girls who could not have been any older than twenty. The first girl was wearing cute kitty tights, a blonde cosplay wig, and black lipstick that clashed horribly with the wig. Her friend has short spiky hair in various shades, a t-shirt from a fandom that I didn't recognize, and quite a few impulse-purchase piercings. The Whovian didn't say anything cuz his kid was throwing a tantrum, but those girls didn't stop talking the whole way. First it was an excited exclamation of how it was "cosplay weather," followed by a list of the cosplay riffs they had done on their favorite characters, none of which I recognized. They switched over to talk of fanfic, mostly concerning Steven Universe and Homestuck, and how they liked to write certain characters as gender-fluid, and how it complicated tagging.
"Oh my God," whispered Roomie excitedly. "It's like Tumblr Live!"
It was indeed. Like someone had staged an art performance of Tumblr conversations, complete with costume.
These are the awesome things you miss when you don't take mass transit very often.



*******

So I started out the Season One Overview with character reviews, so we'll start there again.



Kirk

I'll probably get a bunch of hate mail for this, but Kirk is a bit of a Mary Sue. SorryNotSorry. (WTF is a "Mary Sue"? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Sue)
Turns out other people have written essays about this, so I'm not the only one who thinks that. Also, please notice the modifier "a bit." I don't think he's a complete Mary Sue, but it's enough that I feel like it needed to be said. Just for funsies, and because I was procrastinating, I plugged Kirk into a Mary Sue test in the hopes that it might prove me wrong. Now, to be fair, this test is mostly for people who are writing fanfic and want to make sure that their main character is not a Mary Sue, so I ended up wracking my brain and trying to recall different episodes and scenarios that might or might not fit with his character. There were several hundred questions, and because I didn't think I was checking off that many, that the score over all would be lower. It was not. The judgment was harsh, actually. Checking off fifty or more boxes landed one's character firmly in the "complete Mary Sue" category.
Kirk racked up a score of 149.
Ouch.
The last section of "De-suifiers," or traits that make your character less of a Sue, did not lower Kirk's score much. I actually give Kirk more credit than the test did.
So what makes a Kirk a Mary Sue? Kirk is notably handsome. Kirk is the youngest Starfleet captain in history. Kirk always wins the day, always rescues the villagers, always does the right thing. Kirk only loses a fight when the story calls for him to be overpowered by others for purposes of kidnap or capture. In all other times, Kirk wins the fight easily, often against several others. When he does something against the rules, he gets a slap on the wrist. He always gets the girl. Always.

What makes Kirk not a Mary Sue? Kirk gives a shit about his ship and its crew. He's concerned about casualties, and once, when a crew member is lost, we see him comforting another crew member ("Balance of Terror"). When he genuinely falls in love with a woman, he finds out that she must die, and he must not prevent it from happening ("City on the Edge of Forever"). While he talks and acts big, we actually see some moments where Kirk questions his own actions.


"So what's the deal with Kirk? Why would they write him like that? Didn't they know they were making him a Mary Sue?"
Noop. In actuality, the term "Mary Sue" originated from Star Trek fanfic, where eager fans would insert themselves into the story, and make them perfect and beloved by all of the OG Star Trek characters. In terms of chickens and eggs, the egg came first here. They didn't realize that they had made him such a Mary Sue because the term didn't exist at the time. In my humble opinion, Kirk is a Mary Sue because, once again, Star Trek is a time capsule.
While I've noted that the time capsule thing applies to this concerning costuming choices and topical plots, I feel like it also applies to character development. Kirk is a throw-back to old-school storytelling, where the hero is always heroic, and always saves the day, usually with seconds to spare. Kirk is the space-race version of the cowboy racing his trusty steed against the train, hoping to make it to the spot on the tracks where the villain with the twirly mustache has the girl tied to the tracks. He's old fashioned. A main character like that would not sell well these days, when people want characters to have deep-seated issues and psychological reasons for acting the way that they do. A pristine white good guy and a deep black bad guy no longer fly. This is probably why the anti-hero is so big right now. People are far more interested in following the mis-adventures of a Khan Noonien Singh, than they are in tuning in to watch a guy like Kirk save the day week after week.
My initial impression of Kirk was that I found him annoying, but that I didn't dislike him. That impression still stands, but now it's tempered with the Hmmm Moments I had of feeling like he was a Mary Sue, but really wanting that to not be the case. I still like the guy on some level, but boy, does he drive me nuts.


Spock

Spock will always be my favorite, because I identify with him the most. Leonard Nimoy was absolutely brilliant in this part, building Spock up from Kirk's second in command to a very complicated, nuanced character. In fact, I've become highly selective of who I think makes a good Vulcan based on Nimoy's performances and understanding of the character. (Hint: playing a Vulcan as straight emotionless is never going to work. The people who try it and fail are typically missing the underlying sardonic humor that Vulcans have.) My biggest issue with Spock at the end of season one had to do with the times when some smug, superior race would encounter the Enterprise, and proclaim that humans were just smart Neanderthals, and Spock would agree like some Dickasaurus Rex. That was irritating as hell, but thankfully, he stopped doing that.
Unfortunately, that tendency was replaced by something that I found far more annoying: the various plots in which Spock would do something completely out of character, and they would try to pass it off as Spock being affected or altered in some way. That's right friends, I'm talking about the subject that makes me wants to put on a wolf suit and stab people with forks: Spock romances.


It started with season one's "This Side of Paradise", which featured a colony of people high on the spores of some plant, and carried with it a "just say no" message. Basically, Spock gets high and bangs a blonde. He climbs a tree. He laughs. He tells Kirk to go fuck himself. I hated this episode because Spock high on some substance isn't going to make him act in a Jekyl and Hyde way. In my experience, a person who is altered will not grow a new personality. The substance will probably exaggerate a trait they already possess, and which is seen in smaller doses. (If you want to see "altered Spock" done really, really well, watch "The Naked Time" instead. In that one, the crew is affected by a disease that lowers one's inhibitions. They had Spock doing some dumb thing, and Nimoy broke in with, "No, that's really out of character." His suggestions made that episode far better.) The only time I bought his romance with the blonde in "Paradise" was near the end, where they discuss a time when they had sort-of been together before, and things had fallen apart. But I feel like that was actually due to better acting than the story itself.
In "The Cloud Minders", Spock ends up ruminating over some girl. While they didn't alter Spock's personality for this one, it's annoying that they keep toying with him like, "Wouldn't it be fun if we hooked Spock up with some chick?" No. Knock that shit off.
Three episodes later, we get stuck with another Spock romance, "All Our Yesterdays", in which he tries to get with a girl in a Flinstones costume, because he has de-evolved into an earlier form of Vulcan. 
Looking for episodes where Spock's emotional displays are appropriate and in character? "The Naked Time" was done well, as was "Amok Time", where Spock's blood rage is worked nicely into the canon, and his joy at seeing Kirk alive is appropriate. "Journey to Babel" works beautifully as Spock struggled to interact with his parents. And the only time when a Spock romance has made sense at all: "The Enterprise Incident".
I find it interesting that Spock is the character that seems to have the most varied background, the best fleshed-out backstory, and the most character development. 



 Bones McCoy

I don't feel like my opinion of Bones has changed much over these past three seasons. He's still a lovable curmudgeon. He probably drinks too much. He's a good doctor. He's opinionated. The one thing that he does that annoys the hell out of me, and the character trait that has followed him through all three seasons, is his tendency to yell at whoever is in charge when Kirk goes missing. That gets old. Like Kirk, I feel like Bones is a bit old fashioned as a character. He's a country doctor, out in space, who doesn't like "new-fangled" technology, even though he works with him himself. He's a Southern gentleman who drinks quite a bit. These are not terrible things, just worth noting. Today's doctor characters are not written in the same way as Bones was. 
We received next to nothing about Bones' background. The space hippy episode "The Way to Eden" originally featured his daughter, and how he would have dealt with the situation, but it was later scraped in favor of a focus on the crazy hippy leader, and a Chekov romance was inserted instead. I'm kind of sad. I really wanted to know more about Bones and his situation. 



Scotty

We continued to get surprisingly little of Scotty, our chief engineer. He rarely went on away missions, and sometimes showed up on the bridge to take command when our intrepid trio was gone. Typically, when we did get something of Scotty, he would get the cool shots, in the Jeffries tubes, working on something mechanical. I guess that's pretty awesome. I also enjoyed the fact that Scotty was the only senior officer with a different uniform based on his historical background: everyone else wore pants, but Scotty's dress uniform included a kilt in the Scott pattern. Sadly, when we did get episodes that featured more Scotty, it was crap like "Wolf in the Fold", which was not worth watching. 



Chekov

We didn't get Chekov until season two, when he was added because George Takei was off filming "The Green Berets" and they needed a regular character at the helm. In order to satisfy both schedules, George and Chekov actor Walter Koenig would select which scripts they liked, and scheduling would work around that. It's kind of crappy that Chekov and Sulu might have been seen as interchangeable, especially when you factor in how much stronger those scenes were when both actors were on set and interacting. Koenig reckons that he was brought on to appeal to "the bubble gum set," but Chekov was best as the irritable, brash younger crew mate, riffing off of Takei's more experienced Sulu. We got some weirdness with Chekov - there was a running joke in season two that tapered off after a while, in which Chekov would claim that certain things that were not Russian, were actually Russian in origin (such as the Cheshire cat). This was some kind of joke alluding to the fact that some Russians would claim ridiculous things were Russians. It was kind of racist and endearing at the same time, but I'm glad it faded away. It didn't make a lot of sense.
I thought it was pretty bold of them to put a Russian on the bridge during the Cold War, but that's really how Star Trek rolls. The nice thing about Chekov is how he interacts with his fellow crew members. He's young, short-tempered, and inexperienced, and when he gets reprimanded for the wrong action, he bristles. But he's charming enough that they all nod instead of writing him up for it.
 Poor Walter. He'll probably be saying "nuclear wessel" for the rest of his life.



Sulu

Sulu deserved more screen time than he actually got. He rarely got picked for away missions, and I don't recall any Sulu-centric storylines at all. While I enjoyed him in season one, I feel like he was best when paired with Chekov at the helm, which allowed for some fun moments, and some perspective on what it's like to be very young in Starfleet. My biggest pet peeve with Sulu, though, is that he is constantly being swayed from his post by drugs or hippies or illness. The guy is susceptible to everything. He's a competent officer and seems to enjoy his job, so why does he seem to be perpetually in danger of walking away? It seems kind of out of character to have it happen as often as it does.



Uhura

I really wish they had done more with Uhura. She left the bridge for away mission duty only a few times, and didn't even get that much screen time when she did. We know she's proud of her heritage, we know she sings, and we know she's friends with Christine. but there's not much else to list here, and that's sad. Would it have killed them to do one less Kirk episode in favor of an Uhura episode? Gene Rod fought to keep her on the show, and MLK asked her not to quit, but then she stayed firmly in her chair at the comm panel. Was it, socially, too much to ask that she be given a bigger part once or twice? I guess so.



Nurse Christine Chapel

This one was tougher than anticipated. She got an episode devoted to her, very early on, and that was it. Then she was shuttled back to sick bay to say lines like "yes, doctor" and "right away, doctor." The thing is, I've always had issues with this character. Not because of the way that she was played, but by the societal pressures that brought her about, and how those same pressures continued to shape the character.
So yeah: Majel Barrett was hired to play Number One in the pilot. She did a damn good job, too. But in picking up the show, one of the stipulations given was to get rid of Number One, probably because she was seen as emasculating. "A woman with power? My God!" She was kept on, but given blonde hair and a lesser job, that of a sick bay nurse. She ended up in a little less than half of the episodes, so she was definitely a regular, but most of the time, she got one, maybe two lines per episode. LAME.

Not only did I take issue with this severe demotion, but I struggled with what to call her. There's this weird thing that society has done, and I'm not sure how it came about, but it's persisted forever: the weird situation in which a guy is frequently referred to by his last name, while a female is referred to by her first name. Does this have something to do with the fact that, when married, a guy keeps his last name, while females typically take their partner's last name? Probably. But this isn't always the case, and in military situations, both genders go by last name. Since it isn't mentioned in TOS, Uhura remains a mononym, like Spock. No choice in what to call her. Rand had both a first and last name, as well as a job title (yeoman) and a rank (lieutenant commander), but for whatever reason, I just stuck with Rand. But what of our nurse? She has a rank (ensign) which she never goes by. It felt weird calling her Chapel. I'd backspace every time I typed it out. "Nurse Chapel," which is what many of the other characters called her, seemed too long. I finally just said "Screw it," and went with Christine.
And now, the last of the weird societal things: I couldn't bring myself to refer to her as "the nurse" or just "nurse." Why? Because of the way that society treats nurses like crap. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I have no problem using Bones' title of "doctor" and will sometimes refer to him as "the good doctor." But the word nurse is often barked by busy doctors who need an extra pair of hands and don't want to be bothered finding out a name. And even though they do the vast majority of the work, and get zero credit, nurses are not often looked upon favorably. It seems like every time someone says the word "nurse" there is an unspoken question: "why didn't you become a doctor?" Like doctor is the better profession. "Nurse" is not used to denote a title so much as it is a label ("that nurse over" as opposed to "Nurse Chapel"). Bones often just calls her nurse. He might as well be referring to any nurse in the room rather than Christine Chapel specifically, and it drives me nuts. Have some fucking respect, Bones. Your nurses are running your sick bay while you're out gallivanting with your boyfriends.
Specifically for Christine, we get very little about her as far as character development. We get quite a bit in that early episode ("What Are Little Girls Made Of?") such as the fact that her fiance went off into space five years earlier, and she took a deep-space commission in the hopes of seeing him again, thus putting off a promising career in exobiology. So we know she's hella smart, and she doesn't need a man in her life to tell her what to do. She's friends with Uhura. The only other thing we know is that she has an unrequited crush on Spock. That's about it. Again, we could have ditched a Kirk or trio episode in order to get more backstory on her, but we didn't.



Let's crunch some numbers!
Number of Reds killed in season one: 4
Number of Reds killed in season two: 20
Number of Reds killed in season three: 6
Total number of Red deaths: 30
Number of Golds killed in season one: 5
Number of Golds killed in season two: 6
Number of Golds killed in season three: 0
Total number of Gold deaths: 11
Number of Blues killed in season one: 4
Number of Blues killed in season two: 1
Number of Blues killed in season three: 1
Total number of Blue deaths: 6
Total number of unknown color crew member deaths: 3


So these numbers kind of make sense. Blues have the lowest death rates because they're science and medical. They're not often in danger of being shot. Science goes on fact-finding missions and engage in scanning things, and medical mostly shows up after the fight. I feel like there are still blue deaths owing to the fact that this is the Enterprise, and Kirk is a reckless jackoff. Gold going next also makes sense. Those people are in command, and are more likely to be leaders. Really, it should come as no surprise that those Reds are cannon-fodder. While Reds are Operations like engineering and communications, they're also security. The joke about how Scotty is the only Red left standing is not actually that ironic when you factor in that neither he nor Uhura (also a Red) are Security Reds. Security means "shoot or be shot." 
Still, those numbers are nuts. Season two's Red death numbers almost average out to one death per episode. The advice stands: do not accept a commission with Kirk if you're a Security Red.

Number of times Bones pronounces someone dead (usually to Kirk): 19
Number of times Kirk has declared that he admires someone, only to have that person turn out to be the villain: 5


Number of times when Spock admires the guy who becomes a kind of villain: 1
Number of times when someone they admire actually helps them out: 1
Number of episodes that are meant to reference human wars from the twentieth century: 5
Number of episodes in which Kirk is kidnapped, imprisoned, or held hostage: 26
Number of episodes that feature alien cultures that are suspiciously Terran: 13


Number of episodes where that alien culture is Greco-Roman: 4
Number of episodes that take place in an insane asylum: 2
Number of guest stars that also guest starred on Batman: 4

Love Amongst the Stars:
Kirk romances, whether real or being used as a tool to get what he wants: 9
Times one of Kirk's "old friends" shows up, and you know they were more than just friends: 4
Spock romances: 4
Believable Spock romances: 1
Bones romances: 3
Scotty romances: 2
Sulu romances: none. Sulu is too busy playing with his sword. (In a strange twist of fate, Sulu was originally slated to be Leila Kalomi's lover in "This Side of Paradise," which would have made far more sense than Spock. The script was later changed so that Sulu played a much smaller part in that episode.)
Chekov romances: 3
Uhura romances: none, though she briefly flirts with Spock on several occasions
Christine Chapel romances: 1. She does have a crush on Spock in seasons two and three, though.
Rand romances: none. But she chased after Kirk while that creeper Charlie X chased after her.


Things that Bones is not:
a moon-shuttle conductor
a bricklayer
a psychiatrist
a scientist
a physicist
an escalator
a mechanic
an engineer
a magician
a coal miner
a tea-totaler
Just screwing with you on that last one.



There's quite a lot to be said for this goofy-ass show. The ratings were only ever so-so, but the studios were impressed with the fact that the show drew a "smarter" audience of scientists and professors, and renewed it for three seasons mostly based on that. It then spent years in syndication, drawing in new, younger audiences all the time. Trekkies showed up in droves to sci-fi conventions. Merchandise continues to be made. There have been five spin-off shows, twelve films, and more books than a tribble farm.
The thing is, for all of the late-sixties cheesiness, there's still a timeless quality to the stories presented. These are issues that the human race has always had, and that we continue to work on fixing. The future in Star Trek looks a bit rosier than today, because they predict that by the twenty-third century, humans will have gotten past our petty differences, and found the ability to work together to move out beyond our own boundaries. Unlike quite a few other sci-fi shows and movies, the humans of the Star Trek future have gotten their shit together rather than destroying themselves. On Star Trek, we don't dwell on our failures and wallow in self-pity. We move forward. We boldly go.





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