Breaking Bad: Picard
I enjoyed reading Sans Starship, Alex Parker’s recent piece on the new series Star Trek: Picard.
I don’t write about Star Trek often, even though I prefer it to many of the things I write about a lot, like Batman and Star Wars. I’m not sure why. I suspect it’s because the handling of Star Trek frustrates me to an epic degree. The Star Trek universe holds so much promise and yet they wiff the ball again and again. So I rarely delve into critiquing it since I mostly just end up annoyed.
I learned a crap ton about writing from The Next Generation (TNG) in particular, and not because it’s always good. TV was at a low point when I first was watching TNG, or maybe it had always been at a low point and my standards had gone up from watching Moonlighting. One horrible night I was home alone with my newborn son and the only even remotely watchable programming was Coach and Evening Shade. The Internet wasn’t yet invented and I was poor and had no books to read — basically, I wanted to die from sheer badness.
During this time I was watching TNG daily in reruns and then once a week, on Saturday night, they aired new episodes. There was this brief and blissful period where they played reruns of The Original Series (TOS) and TNG back to back every afternoon (I watched TOS while I was in labor, believe it or not) and I never missed ’em. (Yep, I’m a geek.)
The thing that puzzled me the most was, why did I find TOS so much more compelling than TNG??
For some reason, even when I watched an episode of TOS I’d seen a dozen times, I was on the edge of my seat wondering how they were going to get out of this jam even though I totally knew how they got out of that jam already. But most episodes of TNG, even the ones I hadn’t seen before, I didn’t really give a crap about. While they entertained me, kinda, I knew they’d come up with some unlikely plot device that would save the day and everything would go right back to normal again faster than you could say “Shut up, Wesley”.
I still think about this riddle pretty much every day, because struggling to find an answer to it intrigued me as a writer. Why is it that I can watch TOS pretty much daily for as long as I can remember, finding the silliest episode interesting, even compelling, while 80% of episodes of TNG I really don’t care for?
The obvious explanation is a lack of interpersonal conflict. It’s been discussed by many others, but Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry famously insisted on there being little to no conflict between members of Starfleet, a restriction that was utterly silly, not to mention impossible; whenever sentient beings are in a crisis there will always be disagreement about how best to proceed.
Somehow the actors and writers of TOS were able to overcome that artificial limitation. The episode of TOS I watched when I was in labor is a great example of how the conflicts in TOS make for interesting viewing. The Galileo Seven gives us a scenario where Spock, McCoy, Scotty, a hot chick, and some redshirts are stuck on a planet in a broken shuttlecraft and nothing is going right. They argue passionately on how to proceed as things go from bad to worse. The arguments all make perfect sense based on their characters, and the acting is great. The Galileo Seven remains totally watchable to me to this very day and is my fave episode not only because I had a baby right in the middle of it, but because it’s so awesome it made me forget I was having a baby right in the middle of it.
TNG rarely rose to that standard. There are good episodes, even great ones, but they’re so few and far between.
Personally, I believe that it’s more than interpersonal conflict or a lack thereof. I think it’s more that the technological limitations/innovations of the Star Trek universe are, in my opinion, grossly misapplied in the later incarnations. In TOS, the technology was used as a plot device but in such a fashion that it served as a backdrop upon which the characters could interact with each other. The technology was the trigger for the drama, it wasn’t the basis of the drama itself. Futuristic technology carried with it new sets of problems that our characters had to solve; the technology was a stumbling block as often as it was a saving grace. The machines in the 23rd century didn’t work like they were meant to or they had unpleasant side effects or they broke down and needed repair at inopportune times or they were out of dilithium crystals. But the show was never about being out of dilithium crystals per se, it was about Kirk and Spock and McCoy and Scotty and the people they met along the way while going to fetch dilithium crystals.
But in TNG and beyond, technology was often treated as the SOURCE of the drama and not as a catalyst that kicked off dramatic interactions between characters.
An illustrative exception is Disaster. In Disaster the Enterprise hits something called a quantum filament and the ship is badly damaged. The crew is cut off from one another and several subplots ensue. But the plots are all character-driven. The technology serves as the backdrop for the drama, but the drama itself is entirely human – Ro and Counselor Troi butting heads over the fate of the Enterprise, curmudgeonly Captain Picard dealing with terrified and inquisitive schoolchildren, Worf delivering a baby. It’s one of my favorite episodes of TNG. But Disaster is the exception and not the rule.
For the most part, the technology-driven drama on TNG and later Star Trek series feels very contrived to me. And worse, unrealistic, because the technology of the 24th century is practically limitless. In a world full of replicators and self-cleaning ships, angst over whether you can get to a planet in time to drop off supplies in time to stop a plague feels phony and manufactured. Hearing tales of planet-wide famine turning Cardassia warlike seems idiotic when they had warp drive and disruptors and were running an interplanetary empire. The later incarnations of Star Trek remind me of Superman; practically unstoppable beings who are grossly overpowered unless a chunk of magic rock, or some nanites, or some aliens from another dimension with a taste for cellular peptides happen along. Too powerful to be interesting, but too easily brought down by relatively powerless adversaries. Every episode becomes an excuse for our godlike heroes to encounter the magic rock and somehow get away from the magic rock again.
The TNG world isn’t consistently governed by any economic laws, either. Energy is apparently free, materials appear limitless. In the 24th century, they seemingly think nothing of blowing up starships rather than inventing (with all their insane and mindboggling technology)some sort of weapon that incapacitated ships rather than destroying them. Superman, with all his incredible might, simply explodes his enemies rather than just taking them to jail. Yawn.
IT MAKES NO SENSE that in any future reality one could envision, any culture would build something as financially and tactically valuable as a starship only to blow them up as often as Starfleet does. Beyond capital and raw materials, it would be a massive waste of human resources as well. Stocking a probably-doomed vessel with scientists and soldiers that took decades to train, even children, CHILDREN, themselves a financial and tactical resource, not to mention a genetic one, and then send them out there to be very possibly destroyed in the name of “research”? Are you kidding me here? “Hey y’all, let’s go out and see what’s in space! I built a spaceship that cost 700 trillion bars of gold-pressed platinum and I’ve decided to put a bunch of children on it because hey that’s just the way we roll in the 24th century. BTW there’s like a 99% chance we’ll get blown up during the course of our every adventure.”* The writers of TNG treat people like they’re disposable even as they expect me to believe in this culture in which every life is precious.
I suspect that in the 24th century the premiums for life insurance for Starfleet officers are astronomical.
The Trouble With Tribbles works because you can imagine a world in which a shipment of grain might mean life or death to a space colony and you can imagine a world in which there’s room for a skeevy trader like Harry Mudd to travel planet to planet, outpost to outpost eking out a living. TOS works because their technology is limited and appears to have costs to it and they don’t squander it to add tension to a dull episode. The TNG world, on the other hand, because the technology is so amazing and seems so impossibly cheap, I know a miracle is always in the works. I know no matter what, Picard will pull a Romulan rabbit (that’s a rabbit that looks exactly like a rabbit, only it has a funny haircut) out of his hat to save the day. Because it’s all so farfetched and unrealistic, it’s tough for me to get invested in the outcome.
There are bad episodes of TOS (no shortage of deux ex machina there either, of course) and good episodes of TNG but overall TNG always seems to rely on the 24th-century version of Jeff Goldblum flying into an alien ship to give them a computer virus with ridiculous ease. Rather than the characters solving their problem with ingenuity or logic or sheer force of will or heartbreaking sacrifice or the tender ministrations of a simple country doctor, technology near-magically comes to the rescue, some sudden innovation bordering on the hand of God winging in from the warp naselles or Data’s positronic network, with all the difficulty of Q snapping his fingers.
In a sci-fi world, the sci-fi has to have some limits and strictures based in the reality of actual human experience and the physical laws or it all falls apart for me. Scotty cannot break the laws of physics but Geordi seems to work that trick regularly. The creators of TNG tried to replace the drama they lacked because everyone got along too well and because technology had solved most of humanity’s problems, by making up phony problems rather than really putting themselves into that world and envisioning the new problems that technology would create.
It certainly showed. I don’t expect perfection but come on, if Data was THAT prone to turning evil, would you really want to have him around? Would you EVER go on the Holodeck for fun when you could end up getting killed in there for reals?
So does this mean I think there could never be any new Star Treks? Have they poisoned the well forever by always finding Chekhov’s Gun
Alex mentions that he thinks the Star Trek world has so much potential ASIDE from the bridge of a starship. I couldn’t agree more. In this 24th century world there would be technology available to do all sorts of things other than flying around on starships blowing each other up.
I would love a show that centered upon Jean Luc Picard farming grapes on Earth. What would Earth be like in the future? What kind of agricultural technology might exist? What would the politics of the world of winemaking look like in a universe full of other aliens? Would there be competition between the makers of French wine and California wine and Klingon blood wine and Romulan ale? How intense might this competition get? Would there be bootleggers? Would there be wine tourism? Would there be a temperance movement? Would Q show up and could he get drunk if he did? I WANT TO KNOW. It would open up new possibilities to explore so the tired premise of “unlikely technological problem/magical technological solution” that plagues the later incarnations of Star Trek would hopefully fall by the wayside.
There could absolutely be a new show about Picard coming to terms with his age and his final chapter of life against this backdrop and it could be fascinating. It could still have Starfleet and the Prime Directive and phasers and Seven of Nine and all the rest of it but it just wouldn’t be ~always~ on a starship, that’s all. And wouldn’t it all seem so much fresher and more interesting than another show that plows up the same tired ground we’ve already walked on before? “Oh no, the Klingons have a cloaking device. Oh no, we’re on the holodeck and the safeties are off. Oh no, Q.”
Remember, we had five seasons of the most compelling viewing ever on television about the hijinks of a bald, dying man making an intoxicant and trying to sell it to people.
Bring me Breaking Bad: Picard, please.
It is frankly bizarre to me that of all the untapped potential in the Star Trek universe, intriguing characters and amazing technology and political intrigue out the ying-yang, that all the best creative minds Hollywood has at its disposal can come up with is “Here’s that thing you like all over again, only lamer!”
The real archenemy of Captain Picard is that old villain Ennui. There’s only one way to defeat it — innovate or die.
*Why don’t they have the pepper spray version of a photon torpedo, anyway? They can create food from energy and travel across vast distances in seconds, are you really telling me the ONLY way to deal with aliens is by blasting them out of the sky?
Photo by James_Seattle
This is a great piece.
I’m a bit younger than you, so my introduction to Trek correlates with different life events and stages, but I loved TOS, which was in syndication when I would get home from school. I even started reading the novels because I wanted more of it. So when I learned that there was a new Trek show coming out I was extremely excited.
And then I watched it. The two hour pilot episode, “Encounter of Farpoint”, was… pretty boring really, though Q seemed kind of cool. And the rest of the first season had a couple watchable episodes, but was, on balance, extremely bad. I remember that one the episodes, “Code of Honor”, was preempted by news coverage about a baby who had fallen down a well  and I was really mad about that at the time. But that episode, it turned out when I was able to watch it some years later, is just fucking incredibly bad. Even if you look past the part where it’s what pops up when you google “star trek tng episode racist”  it’s just pointlessly bad, also really sexist, and… features exactly this plot:
What I’m saying is that Baby Jessica did me a favor by falling into that well. (She ended up being fine! They rescued her and she’s all grown up with kids of her own now!)
That was a lot of words to say that TNG kinda turned my off Star Trek after that. It definitely got better after the first two seasons, and I would watch it occasionally and caught some of the standout episodes when I did, but it went from something that I would get really upset about missing to something I wouldn’t even remember was on half the time.
DS9 was better, though it didn’t really hook me in until it was in syndication when I was in grad school. But in a way, because the characters were allowed to conflict with each other and the writing was generally better and the stakes were higher, the unreality of the setting is even more glaring.
Of course, being an obsessive nerd I couldn’t just let it go and enjoy the show, but I also liked the show so I had to figure out what was going on! What kind of society builds a thousand starships, crewed by probably a million sapient beings, watches them get blown up by temporal anomalies, bored godlike aliens, the Borg, the Dominion, and maybe the Klingons during a periodic breakdown in diplomatic relations, and builds a thousand more starships and sends a million more of their best and brightest out to die horribly?
A society with unlimited energy and resources. A society spread across hundreds of worlds and which has citizens that likely number in the trillions.
And who is going to crew those starships? Absolute fucking lunatics, that who. The literal one in a million thrill-seekers, adrenaline junkies, sociopaths, egomaniacs, and basically suicidal folks who decide that they want to step out of a life of almost unimaginable wealth, throw on a red shirt, and get turned into a styrofoam icosahedron by Cthulhu in a skin suit.
Who are the kind of people who would bring their kids with them to a photon torpedo fight. Or decide that, Prime Directive or no Prime Directive, it’s actually an amazingly good idea to teach a plant full of aliens how to be literal Nazis complete with swastika arm bands.
Does this make sense? I dunno. Maybe.
But it means that I would watch the hell out of one of the highest functioning loonies in the galaxy getting old, returning to a safe, luxurious, rich, and utterly boring Earth, and trying not to go even crazier.
 Followed by Magnum, PI, another show which I contend was great and remains great. It’s kind of hokey but it was kind of hokey when I was in third grade too.
 Most are not good but there are a couple exceptions. In particular, John M. Ford’s How Much for Just the Planet? is hilarious.
 Including one where Picard and Riker make a guy’s head explode by shooting him with their phasers, which was admittedly the coolest thing I had ever seen on TV at that age.
 And I’m not saying you should because it was really racist to the point that the cast members describe it as, e.g., “a racist piece of shit”.Report
Yeah a lot of the stuff that happened in TNG was supposed to be interesting because the things that were going wrong were supposed to rare. It’s supposed to be astonishing that transporters malfunction or that holodecks go rogue BECAUSE these techs never do that. It’s supposed to be normal for kids to be on the Enterprise because star ships aren’t THAT dangerous. Of course that’d be a boring as spit series and the episodes are all about the times things that don’t go wrong do go wrong. So the gist you get is that everything is dangerous.
And I do agree that TNG especially rolled out the “the subspace particles are doing the monster mash and it’ll kill us” followed by “oh OF COURSE there were invisible deltron rays making the subspace particles do the monster mash, here’s how we fix it!” Which is interesting maybe one or two times but only if the side effects of those phenomena are intriguing. DS9 was enormously better because they bucked off a lot of those old over the top inhuman rules about future humanity.Report
Ronald D Moore said the problem with TNG was that it was essentially a show about a technologically super-advanced crew that flies around fixing things – things that are broken. Since a show about the exploits of a handyman with a sonic screwdriver would be really boring, most episodes have to start off by breaking the screwdriver or coming up with some crazy reason that it can’t work in this particular situation.Report
And that explains so much… like why the rest of society is thrilled with the idea of building semi-safe starships for them. If they’re on the ships, they’re not bothering the rest of us.Report
Actually that’d really be a fascinating paradigm shift for a Star Trek series to have. In general past Treks haven’t really lingered at all on the lives of non-Star Fleet members.
They could do a series that reveals that Federation civilians don’t view Star Fleet members the way current world civilians generally view military (admiration/gratitude) but rather that they consider them rather odd and crazy. Star Fleet isn’t hard to get into because their standards are rigorous (they are but civilians can meet those standards with some effort) but rather that it’s hard for most Federation civilians to have the right psychological aptitudes for Star Fleet culture.
The angry father of the main character sits on the couch teeth clenched, hands trembling “Ten generations of our family have worked to advance our sprawling fan-fic that is enjoyed by millions. You have the writing chops but you want to throw your life away blasting aliens and blowing up star ships in Star Fleet?!? The mother dabs at her tears. “Where did we go wrong???”Report
“Including one where Picard and Riker make a guy’s head explode by shooting him with their phasers, which was admittedly the coolest thing I had ever seen on TV at that age.”
That was pretty harsh. (In fact, it was censored on UK television broadcast.) And, oddly, it was the end result of one of the show’s first multi-part arcs–Starfleet being infiltrated by the Body Snatchers, they got two episodes out of the idea –and it just completely disappeared after that. (Canon-miners used the idea for a few DS9 novels, rectonning it to be related to the Trill.)
In fact it’s interesting to go back and read the summaries for the first season of TNG and see how many series cliches got started there:
Oh No I’m Dying Let’s Talk About Our Feelings
There’s Another Data?!
This Arbitrary Custom Means You Must Die
Our Technology Messed Everything Up Through Its Normal Operation (global warming / pollution allegory)
Let’s Just (TECH) Oh Look Everything’s Fixed
Holodeck People Become Self-AwareReport
I’ve never watched TNG, but if there wasn’t supposed to be interpersonal conflict, how did “Shut up, Wesley!” become a catch phrase?Report
Because you can only do so much to keep writers from writing stories.
Also, I think, Wesley’s status as an actual kid let him behave more obnoxiously, and adults around him react more sharply, without undermining the weird idea that utopia would be free of arguments.
And, you know, living in a world where nobody ever gets mad seems like another thing that would cause you to get in a giant can with some barely contained antimatter, flout the laws of physics, and get the hell away at Warp Factor 6.
Or Warp Factor 5, after that dumb episode where they discovered that going Warp Factor 6 was tearing up the fabric of spacetime and they had to stop in order to satisfy the Space EPA.Report
Actually, I don’t think there even was a Space EPA. They just all decided to stop in order to be good space citizens, which was completely in character for a civilization that accidentally built a planetbuster weapon because they wanted to be able to landscape entire planets in a few hours.Report
I kinda liked that twist (thought it might act as a constraint to up tension) but then they did absolutely nothing any different with their storylines thereafter that I ever saw.Report
They fished around with their nacelles… supposedly Voyagers funky mode shifting nacelles were basically environmental pollution mitigation methods.Report
That was completely silly. They just wanted to ship to look like it did something to go to warp, just like having X-wings go from monoplane to biplane to show they meant business. So the series re-used some scenes of Voyager moving the nacelles, over and over, and so far as I remember never said another word about it.
What was doubly stupid is that the ship would’ve only moved the nacelles once, when it left the factory, and they’d have stayed in the “go” mode until the pivot the ship got cut up for scrap, rusted pivot bearings and all.
At least Firefly’s moving nacelles made sense, just like a tilt rotor aircraft.Report
I think it’s because so many of us watching wanted to SAY “shut up Wesley”Report
Was there ever an episode where a character said that?Report
Here it is from the horse’s mouth.
There *WAS* an episode where it was said and Wilw Himself says that it’s an example of bad writing.
Does he have a point? I’m not going to pretend that he isn’t biased… but I will say that it turns out that Wesley was right in the episode in which he was told to shut up and the grown-ups were wrong.
It wasn’t great writing but it is, nonetheless, a misstep in one of first season’s few decent episodes.Report
I did always figure that Wheaton had more of an acting job than anyone gave him credit for. I mean, at one point there was a scene where an attractive woman next to him in an elevator had multiple loud orgasms, and he had to no-sell it.Report
Not to my knowledge, they were usually falling all over themselves to praise him (which is why it’s fun to imagine them saying it)Report
This is why The Orville is the superior Star Trek.Report
I genuinely started liking Trek better when I realized that from the outside looking in, Star Fleet and the Federation must be absolutely terrifying.
Like most of the time the vast majority of them are totally absorbed in their own incredibly safe and comfortable world, like the people from Wall-E, but if you actually threaten them they will engineer a plague that will wipe out your species unless you surrender.
Which is something they’ve done on the show.
 A movie where an adorable trash compactor falls in love with an iPod, and they team up to destroy utopia because the people living in it are fat.Report
That’s mean! Wall-E and EVE just moved utopia planet side.Report
I believe the Ewoks were totally fine after the Death Star blew up, but I’m not sure I believe any of those poor people made it through the first winter back on Earth.Report
It’s the old question of safety vs. freedom.Report
Well it’s not like they blew the Axiom up.Report
So wish they would have played with that a little more. There is so much ethical meat in the universe, it’s such a waste to be stuck on the Holodeck with the safeties off.Report
Yeah, the more you think about it, the more you realise that the Federation is fundamentally terrifying.
The best meditation on this comes from, no surprise, Deep Space 9:
Yeah that’s an amazing moment from an amazing episode.Report
I’m reminded of the various posts about how the galaxy looks at humans as crazy mad scientists whose stuff either blows up reality or saves the day and fixes everything and usually both at once.
Vulcans: Why do you need another warp core
Humans: We’re going to plug two of them together and see if we go twice as fast
Vulcans: Last time we gave you a warp core you threw it into a sun to see if the sun would go twice as fast
Humans: Hahaha yeah
Humans: It did tho
Vulcans: IT EXPLODED
Humans: It exploded twice as fastReport
Aliens who have seen Back To The Future literally don’t realize that Doc Brown is meant to be funny. They’re just like “Yes. That is exactly what all human scientists are like in my experience.”Report
Yes, just that.
I also like the one about “Humans get mad when they see how other races depict them in fiction, and then the other races point out that humans developed antiviral treatments by injecting maybe-dead viruses into themselves, that their first nuclear reactor was an unshielded pile of uranium bricks that they stacked up by hand, that their idea of how to develop powered flight was to repeatedly crash planes until one didn’t, and don’t even get them fucking STARTED about electricity…”Report
Case in point, the Navy is going back to physical ship controls because the touch screen interfaces are just too confusing.Report
I can see that, honestly. Touch screens have no tactile feedback, so they really do feel (in a sense) alien. Like, if you lift something, you feel it’s weight. If you whack a nail with a hammer, the force goes up your arm. Likewise, turn a lever, there is a feel.
Have you noticed that most video game controllers have actual buttons and triggers, not “touchpads.”
In theory, a touchpad is a perfectly fine way to control a ship. In practice — well, it’s an empirical question.Report
It’s not so much about tactile response, but rather that the sailors don’t have low effort validations of state.Report
Actually that article mentions “tactile feedback” several times, so I think we’re both right, in the sense that the tactile feedback is meant to give “low effort validation of state.”
(I like situations where everyone gets to be correct!)
Obviously I don’t know shit about piloting a ship. That said, it seems like the more we can “map” an unfamiliar experience onto the natural human sense of motion and feedback, the better people will be able to “flow state” their actions. When things feel natural this way, people get to use areas of the brain that evolved for these kinds of tasks, instead of having to learn weird shit that has little natural analog. (Neural plasticity is not unbounded.)
Or something. I know what I’m saying sounds pop-sciency and vague — because it is. (At least I didn’t mention mirror neurons.)
But anyway, I can totally get why touch screens sucked for this kind of stuff.Report
I suppose tactile feedback would contribute to that.
Remember how in TNG and later, the ships were all piloted by touch screen?Report
And now that you mention it, that did always seem weird to me, although I couldn’t have articulated it until you pointed it out. Even watching it kinda feels wonky, in ways I can’t describe.
The inevitable justification will be “people in the future relate to tech differently from how we do today” — which fine. Sure. I don’t know. Are their brains that different from ours? They sill learn to walk as babies.
I wonder if “kids today” relate to this differently. After all, I didn’t use my first touch screen until well into adulthood. Even as a kid, I didn’t play my first video game until I was maybe ten years old, and those were analog.
(No really. The first video games I played were analog.)Report
My thinking is that either A) Starfleet pilots get a ridiculous amount of training on piloting a touchscreen starship in high stress scenarios, or B) it’s hokum.
The thing about physical controls is that they become an extension of your limbs. A joystick in one hand, a throttle in another, and perhaps foot pedals for other functions (yaw control, etc.). You always know what they are set at because you have an awareness of where your limbs are in relation to the rest of your body.
That said, I could see a pilot with a VR setup being really good at controlling a ship without an abnormal amount of training.Report
(I still haven’t trained myself away from nausea when moving around in VR.)Report
Sorry, not everyone is cut out to be a starship pilot.Report
Yeah, exactly. The vehicle becomes an extension of your body.Report
And the guns weren’t allowed to look like guns. The ergonomics of those things were terrible.
Post Kirk the Federation clearly went through a “demilitarization” thing and they wanted to get rid of guns but found that was tough in the army.Report
TNG technobabble episodes always let me cold. “Oh, the decrombulator has unexpectedly broken. Maybe if we re-align the fnortner rod, it will work!” The best episodes like Inner Light worked on personal drama.
Really, the first sign that this was going to be a problem series was when they a fricking counselor on the bridge just to make sure everyone’s feeling were OK. How very 80s.Report
The counselor sitting next to the captain and first officer was bonkers. “Imma sit here and write up mental health reports about the decisions you makin’ in the big chair, but don’t second-guess yourself on account of me. Also, I can read your mind”
ESP on the bridge as a standard part of their universe makes about a much sense as adding vampires, werewolves, voodoo, and demonic possession. Is it Star Trek or Kolchak in space?
Once they’ve got Troi occupying a chair, they have to add her as part of ship-to-ship communications, which is lazy writing. Instead of Picard figuring out that the other captain is lying, Troi just says “He’s lying.” Whew, what was easy!
Imagine how ESP would have ruined the TOS episode Balance of Terror with the Enterprise playing dead to lure in a cloaked Romulan ship, if the Romulans had a counselor who could just tell the Romulan captain “Kirk is just playing dead. Don’t fall for it.” Cleverness and mind games would go right out the window with all the other interesting story lines.Report
Jeff Goldblum flying into an alien ship to give them a computer virus with ridiculous ease.
I saw that movie at a work outing. Goldblum had no trouble getting his Mac to talk to an alien spaceship, and I’d just spent all morning trying (unsuccessfully) to get one to talk to an IBM PC.Report
Wasn’t your experience much like a bad techcentricTNG episode? Many of those could easily be rewritten as a crisis caused by an automatic Windows update. Transcribe a typical meeting where a an IT guy explains the morning’s tech problem to management, and then change the names to Gordi, Data, Troi, Beverly, Riker, and Picard, and you have a draft TNG script.Report
Well, there was the episode with the Binars, a race that had basically merged with their Internet, and had to trick Picard into letting them use the Enterprise as backup so they could reboot their civilization.
You just know that was inspired by some poor schlub that had to back up their docs, wipe the drive, and reinstall Windows after they caught a bad virus.Report
Seriously, the “Binars”? Were they named 0100101 and 1101001?Report
I don’t recall if they even had names. They looked a little like stereotypical Greys, came in pairs, had brain implants, and spoke to each other in digital code (fast bloops and bleeps). They had merged so completely with their computer tech that they literally couldn’t live without it. Not terribly dissimilar to the Borg in that regard, but insular and benign.
And I should amend my previous comment because I doubt if Windows was actually a thing yet when it was aired (late eighties probably without looking it up).Report
The episode was aired in 1988 and Windows 3.1 was released in ’92.
Perhaps Minuet is in fact the world’s first piece of click bait! ^_^Report
Yeah, I just looked all that up on Wikipedia out of curiosity. And the name of the race was Bynars vice Binars.Report
Only if you want to be formal. The four Bynars in episode “11001001” were 11, 00, 01, and 01, thus the title. It’s apparently considered by many to be the best episode of season 1, perhaps in part due to Minuet, a holodeck figure the Bynars created as a way to keep Riker and Picard distracted.
If off-site backup and click bait makes one of the best episodes, I shudder to think about the worst.Report
“Code of Honor” is the worst, but the one where the preview promised that they were going to confront the Romulans but the episode was about some 20th century asshole from Earth with a guitar, or the one where Wesley is gonna be executed for tripping over some flowers, or the one where Tasha Yar dies for no particularly sensible reason, or the one….
OK. Season 1 was really bad.Report
Now that I liked. What they’re doing is dangerous, having a character die randomly when they don’t really know they’re in danger proves that.
Now the actress was correct that her character was being abused by bad writing and leaving the show was probably the right move, but that’s a different issue.Report
“Hi, I’m 11. This is my brother 01, and this is my other brother 01.”Report
Zathras understand. Besides only 10 types of people – those understand binary and those not.Report
Weirdly that could be a serious option… although I expect they’d just rename one of them to avoid confusion.
I assumed they communicated electronically and their basic concept of a “name” was so alien (or even absent) that they just used some unique indicator when they interacted with sound using creatures.
You see this occasionally in fiction with creatures that communicate with smell or light reflections or something that just doesn’t have a translation, or where they don’t really have “individuals” as a concept.Report
If a computer culture wanted unique names they’d use UUIDs or a hash of the entity’s unique characteristics.
“Hi, I’m 1b3e8367-e89b-1fd3-a436-426655440000, but my friends call me 549b9736_acf0f397_23b55afe_8d680ed0_ec6a09cd.”Report
“Hi, I’m 192.168.1.101!”
“That’s what your family calls you, but what’s your real name?”
“Goldblum had no trouble getting his Mac to talk to an alien spaceship, and I’d just spent all morning trying (unsuccessfully) to get one to talk to an IBM PC.”
You know that was a War Of The Worlds reference, right?
No, seriously! In WotW the Martians never had viruses so they never evolved immune systems. Same deal in ID4; nobody had ever tried to hack the aliens’ computers so they had no defense against it.Report
Anyone writing real-time high-reliability high-availability code for something complex (eg, a star ship) is going to know all about writing defensive code. Not necessary because of an attacker, but to stop errors in one part of the code from propagating.
Any complex organism is going to evolve an immune system of some sort, or die of cancer at a young age. Immune systems don’t look for specific pathogens, they look for anything that’s not a normal organism cell.
I’m willing to cut the writers some slack for memes, but we all need to recognize that the real world doesn’t work that way.Report
“Anyone writing real-time high-reliability high-availability code for something complex (eg, a star ship) is going to know all about writing defensive code”
That’s the funniest thing I’ve read all day. Seriously, either they’ll have an AI doing it or it’ll end up exactly like Fire From the Deep, where there’s an actual job called “software archaeologist” wherein you dig into the millennia of libraries on top of libraries trying to find where someone cobbled together a hack on top of a hack to get something you can hack around with to do the job.
And of course if you dig back far enough, you’ll find the time function still thinks 1/170 was the beginning of time, so god help you if you time travel.Report
Good post. I liked DS9 more because it seemed more real. I especially remember when Sisco made a deal to sell some biomemetic gel to some bad guys ’cause he had no other choice to get the job done. Hard situations make hard choices. And the story arc about Bashir getting recruited by Section 19 who almost committed genocide to keep the federation safe.Report
Why argue about how bad Star Trek TNG is when you have The Expanse?Report
Kids, you pay attention now – this is how you troll.Report
Since I very much liked the Expanse, except for the very stupid alien-tech I-eat-Humans, and omg, we can only test this stuff on space colonies instead of rats–stuff, I’m very sufficiently trolled. But, however, very many of my geeky friends just couldn’t get into it, so it must be me, right? RIGHT? Maybe I’m a sucker for pidgins and cool shots of grizzled space ships.Report
“maybe it had always been at a low point and my standards had gone up from watching Moonlighting.”
Hey!… I get that joke.Report
Between this post and the Star Trek game my gaming group played this weekend, I now have the urge to rewatch the Star Trek series with the best captain: Voyager.
I’ve been a fan of all of the Star Trek series. I caught the reruns of ToS when I was a kid, and watched the rest in real time. Of all of them, I will say ToS is my least favorite. Once TNG came on the air, with its up to date special effects, the original series looked laughable, like Dr. Who bad. And the overacting! Whew.
As for conflict, I believe one of the tropes of the show was that humanity had moved past that stuff. Everything was pretty kumbaya in the 23rd (?) century. For conflict, you had to look at the interspecies interactions.
That might be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever posted on this site.Report
I would argue that if you prefer ST:TOS to ST:TNG, you aren’t doing it right. Far too much of TOS is terrible. There are about 10 that hold up well, and I’m being generous.
TNG isn’t nearly as fantastic as DS9 which is without question the best development of Trek–if only they had just let Dax die instead of bringing back that terrible copy–or better yet, kept the actress one more year.
I agree that much of TNG suffers from the technocrat utopianism that others call it out for, and I also think that many of the episodes are almost as unwatchable as the TOS outside the top 10.
But at its best, the situations they dreamed up were simply stunning, and far ahead of their time.
Anyone who argues that more than one or two of TOS can compete with this list, well, that’s hard to take objectively seriously.
Chain of Command
Best of Both Worlds, Part I
Ship in a Bottle
All Good Things
The Measure of a Man
Note: Disaster, which I also enjoy, is not well-regarded generally.
Best TOS episodes:
City on the Edge of Forever
Balance of Terror
A Piece of the Action (far superior to Tribbles, which is only fun)
Where No Man Has Gone Before
There are others which are, well, ok, but incredibly influential in Trek universe and ST generally: Amok Time, Mirror Mirror, Space Seed,
BTW, DS9 has relatively few episodes that are brilliant, simply because the greatness was in the multiple story arcs, but their brilliant ones far exceed most of TNG’s best.Report