Tuesday, April 29, 2014

“I don't bother/To live my life as if I'm another”: Kitumba

The original “Kitumba” was the very best submission made to the unproduced Star Trek Phase II. The episode adapted from it for the fan series that shares its name isn't quite its own pinnacle, but it's definitely the best episode since “To Serve All My Days” and a fitting closure for era of Star Trek.

It's also fitting that this episode be penned by John Meredyth Lucas, one of the great unsung heroes of the franchise. Hand-picked by Gene Coon as his successor following the latter's dispute with Gene Roddenberry over the ending to “Bread and Circuses”, which led Coon to furiously turn his back on Star Trek never to return, Lucas oversaw the one true Golden Age of the Original Series, from “The Immunity Syndrome” to “The Ultimate Computer”. Though he was a frankly bloody amazing producer, as a writer Lucas always seemed a bit more changeable: His first story was “The Changeling” which, well, wasn't brilliant, to be perfectly honest, but it did provide the impetus for “In Thy Image” and by association this whole show and, arguably, the whole rest of Star Trek, so that has to count for something. Lucas also wrote the script for “Patterns of Force”, which I loved despite nobody agreeing with me (but nobody ever agrees with me, so it doesn't matter), but he had help from Paul Schneider there. He also collaborated with D.C. Fontana on “That Which Survives” which was also a miniature classic, no surprises there.

But in spite of all of this, Lucas also has “Elaan of Troyius” to his name, which was a racist and misogynistic trainwreck and cast a bit of a shadow over the rest of his tenure. It was never clear whether the failings of that episode could be safely laid at the feet of Arthur Singer and Fred Freiberger, who between them were responsible for much of what was memorable about the Original Series' third season, or if they were really the fault of Lucas himself. “Kitumba” gives us our answer and thankfully it's a resounding “no”, because this story is properly outstanding and marks the first time Star Trek Phase II hits actual brilliance. Today it wouldn't seem like anything special, it's a two-part epic about cloak-and-dagger political machinations in the Klingon Empire that threaten to plunge the galaxy into a bloody war and the Enterprise has to get involved to keep the peace. Hell, the Dominion War era did this story at least twelve times: Manufactured Civil War in the Klingon Empire was just another Tuesday.

But “Kitumba” would have been the first time Star Trek did this kind of story, at least for the Klingons. D.C. Fontana had of course tried to introduce political intrigue to the Original Series via the Romulan/Federation Cold War in “The Enterprise Incident”, but that didn't go over so well because it was a third season episode. And actually, “Kitumba” is a very different sort of political story anyway: “The Enterprise Incident” was about diplomatic tensions and covert intelligence, or at least used that as a backdrop to examine the characters of Kirk and Spock. It wasn't about the Romulans per se, except in some of the Commander's lines. “Kitumba”, by contrast, is very much about Klingon society, in particular establishing what, in fact, that is and how it differentiates from the Federation, and this is what makes it especially noteworthy because the way Klingon society is depicted here is manifestly and starkly different from the way it's depicted almost anywhere else in Star Trek.

According to “Kitumba”, Klingon society is actually divided into different castes, each of whom pursue the concept of honour in their own ways. What we know as “Klingons” are in truth just the warrior castes, who value prowess in battle above all else and have become the ruling class. Above everyone else is the Warlord and the Kitumba, the divine god-king who rules from the Sacred Planet in the centre of the Klingon system. According to an informant named K'Sia, whom Starfleet Command brings onboard the Enterprise to brief Kirk and the crew on the current situation, the current Kitumba is a fifteen year-old boy and not much more than a figurehead at this point. K'Sia himself was once the Kitumba's teacher, but since his exile from Klingon society, the Kitumba has fallen under the influence of the Warlord, who is manipulating him into authorizing a rash and costly all-out-attack against the Federation that will put both peoples in danger.

A few things strike me here. One, Lucas has singlehandedly managed to redeem just about everything that's ever been problematic about the Klingons: From the two-dimensional, generically nonwhite and sketchy Other status they had in the Original Series to the comedy pseudo-Viking lovable manly proud warrior race status they'd accrued as of the Dominion War, “Kitumba” hedges against absolutely all of that, giving the Klingons (we sadly don't get another name, so I'll keep using that one) a fully fleshed-out society and set of cultural norms to contrast with that of the Federation. Two, that it took until 2013 for any of Lucas' innovations to actually take and that nobody in the ensuing 35 years thought to crack open “Kitumba” to see if there was anything of value there (seriously, “The Child” and “Devil's Due” got made into episodes before this one? For real?) and three, this is remarkably, eerily similar to where Enterprise eventually took the Klingons in “Judgment”, one of that series' very best episodes.

In one of the greatest speeches in the history of Star Trek, Kolos forgives Jonathan Archer for his assumption that all Klingons were soldiers, explaining how much it saddens him to see the warrior caste slowly taking over all of Klingon society. According to Kolos, who is a lawyer, whose father was a teacher and whose mother was a biologist, Klingons used to see honour in all acts of “integrity” and “true courage”, before all young men decided that the needed to take up arms and attain victory in battle at all costs. This is precisely the same ground “Kitumba” is covering in a more prototypical form: While it doesn't concentrate on the different striations of Klingon society as much as “Judgment” does, it is very much about demonstrating that this is a culture with layers and its own customs and set of beliefs that, while they can be contrasted with those of Kirk and the Enterprise, must be acknowledged and respected as their own.

Lucas then finally succeeds in differentiating the Klingons from D.C. Fontana's Romulans: While the Romulans are basically us, or indeed us but better, the Klingons retain their status as being different from the Federation while shedding the lazy xenophobia that's dogged them from their debut. Lucas takes care to point this out on a number of occasions: Early on in part one, Kirk is forced to destroy an unarmed Klingon reconnaissance craft because, as both K'Sia and the science officer (Xon in the original, Spock in the James Cawley version) points out how “its subspace radio is its weapon” and will surely compromise their position if allowed to transmit its information to the Klingon homeworld. McCoy and Kirk are horrified, but K'Sia points out that it's the Klingon way. Several other times throughout the story, Kirk is stunned by the capriciousness with which the Klingons approach death and ritual suicide (another thing that differentiates them from later Klingons) and needs to be continually reminded that this is a different culture with different values and he needs to learn to understand and respect that.

The key scene comes in the final moments of part 2, where the Kitumba, having pulled a mass deception with the help of the Enterprise crew, catches Warlord Malkthorn red-handed in his plot to betray and usurp him to further his ambitions for war. Malkthorn asks the Kitumba for permission to commit ritual suicide and while Kirk vehemently protests (Kirk having served as a surrogate teacher to the Kitumba for the majority of the episode), the ruler agrees, reminding Kirk “Klingon ways are not Federation ways” and denying his request for free trade and diplomacy, pointing out that Kirk's mission was to stop a war, not forge an alliance, and that he should be happy with what he's achieved.

This scene is also, somewhat regrettably, one of the biggest departures the 2013 filmed version makes from the original source material. Because this Star Trek Phase II is beholden to established Star Trek canon, the entire episode needed to be rewritten to accommodate Klingon culture as depicted in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s shows, and “Kitumba” suffers from it. In this version, it turns out the Kitumba and K'Sia were conspiring together to use Kirk to unseat Malkthorn, who is revealed to be a member of the House of Duras, and to use his power to reassert the authority of the Klingon High Council. The message of the story then becomes far less about appreciating cultural differences and more about how little changes when one authoritarian power structure takes the place of another which, while true, somewhat misses the point of the original script in my opinion. It also doesn't help that established Klingon culture is *significantly* less interesting than what Lucas had outlined, and that this “Kitumba” seems deliberately structured to fit neatly in with a bunch of old episodes we've already seen.

(There are a frankly ludicrous amount of continuity references here, probably more so than were in even “Come What May” and “In Harm's Way”: Off the top of my head, I noticed nods to “Sins of the Father”, “Reunion”, “Redemption”, “Borderland”/“Cold Station 12”/“The Augments”, “Broken Bow”, “Encounter at Farpoint”, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek (2009), though puzzlingly, the one story that *isn't* referenced is “Judgment” or any of the strides that episode made with Klingon culture.)

While the basic plot remains the same and the new version keeps all the same beats and twists (albeit condensed down to one episode, which doesn't hurt the story in the slightest), other details were changed in translation and they're of a mixed bag. In the original draft, K'Sia had an ally, the leader of a pacifist movement on the Klingon homeworld, who happened to be the Warlord's second in command, the warrior maiden Kali, who helped out the Enterprise crew to expose Malkthorn's plan. In this version, that character is Kargh, who is naturally not a pacifist, but a patriot who fears the downfall of the empire and who wouldn't mind securing a position in the Kitumba's new cabinet.

It's a fitting culmination of this show's own unique universe and cast of characters, but the issue is there's still a character named Kali and now she's little more than a Starscream-level sidekick who Malkthorn throws around far too worryingly frequently. In fact, without Kali's original role, this means none of the Klingon women are treated especially amazingly here, acting only as background characters or hovering around their male commanders looking equal parts devious and submissive.

(That said the Enterprise crew is rather marvelous, with a lot of quality screentime given to Xon, Peter, Uhura, Chekov and even the requisite redshirt, who miraculously manages to last the whole episode. There's even a delightful scene between Peter and Chekov about assumptions I shan't spoil for you: It's the highlight of the episode for me.)

But in spite of that this remains a solid, enjoyable outing and it seems fitting that John Meredyth Lucas and “Kitumba” see us out of Star Trek Phase II-Both of them. Though slotted to go between “Cassandra” and “Practice in Waking”, it's clear the original Phase II was never going to top this, and the remaining scripts rapidly deteriorate into a series of mediocre-at-best, catastrophic-at-worst runarounds. And while James Cawley's Star Trek Phase II is far from over, with a new episode scheduled to drop imminently as I write this, “Kitumba” marks the end of an era for them too: Not long after its release, Dave Gerrold announced he would be taking the show in-house to hopefully get more episodes out at a faster pace and CBS has given an order that they don't want this show adapting anything they could make a copyright claim on, the idea being to give J.J. Abrams and his team as much material as possible to work with for future movies. But most tellingly of all for me, while his company will continue to fund the show and he'll stay on as executive producer, this is to be James Cawley's final bow as James T. Kirk.

While Star Trek Phase II has cycled through actors in the past (there's been two Scottys and three Spocks alone, not to mention so many Sulus, Uhuras and Chekovs I can't keep track of them all), James Cawley has always been a constant and this show really does feel like a product of his own unique love for Star Trek. To me, Cawley is the only person aside from William Shatner who can make a claim to being the definitive Captain Kirk, and even William Shatner wasn't ever really him, he was just doing a performance art piece. Cawley's love of Star Trek allowed him to step into that Starfleet uniform and give fans the Jim Kirk they always saw in the Original Series, even if he wasn't always there in practice. The bridge simply won't be the same without him.

The argument can easily be made, and has been, that Star Trek Phase II isn't Star Trek. The original version of the show never got made, for one, and exists only in script form. This version, meanwhile, is basically big-budget fanfiction. But as I've often tried to argue, it's frequently fanfiction that is the purest sort of Star Trek: Even now, as this show is slowly being taken over by former Star Trek alumni, thus rendering its purely fan status somewhat dubious, it's worth remembering the only reason people like Doug Drexler, Dave Gerrold and Andy Probert (who guests in this episode, by the way) were staffers in the first place was because they too loved Star Trek and wanted a hand in shaping its future. And anyway, to me at least, the journey of Star Trek Phase II from seeming dead end to passionate fan project to pseudo-official division the Star Trek Brand assimilated into the grinding machines of late capitalism makes it just about the most archetypical Star Trek of all.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

“The Immaculate Misconception”: The Child

There are a number of different ways to go about discussing “The Child”. None of them, it should be stressed, posit in any way that this was anything resembling a good idea: It wasn't in 1978, and it flatly isn't in 1988 or 2012 either. But in spite of it ultimately not working in the slightest, this is also something of a deceptive episode: It's not as bad as as its reputation amongst at least the segment of science fiction fandom that I presume reads my blog would suggest (especially this version of it), though it remains so to such an extent the fact nobody at any point over the past thirty-odd years seemed to notice this is considerably worrying. More to the point though, it's also bad in other areas.

It's really not worth going into a lengthy bit of structural experimentalism with this episode as I have with previous Star Trek Phase II stories that have multiple versions: Unlike “In Thy Image” or “Devil's Due” (or, I'm going to hazard a guess, the upcoming “Kitumba”), the 1978 and 2012 versions of “The Child” are essentially identical. There are a few differences: A couple random one-off redshirts are replaced by Peter and Sulu and keeping Star Trek: The Motion Picture canon necessitated swapping Ilia out with a new Deltan character named Icel, but this basically amounts to a name change. Kirk initially had a lot of scenes where he angrily lashed out at people, hurting Ilia and Irska, and these were thankfully cut or toned down considerably to match James Cawley's interpretation. Also, Will Decker was dropped entirely, but what can you do? Other than that this is essentially a word-for-word, shot-for-shot loyal translation, which does make sense as it's written and directed by the original author.

It's the Star Trek: The Next Generation version that's the most different, being more of a separate story loosely based on this one. It does tackle some similar themes to the original story, but they come across as significantly simplified and watered-down. I'll briefly take a look at this a little later on, but the bottom line is the Next Generation version is without question the inferior one and this is the best of the three, in case any of you were really chomping at the bit to learn which version of “The Child” was the definitive one. One thing the 1988 version does get right, however, is the awkward tension between the mother and her co-worker ex: Jonathan Frakes plays his character very terse and uncomfortable, and while this doesn't at all fit the Riker and Troi relationship thanks to Star Trek: The Next Generation's staunch idealism when it comes to interpersonal matters, it definitely fits the Decker and Ilia one, and the original script bewilderingly drops the ball on this: It barely has Decker interact with Ilia or Irska at all, and never once brings up their prior romance.

We must, I suppose, now talk about “The Child” itself. Well, if I have to...

This is an episode that's actually rather important in the history of my association with Star Trek. I never liked it; I recall it making me wince from the minute I saw it, but it's an episode I've spent an inordinate, and frankly inexcusable, amount of time thinking about. For boring and confusing reasons having to due with the scattershot way I was first exposed to Star Trek: The Next Generation, I actually read the original Star Trek Phase II script before I saw the 1988 episode based on it, so to me this has never actually been a Star Trek: The Next Generation story. To the point that, whenever that version comes on, I always skip it because it frankly embarrasses me: Not just because it's bad, it self-evidently is, but because it feels fundamentally wrong to be seeing people like Marina Sirtis and Jonathan Frakes acting out these scenes. I felt embarrassed for them as well as for myself, and from the outset this never felt like a story that belonged to that crew.

But the other thing that struck me about “The Child” is that it was really the first noticeably sexually coded Star Trek episode I think I remember experiencing. Remember, I didn't see the Original Series in full until the late 1990s so I wouldn't have seen “Amok Time” (and I wouldn't have had the same reaction to it that I had to “The Child” anyway), and none of the “Naked Time”/“Mudd's Passion”/“Naked Now”/“Fascination” series count as far as I'm concerned-Those are just dumb (though I will grant “Naked Now” and “Fascination” each one redeeming scene). But the way Ilia is written in this story, and the way Persis Khambatta surely would have played her, simply drips with sensuality and even the stage directions themselves are absolutely loaded up with intriguing sexual imagery and ideas. Given that the rest of this episode is actually terrible, this naturally isn't anywhere near as effective as it could have been, but it does mark the first time, or at least the first time since “Amok Time”, that Star Trek has consciously engaged with sexuality in a manner somewhat resembling intelligence and maturity. Naturally it ultimately screws it up, but it's a step forward nonetheless and this version does a good job highlighting and emphasizing this.

It's the Deltan conception of sexuality and personal bonding that's the key here. Deltan society is built entirely around empathy and communication, which as far as Star Trek hats go is a pretty good one to wear. Deltans have an innate power to immediately understand anyone and anything, place love and intimately knowing each other above all else, and for them any form of interpersonal contact and interaction is explicitly sexual. This marks another difference between the original version of this story and the Star Trek: The Next Generation one: Here, there's a lot of time spent explaining this, fleshing out the details of what this kind of society would look like and the kind of people who would come out of it (and once again the 2012 version comes across as superior, as Icel gets many opportunities to patiently speak for her people and explain how she knows Irska isn't a threat, where in the original draft that was all on Xon).

In the remake, however, this is all left up to Troi's dialogue and Marina Sirtis' acting. Originally, the pregnancy and birth happened essentially during the intro credits, while the remake lingers on it across several acts. This has the effect of shifting the sexual emphasis to an extent: Now it has more to do with the process itself and less to do with the empathy metaphor, which was the more interesting part of it. Also, Marina Siritis is once again not really the person for the task at hand-While she can do intimate sensuality because she's a tremendous actor and can do anything you throw at her, this really isn't what she's strongest at and not the best use of her talents. This is a reoccurring problem for Troi in general, at least under Sirtis: Being a stand-in for Ilia doesn't do any favours for either the actor or the character and it's not until very, very late in the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation that people start to figure out how to actually use them both.

There are, of course, problems with this. Let's address the obvious one before we go any further: The entire plot hinges on something that is manifestly sci-fi rape. That is without question what is going on and it's not really possible to read it as anything else. I guess you could make some argument about how because Deltans are so innately and instinctually sexual the entity and Ilia/Icel were subconsciously drawn to one another, but that doesn't really hold, as the dialogue would seem to indicate Ilia/Icel didn't understand how she was impregnated. That said, this is actually somewhat unclear, as Ilia's stage directions would seem to imply she knew what was happening all along and was happy about it (even going so far as to have her state that she knew from the beginning what's going to happen to Irska), and Persis Khambatta would definitely have picked up on that. Either way, in the 2012 version it's played far more as if Icel is genuinely confused (admittedly mostly only in one scene, but it *is* the key one) and in the Star Trek: The Next Generation one Marina Sirtis does an unsettlingly straight rape scene that casts a dark cloud over the rest of the episode.

The rape is obviously the major problem, but another one that's almost as bad is this script's conception of motherhood, and it's a deal-breaker in every single version of the story. All of that wonderful stuff about Deltan sensuality (including a genuinely tantalizing line the 2012 version adds where Icel explicitly states that for Deltans pregnancy is a sexual experience and childbirth is a kind of orgasm, which is something the original only hinted at) is tossed immediately out the window when it starts talking about the “mysterious”, “intractable” bond between a Deltan mother and child. The original version flat-out compares Ilia to an animal protecting her child with instinctual ferocity and the 2012 version has Icel tell Kirk “the only bond” Deltans feel that's stronger then sexual joining is “that between mother and child”, which is such an utterly wrong statement on so many different levels I don't even want to begin to tabulate them all. The original script also had a scene so ridiculous it would be hilarious if it wasn't offensive, where Ilia and Irska create a mental force-field out of the power of parental love that prevents Kirk and Xon from getting close to them when the latter wanted to try to mind-meld with Irska to discern her connection to the cylinder ship.

As usual, it's the Star Trek: The Next Generation remake that's the worst by far, writing Troi “hysterically” and “irrationally” overprotective and having her go from being explicitly raped and emotionally violated and traumatized to being pregnant and defiantly refusing to even consider an abortion, because mothers are all programmatically protective and nurturing. It is a shocking, appalling moment that not only feeds off of the patriarchal glorification of “mysterious motherhood” the original story played on in droves, but adds in a serving of straightforward rape culture to boot (I mean, as if the actual rape wasn't enough already). This is what kills this episode in all its forms and undoes any of the other potentially intriguing things it could have done, end of discussion. The only reason I'm not going into the same table-flipping rage I did with “Who Mourns for Adonais?” is because it's not exactly the same thing and there are enough other things to talk about to see it as more of an interesting case study overall, but it's still unbelievably distasteful.

The sexism and misogyny is so bad, it's easy to overlook another seriously egregious problem with “The Child”: The character of Irska herself. Or rather, the conception of her character (Oh God, pun not intended): The climax (jeez, I'm really not making a good case for myself here, am I?) reveals that Irska and the cylinder ship are part of the same species, and everything she experienced on the Enterprise (including risking her life to save the crew from the plague) was intended to activate her genetic memory about this phase of evolution. It turns out that Irska belongs to yet another race of hyper-evolved non-corporial life-forms who were once humanoids and Irska wasn't even technically ever born, as her physical birth was simply another stage of embryonic development that she had to go through. This means that Irska, and by association “The Child” itself, is explicitly meant as a musing on Ernst Haeckel's theory of recapitulation.

This widely discredited biological theory states that individual embryonic development was a microcosm of species-wide evolution, and that as embryos develop they go through every single prior phase of the evolution of their species before being born in their current form. Haeckel felt that because mammals evolved from reptiles who evolved from fish, you could seen a human embryo go through stages where it resembles a fish embryo, then a reptile one, then one of a small mammal and so on, and he built his theory by basically eyeballing a bunch of embryos and deciding they all kinda, sorta looked like one another. This is what “The Child” says is happening to Irska: Because her ancestors were once humanoid, one of her embryonic stages resembles a human child (and furthermore, it takes this as an accepted fact about the way things work: Ilia/Icel actually says humans go through the same process).

No reputable biologist would put any stake in recapitulation theory today (though a few try to use it to explain the development of language), so this pushes Star Trek straight into Bad Science territory. I don't like harping on this sort of thing as I typically find it spectacularly uninteresting: Star Trek gets stick from certain quarters for being scientifically inaccurate, but it *is* ultimately sci-fi-fantasy and to be fair most of its technobabble is simply meaningless nonsense made up to flesh out the world enough and can be (and should be) safely ignored. This though is actually wrong to the point of being misleading, and that's a slightly different matter. On top of that, “The Child” also ties its conception (there I go again) of recapitulation theory to a teleological approach to evolution, conflates species-wide evolution with societal evolution and, Deltans notwithstanding, pulls the “Return to Tomorrow” trick of hypothesizing our Final Forms will be hyper-evolved beings of pure thought. The key phrase is even, no kidding, “unnecessary shell”, which is what awakens Irska's genetic memory of who she really is and lets her know what she needs to do to reach the next stage of development.

If you're watching the Star Trek: The Next Generation version, though I don't know why you would be, things are a bit different, and predictably worse. That version pulls the Avengers # 200 trick of having the child and the father be the same person, and has him declare that he wanted to learn what it meant to be human, so he made himself experience “the most human experience of all”, being born, which is frankly bullshit. The original script was bad enough: Of Irska, Ilia/Icel comes right out and says “I was her first womb”, as if that's all she is, a womb, but this version makes it all about Ian. Troi's already been raped, which is fundamentally dehumanizing as is, but now Ian has the nerve to come in and push her even further to the margins of this story. It's taking the silencing and domination inherent in rape culture and writing that back into storytelling structure.

On a different note, the 2012 version of “The Child” is interesting on one other level, namely the fact this was the first proper Star Trek Phase II script James Cawley and his team chose to produce. That it was this one, a script that had technically already been filmed, and not, say, “Tomorrow and the Stars” or “Practice in Waking” or even something like “The War to End All Wars” is fascinating to me, because it technically means that the 1988 version of “The Child” is no longer canon, which I'm perfectly alright with. Just like Cawley's fun double-talk and speaking-between-the-lines in the fallout from “To Serve All My Days”, this is another example of Star Trek Phase II playing fast and loose with Star Trek canon: This version of “The Child” doesn't flat-out contradict anything, but it is tacitly making the claim that it's the definitive version of the story, and it's tough for me to argue that it isn't. This would mean that, I think for the very first time a work of “official” Star Trek has been removed from canon (“Threshold” notwithstanding), and also the first time an Expanded Universe work has taken up its mantle.

But the question for me remains “Did we actually need a definitive, authoritative version of 'The Child' in the first place?”. And my answer is, for now, “no, I don't really think we did”. It's a story that's been a lot of things for me, not many of them good, and in spite of the occasional intriguing exploration into sexuality and empathy the Deltans can provide, this is ultimately a story that's too mired in reactionary attitudes to be everything it needs to be. That said, “The Child” does remain one of the first times Star Trek attempted to seriously engage with sexuality, and as bad as it is perhaps it managed to lay some groundwork. Star Trek has never been really great at this, but it gets some flashes of utter brilliance in the future. Would they have happened without “The Child”? That's the thing-I don't actually know. And that's probably the root of the problem.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

“There is no me.”: Enemy: Starfleet

“Enemy: Starfleet” marks an important turning point for Star Trek Phase II. This is best exemplified in the title credits, as it's the first episode to actually go out fully under that name (the previous episode had the title card cheekily change from New Voyages to Phase II midway through). This, combined with the addition of Xon as a full-time character (though he appeared in the last episode, he was little more than an in-joke) and the teaser at the end featuring James Cawley proudly declaring the next episode is “The Child” mean the writing is on the wall for whatever the original conception of this show may have been.

Perhaps predictably, perhaps not, “Enemy: Starfleet” is the most straightforwardly Original Series-esque episode so far. The title is misleading-Considering all the signs and portents we've been building since “To Serve All My Days” about a potential climactic showdown with Section 31 and the Federation's seedy underbelly, I was expecting a very different story than what this actually is based on the name “Enemy: Starfleet”. D.C. Fontana's Star Trek: Year Four-The Enterprise Experiment miniseries for IDW was long out by now, and James Cawley and his team had surely read it. Perhaps they were trying to make it canon to Phase II, but even that story never gives us the moment of triumph this show seems to call for (indeed, I doubt Fontana had ever wanted one, considering “To Serve All My Days” itself).

Either way, “Enemy: Starfleet” turns out to be a very familiar, almost stock, story about Federation technology falling into unscrupulous hands who go on to reverse engineer it to wage a war against their now hopelessly outmatched adversaries, who initially blame the Enterprise for the ensuing years of slaughter. There's a lot of speeches about Federation values of selflessness, and Kirk gets to fret a lot about how he refuses to let death and destruction be carried out in Starfleet's name. Barbara Luna (who played Marlena Moreau in “Mirror, Mirror” and Veronica in “In Harm's Way”) even gets to come back as evil warlord Alursa, who is seemingly deliberately designed to be a rote iteration of the 60s vampy seductress space tyrant queen archetype. Luna's good and always fun to see, but she does seem a but miscast at times (after all, Marlena Moreau was explicitly and purposefully not this) and there doesn't seem to be any kind of irony or self-awareness about her performance, which is the only thing that saved Marta Dubois' Ardra in “Devil's Due”. They should've gotten Kate Mulgrew to reprise her role as Queen of the Spider People instead, or better yet, William Shatner.

The idea of Our Heroes being framed for something, or being incidentally implicated by accident, is such a stock and hackneyed plot structure I don't need to elabourate. Even the idea of a renegade starship impersonating the Enterprise and committing atrocities in its name is well-trod, for me immediately calling to mind for me a number of other expanded universe works, in particular the superior Star Trek: The Next Generation comic arc “Those who fight monsters...”. In “Enemy: Starfleet”, it's the reverse-engineered USS Eagle, lost a decade ago which Alursa has retrofitted and repurposed as a battleship, but the general effect is at least superficially similar. There's a faint meta-commentary about how Alursa has created a “bad” Starfleet to mirror our “good” one (in addition to the accumulative technology she's absorbed and grafted onto the Eagle, she also uses telepathic mind control) and that we must be careful to not turn out like her, but it's a thread that's so underdeveloped it might as well not be there and it doesn't feel as compelling or disturbing as the Mirror Universe, Section 31, or even the Borg.

This sense of dutifully reiterating Original Series tropes is pervasive throughout the whole episode. Alursa is eventually thwarted, of course, by Kirk distracting her with a manipulative seduction scene while secretly working with one of his crew to sabotage her ship. This act itself is the product of an ethical debate about the Enterprise crew ending the war between Alursa's people and her enemies themselves (which I'll have some more to say about a little later one) and there's a great deal of starship action, which generally feels significantly less brutal or deconstructive then previous such scenes this show has done. Actually, the battles in “Enemy: Starfleet” are played the straightest of any episode yet, save “In Harm's Way”, and this one lacks the earlier story's sense of gleeful fannish fun. It tries very hard to be serious, upfront Original Series Star Trek and while the reliably excellent CGI effects make it a substantially more visually interesting experience, it still ends up feeling a bit worn and uninspiring.

The primary way in which “Enemy: Starfleet” differs from a stock Original Series story is in its attitude towards character development, which is one of the only things about it that telegraphs it as a post-Star Trek: The Next Generation story. Peter is back and dealing with the fallout from “Blood and Fire”, so he gets many scenes both with and without Kirk where he's trying to cope with his grief at losing his fiance while also working himself extremely hard to be a capable Starfleet officer. There's also a minor plot point about Chekov growing up and maturing from being the young recruit he was in the Original Series to being a veteran seasoned space explorer. He gives Peter advice, seeing as he was once in a similar point in his life, and comes up with a clever bit of technobabble to save the Enterprise during the climactic battle with the Eagle. In the end, Kirk promotes him to security chief, putting him in the role he held during the original Star Trek Phase II. This is all quite good and well done, though the fact does remain this kind of character development is sort of expected of any reasonably modern TV series.

There is the issue of this episode's requisite moral dilemma. The way the Enterprise crew thwart Alursa and end the generations of war between the two peoples is to utterly devastate that entire region of space, rendering warp drive impossible and isolating everyone indefinitely. It is, admittedly, a last-resort plan and Kirk had hoped to avoid it, but it is portrayed as a kind of necessary evil, and it doesn't sit right. it reminds me of Cold War “nuclear option” scaremongering at best, and at worst the kind of sabre-rattling rhetoric United States foreign policy adopts in regard to regions such as, say, the Middle East. “You naughty underdeveloped countries are at war, so we'll come in and punish you both to set you straight”. For a show that's so far been so good at calling into question the ethics of the Federation and trying so hard to show how the Enterprise crew is bigger than that, this feels like going right back to 1960s Roddenberry Ethics 101, which is the thing from the Original Series I'd really hoped we could avoid the most.

What's ironic is that were “Enemy: Starfleet” actually an Original Series episode, I wouldn't hesitate to call it one of the very best episodes in the entire show. The Star Trek Phase II team have given their favourite programme the ultimate gift: They've learned how to emulate it so well they now not only make episodes indistinguishable from the real thing, but that can actually surpass it as well. This is exactly what a reconstructed Original Series would look like in 2011. But, that's just the thing. It *is* 2011, not 1967, and this isn't enough anymore. The very fact the baseline quality for this show is so high means that, instead of being one of the best episodes yet, “Enemy: Starfleet” becomes one of the worst, saved from being the actual worst only by virtue of not being “Blood and Fire”.

I will, however, admit a great deal of my indifference to “Enemy: Starfleet” comes from my indifference to this model of storytelling in the first place. I plainly do not love the original Star Trek as much as James Cawley and his team do, and this show obviously isn't for me. Perhaps I shouldn't be too hard on something that is no more and no less than the product of pure fan love for Star Trek. But then again...With extensive involvement from people like Dave Gerrold, Doug Drexler and Eugene Roddenberry, Jr. (not to mention a parade of veteran actors and former production team members), one wonders exactly how unofficial and beyond reproach Star Trek Phase II really ought to be held at this point. Especially considering what's about to happen next.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

“The Mouse Problem”: Blood and Fire

Of the many unproduced scripts Star Trek has accumulated over the years, “Blood and Fire” is, aside from “Joanna”, likely the most famous. Actually, make that “infamous”: Notorious as the cause of Dave Gerrold's split from Star Trek: The Next Generation six weeks into production, it's also gained a reputation in recent years for being “that one awkward story about gay people and AIDS the show almost did”.

...Yeah. This is gonna be an uncomfortable one.

Before we get started, let's dispel a few myths, because Star Trek's history with LGB, transgender, queer, asexual, nonbinary, etc. issues, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation's, is a major source of misinformation and misunderstanding. The common reasoning goes that Next Generation was appallingly and spectacularly heteronormative and reactionary (if not outright homophobic) and thus a story like “Blood and Fire” would have been the most callous, thoughtless, trainwreck of an episode imaginable. The reasoning then goes on that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine improved things a bit, but not enough, and Star Trek ends up completely hypocritical in terms of its claim of utopianism because of it's failure to engage with these issues in a serious and adult manner.

This isn't actually true. Multiple Star Trek: The Next Generation creative teams did in fact want to address queer concerns at numerous points throughout the show's run, but extenuating circumstances always prevented them from actually building episodes around them. Usually this was due to orders from Paramount executives, who felt (sadly probably correctly) that overt depictions of homosexuality, transsexuality or anything else of that nature would not go over well with US audiences, especially in the 1980s. That said, it's probably also true that there were certain people involved with the near-fifty year history of the franchise who were less tolerant than others, though I'm not going to begin to speculate as to who. Either way, whenever a particular pitch got far enough along to actually get made, stuff tended to be bungled, mismanaged or micromanaged, leading to unfortunate confused aimless things like “The Outcast”.

The situation is best summarised by Rick Berman. Berman had the unenviable position of being both an executive and Gene Roddenberry's heir apparent, was caught between the show's creative teams and studio management and likely got it from both sides. He once said (and I'm paraphrasing here) that of course the Next Generation staff wanted to show how queer sexualities and nonbinary identities would be accepted in the utopian 24th century, but the problem was that it was A. difficult to actually do a story about these things (because, by virtue of it being a utopian setting, there would be no conflict to build a story around) and B. The studio wasn't having it anyway and the team didn't want to do it unless they could do it right. Nobody ever came up with a solution that would satisfy everyone, and this had the regrettable side effect of meaning Star Trek never actually properly engaged with one of the biggest progressive concerns of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s (and yes, today too, but Star Trek isn't around in this form anymore), making its implied author looking like a total fucking hypocrite.

“Blood and Fire” then makes an interesting case study for the peculiar catch-22 Star Trek often finds itself in. That it was rejected in 1987 has been used as fuel for Trekkers to decry the homophobia and/or the incompetence of Gene Roddenberry, Maurice Hurley, Rick Berman, or all three, while the fact it was submitted in the first place has been used by critics of Star Trek to accuse it of being homophobic. I am extremely doubtful anyone involved in either side of these debates has actually read Gerrold's original script, watched the Star Trek Phase II episode made out of it, or indeed even know who Dave Gerrold is or that he wrote it. Watching the version of “Blood and Fire” that ultimately got made, the likely real reason it was rejected becomes painfully clear: It isn't actually very good. Like a lot of Gerrold's other scripts, there's a lot to praise and recommend here, but also like a lot of Gerrold's other scripts, it's weighed down with a lot of problems that keep it from actually working.

Two things immediately become apparent when turning on “Blood and Fire”. Firstly, it's striking how easily this story translates from the Next Generation crew to the Original Series one, which is something of a far cry from what happened in the opposite cases when this show's source material was adapted for The Next Generation. I'm not sure how much this story was revised before filming (I'm sure some rewrites had to be made), but this just simply feels like an Original Series story, in particular “Plato's Stepchildren”: There's a lot of speechifying about how enlightened and tolerant life aboard the Enterprise while Next Generation and its compatriots trended more towards the “show, don't tell” side of the utopia spectrum. Trying to picture Patrick Stewart delivering any of the Big Kirk Speeches in this episode (of which there are many-There's even a Big Kirk Speech that lasts for the better part of two acts, which is...a separate issue) is almost impossible to imagine. This isn't actually that unusual if we stop and think about it though: Gerrold was only on staff at The Next Generation for a few weeks extremely early on in the first season, at which point nobody had really yet figured out how to differentiate the show from its predecessor (well, nobody except the actors and D.C. Fontana at any rate).

The other thing that becomes obvious here is that Dave Gerrold doesn't want to make a Big Important Episode about AIDS and gay people. He wants to make a Big Important Movie about AIDS and gay people, because “Blood and Fire” is seriously bloated. When it was originally made, it actually had to be split into two separate filming blocks and be released as two different episodes over a year apart. Even the version I watched, which was edited down to feature length, still clocks in at a whopping hour and a half. And I don't care how good your script is, how important the issue, or how much you care about it, no Star Trek episode needs to be that bloody long or require that amount of overhead. “Blood and Fire” is trying to bring the scope of Star Trek: The Motion Picture to its issue, and it's paced about as well.

This has always been a problem for Gerrold: He's a very talented writer badly in need of an editor. He had an absolutely unbelievable one in Gene Coon on “The Trouble with Tribbles”, and Coon's absence is felt very strongly on all of Gerrold's subsequent submissions: “More Troubles, More Tribbles” felt a bit rough around the edges, Gene Roddenberry couldn't help him on “Bem” and that “Castles in the Sky” was significantly improved by Margaret Armen rewriting it into “The Cloud Minders” is a deeply worrying sign. The problem on “Blood and Fire” is that Gerrold is trying to use it as his grand, sweeping statement about, well, basically everything, and it ends up crammed full of a bunch of ideas that never really gel together, and even Gene Roddenberry would have seen that.

Had Gerrold pitched this in, say, 1990, things might have been different: Michael Piller would have taken him aside and told him “Look, Dave. This script has a lot of potential, but there are some things we have to change and you can't actually do Star Trek: The Motion Picture for gay people on Star Trek: The Next Generation's budget and timetable. Rewrite act 3 and get back to me”. At the very least some of “Blood and Fire”'s more redeeming features, few and far between as they are, may have made it into episodes that were actually produced. In 2009, however, nobody on Star Trek Phase II is going to say no to Gerrold, especially with Star Trek's perceived failure to properly address the issues “Blood and Fire” tries to tackle.

This then leads us to the question of whether “Blood and Fire” actually properly addresses these issues in the first place, and I see the answer as something of a mixed bag. There are, in fact, things “Blood and Fire” gets right: The actual depiction of a homosexual relationship is very, very good. Kirk's nephew is one half of the pair, giving him a personal stake in things, and the relationship itself is portrayed as just another relationship with its ups and downs, and the fact it's between two gay men is almost completely incidental. Almost. The first half of the episode is loaded up with *appalling* subverted sitcom gay jokes, and the fact they're subverted does nothing to take the edge off of them. The one that sticks out for me is Kirk's line to McCoy in the transporter room:

“My nephew...on a security team?”

“Relax, Jim. We don't put bull's eyes on the redshirts anymore.”

See, it's funny because you think Kirk is going to express shocked disapproval Peter is gay, but instead, he's shocked that he's a redshirt. Hilarity. All of the other “jokes” are roughly of this calibre. This isn't so much leaning on the fourth wall as much as it is kicking it down, grabbing the camera and screaming incoherently into the lens.

Problems start to happen when the episode tries to be allegorical. Ostensibly, this is an allegory about AIDS and how wrong it is for people to discriminate against those who have the disease. Doing this in the same episode where we would have introduced Star Trek's first ever gay couple is...troubling, to put it mildly. There's nowhere Gerrold can go with this that *isn't* ludicrously offensive, so he winds up going nowhere: The disease is actually an infestation of Regulan Bloodworms (which are apparently now also a doomsday weapon that corrupts the natural lifecycle of sentient wave-particle...things) that a landing party consisting of Spock, Peter, Peter's fiance and another redshirt all become exposed to. So, “Blood and Fire” infects the gay couple with the AIDS stand-in, but it's trying very hard to show that it's not a “gay disease” (though making Spock one of the landing party members doesn't particularly help) and that it could infect anyone, including people you, personally care about.

The major failing is, of course, that Gerrold is, in fact, doing “The Gay Story” and “The AIDS Story” in the same episode and this is nothing short of a breathtakingly stupid idea. He does seem partially aware of this and tries to separate them to an extent, but he doesn't do it at all effectively. The one bit of lip service he pays is having one scene where a couple of nameless crewmembers express concern to Uhura that the Bloodworm infestation could spread and suggesting they destroy the ship they found them on (with the infected landing party still on it), an act Kirk had been ordered by Starfleet Command to do but was deliberately avoiding. Gerrold then gives Uhura a big defiant speech where she tells the crewmembers that Captain Kirk doesn't leave anyone behind, would give his own life before that of one of his crew and would do the same for them, which is nice, but doesn't do a whole lot to alleviate our concerns that the fundamental juxtaposition of this story simply shouldn't have happened to begin with.

And the fact remains Gerrold is *still* running up against the problem Rick Berman outlined: The script at once wants to make a Really Big Deal about how Peter and his boyfriend are gay, but also show how it's Not At All A Big Deal in-universe, and it spectacularly fails on all counts. If Star Trek is as utopian as Gerrold thinks it is (and wants us to think it is), there's no reason to linger on the fact that they are as much as it does. Compare this to “Rejoined”, where the fact Jadzia Dax and Lenara Khan were two women was never even mentioned once, and it still managed to tell a genuinely compelling story about homosexuality and oppression. That silence and subtext spoke volumes. Here though, apart from the “gay-jokes-that-aren't-actually-gay-jokes” that already piss me off, “Blood and Fire” treads dangerously close to exploitative sensationalism.

I know it's easy to twist an argument like this into the stock right wing attack on homosexuality: It's the “I don't care what people get up to in their bedrooms, I just don't want to see it, why can't they keep it to themselves?” sort of bigotry. But that's not what “Rejoined” did either, and walking that line is the sort of extreme nuance and care Star Trek has to be approached with. Thing is, in our society there's still a lot of prejudice and hatred and people who fall outside the accepted boundaries of hegemonic power structure *need* to draw attention to themselves in order to point out how oppressed and persecuted they are. It's the whole reason GLBTQ awareness labels itself as “pride”: The point is to stop feeling shameful for who you are because you've lived your life feeling like a societal pariah and to demand treatment as equal human beings. But Star Trek takes place in a utopian setting, so these conversations don't need to happen there: It's not the job of Star Trek to take up the fight, it's to show us what a world where the fight doesn't need to happen would look like.

And even then “Blood and Fire” doesn't go far enough. Although it one the one hand screams very loud about how this is the Big Important Gay People and AIDS Story, it on the other hand backpedals pretty hard away from that and ends up on a really generic, facile and unsatisfying “hatred is bad” message. It turns out the Bloodworms were actually part of a Section 31 operation to reconfigure them into a doomsday weapon for the Federation before the Klingons did the same (oh, and by the way, Kargh's back: He crippled the Enterprise early on in a skirmish and has been hanging around for the rest of the episode doing not really a whole lot).

But as Kirk points out to the Section 31 operative, the Klingons don't want a weapon like this because it's dishonourable and calls him out on his blind hatred. Peter then tries to kill the guy because his fiance died as a result of the Bloodworm infestation, and Kirk tries to stop him by asking if his fiance would have wanted him to stoop to that level out of hatred. But then it turns out Evil Section 31 Guy (I can't be bothered to look up his real name, so that's who he is now) smuggled some Bloodworms off the derelict and threatens to let them loose on the Enterprise, monloguing for literally minutes before someone has the good sense to shut him the goddamn hell up. While all this is going on, Kargh delivers the one genuinely funny line in the whole episode by saying he “...hasn't has this much fun since [he] assassinated his grandfather” and quite reasonably asking why he shouldn't destroy the Enterprise here and now and save everyone this humiliation.

The thing about doing an ending this toothless is that it's practically morally bankrupt given the rest of what this episode is supposedly trying to do. Just as Gerrold's passion tripped him up on “Castles in the Sky” because he lacked the breadth of knowledge about sociocultural and historical factors that lead to racial prejudice, the similar lack of time spent on exploring the roots of Western homophobia runs “Blood and Fire” aground. Simply glossing it over as “hatred” and saying “hatred is bad” says nothing about the origins of oppressive power structures and how to combat them.

Furthermore, this actually hurts the otherwise noble cause Gerrold is trying to take on because it's not actually about the issue at hand anymore (especially not when the whole back half of the movie becomes almost exclusively about the Section 31 and Klingon Cold War story): It's trying to subsume the unique plight faced by nonbinary people into a handwavey bit of cookie-cutter sentimentality. Oh, and along those lines, the scene where the Enterprise is actually “healed” by *literal* Magic Rainbow Space Butterflies of Love, and having this scene drag on for over five minutes, is so tone-deaf and so completely un-self aware it would be hilarious if it weren't sad.

There's a material social progress element to this, in that an argument could be made “Blood and Fire” would have worked better in 1987 then it does in 2009 because it would have gotten a positive portrayal of a gay couple on television in the middle of the AIDS panic, but for one, I'm not inclined to believe “Blood and Fire” was the story Star Trek: The Next Generation needed at that time in the first place and secondly it doesn't matter anyway because that “Blood and Fire” doesn't exist. This one does, and *this* “Blood and Fire” isn't actually about gay people: Like so much other Star Trek of this period, it's actually about Star Trek's own interiority, it's just that it's about Star Trek's interiority as it pertains to gay people.

Then there's Denise Crosby, who you'd think I would have had more to say about then I do. She plays Doctor Jenna Yar (yes) who signed on to the operation because she wanted to find a cure for the Bloodworm plague, even if it meant working for Section 31. She's the one who suddenly has a change of heart and clocks Evil Section 31 Guy, offering to test the vaccine Doctor McCoy had been trying to create on herself (conveniently, it kills the test subject, as if we haven't had enough Tragic Sacrifices). But I just look at Crosby and see the same sad unfulfilled potential and workmanship I've come to associate with her: She looks painfully out of place in this story and is clearly only here to fill the by-now requisite “Veteran Star Trek Actor”quota this show has. Infuriatingly, she's made to do the exact same thing she did on Star Trek: The Next Generation: Stand around reacting slack-jawed to shit before having her character do a hokey, tacked on and fundamentally unsatisfying heroic sacrifice. Denise Crosby leaves Star Trek the same way she came in: Underused, underappreicated and miscast, but gamely acting her heart out with the material she's given the best she can.

(By the way, putting an ancestor of Tasha Yar of all people in Section Fucking 31 has to go down as one of the single worst ideas in the history of Star Trek.)

Crosby's shafting is indicative of the larger worrying character problems “Blood and Fire” has. Although it goes out of its way to humanize its guest cast and really wants us to feel for Peter's relationship, killing off his boyfriend is such a bafflingly clear-cut, textbook case of what TVTropes calls “Bury Your Gays” I'm flabbergasted Gerrold put it in. If you're trying to show us an enlightened future where all forms of love are embraced and accepted, isn't killing off one of the only two canonically gay people to shoehorn in some angst surely the last thing you want to do? Then there's the other redshirt who joins the landing party: The episode likewise wants us to warm to him and make him memorable, but he's killed off too, and as much as it then wants us to mourn him, he still comes across as yet another generic redshirt who eats it and this has the added effect of making us want to punch McCoy for being such a damn hypocrite, making that quote above even more irritating.

(Then there's the fact that this episode has the utter gall to create a character named “Fontana” who spends most of her time getting yelled at and ordered around by McCoy and who speaks a grand total of one line in its entire interminable hour and a half runtime.)

The thing about a lot of these abandoned Star Trek scripts is, believe it or not, there was usually a reason why they were abandoned. Digging through the things on the cutting room floor isn't going to uncover some treasure trove of lost Star Trek, it's going to net you a bunch of bad ideas that were discarded because they were bad. If you look at any given poor script of Star Trek: The Next Generation, what you're likely going to find if you take a closer look at its production history, is that the alternative was an even worse script. As dodgy as that show could get, and I won't dispute that on occasion it could, the story of Star Trek: The Next Generation is one of working against all odds to get a television show on the air week to week and trying gamely to make it the best you can on a day-to-day basis.

“Blood and Fire” is a perfect microcosm for this. Far from being about AIDS and homosexuality, it's a story about clashing egos and television politics interacting to make something just a little less then it could have been. Dave Gerrold finally let himself get carried away and turned in something so bad nobody could redeem it, not even his own better qualities, and he hung tenaciously onto it for decades because he simply could not accept the problem was with him. Ironically enough considering his feuds with Gene Roddenberry, Gerrold has inherited the Great Bird's predilection for hubris and lack of self-awareness: From its inflated glorification of facile, middelbrow politics, badly, badly padded structure and tragedy and angst simply for the sake of tragedy and angst, “Blood and Fire” is utterly convinced it's the greatest Star Trek story ever told.

It may not be, but damn if it isn't the definitive.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Wild Child: World Enough and Time

From the outset, “World Enough and Time” seems immediately reminiscent of a great deal of previous Star Trek stories. It's a mishmash hybrid of a thing built out of bits of “Time's Orphan”, “Joanna”, “The Inner Light” and, well, the last episode, actually. Also The Tempest, but that at least seems intentional.

If I sound a bit cynical here it's because I kinda am. It's hard for me to get inspired to write about this kind of story, because so much if it goes over ground I've already looked at. The Romulans are doing some shady things, tricking the Enterprise into crossing the Neutral Zone so they can test a new temporal gravity wave weapon (I think), which backfires and blows up their fleet. Caught in the residual messiness, Kirk sends Sulu and Romulan linguistics expert Doctor Lisa Chandris over to the wreckage in a shuttlecraft to get some data Spock and Scotty will need to plan a warp course out of the trap. Stuff happens, the shuttle is lost and Sulu and Chandris need to be beamed back, but the transporter goes wrong (of course) and they wind up being time-shifted to a planet in another dimension such that when Sulu beams aboard, he's thirty years older (so George Takei can follow Walter Koenig's lead and get to reprise his role) and has a daughter from an entirely separate life he lived for what for the Enterprise crew was only thirty seconds. The young lady's name is Alana, she charms everyone with her disarming and inquisitive nature, and naturally, she and Kirk fall in love, causing tension not only with Sulu, but when Spock reveals her being is bound to the temporal field, and breaking free will render her fate uncertain.

It's not that any of this is especially bad-To the contrary, the script is as well-written as anything else the show has done so far, as one would perhaps expect considering the writer. Marc Scott Zicree is a veteran science fiction and TV writer, as well as a historian, perhaps best known for his comprehensive 1982 book The Twilight Zone Companion. Some of his more notable TV credits include Babylon 5, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, The Get Along Gang, Liberty's Kids, The Real Ghostbusters and, of the most interest to us, the TV version of William Shatner's TekWar series, “First Contact” (the episode, not the movie) for Star Trek: The Next Generation and “Far Beyond the Stars”, the episode I consider to be likely the pinnacle of Star Trek's Dominion War era (really, only one other story gives it any sort of competition as far as I'm concerned). Zicree is also a regular on Coast to Coast AM and one of my favourite guests, with a captivating conversational tone and a genuine and intoxicating passion for science fiction and writing.

And in spite of its overt familiarity, Zicree and co-writer Michael Reaves have come up with a script that manages to tell a story that's perfectly solid, valid and fitting for 2007. Much of the Tempest overtones (Alana is obviously, and explicitly, Miranda, though she fancies herself Ariel, and Takei!Sulu is likewise Prospero) and a great deal of the plot's drive comes from at once trying to get back to Star Trek as the characters are all in some sense separated from it (The Sulus spent thirty years away and never thought they'd see the Enterprise again, and the Enterprise itself is once again trapped in a sort of negative space unable to travel). Thus, Star Trek becomes a way for us to expand our horizons to wider and more wondrous possibilities. The reoccurring key phrase is “the whole universe lies before you”, and it's visiting the Enterprise bridge that allows Miranda/Alana to finally live her life to the fullest. One one level then, “World Enough and Time” can be seen as Marc Zicree's response to D.C. Fontana's question in “To Serve All My Days”: Was it worth it? Yes it was, because it made us better people by opening our minds to possibilities.

(Something could also be made about the difference between this version of events and the one in “The Inner Light”: That story was about gifting Picard with new memories, while this one is about, ultimately, stripping them from Sulu, though Spock helps out at the last minute with a Mind Meld. Picard gets to take his experiences on Kataan with him and is allowed to grow from them, but Sulu isn't, implicitly giving us two conflicting messages about the compatibility of Star Trek's world with the mundane.)

“World Enough and Time” also picks up on a theme Star Trek Phase II really hasn't dealt with extensively since “Come What May”: The role of Star Trek fandom. Both Alana and Doctor Chandris seem in some sense coded as metaphorical fans, but I'm less satisfied with the way they're handled here then I was with Onabi. Chandris comes on erratic, neurotic and awkward (though endearingly so: Lia Johnson makes a very memorable performance out of *extremely* limited material) and immediately gets all starry-eyed over Sulu's cool competence. Not that she gets much of a chance to be anything else, as she is very clearly only there to give Sulu someone to start a family with and then promptly die (seriously, this is a massive plot hole: In the climax, Scotty re-jiggers the transporter to retrieve young Sulu, but it's never explained why he can't do the same for Chandris. She was supposed to have died on the planet ten years after Alana's birth, not on the Romulan derelict, so there's literally no reason why she couldn't be brought back as well).

Alana isn't a whole lot better. Though she makes a wonderful Miranda archetype and Christina Moses is a show-stealer, as a stand-in for fandom she doesn't really work. She's always standing on the outside with childlike innocence and earnestness, asking very pointed questions about Kirk and Spock's characters and life in Star Trek. Though this story is ostensibly about her, she comes across as very much a supporting character, existing primarily to provoke important character moments in Kirk, Spock and Sulu. This is something of a massive step backward from our favourite omnipotent fangirl goddess, and showcases a very different attitude towards the relationship between Star Trek and its fans, in particular those fans who might want to create their own Star Treks: By this reading, Zicree and Reaves would be coding fangirls as the cleric class of fandom, there to bring about change by asking for concessions and provide support for the real creators, bringing in age-old patriarchal assumptions about the role of women in not just genre fiction, but all forms of storytelling and everyday life.

This is another episode I really don't want to be as down on as I think I'm coming across as. I obviously like Zicree a lot and the Star Trek Phase II team is as passionate and dedicated here as they always are. Production-wise this is hitting new heights for the show: The VFX are now completely indistinguishable from actual televised Star Trek and the actors are across the board heartfelt and likable to watch (Takei is mostly showboating and lacks the sheer emotional power of Koenig's guest spot, but he's good at this and makes the part work). Also, this series continues to accrue blessings from Star Trek alums, with not only George Takei, but Grace Lee Whitney and even Majel Barrett making an appearance (the latter in what I think may actually be one of her last roles). “World Enough and Time” is perfectly serviceable, and while there's no way it can be better than “The Inner Light”, or even, really, “To Serve All My Days” if I'm being honest, I'd definitely say it's preferable to “Time's Orphan”.

But the problem remains, for a show that's spent three years doing “profound”, “provocative” and “transformative”, suddenly going to “serviceable” doesn't quite cut it. Sadly, “World Enough and Time” feels too much like a science fiction story, and we're coming off of an era where doing generic science fiction damn near killed Star Trek. This is almost a paint-by-numbers blueprint for how to do “emotional Star Trek”, and for the first time, it feel like Star Trek Phase II might be spinning its wheels.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

“The Undiscovered Country”: To Serve All My Days

We're told birthdays and anniversaries are celebrations of people and of life, but they remain, to a degree, backwards-looking: A ritualistic remembrance of a date long since passed, that seems to grow ever further distanced with each reiteration of the ritual. Western culture is fixated on dates, numbers, patterns and schedules. Nonmodern societies have seasons and cycles, the West has calendars and planner books, endlessly tallying up time and counting down to the next obligatory observation. Perhaps that's why so many people in the West view birthdays not as a time to reflect on themselves, but as a time to become overcome with an impending sense of dread at the fear of mortality and the inevitability of aging. Once you decide time is linear, it has to end somewhere, because humans can't accept a ray.

2006 was the fortieth anniversary of Star Trek, but it wasn't a birthday, or rather, if it was, it was one of those birthdays we celebrate of people who have already died: “Such-and-such would have been this old today”. Enterprise had signed off a year prior, and with its cancellation came the sense that Star Trek was actually dead. It was a puzzling thing to bear witness to Star Trek fandom around 2006 and 2007: I don't recall any talk about continuing Enterprise or any of the other Star Trek series (except for in the obligatory tie-in Pocket Books lines, but those sorts of things will always exist), or coming up with unique and transformative takes on them: Instead, there was a lot of solemn reflection about what Star Trek was, what it used to mean and where it all might have gone wrong.

What few ideas I do remember almost universally revolved around a “Star Trek XI” motion picture made out of the long-abandoned “Kirk and Spock at Starfleet Academy” pitch from the mid-1990s. And then, of course, there was always Star Trek: New Voyages. In every way, Star Trek fans tried to dowse their future by feverishly digging up the skeletons of their long-departed past. Perhaps it was the shock of Enterprise's cancellation combined with the holdover belief from 1990s fandom that Star Trek, as an extant mass media Soda Pop Art franchise, was a thing that would continue on in perpetuity, forever coasting on the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation. For people who can't conceive of rays, for a time there Star Trek fandom was remarkably quick to embrace them.

So it's fitting that for Star Trek's wake, it should once again call upon D.C. Fontana to bury it, if not to praise it. For as much as “To Serve All My Days” is a character study about Chekov, who, thanks to exposure to radiation finally succumbs to the illness he survived in “The Deadly Years” and comes face to face with his mortality, it's also a story about the legacy Star Trek leaves behind as it transitions into a new form. Let's address the bombshell right from the start: Yes, Fontana kills off Chekov here, supposedly an episode set before the film series in which Chekov very obviously appears (at the request of Walter Koenig, who wanted closure for his part in Star Trek history and who gives the literal performance of a lifetime as the aged and dying navigator) and yes, this pretty blatantly flies in the face of established canon. This, predictably, caused a massive furor within Trekker fandom, about which James Cawley had this to say:

"New Voyages is STRICTLY adhering to 'CANON' Trek, which is the episodes that have been produced by Paramount for the last 40 years and that includes the animated series (at least in our book!)

I know that some are put off or confused by the ending of TSAMD, but, do you honestly think, some very serious conversations did not take place before we filmed it? I would ask all of you to take a deep breath and think........ Was Scotty killed in "The Changeling"? Did Spock remain dead in the features? Did the Enterprise get destroyed and not rebuilt in the features? Were these things wrapped up? I set out to tell a tale that would be meaningful, and thought provoking without diluting the ending. It has sparked some genuine debate, and gotten a few very riled up. I have accomplished what Gene Roddenberry loved to do. We made you think. We provoked a reaction. That is MORE than anything that Canon Trek has done in several years!

Now that I have you thinking let me say this. Chekov IS in the next episode and I am sure that somewhere in that one hour if you pay attention, you will smile. After all, I AM THE BIGGEST FANBOY OF THEM ALL!"

I find Cawley's statement to be possibly the most quintessentially Trekker declaration: He proclaims up and down that he's being nothing but strictly loyal to the precious canon when his actions demonstrate basically the exact opposite. He tries to handwave away the ramifications of his story, self-consciously flashes his Fanboy Card, makes promises to satiate his rabid fanbase and genuflects before the altar of Gene Roddenberry, but he's still brought in one of Star Trek's boldest and most challenging writers to pull off the ultimate hat trick of killing off Star Trek through a regular character. These are the sort of odd concessions we have to make in Star Trek fandom: A strange Janus dance of trying to explain how this pointedly subversive and experimental work doesn't actually pose a threat to irreducible, untouchable monolith of canon when the whole point is frequently to do precisely that.

(As if to drive the point home, there's an alternate ending for “To Serve All My Days” which declares the whole thing was, no kidding, Chekov's vodka-induced hallucinations, which feels gleefully petulant and deliberately unsatisfying.)

Not that I blame either Cawley or Fontana, of course: On the contrary, I find what they pulled off here to be incredibly and laudably brazen. Just as we've often tried to make excuses to spare Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise for working within the hierarchical power structure of Starfleet by pointing out how they can find ways to challenge the existing order and be subversive from within, so can we read “To Serve All My Days” as an example of doing the same within the authoritarian self-imposed structure of canon. Yes, Chekov comes back in the next episode and nothing *technically* contradicts the Almighty Canon because Cawley and Fontana were very careful to give themselves a lot of outs and trapdoors...But the fact remains that it's impossible to read this story as anything other than the story of Chekov's death. Everything, from having him interact with Ambassador Reyna Morgan (Mary Lynne Rapleye, who played Irina in “The Way to Eden”) to the Klingon B-plot to the actual character moments are explicitly designed to build this up as his final bow.

And it really did have to be Chekov, who was introduced in a deliberate attempt to sell Star Trek to an audience that was simultaneously more youthful and more Russian. More than any other character, he was the one who was pegged as the best evidence the Original Series was offering us a utopia where we'd put our differences and bigotry behind us. While Uhura and Sulu (mostly Uhura) made the biggest contribution to material social progress by being people of colour, they were there from the beginning and were at least partially the result of NBC's commitment to diverse casting (mostly thanks to Herb Solow and Bob Justman). Chekov though was somebody Roddenberry himself brought on and could point at to score political points as proof Star Trek was firmly allied with the youth counterculture and was singlehandedly ending the Cold War, which looked really good when “Save Star Trek!” came around. Chekov was overtly designed as a potential audience surrogate, and, while he might not have been the character people projected onto, he was someone who spoke to a statement Star Trek at least wanted us to think it was making.

Chekov then, more than any other character, represents Star Trek's officially sanctioned utopian vision, which is a vision that, in 2006, seems to have pretty conclusively failed. And Fontana is not coy about pointing this out, giving Koenig lengthy scenes in his quarters where the elder Chekov converses with the illusory version of his younger self, looking back over his life and trying to figure out if any of it was worth it. And, crucially, he's not sure: He knows he wanted to be the best navigator and tactical officer in the fleet, but he also recognises that a life spent purely in service and dedication to work is a life wasted, as it leaves no room for anything else. And a major problem with the Original Series, especially early on, was its fixation on military procedure and glorification of things like “duty” and the chain of command above all else. But just as Star Trek proved it could be more than that by inspiring legions of fans who loved it enough to keep it alive and write wonderful things onto it because of that love (leading to shows such as this one), Chekov eventually realises he's contributed to some good things over his life, and that helps him make peace with himself.

Like many D.C. Fontana stories, “To Serve All My Days” sets its character piece against a complicated political backdrop. This time though, it's more than window dressing: There's a B-plot about economic tensions and ruminations of war that's just as intricate as the A-plot about Chekov, and they turn out to be separate manifestations of the same theme. Ambassador Morgan is travelling aboard the Enterprise following a disastrous economic summit on Babel (natch), where Federation ambassadors and policymakers utterly failed to come up with a solution to an interplanetary crisis of currency devaluation that's so dire nobody is certain if the Federation will last out the year. This is such a perfect allegory for the Great Recession I assumed this episode had been made in 2008, and was a bit shocked to discover it actually came out two years prior: The Federation, extrapolation of Westernism that it is, is finally subjected to that most Western of catastrophes, and no manner of utopian rhetoric is going to save it this time.

(Those interested in post-scarcity themes will, of course, note how this gives even more credence to our theory that such motifs are not a part of the Original Series flavour of the Star Trek story.)

While the crew is dealing with all this, suddenly the Enterprise comes under attack by a Klingon battlecruiser, which suddenly decloaks and proceeds to utterly cripple the ship in a genuinely unsettling space battle. I have to single out the VFX work in this scene: This episode takes its battle extremely seriously, delivering shot after gruesome shot of visceral carnage, as the disruptor beams blast away at the Enterprise, marring and disfiguring its iconic visage. There are even images of crewmembers being sucked to their deaths out into space (and Scotty and Uhura take care to point out to Kirk that “we have lost crew”). This is no exciting ray-gun fight with a few stock ship-shakes, this is proper, “Balance of Terror” style brutality elevated to the next level.

Initially Kirk suspects Kargh, a reoccurring Klingon adversary who showed up in alternate universe form in the last episode as science officer of the Farragut. Kargh had launched an unprovoked attack on the shuttle escorting Ambassador Morgan to the bridge early on in the episode, but swears on his honour that he's not responsible for this attack, and furthermore that the attacking ship wasn't even Klingon, and offers to help the Enterprise crew track them down. Eventually, it turns out to be a front by one of the Federation delegates, representatives of a planet whose entire economy is based on warfare. Feeling the stress from the Galactic Recession and an already dwindling market for their weapons from a pacifist Federation, they hoped to start a war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire to turn their fortunes around.

As for how they got a cloaking device, Spock discerns that the Federation itself gave it to them, based on the specs from the Romulan device Kirk stole in “The Enterprise Incident” because they too desired a war they could use as an excuse to launch a new wave of expansionism and oh...*That's* what Section 31 was doing on the Enterprise in Star Trek: Year Four-The Enterprise Experiment then...No wonder Reyna told Kirk to “watch his back”, for his real enemies are “behind him”.

Aside from the Dominion War parallels and actually delightful connection to Fontana's other work, “To Serve All My Days” is also very reminiscent, appropriately, of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, with a third party trying to manufacture and manipulate a war between the Federation and the Klingons and the two sides needing to work together to find a way forward. But here, Fontana adds another interpretive layer: We see in Kirk, our new Kirk and his crew, the unironic embodiment of the ideals the Federation claims to hold to, while in practice doing the exact opposite. Reyna leaves with the implication that these are good people who will do the right thing, even if the organisational structure they work for is actually evil.

It's similar to the tone she gave “The Slaver Weapon” in the Animated Series, but it's much more effective here considering the rest of the heavy themes this episode is working through. The ideals people read in, and write back onto, Star Trek are more important than the material aspects of its Soda Pop Art franchise. And, so long as people continue to internalize and reinterpret these themes, Star Trek can still make a positive difference in the world. So, when Chekov finally passes on, he can take solace in knowing that while it's time to move on, he's lived a good life and the future is in good hands.

This is also why it's important, as Chekov keeps pointing out, that he die at 25, because really, the original Star Trek died at 25 too, or at least it should have: The 25th Anniversary that Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country marked was actually about torch-passing. An acknowledgment that Star Trek did some good things in the past, but that version of it really ought to be consigned to history, allowed to retire with grace and dignity. This is not, again, to say that the story itself must end. Chekov does not cease to be; he very clearly moves on into an afterlife. But it does mean the story must keep changing and continuing to better itself, for as soon as Star Trek stagnates and starts to look backwards instead of forwards, it's in trouble. Kirk has to watch his back in order to not repeat the mistakes of those who stand behind him.

“To Serve All My Days” is a sad story, but it is a story that needed to be told. It's one final attempt at a bittersweet hand-off from Star Trek's past to its present that finally gives us a definitive statement for what it all means. Star Trek Phase II has allowed D.C. Fontana to, at long last, craft an honest retrospective of the original Star Trek's legacy, and it brings all her themes from this era to a poignant head. It's not a goodbye, as Star Trek can never say goodbye. It will always be here as long as people continue to love it, which is a statement fans in 2006 really needed to hear. And if we may make our own afterlives, perhaps we may make our own worlds too.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

“I hate temporal mechanics”: In Harm's Way

The rapidity with which Star Trek Phase II went from “fannish love letter” to “pseudo-official Star Trek” is somewhat astonishing. Between the release of “Come What May” in January, 2004 and “In Harm's Way” in October, the show picked up an endorsement from Eugene Roddenberry, Jr. (who also signed on as “consulting producer”) and Doug Drexler, who not only came aboard as producer, make-up artist, casting director, editor and VFX artist, but also co-wrote the latter episode as well. “In Harm's Way also boasts a veritable cavalcade of former Star Trek acting alumni, such as Barbara Luna, Malachi Throne and William Windom, who reprises his role of Commodore Matt Decker from “The Doomsday Machine”, the story from which this episode draws the majority of its source material.

With a pedigree like that, one would expect “In Harm's Way” to be one of those grandiose epics that franchises like Star Trek enjoy doing every once in awhile, and one would be correct. This time around, Star Trek Phase II feels like it's trying to pick up any perceived slack from “Come What May” and doing the proper, blockbuster series premier that's expected of it. Indeed, the official episode listings go so far as to list this as the “actual” first episode of Star Trek Phase II, granting “Come What May” an episode number of zero, thus somehow managing to make it even less canon then it already was.

And “In Harm's Way” certainly delivers on that expectation, serving up an impossibly complex and detailed alternate universe time travel plot where the Planet Killer from “The Doomsday Machine” runs into the Enterprise fourteen years early under the command of Captain Pike thanks to some dodgy chronitons, vaporizing it in one shot. This leads to an alternate timeline where Kirk is in command of the USS Farragut, with the majority of his regular crew, with the notable exception of Spock, who was on the Guardian of Forever's planet at the time and was spared the time shift. In his place on the Farragut bridge is Klingon science officer Kargh, as apparently in this timeline the Klingons and the Federation formed a shaky alliance to combat the Planet Killer and its brethren (it would seem there's more than one of them now, and the galaxy has been at war with them ever since).

After summoning the Farragut to the Guardian's planet by way of a Priority 1 order, Spock explains how the timeline has been altered and has to be corrected. This is actually my favourite part of the episode, as it explains, for the first time I think in the history of the franchise why the timeline needs to be restored, as there's an actual value judgment made: In the current timeline, billions upon billions of people have died in the so-called Doomsday War, which wouldn't have happened had history not been altered (a similar argument, I suppose, to the one Guinan makes in Star Trek: The Next Generation's “Yesterday's Enterprise”, though I like the bluntness of the argument here better). After tracing the source of the chroniton disturbances back to the 1960s on Earth, Kirk, Spock and McCoy jump through the Guardian, but find they've miscalculated and have wound up in 2006 instead.

There they meet a woman named Veronica (Barbara Luna) who was expecting them. It seems Commodore Decker was transported back in time somehow and returned to Earth, where he lived out the remainder of his days in the late 20th and early 21st century (this is all revealed through a VHS tape Decker left behind-Windom in a show-stealing performance as an elderly Decker full of life, yet near the end of his days). Realising Decker's displacement wasn't enough to change history, the landing party returns to the present where Kirk and DeSalle make the somewhat ludicrous decision to fly the Farragut through a giant Guardian discovered beneath the planet's surface back to fourteen years ago, where they hope they can team up with Pike's Enterprise to defeat the Planet Killer there and avert the Doomsday War.

The rest of the episode is essentially one giant action scene, as the two starships buzz about the Planet Killer taking pot shots and dodging its antiproton cannon or whatever. It is admittedly a very good action scene, with a lot of dynamic starship action-This is helped a lot by this show's VFX, which are even more fun here than they were last time. That said, this does also mark “In Harm's Way” as very much a post-Dominion War story, with a significant focus on epic space battle action and heady dramatic themes about honour, valour and sacrifice. This is about as good as Star Trek gets at this sort of thing, as not only are the VFX tight, exciting and fun to watch, but the character moments last only as long as they need to to get the point across and the show doesn't wallow in its own angst as it was so frequently wont to do in the late 1990s (perhaps another conceit “In Harm's Way” lifts from “The Doomsday Machine”), but the fact remains if you, like me, are not especially drawn to this mode of Star Trek storytelling this is going to come across as less satisfying than it perhaps could have.

(What I find amusing is that a focus on epic and dramatic space war themes is precisely the sort of thing Enterprise was being crucified for supposedly succumbing to at this exact point in time.)

Not that “In Harm's Way” doesn't manage to pull one more trick out of its sleeve: During the climactic battle, Kirk leaps ahead in time once again to chase the Planet Killer to the first season of the Original Series, where he meets Pike in command of the cadet ship where he'll have the accident depicted in “The Menagerie”. There, Kirk attempts to recreate the “heroic sacrificial run down the maw” thing Decker tried, but is suddenly stopped when another starship comes flying out of a time warp: The USS Enterprise NCC-1701-A, under the command of Admiral James T. Kirk-The *real* Star Trek Phase II ship. Naturally, the Admiral is here to stop his past self from throwing the Farragut at the Planet Killer as, just as was the case in “The Doomsday Machine”, it won't be enough to stop it or the war from happening.

Interestingly, this Enterprise is supposedly from 2373: Well into the timeframe of Star Trek Voyager and the Dominion War and, more interestingly, after the combined power of the three starships destroys the Planet Killer, Admiral Kirk does not go back to being dead when the rest of the timeline corrects itself, implying that “In Harm's Way” has either canonized “The Return” (or a similar series of events) or retconned Star Trek Generations: A potential future that never came to be returns to a shared past to give itself a second chance at life. A better future asserts itself by simply tweaking a few small things about history.

This is perhaps even made textually overt, as one of the motivations for Admiral Kirk and Ambassador Spock to take the Enterprise-A back in time to the Original Series is to save Pike from his accident. This is also where the episode goes off the rails for me though, because once Captain Kirk on the Farragut figures out what his future self is up to, he tries to convince his counterparts to let Pike sacrifice himself because, apparently, “that's part of the timeline” they're hoping to restore. This actually doesn't make any sense to me, because we've already been screwing around with history enough to bring both Decker and Kirk back from the dead, so why not make it three for three and save Pike too? Especially since, the way it's depicted here, it wouldn't have made any difference had Pike been there or not, so long as his ship explodes and the cadets were saved, which is something that the Yorktown, Enterprise or Enterprise-A could just have easily helped with.

(Ambassador Spock even comes to visit wheelchair-bound Pike during “The Menagerie” right before his past self, Kirk and McCoy do, encouraging him to go along with younger Spock's plan so that he might continue to live life to the fullest and with dignity. Well, Mr. Ambassador, you could have helped him with that by simply getting everyone off that cadet ship before it got flooded with Delta radiation thus keeping him from being disabled to begin with, thereby saving yourself the trouble of cooking up that hair-brained scheme with the Talosians and sparing us “The Menagerie” in the process.)

That's I guess my takeaway from this one. The thing about this kind of plot is because writers are writing from a perspective where Western-style time travel doesn't exist and the past has already happened (an a conceit to keep their fictional universe roughly comparable to our own) it becomes impossible to do a story where historical events in living memory of the people writing are altered, despite the blindingly obvious ethical reasons why you might want to. If you knew for a fact changing an event or series of events would make the world a better place in the future and you had the capability to do so, you'd be criminally remiss not to change history. “In Harm's Way” even admits this itself, with Spock's line about how in the altered timeline billions have died who wouldn't have otherwise and the mere presence of Commodore Decker and Admiral Kirk, who have been able to live out rich, full lives they wouldn't have been able to otherwise. But, because “The Menagerie” is a “canon” episode and thus not as fungible as something like what happens to Kirk after Star Trek Generations, Pike doesn't get to enjoy the benefits of the better future.

If you had the power to reshape history, why wouldn't you make the best future you could?