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.


  1. The one that sticks out for me is Kirk's line to McCoy in the transporter room:

    The one that bugs me is when Peter asks Kirk to officiate at the wedding and Kirk gets uncomfortable... Because it means his Little Nephew is All Growed Up

    1. Yeah, they're *all* bad. I could have listed all of them but the video is embedded and this was running long as is.

  2. I appreciate this review of "Blood and Fire". However, trying to deny that ST:TNG was "appallingly and spectacularly heteronormative and reactionary" by pointing out that it was the studio execs, rather than the writers, that forced the show to be appallingly and spectacularly heteronormative and reactionary -- well, that's not a denial, it actually reinforces the common reasoning. I judge the show by what was actually shown, not what might have been written, or what was shot down.

    You yourself even admit "Star Trek never actually properly engaged with one of the biggest progressive concerns of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s." Apparently a number of people involved with Star Trek were on the side of the angels in this -- but they lost. For all its good points, the franchise had, and still has, this huge glaring flaw.

    1. OK yes. But this is what I was trying to hedge against with my comment about implied authors: The common reasoning lays this at the feet of the writing staff, and oftentimes goes so far as to actually name names with little to no grounds for accusation.

      Yes, it is deeply, deeply unfortunate that because of all this we end up with "The Outcast", "The Host" and "Blood and Fire" and a lack of even background binary and queer characters and that is a black mark on the history of the franchise. But I think it counts for something that the people actually making the creative decisions didn't want it to be this way.

      (Also, while I grant this for much of 80s and 90s Star Trek, there is one really, really big person nobody *ever* brings up when talking about this stuff. But we'll get to her in time.)

    2. Also it's worth stating again that the way I approach Star Trek is to concentrate on its potential and the explore what I personally have found meaningful and worthwhile about it. I'm far more interested in the ubiquitous cultural myth of Star Trek than I am in the extent bits of Soda Pop Art. Really, the only reason I care about the latter is for the insight it can give me into the former.

      This doesn't mean that the bits of Soda Pop Art shouldn't be critiqued and re-examined in a new light. I wouldn't be doing this project this way if I didn't think they deserved that. But ideas are given form through positionality and intent as well as through mechanical writing: it's what Star Trek means to people, and what it can mean to people, that's really more important than what it actually is. That's the whole reason why this show even exists in the first place, or really any Star Trek that isn't the Original Series to be honest.

    3. Ugh, *non*-binary that should be in the first comment. I am an idiot.

    4. I am not comfortable with the idea that "appallingly and spectacularly heteronormative and reactionary" means the same thing as "At most only very slightly less heteronormative and reactionary than pretty much every other comparable contemporary thing"

      No, I don't mean to exonerate TNG in this regard, but treating it as something unusual and spectacular seems to be exonerating all the rest of society.

    5. In terms of gay portrayals in Star Trek and acknowledging queer sexuality, it is worth noting that there is evidence to support particular naming and shaming on the production staff.

      René Echevarria doesn't get enough credit for trying to get queer content in under the radar. The Offspring has Lal choosing her own gender, a sign he takes credit for on the commentary. His second credited script, Transfigurations has a strong queer subtext. John Doe is queer Jesus. Handsome man rejects advances of female crew member, is described as a threat to the natural order of things by his own people. These were both before he was on staff. Similarly, Echevarria was one of the writers on Rejoined. Not to mention that his teleplay for Improbable Cause was the real last bastion of Bashir/Garak shipping. (They get each other chocolates!)

      However, also during The Offspring, Whoopi Goldberg changed her talk to Lal from "when a man and a woman..." to "when two people..." Allegedly the scene was to include a homosexual couple holding hands in the background, but David Livingston rushed down to the set to stop that. These are all names that are sourced, and these are all stories confirmed.

      Ronald D. Moore's infamous exit interview stated that the studio really didn't care about homosexuality on TNG or DS9, and it was internal elements that resisted it. Whether or not you take him at his word, the studio let DS9 do Rejoined and (ugh) the mirror universe episodes. Yes, the latter were exploitative, but the former was tactful and thoughtful, and there's no evidence the studio would have resisted it.

      Plus, while Blood and Fire is a crumby script (I've read his original TNG draft, which is crappy, but is better than this sounds), it was not fighting for space with the cream of the crop in it's original position. Richard Arnold famously argued it was a quality issue with the teleplay, but it's weird those quality issues didn't apply to Code of Honour, The Last Outpost, Datalore, The Neutral Zone or Angel One. It wasn't like it was a choice between this and The Measure of a Man.

      By the way, first time commentator, long time reader. Love the blog.

      Darren Mooney

    6. @Ross

      Yes, this is an argument of mine too. It irritates me a bit when TNG gets specifically called out for stuff like this when I really don't see how it was any worse than any contemporaneous TV show.


      Thanks for the comment, and welcome to the site!

      I appreciate the background information: I try to be even handed, but I freely admit backstage politics isn't a major strength of my approach here: I tried for awhile, but then threw up my hands once I realised I was hopelessly out of my league. I finally decided the best I could hope for was to aim for not actually being provably wrong. Always been a big fan of René Echevarria and Whoopi Goldberg and their contributions to the franchise though.

      Yes, "Code of Honor" and "Angel One" really are inexcusable (though "Angel One" isn't nearly as bad as "Are Unheard Memories Sweet?" would have been, for whatever that counts for). At least those other episodes you name-checked had one or two redeeming things about them.

      Interestingly, I just heard today from another reader that Richard Arnold recently said he objected to "Blood and Fire" because it personally offended him as a gay man. I'm not qualified to back that story up, and I've been trying to avoid talking about Arnold wherever possible, but I guess that's something that's been said as well.

      Again, I get too far tracing this stuff back I'll be gossiping forever and will never actually do any proper analysis. I just hope what I have access to is enough for my purposes.

    7. @ Josh


      That's a fair point, although I look forward to your redemptive reading of The Last Outpost. (The Neutral Zone is interesting because, to me, it's always been an adaptation of Balance of Terror in the style of TNG. So lots of talking and consulting and considering on the edge of a war, rather than pulpy submarine action, which is a nice way of delineating both TOS and TNG at the end of the first season of TNG. But I anticipate some insight on the a-story.)

      That said, the original script for Blood and Fire was pretty ropey, but it doesn't sound as bloated as this episode here. It wasn't good by any stretch, but - from my reading - it wasn't unsalvageable if given to the right writer to re-work and tweak. Indeed, the original script seems to have filled the same sort of niche filled by The Naked Now in the original run order - dangerous infection, abandoned Federation ship, hints at Picard/Crusher, gratuitous shout-outs to Kirk to assure viewers it's the same show, etc. I'm not sure it was THAT much worse than The Naked Now, although that's damning with an outright insult.

      In terms of redemptive qualities, though, actually showing that queer people exist in the future (particularly in 1987/88) would - I'd argue - have been forth doing on its own merits. Even if the script wasn't re-worked, which it should have been before reaching the screen, it would have set a precedent early in the show's run so that you could more comfortably have two same-sex people holding hands in Ten Forward two years later.

      Of course, this is all "coulda woulda shoulda", perhaps more suited to the alternate potential-filled universe you were exploring a week or so ago. :)

      @ Ross, Josh:

      I think the "calling TNG out" is rooted in the fact that Star Trek took such pride (particularly in the wilderness years) for being a progressive and open-minded franchise. Nichelle Nichols' oft-changing story about Martin Luthor King is fan lore, while people forget the context of the kiss in Plato's Stepchildren, heralding it as a huge step forwards in the portrayal of race relations. People forget racist drivel like The Changeling, and just remember that the future of Star Trek was diverse and welcoming.

      This is all debateable and questionable, but it's part of "the myth that Gene build and fostered during the wilderness years" and became something that people talk about when they talk about the franchise. With gay rights serving as the eighties and nineties equivalent of the civil rights movement, it makes sense that fans (and pop culture analysts) expected more.

      This, coupled with Roddenberry promising to feature gay characters in the lead up to TNG on the convention circuit (one such appearance inspired Gerrold to WRITE Blood and Fire, with Gene's blessing), heightened expectations. These expectations were never met.

      So yes, it is a little unfair, and a little unreasonable, but I'd argue the expectation is perfectly understandable - it wasn't hoisted on by fans, but created by the production team themselves.


    8. "That said, the original script for Blood and Fire was pretty ropey, but it doesn't sound as bloated as this episode here. It wasn't good by any stretch, but - from my reading - it wasn't unsalvageable if given to the right writer to re-work and tweak. Indeed, the original script seems to have filled the same sort of niche filled by The Naked Now in the original run order - dangerous infection, abandoned Federation ship, hints at Picard/Crusher, gratuitous shout-outs to Kirk to assure viewers it's the same show, etc. I'm not sure it was THAT much worse than The Naked Now, although that's damning with an outright insult."

      Yes, there's potential here. As I tried to point out a number of times in the post, Gerrold's a talented writer who needs an editor to help him be a good one. Give this to René Echevarria or, as I said in the post, Michael Piller, and you could have made something of it. Leave it all up to Gerrold, however, and you get, well, what you see above.

      "In terms of redemptive qualities, though, actually showing that queer people exist in the future (particularly in 1987/88) would - I'd argue - have been forth doing on its own merits. Even if the script wasn't re-worked, which it should have been before reaching the screen, it would have set a precedent early in the show's run so that you could more comfortably have two same-sex people holding hands in Ten Forward two years later."

      Yeah, I'd agree with this, though I do try to hedge against it a bit in my analysis: I'm still dubious "Blood and Fire" wouldn't have been an offensive ethical trainwreck, but I haven't read the original script myself. From the way you describe it, it wouldn't be terribly hard to point to it as a very flawed example of the show trying to say something very good, much as, actually, I'm going to argue IRT "The Neutral Zone" and "The Last Outpost". Had this gone out instead of "The Naked Now" the show quite possibly would have been in a healthier position early on.

      "Of course, this is all "coulda woulda shoulda", perhaps more suited to the alternate potential-filled universe you were exploring a week or so ago. :)"

      Ah, you know me so well! Stay tuned, is all I'll say for now ;-)

      "I think the 'calling TNG out' is rooted in the fact that Star Trek took such pride (particularly in the wilderness years) for being a progressive and open-minded franchise."

      Yes, absolutely. Star Trek is, and should be, held to a higher standard than other TV shows (both because of its potential and the way Roddenberry and co. talked it up) and people should always be mindful of this, especially when, as you say, the production team end up breaking their own promises *for whatever reason*.

      On the other hand, I don't quite see how this justifies claiming Star Trek was actually *worse* on said issues then contemporary 80s and 90s TV shows were: I don't see that that was the case, just that it wasn't always better and it probably should have been.

    9. Re Ron Moore: well, Moore spent years on BSG promising to introduce a same-sex couple as soon as he found "the right way to do it" (um, why not just the same way you introduce hetero couples?). And the "right way" turned out to be: a lesbian couple in which one has the other raped and tortured and the other kills the first in revenge.

      Oh, but don't worry: later on Moore introduces a second same-sex couple. This time the revelation concerns Gaeta, a relatively weak and passive male character, thus playing into problematic stereotypes (why not make it Doc Cottle?); the revelation is confined to a minisode; the actual relationship takes place offscreen and ends when Gaeta returns to the ship; we're quickly assured that Gaeta also had a romance with a female cylon who gets far more screentime; and the revelation of Gaeta's sexuality coincides with his becoming somewhat psychotic.

    10. Yes, I tend to find Ron Moore's word to be somewhat overvalued, no matter how talented a writer he may be.

      Simply because he had a massive falling out with the production team doesn't guarantee his side of the story is automatically more credible. Or that he isn't going to make the same mistakes himself.

  3. I was really glad to see the word 'subtext' come in, because while I'd never argue that more poignant, more obvious stories should have happened in regards to queer lifestyles, there's a real mystique and strength to occupying that subtextual space, rather than a supertextual one. It's very much the 'why' of Spock being a compelling closeted character, or Bashir and Garak's flirtations, and on and on and on. The subtext of kink and queerness has always been there. In a medium shaped by creative people, how could it not be? I mean, subtextually, Riker and Troi are swingers, probably Imzadi-linked, possibly consciously, during each other's conquests (so much more on that, later). Certainly as a reader, writer and artist, subtext, underground, alternatives are what appeal to me and always have. I'm far less interested in the overt.

    But being apropos only adds to that "what happens in your bedroom/I don't want to have to see it" double standard, as the passively intolerant would love to reduce queerness to subtext in real life as much as in fiction rather than learn from their discomfort. Bless my dad, as belligerent as he is, that's where his logic goes when you press him on these issues. It's where a lot of middle-aged men go. And Star Trek is as much for them as it is for us, I suppose, the generation of boys (and girls!) who watched Apollo land and grew up on Popular Mechanics. The same subtext can say different things to different generations, after all.

    I always found the "if it's a utopia, it's not a problem for them" argument to be the biggest cop-out. You use an alien race to allegorize every other damn thing. But I also grew up in and remember the 90s pretty well. None of the cultural zeitgeist of network TV choices are foreign to me. To say nothing of the fact that the quality of art found in film hadn't made its way to television yet like it has in recent years.

    1. Actually, its the allegorizing of alien races that's a big problem for me IRT Star Trek. I'm far more in favour of using them to help in world-building and as examples of cultural diffusion and differing societal norms.

      I agree that the "if it's a utopia, it's not a problem for them" argument can be used as a cop-out, but I don't think it actually has to be. There's certainly no reason why this should preclude, say, a same-sex couple holding hands in the background or giving one of the main characters an incidental gay romance: It wasn't that side of the dilemma that seemed to be holding them back, it was internal and external pressures from specific parties-All the utopianism did is make it hard to do a traditional Star Trek issue story with conflict about it.

      (This is where I think Berman is wrong, incidentally: I'm still a firm believer in the concept of plot without conflict and I'm not a fan of the kind of Star Trek story he's talking about anyway.)

      That's another thing I think was so brilliant about "Rejoined": It managed to allegorize homosexuality without actually telling you that's what it was doing. There really is no question that's what the Trill stigma against reassociation is about, and there's no question it's not at all an issue that Jadiza and Lenara are two women (and the fact one of the involved parties is Jadzia helps a lot). The episode is straightforwardly saying this kind of taboo is about nothing other than keeping two people who love each other from being together and very clearly wants us to think about how wrong that is.

      Though, as good as "Rejoined" was for the time, that's of course not to say there can't be more that could have and can be done with these casts of characters and the setting. I think there are ways Star Trek can inspire material social progress without allegorizing every single thing, and I actually find it a cop-out when it *does* do that: I like to see issues handled with a bit more maturity than that.

      "Blood and Fire" *almost* got at this in the beginning with how it portrayed Peter and Alex's relationship. But then Gerrold decided he needed to be *funny*...

    2. Also, I'm really glad you mentioned "middle aged men": Though I know bigoted and intolerant women, I know far, far more bigoted and intolerant men. And, at least as far as I can tell, *female* Star Trek fandom of the same generation you're describing had absolutely no qualms about nonbinary and queer identities in the slightest (Marshak and Culbreath perhaps excepted): They are, after all, the ones who gave us slash partly because it was "screaming obvious" Kirk and Spock were gay.

      Yes, a lot of that comes from a place of institutionalized misogyny as well and has as much to do with straight female sexuality...But the actual text makes the reading incredibly easy too...

      This is also what's going to help make early Star Trek: Deep Space Nine so wonderfully egalitarian and effective: It's this kicked into overdrive, and the fans now have friends in high places to boot. Same is true of Next Generation actually, but it's with early Deep Space Nine that this becomes standard operating procedure.

    3. no qualms about nonbinary and queer identities in the slightest (Marshak and Culbreath perhaps excepted)

      Well, M&C are obsessed with them; these issues dominate the subtext (at least) of all four of their novels, as well as being explicit in "Petard." Their take is problematic in various ways, but certainly not hostile; and they were among the first to explore these issues in "official" Trek fiction.

  4. At the end, when Yar The Elder is about to make her big heroic sacrifice, and she asks Kirk to make sure her kids are taken care of, did anyone else imagine her adding "And whatever you do, make sure they don't end up on the planet of the creepy dystopian mad-max gang wars"?

  5. I found this episode pretty cringeworthy with the whole way the gay couple were portrayed along withe all of the jokes and utterly uncomfortable with fusing their storyline along with the "AIDS" virus metaphor. Also in some way I think that there was to much of a big deal (in an EPIC sense) made of there being a gay couple in the story, which comes off in seeming that the the show is getting off on it, in almost a form of vicarious pleasure that seems to disrespect the characters.