Sunday, August 23, 2015

Myriad Universes: Separation Anxiety Part 1: Bridges

Saucer separation. It's always been kind of a weird concept, if you think about it. Presumably the Enterprise is a capable enough craft on its own such that it could defend itself without the cumbersome process of politely asking the bad guys if they would be so kind as to hold their fire for a minute whilst the ship does the splits, yes? Andy Probert didn't even design the Galaxy-class to separate: He had to chop the ship up after the fact when word got to him late that Gene Roddenberry wanted the saucer to come off, because that was apparently something he always wanted the ship to do in the Original Series. And of course, it was prohibitively expensive for the VFX team to shoot a saucer separation scene every week, so that particular plot thread got promptly dropped (probably in hindsight wisely) after the first season.

But what if you did a story overtly about a saucer separation? One that uses the technobabble gimmick of the show not as a plot device, but as an actual level of textual metaphor? A story where the Enterprise is quite literally divided in half, with families and communities kept apart from each other by a vast expanse, with a symbolic reunification at the end?

This is essentially the backdrop for the event miniseries I call Separation Anxiety, spanning issues 39-44 of DC's version of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Between the Enterprise returning Captain Okona to his ship and now, we've had a few smaller serials one-off adventures, none of them especially noteworthy. Q came back in a rather embarrassing trilogy about turning the crew into Klingons, and the comic book line has tried to redeem a few more one-shot characters from the TV series-Sonya Gomez and Ardra, namely. While those were more or less functional tales that once again demonstrate the spin-off series' better mastery of its source material than the actual source material, and generally cleaning up the various messes it occasionally makes of Star Trek: The Next Generation's world, they're above par for this line's truest pinnacles and I can't really recommend them to a casual fan (though the Adra miniseries boasts what has got to be the most terrific title in the entire book line: “Shore Leave in Shanzibar!”).

As for Separation Anxiety itself, it's actually not a typical summer event miniseries mainly because it starts in October 1992, which means we're well into the TV show's sixth season speaking strictly chronologically. However, I read it as a far more fitting coda to the stories and themes of the fifth season, and the summer event series for 1993 is likewise a perfect fit for where the show will have just recently left off. So there's really no better time to look at this story than here, and in Star Trek's two-year 25th Anniversary year, such temporal chicanery seems more than appropriate. The separation itself doesn't happen in this opening issue, but it is effectively and ominously foreshadowed. There's the hint in the title, “Bridges”, a clever and subtle nod to the fact that an Enterprise split into two sections will in fact have two bridges, but this also refers to the multiplicity of subplots and character arcs this story introduces here. All of which, appropriately, revolve around the different ways bridge motifs can be used as metaphors: As liminal spaces, they can unite, divide or serve as a transition from one phase or place to another.

Ro Laren is sad because a very important Bajoran holiday is coming up, one that commemorates a great victory for humble everyday people over imperialism. Traditionally, this is a date meant to be spent with one's friends and family, but Laren doesn't have any friends or family on the Enterprise. Data offers a friendly ear in ten forward, and Laren begins to excitedly retell the story of how a small village heroically stood defiant in the face of a tyrant's encroaching army by forcing it to retreat at a narrow land bridge. Unfortunately, she is interrupted when the senior staff get called to the bridge to investigate what appears to be an artificial moon. Data tries to apologise to her as he gets up to leave, and while Laren says she understands completely, she's still obviously crestfallen as she's once again left alone.

On the holodeck, Doctor Crusher is spending some time with an old friend, Terry Oliver, the daughter of Beverly's replacement at Starfleet Medical. Terry has recently transferred to the Enterprise after her previous ship was destroyed by a species known as the Sztazzan, and though she claims she's over the tragedy, she's still clearly rattled by it. Their visit to a soaring alien cliffside span is cut short when Captain Picard calls them to the bridge. Miles O'Brien and Geordi La Forge are in the crucial moments of a pool tournament when Geordi is called away. Unfortunately for Miles, the rules state that a team that splits up at this stage is obligated to forfeit the championship. Scrambling to find a partner within “the next fifteen seconds”, Miles desperately enlists the aid of the first person he sees-Deanna Troi, who cautions him that “Betazoids do not play pool”.

In the ship's hair salon, Alexander is getting a haircut. Mott tries to make small talk with the young warrior about a tactical manouevre he heard was used to great effect on the USS Yorktown. Alexander unknowingly makes an insensitive remark to Mott about how the Enterprise and the Yorktown are very different ships and thus the same tactics would not apply, and as he and his father leave, Worf points out that Alexander probably hurt Mott's feelings. As he's in the middle of explaining how complete honesty might not always be the most tactful way of interacting with others, he's called to the bridge to investigate the moon. With the bridge crew assembled, the decision is made to send over an away team to explore the artificial structure, though Geordi, Worf and Deanna point out the possibility the moon might have been a dangerous weapon, as it appears to be thousands of years old and made from unfamiliar tech. As if to prove their point, a group of warships immediately materialize off the Enterprise's bow and take aim.

It's the Sztazzan.

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