Friday, September 10, 2010

Star Trek Week ... day 3

OK so yesterday I quoted the Wikipedia page that said "Best of Both Worlds," my No. 2, was the sign that "TNG" had come into its own and was no longer in the shadow of its predecessor. This statement is true. "BoBW" came out at the midpoint of "Trek"'s apex, 1989 - 1991, starting half way through "TNG" seasons 3 and culminating with Numbers 7 and 8 on our countdown: "Unification" and "Star Trek 6." (Part 1 of "Unificiation" available below.)

These two installments signaled the passing of the proverbial space torch from "TOS" to "TNG" with Leonard Nimoy appearing as Spock in two episodes of "TNG" and Michael Dorn appearing as Worf's grandfather in "ST6." They dovetailed together, spaced just a month apart from each other, with Spock teasing the audience about Captain Kirk's then-unknown fate in "Unification." From the script:

SPOCK Perhaps you are aware that I played a small role in the first overture to peace with the Klingons...

PICARD History is aware of the role you played, Ambassador.

Not entirely. It was I who asked Kirk to lead that peace mission. And I who had to accept the responsibility for the consequences to him and his crew. Quite simply, I am unwilling to risk anyone's life but my own on this occasion. I would ask you to respect my wishes and leave.

What did this mean? Was Kirk going to die in "ST6"? Of course, he didn't -- he flew off into the sunset. "ST6" was a glorious way to end a mission that had extended 20 years past the mere 5 promised. The trailer for "ST6" captures the highlights of the original crew's voyages, and gave every Trek fan a lump in his throat: (The voice work is Christopher Plummer, and he was the bad guy in "ST6," the music is from "Search for Spock.")

Magnificent way to send them off, with a montage of a classic moments. I wish they could have done something so classy for the "TNG" crew.

Part of my criteria for this list has been the legacy aspect of the episodes/movies highlighted: how well do they honor long-standing themes in the Star Trek universe and/or how well do they start these themes? These two installments beautifully do both, which is why "Generations" was so pointless. The torch had already been passed.

The scenes with Spock and Picard were more compelling than any of the Kirk/Picard stuff in "Generations." I think the reason that the scenes work so well is because

  1. Stewart and Nimoy are in the same league as actors (Shatner is not, though he's better than he gets credit).
  2. Picard and Spock can interact more meaningfully because of pre-existing relationships: Picard with Sarek and Spock with Kirk. Picard is the only man alive who a) can tell Spock that his father loved him (because of the mind-meld), and b) Spock can talk to with nostalgia. My favorite line in episode is where a very tired Spock says "Walk with me, Picard" -- you can hear the tenderness for Kirk that he can only express to a fellow captain of the Enterprise.
  3. I never felt that Picard would have grown up idolizing Kirk, and that there would be some great moment with the two of them. (The guy on "TNG" who was always talking about Kirk was Riker, who would have been the much better partner for a Kirk story.)
  4. Spock and Picard are more similar (as Spock says, "There's an almost Vulcan quality to the man") in personality, but they're different in their function, making the interplay between the two more dynamic. Everyone was excited to see the scenes with Data and Spock, because they were the non-human "counterparts" in each show, but they didn't have any of the poignancy or drama as the Picard/Spock stuff. (Wait, not that I'm implying there's any Picard/Spock stuff...)

Moreover, "ST6" and "Unification" prove one of my theories of Star Trek -- the main character isn't Kirk, it's Spock. Demonstrably, the best sign of this fact is the 2009 reboot, which was successful because they picked Nimoy and not Shatner to join them. Note also, in terms of legacy, that the only "TNG" episode referenced in the reboot was "Unification."

Spock is also the driving figure of "ST6." He's the one who essentially manipulates Kirk into undertaking the mission with the Klingons, he's the one who rescues Kirk, he figures out who's responsible for the treachery. Kirk just gets swept up in the action. Kirk has more of an arc -- he goes from "never trusting Klingons" -- to overcoming his prejudice (continuing his character thread from "TSFS"), so I guess he's the protagonist, but only in the same way Frodo is the protagonist of "Lord of the Rings" (while Gandalf runs the show).

Now of course I also need to mention Worf in this, because he had to be the one from "TNG" to reach back to "TOS." Worf (technically his grandfather) is Kirk and McCoy's lawyer -- so we have a Klingon trying to save Captain Kirk. This is another sign that "TNG" had overtaken "TOS" -- we were more accustomed to Klingons being our allies than we were to them being our adversaries. ("DS9" would make the Klingons bad guys again, but it didn't last long because it didn't feel right anymore.)

Returning to the pointlessness of "Generations." If there was a character from "TNG" who would have fit well with Kirk from the movies, and the arc he completes in "ST6" -- overcoming his prejudice against Klingons -- IT WAS WORF. For Kirk to team up with a Klingon would have been more meaningful than teaming up with Picard. The Kirk and Worf characters would have presented a more dramatic element despite the fact (and in truth because of the fact) that they did not have corresponding positions on their respective ships.

Some of the allegory in "ST6" is a little dated at this point (Klingons = Russians, Gorkon = Gorbachev, Praxis = Chernobyl), but it still works, and its production values, for a Star Trek movie are second only to "First Contact" (and probably the reboot). And as far as a way to send off a crew, it's never been matched.

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