Retconned To Death

A meme popped up in a facebook group I’m part of, a meme asserting that Babylon 5 was the third best Star Trek series of all time. I can see how this claim might be true. Since Deep Space 9 was in actuality the third Star Trek series, and since J. Michael Straczynski (Joe) suddenly came up with the seed money to create Babylon 5 after suing Paramount, the owners of the Star Trek franchise, and then dismissed the suit after an agreement with Paramount, after Paramount realized how much their new series looked like Joe’s pitch to them for Babylon 5; it is quite easy to say that the third Star Trek series was Babylon 5, if not the third best series of Star Trek.

The meme’s real problem becomes apparent when it suggests that the second best Star Trek series after The Original Series (The Only Series) was Star Trek: Enterprise (long time readers of this blog should have been able to hear my head explode when I read that name off the list) I must object to this outrage in the strongest of terms. Enterprise was crap. It was so much of a crap show that I used it to illustrate just how bad science fiction television can be:

…But I’ll go even farther and state for the record that everything Star Trek after and including a good portion of Star Trek: Voyager has been crap. One could argue (and one did) that at least half of TOS season 3 was crap:

Half of TNG was really boring and terrible. Half of Voyager was terrible. It is still the greatest and most culturally significant franchise in SF history. When you get right down to it, art is hard. Consistent quality over a period of decades may not be a reasonable expectation. Might as well savor the high points and forget the terrible stuff. Forget the terrible stuff except for that Voyager episode when they went too fast and turned into lizards. That episode is too unforgivably stupid to forget.

I have to disagree with him though. There is no saving Star Trek at this point. Star Trek has irredeemably jumped the shark. After Star Trek: Discovery promoted itself by having a character claiming a planet with a shredded battle flag. After Star Trek: Lower Decks descended into the gags we fans lamely thought up for ourselves forty years ago (sealing a crewmans ass closed with Starfleet’s medical equipment? Has that joke showed up yet? I’ll bet it has) These shows make Star Trek: Enterprise look like high drama now.

I know, I know, there was a post I wrote that responded to a suggestion that Star Trek jumped the shark way back at the beginning of this blog:

…and I went on a few short years later to declare Star Trek dead all on my own:

However, like most things, there remains still more to say on this subject. There is a reason that Galaxy Quest is considered one of the best Star Trek movies (in the top ten) a reason that the riffs on the ideas first presented in Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry seem to be spreading outside of science fiction television and are presented widely now as just the way people should try to be. That reason? Star Trek has ceased to be on the cutting edge of television and forward-thinking philosophy. It has become a myth that overshadows the current attempts to reclaim the glory that was 1966 Star Trek. A franchise destroyed by its corporate owner’s inability to understand what it was that made the show special:

Planet Money – How Desi Invented Television – January 22, 2021

I’m not just talking about poor scripting or bad acting or stupid technobabble or whatever (Voyager lizard episode fresh in the mind now, thanks) Gene Roddenberry was part of a revolution that was not of his own creation, and Star Trek was one of the first new shows to come out of that vision of what television could really be if we gave it a chance. Desi Arnaz had a vision of making television in a way that had never been done before, and Gene Roddenberry had an idea for a show that would present people in a way that had never been seen before. They, together with the cast and crew of the 1966 Star Trek series, created something that has never been equalled since that time in television history.

None of the movies ever came close to being what TOS was when it aired. None of the series ever came close to equaling TOS in its effect on American society. No series since TOS has come close. This is a simple fact established in the number of myths that have moved out into society at large from inside the show and the fans of that show that was. Everything created since the 1966 series has been an attempt to recapture the essence of that show and harness it as a money making vehicle for its corporate owners. All of it has done nothing more than cement TOS as the only Star Trek worthy of being called Star Trek.

Everything since the 2009 Abramanation has represented a wholesale abandonment of Roddenberry’s philosophy for the future society the stories are supposed to be about. This betrayal was radically on display in Into Darkness:

…Where, not only does an admiral of starfleet fire on his own ships, killing his own crews, but he attempts to hold them hostage with terroristic threats. This is ironically the opposite lesson from the one we learned from Space Seed, the TOS episode that featured the character Khan seen recreated in some Mirror, Mirror version of himself in Into Darkness, the lesson being that terrorism no longer motivates individuals to comply with the demands of the terrorist in that distant future. That the knowledge that terrorists use our own emotions against us empowers us to defy our own emotional drives and makes us stronger than the terrorists could ever be. That lesson forgotten, the actors go through the same old cardboard cutout routines that they are paid to perform. The cardboard villain fails. The paper hero triumphs. The popcorn is stale and the sodas are flat, and I am no longer interested in the things that exploit my nostalgia for days gone by.

J.J. Abrams not even taking an interest in what kind of stories Star Trek had been about prior to his helming the 2009 movie shows itself in the works that he has created since 2009. Paramount’s insistence on treating the shows they’ve generated since 2009 as all equally Star Trek has driven off a lot of the original fans of the show. It is one thing to love Galaxy Quest and laugh at the good humored poking of fun at all things Trek from outside the Trek universe. It is another thing to consume this stuff that calls itself Trek and then continue treating it as if it is all worthy of fannish devotion.

My conclusion stated flatly? It isn’t worth the investment of time to even consume and then write criticisms of it, and I won’t waste even more time talking to people who think it is worth that investment of time. This is just more of the same from me on the subject of nostalgia. I don’t waste time arguing with Star Wars fans about the debacle that has been the Star Wars franchise since the beginning. There are other worthy subjects out there to spend time on, so I’ll do that instead.

Since this article started with my objections to a Babylon 5 meme, I want to point out that Joe’s worthy efforts to present his five year story arc failed in one important way. He had to fundamentally alter the story arc in season two in order to allow for the failing health of Michael O’Hare. Consequently the show did not end with the unavoidable destruction of the station and everyone on her at the time, as the arc was originally plotted out to end. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the show right up to the point where Claudia Christian left at the end of season four. I felt season five was seriously weak tea, an interesting sideshow of events that had to happen in order to fill out the final season that Joe didn’t think he would be allowed to produce because of the way the show’s broadcast contracts were mishandled by the various television networks of the time.

Since we’re all about harvesting nostalgia for the good old days for its dollar value in the here and now, why don’t we try that with the second most influential series in television history? Babylon 5, the first of the long-form story arc multi-season shows that aired on television, the show that lead to the kind of scripting that you find in almost every single television series on the air today. Gone are the one-off shows that do not develop characters from episode to episode in a glorious never-changing now. The characters reflect on the things we’ve seen them do, and their previous actions are referenced in later episodes directly even if the stories themselves don’t flow from episode to episode seamlessly. Babylon 5 gave us that.

Let’s take that original Babylon 5 five year story arc and generate a new show with new actors that begins and ends the arc as Joe intended when he plotted it out and pitched it to the networks back in 1992. New scripts, new characters, same overarching story. Let’s do it just to show how malleable the narrative device is, how influential all the different parts that go into creating a show can be.

Maybe then we can understand just how Desi Arnaz was as influential as Gene Roddenberry was in the making of Star Trek, but less influential than the authors of the scripts and the actors in front of the cameras were. Maybe then we’ll understand what we sacrifice when we let people shake us down for nostalgia’s sake. At the very least we’ll get the conclusion to Babylon 5 that we were promised when we started watching it back in 1993. One that will look great on HD television, even.

facebook

Another image from my lovingly maintained electronic shrine to Babylon 5, transferred from computer to computer since 1993. Image found available online here

Featured image: Star Trek’s Enterprise superimposed over a satellite image of Earth

Time is the Fire in Which We Burn

Each minute bursts in the burning room,   
The great globe reels in the solar fire,   
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)   
What am I now that I was then?   
May memory restore again and again   
The smallest color of the smallest day:   
Time is the school in which we learn,   
Time is the fire in which we burn.

From: Calmly We Walk through This April’s Day
by Delmore Schwartz

Featured image: Screencap from Star Trek: Generations

Still Alive Old Friend

Still, old friend. You’ve managed to kill just about everyone else, but like a poor marksman, you keep missing the target.

Kirk to Khan. Me to 2020

This thought occurred to me when Chadwick Boseman (November 29, 1976 – August 28, 2020) (Wikipedia) died from complications of cancer back in August. The man was so amazing on screen. Now imagine being that amazing while all the time knowing what was eating you alive from inside. The treatments. The pain.

…And still. Some of the best performances ever recorded on film by anyone. I am in awe of him and so many other people out there who strive and achieve against such great odds. It inspires me to keep going. To not give up.

Kirk to Spock. It’s two hours. Are you ready?

Wrath of Khan (the real movie)

Starfleet? Space Force?

Back in 2018, I was laughing at the stupidity of the Orange Hate-Monkey (OHM) and his Stormtrumpers.

RAnt(hony)-ings

I’m not laughing anymore. This was on the Stonekettle Station Facebook wall today.

I’ve done a cursory look online (check out the image credit on that wikipedia page) and the symbolism does seem to be official if not actually adopted by the branch of military service that Congress funded last month. I’ll try to forgive congress the insult to American intelligence that their funding of one of the idiocracies pet ideas legitimizes.

Yes. That is potentially a theft of intellectual property in the form of a proposed device for the OHM’s Space Farce. …er Force. While you are laughing remember that, to the rest of the world, you are what they are laughing at. You the reader, not you the president. Not you Stonekettle Station. You, dear reader. All of you who count yourselves as Americans. You are a joke if this bullshit is not brought to an end.

Facebook – Stonekettle Station

Well okay. That was funny.


As far as who owns the rights to the IP in question, that isn’t clear.

I thought of “Mirror, Mirror” after seeing the Trump administration’s new Space Force logo, which the president tweeted out Friday with a characteristically awkward nod to our “Great Military Leaders” of the “Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” (caps and punctuation his). Within minutes, the logo was lampooned widely for appearing to rip off the logo for Starfleet Command from “Star Trek.” Indeed, with the two logos placed side by side, the resemblance is so remarkable that I had to wonder whether Melania Trump was part of the design committee.

Apparently, the new logo is just another iteration on the former Air Force Space Command logo, which also featured an upward pointing delta, but the final product with its concentric rings and swooping orbits looks so much like Starfleet’s, I fear it could easily confuse any Vulcans and Klingons who see it.

This somewhat comical appropriation of “Star Trek” imagery carries a certain irony. The universe of “Star Trek” has always provided a hopeful, near-utopian vision for humanity, where we have finally learned to set aside things like racial prejudice and gender inequality, and we all work together toward a common purpose and quest. Money is a thing of the past because no one wants for any material need, and we have united much of the galaxy in a peaceful assembly of sovereign worlds.

Contrast that for a moment with the current administration’s values and practices: racial resentments and fear stoked for cynical political purposes, the wealthy made even more obscenely so through grift and political influence, coarse and bullying behavior masquerading as diplomacy, to name but a few. Even the notion of a “Space Force” seems patently absurd coming from an administration where science is mocked and disregarded.

At times it truly feels like the past three years have had us beamed into a parallel universe, where instead of a president we have a mendacious thug, and where notions like the U.S. Senate being a deliberate, serious body that serves as a vital check on presidential power now seem quaint and naive.

George Takei

If, however, the government took orders from the OHM, and the OHM’s intent was to mimic the Starfleet insignia (being an idiot of very little brain, but then I repeat myself) then the logo for Space Force as it is presented by the OHM probably constitutes theft of intellectual property. Proving the theft, proving the OHM’s intentions, then becomes the next hurdle to clear.

The Starfleet insignia as we know it today didn’t exist until the motionless picture (my second favorite Star Trek film) back in 1979. This was long after Gene riffed on the theme of the gold pins that NASA gave to astronauts on going to space to create the various ships insignias seen in the original Star Trek series (1967-69) None of those pins have an upward delta device with a star, also pointing upward, in the center of them. That insignia was just for the Enterprise crew, and the star inside the stylized delta represented command crew. A real fan will know what the two other symbols inside the delta were, and what they represented. The Air Force Space Command insignia does have a delta pointing upward, and that has been acknowledged to be a Star Trek reference. There is your bit of trivia for today.

Tricorder?

Facebook – Stonekettle Station

Stonekettle Station has a tricorder. Well, almost a tricorder. If the device captured all measurable energy in the recording field and not just the visible light, they’d have a tricorder. The future is now.

In the science-fictional Star Trek universe, a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor (environment) scanning, data analysis, and recording data.

On May 10, 2011, the X Prize Foundation partnered with Qualcomm Incorporated to announce the Tricorder X Prize, a $10 million incentive to develop a mobile device that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board-certified physicians.[12] On Jan 12, 2012, the contest was officially opened at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.[13][14] Early entrants to the competition include two Silicon Valley startups,[15] Scanadu and Senstore, which began work on the medical tricorder in early 2011.

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Facebook – Stonekettle Station

A Tribute To René Auberjonois

TriAngulum Audio StudiosBack Trek- A Tribute To René Auberjonois – Dec 9, 2019

…He might have first run across René Auberjonois in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I will always think of him in his role from the series Benson, the only spin-off from one of my favorite TV shows, SOAP, and the only other character aside from the title character from SOAP that was really memorable. I had forgotten that he played Father Mulcahy in the movie version of M*A*S*H. I’ll miss him and the others from Trekdom who have left us over the last few weeks. It has been a rough year.

Admiral Titan EntertainmentBenson – Season 4 Ep. 8 – Mar 8, 2018

How did I not know that Ethan Phillips was also in Benson?

Babylon 5: Believers. The Trolley Problem.

This discussion started in the Babylon 5 fan group. There is a rule in the group that disallows all politics and religion that isn’t part of the show from being discussed in the group. If a post strays too far into the real world, the moderators will delete it. I know why moderators do this, but I don’t honestly care. It is unrealistic to expect human beings to be able to separate their beliefs from the entertainment that they enjoy. Especially a show like Babylon 5 or Star Trek, shows that are always tweaking politics and religion in the course of their storytelling. Discuss any episode of the show without straying into weighty matters of philosophy or politics. Go ahead and try.

The long and the short of why I started the article this way is, I have no idea how long the writing I’ve done on the subject will exist within the Facebook group. It just takes one religious zealot, one antitheist, and the thread goes poof. Can you blame me that I want to export the writing so as preserve it?

This image is from the Babylon 5 episode Believers. Here is a link to a synopsis of the episode in case you haven’t seen it or if you don’t want to spend an hour watching the show right now. Also, you should stop reading now if you don’t want any spoilers before you watch the episode, because this article will be full of them.

Still with me? Okay then, here we go. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The OP included this statement with the image, “I still remember how outraged I was when I saw it the first time.” A sentiment that I wholeheartedly endorse. When the episode aired back in 1994 I was furious when the credits rolled. As a young parent myself, I couldn’t imagine how any parent could be so blind as to do what they did in the final scenes. The story revolves around a sick child,

Shon, a young alien boy, has developed a “congested blockage in his upper air passages.” When Dr. Franklin explains to Shon’s parents that Shon’s condition can be cured by a fairly routine surgical procedure, the parents seem bewildered. “You will cut him open?” they ask, and explain that the “Chosen of God” cannot be “punctured” — for their souls will escape.

The main conflict of the episode, above, is introduced in the teaser opening. The show starts this way for a reason, and develops the way it does specifically in service to the moral quandary of the problem. “Oh, but his soul!” say his parents. The soul is unmeasurable, unidentifiable. The soul, for the purposes of this episode, is non-existent. The McGuffin, in scriptwriting terms.

There are other episodes of the show where the soul is treated as a physical or at least detectable energy presence. The episode Soul Hunter, eight episodes before this one in the first series, springs immediately to mind as an example of this. So the problem isn’t that there are no souls in the show, or that the writer, David Gerrold, didn’t flesh out the story well enough. It is simply necessary in this episode that the presence of the soul cannot be detected because if it could be verified as being present after the surgery, then there is no moral quandary. There is no story to tell.

When I ran across the thread discussing the episode it already had over 100 comments. However, in reading through the comments I found a near absence of understanding of the purposeful moral dilemma presented by the story. Comments like this one,

Sorry, but I call BS on that one. “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable; AKA, non-existent.” Is nothing more than an argument to silence. For the vast majority of human history things like cells, atoms, and gravity were “Unmeasurable, unidentifiable;” so they were “AKA, non-existent”, right? Just because it is not (yet) measurable does not mean it does not exist. 

As I have mentioned a number of times about this episode, the reasons for this particular belief were not addressed. That’s either a failure of Franklin or David Gerrold.

His willingness to blame the writer and actor simply reveals his beliefs on this particular subject. His rejection of the argument is far more revealing of his moral rigidity and lack of understanding of the mechanics of storytelling than it is a truthful observation about the episode and the moral quandary that it contains.

Like the trolley problem, there is no right answer to this problem. In the trolley problem you are asked to choose between taking one life or five under varying circumstances. When the problem is framed one way, you predominantly get an answer that underscores utilitarian ethics; i.e. most people will choose to sacrifice one life to save five. However, when the problem is framed another way, usually requiring the person making the decision to take an active physical role in the decision by pushing a person onto the tracks to stop the trolley, as one example, most people will chose to allow the five people to die.

The problem here, narrowly defined, is medical intervention vs. natural selection. The doctor is required to help his patients. He makes a reference to this fact when he alludes to taking a medical oath to do no harm. The good doctor saw his moral obligation as at least attempting to save the child’s life. The child will end up dead no matter what the doctor does. Of course, neither he nor the audience knows this until the reveal at the end.

The parents knew their child was dying. They expected to find him dead when they were summoned back to the medical lab. When he was instead alive and well, they knew that the doctor had violated their beliefs and saved the child against their wishes. So they acted on their beliefs and did what they thought should have been allowed to happen in the first place.

If the soul is measurable, produce a measurement. If it is definable, define it in a way that can be demonstrated empirically. In this specific episode of Babylon 5 there was no measurement, no definition. In the world that we exist in, believers have been trying to prove the existence of the soul for hundreds of years. They have yet to demonstrate a single method for determining the properties of a soul, and yet few humans will step forward and say they have no soul. Why is this? The soul cannot be shown to be real by any measurement that we humans can attempt, and yet we all still believe that we all have a soul. That it is important we not deny the existence of our own souls.

The doctor is certain that the parents will see reason. He is certain about what his moral path is. The parents are certain that their child should be dead. They are certain of their moral path. The conflict is unresolvable, on purpose. You are supposed to question “what is the moral course?”

Delinn asks the only important question “Whose beliefs are the correct ones?” when she refuses to help the parents stop the operation. Whose beliefs are correct, and how do you demonstrate the correctness of your beliefs? What would have happened if the parents had accepted that their child was healthy but unchanged? If they had taken him home to their planet, would the rest of their people have recognized him as a demon on sight? Or would they have blithely accepted that medicine had saved the boy without loosing his soul? They wouldn’t know that he had been cut unless they could sense the change in his body like a soul hunter would in that other episode.

The boy’s parents did know, because they said goodbye to him minutes before he would have died only to return and find him alive and well. But if they could have accepted him, would anyone else have noticed? This was the lesson I learned from the episode and I’ve carried it with me ever since. You cannot save a child from their parents without removing the child from the parents. The separation has to be physical, and the child has to accept that this is the right thing to do. Without that action, without the agreement of the person you are trying to help, you will simply deliver the lamb to the slaughterer at another time and place, and you might as well have not bothered to make the attempt in the first place.

Act or not act, the outcome is the same in this story. The only question is, what was the moral thing to do? I still side with Dr. Franklin. You, however, are free to disagree.

The avalanche has already started; It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

Ambassador Kosh

Character Investment

Facebook Memories has served up the hack job I did on Star Trek: Beyond when that trailer came out. I’ve run across it more than once now, enough times that I feel I should at least mention how wrong I was about the film somewhere on the blog. The trailer I saw on Facebook, shared on Facebook, was not the first trailer, but trailer number two. This trailer.

Star Trek Beyond | Trailer #2 | Paramount Pictures International

When I shared the trailer I simply paraphrased from Abramantions Multiply: It is still an Abramanation. The possibility of suckage is high.

The damn trailer has the Bad Robot logo on it. I consider that to be fair warning of impending suckage after the disaster that was LOST seasons 4 through 6. I suffered through all of LOST, the Abramanator will not trick me into liking his work again. I tried. I really did. I tried to make sense of those last seasons of LOST. I tried watching the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Then I declared Trek dead. The Nutrek reboots are bad in many ways, as I and others have gone into great detail to describe in the past. Details that long-time readers of this blog will know about. They are bad in ways that a lot of popular movies are bad these days (Star Wars 7. Mad Max 4) but also bad because of the disconnect with the universe that Gene set out to create.

However, I did finally break down and watch Star Trek: Beyond, just as I watched Star Trek: Into Darkness edited for television and wished I could have my two hours back. After watching Star Trek: Beyond I had to admit that not all Nutrek sucks ass to an equal degree. In fact, Star Trek: Beyond really does try to go beyond, to leave all the previous attempts to tell grand movie stories using Star Trek as a vehicle, and just try to do a Star Trek story as a movie.

Simon Pegg penned a decent little story when he wrote the script. The actors playing the parts delivered their usual best work; and since they weren’t working from the Abramantors crap scripts, the resulting blockbuster spectacle is pretty watchable from just about any perspective that you might come to it. It’s not even bad Trek, per se. There are some points that I might object to from a purist standpoint, but those points can be overruled by watching any number of classic episodes that diverged from Gene Roddenberry’s strict guidelines for how the Trek universe manifested itself. At least one of the episodes that breaks his rules is one he wrote himself. So there are flaws that a purist might take exception to, but anyone trying to watch it with disbelief suspended and a willingness to let the story progress unprotested (how to approach watching any film) will probably walk out of a showing counting it as time well spent.

So, apologies to the cast and crew of Star Trek Beyond. For the first time since First Contact they produced a show that was truly worth watching. They produced a payoff for all the fans who have hung on through decades of bad filmmaking. The characters we’ve loved since the sixties finally felt like they might actually be the same characters that we fell in love with, even though they were portrayed by different actors.

Paramount should try to make sure that Abrams’ company logo does not appear on any more Star Trek properties if they want to win fans back to the show. Abrams has burned too many bridges among the fan community to be welcome even producing films that have any kind of fan following. This should have been clear after the failure of Star Trek: Into Darkness. When he screwed up Star Wars after screwing up Star Trek, it has to be painfully obvious that he screws up everything he touches.

I mentioned it more than once on Facebook.

But when all is said and done, it’s just another summer dark ride. Lots of great stuff to look at, lots of things exploding, lots of spectacular FX, and when it’s over, you get out of the chair and go pee. There’s not a lot here to argue about. There’s no moral dilemma.

What attracted me to classic Trek is that the show was about something. Every episode had a chunk of idea in it, big enough to chew on for a while.

Too much of what passes for entertainment today is about justifying cruelty to someone else. Not enough is about sitting down and finding a way to avoid the violence.

And I wonder if that’s a reflection of what we’ve become … or one of the reasons we’ve become what we’ve become.

David Gerrold

Stormtrumpers Are Anti-Trek

Stormtrumpers can’t like Star Trek. It would be a causality violation if any of them are caught in the act of enjoying Star Trek. If you do like and watch Star Trek, you can’t vote for the Orange Hate-Monkey. This is simply not allowed per the rules of the space-time continuum.

We will be stopping by to repossess your collector’s items after the election if you do vote for the Orange Hate-Monkey. Remember, we have a time surveillance agency on our side. We’ll know who, where and when you are. Just be prepared for our visit.

From Facebook. FYI, we already adjusted your timeline.