So maybe you’d be embarrassed to be caught watching Star Trek? I used to be like that too. Here’s 7 reasons you won’t regret giving it a try:
1. It’s a great blend of intense philosophical, political, or emotionally gut-wrenching storylines with pure comic relief, action adventure, and cheesiness. It’s not just fluff, but it won’t drag you down if you watch it every night, either. Episodes often consider issues like when a natural or artificial creature crosses the line into sentience, how legitimate it is to interfere with someone else’s culture, what the rules of privacy are when you’re telepathic, and when you’re justified in breaking the law. The Original Series deals more heavily with logical and philosophical issues; The Next Generation deals with the struggle between fighting for justice and forcing your ideals on someone; Deep Space Nine deals with political intrigue and the struggle for ethics in the middle of war, deception and suspicion, racial tension, and a corrupt economy; Voyager deals with the struggle to adapt in crisis situations without losing your essential identity; and Enterprise…well, it’s horrible, but it has some great fight scenes. Don’t watch Enterprise.
2. The Prime Directive. This exists mostly in the world of The Next Generation, and it dictates that Starfleet explorers may not interfere in the natural development of a civilization; for instance, they can’t burst into a primitive society and blow holes in its religious worldview, and they can’t give advanced technology to people who aren’t ready to use it responsibly. This leads to a lot of thoughtful episodes where well-meaning captains break the Prime Directive when it seems like their obvious moral duty to step in, but their actions have disastrous unintended consequences. Shades of colonialism and nation-building!
3. The Borg. An honestly terrifying collective of “assimilated” cyborgs who think with one communal mind, the Borg raise questions of free will and individuality. The character Seven of Nine, in the Voyager series, struggles to regain her humanity after being freed from the collective, embodying a major Star Trek theme: what does it mean to be human? Some of the best parts of Star Trek involve the struggles of Seven of Nine, Data (an android), and The Doctor (a hologram) to define their sentience and individuality. Similarly, Vulcan characters, who rely on logic and suppress all emotion, struggle to appreciate the value of human emotion, and pagan, warlike Klingons struggle to embrace negotiation and compromise.
4. Bajorans and Cardassians. This racial conflict in Deep Space Nine, obviously based on Nazi history as well as Israeli-Palestinian conflict, yields some of the most moving episodes. Cardassians struggle (or not) to respect their former conquests and take responsibility for their atrocities; Bajorans struggle with dehumanizing Cardassians and demanding an eye for an eye. The stars of this subplot are Gul Dukat, the former Cardassian dictator who fluctuates fantastically between arrogance and hatred, blind self-justification, and a bizarre Messiah complex; and Kira, the Bajoran ex-freedom fighter and terrorist, who struggles to overcome the violent, black and white worldview she’s accepted since youth. There’s a really knock-out episode (“Duet”) in which a Cardassian, a low-level government employee haunted by his failure to resist the atrocities committed by his superiors, takes on the identity of a war criminal to bring himself to justice.
5. Fantastic acting. You probably think I’m joking, since Star Trek is known for its heavy-handedness and William Shatner style; but there are some really amazing performances: Brent Spiner, a Broadway veteran, convincingly plays the emotionless Data as well as Data’s misguided human creator Soongh and his corrupt counterpart Lore; Patrick Stewart, with his Shakespearean experience, plays Captain Picard with grace and deep emotion; and Andrew Robinson (who played the serial killer in Dirty Harry!) brings mesmerizing complexity to the role of clever, obsequious Garak, the “simple tailor” with a dark past that’s never quite revealed. Garak’s ever-changing life story and his subtle manipulation of everyone around him make him fascinating to watch.
6. The Ferengi, chiefly present in Deep Space Nine, offer spectacular comic relief. They’re a race of swindlers, and their lovingly detailed society is built around Sacred Commerce and the Rules of Acquisition (“Employees are the rungs on the ladder of success. Don’t hesitate to step on them”). The character Q, from Next Generation and Voyager, is hilarious every time he shows up. He’s an omnipotent but silly being from the supremely evolved Q “Continuum” who shows up at inconvenient moments either to lecture humanity on its primitiveness or to use his powers to amuse himself by annoying the busy crewmen. Next Generation and Voyager also feature a lot of comic relief episodes on the holodeck, where the crew can unwind in any simulated setting they can imagine–historical, fictional, or fantastical.
7. I don’t care what you say, William Shatner is cute.
Make sure to visit Kelly at http://www.thisaintthelyceum.org for the rest of the 7 Quick Takes!