It’s A Trap! (S02:E02)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Where Silence Has Lease

The Enterprise is pulled into a localized phenomenon they’re studying, becoming a rat in a larger being’s experiment.

This is a basic escape-from-a-snare plot, done fairly well. There’s some awkwardness of role and relationship on the ship. But it’s an eerie and soon frightening trap with well-accomplished spatial confusion and wonderful use of sound and silence to heighten the tension. It also has a welcome focus on their role as explorers, as learners and investigators instead of fighters.

What was important to me then were various points of both character development and, sometimes, remarkable wisdom:

+ When Data is pressed to parse out some understanding of the mysterious phenomenon from a lack of data, he says, “The most elementary and valuable statement in science, the beginning of wisdom, is ‘I do not know.’ I do not know what that is.” Embracing the unknown is fundamental to just about every element of life for me, and I expect this moment helped guide me in that direction.

+ Picard feels that his ship runs best when officers share freely what’s on their mind; he says this, and acts on it. Though the final decision is his, he supports his officers in collaborating with one another and in contributing richly to the discussion that Picard uses to reach his decisions. Collaboration is kind of a basic default setting for me, by temperament. But as far as having role models to learn the actual skills, Picard was my first.

+ When measurements that Data’s taken don’t yield the results she’s expecting, Dr. Pulaski turns to the others to say, “It does know how to do these things, doesn’t it?” She gets quite a few looks, and is assured of Data’s competency by the captain.1 It occurs to her that she might be out of line somehow, so she then says to Data, “Forgive me, I’m not used to working with nonliving devices… forgive me again, your service record says that you are alive. I must accept that.” Despite the fact that Data is a Starfleet officer, she still finds it incomprehensible to treat him as a living being. Her inability to perceive him as sentient grows more and more ludicrous, and annoys me as much now as it did then. Again, either the writers intend for her to be a truly obnoxious character, or they believe her responses to Data are understandable on some level. Perhaps they’re trying to illuminate what prejudices Data must deal with, or setting the stage to question his personhood further and more directly. But it’s at the expense of any likeability or sense on Pulaski’s part. My response as a 14-year old was based on my desire to defend Data in particular, who had become my friend. But as an adult, I find myself angry that anyone is being treated this way. I find Pulaski’s logic and ethics to both be profoundly lacking, and consider her to be as dangerous as anyone else who so easily negates the personhood of someone standing right in front of them.

+ When the Enterprise appears to destroy an entire Romulan ship threatening them, there are expressions of delight, relief, and accomplishment among the crew. This disappoints me. This show rarely reinforces the idea that our enemies are wholly evil and worthy of death. This is an odd moment to see.

+ The entity that has trapped them eventually decides to explore how they die, and explains to Picard that it will kill a third to a half of the crew to accomplish this. Picard refuses to allow this to happen, and authorizes an auto-destruct for the whole ship. He could have allowed them to be toyed with; he could have submitted to the entity and tried to keep some of them alive at the expense of others. But he chose dignity and integrity over simple survival. It was the only example I’d seen, outside war, of certain values being more important than one’s life. This kind of example would certainly shape my spiritual life as I grew into ideals of nonviolent resistance.

+ After Picard has ordered the autodestruct, there is a 20 minute delay for the crew to prepare. Picard finds himself being asked whether he believes in an unchanging afterlife of some sort of paradise, or if death is just a door into nothingness?3 He replies:

Considering the marvelous complexity of universe – its clockwork perfection, its balances of this against that, matter, energy, gravitation, time, dimension – I believe that our existence must be more than either of these philosophies, that what we are goes beyond Euclidian or any other practical measuring systems and that our existence is part of a reality beyond what we understand now as reality.4

This was mind-blowing at 14, when I hadn’t given much thought to any afterlife, and when I desperately wanted to leave the distorted reality I was in. What was more transformative than anything else about it, though, was the repeating pattern of finding a third option when offered only two. I am realizing I learned a lot about the act of queering from Captain Picard.

1. At the time, the rest of the crew’s response to Pulaski felt like them tolerating a bully, and my current opinion’s not too far away from that. I appreciate the maturity of friends not leaping to Data’s rescue, but I also wish someone would call out her shitty behavior.
2. From
3. I’m wary of how religion will be treated as a whole in the series. What I remember of it being directly addressed seemed to revolve around magical thinking and, at best, a mythic-literal faith. I hope the narrow description of the afterlife here is not intended as a stand-in for most religious concepts of death.
4. Yes, it’s a long sentence. And yes, Patrick Stewart knocks it out of the goddamn park. (Actually, just go ahead and assume that last sentence goes without saying as a footnote to every episode.) Apparently he also quoted from this speech at Gene Roddenberry’s funeral.

Justice, Boobs and Awkwardness (S01: E07)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.


When the Enterprise stumbles on a beautiful planet with friendly, sensuous inhabitants, they send down an away team to explore shore leave potential. But when Wesley accidentally breaks a minor rule, a Draconian justice system is revealed.

My impression is that this is an episode many fans would consider one of the most embarassing. There’s sex jokes, and awkwardness, and the dreaded Wesley is pivotal to the plot. There’s also an entire planetful of thin, blond, white but tan, able-bodied, cisgendered, heteronormative hedonists. It’s a stereotypical southern California paradise morphed into a sci-fi trope, and that’s just not “cool”.

But for lasting impression on me, this is a major episode. And there’s multiple reasons why.

First, questioning sexual practices: I had no idea at 13 that the sexual mores of the culture I was in weren’t the only possible constellation of assumptions and beliefs. So finding a whole culture with such different sexual mores, who thought of sex as play and integrated it seemingly into every facet of life, was a revelation. I began to access the distance and perspective it would take to question for myself what I saw around me and what I wanted my sexual values to be.

Then, questioning the justice system: Picard wrestles again with ethics and the Prime Directive, with another powerful unknown entity watching. Picard is presented with two conflicting systems of law, and must decide which to follow, with a crew member’s life hanging in the balance. This was another chance to step outside my own culture’s customs and assumptions of how things are done, and see that the concept of justice could be structured far differently. Capital punishment is seen as unethical by Starfleet culture, and we learn they no longer practiced it at all (They say something to the effect of “Our justice system didn’t always work, but now it does”).

I had already come across such forced choice ethical dilemmas before… the vague sorts of questions that precocious and curious kids explore: if definitively saving one life meant possibly letting a larger number die, which would you choose? When the option of saving Wesley presents danger to the entire ship, Data asks Picard this question outright, and his answer was a revelation to me:

Data: Would you choose one life over a thousand, sir?
Picard: I refuse to let arithmetic solve questions like that.

It was the first time that, presented with two options, someone instead suggested a third way of looking at things. In that way alone, it changed my life.

Finally, Picard as role model: I think this is really where my authentic connection to Picard starts to grow. Picard’s struggle is how to not just save his crewmember, his friend’s son, and his responsibility; his struggle is to save him in a way that keeps integrity with Picard’s own ethical system. He initially has the power to simply move Wesley to safety. Instead he looks to keep from breaking relationship with the Edo, and grapples with a code of behavior he finds to be a source of wisdom and right relationship. Picard embodies something that appears to be missing from the larger Starfleet culture: an awareness of the *work* it took to remove the isms they are so proud to be lacking, and a willingness to continue to grapple and strive to improve. Also, even as he moves from having the upper hand to being at the mercy of a larger power, he continues to deliberate out of compassion and mercy. One of his last statements pleading his case is, “There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” This stuck with me, and I suspect taught me something about having compassion for myself, eventually (the lack of such in my life was already an issue). Picard also displays a love of learning about other people, not just in an intellectual sense, but in a personal sense as well.

Yet again, the culture of the week is equated with barbarism (by one of the Edo themselves). And we’ll talk later about portrayals of religion, as that develops. The writers are also building their own evolutionary theory here: they’ve established that humans have evolved past a history of savagery. What they begin to establish here is the future of evolution for humans: past flesh, past embodiment, past particularity of time and space. This will be worth watching as it develops as well.

1. Photo from Memory Alpha. Thanks, y’all.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  


My honey and I are anticipating not one, but TWO new family members soon. After a Lenten season of planning and preparing, and an Easter weekend trip out of town, we’re going to come back and find ourselves new pets – a pair of rats!

We are keeping an eye on some breeders and animal rescues. Once we’re back in town for a while and have the attention to give to acclimate them, we’ll go discover just who will be joining our family. This will be our first pets together, and the first rats that either of us have had. We’ve been doing research, of course, and anticipating their needs and desires as much as we can. Right now, we’re turning our DIY crafty selves toward building toys and other accessories for a happy-making cage.

Here is my first completed project: a pocket hammock, based on this pattern.

It’s made of fleece (a great fabric for rats), cotton double-fold bias tape, and metal grommets (that I just learned how to attach!). The brown stripe down the middle is the trim of a pocket opening extending to the right. This will hang horizontally near the top of the cage, by attachments we haven’t decided on yet.

More to come!

Published in: on March 20, 2011 at 9:50 pm  Leave a Comment