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The funny thing about the passage of time is you don’t notice it passing. When I was first putting this piece together, there was a joke at the top about how presumably anyone who thinks Picard isn’t Star Trek because it’s ‘too dark’ had never seen Deep Space Nine. It’s not there anymore because I checked the dates.
Voyager ended 19 years ago
Enterprise ended 15 years ago
Or to put it another way, someone born the year DS9 ended could vote, drink, drive, marry and leave school in the UK. Likewise Voyager. And anyone who was born the year Enterprise ended? Definitely looks old enough to sneak into 18 certificate movies.
Not that that’s… ANYWAY moving on.
The point is that Star Trek has been away so long it’s become remembered as the very thing it never actually was: an idealized myth. We don’t remember it, we remember what it felt like, what it tasted like. Emotional impressions are malleable, so even that is ultimately unreliable. Meaning Star Trek as it was, and Star Trek as it was remembered, are two very different things and now occupy a position wherein a lot of fans are completely unwilling to accept the two are equally valid.
Star Trek has never, ever not been political. It’s fiction. Fiction holds a mirror up to nature as one of the last great fictional spymasters once said. It gives you a close-up look at something you couldn’t articulate without it. It’s the glove box within which we handle the difficult, fissile, necessary stuff. It’s a tool to understand and remake the world and that tool changes based on our perceptions, skills and background which are in turn influenced by the political climate of the day. Skunk Anansie really weren’t kidding, everything’s political.
The original Star Trek explored Vietnam, the Cold War and on the big screen the horrifying folly of playing god. The animated series explores the emotional weight of losing a pet. TNG deals with trans rights (albeit accidentally as the brilliant linked video explains), workplace pressures and single parenthood.
DS9’s entire back four years is an extended examination of the moral and physical impacts of war on culture and soldier alike, as well as one of the best explorations of PTSD ever committed to film.
Editor’s note: Not to mention birthed the modern serialized season arc format. Don’t miss the brilliant DS9 documentary, “What We Left Behind”.
Arguably Voyager’s finest hour is about the distortion of facts through the lens of history. Arguably it’s second finest hour is a deep dive into whether the EMH is an individual or an asset. Enterprise has an entire season dedicated to the emotional weight and psychological processing demanded by the 9/11 attacks.
Even the TNG movies do it for god’s sake. Insurrection especially is essentially two hours of the Federation going “Well… YES… technically we are the baddies here but…hey look a pigeon!’. Trek hasn’t just always been political, it’s always run headlong at political threads of the day yelling ‘Let me contextualize you!’
So what’s changed? Us. Or more specifically, our position in time. So much so in fact that it’s almost impossible to not see horror in some of the reactions to Picard. To borrow a line from the other best SF series out there at the moment, some folks seem to be looking around for the adult in the room and realizing to their abject horror, it’s them.
I have nothing but sympathy. Actually that’s a clever lie, I have sympathy and a plan and the plan is to lean into it. Make your peace with eating your cerebral and cultural greens as well as the fun stuff and in doing so, be prepared for your perspective to shift and shift drastically. Genre fiction has always liked the future but loved the past and that’s never more apparent than when a show like Picard launches. The push me pull you of nostalgia versus cultural dialogue is a feverishly strong force and it’s easy to be carried away by it.
But you don’t want that, and we both know it.
You want two things and the first is easy. You want to watch literally any previous Trek? It’s a click away these days for most people. From terrible lumps of orange plastic to young Tom Hardy playing Jean Luc PcEvil (and the worst alien mind rape subplot ever. Which is a LOW ASS bar I’ll grant you), all the Past Trek you could want is right there. Likewise, pick up anything by James Swallow, Una McCormack or David Mack for starters and you’ve got a hell of a Trek novel waiting for you. Always awaiting your orders, thrusters on full.
But you want something else too. It’s harder, more challenging and ultimately, more satisfying. You want something that speaks to you now, not then. You want something which will push, will challenge. You want to boldly go, not to the past, but to a future you understand and recognize which, for all it’s faults is built on hope. And for that? You need Picard. Because despite nostalgia and our love for the past, in the end, we’re all boldly going. Messily, making mistakes, learning and improving and still striving to reconcile that Utopian dream the Federation sings itself to sleep with.
So go boldly. It’s worth it.