Protecting John from huge spoilers : ENT “Shockwave Part II”
- What’s gone? - - The monument. It was right here on the same street as the library. It was obviously never built. - - Why is that a problem? Who did it commemorate? - - Not who. - - Then what? - - An organisation. The Federation. It doesn’t exist for you, not yet. -
Star Trek began as one of the first science fiction TV shows,
and went on to become one of the most beloved and influential television franchises
of all time. Modern science fiction television, modern television in general,
even modern fandom have all been enormously influenced by Star Trek, not to
mention the legions of scientists, engineers, astronauts, etc who cite Star
Trek as a direct inspiration.
As of 2016, there have been five live-action Star Trek TV
series; the first began in 1966, with a sixth series scheduled to begin next
The Original Series (1966–1969) The Next Generation (1987–1994) Deep Space Nine (1993–1999) Voyager (1995–2001) Enterprise (2001–2005) Untitled series (2017–)
There are also twelve movies, an animated series, and god
knows how many books, comics, video games, and so forth.
Ok, so what’s the premise?
In the future, the human race has developed faster-than-light
travel and begun to explore the galaxy, which is also home to countless other
intelligent species. Humans and several other species have formed the United
Federation of Planets (‘the Federation’), a utopian post-capitalist society.
The Federation operates an armada of starships, called
Starfleet, which carry out missions of exploration, research, peacekeeping, and
humanitarian aid. The first four series of Star Trek focus on the
highest-ranking Starfleet crew members of one Federation spaceship or space
station as they carry out their missions. (The fifth series is set just before
the formation of the Federation, but is structurally the same.)
Wait, a utopian post-capitalist society? Is Star Trek far-left propaganda?
Yes. It’s awesome.
You can’t separate Star Trek, even modern Star Trek, from
its origins in 1960s America. You’ve got the Cold War, with the memory of World
War II still fresh in everyone’s mind; you’ve got the Vietnam War and the
draft; you’ve got the struggling civil rights movements and associated
crackdowns; and at the same time, you’ve got the very first humans travelling
into outer space.
The original Star Trek took all that in and presented an
optimistic vision of the future. In the Star Trek universe, the human race is
part of a peaceful, egalitarian, diverse society working for the greater good.
The message was: things might be bad right now, but they’re going to get
better. Humanity is better than this, and someday soon we’ll grow past it, stop
fighting each other and oppressing each other, and we’ll explore the stars
together. I’m not crying you’re crying.
That’s not just a post-hoc interpretation – it was the
stated goal of Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry, to make a show with a
progressive political agenda and a diverse cast. That philosophy has continued
inform the various series of the show, to greater or lesser degrees. Many
episodes of each Star Trek series are allegories for contemporary cultural and political
issues, which the heroes try to resolve through humanism and optimism.
At pretty much every step of the way, progressive moves by
the various series have been opposed and sometimes blocked by the networks,
because of course.
Tell me more about this utopian post-capitalist society.
Humans develop faster-than-light travel, or ‘warp drive,’ in 2063, and begin
encountering intelligent alien species (most of whom, yes, happen to look
almost exactly like humans, we’ll get into that later). In 2161, humans invite
several of these other species (including the Vulcans and some other guys you
haven’t heard of) to join together as the United
Federation of Planets, which is pretty much explicitly Space United
Nations. Over the years, new species apply for membership in the Federation,
and by the 2300s it has over 150 member planets with thousands of colonies.
According to the Federation charter, they operate based on
the principles of universal liberty, rights, and equality, and they share their
knowledge and resources to further the goals of peaceful cooperation and exploration.
Federation worlds have no class divisions and money
essentially no longer exists. The show is sometimes frustratingly vague about
how this works in practice.
Skip the Space United Nations stuff and get to the spaceships.
The Federation operates Starfleet,
a fleet of spaceships whose primary mission is to explore deep space and look
for new forms of life. They also engage in scientific research and conduct
peacekeeping, diplomacy, and ‘defense operations’ aka torpedoing people who are
really asking for it.
Starfleet is the setting for most of Star Trek. Three of the
five Trek series (The Original Series, The Next Generation, and Voyager) take
place on Federation starships which run around exploring cool new planets and
getting in fights. Enterprise is a prequel set before the Federation formed,
but it’s basically the same thing. A typical episode of one of these shows
would involve a visit to a new planet or encounter with a new lifeform. Deep
Space Nine is the exception – it takes place on a planet-orbiting space station
under joint Federation control, and is more heavily serialized. (Eventually
they also get a spaceship.)
Each series revolves around an ensemble of Starfleet
officers including the ship’s captain (or station commander) and various other
high-ranking officers. There are also non-Starfleet characters, as well as an
unspecified number of nameless Starfleet grunts who are constantly catching
lasers to the gut (‘redshirts’).
Wait, how can these shows possibly have any conflict if they take place in a utopia?
There are lots and lots of non-Federation alien species,
too, and they do not have classless
utopias. Some of those species are major powers which sometimes come into
conflict with the Federation, including the Klingon Empire, the Romulan Star
Empire, the Cardassian Union, the Borg, and the Dominion.
There are also untold hundreds of unaffiliated alien
civilizations, which fall into two categories based on how technologically
advanced they are. Some alien species have invented faster-than-light travel
(they are ‘warp capable’) and have discovered the existence of other
intelligent life forms. Others haven’t developed space travel (they are
‘pre-warp’) and have no knowledge of other intelligent life.
In dealing with non-Federation aliens, the Federation
follows a guiding principle called the Prime
Directive. The Prime Directive is a huge deal throughout Star Trek. It forbids
interference in the natural development of any pre-warp civilization – meaning,
don’t let them find out that aliens and space travel exist. This leads to
dozens of episodes in which Our Heroes have to throw on alien peasant garb and
pretend not to be from another planet. The Prime Directive also says you can’t
interfere with any warp-capable civilization without the consent of its
leaders, leading to dozens of episodes in which something is horribly wrong and
Our Heroes can’t really do anything about it.
Ok, so that’s the basic premise and setting. What are the differences
between all the shows? Who are the characters? What is the future technology
like? What are some good episodes to start with?
Oh my god, this is going to require a lot more posts than I thought.