10 Star Trek Episodes To Help Get Us Through Election 2016
As I, like so many of us, continue to reel from the shockwave caused by the results of our 2016 presidential election, I find myself reflecting a lot on my favorite television franchise of all time: Star Trek. Through its many incarnations, the show has greatly impacted my life. I was 5 years old when The Next Generation premiered, and I have fond memories of watching it with my father, humming along to the theme song together every week. I’m so grateful that it became a part of my life well before I was old enough to know or care that it was a show for “nerds.” (It’s more widely embraced now, but when I was 13, I wasn’t exactly bragging about my extensive VHS collection of episodes I’d taped off the TV.)
Star Trek taught me about justice, equality, and the importance of having tolerance and respect for all people. (It also taught me that we’re all going to get to wear our pajamas to work in the future, but that’s beside the point.) There’s been much conversation and debate regarding show creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision, but one thing that’s certain is that he had a vision of hope for humanity. And I think it’s thanks in part to Star Trek that I’m now conditioned to hold on to that hope - for better or for worse.
But there is no hope without education and awareness. That’s why I wish I could make some of these episodes required viewing. They may be works of fiction, but the lessons are very real and relevant.
And so I present to you, “10 Star Trek Episodes to Help Us Get Through Election 2016.” Episodes that serve to teach, instill hope, and generally remind us how not to suck.
*I’ve certainly left a number of great and relevant episodes off this list. That’s bound to happen when you have six television series that add up to 726 episodes spanning 30 seasons. Feel free to chime in and add your favorites in the comment section.
10. “Remember” Voyager
While Voyager is transporting some Enaran passengers back to their homeworld, chief engineer B’Elanna Torres starts to have vivid dreams of herself as a young Enaran woman wrapped up in a forbidden love affair with an Enaran man who is a member of the “Regressives.” The Regressives were a group who rejected technology and were eventually exterminated. B’Elanna realizes these are not dreams but actual memories being shared with her by one of the Enaran passengers. It turns out the Enarans have covered up the truth of this horrific holocaust for decades. This cautionary tale reminds us that when we do not know our own history, we are often doomed to repeat it.
I also like this episode because I’m a big B’Elanna Torres fan. Half human, half Klingon, B’Elanna was often torn between her two cultures and struggled to accept and find peace with all parts of herself. (Totally relatable to an angsty teenager.) But she could also kick ass and was super smart. She and Captain Janeway were proud Nasty Women.
9. “Demons”/“Terra Prime” Enterprise
Enterprise often fell short of its potential, but these two episodes live up to it. Captain Archer has gathered a group of all-star aliens for a summit to work out an alliance, but an isolationist group wants to put a stop to it by diverting some comets and aiming them towards Earth. This episode does a nice job calling out the awfulness of bigotry. There’s an interesting line from the Andorian Ambassador, “Earth men talk about uniting worlds, but your own planet is deeply divided. Perhaps you’re not ready to host this conference.” With our own society currently being so fragmented, it can feel all too easy to give up. But we have to continue to strive to bridge the gap.
8. “The Outcast” TNG
This episode supporting LGBTQ rights takes place while the Enterprise is on a mission helping an androgynous race called the J’naii. Commander Riker works closely with a J’naii named Soren. The two become close, discussing life without gender distinctions, and Soren eventually confesses to Riker that she identifies as female. But specific gender identification is considered sexual perversion in the J’naii culture. The two become intimate and once discovered, Soren is arrested for it and sentenced to “psychotectic” conversion therapy.
I was ten years old when this episode premiered, and I remember it making an impression on me. I guess I hadn’t really considered the ideas of androgyny, gender fluidity or homosexuality much up to that point, so the episode both raised my awareness and taught me the importance of tolerance.
7. “Past Tense Part 1 & 2” DS9
I’m going to confess right now that Deep Space Nine is my favorite of all the series, and this list definitely favors the show. You’ve been warned.
In this two-parter, Sisko and part of his crew are transported back in time to Earth in the year 2024. In this not-at-all-distant future, the United States has rounded up the poor and homeless and forced them to live in the “sanctuary districts.” While trying to get back to their time, the crew must preserve the timeline. They’ve arrived right at a pivotal moment, the eve of a revolution that finally makes the United States deal with all the social issues it’s been sweeping under the rug for a century. This revolution must happen, even if it means one of the crew must die.
When this episode first premiered over 20 years ago, this future seemed unimaginable to me. Sadly, it seems frighteningly plausible today. It can be far too easy to ignore things that don’t touch us directly. This episode reminds us to stay vigilant and step up to help those less fortunate.
6. “The Drumhead” TNG
When a Klingon traitor is arrested for spying on the Enterprise, it sets off a witch hunt for other feared saboteurs. Eventually even Captain Picard finds himself under investigation by Admiral Satie, a woman driven by paranoia. But the biggest victim of this investigation is a young crewman named Simon Tarses. Through manipulation, he’s tricked into confessing that he lied about his ancestry. His grandfather is actually a Romulan, not a Vulcan. Gasp. This episode taught me more about McCarthyism than any history class I ever took. Power and paranoia are a dangerous combination, even when we start out with good intentions.
5. “Homefront”/“Paradise Lost” DS9
When a bombing at a Federation conference on Earth kills 27, it is revealed that a Changeling is responsible. The Changelings are a race of shapeshifters who can take any form, which is terrifying for obvious reasons. Fear about a potential invasion of Earth causes Starfleet to call in Sisko and his crew as security experts since Odo, the chief of security on Deep Space Nine, is himself a Changeling. Odo expresses concern over how he will be received by the humans of Earth given the current situation. Chief O’Brien tries to make him feel better by telling him nobody could blame him for the actions of his people. And Odo is basically like, “Wanna bet?”
Eventually, Martial Law is declared, but when there’s no invasion, Sisko starts to suspect there’s more going on here. It turns out Starfleet’s Admiral Leyton has been planning a coup to remove the Federation president.
This episode came out in 1996, more than 5 years before 9/11, but it is eerily prescient in predicting how humanity often responds to terrorist threats. Once again, we are given a cautionary tale about letting fear and paranoia control us, lest we destroy paradise all by ourselves.
4. “Far Beyond the Stars” DS9
I love that Star Trek deals with an issue head-on in this episode. It’s not a metaphor for our own culture, it’s a reflection on our actual history. Captain Sisko finds himself having visions where he lives another life as Benny Russell, an African-American science fiction writer in 1950’s New York City. In this reality, he finds himself interacting with human versions of the DS9 crew. Kira plays a fellow writer who has to use a fake name so that readers won’t know she’s a woman, and Dax plays a ditzy secretary who’s smarter than she lets on. These characterizations add some small side commentary on women’s rights to the episode as well.
When Benny’s magazine editor refuses to publish his stories about Captain Sisko, a black commanding officer of a space station, passionate arguments break out. Eventually they reach an agreement, only to have the company pull the entire issue, preferring to take the financial loss that month rather than publish Benny’s story. Throughout the episode, Sisko’s son, Jake, appears as Benny’s friend Jimmy. Jimmy is shot and killed by two cops because he was supposedly caught breaking into a car. Benny is then savagely beaten by those cops for protesting the injustice.
This episode is set in the 1950s. It aired in 1998. I write this in 2016. How beyond awful is it that Jimmy’s story, specifically, reads like a headline from today’s newspaper? And while discrimination in the workplace today may not always be as blatant as what Benny experienced, we’re lying to ourselves if we think it isn’t still happening. We still have a whole lotta work to do in this department.
3. “Duet” DS9
So, quick background here. Deep Space Nine is a space station that was built by a race of aliens called the Cardassians. It’s positioned near a planet called Bajor. The Cardassians built the station during their occupation of Bajor, where they basically turned the Bajoran people into their slaves and made them live and work in labor camps. When the series begins, the occupation has just ended and Bajor is getting back on its feet with some help from the Federation, who takes over the station.
In this episode, a Cardassian named Marritza arrives on the station suffering from a disease that indicates he worked at one specific Bajoran labor camp. Major Kira, a former member of the Bajoran resistance, is determined to convict the man of war crimes. She helped liberate this particular labor camp and knows the kinds of atrocities the Cardassians committed there. First Marritza denies having the disease. Then he says he was just a filing clerk at the camp. Eventually a photo is discovered that shows this man is not Marritza but Gul Darhe'el, the leader of the camp who was also known as the “Butcher of Gallitep.” Marritza finally admits he is actually the Gul, but inconsistencies in his stories and those of others lead Kira to discover he is NOT the Gul. I know, confusing, but also very exciting twists and turns.
In the end, the man is Marritza, just a lowly file clerk with a super guilty conscience. Desperate to make amends for the atrocities he allowed the Bajorans to suffer, he wanted to be discovered and punished as the Gul.
In this episode, Kira must confront her own racism. She has every right to be mad, but she realizes that lumping all Cardassians into the same group is completely unfair. For an episode that’s over 20 years old, it’s still a pretty compelling and relevant hour of television.
2. “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” TOS
In one of the most famous episodes of the Original Series, Captain Kirk and the Enterprise encounter two vessels. Aboard one vessel is Lokai who is a fugitive being hunted by commissioner Bele in the other vessel. The two aliens are from the same planet, but Lokai is from a slave race with one half of his body being black and the other half white. Bele is from the master race, and his skin is half white and half black - the reverse of Lokai’s skin. The two groups have been engaged in a race war for years, and thanks to their extraordinary powers, Bele has been chasing Lokai for 50,000 years. Eventually the aliens force the Enterprise to take them back to their homeworld. Once they arrive, they discover that their people have been totally wiped out. They destroyed themselves due to their crazy racial hatred. When Bele and Lokai realize they’re the only ones left, they start to blame each other for what happened. The two continue to fight, presumably to their own demise.
So, yeah, let’s not let it come to that for us, shall we?
1. “Darmok” TNG
“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” It’s one of the most famous lines from The Next Generation. It also sounds like total gibberish. It is. And that’s kind of the point.
When a group of Tamarians basically kidnap Captain Picard and forcibly strand him on a planet with their captain named Dathon, the two have a heck of a time communicating. The universal translator is pretty much useless because, although it can translate the literal words being said, the Tamarians speak entirely in allegory. Without the necessary cultural background knowledge, Dathon’s phrases initially confuse Picard. When Dathon says, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” and throws Picard a knife, Picard misinterprets and thinks it’s a challenge to fight. Later, the two men realize a beast of some sort is stalking them. As they work together to defeat it, Picard starts to understand the meaning of Dathon’s phrase. It’s a reference to a story of two warriors working together to defeat an enemy - a story of cooperation. Sadly, Dathon is critically wounded in their fight against the beast. He was willing to sacrifice himself in order to build a bridge of communication between the two cultures.
As individuals and as groups, we yearn to be understood. It’s what helps pave the way to cooperation, acceptance, and even friendship. Goodness knows communication and understanding don’t always come easy, but they can literally mean the difference between war and peace, life and death. Gene Roddenberry and I think peace is worth the effort.
Girls can do anything - River is the embodiment of ‘Girls can do anything’ because she really can do anything. She can be badass, or she can be vulnerable. She is a well rounded character who does not shirk from her emotions, be they to fight, or to cry.
River Song is a strong female character because she is real.
There could not have been a lovelier sight; but there was none to see it except a little boy who was staring in at the window. He had had ecstasies innumerable that other children can never know; but he was looking through the window at the one joy from which he must be for ever barred.
1. Completely erase the phrase “what if” from your vocabulary. The world seems much brighter when you aren’t focusing on what could have happened and what may come. Live in the now, darling.
2. There is absolutely nothing wrong with treating yourself to a pint of Ben & Jerry’s every once in a while. It’s only a problem if- scratch that. It’s never a problem.
3. Find your theme song for this week. This month. Whatever. Find that one song you really enjoy, and listen to it while you get ready. While you do your homework. While you live.
4. Text that boy you like. The worst thing that could happen is that he doesn’t like you. And trust me, girl, it’s not going to feel as bad as you’re anticipating it will.
5. Go for a bike ride. Look up at the sky. Don’t pay attention where you’re going. Just enjoy the beauty around you, who cares if you get lost for a little while?
6. Just because you’ll regret it in a few years doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it now. Yeah that’s right, I’m talking about that glitter eyeliner you wore to that concert… And that super trendy haircut you got last week. It might seem silly when you’re older, but when it makes you happy in the moment, who cares?
7. You get 20 minutes to cry about it, and then it’s time to move on. Whether “it” is your computer crashing, really bad food poisoning, or a ruined shirt; after 20 minutes you need to be solving the problem, not fixating on it.
8. There is nothing more important than reading. Yes, you heard me. Reading. A person who doesn’t have at least one book that changed their life, and a ready list of books everyone should be required to read, is not much of a person at all. Writers have a lot to teach you, so listen.
9. Trust your gut. That feeling in the bottom of your stomach is there because we are built with natural survival instincts. So if your body is telling you to go for something, then you better go for it.
10. It’s okay to call your mom when you really need someone to help you. I know you’re afraid of the inevitable “I told you so” or “What were you thinking?”, but moms were put on this Earth to help their children. So if you just lost all of your data in your phone and the only person whose number you remember by heart is your mother’s, it’s not a bad thing: it’s a sign.