Trompé Setsuled (setsuled) wrote,
Trompé Setsuled

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Data Knows Best

Maybe one day your kids who grew up on Star Trek Discovery's hairless Klingons and emotional Vulcans will stumble across an old episode of The Next Generation or The Original Series. Naturally, your child might have questions. How do you deal with it? Over the past couple nights I revisited a decent consecutive pair of episodes from Star Trek: The Next Generation's fifth season that dealt with some of the challenges of parenting, "New Ground" and "Hero Worship".

"New Ground" centres on Worf (Michael Dorn) and his reunion with his son, Alexander (Brian Bonsall), while "Hero Worship" involves Data (Brent Spiner) finding himself inadvertently becoming a surrogate father figure to a recently orphaned child (Joshua Harris). I was thirteen years old when these episodes first aired and I remember hating them and all other episodes like them, which probably isn't surprising since they're both clearly aimed at adults with kids. In both cases the child characters are defined more by the enigmas of their behaviours than by real insights into how kids think.

For some reason, Alexander being under the care of Worf's human foster parents all this time has caused him to become a compulsive liar and kleptomaniac while Timothy, the kid from "Hero Worship", decides he wants to become an android like Data.

This concept has a little more weight. Discovered pinned under a beam on a wrecked starship, Timothy is the lone survivor of some kind of engineering disaster caused by a space anomaly. His parents are among the dead and, we later learn, he mistakenly believes the accident was his fault. It's no wonder he would want to emulate Data whose great capacity for precision removes much potential for error while Data's lack of emotion shields him from the effects of trauma. It might have been interesting to see how the story would have played out with a Vulcan in place of Data. Earlier in the season, in the "Unification" two parter, Data and Spock (Leonard Nimoy) have a conversation about how Data yearns for a state that Vulcans spend their lives trying to avoid--Data has no capacity for emotions while Vulcans adhere to a philosophy of emotional repression.

This is, perhaps unintentionally, mirrored by a conversation between Timothy and Data. When the child talks about the appeal of not having nightmares or emotional pain in general, Data remarks that, as an android, he also doesn't know the pleasure of a good beverage. "I would gladly risk feeling bad at times if it also meant I could taste my dessert," says Data in one of those lines that reminds me of one of my favourite lines from Futurama, when the robot, Bender, says, "Being a robot's great but we don't have emotions and sometimes that makes me very sad." I like Data but he has a similar problem to Obi-Wan and Anakin in the Star Wars prequels, whose habitual bickering was somehow never considered a conflict with Jedi emotional discipline.

But it works well enough for the moment to illustrate the fact that emotions come with benefits as well as drawbacks. A Vulcan, meanwhile, may well have encouraged the child to refine the process of emotional repression. The fact that this is never brought up as an issue in Michael Burnham's development on Discovery is one of the indicators that the famous Vulcan philosophy has been scrubbed or altered. It's an unfortunate loss because the conversation over the relative benefits of giving into emotions or eschewing them has always been one of the most fundamentally interesting aspects of Star Trek. Having Sarek espouse a belief in the miracle of love puts everyone on one side of the conversation. To-day, it might not be so terrible to have a story about people who achieve peace by refraining from letting emotion dictate their actions.

And what about Worf's hair? Let's sit down with Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and talk about how it makes us feel. Threatened? Enticed? Too enticed? I wonder if the moustache's resemblance to the Fu Manchu moustache, and therefore carrying associations with negative Asian stereotypes, was behind the decision to make the Klingons hairless on the new series. It seems a drastic response to a connexion 99% of people likely don't make.

Troi occupies an interesting role in these two episodes. They aren't about her but she's integral in much the way LeForge (Levar Burton) is for all the things having to do with the ship's engines. I googled a bit and can't find any real psychiatrist that approves of the brand of psychotherapy exhibited by Troi on the show. Most conversations seem to focus on her supposedly exploitative outfits which, I guess compared to the normal Starfleet uniforms are vaguely sexier. A quote on Troi's Wikipedia entry even calls them "bunny suits". I know Sirtis never liked them. I never quite understood the fuss either way, I neither find them sexy or demeaning. But I like the idea of a Federation starship having a counsellor. If the same attention to detail were given to formal psychology as was given to physics on Star Trek it could open up some interesting story conflicts.
Tags: sci fi, science fiction, star trek, star trek the next generation, television, tv show
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