First things First: CBS should drop a fifteen minute “Short Trek” mini-episode onto their app sometime today. Once you see it, please feel encouraged to write a review of it, either in the comments here or in a new post if you think it warrants it!
Deep Dive: Mid-Series Changes
Some mild DS9 spoilers
Twenty three years ago this week, Star Trek Deep Space Nine premiered its fourth season with a double length episode entitled “Way of the Warrior.” It’s a whammy of an episode, taking a sharp left turn away from Dominion storylines (where everyone thought the series was heading) to a war with the Klingons. It also serves, quite effectively I would say, as a soft reboot of the series. A lot of things are different, and the things that are the same are re-introduced. Sisko is bald now(!), Kira has a new haircut (I am told, I never noticed), and the pace of life on the station is a tenser and more paranoid. Even the theme song has shifted slightly, speeding up and adding a percussion line that turns a sleepy song into an ominous one (other less obvious changes include both Bashir and Dax having been given slight promotions).
And of course the big addition is Mr. Worf coming aboard. When my wife first watched this episode, she had no idea that Worf was going to show up or that he was going to be a permanent cast member, so I got to see her freak out happily twice when I showed it to her years ago. The addition of Worf to the cast was a controversial choice, and remains so to this day. The newsgroup community of the time saw Worf as a dumb warmongering brute. That take has nuanced over the years, with it being more common to believe that maybe it wasn’t always Worf’s fault that no one ever listened to him (if you look at the video below, there are several examples where not listening to Worf was the wrong move). So people at the time weren’t too keen about the change, and in retrospect the introduction fo Worf and the season-long war with the Klingons led to what some consider to be Klingon-fatigue and a detour from the main themes and arcs of the show.
Nevertheless, it ended up being an excellent season and thanks to the writers, Worf not only blended well with the other characters but became a superior version of the character we saw on the enterprise.
The fourth season seems to be a popular time for Trek shows to shake things up. TNG had earlier had its own share of changes in season 4. Yes, there was the departure of Wesley Crusher. But a more subtle but no less important change happened in the writing of season 4.
The original series was about Kirk and his friends, and his relationships were an important aspect of the show from the second pilot on.
The characters in TNG started out as much more sterile and reserved. Apart from Pulaski, there was a hesitation to show any of the characters having any real flaws. The characters were the static control group, and the plot and conflict were the variables of the equation. The season four episode “Family” broke away from that, giving us insight into the insecurities and internal conflicts in a number of the crewmembers, most particularly Picard. It told us that the borg encounter would not be forgotten about and invited us to see beyond Picard’s diplomatic exterior in a way we never had before. Though there had been glimpses, it wasn’t until season four that the characters really showed us who they were.
Voyager had an almost opposite journey. Early seasons of Voyager wanted to do the emotional character-driven arc thing. B’elanna took a good year to really get on board with following starfleet protocol. Seska’s storyline moved through the first three seasons unrushed and well paced. There was even continuity about minor crewmembers, something one would thing was important on a ship with only 150 people and no chance of replacements.
As the show went on, however, Voyager became less about the characters and more about the “paradox of the week.” The threads between episodes became less important and every adventure was more of a stand alone puzzle box. On a more tangible level, the season four openers “Scorpion, Part II” and “The Gift” gave us the departure of Kes and the arrival of Seven of Nine. Seven is a great character and her arc is pretty much the only character development that the show cares about from that point on, so I don’t want to say she is emblematic of the shows lack-of-character-development, but in a way I do think they used her journey as an excuse to let all the other relationships fall into a rut.
Enterprise had a behind the scenes change at the beginning of season four, as long time showrunners Berman & Braga stepped back and Manny Coto stepped forward with the assistance of long-time Trek novelists Garfield and Judith Reeves-Stevens. Enterprise never knew what it wanted to be. It tried the time travel paradox thing, but could never equal the WTF-craziness of the Voyager episodes. It thought it was character driven, but that often devolved into a lot of scowling and unproductive angst. It tried serialization and some people liked that, while others felt it was just stumbling around trying to make a mess look planned.
The fourth season at least knew what it wanted, and what it wanted was to reconnect the series to the rest of Trek. It was a season for the continuity-buffs, as every episode seemed intent on addressing the fans complaints and questions. The most successful of these was probably the Vulcan arc that did a decent job explaining why Enterprise Vulcans seemed so devious compared to TOS Vulcans. The most fun of these was probably the mirror universe arc. The least successful of these was probably the Klingon arc, which spent two laborious hours explaining why some Klingons have ridges and some don’t. And the final episodes looked forward to the founding of the Federation. Some people call Enterprise’s fourth season one of the best seasons of Trek ever. Some people consider it just barely watchable. But all agree it was a bold change from what had come previously.
All of this gives me hope for Discovery. There are a lot of things I like about Discovery’s first season. I like the characters. I like the explanation of Federation ideals. But I really hope it evolves. I don’t want to see Game of Klingon Thrones any more. I’ve had my fill of torture. I don’t want to see dark compromising of morals unless it is REALLY earned. I want to see adventure and exploration and maybe even a few of those Voyager-style “ermahgerd there are two of us!” conundrums. The glowly blue planet with the spire was great and I want more than one new planet per season. As the other series show us, there’s still plenty of time to hope that Discovery will keep what works and fix what doesn’t.
What changes have happened over the course of a trek series that you liked? What changes haven’t you liked? What did a series start with and then drop that you wish they would’ve kept? And since we started this with Worf popping over from TNG to DS9, if you could transplant a character from one show to another, who would it be? What other changes would you make to a trek show, or to Discovery going forward?
And now, a random image from Memory Alpha
- Pictured (L-R) are Anton Yelchin, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Simon Pegg, and John Cho.