Fan Collective Unimatrix 47: Thoughts on Time and Canon in the Star Trek Universe

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

The much anticipated final season of Star Trek: Picard goes live in two weeks, which boggles the mind, and we’ve lost Annie Wersching, whose Borg Queen was just about the best thing to come out of Picard‘s second season. I’m feeling a touch reflective, gentle readers, so today, I want to discuss canon, specifically, how to bring back familiar faces well in the Trek universe.

We know that we’re going to see some familiar faces in this third season, and given that Star Trek has years of canon, the franchise has a history of interacting with its own past. I don’t mean Trek‘s tradition of opening each new franchise installment with a character from a previous one (yes, Enterprise used James Cromwell’s Zephram Cochrane from Star Trek: First Contact, but I’m counting it), though I think that’s a great way for the franchise to acknowledge not only that each of these shows takes place in the same universe but also as a nod to that depth of canon. That’s a great way to remind us all about the wealth that has come before without allowing that past content to drag down the show. There’s a certain other Star-related franchise that has allowed itself to make that mistake.

Generally, Trek does a great job balancing the old and the new. “Relics” is perhaps one of my favorite TNG episodes, and it brings back James Doohan’s Scotty and makes him the center of the story. However, the story the episode tells is a fundamentally TNG story with Geordi LaForge getting the chance to talk to a legend without losing his own importance to the narrative. LaForge becomes the bridge between Scotty and the new time in which he finds himself, and over the course of the episode, we see LaForge transition from frustratedly grumbling at an aging engineer to someone with an appreciation for the way Scotty thinks. The episode becomes an exercise in teaching tolerance and in understanding the value of both wisdom and innovation. That’s a great space for Scotty to occupy in a TNG episode.

However, Trek doesn’t always manage to achieve this balance, and I’d argue that the inclusion of Spock in Discovery is an example of where the franchise failed. Spock is such a significant character to Trek and one to which fans have such an incredible attachment that introducing him into Discovery‘s second season would have been challenging under the best of circumstances, but fan response to Discovery‘s first season did not for those best of circumstances make. Sonequa Martin-Green and Ethan Peck do a brilliant job of trying to find a natural way for these characters to interact and by the end of the season managed it. However, in a number of ways, Spock overshadows the drama that’s playing out in the season, and Michael Burnham’s emotional arc could have just as easily been achieved with another character, for example, the criminally underused Amanda Grayson.

I do understand the often-mentioned complaint regarding Burnham’s status as Spock’s surprise sister, but given that Trek gave us Sybok, the franchise has a history of dropping in random siblings. However, what I liked about the Discovery’s versions of Sarek and Grayson is that we get to see something new and different with the characters. Discovery offered us the chance to see Sarek struggle face-to-face with a child he failed that we never got to see with Spock, which showed us a different side of Sarek.

That’s also why Strange New Worlds works as well as it does. Yes, Captain Pike, Number One, Nurse Chapel, and Dr. M’Benga all come to us from TOS, but SNW gives these characters the opportunity to do something new. For some of the characters, this is the first time they get the opportunity to have plot arcs and development. For others, like Uhura, there was simply so much left unsaid about their characters that there’s ample opportunity to explore new things about her character. For Spock, we’re getting to see how his ill-fated relationship with T’Pring will play out, and Gia Sandhu’s T’Pring is just fantastic.

All of this is basically to say that I wonder what else we need to be told about the TNG crew. We spent seven years with them plus the movies, so we know them. Admittedly, we don’t know these older versions of the characters, and though the Riker and Troi appearances have been great, I wonder if we really need to know them. Hopefully, Picard‘s writer’s room will find an organic and interesting way to tell us new stories with these familiar faces.

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