Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Star Trek The Next Generation (Season 6b)

<--Season 6a Season 7a-->

From the perspective here at NonModern, the second half of season six of TNG is a high point. Nearly every episode deals with important issues about life and belief, and they do it from a mostly perceptive position. It is sometimes hard to remember that this is a Secular Humanist, atheist creation. “Deep Space Nine” had just started up at this time and, paired with the death of Roddenberry, the shows began to be more open to looking at issues like religion.

Episode 14: “Face of the Enemy”

This is a reasonable suspenseful spy caper. Troy has to play it gutsy and carefully, but there is not much more than the suspense.

Episode 15: “Tapestry”

Picard is mortally wounded, but gets the opportunity from Q to relive a crucial moment in his life that has always been a regret. Perhaps he can even change some things for the better. (Interestingly, once again, we have the view of the Universe being “designed” from Picard. It is just a throwaway comment, but he has done that before.) In the end, Picard realizes that even our mistakes are important in shaping who we are. It is a great illustration for some of the Biblical teachings of Paul, particularly in Philippians where he talks about our pasts shaping us but also about putting the past in the past. This is not a story about mistakes not mattering, but rather about how the things we learn—even the hard way—are things that have the potential to make us better people.

Episode 16/17: “Birthright (Parts 1&2)”

This story is a bit underdeveloped, and considering it is a two-parter that is unfortunate. It tries to get at some ideas about cultural forgiveness and good cultural pride, but in doing so it makes Warf out to be a bit of a bigot. However, the throw-away idea about the true value of revelation is interesting. Worf tells the young Klingons he encounters about their cultural heritage and their religious history. When asked about the veracity of the stories, he does not really address that topic but instead a more crucial consideration. Whether revelation is historic is an important topic, but whether it is true is even more so.

Episode 18: “Starship Mine”

This episode is probably one of the better one’s of the series. It is pure action lifted from the best action story in cinema, “Die Hard.” That being said, there is not a lot of Sci-Fi thought being provoked. But we do learn that experienced riders all have their own saddles.

Episode 19: “Lessons”

In stark contrast to the last episode, here we get a straight drama hidden in the trappings of military procedure and science fiction. There is incredibly touching emotion, especially in the musical scenes. Music really is universal shorthand for the connections people make with each other.

Episode 20: “The Chase”

Here we have an attempt at creating a Trek mythos. The sort of thing that really began to develop after Roddenberry was gone. It is also a nod to the obvious design of the universe, or at least the design seen in life. Or, perhaps it is better to see this as an acknowledgement of the limitations of creativity. In the Trek universe, pretty much all aliens from all planets seem to be pretty similar. Either they were all created by the same person, or all came from the same source. In this case they go with both answers at once.

The interesting aside here is that Secular Humanists are quite open to the possibility—an even the obvious evidence—for design in the universe. When pressed on the fact, however, they are more open to this episode’s proposed solution—that aliens designed life on Earth—than they are to conceding the idea of a creator. That, when the idea of alien intelligence even visiting Earth, let alone driving evolution here, takes more faith than many of the religious ideas in the history of civilization. It goes against most laws of physics and all of the evidence. Then again, Secular Humanism is just another religion, a mythology-based philosophy.

Episode 21: “Frame of Mind”

Huh? This episode is a mess.

Episode 22: “Suspicions”

This one is an entertaining, but ultimately formulaic, whodunit.

Episode 23: “Rightful Heir”

If one is interested in “Star Trek” for the philosophical/religious ideas behind the stories, this episode is required viewing. Seeming to spring out of the throw-away discussion about religion in the previous Worf-centric episodes, we get to see Worf explore his neglected faith. He goes on leave to see if he really believes what he has always proclaimed, but never really seriously considered. To his surprise, he witnesses the second coming of a messianic figure. It turns out to be a false Christ, but in a way, Worf’s faith is reaffirmed. That is ultimately because Worf’s faith is not a belief based in facts but rather ideas. It is a good picture of the way a lot of “spiritual people” choose to believe today. People no longer really believe a story that demands them to take a stand or submit to a creator, but simply redefine what they believe to support the way they have already chosen to live.

Episode 24: “Second Chances”

Another take on the way choices impact our lives. Instead of the popular “parallel universe” vehicle, we get an even-more-questionable transporter mishap that duplicated Riker some eight years prior to the story. Not much else happens in the way of plot, but they do skim the surface of ideas like: what would it be like to have to really interact with yourself? What would you think of the decisions you will make over the next few years had you the chance to know them right now? And, does making different choices really change us who we are at our core?

Episode 25: “Timescape”

This is one of those high concept, science-like episodes involving time travel where none of the “dire” circumstances ever concern us (or the characters) because we know they will change it all for the better by the end. It is still fun.

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