I have grown temporarily weary of talking politics, so I thought I would switch things up a bit and write about another topic that also has (relatively) minor appeal. Going where many blogs have gone before (it’s the internet, after all… the safe haven for sci-fi geeks), I wanted to talk a little bit about Star Trek.
In particular, I wanted to share my thoughts on Next Generation vs. Deep Space Nine.
My wife and I both grew up watching The Next Generation (TNG) and neither of us got into Deep Space Nine (DS9) when it originally aired. At the suggestion of a few other Star Trek fans, we started watching it. After a few weeks of Netflixing, we have made it to Season 4. And yes, just to clarify, in case you missed it, I have the coolest wife evah.
To me, TNG and DS9 have distinctly different ‘feels’. TNG is the polished, utopian vision of the 23rd Century with everything shiny and new. TNG (much like The Original Series) uses alien races and situations as metaphors for some issues we face today. The story-telling structure for TNG was episodic. Though there were some story arcs that were returned to throughout the series (especially the Klingon episodes), for the most part, each show was a one-off. Characters developed, changed, matured, etc throughout the series… but the catalyst for these changes was almost always the current situation in that particular episode, rather than building on bits we saw earlier.
DS9 is (I hate to say it, since this term is way overused and now rather meaningless when it comes to TV or movies) the “gritty” version of the 23rd Century. In TNG, if technology breaks down it is usually only because it is too new (untested) or some outside factor (how many lifeforms are there that feed off the Enterprise’s energy/hull material/computer chips/etc?) affects it. By contrast, if something breaks down in DS9, it is probably because it is old and cobbled together. DS9 (the space station) is kind of like the Millennium Falcon. Also (thus far, at least through the beginning of season 4), there seems to be far less “preachiness” on DS9 than has existed in the other iterations of Star Trek on television. Very rarely are DS9 storylines trying to teach some kind of lesson or make some kind of heavy-handed point/commentary about society. And, the story-telling itself differs from TNG in that while most DS9 episodes have a clear main plot point that gets wrapped up neatly in 42 minutes (how convenient!), the side stories involving character development are far, far more serialized than any other Star Trek. And it’s not only the character development bits, but some over-arching storylines that get teased early on in the series and play out throughout the course of all seven seasons.
I am not trying to dump on TNG… I grew up with it, and it is the series that truly introduced me to Star Trek. But, to my current sensibilities, I am finding that I prefer DS9. Beyond the obvious contrasts pointed out above (and there are many others) there is also something I can’t quite put my finger on that makes me think that overall, DS9 is the better series.
This is going to sound like I am stretching it a bit, but in the world of TNG, earth humans have progressed past such petty things as money and entrepreneurship. To me, that lack of the benefits of capitalism kind of creates a boring society. In DS9, mainly through the Ferengi bartender named Quark, we see that the Star Trek universe still has a place for making, losing, spending, and saving money. True, Quark represents the dirtier sides of capitalism… but his sense of entrepreneurship (and yes, craftiness) makes DS9 seem more “real” to me.
In addition to being far less preachy than TNG, DS9 somehow manages to create character relationships that I truly care about. There was always something artificial about the relationships in TNG to me. I don’t know what exactly it was. Maybe just that sense of societal superiority caried through into the relationships as well. DS9 is more real and honest in it’s relationships. Particularly in the way it portrays the station commander (Benjamin Sisko) and his teenage son (Jake Sisko). Maybe it’s also the actors… but there is such a strong parent-child love and realness there that it makes the Beverly/Wesley Crusher relationship on TNG pale by comparison.
TNG TV episodes tended to be very talky and intellectual. This does not translate well to cinema, so TNG movies turned the erudite and cautious Captain Picard into some kind of devil-may-care action star. So there was always a horrible disconnect between TNG series and movies. DS9 built action into the series without sacrificing the lighter or more tender character pieces.
Lastly, there was always a tension in TNG between the idea that the Enterprise was both an exploration and scientific study vehicle as well as a warship. They tended to play down the military aspects of their mission (unless they wished to paint Starfleet Admirals or other Captains as war-crazed loonies). I get a sense from watching DS9 that they built into the DNA of the series a greater respect for the military, as well as an acknowledgement that the universe is a dangerous place and Starfleet and the Federation have a vital role in protecting the galaxy.
I know for a fact that I am reading way too much into things…and bringing my own sensibilities and bias’ and projecting them onto Star Trek… but, by and large, I have found that DS9 just feels more rightward leaning when compared to TNG, which (in retrospect) feels a little more progressive or leftward leaning.
But, at the end of the day if the choice was to be surreptitiously psycho-analyzed by Guinan in Ten Forward or just sit at Quark’s with Morn… I’d still choose the latter.