Thoughts on Star Trek, as the World Falls Apart

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Restored from draft, last saved 06/13/2012

Man, it seems like every time things start to go well, I turn around and I’m hiding from some kind of horrifying monster. And with the wrong flash drive in tow, again!! Anyone else get that feeling?

Well, that’s not fair. I mean, last year, something… happened to me. And it haunted me, and it kept me on the move, first from my own home, and then from Maria’s bug-in location; but it wasn’t as bad as all that, you know? I mean, after all, I was super-strong, and super-fast, and had super-senses, so after you take out the factor of potentially mauling your loved ones, it’s not so terrible.

Especially since I found a support network, after heading back down South!! I was just hanging out at the Trader Vic’s in Atlanta, after figuring out pretty quickly that my, er, “affliction” was increasingly common, and cracking wise about it on the Lycanthropic Blogosphere (who knew, right?) before heading on my way back to check on my fam before, I guess, heading out West? When the person I was chatting with, PackMasterrr611, turned out to be in the same restaurant, just hanging out, having a drink! So I joined up on the spot. We’re kind of informal– there’s no “Alphas,” or anything like that (Pack Masterrr is just kind of an inside joke, really), and my joke about that sort of pack hierarchy behavior only being well-researched and observed in captivity, and us being post-colonial weres anyway, went over really well. So obviously, we’re pretty hilarious, for creatures that go into a monthly bout of hirsutism, possessed by the spirit of inquiry and bloodlust. (I mean, I have PCOS, so I was kind of used to that anyway, HI-YOOOOO.) And my new buddies have given me a lot of tips on dressing on shift-days, using LookBook and Polyvore, mostly (a lot of our “pack” actually live across the country, so the web is super handy)– we all agreed my muumuu and hairnet chic look was actually just rekindling Little Red Riding Hood stories in the neighborhoods I terrorized decked out in granny’s nightgown. Awkward. But it’s so good to have friends!

The point being: Game of Thrones was singularly unhelpful.

And now I’m hiding, barefoot, alone, in someone’s (well-stocked!) closet, trying to figure out the best way to combine my laptop and Star Trek: First Contact in order to better fight off the metallic, clunking things advancing on the town (I refuse to call them cyborgs, and they’re certainly not replicant cosplayers or Daleks or anything; besides, Dragon*Con’s not for another month and a half), and… I’ve packed Star Trek XI in my shoulder bag, instead. Ain’t that always the way? Still, I doubt the Mayan “End of the World” thing was supposed to be about the Robotic Uprising. I heard on the radio something about tripod-things, but I think that was War of the Worlds; I also heard something about radiation from Venus, but I think that was Night of the Living Dead, and I should certainly hope George Romero would have written something a little better than this. Still, all I’ve got right now is fairly limited Internet access (which I can’t trust, because it’s another robot) and a movie produced by… Bad Robot. Greeeeat.

The thing that really bugs me, though, isn’t so much my unpreparedness (I’ve seen First Contact, like, a dozen times already, so that’s more a self-soothing and self-pumping-up act than an informational session) as the portrayal of women as decidedly non-kickass in this movie. It’s not pumping me up at all. As a matter of fact, it’s kind of irritating, at this point. Not STXII irritating, but irritating enough that, I mean– this can’t be the last movie I see before I die. I still haven’t even seen The Hobbit yet!

Take, for instance, who the female characters are themselves. We’ve got Winona Kirk (mom), Amanda Grayson (mom), Nyota Uhura (love interest), and Gaila (the sexxxay! Orion). And that’s it. The movie barely passes the Bechdel test– in the opening scenes, a nurse tells Winona to push while she’s in labor (with a baby boy, natch), and in Gaila’s one scene with dialogue, she pretends to chat with Uhura about some of Uhura’s extra-credit lab research to… hide Jim Kirk under her bed. That’s it! Blergh.

Now, fandom, myself included, tend to expand Gaila’s role for the lulz, because anyone who pauses technically-not-allowed foreplay to call Jim Kirk out for putting his foot in his mouth has too much potential to have died without mention on the USS Farragut, but her function in-canon is to provide the T&A of the film beyond the campy miniskirts-and-boots of the throwback Starfleet uniforms (though the sleeveless tops are just silly, honestly). That leaves us with three women as “actual characters,” with story reach beyond one scene.

Uhura’s aforementioned research, which Kirk overheard, plays a pivotal role in the Enterprise not warping directly into a deathtrap– but the reveal of that information, despite how bleeding edge awesome it proves Uhura is at her job, becomes a Kirk moment after the slapstick of his various allergic reactions to Bones’s medical hijinks fades. Kirk, once again technically-not-allowed someplace, busts onto the Bridge, yelling at Captain Pike that the anomaly being noted in Vulcan space is actually the same phenomenon from the circumstances of his space-explosion birth (which I will get to in a moment), that also lines up to the distress signals Uhura intercepted and translated from Klingonese (who I don’t think the Federation is even necessarily on speaking terms with in this ‘verse?) back as an undergrad overperforming Cadet in San Francisco. Which is really a case of, if this were a naval situation, Kirk screaming about St. Elmo’s Fire while Uhura happens to have documentation of interstellar weirdness and SOS emergency signals all over that quadrant. Just sayin’. Still, Kirk’s all “AUGH BLAUGH LIGHTNING STORM IN SPACE MY DAD AND ALSO KLINGONS,” while Uhura nods in the background. Girl. Defend your thesis.

Ugh. Like, would it not have been more interesting for Uhura, in spite of her (legitimate) complaints against and dislike of the clearly-annoying and -frustratingly-unprofessional Kirk, to have run up alongside Jim while McCoy tried to restrain him, supporting what she knew was a good call in spite of her personal issues with the people involved? Is that not what Starfleet should be about? I think Captain Jean-Luc Picard would have something to say on the matter, is all.

Uhura’s other function, of course, is to act as the female character in the hetero love triangle at play in STXI, fulfilling two needs: the first is the writer need to troll TOS (look at Kirk strike out with the ladies, HAW!). Uhura’s introduced in a bar scene where jerk-Kirk hits on her and she shuts him down while she orders drinks for her and her friends/classmates. Which is a fine way to end a conversation! But then some of the burlier dude-Cadets are all, “This Iowa boy troubling you Uhura?” FLEX FLEX FLEX. Uhura’s like, “…No, I can’t even hear the haters?” But then all the men decide to be testosterone-addled and fight each other over a situation Uhura already handled. Let it also be said that the Cadets are stunningly bad at bar-fighting, to the point where Kirk manages to beat back several before Captain Pike shows up and makes everyone very uncomfortable to have broken school rules at recess. But 1) Were there no female Cadets at the bar except Uhura? What is with this gender essentialist nonsense?, 2) Kirk’s an ass for not respecting Uhura telling him to leave her alone, but the other Cadets aren’t for doing the same thing? I call shenanigans, even if they were depicted as asses for going after Kirk, specifically– true, military folks are not supposed to hassle the locals, but that makes those Cadets’ “crime” be against the jerk instigating a fight, rather than against the person he’s supposedly pestering, who’s also supposedly a professional peer, and who has asked the Cadets in question to not get involved. What does that, make Uhura an ass for slighting Kirk, too? DOUBLE SHENANIGANS, and 3) Why is Uhura being the delicate flower in this situation? Why didn’t she knock Kirk out? Hell, why didn’t she knock out Cadet Cupcake? She can’t have been a worse scrapper than those guys, even if she just wanted to get in between people and kick them until they stopped.

Squandered writing potential is the theme of the day, I guess.

At the same time, the other narrative hole Uhura fills is to provide emotional background to Mr. Spock, since OMG EVEN THE HALF-VULCAN CAN FEEL LOVE AND SADS AND STUFF?? Busting out another TNG moment: the Sarek episode? Made me cry salty, salty, pre-lycanthropic fully-human tears. And Amanda Grayson was much more fierce and sassy in her one-line response to the whole thing than Winona Ryder was given to play in this entire movie.

Amanda Grayson is also only there to emotionally expand nu!Spock. She’s there when he’s a little boy, when tiny Spock gets in a physical fight (and shows feelings, GASP!) over his multiraciality. The other Vulcan kids call his mother a whore and his father a traitor, and Sarek offers a sagely tone and Amanda offers a soft voice and hugs. When Spock’s an adult, she’s there for him before the deliberation over his acceptance into the Vulcan Science Academy commences, again, soft-voiced and loving; the next time we see her is when the Vulcan planet is being destroyed, and the piece of cliff she’s on crumbles, leaving Spock to be beamed aboard the Enterprise still reaching for the place his mother once stood. There’s a throwaway line about Spock knowing where his parents would be, since they’re part of some high-and-mighty political council on Vulcan, where all the movers and shakers would be for easy transportation needs (…and screw the common people, right?), but Amanda Grayson’s function is not “wife of Sarek,” she’s actually an Earth/Federation Ambassador to Vulcan, which, in another throwaway line, Sarek reveals is how the two met (scandal!). Sarek’s on the board of Vulcans approving his son’s acceptance to the only post-secondary institution in the entire culture (making it double awkward when Spock turns them down), but Amanda isn’t shown except to enhance the gravitas of Spock’s private hell. This would have been so easy to fix, it’s not even funny; show that both Spock’s parents got called out of their jobs when he got put in ISS, or have the moment of impact with Nero’s drill breaching the planet’s surface be one where it’s the middle of the work day. Wasn’t “Working Mother” a trope already by the ’80s?

The other mother who shapes her son’s life by, uh, leaving it (but in a different way), is Winona Kirk. In the brief scene post-timefuck where we see li’l Jim getting into all kinds of tomfoolery, we see that between his father’s death in this AU, his mother apparently working off-world and providing the role of “absentee parent,” and marrying a jerkass stepfather, George, Jr. (Kirk’s big brother) has become a runaway, and Jim has taken to stealing and destroying property for kicks, in addition to generally growing into the slacker, flaky-but-charming snot that Chris Pine plays big-Kirk as in this new universe. Now, not that Shatner’s Kirk wasn’t his own, special kind of hammy asshole, but TOS Kirk at least seemed to take Starfleet pretty seriously. And, I mean, not to downplay the loss of a parent, at all– that’s very serious stuff– but there’s this emphasis in Western, particularly in American, media to put this outrageous emphasis on the role of the father. Mothers can be tragic, mothers can even be abusive, if they’re Joan Crawford, but fathers and surrogate father figures are the make-or-break. Even Avatar: The Last Airbender, which I love, falls prey to its own Americanness in this, with every main character’s issues (that they confront, anyway) stemming from adult men in their lives. What the hell is Winona, chopped liver? Did she not have any impact in her kids’ having stable home lives and turning out as independent and confident adults? Was she not also one of their adult caretakers? What the hell?

(Besides which, okay, I can see remarrying an unpleasant second husband for any of the several reasons women marry and stay with users, abusers, and jerks, even love, but is there no Starfleet-equivalent military support network nearby? There has to be a base or something, or why would Uhura and her fellow Cadets swing by Iowa on their way to California? Pike’s bar confrontation with Jim would hardly be the first time Kirk was offered a chance to enlist to achieve his “full potential,” nor would it be the first time someone preached at him about his martyr father. Wouldn’t Jim have gotten grief counseling? Wouldn’t his acting out have been interpreted for what it was, rather than shiftless delinquency?? Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.)

And regarding the circumstances George, Sr. dies under– true, it was a last-minute promotion from First Officer to Captain of the USS Kelvin, but as a military wife and a member of Starfleet herself, who, you know, was also on board when the ship was fired upon dramatically enough that there was significant use of shaky-cam applied, this should not be the first time the “dying in the line of duty” discussion was brought up. For either George or Winona. She’s pregnant, and the unfortunate military widow, we get it– but Winona’s not actually a civilian. I can buy the whole frantically being wheeled into a medical shuttle mid-labor thing, and I can even buy the “WHAT IS HAPPENING” emotionally stressful conversation while George breaks down how Robau died after about five minutes of screen time, instant title-change, surprise! And by the way autopilot is down and we continue to be fired on and I’m buying all the survivors time to escape, as a discussion to be had in that moment. But both of them would be fully aware of what a Captain’s duties are, whether or not they like them in that moment. When baby Jim is delivered, and George wants a description of his youngest son before he faces destruction via hybridized Romulan-Mining-craft/Borg-tech ship (hey, look! Something I could use– if only I had the supplemental materials handy– CURSE THE EXPANDED TREKVERSE), Winona should not still be saying, “You should be here.”

Even if you adjust for what was a really emotionally selfish thing to say (what is George supposed to do, Winona), Winona would know, as a deployed member of Starfleet herself, why he couldn’t be with her, whether or not he should (and if he’s a good Captain, he shouldn’t). There should have been a finality to the conversation as soon as George confirmed the shuttles should light up without him on board with his pregnant wife– particularly since, as parents, with a kid at home and a kid on the way/being born, one of them has to make it back to Earth. I could see Winona trying to fight to stay on board, if being in the Medical Bay meant she didn’t know how serious the attack on the Kelvin was to begin with, or if she had some kind of know-how that could fix the autopilot, or rig the phasers to shoot automatically (we don’t know Winona Kirk’s skillset, or rank, or even what color-coordinated division of Starfleet she’s in; civvie hospital scrubs all the way); but that could be solved by George pulling rank, to which I would sincerely hope Winona would snap a solid “Fuck that, I’m your wife,” followed, if necessary, by contractions rendering her unable to walk. Which I hate as an action of the plot (oh, the debilitating, feminine humanity of it all!), but that would still be an improvement. The scene already does a lot of telling without showing; if it’s going to be dialogue, dialogue, explosion, dialogue, the dialogue should at least be better.

I’m just very over it. Let’s face it, all the women in this movie serve to drive the men’s emotional thrust in the storyline, which is ridiculous. I don’t care if it is based on TOS, we should be doing better than the constraints of a 50-year-old show’s troubled production at this point. A throwback to the original series would be the hairdos. What this is is lousy writing.

This woman is over playing storyline second-fiddle. You hear me? There are robots outside my door. Well, the door, anyway. This isn’t even my house; I’m over visiting another shifter friend, who is, of course, out at the moment. I panicked, okay?! This is not how this online meetup was supposed to happen. This is everything my parents worried meeting strangers off the Internet would be. Anyway. It’s time to put on my big-girl pants and my shit-kicking boots, and damned if I’m going to die just so some angsty 20-something somewhere can mourn. Wish me luck!!

—————————————-

Sorry for not posting this sooner! I had some hard drive difficulties the other day, as you can probably imagine. But everything resolved itself… fairly quickly? I’ve narrowed it down to the shoes I put on, for some reason. I have to keep them on, but the, sort of, I guess, herd? Of ‘bots is less frantic and uncontrollable when I have these heels… They stopped advancing almost immediately as soon as I put them on. Their power is extra-mysterious, but I’m also not going to look gift pumps in the mouth! My arches are killing me, but that pain can be controlled, if I just disconnect it, I think.

…I don’t see how First Contact would have helped me foresee this any more than the Star Trek reboot did, however.

Still, I’ve got big plans. After I finish laughing to myself about some Wizard of Oz jokes– because, seriously, magical silver slippers!! What’s next, falling houses?– I’m going OUT. I’m leaving, WITH my artificially intelligent army (I’ve named my General “Gort” and everything), and taking the world by storm until the apocalypse actually DOES happen– but it’ll be a pretty sweet ride up until that point. See y’all on the wild side.

Comments

  1. Maria says

    GENA!!!! BEWARE THE WALKING, TALKING PLANTS!

    Also I love your analysis of military spouses in this newest ST movie. You’ve hit on exactly why I’m over it.

  2. says

    Maria,

    Ms. Sprinkles actually came to me in a dream the other night, telling me to head west, and that your home was no longer safe. I thought it was a nightmare, since she was massive and glowing in the moonlight, and also since I was overthrown as leader of the robot army by Gort in the fastest robot coup ever when a bigger, badder electromagnet showed up, and the whole thing left me twitchy– but oh no!!! I’ll make sure to keep to the cities and roads, even though they’re full of more undead than I like to deal with at once. o_0

    And right?! Particularly since Starfleet’s mission is now less Western Expansion and more “peacekeeping armada”– peacekeeping =/= pacifism, lack of battle, nonchalant job requirements, etc. All these women should be hardcore! They wouldn’t make it in the horrific world we now face. The Jim Kirks and Spocks of the world can’t help any of us now.

  3. says

    I find most your review spot-on, particularly as regards Uhura.

    One thing: was Kirk’s mom a member of Starfleet? Aside from the fact that she was on a vessel in combat, I didn’t see any indications…no mention of rank, military career after Kirk’s birth, or anything. Now the other alternative–that she was a civilian and was brought along on a Starfleet vessel–also makes no sense IMO, and I think this is one where the screenwriters just fucked up either way. But I never got the impression that Winona was military.

  4. Maria says

    Spartakos,

    Even if Winona wasn’t a military member, she’d be a military spouse. Just a quick perusal of SpouseBuzz (a military spouse blogging site: http://spousebuzz.com/) shows the kinds of conversations civilian spouses have with their partner, which include the “what if??” conversations about death and duty.

  5. Maria says

    Gena,

    Ms. Sprinkles has steadily grown into a looming presence — but more of a psychic one. I can’t tell if she’s betrayed us, or what, but at night I see her roaming with the mints. Stay away from the garden paths, the bushes, and the whispering oaks. Stay away from home until the fall.

  6. says

    Spartakos,

    I assumed Winona was Starfleet, since a civilian on board a starship for a far-enough away mission that a singularity/wormhole didn’t physically affect Earth would be kind of outrageous, particularly since she’s already established as a military spouse assigned to the same ship as her SO with a kid at home already (and therefore very likely not going through an illicit, unexpected/unintended/unprevented, or otherwise undesired pregnancy). Also, since it’s an away mission, I assumed she became pregnant while on-duty (the US military doesn’t deploy known pregnant service members to active war zones, though idk if that would apply since, you now, time traveling sneak attack!, but my 20th-century brain worries about occupational exposure to space radiation and stuff), but cutting space deployments short on account of pregnancies, even with warp engines and transporters, is probably too costly/risky considering the pre-TOS time period and the being in space. *shrugs* It would also explain why we don’t see Winona in her uniform– whatever her usual role in Starfleet included might have fallen under duty restrictions, particularly that late along.

    I’m also not sure what other jobs she would have during Jim and George, Jr.’s childhoods that would put her off-world aside from political or military roles, but that’s genuinely just me not knowing if there’s other things she could be doing? Anyway, there was definitely a line from the stepdad about bebbeh Kirk thinking he could act a fool, up in here, up in here, on account of Winona having left the planet, which imo confirmed my theory.

    On re-watching the movie, it wasn’t so much that Winona struck me as military so much as I was like, “Why is she here??

  7. says

    On re-watching the movie, it wasn’t so much that Winona struck me as military so much as I was like, “Why is she here??

    Exactly! That pretty much sums up my feeling on watching that scene, in retrospect. The obvious answer being “to make a good dramatic scene, dummy”…with things like “logic” and “being reasonable” left by the wayside.

    The word of god confirm is good, though. And regardless, whichever way it was, it didn’t make anything you said any less correct.

  8. says

    You know, it doesn’t say much for the depiction of military women in this movie if the audience can’t even figure out on their own that 1/3 of them are military.

    Stay safe, y’all. :)

  9. says

    Imagining Katniss Everdeen as a military figure in Starfleet and what fun _that_ would be, heh. She’s just as insane as Kirk in her own special way, even allowing for age. Kirk would be lucky to get away with a broken nose. Just sayin’.

  10. Alara Rogers says

    Jean Lamb,

    Now I have a mental image of Katniss as Tasha Yar — the security chief who comes from a non-Federation world where the people are oppressed and abused, who can’t quite wrap her head around how much Starfleet does not suck.

    OMG maybe I have to write this.

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