Thursday, April 16, 2015

"The gleaming cities of Earth...

...Where peace reigns, and hatred has no home."

These are the last lines of the episode "Muse" from the series "Star Trek: Voyager." The episode is characteristic of the series as a whole.

Voyager is not the most popular series in the Star Trek franchise. Like some of the other series – maybe all of them – it started out rather weak, and with characters that were not particularly well developed. But I have seen the series twice now and I think that once the series got rid of the character Kes and brought Seven of Nine into the story, about halfway through, it got a lot better. Sure, there are some fairly dumb and typically dumb stories, but there is some very good science fiction as well.

The episode "Muse" is an example of how serious television, if the creators take it seriously themselves,  can give writers and directors and actors space do all sorts of interesting stuff. The existence of Netflix shows us how some series work very well as they build on previous strengths.
 The characters of Voyager are very good examples of this. They aren't brilliantly done, but they are increasingly good as things progress. The character of the doctor by Robert Picardo and Seven of Nine by Jeri Ryan come to mind. In both cases, incomplete human beings turn into something else as they mature, and as is repeatedly emphasized by the development of the series as a whole, they have to be accepted by the flesh and blood human beings as equals. I think Ryan, whom many people think got the job sheerly on the basis of astonishing physical beauty, had a very tough assignment here and did it very well.

In the case of "Muse" we see an alien culture that seems to have developed to an era similar to archaic Greece. A local poet rescues one of the members of the Starfleet expedition and uses her story to create a drama far away better than anything that has existed in his culture before. It's not really a very believable story when it comes down to it  but it does make you think about how astonishing the effect of early Greek drama must've been. Classicists know this, but how often has this been explored on TV or in any other popular genre of fiction?

The quote I used for a title for this post indicates a final characteristic worth noting. It is spoken by the poet of the alien culture who has visualized Earth as the home of peace and perfection. According to the series, he's absolutely right. The 24th century according to the writers of the series is a time when the most optimistic dreams we have for our future have come true. Sometimes that optimism seems a bit overdone, but I would say that the whole dramatic interest of the series is that it argues that even when peace and concord have come to Earth, there will still be plenty of problems in applying all our best ideas to real-life situations.

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