“I do enjoy my work. But I’m afraid I’ve used it as an excuse to avoid the rest of my life.”
-- Constable Odo
Today, “shipping” is such a vital part of fandom that it hardly needs to be explained. There are huge communities dedicated to imagining two of their favorite characters in a romantic relationship. Clothing companies can sell a t-shirt with the simple idea that one day Sherlock Holmes and Watson might kiss. For a period about ten years ago, Team Edward and Team Jacob nearly tore this country apart. The vocal shipping fandom in Supernatural is partly responsible for that show’s troubling habit of stuffing its female characters into fridges.
“I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But the most damning thing of all... I think I can live with it. And if I had to do it all over again, I would. Garak was right about one thing: A guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So, I will learn to live with it. Because I can live with it. I can live with it.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
This is it. Right here. My favorite episode of my favorite Trek. It’s also one of, if not the darkest hour the franchise has ever produced. Too often “dark” and “good” are conflated, with people mistaking brooding for depth, but what elevates “In the Pale Moonlight” is the central question at its core. Ironically enough, it’s the same question Dr. Bashir asked of Sloan: Is it permissible to sacrifice our moral code to win a war? Bashir’s answer was vehemently in the negative, but the question never comes in that format.
“When push comes to shove, are we willing to sacrifice our principles in order to survive?”
-- Dr. Julian Bashir
Gene Roddenberry’s vision might be untenable. That’s borderline heretical to say, and as an avowed fan of the Trek franchise as a whole, I feel faintly dirty. Maybe the future as Roddenberry originally envisioned it, when interpersonal conflict had been eliminated and, as he put it, “all men are brothers,” would work. After decades of other writers grafting their own interpretations onto the whole, it began to look more and more like this utopia couldn’t function. How can the Federation stand against threats like the Romulan Empire, the Cardassian Union, the Borg, and the Dominion and still remain cleaner than Superman’s underpants?
“When I was a child, I dreamed of having enough food to eat and pretty clothes to wear, and now look at me. I have everything I ever wanted, and I feel horrible.”
-- Kira Meru
Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum upon which to place it, and I shall move the world.” To him I say, give me a seat comfortable enough and a time far enough removed, and I’ll judge the world. It’s very easy to judge the actions of people in hard situations. It costs you nothing to claim you would have been the one German who would resist the Nazis. It’s simplicity itself to crow that you’d have been marching along with Dr. King in the ‘60s. The truth is far more unsettling: human beings are far more willing to live on their knees than die on their feet. Hell, we’re happy to live on our knees if it doesn’t mean being overly inconvenienced on our feet.
“As a man who had a wife, if Jennifer had been lying in that clearing, I wouldn’t have left her either.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
On any serialized long-running show, romance subplots between the main characters are practically unavoidable. Romantic plots are an easy way to add drama and intrigue for a huge percentage of the audience. It’s relatable. Besides, most TV shows are populated by attractive people. It would be almost weirder if they didn’t hook up from time to time, right?
“I don’t forget my friends, ‘cause friends, they’re like family. Nothing’s more important. Nothing.”
-- Liam Bilby
You’ve seen this episode before. In every cop show, in many science fiction shows, and more than one movie. A member of the main cast goes undercover and finds that the enemy is a pretty decent person under it all. Sure, they do some bad things, but at the end of the day, they have their reasons. Our hero ends up sympathizing with the target, and in the eleventh hour, goes against their mission and attempts to save their new friend.
“This is the story of a little ship, that took a little trip...”
-- Lt. Commander Worf
Pacing is one of the paramount concerns of any fiction writer. Essentially, that’s how fast the events in the story unfold. A well-paced story can be slow or it can be fast, but the ultimate goal is to create a seamless experience for the audience. A perfectly paced story is one where no one checks their watches and doesn’t even think about the bathroom.
“You are the dreamer... and the dream.”
-- The Preacher
Science fiction has always had the cherished position of being able to indirectly comment on the issues of the day. Star Trek managed to do it subtly, by having people of color as valued members of the bridge crew and even guest-starring as superior officers to the white hero. It also managed to do it a bit more clumsily, with that one episode where everyone is half-white and half-black. Star Trek’s self-appointed role as social commentator was vitally important, and illustrates what makes sci-fi not only valuable but necessary in the fabric of fiction.
“You know Morn, he never shuts up.”
Morn, the saturnine barfly, has been part of the show from the very beginning. Originally, he was little more than a distinctive extra in full-body makeup. In fact, some of the early publicity stills prominently featured him, as though to send the message that DS9 would evolve past TNG’s over-reliance on slightly different forehead wrinkles, featuring many more innovative (and expensive) alien designs. While this ended up being inaccurate, Morn had been indelibly imprinted on the consciousness of fans.
“Sometimes, life seems so complicated, nothing is truly good or truly evil. Everything seems to be a shade of gray. And then you spend some time with a man like Dukat, and you realize there is such a thing as truly evil.”
-- Captain Benjamin Sisko
Writers have no real control over how our work is perceived. We just sort of shove it out the door, pat it on the ass, and give it a “Good luck, kid!” Oftentimes, the reactions are unexpected. In some cases, villains are embraced as romantic leads (by predominantly female fans), their flaws excused, or handwaved away with a “Oh, I could change him.” This phenomenon is so widespread, TV Tropes even has a suitably evocative name for it: the Draco in Leather Pants.