Nerd Factor: Trek Misfires
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ LC Communication Studies Professor
50th anniversaries are impressive, and the Nerd Factor has certainly been caught up in the excitement of “Star Trek’s” big achievements. The franchise has become legendary for its utopian vision, its commitment to diversity and its contributions to the genre. However, 50 years is also plenty of time to make mistakes. We’ve seen some of Trek’s good; now let’s look at the bad and the ugly.
Wesley Crusher: It’s easy to bash “Next Generation’s” boy genius ensign, but that doesn’t mean Wesley shouldn’t be bashed. Wesley was supposed to be the character conveying the sense of wonder in the universe, a reminder of the excitement of boldly going.
Sadly, actor Wil Wheaton often conveyed that excitement with a look that suggested he’d just seen a puppy for the first time. The real crime with Crusher though is that this character was originally conceived of as a female but the gender was switched in order for the character to honor series creator Gene Roddenberry. “Next Gen.” missed a chance to provide something television had not seen, a young woman pursuing a career in science.
“The Final Frontier”: The mantra goes that all odd-numbered Trek movies are no good. The first faltered. The third was fun. It’s the fifth that really cements the rule. William Shatner, who directed the film, is still apologizing for this blunder of a movie.
A weird plot involving Spock’s messianic half-brother we’ve never heard of before trying to find God stumbles around. Maybe this could have worked if Sean Connery had been convinced to play the part, but Lawrence Luckinbill did not have the gravitas to pull it off. Still, the movie does give us a great Kirk moment when he asks “What does God need with a starship?” to the poser Almighty.
“The Turnabout Intruder”: The original series limped across the finish line with this horrible last episode about a mind-switching plot. Dr. Janice Lester believes that men have all the advantages in society, so she swaps bodies with Kirk. As the now female-minded captain, Shatner delivers a bizarre performance that is so bad it can’t be funny. How Spock and the rest of the crew take an hour to figure this one out is boggling.
Neelix: “Voyager” struggled against a set of characters I often referred to as the “Deadly Three.” But as inherently dull as Harry Kim and Tuvok could often be, they never quite reached the awfulness of Neelix.
Initially positioned as the alien guide for the lost starship, Neelix often seemed to be trying too hard to be liked, a cruise director without much true charm. As would-be suitor for the youthful Kes, he came off as a creepy older man. One episode started with aliens stealing his lungs. Honestly, this was the best thing that ever happened to the character because for a while there, he couldn’t speak.
Dr. Katherine Pulaski: In its second season, “Next Generation” replaced its medical officer. Where Dr. Beverly Crusher may have been too cool and uninteresting in that first season, Dr. Pulaski was ornery and scrappy in the mode of original intergalactic “country” doctor McCoy. But the greatest failing of this character was her constant questioning of Data. She just refused to believe the android was capable of being human. It seemed like racism or speciesism or some other kind of “-ism,” a clear violation of Trek’s morality.