Seriously, how am I the first person to come up with this?
“The Way to Eden” is a particularly maligned episode. With it’s comedic, shallow take on the hippies of the day, the episode comes off as square and out of touch. In reality it’s an incredibly smart screenplay with the hippies as a fatal flaw. Switch them out for a less cartoonish cult that’s more like the Manson Family or Jonestown and the episode would be undeniably brilliant.
First of all, it saw Superbugs coming. Our modern world is becoming plagued with illnesses of our own design. Not literally designed, of course, but products of our negligence and hubris. Antibiotic misuse has given rise to more and more resistant bacteria. The Covid-19 pandemic has been made worse and stronger by people either unable or unwilling to be vaccinated. Before the first vaccines have worn off a more contagious and elusive variant is now making more shots necessary.
Doctor Sevrin’s sythococcus novae is a disease that evolved from a hyper aseptic, sterilized environment. It was that 0.01% of bugs that survived every scrubbing and every prescription. It survived so well that even Star Trek’s super science can’t cure it.
Sevrin himself is a science denier. He refuses to acknowledge his infection and whenever someone asks him why he won’t isolate himself or even get tested he starts screaming about his “rights”. Sound familiar?
It’s also Star Trek’s strongest criticism of colonialism. Doctor Sevrin may be an elephant-eared alien, but at his core he’s a white man. And with all the white-manliness at his disposal he utters one of Star Trek’s greatest villain lines: “Only the primitives can cleanse me!”
Let’s dissect exactly how awesome that line is. It both elevates and insults the people Sevrin is hoping will help him. It assigns magical powers to a group he refers to as “primitive” and therefore inferior. He’s not saying “oh, these wonderful people of Eden. I hope they accept me and teach me their ways.” He degrades them so that he can exploit them and possibly rule over them. And he does it with just six brilliantly pointed, loaded words.
I use this line a lot because I live in America where the latest health trend is always some kind of foreign or indigenous tradition stripped of its cultural significance and pushed as something that will cure everything that ails you. Acupuncture, turmeric, yerba mate, yoga, etc, are all proclaimed super remedies that assign wisdom to ancient magic and are often used in lieu of actual medicine.
Calling a group of people “magical” is hardly complementary. In fact it’s usually used as an excuse for extermination, whether en mass in the case of Jewish people who can hypnotize and completely control society with little effort, or one at a time with Black teenagers that can wrestle guns from grown men and charge through a rain of bullets unscathed. Magic is only good if it can be stolen and exploited. In the hands of its original owners it’s considered dangerous.
And if there’s one thing you can be sure of when dealing with a white man degrading modern technology in favor of an obscure, magical alternative, it’s that he’ll market the shit out of it.
“Way to Eden” certainly does a better job with themes of colonial exploitation than The Next Generation film Insurrection, who’s story is a muddled mess of betrayal by the natives’ own exiled progeny. It casts the crew of the Enterprise as white saviors while also casting the exploited population as lily white.
“Way to Eden” does away with all that nonsense. Paradise doesn’t want the invaders and expels them itself with its acid grass and poison fruit. There may be a population on Eden, but we never see them. We never have to face a white washed culture or a brown one marred by ugly Hollywood stereotypes. All the jabs are aimed at the viewer. That’s our stupidity on screen, letting a crazy man talk us into ingesting something that will ultimately kill us. Every time we pick up a bottle of Kombucha to cure our cancer or diabetes we’re the hippies.
At the tail end of the last season of Dexter, Dexter’s sister, Brenda, shoots their longtime police captain in order to keep Dexter’s secret. Immediately after pulling the trigger, Brenda coddles the lifeless body while sobbing with guilt. It’s an absolutely gut wrenching scene. And as I watched it I thought to myself, “this violence and trauma and emotional exhaustion is in service of one of the dumbest seasons of TV I’ve ever sat through in my life. Why did I do this to myself?” This is exactly how I felt watching Yvette Picard step off a stool and artfully hang herself in front of a young Jean Luc. All this horror, and for what?
The thing is, Picard Season 2 isn’t so bad, at least compared to its first season. It seemed kind of light and fun at first. Characters that I hated in the previous season, like Agnes and Rios, came alive with a sense of humor and whimsy. I looked forward to each episode despite their poor plotting and strange logic. The story made zero sense, but it moved along at a decent clip.
But Picard’s inner workings were a problem from the start. They sought to solve an issue no one really cared about: why can’t Picard hold down a relationship with any of the many women the show has set him up with? It always seemed to me like Picard was an asexual hetero-romantic. He likes women, but not sex. Asexuality is a recognized part of the spectrum of healthy behavior. It’s even the “A” in LGBTQIA. No one’s mom had to die to make them that way.
Everything about Yvette’s graphic death was pointless, and its message was completely unsound. At first we’re meant to believe Picard’s problems with intimacy stem from his abusive father. Flashes of his mother being brutalized and the two of them running from danger pop up here and there in his memory. When we actually meet Picard’s father, Maurice, Picard seems to blame him for those terrifying experiences. But the reality, we find, is that Maurice was only holding back his severely mentally ill wife from harming herself and their son.
But that just wasn’t a good enough twist for the writers. They needed to go further. Not only was Picard’s mom mentally ill, but she coaxed him into letting her out of her basement cell so she could kill herself in the place that was most special to the both of them. Good grief!
The Picard family isn’t just dressed in twee, 19th century Newsies garb, their problems read like a Freudian cautionary tale on the dangers of “female hysteria”. Freudianism was born out of Sigmund’s inability to accept that a farther could do evil, so he attributed all the abuse to the mother. Both Picard and Freud undermine the fact that men are the abusers the vast majority of the time. It makes it seem like such abuse is the fantasy of crazy women and deluded children. The whole concept is so backwards that dressing everyone up in Victorian garb was the only way to fool the audience into buying any of it for more than a second.
Picard’s mom is not even fleshed out enough as a character for us to know what exactly has made her this way. Is it her own trauma or maybe a chemical imbalance? Did an alien infect her brain? Did a Douwd put an ear worm in her head? Why does she refuse help in a century that not only has amazing, free medical care, but has destigmatized mental illness so much that there’s a therapist on every space ship? With ten hours to kill – one spent entirely on a pointless interrogation by a Fox Mulder wannabe – you’d think the show could tell us something about her so that her suicide would be more than just a means to scarring the male hero. But it doesn’t.
What was even the point of switching Picard’s trauma from an abusive dad to a suicidal mom? How did it serve the story or Picard’s character? Whether he’s guilty from not saving him mother from the monster or guilty from letting out of her dungeon, it doesn’t make a difference what traumatized young Jean-Luc. The effect is the same either way. The only reason to swap one for the other is for the pure exploitative shock of it.
What makes it all worse is that none of this subplot has anything to do with the main plot. It pops up here and there, during a coma or in the thick of battle, but Picard working out his issues and getting a chance to fraternize with his employee has nothing to do with defeating Q/Soong and righting the timeline. I have no idea why it’s there. Picard could have figured this all out without leaving the house. Even the injury that spurs on his realization didn’t occur because of anything having to do with his trauma.
Yvette Picard wasn’t a person. She was a plot device. One that existed in a story that forces Picard to accept his life choices and the man he is because of them all under the guidance of Q. It’s “Tapestry”. She died for a ten hour remake of “Tapestry”.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture’s Theatrical Cut was released on 4K resolution blu-ray earlier this year and the results are pretty spectacular. The film has never looked better and you would imagine there would be no further room for improvement, image quality-wise. Then comes this month’s release of the “Director’s Edition”. First seen in 2001, the Director’s Edition re-edited major portions of the film under the guidance of original director Robert Wise and also added a number of effects changes and additions that Wise may or may not have cared about. I’m not a fan of the Director’s Cut in general, but I like to start my critiques with cheers. I’ll save my jeers for another article.
What ultimately draws me to the Director’s Edition is the promise of recomposited effects scanned from the original negatives, something we’ve been told for decades no longer existed. These newly composited shots, mostly of the drydock scenes, look superb. They’re so good, in fact, that I wish they had been included in the theatrical cut. I’ll be looking at some of those shots and comparing them to what we got in the 4K transfer of the Theatrical Cut. Keep in mind that these shots don’t show the full quality of either version since they aren’t in High Dynamic Range which makes a huge difference. Click each image to see it at full size.
The first thing you’ll notice when comparing the Director’s to the Theatrical cut is that the elements are much sharper. I have several ideas on why this is. The first is that old style optical printer compositing was a mess that added grain at every point of the process. When filming models you’re often shooting multiple passes, including the ship itself, the running lights, the spot lights, the engine lights, etc. The reason for this is because each one requires its own exposure settings. Window and running lights, for instance, would barely show under the bright studio lights needed to shoot the model itself. Windows and other lights are usually shot in complete darkness. Each one of those passes has its own film grain. And each time you refilm those passes in the optical printer, the film you’re printing on has its own grain. Some lighting effects were composited in-camera by reversing the film and just making a double exposure since lighting doesn’t require a mask. That reduces extra grain by a lot. But then you have to add other elements like the various shuttles and planets. The grain still really adds up. This isn’t a problem with digital compositing because there is no film intermediary. You just scan your film into the computer and layer it with zero added noise or degradation.
The second problem with optical printing is that you’re filming a projected image of a pass and a projector needs to be focused. Modern film scanners autofocus like a digital camera does and previews of digital scans can be blown up to check sharpness before the whole roll goes through. Optical printers of the 70’s had to be focused by hand and if the last part of the process was out of focus it would all be out of focus. The composite could only be as sharp as the very last pass. As you can see in these comparisons the Enterprise and the travel pod were originally a bit blurry, but it’s clear from the Director’s Edition that the elements themselves weren’t shot that way. You can almost see Kirk and Scotty’s face now.
Other problems crop up with optical printing. In the original of the above the planet is bleeding into the center of the warp engine grill. That’s been fixed. The whole scene is brighter and sharper. Although, with that brightness the workbee’s matte lines (the dark edges around the model) are more prominent and don’t blend with the background. Why those weren’t finessed out of existence by the digital team is beyond me.
One thing that both editions make clear is some of the “silvering” on the decals used for the Enterprise’s livery. Silvering is when air bubbles get trapped between the decal and the imperfect surface you’re applying them to giving them a mottled, washed out appearance that direct lighting really highlights. On a static model one might apply livery with paint masks or make silvering less apparent with a clear coat over them. Movie and TV models, however, need to be dynamic. If you’ve ever wondered how ships on Star Trek can be renamed so easily, it’s because decals are left above the final paint surface and can easily be pulled off with some low-tack tape. This was the case in the Original Series where the shuttlecraft was renamed for it’s Starbase 11 appearance and on the Enterprise itself, which would have used this technique to put on reverse decals to portray the ship’s port side. This was only seen in “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “Mirror, Mirror”. In the films it was used to convert the Enterprise to its “A” variant.
Here are a few more comparisons. In most cases the difference is stunning. The pearlescence of the Enterprise’s paint job has never been more apparent:
Today marks the 42 anniversary of my favorite Star Trek movie, The Motion Picture. Relive the love we’ve given this film over the years with these links:
First, here’s the TMP Redux I did earlier this year that rewrites the end of the film.
Next, check out a threaded live tweeting I did last year of Gene Roddenberry’s TMP novelization. Learn all the crazy stuff that didn’t make it into the film without having to read 300 pages
Day One – The Forward and Catching up with Kirk and Spock.
Day Two – Kirk get’s back his ship and the Enterprise prepares for launch.
Day Three – Ilia arrives, Kirk and Sulu get stiffies, and the Enterprise finally launches.
Day Four – The Enterprise nearly hits an asteroid and phaser bypasses are discussed to death.
Day Five – The crew face the cloud head on and Ilia bites it trying to save Spock.
Day Six – Kirk ogles the Ilia-Probe for what seems like an eternity.
Day Seven – The Ilia-Probe tours the ship and Spock encounters the Memory Wall.
Day Seven – Decker has sex with the Ilia-Probe. You heard me.
Day Seven – The final countdown for earth begins. The crew ente Vejur’s central core.
Day Seven – The exciting conclusion.
Lastly, download the TMP Redux crew wallpaper seen at the top of this post!
So long, Dean Stockwell. You will be missed.
Just updated the comic’s archives for the first time since… geez… 2017. The archive, for those who don’t know, compiles the strips into comic book page form. I’ve added “Mudd Slide”, “The Word of God”, “The Motion Picture Redux”, and even the published portions “Red Meat”. It’s a great place to reread, remind, and catch up. Check it out in the top menu!
My TOS Vaccine poster has always been hit. I created it back during the measles scare in 2015. Who knew it would be so much more horrendously relevant today? That’s why I’m back at it with a TNG Version starring Mr. Worf. Click on the image to get a poster sized version suitable for printing.
For those curious about my comic drawing process, I created a time lapse video of the creation of yesterday’s strip. You can see what apps I use (Final Draft, Illustrator, and Photoshop) and the whole assembly from text layout to sketching to color. It’s three hours of work condensed to nine minutes. And, if you’d like to see what every sketch looks like and get the strip a day earlier than the rest of the world, check out my Patreon!
I spent a little time today touching up and adding detail to the final crew shot of The Motion Picture Redux. It makes a really great wallpaper for your desktop! Click the picture to get the full size image.