Star Trek: The Next Generation was a triumph for Gene Roddenberry, and in many ways his true masterpiece. It would also be his final work on this planet. In his last years, Roddenberry served as executive producer and creative visionary for The Next Generation, though his failing health made the work difficult at times. The Great Bird of the Galaxy lived to see the popularity of Star Trek reach incredible heights, and the new series surpass its iconic predecessor with an 80th episode appropriately titled Legacy. Shortly after, he would join the celebration of its 100th episode, looking ahead to a golden era for Star Trek television made possible by the foundation he built over 25 years.
Gene Roddenberry died in 1991, leaving behind a body of work that impacted the world and popular culture in countless ways. He had challenged television networks to tackle important social issues in the 1960s, presented a future filled with optimism and possibility, and established one of the most successful science-fiction franchises of all time. He would not live to see the eventual on-screen unification of his two Star Trek series, or the shows and films that would carry the story forward in years to come. Those parts of his legacy would now rest in the hands of his most trusted associates at the helm, led by his co-Executive Producer, Rick Berman.
Berman began his journey with Star Trek when he accepted a personal invitation from Roddenberry to join the team. He didn't know much about the original series, or even science fiction, but the connection he felt with its creator inspired him to take a leap of faith. Berman committed himself to continuing the philosophies and ideals Roddenberry had laid out for Star Trek, seeking his advice on stories and concepts until his final days. However, Berman's own impact on Star Trek cannot be overstated. He was an effective producer who involved himself in nearly every aspect of the production. Under his leadership, Star Trek: The Next Generation would become one of the most celebrated shows of its time, spawning three additional series and four films which Berman would also oversee.
Though TNG suffered from frequent turnover within the writing and production staff in its early years -- and even some cast changes -- Berman soon assembled the right team to guide Star Trek for another decade. Chief among them was Michael Piller, who joined the writing staff in the series' third season. Piller's talent for character development led to a staff writing position. Working alongside Berman, Piller contributed some of the most memorable episodes and elements of The Next Generation and beyond -- from The Best of Both Worlds to the development of the Bajorans, Cardassians, and much of the modern Star Trek Universe.
Likewise, writers Ira Steven Behr, René Echevarria, Ronald D. Moore, Branna Braga, and Jeri Taylor were added during the third and fourth seasons. This talented group cared deeply for Star Trek and its creator's vision, finding new ways to evolve the series while holding true to the essence of the franchise. Each would become an important part of future series as well, guiding Star Trek into a new era under Berman.
The following episodes will be screened in #TrekClass LIVE on Monday, Nov. 2, at approx. 6:15pm EST. Online students are invited to join us as we "live tweet" using the course hashtag, or to review the tweets afterward by searching #Trekclass on Twitter.
The Best of Both Worlds (Parts 1&2)
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1990)
In The Best of Both Worlds, the Enterprise crew once again comes face to face with the Borg -- a race of cybernetically enhanced beings that seeks to obtain perfection through the assimilation of other races and their technologies. The Borg is not concerned with individuality, creativity, freedom or other values commonly shared among humans and many other races in the galaxy.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1990)
Our second screening, Family, may be considered the final chapter of the "Locutus Trilogy," bringing some closure to Picard's ordeal with the Borg. In this episode, we find Picard struggling to return to his life aboard the Enterprise with his high-tech life as a Starfleet Captain feeling a bit overwhelming. To recover, he decides to return home to his family vineyard in France.
Read the chapter from Hamlet's Blackberry linked here. After reflecting on the Borg and Captain Picard's recovery from assimilation, how does the chapter relate? What are your thoughts about our connected lifestyle? Is resistence futile?
For many, life in the 21st century is defined in part by constant connectivity. Mobile devices and social media such as Twitter and Facebook contribute to an “always on” lifestyle of real-time information sharing. This has had a tremendous impact on our world, allowing us to connect with friends and family, facilitating collaboration across distances and even spreading the seeds of social change throughout regions of the globe.
However, the ability to share information quickly and easily has also helped to increase the feeling of “information overload” felt by a growing number of people. With our mobile devices competing for our attention at the dinner table or as we drive our cars, it is no surprise that some are concerned about living such a connected life. Still, it seems many are unwilling to disconnect, or even unable.
When considering the challenges of living in an “always on” society, Star Trek may not initially seem like the best example from which to draw conclusions. There doesn’t appear to be a Federation equivalent to Facebook. We don’t see anyone tweeting from a PADD while vacationing on Risa, and no one is ever complaining about the number of unread subspace messages in their inbox. In fact, humanity in Star Trek’s24th century seems to have no problem handling the daily flow of information.
It is possible to imagine that we, too, might be able to solve these challenges in a few hundred years, but it seems as though Star Trek has left us guessing as to how this might be accomplished. However, the franchise may still have something to tell us about our hyper-connected, socially networked world. Perhaps the lessons we’re looking for are not found aboard a starship… but instead a Borg cube.
The Borg is a connected lifestyle taken to the extreme, but functionally it is not unlike some of our own technologies. Through social networks like Twitter, for example, we seek to share our thoughts and ideas in real time. We can track trends and even make decisions based on the wisdom of the crowd -- a practice known as “crowd sourcing.” The Borg operates in much the same way, except that participation in the Collective is not voluntary.
With its relentless pursuit of technological perfection and forced assimilation, the Borg represents the fear that technology may ultimately overtake humanity. Among the human values most at risk from the Borg are individuality and creativity, making its collective consciousness, or “hive mind,” its most terrifying aspect. Although we may hope to achieve some of the benefits of the Collective with our own social networks, most of us are unwilling to give up the freedom to disconnect.
Whether or not our tweeting and texting will turn us into drones is impossible to say, but Star Trek shows us that stepping away from the connected life can have its benefits at times.
After his assimilation and subsequent rescue, Captain Picard had his own feelings of information overload. Beyond the need to cope with the trauma of the experience, Picard found himself overwhelmed with the voices, or information, that had been flowing through him while linked to the Collective. Life aboard theEnterprise, even with its less intrusive information environment, suddenly seemed overwhelming. To recover, Picard returned to his family vineyard in France – a location free of technology where he could clear his head.
In his book, Hamlet’s Blackberry, author William Powers points to Plato’s dialogue between Socrates and Phaedrus to show the value of disconnecting in this way. In the story, Socrates leaves the hyper-connected city of Athens to spend time in the countryside debating an idea with his friend Phaedrus. This “disconnected” experience proves enlightening for Socrates, much like Picard’s journey to the French countryside is for him. It is ultimately this brief period away from his technological life that allows Picard to appreciate the value of reconnecting aboard the Enterprise.
However, choosing to disconnect may not always be easy. In the episode I, Borg (1992), a drone called "Hugh" experienced trauma after his link to the Collective was severed. We may experience our own difficult reactions to disconnection. Fortunately, few of us will suffer such severe effects from powering off our phones, but we may indeed feel anxious, distracted or even helpless when disconnected. This might be because we fear missing out on important information, or because we are dreading the number of messages requiring a response once we return.
If you are one of the many living a connected lifestyle, these concerns may indeed be valid. Finding time to disconnect may hardly seem worth the effort, especially when you will be heading right back to the “hive mind” all over again. But like Picard after his trip home, you may also find a new appreciation for the connected life you’ll be returning to.
When it comes to balancing a connected lifestyle, resistance may be futile… but even a Borg drone needs to regenerate sometimes.
The Borg: The Ultimate Social Network
Riker vs. Shelby: A Case of Star Trek “Generations”
In The Best of Both Worlds, the Enterprise crew faces a dangerous threat from the Borg – an alien race with entirely different goals and values from those of most humans and other races in the Alpha Quadrant.
But as the conflict with the Borg takes place in space, another confrontation is unfolding on board the Enterprise. Lieutenant Commander Shelby, a Starfleet Borg expert, has her sights set on the Enterprise first officer post currently held by Commander Riker. Ambitious, talented and equipped with the latest knowledge and techniques, Shelby simply believes she can do a better job and that Riker is standing in her way. Riker, however, sees Shelby as reckless and untested, even if she is talented. Her zealous approach also reminds him that he has become more “seasoned” over time. This, perhaps, is what he dislikes most about Shelby’s presence.
As we viewed this episode in the very first Trek Class, an interesting discussion took place about the characteristics of the modern work environment that many students are experiencing as they arrive at internships or new jobs. Today’s college students, part of the so-called Millennial generation born between 1980 and 1995, are emerging to take the reins from their Baby Boomer predecessors. With each generation viewing the other to be quite alien in its goals, motivation and tactics, this process is resulting in its fair share of tense “first contact” situations.
Millennials are known to be tech savvy, resourceful and ambitious. Often considered a management challenge by those more senior, they are far less concerned with spending their careers at a single company. With a reputation for wanting to become CEO overnight, Millennials are prepared to take several jobs in a year, trading up for better pay, better hours and a work environment where they are more comfortable and feel appreciated. These behaviors, quite at odds with those of the Boomer generation, can make the emergence of the Millennial workers seem as threatening as Borg assimilation.
In many ways, the conflict between Shelby and Riker highlights this scenario, and perhaps reminds us that the cycle of a new generation slowly taking over for the last will continue in the future. Shelby, a 24th-Century version of today’s Millennial, arrives on the Enterprise equipped with information and tactics that seem untested to her senior officer, yet prove valuable when traditional methods fail. She is willing to try out her theories on the fly, based on knowledge of the Borg neither Riker nor the senior staff have had the opportunity to study at Starfleet Academy.
Riker, perhaps the Baby Boomer of the future, has committed himself to serving as Captain Picard’s first officer for the long haul. He has turned down offers of his own command, including one still on the table with the USS Melbourne, in favor of remaining with the Enterprise. Shelby, seeking to move quickly up the ladder, is unable to see why Riker will not move on.
This is a commonly described disconnect between Millennials and Baby Boomers. The more-senior Boomers prefer to see new workers advance after “paying their dues” and proving they are dedicated employees, as they believe they had to themselves. Millennials can see this as “settling” for a job, or even as growing outdated and ineffective. Sharing this view, Shelby tells Riker, “If you can’t make the big decisions, Commander, I suggest you make room for someone who can.”
Much like Shelby, students and recent graduates often express similar frustration about what they consider overly cautious supervisors. In fact, the idea for Trek Class itself was born during a discussion with young professionals about this very issue. Trying to present one possible approach, I referenced Captain Picard’s willingness to allow teenage Wesley Crusher to contribute on his crew. The overwhelming reaction to both Picard’s example and the use of Star Trek to illustrate the concept convinced me to develop this course.
Perhaps Picard may be able to teach us something about the struggle between Riker and Shelby as well. While still in command of the ship, Picard does not allow Riker to ignore Shelby’s plans entirely. Deferring to the experience of his first officer, Picard still requests that Shelby be allowed to prepare an alternative in the event that the chosen course fails. It is perhaps Picard’s willingness to hear out the ambitious officer’s ideas that ultimately leads to Riker’s selection of Shelby as his own first officer when Picard is assimilated by the Borg.
With such different approaches to work and career, whether between these two officers or among those in our modern workforce, it can be easy for one side to dismiss the other out of hand. However, the example of Riker and Shelby highlights a few important lessons for workers of any career stage.
As Trek Class students have often pointed out, success is achieved when experience and new ideas are each given consideration. It is only when Riker allows Shelby to contribute, realizing that he, too, was once much like her, that the strongest ideas are formed. At the same time, Shelby is able to offer her best work after accepting the value of Riker’s experience as a leader.
Picard does not miss these points. After being freed from The Collective, he praises Riker for his “brilliantly unorthodox strategy,” calling him his “former first officer.” It appears that Picard recognizes that Riker’s own growth as a leader required him to accept the challenge posed by the younger Shelby, and that he may indeed owe his survival to their ability to work together.
Away Mission 5.5
Star Trek Unification
Roddenberry originally mandated that The Next Generation would not retread ground covered by the original series. At first, this meant very limited mention of the stories, alien races, or other elements so fondly remebered by fans. The intention was to distinguish the new show as an entity of its own, not simply a re-telling of the same old ideas -- and it worked, for a while. Aside from the character of Worf (a Klingon), and brief appearances by a few other Klingons and Romulans, The Next Generation was indeed an entirely new era for the franchise. Only the episode The Naked Now contained a single mention of the name "James T. Kirk," and Admiral McCoy had appeared once in a self-contained scene with Data as a passing of the torch during the premire episode.
By the third season, the writing team began moving toward a unification with the Original Series. The process began with the episode Sarek, in which Mark Lenard returned in his classic role. This episode sparked much debate among the creative team over the mention of a single word: "Spock."
Soon, full "unification" would be achieved in a special, two-part episode entitled just that -- Unification (1991). Though Roddenberry had lived to know of its production, he would be gone just days before the episode was broadcast. The very episode featuring Spock alongside Captain Picard -- the moment that Star Trek was embraced by its fans as a single universe -- would also open with a dedication to the series' creator on the occasion of his passing.
After Unification, the promise heard at the end of Star Trek VI was fulfilled. The Next Generation had taken over as the flagship of the franchise. For this Away Mission, we will explore several special moments featuring a unified Star Trek Universe...
The first major crossover between TNG and TOS occurrs when Spock's father, Sarek, comes aboard the Enterprise.
Leonard Nimoy appears on The Next Generation in his iconic role of Spock.
Montgomery Scott, former chief engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise, beams aboard The Next Generation in a fan-favorite episode.
Star Trek: Generations (1994)
The first motion picture to feature the TNG cast, this film passes the box-office torch from one captain to another.
What was the impact of Gene Roddenberry's mandate to keep the two series separate? Was this the right move? Were Berman, Pillar and others right to unify them?
Away Mission 5.6
Michael Piller made countless contributions to Star Trek: TNG, many of which you will experience throughout this unit. However, it was his writing style and unique approach to Star Trek as a concept that shifted the series to a new level of greatness. Piller's focus was on character, and especifically stories that dealt with matters to which we could all relate -- family. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that a string of family-oriented episodes open the fourth season in which Pillar emerged as a lead writer for the series.
In this Away Mission, we explore the family-focus of Star Trek: TNG in this era of new leadership from Berman, Piller, and team as it relates to the character development of two very different crewmen -- Worf and Data.
How does this technique of family-focused stories relate to Star Trek's television history? Is the approach of Berman, Piller and team different than what had been done in earlier seasons, or on the original series? Why or why not?
Away Mission 5.7
Capt. Jean-Luc Picard
Captain Picard is a decorated Starfleet officer and commander of the Federation flagship, the U.S.S. Enterprise D. His career has been nothing short of historic, putting him at the forefront of the biggest moments of the 24th Century.
Picard seems to get "all the easy assignments", as one Admiral once put it. Indeed, he has faced some of the Federation's most dangerous enemies, from the Romulans to the Borg, and endured some of the most difficult challenges in the service of the Federation.
One such battle was in 2365, when the Borg assimilated Picard, transforming him into "Locutus of Borg", a spokesperson meant to assist the Borg in assimilating humanity. During this time, Picard was forced to watch as countless Starfleet officers and civilians were killed or assimilated in the attack.
As a diplomat, Picard is perhaps the most skilled of the great captains. He has made first contact with 27 new species and even served as "Arbiter of Succession" during the installation of a new Klingon Chancellor (the first and only non-Klingon to ever perform this duty). As one of the most learned captains, his knowledge of philosophy, civics, history and the arts make him a formidable debater and effective leader.
As a man, Jean-Luc Picard is a bit complicated. Like many captains, he can be somewhat lonely and burdened by his position, but Picard is also the victim of his own failings. Despite his tremendous intellect and undeniable charm, he sometimes struggles to relate to others on a personal level. This is particularly true of children, which Picard openly admits he does not care for. While he is warm and nurturing, almost father-like to his crew, he often keeps even his top officers at arms length.
In this Away Mission, you will explore the life and character of Jean-Luc Picard. In the process, you will watch some of the most celebrated episodes in all of Star Trek. As you observe, consider the questions below...
EXPLORE the Capt. Picard in the following episodes:
What kind of leader is Captain Picard? How does he make decisions? What drives him? Would you like to serve with him as your Captain? Which episodes/moments helped you reach your conclusions about the Captain?
Preserving our 'Inner Light'
In The Inner Light, the Enterprise encounters an unusual space probe which emits an energy beam at Captain Picard, causing him to lose consciousness on the bridge. As his crew struggles to revive him, Picard awakens on an unfamiliar planet where he appears to be living the life of a man named Kamin. Unable to determine the cause of his confusion, he begins to accept that his memories of the Enterprise were merely dreams.
In what appears to be many years’ time, Picard experiences a full life as Kamin, complete with a wife, children and an active role in his community. While working to address a long drought, he discovers that the planet itself is dying as a result of its sun’s impending nova. Unable to manage the space flight necessary to evacuate, the government has instead planned to launch an unmanned probe that will carry information about life on the planet Kataan. Having outlived his wife and many friends, an elderly Kamin witnesses the launch of the very probe that Captain Picard has encountered one thousand years in the future.
After regaining consciousness on the bridge of the Enterprise, Picard discovers that only 20 minutes have passed; yet he retains full knowledge of a life on Kataan. He is able to recall the memories and emotions of a man who lived long ago, even the ability to play a flute that he and his family so much enjoyed hearing. It seems that through this experience, Picard has become a living archive of a lost culture.
As we examine this episode, a few rather challenging questions arise, such as, “What happens to all the information we have created once we die?” Furthermore, if we are to leave behind a record of ourselves, we wondered, “How do we determine which information is most important to preserve?”
Although the space probe may have been designed to preserve a culture, Picard’s experience as Kamin proved to be a deeply personal one as well. The essence of an individual was captured so that he might live on in the memory of others. In our own world, it has long been possible to gather a similar sense of a person by examining letters, photographs and other artifacts. However, as we continue to move toward digital forms of communication and expression, it can be difficult to preserve or even locate the information trail we leave behind.
Even as technology allows us to generate far more information about ourselves than had been previously possible, we must consider that we could actually end up leaving less behind for family and friends to remember if we take our passwords with us. Even if our loved ones are not locked out of our digital afterlives, it is daunting to imagine making sense of the thousands of unsorted photographs, endless emails and text messages, and hours of video recordings we may each accumulate. More challenging still is the task of preventing those items from being lost to time as file formats become obsolete and older technologies fail.
By taking steps to protect our personal information, we can increase the chances that our individual “space probes” will remain functional well into the future. While some services exist to help archive and manage digital affairs, for many it may be enough to maintain simple backups of the most meaningful items, and to organize those files in ways that would be accessible to others who may receive them after us. This process is not only helpful in preserving our contributions for the future, but it offers the opportunity to select elements of our own personal stories we most wish to share.
Thinking more broadly about cultural preservation, students in Trek Class often have differing opinions as to which information would be most important to include should Earth ever need to launch a Kataan-like probe. Some suggest that records of scientific discoveries would be most valuable. Others believe that artistic and cultural achievements would be a greater contribution, since anyone finding such a record would likely possess scientific knowledge of their own. But some feel differently still, believing that finding a way to preserve everyday life, as had been done with the Kataan probe, would be the most appropriate approach.
If an account of everyday life is indeed the best record to leave behind, then perhaps our digital lifestyles present opportunities in addition to challenges. As millions of people share thoughts and conversation on social networks, for example, a public record is being created that could provide a unique picture of life in communities worldwide.
Recently, the Library of Congress announced that it would archive all public messages on Twitter since the service launched in 2006. With over 100 million “tweets” currently sent per day, the size and scope of this archive is difficult to imagine. However, it may hold tremendous value as tools are developed to examine this global conversation. We may soon be able to determine exactly how people in regions all over the globe felt, thought and acted on important days in history, or simply on an average day.
With mobile devices, digital cameras and social media, we are each creating a living record of our thoughts, conversations and moments ranging from significant to ordinary. Though we may sometimes struggle to manage this content, together we are preserving an important picture of life around us. We may each have the opportunity to be “Kamin” for someone who will follow us, each offering our own experiences to be learned from and remembered.
If you were in charge of creating a Kataan-style probe for Planet Earth, what would you include?
All good things...
Next time, we will conclude our mission exploring The Next Generation with a debriefing... Though all good things must come to an end, Captain Picard, Captain Kirk and the crews of both starships Enterprise will return in future units as we conduct Away Missions examining concepts across the Star Trek universe. Stand by....
Last Chance to Order...
Get your furball before they're gone!
It's the last week to order your very own #TrekClass Space Furrball™
Each is hand-made and includes a commemorative embroidered tag featuring the #TrekClass logo. They are available in three colors: Brown, Blonde and Speckled.
Don't miss your chance to own one of these limited-edition furballs before they're gone! After this week, we'll be transporting the rest aboard a nearby Klingon vessel...
By purchasing a #TrekClass Space Furrball™ you will support this course and others like it. This item is hand-made by a local artist and fellow student.
After completing the mission, don't forget to share your thoughts and research with the class in our online community.
You may choose to complete some or all of this unit, but we want to hear your insights on the questions above, or anything else you've noticed in the episodes assigned.
If you've viewed other episodes not included in the Mission, please feel free to discuss those as well.
Tip: Try sharing your question responses individually, rather than responding to the entire unit in one post. We've found this makes for easier discussion.