In these posts, we discuss a non-“Free as in Freedom” popular culture franchise property, including occasional references to part of that franchise behind a paywall. My discussion and conclusions carry a Free Culture license, but nothing about the discussion or conclusions should imply any attack on the ownership of the properties. All the big names are trademarks of the owners, and so forth, and everything here relies on sitting squarely within the bounds of Fair Use, as criticism that uses tiny parts of each show to extrapolate the world that the characters live in.
I initially outlined the project in this post, for those falling into this from somewhere else. In short, we attempt to use the details presented in Star Trek to assemble a view of what life looks like in the Federation. This “phase” of the project changes from previous posts, however. The Next Generation takes place long after the original series, so we shouldn’t expect similar politics and socialization. Maybe more importantly, I enjoy the series less.
Put simply, you shouldn’t read this expecting a recap or review of an episode. Those have both been done to death over nearly sixty years. You will find a catalog of information that we learn from each episode, though, so expect everything to be a potential “spoiler,” if that’s an irrational fear that you might have.
Rather than list every post in the series here, you can easily find them all on the startrek tag page.
Next Generation Season 2 Summary
We settle into a new century with this show, one that wants to seem to look ahead, while also borrowing from the past, in that many characters and plots bear a clear resemblance to work done for Phase II and The Motion Picture. At the end of The Next Generation’s Season 2, I’ll return to this idea—assuming that I remember—and talk about what the films might indicate about what would have happened in Phase II; I’ll wait until then instead of writing it up now, for reasons that may become clear as we work through the second season.
The “reasons that may become clear,” if you didn’t notice, mostly involve the writers strike. Without writers, we saw a short second season, without scripts written by current writers. As a result, the episodes relied more heavily on work done for Phase II, including some scripts adapted directly.
However, the series also only barely hides its influences. Consider at least the majority of our main cast.
- Picard derives substantially from Admiral Kirk, someone who has had a storied career with some prominent, reckless incidents. People think of him as somewhere between a terrifying force of nature and a diplomat, even though he doesn’t really answer to the description of either. And he has some rivalry with his younger first officer.
- Riker, likewise, derives almost entirely from Will Decker, talented but brash, having existing personal relationships—including a past romantic relationship with some psychic aspect to it—with many younger members of the crew, and thinking that he has a right to lead the Enterprise.
- Troi derives almost entirely from Ilia, with her “exotic” background that plays on Orientalist tropes—Persis Khambatta grew up in India, and Marina Sirtis patterned Troi’s accent after that of certain Israelis—bland sexuality targeted at an adolescent demographic, empathic abilities, prior relationship with the first officer, and lack of clarity as to what she actually does.
- Data, I initially pegged as derived from Sonak—the ill-fated Vulcan science officer—but he more closely matches V’Ger’s probe based on Ilia, an artificial creature with allegedly no emotions, desperate to “become” human and fascinated with games. I don’t know how you get both Ilia and the probe based on her, but we almost certainly have both represented.
- Q derives from McCoy. Here me out, here. We have clear analogues of Decker and Ilia, so they must have survived the pilot In Thy Image, therefore someone else must have bonded with V’Ger, and McCoy seems like the most likely candidate. The franchise has, despite his bigoted views, always tried to position McCoy as the “humanist” of the crew, and he didn’t really want to return to Starfleet, nor did he have a reason to return home. Meanwhile, V’Ger wants to learn about humanity’s potential, and so they test their old colleagues, their combined minds presumably making them slightly erratic and not realizing the consequences of their actions. McCoy might show back up for a season to spend time with…well, I’ll get to that.
- Crusher, then, could derive from McCoy’s daughter Joanna, who we never met during the series. But for a rewrite, Joanna would have had a prior relationship with Kirk, and the idea of a literal next-generation seems appealing. Crusher even talks about a parent who served as a doctor with an improvised practice on a colony. The half-forgotten romance also suggests a possible connection with Carol Marcus.
- Wesley doesn’t derive from anybody, unless we assume that the Crushers connect to the Marcuses, but his abilities probably come from some contact with V’Ger—maybe McCoy poses as the Traveler in Where No One Has Gone Before—and if Joanna McCoy leaves the show temporarily as Crusher does, then her father might return to human form for the season to get to know his grandson, meaning that…
- Pulaski derives from McCoy, too…but you already knew that. They did everything short of making her a heavy drinker with a Southern drawl to make that point.
- Worf, likewise, doesn’t derive from anybody, but probably originates with a survivor of V’Ger’s attack on the Klingons, demanding to join the crew, rather than having a prior Starfleet commission.
- While not nearly as clear as the others, Yar probably derives from Saavik, young and aggressive, the true believer in Starfleet’s mission, in a maybe-awkward secret relationship with another member of the crew, and mostly ignored.
That framing leaves LaForge as a character original to the franchise, unless you want to try to put together some weird story about how the wounded kid who Scott drags up to the bridge instead of sickbay becomes a cyborg.
From here, I feel like the series mostly falls into place. The first season kicks off with In Thy Image, essentially what we see in The Motion Picture, runs through a series of filler episodes to get its footing and establish relationships, and probably ends with The Wrath of Khan. The second season probably extends some variation on The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, and The Final Frontier, and sprinkling those rumors of bad things happening in Romulan space. Do we lose Wesley, here? Does The Naked Now happen during The Search for Spock’s story, to get Ilia’s probe (Data) and Saavik (Yar) together, with The Child 1 part of the aftermath, in the same way that the writers have told us that The Voyage Home left Saavik behind due to her pregnancy? I don’t know, but I find it interesting how the stories start to fit together that way.
The following season probably ties the invading worm-critters to the Borg, maybe as a creation of Q/McCoy in pursuit of understanding, leading to something like Peak Performance 2 and The Undiscovered Country, with Starfleet factions fighting each other, Kirk and Decker on opposite sides.
That said, I don’t know if Phase II had nearly this much ambition, so I admit that I mostly speculated wildly, here. But the arcs seem to resonate between the parts of the franchise better than they do on their own.
I should also mention, for interested readers, that if you want my analysis of the final season of Picard—not to the depth of these posts, but certainly informed by them enough to treat it as the post for “The Next Generation Season 36 Summary,” you can find A Whole Mess of Picard on Cohost, with another copy on Buy Me a Coffee.
I couldn’t avoid talking about a run of episodes that goes to the trouble of portraying the Federation as a corrupt, genocidal police state while applauding it.
As I did with the original cast seasons, unlike the discussions of individual episodes, I’ll skip the judgment calls and instead break everything down by field of practice.
Before we get moving, as usual, I feel it worth a reminder that Star Trek doesn’t show our future. We see deviations in the timeline, especially when the writers try to predict their futures. I won’t collect them—many people have picked apart the franchise timeline and decided how to resolve the contradictions, including the studio itself—but I wanted to make that point clear early.
Training and Professionalism
We finally see people promoted, which appears to come with much more respect 1.
Data continues to show a complete disinterest in learning things on his own, when people have surely studied them, preferring instead to inconvenience his colleagues 1 3 4 or misrepresent science 3 or vocabulary 5, and he shows no interest in whether people care about what he has to say 6. Others sometimes join him in this 4.
Self-reflection seems offensive to many 3.
This season increasingly teases the idea of the crew not having work to do, showing up to events early 7, work on side-projects with work resources 7 4 8 9, playing games during their duty shifts 7 4 10 11 6 5, consume alcohol during or immediately prior to their duty shifts 12 13, wander off the job to have personal conversations 14 13, or have irrelevant conversations 8 14 15 16 6 17.
Even when they have work, they seem to take joking around at each other’s expense 7 or having long, tangential discussions 8 a higher priority than life-or-death situations. In more relaxed moments, they seem to delight in pettiness 11 17, especially if it shows them as superior to a colleague 18. They also never seem to research their missions 8 14, though Starfleet also sometimes assigns extremely vague missions 19 5.
Yet they claim to have no time 18.
Leadership seems largely autocratic 9 and based in micromanagement 13. We still see plenty of management by having a subordinate speak then angrily cutting them off 8 20 21 12 13 6, while acting hurt if someone interrupts them 19. And working with someone for two months through multiple crises doesn’t give managers any idea of how their subordinates fare, leaving them to wonder if a worker can have such a strong dedication to their job that they (somehow) perform poorly 19. Likewise, people further down the chain of command get no credit for solutions that they devise and implement 19. We also see a culture of covering up routine problems 16 violating regulations 9, and cheating on tests 2, with a continued concern about having “outsiders” double-check work 16.
Violations of protocol and law seem to not cause trouble, as long as people judge the lapse and resulting endangerment to have happened for “a good cause” 10, while people view those who do investigatory work somehow disloyal 11, with loyalty considered a more important trait than consideration for people’s safety 12 18 2.
We see our first hints that at least some of our characters come from wealth, with hobbies that only work out with significant resources 9, and a degree of inequality suggesting that those who have more don’t really understand their luck 14. People of higher economic classes also appear to look down on those from lower classes, even to the degree of describing them as having less emotional control 22.
People commonly believe that good cooking requires good ingredients, ignoring traditions that exist specifically to cover for poor ingredients 12.
We return to the idea that life in the Federation stresses people out that they fantasize about walking away from modern conveniences, technology, and even social progress 7. They heavily romanticize the idea of a human touch to labor, insisting that a system that allegedly assembles products atom-by-atom can’t customize the results to taste 12.
Science and Technology
We now know that transporters inherently present an ongoing safety risk, briefly materializing passengers inside solid objects 20. Likewise, certain people find spaceflight traumatic 6. Despite those risks, they continue to laugh at people who find the experiences unsettling 20 19 6. Similarly, they put their faith in biological filtering systems that have repeatedly failed them 19 14 17. They may limit this trust to “important” missions, which have an expectation of no flaws 15.
In fact, they take many technologies for granted, barely understanding the idea of opening a door manually or ordering food 21.
User interfaces continue to present terrible design, with holographic recreation allowing participants to injure each other 3 or allowing for the system to kill participants outright 7. Something similar goes for their fire suppression systems 22.
The computer happily takes phrasing too literally with no safeguards or warnings 7, and even when it conforms to input specifications, people still sometimes question the validity of the output for not looking like what they expect 16 6. It also apparently embellishes displays with entities that it assumes must exist, despite having no evidence of those entities 2.
Distant worlds still live on the verge of collapse from disease or disaster 1, though Starfleet doesn’t seem to prioritize them, dispatching ships to do no more than collect samples for later analysis 1.
Nobody seems to have much interest in the privacy of patients, with women giving birth in fairly open areas with no traffic control 1.
They also still seem to hate the idea of therapy, vastly preferring taking advice from a bartender 1 or taking aggressive action 12 5. People lamenting how lonely and isolated they feel among their peers don’t seem to ever warrant any attention 4 20 or earn derision 20 12. Even learning about psychology feels wrong to many of them, unless it has an immediate impact 18. Instead, they see therapy as a way to manipulate adversaries more effectively 8 19 12, even though the ship’s counselor knows that she has a more reasonable official job 16.
This may apply to science in general, but they make it clear that they don’t believe that research has value unless it immediately results in a valuable product, such as a foolproof vaccine 1. They still don’t have robust biological screening systems when people board the ship, though 19 14.
For many disabilities, they seem to find it implausible that someone could impact society while living with that disability 8, treat such people in insulting ways 8 18, and seem willing to force prosthetics on people without their consent for the convenience of others 8 11 while warning the patient that they’ll probably regret the decision and not have the ability to undo it 8. For certain kinds of disabilities, they use the term as a casual slur 20, as the punchline of a joke 15, or as a general source of humor 18. Possibly as a result, people with prosthetics quietly gloss over the inconvenience and pain that the equipment causes them 8, and such people might not spend much time together 8.
Core first aid and medical treatment seems lost, with a reliance on their modern technology 15.
The anti-intellectual movement continues to rear its ugly head, sometimes manifesting as the idea that ignorance works as a valuable end in itself 3, with some topics, such as life 1 and death 3 seemingly considered almost taboo, and other central technologies linked to religious doctrine 9. Students still don’t pay attention in classes 21 18, and people tend not to hand-wave any value that they might have gotten out of an education 18.
However, some people highly prize academic achievement 19.
Government, Law, and Corrections
We see some hints, such as Crusher’s sudden and massive promotion to lead Starfleet’s medical division 1, that Starfleet needs to recover from a crisis.
The Prime Directive continues to confound people.
- Ferrying a famous negotiator into a war zone doesn’t count as interference, but providing that same negotiator with non-transportation labor does not…but it eventually doesn’t count to participate in the negotiations 8.
- Secretly interceding in a natural disaster counts as severe interference, with concerns about violating some “cosmic plan,” seeing no difference between the disaster and a political execution 9.
- Visiting someone on a world with no space travel and telling them about space travel and your superior technology does not count as interference…but only if that doesn’t alter the target’s presumed destiny 9.
Notably, nobody seems educated in their core civil rights. They have an intuition about them, but even judges can’t reliably argue from an understanding of the law when confronted with a dilemma 11, while others find the idea of civil rights objectionable 11.
Religion and the Metaphysical
People “bury” the dead by dropping them in space in solid form 20.
Mourning occurs in private, with the emotions arising from someone’s death suppressed as inappropriate until everyone can part 15 13. They see mourning at the time of death or even acknowledging the victims offensive 13.
People seem to commonly believe that their physical uniqueness makes their lives special, with duplication undermining their place in the world 22. They also seem to believe that an adult clone made from their body belongs to them, to the point where they have a right to kill it for that undermining 22.
The Federation doesn’t seem to practice many gratitude rituals, finding those that they encounter surprising and quaint 6.
Families don’t seem at all tight-knit, with Wesley agonizing over finishing projects on the Enterprise, and only barely registering his mother—and not seeing her indefinitely—in the discussion 1 and Riker not having much good to say about his father 12 16. Young people also continue to assume that they have massive pressure on them to perform in a certain way, but have no say in it 1, and may have the legal right to make their own lives at a much younger age than we would expect 1 16. Meeting someone whose relatives you know doesn’t seem to warrant any conversation about that commonality 16.
At least allegedly, people in the Federation broadly believe that cloning would make a person less of a unique individual 22.
Characters also occasionally show hints that many people have domestic violence in their lives 14.
People believe that mothers hold almost exclusive responsibility for child-rearing 1 14 12 and household management 12, and they have an expectation that women show a friendly front 14, though they require mothers to present far more dangerously when defending their children 14. Related, they seem to think that women need lectures on the value of controlling their emotions 9 13 6.
They also show an expectation that men and only will have terrible relationships with their families and tend towards violently acting out 16.
Sexual harassment frequently seems condoned from on high 4 8 10 16, at least when someone targets a woman, and nobody has any issues with telling sexual jokes at work 4 14 or demeaning women 20, dismissing their professionalism 11, trying to publicly talk to them about how attractive men find them 20, asking for companionship in public to put them on the spot 8, treating them like sex objects 9, or mocking their sex drive 6.
Men definitely don’t want people to treat them like they see women treated 6, however, showing that they understand that a problem exists.
Beyond misogyny, toxic masculinity rules a lot of interactions, especially objecting to or dismissing people caring about the wellbeing of others 8 12 16 18 22 2. We also see an accompanying expectation of violence and other expressions of strength to prove virility 18 6 17, along with an expectation of invulnerability 2 17.
Gender roles even show up in technology, with the engineering computer having a masculine voice, instead of the feminine voice of the more general “research” computer 14, which seems to lead to a similar sort of treatment 13.
The Federation’s sex education system appears to have some deficits, given that Picard feels the need to elaborate on “pregnant,” with the expectation of giving birth 1, and Pulaski doesn’t consider pain a part of the birthing “experience” 1. Pulaski, similarly, appears to give pregnant people check-ups every hour or so 1. However, they do not appear to have a problem talking about abortion 1.
Likewise, we see a strong indication that women feel as if their reputations depend on how people view and imagine their sex lives 1.
Surprisingly, people don’t seem to actually police each other’s romantic habits 4, though they still balk and panic when someone actually propositions them 10 or hints at it 6, and they assume that groups with novel reproduction schemes must have outlawed or otherwise prevented conventional sex 22, and see no ethical issues mandating a breeding program on troubled colonies 22.
Race Relations and Nationalism
We also continue to see open bigotry, particularly towards androids 1 3 7 4 8 20 19 6 2, Klingons 3 4 20 10 11 14 16 22 6 5, alleged next steps in humanity’s evolution 19, and occasionally Betazoids 9, with a distinct and often angry bias towards things from Earth 9, though we see some evidence that people who can pass as human, especially upper-class, white people, see less aggression 7 19. They seem to reserve a special hatred for creatures that can choose to look human, considering that deliberate trickery 14 6. People still also tell ethnic jokes, substituting alien cultures for human ethnicities 4, and people have a distinct idea of a “good kind” of racism 10.
A lot of these problems seem especially prominent in the dismissal of the foods 10 16 6 and traditions 16 6 of other cultures—sometimes identifying a people as a resemblance to food 6—and how they barely understand the existence of creatures that don’t live in human habitats 14. They claim that this may stem from some internal prejudice based on physical appearance 6, but we may see some softening 22 2.
In some cases, they might not even consider people representing a particular ethnicity as actual people with rights 20 11, effectively treating them like slaves 11 or prospective criminals 16, depriving them of privacy on a whim 11 16 6 2. And despite thinking of them as intelligent and witnessing them create conscious beings, the find the idea of treating computers as creatures with rights extremely suspect 11 13. Similarly, clones of individuals may have no rights at all, with the killing of dozens of clones of Federation citizens treated as entirely justified and not mass murder 22.
Some cultures either have their own regulations within Starfleet or independent fleets alongside it 10.
Despite apparently joining the Federation 18, Klingon culture doesn’t appear to have earned any respect, contrasting the pervasiveness of human myth in the ship’s databases with needing Worf to recount legends that he has personally read about 3.
They appear to have an extremely conservative culture, with modern ideas making them feel nervous 8. Sexual harassment seems pervasive and sometimes unisex 10, and much of their culture seems based around domination 10 14. While previously implied as a joke 14, Klingon sex revolves around violence 5, and can traditionally only exist as a prelude to marriage 5.
People still view novel aliens as a threat to meet with violence 1 3 8 10 13 18 5 2, though making an odd exception for the mysterious creature that violated a woman’s body 1 and the one that nearly hijacked the ship 7, which they ignore, and some do work to fight against that impulse 5 and Starfleet wants to consider itself an exploratory, rather than a military, organization 2 17. An expectation exists that only certain kinds of creatures have the capacity to make peace 8, and the Federation has apparently fought in at least one recent war 16, with many believing that the Federation needs another war to prevent it from becoming complacent 13.
The idea of an alien having power over them disgusts them 3 4 8 20 13 2 to such a degree that they consider mass suicide a viable alternative 3. It also angers them when less-powerful cultures attack them, rather than acknowledging their superiority 4. And people study how to kill members of various species 10. By far, they prefer to dominate non-human creatures 10 15 13, and believe that possession of advanced weapons (only in their hands) will lead to peace 15.
In exploring, the Federation frequently doesn’t place much value on the local governments that they interact with 8 4 14, and frequently dismiss their cultures as backward or arcane 4 or dismiss the safety concerns of officials 14.
Refugees, they seem to think of as disposable, unless they present some personal interest to someone 22.
They also appear to see all treaties as having a secret clause that any pretext should justify violations [Co].
People remember Stan Orega as a great comedian, despite specializing in quantum mathematics jokes 4.
And the popular culture of the 1930s still holds sway 20.
Starships now include full-service bars on board 1.
People (at least Starfleet) consider some individuals more important than others in a social context, based on their field of expertise 20 and status 18, and they still consider relative status important 13 18. In other cases, they hold strong grudges for many years against people who they believe wronged them 11 16.
They also believe that they need to justify bonding with friends or colleagues and making things 12, rather than seeing the activity itself as valuable. However, they also see modern society as causing them to forget how to organize events to socialize 12, an idea in twentieth-century culture that has largely anti-feminist and anti-labor roots.
Teenagers about to head off to college or the equivalent refer to themselves as “kids” 18.
We see occasional looks at new civilian fashion, a lot of it looking like blockier versions of Starfleet uniforms 16.
Federation schools apparently still teach that humans previously believed in a Flat Earth 3 and disbelieved in the existence of China 15, but may not teach extensively about slavery 7. They do seem to teach about travel speeds in different centuries 18.
Come back in a week, when we mostly ignore Beverly Crusher’s return, because Wesley almost destroys the ship.
Credits: The header image is Hubble Space Telescope by NASA Goddard, in the public domain by NASA policy.
Tags: scifi startrek closereading