Entertainment

Children of the Comet’ is the modern day Star Trek from 1989

This discussion and review contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds episode 2, “Children of the Comet”, but it also has a lot of Michael Piller talking and Voyager allusions. Buckle up, folks.

When Michael Piller took charge of Star Trek: The Next Generation in late 1989, would radically redefine the franchise of star trek.

Initially, his old friend Maurice Hurley commissioned him to write a few scripts for the third season of the troubled spinoff of star trek, which had suffered some wear and tear in the writers’ room. However, Piller was soon drawn into the process when new showrunner Michael I. Wagner left the series after four episodes. Despite being a newcomer to the series, it didn’t take long for Piller to steer the ship.

Piller would make a series of major creative decisions that would change the course of the franchise. star trek. One of the most famous would be the hiring of Ronald D. Moore and the subsequent opening of the series to the submission of unsolicited scripts. However, Piller not only changed the people who wrote the scripts for Star trekking. It’s not an understatement to say that Piller changed the way Star’s scripts were written. trekking.

Piller believed that each episode of The Next Generation was to be structured in such a way that the episodic adventure revealed something to the audience about a member of the ensemble. They weren’t just episodes. star trek; would be “Picard (Patrick Stewart) episodes” or “Data (Brent Spiner) episodes” or “Worf (Michael Dorn) episodes”. The idea was that a given week’s inciting incident would provide a window into the characters the viewer spent time with.

There were certain exceptions, of course. Occasionally, an episode like “Hollow Pursuits” might be written about a guest character like Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz), but it’s notable that Barclay had a special, personal meaning to Piller. Even the alien-centric stories became character pieces, with “Transfigurations” centering on Geordi (LeVar Burton) or “The High Flight” serving as a showcase for Crusher (Gates McFadden).

Children of the Comet' is the modern day Star Trek from 1989

If this seems like a very obvious approach to writing a weekly TV series with a great ensemble, it was. In fact, Piller alienated much of the writing team with a memorandum in which he defended his philosophy and that many veterans found condescending and paternalistic. However, it worked. The New generation it drastically improved in its third season, finally coming into its own. Piller’s character-focused approach to episode storytelling was a big part of it.

Piller’s approach would establish a template that would inform more than a decade of storytelling. star trekpassing by The new generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager Y business. Yet few formulas are strong enough to survive hundreds of variations on the same template across four different shows spanning more than 20 seasons of television. Times change, and long-running franchises must adapt to them in order to stay fresh and vital.

Once Piller relinquished control of Deep Space Nine to Ira Steven Behr, the series began to move away from episodic storytelling and toward serialization. Behr even “traded” with producer Rick Berman the length of the stories the production team wanted to tell. This reflected the shifting and changing television landscape. Nevertheless, Voyager Y business they rigidly adhered to Piller’s model, telling episodic stories that were built around the members of the ensemble.

As the franchise grew to span hundreds and hundreds of hours, it became clear that just about every story that could be told that way had already been told that way. Voyager repeated over and over again the same points of view of the characters. Torres (Roxann Dawson) repeatedly grappled with her Klingon heritage in episodes like “Faces,” “Barge of the Dead,” “Prophecy,” and “Lineage,” and wrestled with her emotions in episodes like “Parallax,” “Extreme Risk.” or “Juggernaut”.

Children of the Comet' is the modern day Star Trek from 1989

The franchise’s refusal to grow and develop would lead to its decline and collapse. At the turn of the millennium, a decade after Piller had revolutionized the narrative model of the franchise and after the experiments of Deep Space Ninewould have resulted in an evolutionary dead end with serialization, the media began to opine on “the problem of trekking“. In a television landscape dominated by shows like X Files and that he had just witnessed the arrival of The Sopranosthis model felt outdated.

Strange New Worlds represents a return to Piller’s model of star trek. Each of the initial five episodes focuses on one member of the ensemble, with the point of view character helpfully identified through the assignment of framing log entries. Using Piller’s categorization, “Children of the Comet” would be “an Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) episode”. This is an episode that is largely told from Uhura’s perspective and uses her episodic narrative to say something about Uhura.

The decision to build the second episode of stranger New Worlds around Uhura is interesting. Of course, Uhura is far from the only established character to appear in Strange New. World’s. Even discounting Pike (Anson Mount) and Number One (Rebecca Romijn), the series also features Spock (Ethan Peck), Chapel (Jess Bush) and M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) from the recurring cast of the original series. star treknot to mention Paul Wesley as Samuel (and, next season, James) Kirk.

In many ways, this speaks to the influence of American movies. star trek by JJ Abrams. Although Uhura was a hugely influential part of the Star trekking original, influencing women like Whoopi Goldberg and Mae Jemison, the series did not treat her well. For example, her entire identity was casually erased in “The Changeling,” something the series never felt the need to address. Nichelle Nichols told a famous anecdote about her wanting to leave the series, but Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay on because of the symbolic importance of her character.

Children of the Comet' is the modern day Star Trek from 1989

Uhura wouldn’t even have a canonical given name until she was recast by Zoe Saldana in the movie. star trek by JJ Abrams, who turned it into a sly self-aware joke. The Abrams films made a conscious effort to promote Uhura at the head of the cast, featuring her prominently in promotional materials and essentially switching her into the franchise’s main triptych in place of Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Karl Urban). Strange New Worlds will feature Kirk, Spock Y Uhura, not with McCoy.

“Children of the Comet” uses Uhura as the main character, which is a smart choice for the second episode of a new series of star trek. As a cadet fresh out of the Academy, Uhura is as new to all of this as the audience is, and her character arc is to get started in the world of the series. The idea is that Uhura feels comfortable with her crewmates, and that the public accepts them as well.

However, “Children of the Comet” runs into the same problems they had Voyager Y business. There are more than 700 episodes of star trek. It’s almost impossible to build a standalone story that doesn’t feel highly derivative. However, “Children of the Comet” never gives the feeling of wanting to avoid any point of comparison. On the contrary, he seems to be actively leaning on his resemblance to the Star Wars episodes. trekking Now available on Paramount+.

More than that, “Children of the Comet” feels like one of the late and somewhat tired examples of the Piller model. There is much from business in “Children of the Comet”. The idea of ​​crew members being invited to the Captain’s Table is reminiscent of how Archer (Scott Bakula) would entertain his superiors at meals. The idea of ​​the crew being fascinated by a comet, as well as a spacesuited mission to its surface, is directly reminiscent of the first season episode. of the Enterprise “Breaking the ice”.

Children of the Comet' is the modern day Star Trek from 1989

More specifically, the idea of ​​treating the crew’s communications officer as the rookie point of view character and building the first episode after the pilot is taken directly from the business. Hoshi Sato (Linda Park) was the central character of “Fight and Flight” by business. Like Torres in Voyager, the series had a note that kept hitting with Sato in stories like “Sleeping Dogs” or “Vanishing Point”. It’s strange to see that Strange New Worlds is inspired so much and so directly in business.

Like Sato in the enterprise, Uhura has a crisis of confidence. He rethinks his position in the crew. “If it’s not your path, you might consider giving way to someone else who wants to walk it,” Spock warns. Later, she concedes, “You all should trust someone who’s prepared, someone who’s really Starfleet.” Naturally, like Sato in the enterprisethat character arc is cleanly resolved in the length of a single episode, with his confidence restored and his place secured.

There are some nice touches in “Children of the Comet.” Given Uhura’s long association with music in and out of canon, it is fitting that communication occurs through song. There is a good backstory that explains Uhura’s passion for languages, linking it specifically to her Kenyan background and the myriad languages ​​of that region. That said, the series perhaps goes too far in giving it a family tragedy to serve as a “stunning and heartbreaking story.”

“Children of the Comet” also plays into the series’ self-consciousness about its prequel status established in “Strange New Worlds.” Hemmer (Bruce Horak) is revealed to be precognitive. Similarly, Pike’s personal crisis is reflected in the ambiguity surrounding whether the events with the comet unfolded exactly as predicted. There is a recurring tension around the question of whether the characters in this story, with their predetermined endings, have any agency over what happens.

The characters of Strange New Worlds they wonder if they have any future or if they are defined by decisions made long ago. This is fitting for a series that feels like it’s still telling stories in a way that was innovative in 1989, but repeating narratives that felt tired in 2001.

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