Tuesday, September 17, 2013

In which I reveal the deep Trekkie Truths behind Star Trek Into Darkness

I have come to realize that the JJ Abrams led Star Trek universe is actually quite a bit like "Lost."  Though there may be things that don't get their proper due, there are many things that are SO steeped in mythology that they seem non-sensical, and really just require the audience to connect the dots.  There are those who will argue that it shouldn't be necessary to have to think so hard about your entertainment, and that's a matter of taste.  I find I love "Lost" because of my philosophical, religious, and science fiction background.  It all makes sense to me, though I still want to know where they were going with Walt.  I find I love JJ Trek because of my deep knowledge of the existing Star Trek universe, though I still want to know why Nero's wife had tattoos. Inspired by this brilliant defense of Lost which made me say "YES, OBVIOUSLY" 108 times, I decided to do just one more essay on The Abrams-verse and its peculiarities.  

There are stylistic differences in new Trek regarding ships and transporters that I hear a lot of complaints about: How does the Kelvin, pre-Narada, have 800 people on board? Why does it only take the Enterprise a few moments to get to Vulcan or Kronos? (And Yes, I am going to spell it "Kronos" because I am not writing to a Klingon audience in Klingon.  I would also not reference "Munchen" in the place of "Munich" or "Moskva" in the place of Moscow unless I was writing to a German or Russian audience.)  Why do you need Starships if there is Transwarp Beaming?  Why does Marcus have a hate-on for the Klingons when the Romulans are the ones who attacked the previous year?  Why does so much of "Into Darkness" echo "The Wrath of Khan"?  There are in-universe answers to all of these inextricably linking New Trek to Original Recipe if you deeply, deeply know your Trek.  "Lost" requires a bit of understanding of non-temporal afterlife to put it all together.  Abrams Trek requires you know Prime Trek. Intimately.  It happens I do.

First, let me set the primary stage one has to understand to put all of it into perspective: A behemoth Romulan ship, enhanced beyond its simple mining mission, brought technology from the late 24th Century to the early 23rd.  With no regard for protecting any temporal Prime Directive, it allowed full scans on the part of the Kelvin (the telemetry of which went with the survivors back to Earth).  The Klingons also held it for 25 years.  We know there's full records from the Kelvin, because Pike did a dissertation about it (and was likely on the Kelvin since he seems to have known Kirk's dad).  Starfleet was so wrapped around the axle on this that they built a shipyard in George Kirk's hometown to honor him (the construction site of which was the canyon little Jimmy sends his ‘Vette plummeting into) as evidenced by the Kelvin saltshakers in the little Fleet bar.  Indeed, Section 31 even names their secret London facility after the Kelvin.  We know the Klingons have the Narada for a quarter century due to both the Kelvin's radio traffic regarding their location, and Uhura intercepting the breakout warning from the Klingon prison planet just before the Kelvin returns.  We even see that Nero had a hell of a time in prison because someone between his first appearance and second has chewed off his right ear.

So, though the destruction of the Kelvin certainly has a personal effect on Kirk, there are also larger ramifications for Starfleet and the Federation.  Not only do they suddenly have a big bunch of data to work with from the future, but they are also convinced the Romulans are out there with five mile long starships ready to Balance some Terror all over Earth and her allies.  In response we get a more military fleet less focused on exploration for exploration's sake.  This stays true until the last scene in STID where Kirk, as undisputed Captain of the Federation flagship, rededicates Starfleet to boldly going where no man has gone before.  Now, let's get into some specific questions.

Why does the Kelvin in 2233 have twice the crew of the TOS Enterprise?  First of all, we don't know from TOS exactly how big the fleet is.  We don't know what kind of ships besides the Constitution Class are out there.  Would I love to point to the Franz Joseph “Star Trek Technical Manual” to see more TOS ships.  Sure.  Or FASA’s ship guides?  I would, but I can’t.  We only have what’s on the show.  There could be some very specialized vessels with missions like, oh, say colonization.  What evidence do I have Kelvin was carrying a colony?  James Kirk's past.  Remember, ST:IV only says Kirk is "from Iowa."  I am "from" Arizona, grew up there, have no childhood memories of anything different, but I was born in California.  We know though that Kirk doesn't spend his whole childhood in Iowa; he is living in a colony when he is twelve, specifically Tarsus IV.  A colony that obviously isn't thriving, or else the governor would not be executing citizens to conserve food.  Maybe the supply lines are tough for that colony.  Maybe because they are near Klingon space.  Is it a stretch to think the Kelvin was on its way to drop the Tarsus colony when it meets the Narada?  Imagine a Starfleet vessel dropping a colony, and then exploring that region of space while being the protector for the colony as well.  This mission would go back and forth and some Starfleet crew might choose to have their families in the Colony to keep them from having to wait until the space between tours to see them.  The evidence is circumstantial, but there.  A fat, slow, overloaded colony ship might have hundreds more on board, but it wouldn't be more advanced than the Constitution in the Prime Universe.

Why does it only take the Enterprise a few moments to get to Vulcan or Kronos? This is a good one; remember we never see the Kelvin at warp.  We don't see Starfleet vessels at warp until the incident on Vulcan.  Then, damn are they quick.  Why?  They are using the tech they have developed from the Narada, and get ready:  It's transwarp drive.  That's right, what the Federation couldn't pull off in the 2280s in the Prime Universe, Nero has delivered.  Look at it visually; they are flying in a transwarp conduit.  Why don't THEY call it Transwarp?  Because, like the Europeans in "Pulp Fiction" they don't know what the f***a quarter pounder is.  All they know is they have adapted an advanced warp drive.  "Transwarp" only comes into the vernacular from Prime Spock when referring to Scotty's transwarp beaming equation.  That's a huge clue by the way as to how the Narada has transwarp.  Now, I could cite the "Countdown" comic which states the Narada has Borg tech from a secret Romulan/Borg retro-engineering project, but I want to stick with screen evidence regardless of "canon" claims.  The Narada is a Romulan ship from 2387.  Regardless of the excellent, but non-Canon Typhon Pact novels, it is reasonable to assume that if Spock is still living on Romulus and traveling freely to Vulcan there is some form of detente between the Romulans and the Federation.  This makes sense: not only where they allies in the Dominion War, Starfleet will likely help them pick up the pieces with Donatra after the events of "Nemesis" in 2379.  Sometime before 2387, Starfleet gets Transwarp drive, because it's SCOTTY who uses that drive to create transwarp beaming.  We don't see it in the Prime Universe before Nemesis, so it must be in the 2380s Scotty develops the equation.  So where does the Federation get Transwarp?  In 2378 the Voyager brings it back from the Delta Quadrant.  Admiral Janeway outfits the Voyager with Borg transwarp.  It would take a couple of years to get it ready for fleet deployment (hence we don't see it in Nemesis) but then its there and something to share with allies.  Including the Romulans, who include it on the Narada.  The Narada carries it back to 2233, and the improved 1701 can get to Kronos to Earth in minutes.  Again, it all lines up.

Why do you need Starships if there is Transwarp Beaming?   Aside from the fact that it looks like transwarp beaming can be imprecise and difficult (Scotty in the waterworks) there are two very important things for which it would be useless: exploration of new worlds and defense.  Those happen to be Starfleet's primary mission sets.  Beaming a guy from Earth to Vul…uh, Andoria (what, too soon?) is great and will revolutionize travel and logistics in the new 23rd Century.  It won’t allow you to make detailed scans of a planet’s ecosystem, or a culture’s advancement from orbit before putting someone on the surface.  Perhaps one day you could beam probes there, but there will still need to be starships out charting the systems.  Additionally, when a whole fleet of really pissed off Klingons drop out of warp in your solar system, you ability to beam a couple of dudes to another planet is again not particularly helpful.  STID showed there are certainly ramifications and consequences to transwarp beaming in the wrong hands; it has not negated the need for starships.

Why does Marcus have a hate-on for the Klingons when the Romulans are the ones who attacked the previous year?  This goes back to the discussion regarding the Narada’s changes.  The Federation and Klingons have both benefitted from future tech; ironically and perhaps tragically Nero’s interference has again doomed his planet.  The Romulans get no exposure to the Narada.  Perhaps their spies can glean some info from their enemies (unless Starfleet starts building ships on the surface instead of in orbit making it tough for cloaked starships to see) but the Narada revelation also makes the appearance of Romulans known at large to the Federation.  Remember, in TOS regardless of the war a century prior, no one knew what Romulans looked like.  Their ability to infiltrate as Vulcan spies was probably fantastic.  Now though, the Kelvin reads Romulan language and equates to these pointy-eared guys in the big ship.  We know the Federation knows more now than their Prime counterparts because Spock in 2258 knows the Romulans and Vulcans share a common heritage.  These guys have been outed, and though for a while Starfleet believes they might have a killer doomsday machine ship, there’s no further evidence of that. In fact all the observable Romulan ships are pretty quaint compared to the Federation Starfleet.  MEANWHILE, the Klingons are getting bolder and keeping pace.  They manage to clean up that whole augment blood virus that made TOS Klingons look like Genghis Khan well ahead of schedule. (First use of magic Augment blood serum, by the way, thank you very much.)  And, their accelerated tech development has already exhausted a key energy production facility: Praxis is already in ruins.  As I recall from ST:VI that alone was going to lead to war unless something could be negotiated. The Klingons are the immanent and imminent threat to the Federation.  Marcus would know this, and apply LOTS of Narada tech to the baby he’s apparently been working on for a while (which is why he has a model on his desk), but needs Khan to perfect: The Vengeance.  We are reminded of this by the simple fact that the Vengeance actually looks like the Narada: a black behemoth ready to kick everyone’s ass. (Yet, like with the Narada, the Enterprise survives the unbeatable foe!)  On a side note, would I sure love to see the new Romulans reach out in desperation to the Vulcans, who need a home and more genetic diversity THROUGH SPOCK PRIME who has always wanted to unify the two.  There’s a backstory for a third film.

Why does so much of "Into Darkness" echo/ripoff/mimic/steal from "The Wrath of Khan"?  Simple answer here: the JJ Verse wants to be like the Prime-verse.  Sounds silly? It's not, it's Trek Canon established over and over.   Look at every alternate universe we see across Star Trek.  They all share great similarities.  When Kirk and the crew in “Mirror, Mirror” go through to another dimension, they don’t end up on Babylon 5 or Lost in Space, then end up in a universe SO similar to theirs the ship and crew are virtually identical.  They are even on the same mission in the same relative part of space and using the transporter at the same moment.  When Worf goes universe hopping in “Parallels” he finds 144,000 universes so similar they all produced the NCC-1701-D.  Events in “nearby” universes seem to follow similar patterns.  Why would the JJ Verse be any different?  In the OS episode “City on the Edge of Forever” Spock mentions that time follows certain “currents and eddies” like a river.  Even when the universe had changed due to McCoy saving Edith Keeler, Kirk and Spock’s trip through the Guardian brought them to that location.  The situation is very similar to New Kirk just happening to run into Prime Spock in a cave on Delta Vega. (One more sidebar: as much as I defend the new movies, calling that planet Delta Vega was bullshit.  It should have been PSI 2000, and then when they beamed on the Enterprise, Scotty could mention showering with his clothes on.)  Now, I am going to go outside of my mission statement for just a moment on this one, because I think there are two very dramatic statements made by the writers here: 1) By putting the characters through the same set of similar circumstances we get to see how they are like and different from their Prime counterparts.  It’s important in defining where the series will go.  2) The deliberate insertion of Spock Prime drives home the fact that this is not a remake of either Space Seed or Wrath of Khan, but rather a sequel to both of them.  This is Superman facing Zod like this father did, or Luke having to make the same choice as Anakin while Palpatine looks on from in front of a big window, or Forrest Jr. getting on the bus like Forrest senior.  The juxtaposition of these scenes shows you how the follow on characters will act in their predecessors’ worlds, and it’s a big dramatic cue for this series.

There are other questions I could get into here that are more plot oriented: why is the Enterprise in Nabiru’s ocean?  Why does Khan hide his people in torpedoes?  Why does the Enterprise get caught in Earth’s gravity?  Why does Carol choose to change clothes in a shuttlecraft? The answers are in there, some better than others.  Those might be questions for another post, but my goal here is only to point out that JJs Trek universe is entirely embedded within the Prime Trek universe.  It is not a reboot, but an extension and utterly dependent on what went before, like all the Trek sequels.  Now, I may be connecting dots the writers never considered.  (I’d ask Bob Orci, but we chased him off Twitter.)  Fans have ALWAYS brought more to the viewing of Star Trek than what was intended.  That’s the whole reason our fandom was born in the first place.  Being a fan is not a “set to receive” relationship.  It’s interactive, and we all work within our favorite fictions.  It’s where half our expectations for TOS come from in the first place.  Spock the first Vulcan in Starfleet?  Fandom. In fact it contradicts “The Immunity Syndrome” where the Intrepid is entirely manned by Vulcans, at least one of which must outrank Spock (unless we think he’s not as exemplary as others).  But we see it as so, because fandom connected dots.  That’s what you do when you love something, you explore it, like any great fiction.  New Trek is flashier, faster, and at times freakier than any previous Trek.  Connect those dots though and you will see New Trek is still Trek.

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