Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m kinda into Star Trek. Moreso now than I was when I was a kid; I was more of a Star Wars fan in my youth, and I think there’s probably something telling about the two franchises that I’ve gravitated more toward Star Trek as I’ve gotten older, but that’s a topic for a different post.
I needed that disclaimer so you know I’m not hating on Star Trek. I love Star Trek. And like anything you spend an inordinate amount of your time thinking about, I’ve come to notice some things about Star Trek that grate on me as I continue watching my way through the universe.
I don’t know if these pet peeves are universal, but I imagine at least some Star Trek fans feel an eye-roll coming on every time they see…
1) Enterprise’s opening theme
The fact that it has lyrics is weird enough. Every single other Star Trek theme (to date, at least) has been instrumental, and they shared a mood that made you aware you were entering the Star Trek universe. Instead of that, the Enterprise theme sounds like a track from a Bryan Adams album that wasn’t good enough to be a single (keep in mind Enterprise ran from 2001-2005).
The show’s creators even realized it was bad; they changed the theme song for season 3. Instead of actually fixing it, though, they turned into the skid and added a faux-folk beat and some meaningless synth backgrounds—and this just when you’re starting to finally get used to the old version, making sure your viewing of the opening remains equally unbearable the whole way through the series.
2) The Universal Translator’s inconsistency
It’s widely discussed that everyone using the UT should look like the characters in a badly-dubbed Kung Fu movie: their lips would still be speaking their native tongue even though you hear English. But okay, reasonable suspension of disbelief—if the UT can alter your hearing of the words into their language, maybe it alters your perception of their lips, too, etc. etc.
But there’s another problem I find even more befuddling. In every series after Enterprise, we can assume each species is always speaking its own language. So why are some words left untranslated? Is there a “I’m conducting a religious ritual” setting on the UT that lets you temporarily turn it off? What about when one of the Klingons greets each other with “Q’Plah!” or angrily shouts a curse?
From a storytelling perspective, the answer’s probably one of atmosphere—the speaking of the alien language gives the scene a specific flavor (also when you’ve got a pretty toy like the Klingon language laying around, it’s hard not to play with it). Still, though, technologically speaking, it’s an annoying inconsistency.
3) The obligatory ladies man
It all started with Kirk: the handsome, charming spaceship captain, as charismatic as he is powerful, seeking out new life and promptly fucking it. In subsequent series, the role was shifted away from the captain, to the First Officer in TNG (William Riker) and the Chief Engineer in ENT (Charles “Trip” Tucker).
Enterprise is one thing. Humans are just getting their space legs; of course there’ll be mistakes. But for any series from TOS on, why the hell does Starfleet still allow this to happen? Considering that inter-species mating is possible, you would think Starfleet would want its senior officers, especially, showing a bit more discretion on their travels. This is aside from the plethora of STDs you could pick up on another planet; Kirk probably Space Herpes across half the Alpha Quadrant.
And it’s not just a matter of whether they have sex or not. When the Enterprise-D encouters the androgynous J’naii (TNG Ep. 05.17 “The Outcast”) Riker falls in love with Soren, one of the rare members of their race who identifies as a gender (female, in her case). As a result of this, Soren is outed and sent to a “re-education” camp. This interaction at least went better than when Enterprise NX-01 encountered the tri-gendered Vissians (ENT Ep. 02.22 “Cogenitor”), when Trip’s interference causes one of the third gendered Vissians to kill itself.
All of the sexual encounters show in Star Trek are with warp-capable species, so I suppose the Prime Directive doesn’t strictly apply, but Starfleet’s policy of non-interference seems to hit a major snag as soon as romance is involved.
4) Worf’s love triangles
The long-burning flame of Troi’s relationship with Commander Riker added some depth to their characters; the emotional bond between Troi and Worf over Worf’s son, Alexander, made a certain amount of sense. Bringing the two together, though, just felt awkward and forced. The whole plotline is ultimately unnecessary, besides, considering both Riker and Troi had their fair share of other sexual encounters—some of them very emotionally charged—that explored their previous relationship and lingering emotions.
Worf’s relationship with Dax makes slighty more sense from a character perspective than his relationship with Troi; it’s Bashir’s consistent unrequited pining—extending past Jadzia’s death to Ezri, once she joins the crew—that makes the unnecessary third leg of this love triangle. There’s plenty going on with Bashir in later seasons of DS9, and no reason to keep him stoking that flame even after she’s been first married and then killed.
5) Anything in the mirror universe
The first instance of the mirror universe was in TOS, and was—as many TOS episodes are—an extended allegory describing the dark potential of humanity. The problem with this kind of allegory is that its continuity doesn’t stand up in repeated viewings because it doesn’t make sense with itself, problems that grow more pronounced the more time is spent in this setting.
If the people in this universe are the opposite of those in the main universe, the same individuals shouldn’t exist in both. There’s no Jake Sisko, for example, in the mirror universe, so why wouldn’t that have happened in previous generations, leading to others of the DS9 crew not existing? The problems of difference would be compounded with each successive generation until the mirror universe world is no longer recognizable. And for that matter, why do transporter malfunctions, anomalies, etc send people only to this one alternate reality as opposed to any others?
If this were any other series I wouldn’t be as bothered, but it’s Star Trek, and in DS9 every instance of the mirror universe feels like a silly gimmick that simply doesn’t stand up to the rest of the series.
6) The “are they dead?” fake-out
Star Trek isn’t Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead; it is not a show with an established history of killing off major characters. Exactly two senior officers die in the course of all the TV series combined: Tasha Yar in TNG and Jadzia Dax in DS9 (who only half-counts, anyway, because the Dax simbiant survives in Ezri).
So while you can’t blame the characters in the show for being concerned for their comrades when something goes awry, the dramatic up-playing of dangerous situations for the major characters feels a bit like crying wolf. It doesn’t take long until you stop believing it.
7) The cross-season “To Be Continued…”
In general, I like the concept of the multi-part episode that allows a story arc a bit more time to breathe—except when that “To Be Continued…” (TBC) spans across the seasons. To me, that kind of cliffhanger feels like a trick to make the viewer keep watching the show the next season.
TNG does its first cross-season TBC between seasons 3 and 4—and then does it at the end of every season that follows. It becomes predictable, and it’s unnecessary. By the late seasons, the show’s viewers are already committed; they don’t need to be enticed to come back for more. Voyager also has 4 TBCs between seasons (2-3, 3-4, 5-6, and 6-7) following TNG’s example. By the time Enterprise came around, the writers seem to have realized the device was played out; there’s a TBC at the end of the first season, but not at the end of the second or third.
8) The anomaly
Spacial anomalies, subspace anomalies, temporal anomalies—every time something super weird happens (that’s not caused by the Q) it’s an anomaly. It reaches the point Starfleet should probably find a different term for anomalies, because they don’t seem nearly as anomalous as the term would suggest.
I reserve a special ire for the types of anomalies that set up “it was just a dream” episodes. The prime example of this is the Enterprise episode “Twilight” (Ep 03.08), in which Captain Archer picks up subspace brain parasites after being hit by a spatial anomaly in the Delphic Expanse. The episode fast-forwards 12 years through the destruction of Earth by the Xindi—only to reveal at the end that eliminating the parasites wipes out those 12 years, taking the show back to the moment Archer was infected, the science-ish version of “…and then he woke up, and none of it had really happened.”
9) The unhelpful analogy
These typically involve conversations with chief engineers and go something like this:
Geordi: If we adjust the shield’s resonating frequency to compensate for the warp field we should be able to navigate directly through the subspace anomalies.
Riker: Just like filling a balloon with air to make it float to the top of a lake.
…which it’s not like that; not at all. Obviously Star Trek isn’t the only offender on this front; space-themed documentaries do this, too, using analogies and metaphors the human brain couldn’t possibly comprehend, that don’t even sum up the point all that accurately to begin with.
10) The Federation’s smug utopia
From the Kirk era onward, humanity has developed to the point we no longer use currency and our world is free of poverty, war, discrimination, and pollution.
Which is fine—more than fine, in fact; we can only dream of a time that our world is so peaceful and prosperous. What bugs me is when members of the Federation treat other civilizations who are not quite so “advanced” with the exact same kind of condescending superiority the Vulcans show toward the humans in Enterprise. The Ferengi in DS9 are constantly criticized by members of Starfleet for being so profit-driven; in that same series, the Bajoran religion is discounted even though they consider Captain Sisko their Emissary. Any one-off species encountered who are more violent or divided than our big happy Earth family are given the same speech, about how humans used to be that way but are now better. For all their talk of “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” (IDIC), the Federation seems to have a somewhat limited perception of just what that diversity should mean.
11) The human exceptionalism
Speaking of IDIC, it’s subverted by the human characters in another way throughout the series. Humanity is shown as the standard against which all other species and worlds are judged. I wrote about this a bit in my post about Star Trek and AI, but it’s not just artificial life that’s urged to be more “human.” Captain Picard at one point compliments Worf by saying he has a lot of humanity—as if he’s a good individual despite his “Klingon-ness,” rather than because of it. The Ferengi are treated the same way. Rom and Nog are the most sympathetic because they care more about human values (equality, justice, etc) than Ferengi ones (profit); Quark’s character development shows him becoming more sympathetic the more “human” he gets.
It’s that way across species: Spock and T’Pol are praised when they defy logic in favor of emotion; Odo is the only good guy changeling because he likes the solids; Garak and Ziyal are the only consistently “good” Cardassians because they’ve eschewed their own cultures to be more like us. This feels like the galactic equivalent of the current attitude in the US—praising diversity as a concept, in the abstract, but when it comes down to practicalities, still supporting the idea that there is one correct way to exist.