Over many years, ‘Star Trek’ was TV with meaning

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Anyone who visits our home should be able to figure out pretty quickly that we are Star Trek fans.

Tuesday, May 22, 2001

Anyone who visits our home should be able to figure out pretty quickly that we are Star Trek fans. It starts with the names of the cats patrolling the premises: Worf, Kahless, and Jadzia. Previous cat names included L’ursa, B’etor and Martok. Our vet long ago learned to ask for the spelling when he asks for the name.

Email newsletter signup

But names for cats is only the beginning. Anyone brave enough to fight their way to the front door past our Klingon felines will see spaceships on my desktop, posters with starships and starship captains, and almost an entire shelf of books about Star Trek (including the Klingon dictionary). We have a phaser and a tricorder (ask a trekker what those are), and the whole collection of Star Trek films – including the good, the bad and the really stupid.

If you hang around for awhile you’ll find out that Saturday night at 10:30 is a sacred time for us, as that’s the time when KIMT broadcasts episodes of Trek TV shows. But the need to be up that late on Saturday night will all end this week, when we’ll watch the series finale for Star Trek: Voyager. Will they get home to Earth? Will they be stuck on the other side of the galaxy for the rest of their lives? On Saturday we’ll get our answer, but after that Star Trek will be over.

It was a great run. It’s a TV show broadcast continuously on television somewhere in our country since 1966 (and around the world, too). I’ve been watching it since 1970, when the notion of humans and aliens working together in space sparked my imagination. I survived high school by emulating Mr. Spock, the character from Vulcan who relied on logic and controlled emotions. Since then I have vicariously traveled the galaxy with Captain Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise, Captain Sisko and the personnel of Deep Space 9, and Captain Janeway and the homesick crew of the USS Voyager.

And now it’s over. No more new episodes. As the end of a series, I’m not sure how big a deal the final episode of Voyager will be. It won’t be as big as the final episode of M*A*S*H. Star Trek’s audience has been loyal, but never that huge. But it is an important moment, nonetheless, because Star Trek’s TV offerings have been among the better TV dramas. We are talking about a TV show, so of course there are limitations. Yes, the plots were sometimes melodramatic and the characters superficial. The timing of the plot was dictated by commercial breaks and the need to get everything taken care of in 50 minutes or less. But within those limitations Star Trek told stories about the evils of racism and the dangers of technology. It raised questions about the ways we humans judge other species as intelligent and the limits and ethics of science. It was TV worth watching.

I will miss the continual optimism that permeates the shows. Growing up in the shadow of nuclear annihilation, the whole idea of humanity surviving until the 24th century was (and still is) a positive statement. Science fiction often focuses on the dark side of human nature (or on scary aliens). And when I do watch mainstream TV shows, I come away depressed by their pessimism about life and society. But Star Trek showed us how the human spirit is unquenchable and unconquerable – we can learn from our mistakes and do incredible things given the time and the proper resources.

One final comment: Other trekkers probably know that Paramount is working on a new Star Trek series. But I’m not sure whether it will be worth waiting for. Everything that needed to be said by a show like Star Trek has been said. It’s time to move on, to shows like Andromeda or others that haven’t even been imagined yet. At this point, Paramount wants as much money as it can milk out of its Star Trek franchise. I don’t think just making money is a good enough reason to continue the voyages of any starship, whether it’s named the &uot;Enterprise&uot; or the &uot;Spirit of Capitalism.&uot;

David Behling is a rural Albert Lea resident. His column appears Tuesdays.