“Hello, Miles. Welcome to Hell.”
What’s the purpose of the justice system? On the surface, it’s a pretty easy question. One of those everyone is certain they have an ironclad answer to. It probably goes something along the lines of, protecting the innocent members of society by segregating dangerous criminals, and at the same time discouraging those same criminals through the application of unpleasant punishments. Deprivation is the most common form of punishment, either in the form of property (fines), time (imprisonment), or life (duh).
“Fate is a human concept.”
-- Advocate Ch’Pok
The first thing that struck me as I was watching this week’s episode of DS9 was that the crew really gets put on trial a lot. Back in Season One, Dax went on trial for something Curzon supposedly did, and in Season Two, O’Brien got thrown into the Stalinist nightmare of the Cardassian justice system. Now, it’s Worf’s turn. With all this going on, you’d think Sisko would have a legal expert sent over from the Federation, and I accidentally might have just pitched CBS’s new Star Trek series.
“I am the Emissary.”
-- Akorem Laan
Federation officers are not supposed to interfere with the internal affairs of other cultures. That’s not quite the Prime Directive, but it’s pretty close, and certainly a related concept. It’s a good policy to have when Starfleet is zooming around the galaxy in spaceships that basically have access to magic. I’m not joking -- the holodeck, replicators, and transporters all might as well be acts of gods, even for relatively advanced races.
“Ferengi workers don’t want to stop the exploitation. We want to find a way to become the exploiters.”
DS9’s storytelling shows its age in the strangest ways. Last week, we saw the vast gulf between the understanding of consent twenty years ago and now, this week, we’re looking at a political concept that has abruptly become not just politicized but regarded as a creeping specter of genocide by a significant portion of the American electorate. While that’s more a reflection on the growing hysteria of that portion, it’s still instructional on the shifting tides of public opinion. What a difference twenty years makes.
“You know what my one regret is, Worf? That we weren’t raised together. In the Empire, on Earth, it wouldn’t have mattered. But, the sons of Mogh should never have been separated.”
One of the most unexpected outcomes of being a gamer is that I think about morality a great deal. This started with D&D, which charted your character’s morality -- their alignment -- on a pair of axes. The X axis was their opinion on government: whether they were mostly for (lawful) or against (chaotic). The Y axis was their opinion on eating kittens: whether for (evil) or against (good). This simple mechanic bled into every aspect of the game, and in its current incarnation and its manifold spinoffs, these four points are powerful enough to be solid, physical forces. Not a lot of room for gray areas there. Oh, sure, there’s “neutral,” but come on. That’s the training wheels of alignment, so most everything exists at these extremes.
“There was a time when the mere mention of my race inspired fear. And now, we’re a beaten people. Afraid to fight back because we don’t want to lose what little is left . . . I am the only Cardassian left. And, if no one else will stand against the Klingons, I will.”
-- Gul Dukat
All of the best villains assume they are heroes. If they have to undertake actions others would find distasteful or even evil, it is the fault of even worse enemies laying in wait from the shadows. The extreme actions are necessary, and only the villain can truly understand them. This might sound strange when you apply it to a war criminal like Darth Vader or Thulsa Doom (or someone not played by James Earl Jones, I guess), but it’s also the reason that when you’re speeding through traffic, it’s because you’re late for an important meeting (with your toilet, because let’s be honest here), but when it’s someone else, it’s because they’re an uncaring maniac. This is called the fundamental attribution error, and it basically means any one of us could theoretically become a genocidal madman.
“Shakaar knows better than anyone, you can’t capitulate to terrorists. He used to be one, and the day the Cardassians started to negotiate with him was the day he knew they’d been beaten.”
-- Major Kira Nerys
There are times I identify with Odo more than perhaps I should. Maybe not me now, happily married and largely settled down, but the me back when this episode aired. Pining hopelessly after the pixie tomboy of my dreams and unable to express myself in anything more profound than mindless self-destruction and defeatist groans? Yeah, that sounds about right.
“In the end, it’s your fear that will destroy you.”
One of the downsides to having your most popular novel be about conspiracies is that, occasionally, you meet a true believer. Someone who mistakes my joy at the human race’s facility for endless and needlessly complex self-delusion for a sincere belief in the goings on of my comedy novel. It’s always a chilling moment, the confirmation coming when the person says things like “building seven,” and their eyes get the steeliness of Dennis Reynolds discussing “the implication.”
“It took centuries for Earth to evolve into the peaceful haven it is today. I would hate to be remembered as the Federation president who destroyed paradise.”
-- President Jaresh-Inyo
Occasionally, sci-fi gets it right. Not just right, but with witch-like accuracy that would cause Nostradamus to think there might be a little consorting with the devil happening around here. Science fiction is fundamentally about speculation, about what will happen a hundred, or two hundred, or ten thousand years from now. The genre has predicted things that have come true: personal computers; earbuds; hell Star Trek predicted the tablet. It’s also predicted things a lot of experts say are likely to come true: Isaac Asimov’s yeast vats are looking like a probable source of food as the population blooms on our dying planet.
“Kiss the girl, get the key. They never taught me that in the Obsidian Order.”
-- Elim Garak
If transporters are the signature piece of speculative technology of Star Trek as a whole, then the holodeck has become that for the TNG era. Makes sense, considering how badly the unrepentant gamer in me desperately wants one. The chance to explore my favorite gaming universes, from Rapture, to Brightness Falls, or even just the West Indies in 1720, would be too much to resist. Yet it’s undeniable that the holodeck gets really weird really quickly.