Sunday, April 17, 2016

Series Review - Secondary Character Development

In Star Trek there are lots of debates: best captain, best crew, best episode, best movie, and so many more. A few years ago when the now defunct "Addicted to Star Trek" app was alive and well on Facebook, I penned a two-part essay on one of my favourite things about Star Trek, and that is the development of the secondary recurring characters. I thought that today I would re-write it as a single essay, ranking the five series on how well each series did at developing these wonderful characters.

It is hard for me to say which recurring character is my all time favourite because there are so many good ones. Each series had a good sampling of these familiar faces that became important to the stories being told. Some are troublesome villains who vex our heroes at every turn, but we cannot imagine life in Star Trek without them. Others are solid members of the crew, often in the supporting roles to the senior officers. Some are family members, some are frequent visitors. Sometimes the secondary character gets a promotion to the top tier and get to sit at the adult table as it were. One appealing thing with these characters was that they could be killed off to make an emotional statement on the series without bumping off one of the main cast. Writers seemed to have a bit more liberty with how much they could mess around with these characters, which led to great fun. Regardless of what role they played, they were all important in one way, shape, or form. In ranking the five series (Original, TNG, DS9, Voyager, and Enterprise), I look at how each show maximized the use of these characters. I will ask myself questions like "How important were these characters to  the overall show?" and "Were there any wasted moments?". I welcome any thoughts you might have on the subject matter. So, without further ado, let's begin the countdown.

#5. Enterprise

Enterprise had a lot of great potential to develop some secondary characters, especially among the crew. Alas, that would not be the case, as hardly any crew members appeared on a regular basis (there was Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane who was yelled at by Tucker every time he showed up). The closest we got was crewman Daniels, who was actually a temporal agent, and the chef, who we never saw. There were some great characters, though. Veteran Trek guest stars Vaughn Armstrong and Jeffery Combs both had regular guest characters in Admiral Forrest and the Andorian Shran, respectively, who were always great to see. I also came to enjoy the Vulcan ambassador Soval and enjoyed watching his attitude towards humans grow. The Xindi arc in Season 3 brought in some great characters as well, some of which might have shown up in future seasons if they had occurred. So while we love Shran, Silik, Soval, and Forrest, Enterprise unfortunately goes to the bottom of the pile.

#4. Voyager

 When you trap a ship of two crews several thousand light years away from home, it makes sense that you will get to know several members of the crew better as the years progress. Originally, that seemed to be the case with the motley crew of the USS Voyager. We had Samantha Wildman, who gave birth in the first season to her daughter Naomi, psycopath Maquis Lon Suder, Joe Carey who clashed with Torres in engineering, the mysterious soon-to-be-discovered double agent Seska, and several others. It was not uncommon for many of these crewmen to meet untimely demises. Due to the nature of the show, it was difficult to have recurring villains for more than a couple seasons, although Q showed up a few times to torment Janeway and company. Along the way the crew picked up some former Borg children and the surviving members of a renegade Starfleet vessel, and you had many rich opportunities to bring in and endear a wide variety of secondary characters. While some, such as Seska and Icheb, received some meaningful attention by the writers, many of these secondary characters became either rarely seen or were squandered opportunities. Case in point for squandering, the Equinox crewmembers. The end of the sixth season opener, "Equinox", Janeway reduces the ranks of a number of renegade officers to crewman and assigned them to their new duties. Here we had a great opportunity to see some crewmen redeem themselves, but unfortunately they ended up disappearing into oblivion. For the first three seasons, these secondary characters seemed to be promising, and yet after the fourth season it seemed that they only were written into the show if they had a direct connection to Seven of Nine. My most frustrating example of how some of these characters were treated would be Joe Carey, He was Janeway's senior most engineer who played several supporting roles in the first season, only to be reduced to casual mentions, time travel episodes, and alternate timelines before being killed off in some random way just four episodes before the show ended. Not cool, Voyager, not cool.

#3. Next Generation

OK, when I first wrote this essay, I ended part one here, and many people were surprised by the placement of this series. I thought long and hard, and I will freely admit that a part of me wanted to make this list a bit of a surprise, but the more I thought about it, the more the reasoning made sense. So, before I move on to the top 2, let me make my case for the #3 spot. The Next Generation had a great track record for developing secondary characters. In almost every season there were characters we looked forward to seeing again. There seemed to always be the token Q and Lwaxana Troi stories. There were great adversaries such as Seela, the Duras Sisters, and Lore that popped by now and then to cause some havoc. In addition to this, there were several crew members that showed up again and again, often starting as background characters with few lines  and then developing into fan favorites (most notable of these is transporter chief Miles O'Brien, who starred in the pilot, the finale, and was made a main cast of DS9). We saw episodes dedicated to the introduction and development of some of these characters (looking at you Ro Larren), and who can forget likely the grandest of them all, everyone's favorite hostess of Ten Forward, Guinan. Their impact on the show was important (who didn't pop when Barclay and Ogawa had cameos in the First Contact movie?), and they became part of the family. I was excited to watch the intro credits to see the names of Colm Meaney, Michelle Forbes, and Majel Barrett as guest stars. They did a lot for the show, and should be commended. However, while they were by far leaps and bounds ahead Voyager and Enterprise as far as developing these characters was concerned, I couldn't help but feel that the #2 position was most deservedly put with...

#2 The Original Series

OK, what's the deal? I mean, aside from Harry Mudd, who are the secondary characters on the original episodes of Star Trek? I mean, we have Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Chekov, Uhura, Chapel, and Rand as the main cast, right? Well, this is where I seem to depart from the norm, but hear me out. In the first season, the only two characters listed in the opening credits were Kirk and Spock. McCoy was added in the second season. Everyone else were supporting secondary characters who became so beloved by fans that they were seen by the fans as main cast. Each one of them were brought in almost inconspicuously (remember Sulu as a botany officer in "Where No Man Has Gone Before"), but soon rose to prominence. Very quickly it was difficult to not see Scotty in engineering, Chekov firing torpedoes, or Uhura opening hailing frequencies. DeForest Kelley became so popular that he was soon promoted to top billing after Shatner and Nimoy. We had some other familiar faces in the crew from time to time (Lieutenants Riley and Kyle), but to have so many supporting characters being seen as main cast by fans definitely means that these characters were well developed. I get it, this ranking will be contested by many, but if you were originally considering the likes of Sulu and Chekov as main cast, then I think my point has been made.

And now...#1 Deep Space Nine

Whereas the last one was debatable, I really think that this ranking is a no-brainer. On Deep Space Nine there were so many rich and wonderful characters that made the series so much more than some thought it would be. Whether it was Starfleet officers like Nog, Eddington and Primmin, Bajoran allies like Shakar and Okapa, adversaries like Weyoun and Dukat, or just everyday residents on the station such as Garak, Leeta, and Rom, the secondary characters became as central as almost any of the main cast. Some became family, like Kasidy Yates. Others became perpetual thorns in the side, like Winn Adami. Imagine how empty the story would seem if Damar wasn't rising in the ranks of the Cardassian empire, if Martok had not represented the Klingons, or if Morn was never at the bar. Many of these wonderful characters helped flesh out the main cast in wonderful ways. We see Nog grow up with Jake, Kasidy teach Sisko to love again, Martok adopt Worf into his house, Brunt harass Quark, Garak challenge Bashir over lunch, and everyone ending up at the holosuite to hear Vic Fontaine crooning the classics of Sinatra. Yes, the show revolved around the core cast of characters, but you cannot deny that the secondary characters became as rich and important to the story telling as anyone else. 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

News - New Trek Series to be Anthology; Time Era for First Season Metntioned

In recent news on the new Star Trek series, it is being suggested that the new series is going to be an anthology, much like the current rage with hit shows like Fargo and American Horror Story. Read about it here. Also, it is mentioned that the first season will likely be set in the time after the events of the sixth feature film (you know, the one where Kirk and Spock make peace with the Klingons), and it will not be set in the reboot timeline.

My thoughts - This is interesting. I like the idea of a show that fills in some of the gaps of the previous incarnations. With TNG, DS9, and VOY all overlapping, there was a sense of continuity. Enterprise put us after the First Contact film, but before Kirk and crew. TNG came about 80 years after Kirk. There are rich eras that have only been briefly mentioned, and this is exciting to think that we can get some of the stories that have not been told. Also, with an anthology series, there are new rules. Characters, even the captain, are now at risk of meeting untimely demises. We can bring in old familiar faces with new crews. Possibilities are opening up.

And yet there is another side to the coin. One thing I liked about all previous incarnations was their ability to create rich characters. Doing this takes time. I must confess that when DS9 started I was bit annoyed with Doctor Bashir, and yet by the end of the series his character had become so rich and vibrant that he was a favourite. That took time, and I worry that unless they only focus on a smaller core of characters, you are going to get a lot fewer Datas and a lot more Mayweathers. In other words, rich, juicy characters that we enjoy watching grow and develop over time will be fewer, and more of the cast will be there, but really only have token developments that are ultimately shallow and dissatisfying. With that reservation aside, I am more intrigued than pessimistic about this news. Let's see what happens, and if this pays off. Besides, this means we can see how the Federation is doing after their war with the Dominion, Janeway becoming Admiral, and maybe see if Sisko makes it back to see the birth of his kid. Imagine, we could find out how Data's sacrifice in "Nemesis" plays out, the adventures of Captain Riker, and possibly even early adventures of the TNG characters before TNG. Many doors can open with this, so that is a good thing.