After Hours

Sci-fi rant: When did Star Trek jump the shark?

An entertainment franchise is said to have "jumped the shark" when, in an effort to maintain or recapture past glory, it pulls such a blatantly ham-fisted stunt that it actually expedites its own demise. Sci-fi is a breeding ground for such atrocities, but here is the Trivia Geek's take on when the Star Trek franchise went off the rails. Brace for impact.

enterprise-autodestruct.jpgI recently came across Something Awful's list of The 22 Most Awful Moments in Science Fiction. Now, I like me some Something Awful. They bring the funny. But this list is a bit padded, and wanders off into some crazy territory that most SF fans don't care about. (Seriously, who is bent out of shape that President Reagan's pie-in-the-sky Strategic Defense Initiative got nicknamed" Star Wars?" Like that is the worst fate to befall the franchise.) So, instead, I've trimmed and rearranged the list to my liking, and as your beneficent Geekend dictator, ye shall like it as well. Now, these rants are long, so they'll each earn their own belabored blog entry. The series starts off with a subject near and dear to my heart:

Q: When did Star Trek jump the shark? A: Star Trek: First Contact

star_trek_first_contact_ver1.jpgMost Trekkers would count First Contact as the last good Trek movie, and at first blush I'm inclined to agree with them, even if the film rather significantly retconned Zefram Cochrane's history (He was originally from Alpha Centauri, not Montana) and paved the way for the four-year punch-to-the-brain that was Enterprise.

In the plus column, we had a big screen showdown with the Borg, a new movie-worthy starship Enterprise, actual gunfights, Worf back with his real crew, and even a little rock & roll, all set on some their-past-our-future Earth. It was like all five of the good ideas from the entire NextGen era of Trek fan fiction made their way into one really decent script.

But then there was the Borg Queen, and that ruined everything.

borgqueen1.jpgThe Borg were originally defined as genderless, faceless, nameless, all-consuming man-machine hybrids with which you could not negotiate, could not overpower, and only by sheer luck and creative individuality could you ever hope to defeat—temporarily. That is until First Contact, for which the producers needed a conventional villain for the "dumb audience," so we get Alice Krige gothed up in H.R. Giger fetish gear going all creepy-vampy on Data and retconning Locutus of Borg from a terrifying perversion of our beloved Captain Picard into a spurned cyborg concubine that Miss Borgy needed to acquire some V'ger-esque spark of humanity.

The Borg Queen single-handedly diminished the Borg from a personification of everyone's secret fear of the dehumanizing power of technology and conformity run amok into two-bit techno-zombie henchmen of everyone's un-fondly remembered codependent ex-girlfriend. (It's worth noting that in First Contact, the Borg assimilate you vampire-bite style, rather than through the slow, tortuous process seen in "The Best of Both Worlds." These are B-movie monsters now, not powerfully terrifying metaphors for identity-stripping monoculture.)

jeriryan.jpgBy the time Voyager comes along, the uber-scary Borg are getting pwned by giant preying mantis aliens, outwitted on a weekly basis, and then eventually domesticated into vapid plot-device-sprouting eye candy in the form of Seven of Nine. The Borg aren't a force of nature anymore, they're cube-dwelling morons working for an easily duped pasty-faced dictator who has devolved into unknowing self-parody. In other words, the Borg are Dunder-Mifflin, minus Jim and Pam.

Thus, Star Trek jumped the shark with First Contact, and everything that followed—Voyager's second through seventh seasons, the complete series of Enterprise, to say nothing of Star Trek: Insurrection and Nemesis—has been an exercise in rapidly diminishing returns. Maybe J. J. Abrams can turn Star Trek around, but to do so he's resorting to a near-reboot of the entire franchise. Sadly, it's probably come to that.

Anybody care to disagree?


Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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