What the hell is this site, anyway?
I might have been the last person in North America to sign up for Netflix, but I did so in 2013 (when “Arrested Development” released its fourth season). I then realized that all five Star Trek series were available, 24 hours a day. It blew my mind.
TOS and TNG had been on reruns pretty frequently and Enterprise was regularly on SyFy at the time. But I hadn’t watched much DS9 or Voyager in years, so the binge-watching commenced. It was a bit like going through time to 1997.
Afterward, I would still throw an episode of one series or another on when I was bored. And with the exception of some classics, I was mainly drawn to episodes that would have lasting impact in the canon. Think “Balance of Terror” or “The Last Outpost,” episodes that would introduce a major race — or “First Contact,” probably the most detailed explanation of how the Federation deals with new aliens.
Then, in June 2014, a friend recommended a podcast to me called “Star Wars Minute,” an insanely brilliant idea/kind of terrible creation where each minute of the Star Wars movies warrants its own podcast. I was hooked, and I ripped through the podcasts from the two available movies — “Star Wars” and “Empire Strikes Back” — in a month.
Obviously, Star Wars differs from Star Trek when comparing the sheer volume of non-expanded universe material that exists. In other words, going through each minute of Star Wars is doable — and digestible to listeners.
The same can’t be said of Star Trek, with five series and 10 movies (not counting the new films since 2009). But I wondered whether anything comparable to “Star Wars Minute” could be done with Star Trek, always my favorite of the two franchises.
That brought me back to how I’d watched the Star Trek series for the past year. What if a site focused on the really important episodes, explained how they were important and how they tied together — while tossing in a healthy dose of snark?
I called my college buddy Chris Heisel — who actually made an “It’s a big step” joke when I told him I was moving in with my girlfriend (now wife) back in 2009. I pitched the idea to him to first see if someone who loved Star Trek would find it interesting — but also to see if he wanted to be part of this goofy project. Heisel didn’t think I was nuts, and aptly described the idea as both “An Annoyed Spouse’s Guide to Essential Star Trek” and “What a History Text Would Include if Star Trek Were Real.”
Both assessments fit. And that’s what we’ve set out to do — with emphasis on history and politics over character and technology.
Reviewing an episode or film is not meant as an inherent endorsement. For instance, the most highly regarded episode of The Original Series (“The City on the Edge of Forever”) and DS9 (“The Visitor”) will not be reviewed here. This isn’t to say we don’t like those episodes. But they don’t have a causal relationship to anything else in Star Trek, except possibly in nebulous character ways (e.g. Kirk’s general loneliness and Jake Sisko’s devotion to his father).
Each review will explain the episode’s historical context. But it will also allow the authors to comment on the film or episode’s strengths and weaknesses. Part of the mission here is commentary that will mention noteworthy items (namely the aforementioned character and technology developments) even though those items, on their own, wouldn’t be reason for a review under this site’s guidelines. So, we won’t review an episode if it is the first time dilithium crystals are mentioned — but we will mention if they were introduced in an episode we find historically significant by this site’s standards.
Some other notes
Someone here is undoubtedly wondering what we’ll do with the past two Star Trek films released in 2009 and 2013. Our personal feelings on both films vary, but the “reset” that was part of the main plot in the 2009 film makes the new movies exempt from this project. It was kind of a cool idea — to remove continuity concerns in one fell swoop. But we’re all about the continuity, so, sorry, J.J.
We also won’t review or reference anything from The Animated Series or any non-canonical/expanded universe material (aside from the occasional comment about that one episode where the Enterprise gets taken over by the practical-joke virus). In other words, if a novel explains the sequence of the establishment of the Klingon/Federation alliance — which is a murky matter in the televised universe, as you’ll learn — we don’t care. If we don’t see it in a non-cartoon TV show or movie, it doesn’t exist.
The episodes we plan on reviewing will not be explicitly announced ahead of time. We hope the “reveal” each week will be a way of making the site more interesting. If, for instance, we go from “The Enterprise Incident” to “Turnabout Intruder” in TOS’s final season, we hope someone will get angry and tell us why we’re idiots to not include “Whom Gods Destroy,” or “Day of the Dove.” But if they ask about “And the Children Shall Lead” — my least favorite episode in all of Star Trek — they will be banned from the site for life.
Lastly, we want to keep things light on this site — and we hope readers and those posting comments will keep that in mind. While this is a project about mythology and history, it’s about the mythology and history of a franchise that has episodes about brain theft, sex with ghosts and that one episode where Worf basically commits terrorism on Risa. So, no one should take this thing too seriously.
Now, what about the name of the site?
The single hardest thing in the ramp up to our launch was coming up with a title. Our initial working name — “Star Trek: Foundations” — sounded like a charity for unemployed former red-shirt actors. And nothing else really seemed to fit (or was available). Ideally, we wanted an in-joke or reference to something that also would work for someone who didn’t get the reference.
Then, I watched “Tapestry,” one of the highlights of TNG for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Picard, on an away mission, is hit in the chest with an energy weapon and his artificial heart stops working. While Picard lies dying on a table in sickbay, Q takes him through a sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” journey, where Picard gets the chance to avoid the fight where he was stabbed through the heart as a young man. Doing this saves Picard’s life but leads him to a (relatively) small existence as a junior-grade lieutenant on the Enterprise. The risks he took as a young man, you see, led him to become the Jean-Luc Picard we know and love. Q then allows Picard to reset history to the proper events and Picard wakes up on the operating table, smiling. Picard later tells Riker that he had started to tug at the threads of the “tapestry” of his own life, causing everything to become unraveled.
And a site title was born.
This project is about the foundational events in the tapestry of Star Trek, the events that shaped it through its most pivotal moments — or, at least, the most pivotal moments as we see them. It won’t always be a fawning affair and we’ll call out the problems and ridiculousness when warranted. It’s not inaccurate to say we love Star Trek — and we love it in part for its flaws.
We live to serve,