The Chase is Just Not A Good Enough Episode

If you don’t know it by name, “The Chase” is the episode of The Next Generation where they reveal why most of the aliens in Star Trek look just like humans with funny ears or whatever.

I haven’t rewatched the episode before making this post (if I can’t bother to check for typos when I do these, I’m certainly not adding homework) but I have seen the episode probably about five times in my life, so I know the gist. The Enterprise is one of a group of competing ships who go on a rollicking adventure around investigating the DNA of various alien cultures to find clues to some great treasure. The find it and it all comes to a head with all the groups meeting at the final place, they turn the stone and look beneath it, “Peace On Earth” was all it said. Or whatever.

The gotcha moment of the episode is the humans and the Klingons and Cardassians and Romulans all being embarrassed when an old alien pops up and is like “I’m from the species that seeded all your planets and I’m happy you found this because it means you all worked together” but actually they hadn’t. It’s supposed to be a lesson about how, deep down we’re all the same or some baloney. I don’t like that lesson. Even beyond Star Trek, we shouldn’t use “we’re all the same” as a reason to get alone, because large or small, we have differences and the lesson that paints our similarities as the thing that connects us implies that our differences are actually bad. That’s not good. We should celebrate our differences. Star Trek especially is supposed to value Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. Instead we get this episode as an excuse to not make aliens look different. Is that better?

But furthermore, evolution just doesn’t work like that! Even if life was seeded onto the planet Earth millions of years ago (something I believe is contradicted by “All Good Things” anyway), it does not follow that that microbial life would then evolve to humanoid form because that is the form that seeded the planet. Evolution is not the process of life going “forward” in a march toward humanoid form. Evolution just goes every which way finding whatever works. Even if we assume the progenitors encoded their DNA with instructions so that it was closer to intelligent design than actual evolution, what happens when life becomes humanoid? Does it just stop? Does it act as if it has reached the pinnacle? What about all the rest of the life on Earth? Do ants just keep evolving until they become humanoid? And dogs and bats and whales? Are they all on the path to humanoid form? Is Bojack Horseman the future of the Star Trek universe?

“The Chase” is a decent but dumb episode of TNG that proves something proved by other episodes: Star Trek writers don’t understand evolution. And those other episodes are even worse. I’m sure I’ll get to them at some point.

Trek Aliens Could Be Better

Any person who knows me and has ever had to endure my thoughts about Star Trek knows one thing for certain: PDR wishes the aliens in Star Trek were better. I am, in general, a fan of science fiction that presents us with aliens that are weird and imaginative. Classic sci-fi novels have given me a taste of alien minds and I just crave more forever. I feel like if we can expand our minds to encompass the weirdest and most unearthly viewpoints, then understanding our fellow humans gets a little easier. That’s one of the coolest things about sci-fi, I think. Star Trek is the most prominent ongoing source of cool sci-fi ideas that I ingest, so I want the best aliens to be in that franchise. They’re not though.

Star Wars, for example, had aliens that really impressed me as a child. Growing up I very much enjoyed a documentary called Star Wars Classic Creatures: Return Of The Jedi. I’d go do far as to say it was my favourite Star Wars movie. A lot of it is about the design of the aliens in Star Wars and how they brought them to life with puppets and stuff. When I came to be a Star Trek fan around aged ten, one of the first things I did was sketch little alien puppets that I would put on the show if I could. Even then I recognized the “rubber forehead aliens” the franchise was famous for as a weak spot.

But why do they look like humans? Well, the budget is one of the first and foremost reasons. It’s hard to make the actors look like aliens without paying for it. And also, they want those actors to be able to emote and stuff to get things across to the audience. Of course, they’ve given an in-universe explanation for why the aliens in Star Trek are basically just humans, and believe me I’ll get to that garbage in a future Star Trek thoughts post.

As for the desire to make it easy for audiences to connect to the characters? Well, I call that laziness at this point. We’ve got Vulcans and Klingons and Bajorans and literally a hundred other aliens that already can do that. Use one of those if you need to. Any time they create a new race of aliens that looks like humans they are simply being too lazy to work that little bit harder and make the connection to the audience through better writing or acting skill. I’d go so far as to say that if you put that effort in to reach the audience, the connection would actually be stronger.

It’s hard to argue with the budgetary concerns. Star Trek is a show being made to profit some jerks and if those jerks don’t get their profit they stop making Star Trek, with or without cool aliens. But make-up technology has surely gotten cheaper over the years. CGI as well. And puppets are an almost untapped potential for aliens in Star Trek. Also, at this point either one or two ongoing Star Trek shows are animated (the fate of Prodigy is up in the air as I schedule this post). The shows have done a little bit of cool alien design, but they both feel like they are sometimes limiting themselves to humanoid aliens because that feels more like “Star Trek”. I consider Lower Decks especially guilty of this. This animated show has given us aliens that looks just like humans but are orange or have bumps on their head or whatever. Look at the aliens on Rick and Morty, a show that I believe shares some creative DNA with Lower Decks, and those aliens are ALIEN. Lower Decks could do that. But, apart from the occasional exception, they don’t.

The quality of Star Trek’s aliens has definitely improved since I was a child, I don’t deny it. But it also feels like a failure every time they take the lazy way out. And I will complain about it until that changes. I’ve kind of rambled this time, but I can promise now, more of my Star Trek thoughts will be about this, though more focused.

I Think About Star Trek A Lot

For years now I’ve been putting my non-stop thoughts about Superman up on this site, right? And I’ve also put more thought into Rocket Racer than anyone else on the planet, right? So you must think those are the only things that ol’ PDR ever thinks about! But no! I think about Star Trek too!

I felt the need to post about Superman so much because I got to reading what other people thought about Superman on the Internet and I so rarely felt like I agreed with what was being said that I felt ostracized from the “fandom” of the character. And I post about Rocket Racer because nobody else cares. But when it comes to Star Trek, I feel like I mostly agree with what the Internet at large has to say. Sure, there’s a lot of difference among the fans. I may not enjoy one series in the franchise as much as some others, or maybe I dislike an episode or two that are considered classics. But overall, it’s a massive franchise the size of which builds in room for such disagreement. You’re allowed to think the reboot movies are the funnest thing if you want to. You’re allowed to think Voyager is the best show. I may not agree, but I’ve already got DS9, so I’m good.

But there are nits to pick. Believe me, I can overthink any franchise of fictional stories. Ask anyone who knows me. So I’m gonna start doing that to Star Trek here on this site. I’ve got to do something with the constant torrent of thinking my brain does and, while I may watch other shows, Star Trek is where I feel at home, so my brain doesn’t shut up about it.