The Relatable Fallibility of Roddenberry's Humanity in STNG

I’ve started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation from the beginning again. Instead of just enjoying it as a nostalgic trip through my childhood, I’ve been trying to actively watch what’s happening in the show. I’ve noticed a number of personality and behaviour patterns that totally clash with how I remember each character as a child. Bear with me as I review what the first half of STNG’s first season was like a second time around.

Futuristic humanity is still fallible. From the very first episode, the bridge crew must deal with the (still very annoying) Q and his needless pestering. Tasha Yar and Worf are quick to anger and violence, and Picard is stubborn, and not nearly as reserved as I remember him—he is also very quick to admit mistake. The crew is, however, able to readily accept the limits of their knowledge, and measure possibilities before dismissing them as impossible. The very first episode has giant space squid, and that’s all quite reasonable to the crew.

That said, knowledge in Roddenberry’s new future, appears heavily specialized. The moment the ship’s computer is unresponsive, the crew—save for basically Data, Wesley and Geordi—resorts to shouting and anger. An unresponsive computer, for a bridge member, is broken and his world is in peril until it is magically fixed. An example of this can be found in The Big Goodbye, when Riker breaks down to shouting and hitting an unresponsive holodeck control.

Mistakes and elitism still run rampant. While Roddenberry’s humanity has overcome global war, currency and the majority of illnesses, they quickly judge disagreeing foreign cultures as inferior or primitive, comparing them to how Earth used to be. To an Enterprise bridge crew member, the 20th century was a veritable dark age of unenlightened racist warriors.

To be fair, though, other cultures often have similar views of the Federation: the Ferengi cannot comprehend the uncivilized nature of humans clothing women or wearing golden communicators. STNG has not yet found its roots this far into the series, concepts such as the Prime Directive play a larger role as the series progresses, where suspension of judgement is required. The Prime Directive was argued then disregarded in favour of giving Wesley a deus ex machina exit from a planet’s death sentence.

The bridge crew is also quick to judge the less experienced. Nearly every guess and wager Wesley makes (that the audience can see) turns out to be true, and yet when he accuses Data as actually being Lore in disguise (from Datalore), Picard and his mother refuse his conjecture. This is after Data remarks—in the same episode—that Wesley’s mind is beyond any mere teenager.

STNG’s humanity isn’t smarter or necessarily better than our own. They have an advanced society, and have much technological and medical prowess, but individually they are merely the same old quick-to-judge humans in color-sorted unitards. There are serious advancements made as a society, notably the reduction of class, social rank and the acceptance of duty, but this is within the confines of the naval-like social contract of the Federation. They are not the super heroes of my childhood, and that’s a good thing. Seeing a relatable humanity is what makes the show more interesting as an adult.

© 2011–2023 Carson Brown