Ordinary Heroes

When the world shut down and everyone learned to make bread, we decided to re-watch Star Trek: The Next Generation from beginning to end. It is, quite literally, the best thing I have done for myself this year.

I remember watching TNG when it first aired. Later, if I caught rerun, I’d nearly always sit to watch it. There were episodes I saw several times, and episodes I missed. I felt as though I knew TNG and its characters pretty well. I have always been a confirmed fan. But watching it again, from beginning to end, has been an entirely different experience, and I am now more than just a fan.

Star Trek is the best show in the history of television.

My opinion might change after my Voyager re-watch.
(Mr. Jensen says he’s not going to sit for that one. He’ll be there.)

My reasons for loving TNG and Star Trek in general will be familiar to anyone who is a fan: the forward thinking writing. The fact the cast is diverse and that the stories challenge the status quo. I could write an entire post about how much I appreciate the show taking on issues that divide us in an attempt to present an enlightened and idealistic future. This is the main difference between Star Trek and Star Wars, in my opinion. Star Trek tells a story not of war, but of hope. It’s not about good vs. evil, it’s about doing better. Being better.

But the real reason I love Star Trek so much is that the show so often celebrates ordinary people doing ordinary things. The lives of everyday people are a recurring theme in my own writing. While I have written books where the world has to be saved from a great evil, I’d argue that my favorite books are the ones where I peek in on the life of regular folk. Teachers, accountants, bakers, construction workers, groundskeepers, and the like. When reading, I enjoy similar books, where ordinary people do ordinary things.

I am, of course, also a complete sucker for the blacksmith’s apprentice finding out they’re the prophesied one—and then having to go on and save the world. But give me a book where the prophesied one dies (sorry, so sorry) and their friend has to pick up the hammer and complete their quest? I’ll read it before it’s finished being written.

Anyway, back to Star Trek. When you consider your favorite episodes, Picard as Locutus may come to mind (“The Best of Both Worlds”). Or perhaps “Conspiracy,” where alien parasites almost succeed in taking over Starfleet. “Darmok” which will have you repeating “Shaka and the walls fell” for at least three months afterward. Bonus points if you can work that phrase into every day conversation and a double bonus if your significant other can respond with an appropriate phrase. Triple points if you can substitute a line from humanity’s vast store of mythos and poetry!

“We talk and laugh. We complain about work. And we wonder about growing old. We talk about our families and we worry about the future. And we cry with each other when things seem hopeless. All of the loving things that you do with each other – that is what we do.”

Soren, “Outcast”

A particular favorite episode of mine is “Outcast.” I used several tissues while Soren made her impassioned plea for existence—as herself—during the trial.

Then you have “Disaster” where Worf assists Keiko in the delivery of her baby. “Why has it not begun?” he says. Oh, Worf. Incidentally, Worf is now one of my favorite characters. As are Geordi and Data. I didn’t really get these guys when I was younger. Now, as an adult, I love them for who they are.

Any episode featuring Q is a laugh-fest, and the episodes featuring Sarek are wonderful.

I could go on and on and on. But I’ll get to the point. My favorite episodes are the ones where the world is not saved. They’re the ones where the crew takes care of their own in ordinary ways. The Broccoli episodes were painful for the 20-year-old me to watch. They were a little painful for the 50-year-old me, but also, I’m now thinking why aren’t we all this understanding about social anxiety and awkwardness?

The fact the Enterprise comes equipped with a counsellor people are expected to use, and that the senior staff will listen to just about any fabulous tale and immediately begin pulling apart pieces of the ship to check for anomalies rather than simply prescribe a drug is amazing.

Another favorite episode is “I Borg” where the crew rescues a Borg drone separated from the collective. The plan is to infect the drone with a virus and send it back with the hopes of wiping out the Borg threat once and for all. But as the singular drone develops a personality, hearts and minds are changed. It’s such a quiet but powerful statement.

“Captain, I do not want to forget that I am Hugh.”

Three of Five, “I Borg”

Excuse me while I go get some more tissues.

Again, I could continue through all seven seasons picking out favorite episodes and talking about ordinary moments. There are so, so many. Worf learning to be a father. Geordi’s attempts at romance. Deanna’s acute embarrassment every time her mother steps aboard. Data’s quest to be more human. Wesley Crusher.

Early in the series, Will Riker is questioned several times about his desire to remain Picard’s first officer rather than accept a command of his own. I love, love, love that the series (the writers) allowed Riker to be content in his position as Picard’s “Number One.”

Perhaps the episode that epitomizes the show, and my point, most clearly, is “The Inner Light.” It’s the one with the flute. Picard is rendered unconscious by the beam from a random space probe. While the crew of the Enterprise works to revive him, he lives out a lifetime on the planet Katan.

“The Inner Light” won a Hugo Award in 1993. It’s been written about extensively. But here’s why I love it so much: Kamin—the man whose body, spirit, life, Picard inhabits—isn’t a hero. He’s not a leader of men. He doesn’t explore new territory. He doesn’t save his world.

“Remember… put your shoes away.”

Eline to Kamin, “The Inner Light”

What Kamin does accomplish is something Picard hasn’t yet managed during his career with Starfleet. He becomes a husband, a father, and a grandfather. He lives a quiet, but good life. And he does all this by accepting a simple doctrine: this is my life and so I shall live it.

I think perhaps the best illustration of how this journey affected Picard is in the scene where his son tells him he’d like to pursue a career in music. Picard starts out by questioning the wisdom of his son’s decision but ends up giving his blessing (which is little more than a grunt). A part of his acquiescence, no doubt, is due to the fact he knows their world is dying. So, why not pursue a dream? But I also like to think that Picard’s decision grew out of the life he’d been living for decades at that point. Not everyone is destined to be a star ship captain. Some of us are content with less adventurous lives. And, who’s to say music can’t be just as fulfilling or adventurous?

Season five is full of extraordinary story-telling. It’s been my favorite so far. But as I continue into season six and beyond, what I will most look forward to are these glimpses of a crew of people doing their best to be ordinary. To be good friends, good leaders, and good human beings.

They will save the world again—in fact the season finale and season six opener has them doing just that. But in between the heroics, they’ll listen to each other’s problems. Provide a shoulder for their friends to lean on. Offer helping hands. They’ll be nerdly and goofy and all kinds of endearing. And it will be in those moments that I grow to love this cast of characters even more, and nurture a hope that this is what our future will look like.

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2 thoughts on “Ordinary Heroes

    • Kelly Jensen

      I always used to tell people that I’d cried in Star Trek episodes and they’d look at me funny. I cried during even more this time around. ❤

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