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The Importance of Symbols, Science Fiction and the Many Problems of Star Trek: Into Darkness

I’m not what one would consider a Trekkie. The only Trek series I’ve watched fully is Deep Space Nine and I have no plans on changing on that anytime soon.  As a kid it rubbed me the wrong way and as I’ve grown older the promise of episodic series doesn’t really excite me. That being said, as a general fan of sci-fi I appreciate what Star Trek symbolizes: it’s bright shiny future where humanity has conquered its demons and is going out among the stars to push the boundaries. While in practice it was a bit more nuance and rougher than that, that’s not really important for this discussion. The ideals of Star Trek, without a deconstructionist view, matter. That’s what is and it plays a role in the media landscape. So with that idea in mind, let’s talk about the latest movie, Into Darkness.





Alright, having gotten the intro out of the way and given some space for those who wish to avoids spoilers, let’s get started. If you’ve seen Into Darkness then what I’m saying next should come as no surprise: I really, really dislike Into Darkness.  While the beginning and the ending are quintessential Original Trek that’s much prettier, the middle of the film is something else entirely. The problems become apparent once Section 31 comes up.

Section 31, for those who don’t know, is a paramilitary organization of questionable legality that operates within Starfleet Intelligence. Among other things, they engineer a plague that is meant to win the Dominion War by committing an act of xenocide. It comes up as little more than an off-hand remark but it’s ominous for what is to come.  The idea that an Admiral is in bed with Section 31 isn’t surprising, the DS9 episode Inter Armin Enim Silent Leges used that as part of its conclusion. But again, it’s a throw away line, a bit of world building, why does it matter?

The answer is simple: the metatextuality of the line. The only reason to invoke Section 31 is to tie into the continuity of the franchise. The problem as mentioned before is that Section 31 is unambiguously evil, at best they’re represented as a necessary evil, an evil nonetheless. There’s a certain…coziness to the way that it’s brought up and serves as a prelude to the even seedier elements that are coming up.

The extraterritorial extradition and assassination plot gets accepted rather easily by just about everyone. On one hand, you can make a case that this is a rather human reaction by seizing onto something to get even, to get revenge after what happened. The problem is that this is never shown, any sort of moral dilemma or objection is placed primarily on Scotty’s shoulders.  It’s almost as if Scotty is a sacrificial lamb, meant to bear the weight of this moral murkiness.

This doesn’t have the same problem the the Section 31 issue does above, but it is close. If Sta Trek is about moral issues then it requires the characters to interact with these moral quandaries in order to give them any weight. One of the most memorable episodes of DS9, In the Pale Moonlight makes a point of showing Sisko’s struggle as he goes deeper and deeper into the realm of immorality. Instead this serves to be a amorphously topical and nothing more, presenting the illusion of addressing the issue. Not really what one would expect.

The final issue that’s worth discussing is the alliance that Kirk makes with Khan. Kirk makes an alliance with Khan, a man who in Star Trek’s history is actually worse than Hitler. It’s mindbogglingly stupid on every level, not just a moral one but a common sense one as well. Yes, it is a matter of the enemy of my enemy is my friend, it’s just a matter that the lack of questioning or hesitation makes this sequence questionable at all.

Not really establishing who Khan is also highlights how hackneyed the concept of the film’s multiple homages to Wrath of Khan. Part of that film’s success was that it relied upon one of the memorable episodes of TOS as a launching point for the plot. Here it serves as the perfect example in one single example of how this movie is drifting aimless from the franchise.

All in all, those are the major problems with the film from this perspective and it serves as a good basis for the rest of this discussion. I started this post off by talking about the importance of symbols, and as I already stated Star Trek’s symbol is being the bright, shiny future an while it may not come easy it’s always the goal in mind. It is also to keep in mind that Star Trek doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it exists in relation to other works in the canon.

When you look at the film in this context, it comes off much worse. The reason for this is that all the issues that Into Darkness raises, other works do that better. If the morality at hand interests you at all, you’re better off watching Babylon Five, Deep Space Nine and NuBSG.* Simply put, it can be argued that film doesn’t do anything, it has murky morality and a murky placement within the canon. It’s just there and it doesn’t do anything new or interesting, which is probably it’s biggest sin of all.

IF you have any comments or feedback, leave it in the comments, otherwise see you next week

*This raises an issue of how the newest series I named started over a decade ago, but that’s a discussion for another week.



One response to “The Importance of Symbols, Science Fiction and the Many Problems of Star Trek: Into Darkness

  1. Pingback: And the Future Looks So Bleak: the Lack of Optimistic Scifi on TV | Another Gamer Guy

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