Star Trek and Story Arcs
I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation, and as much as I enjoyed the series as a kid, it seems rather dated now. Part of that’s due to the 1980s hairstyles and the pre-digital special effects. But those are just cosmetic. What really makes the show seem dated is its episodic nature. Looking back at the old episodes of Star Trek, I wonder how much story arcs would have helped the series.
Made for Channel Surfers
Back in the 80s and 90s, most shows were made up of self-contained episodes. This made a lot of sense back in the days of channel surfing. Even if you weren’t a hardcore Trekkie, you could tune into an episode of Star Trek (either the original or NextGen), and watch a complete story line in an hour. If you missed a couple of weeks, you could tune in again and not feel lost. But this isn’t how people watch television anymore. Nowadays, people DVR, stream and download TV series. In the 21st century, we “binge-watch” TV shows, and the nature of the medium has changed appropriately. Most modern series worth their salt are based on story arcs.
The Best of Both Worlds
To see how story arcs might have improved the series, let’s look at the NextGen episode, “The Best of Both Worlds”. This was a two-part episode: a cliffhanger at the end of Season 3 with its conclusion at the beginning of Season 4. In the episode, Captain Jean-Luc Picard is kidnapped a hive mind called the Borg, and “assimilated” to become the cybernetic commander “Locutus of Borg”. This is hands-down one of the best episodes of Star Trek, but watching it now, it feels a bit rushed. Even as a two-part episode, the story is beholden to the Status Quo nature of the series. Later episodes hint at Picard’s deep psychological scarring from the incident, but for the most part, everything wraps up nicely at the end of the episode.
A Locutus Story Arc
If Star Trek: The Next Generation were on today, the Best of Both Worlds story arc might have lasted the better part of a season. I would have like to see a couple more episodes where the evil Locutus uses his insider knowledge against the Enterprise and Starfleet. I would have like to see Picard have a harder time escaping the Borg collective. And most of all, I would like to see the Enterprise crew live and grow more as people, much like the characters on modern series like Mad Men, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad.
The Future of Star Trek
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had some story arcs in its later seasons, which it used to good effect. The next two series, Voyager and Enterprise, flirted with story arcs a bit, but mostly stayed episodic. (Correct me if I’m wrong. I’ve never watched more than a couple of episodes of either.) But even with the most recent series, Enterprise, it’s been a good decade. Television has changed an awful lot in that time, and I would love to see Star Trek come back and make the best of the new medium.