Thursday, 14 February 2013

Love's Labours Warped: Trek's Romantic Jinx

In line with it being Valentine's Day I thought it would be a golden opportunity to take a skating glance at the romances of Star Trek. Well, OK, let's be fair, there aren't many that end happily.

Off the top of my head I can name a couple that actually end up Happily Ever After. Admittedly it takes Troi and Riker over a decade to get their act together and Tom and B'Elanna are married in another quadrant but on the whole it's never good news if you're attempting a long term relationship - or even consider a long term relationship in the Star Trek universe. Fair to say this is almost an anti-Valentine's post. Apologies. I'm not a "bah humbug" in the romance department. I love my other half very much - but I have to blame a mid-morning Twitter conversation with @Starfinder4 over top Trek romances. I just took it a step further. A bit. OK, a lot.

Starting back aboard the NX-01, there was only ever one relationship that developed. That between Trip Tucker and Vulcan first officer, T'Pol. Just to remind us all here, there's nothing particularly ordinary about this relationship from the start - it's a clone of the ship's engineer that puts his foot into it and instigates the romance which, as seems to be a trait in later examples (or earlier dependent on your temporal perspective) it's not appreciated until its almost too late and then things are complicated with the revelation of a child within the closing episodes - oh, and the death of Trip in the series finale, "These are the Voyages" - a little permanent and something of a recurring theme as we may come to see, whatever universe you're wandering through.

The original series steered away from any kind of serious relationships - there were guest stars week in week out, Edith Keeler, Leila Kalomi, Lenore Karidian, Deela, Mira Romaine, Natira...the list goes on for the crew, but none of the crew saw anything lasting. Kirk had something of a relationship at some time and David Marcus exists to prove it but the romance there has moved on. The original crew were not one to put down roots on screen and develop anything as the series and movies progressed. The only way we know Sulu became a family man is by the appearance of Demora Sulu at the helm of the Enterprise-B in Star Trek Generations. Stability here is a no-go and it keeps with the more military stance portrayed particularly in the six movies. Guest cast have a purpose and you can guarantee they won't be around next week to pick up the pieces.

Sidestepping from the "Prime" universe for a moment we do need to mention the original series in the Abrams remix. The whole Spock and Uhura thing. Ok, so in the 60's series there were on occasion some suggestions - minor, almost insignificant moments - and on one occasion a scene that was cut from "Way to Eden" that might've pushed not only the interracial boundaries but interplanetary ones too (for more on this take a look at the superlative Star Trek 365 book). Anyway, what is it with this relationship? It comes from nowhere in the Abrams universe and really blew me sideways. I didn't see it coming and I suspect neither did fandom. Rightly though it's back in Star Trek Into Darkness and not shied away from in the slightest. I look forward to seeing how this will progress - oddly at some points I can almost see Nichelle Nichols and Leonard Nimoy attempting some kind of soppy moment at the end of The Wrath of Khan if this is the way Gene Roddenberry had chosen to develop his characters. Can you imagine what that would've ended up like?!

However the path of love and true romance is anything but easy when you're in Starfleet. While Riker and Troi manage to tie the knot in the final adventure of The Next Generation crew in Nemesis it's a rocky path that we're never really sure if they're together or not. Riker is there to listen and comfort when the moment arises and on occasion we're reminded of their relationship with the mere mention of the word "Imzadi" first uttered in "Encounter at Farpoint". It would take Troi a rather unforeseen sojourn away with Worf in the seventh season and some aging regression thanks to the planet of the Bak'u in Insurrection to get together. That's one heck of a long time to get it right!

Picard and Dr Crusher were almost as bad having "something" to say at just the wrong time everytime. It would take an alternative future to eventually marry them off - and get divorced. Those alternative futures/realities can really emphasise the way relationships in Trek just aren't meant to run smoothly! Case in point is "Parallels" which really kicked off the ill-conceived Troi/Worf thing after some tentative suggestions back in the midst of season five and following that up would be Voyager's "Endgame" with the tragedy of Seven of Nine and Chakotay's romance. Luckily there it's given some hope through the ship's return to Earth at the story's finale with all parties intact. Thank goodness for time-travelling admirals. You can never find enough when you need them.

Perhaps it's DS9 that really hits Relationship Factor Nine. Not only do we have the franchise's most stable family unit in the form of the O'Brien clan (although we never actually saw any of the romance pre-wedding) but everyone seems to be loved up or has been loved up by the series end. Sisko provides that perfect mangled relationship structure - boy is married to girl, boy loses girl to Borg, boy finds girl, girl turns out to be terrorist, girl goes to prison, girl comes out of prison, boy and girl marry, girl find out she's pregnant, boy becomes god-like being. Phew. Think that covered it. Romance-wise it's good to see the captain get to grips with a new relationship, move on from past tragedy and love over the course of the series to the point of marriage - the only captain to do so in fact. The crippling blow is that Sisko is destined for another path and his wife and son are left behind.

Kira and Odo fair no better in all honesty. For a series which is set in one place and can gather up a great deal of continuity, romance is not one of its strengths! They only get together after Kira finds out from Odo's alternate future self in "Children of Time" that he's always loved her and even then she keeps her distance for another year until "His Way" in season six. It seems like a good strong relationship with a wonderfully romantic beginning in the Vic Fontaine simulation with their first kiss on the Promenade in front of just about everyone. However, like Sisko and Kasidy Yates it's doomed to end with Odo's return to save the Great Link in "What You Leave Behind". Considering how long it took for this to come to pass in the first place, the ending is left open for a potential return but with the closure of the series we know that can only ever happen in the written, fictional Trek universe. This is one of my favourite relationships of the series as we see it develop and never really fade away. They are still clearly in love as Odo melts away at the end of the series.

In two bodies Dax is also something of a handful when it comes to love on DS9. First there's repeated, fumbling interest from Julian Bashir during the show's fledgling years, even mentioned in close proximity to Jadzia's eventual marriage to Worf in "You Are Cordially Invited". Theirs is an interesting and tense romance harbouring on some serious pain one would suggest given their mutual admiration for Klingon traditions. There's so much to their partnership that Worf risks his career to save the life of his wife ("Change of Heart") and they even consider the possibility of starting a family - as we know it would not come to pass with Jadzia's untimely death in "Tears of the Prophets". This left the way open for Bashir and Jadzia's successor Ezri to develop the relationship hinted at back in "Emissary" but dismissed by the symbiont's then-host. If it's not tragedy-tipped then you can suspect that your Alpha Quadrant relationship will certainly have its twists and turns as it blossoms. Nicely though we do have the O'Brien family and Rom and Leeta to remind us that relationships can work. In the example of the latter it's truly opposites attract and they wouldn't be the couple you would have put together when either of these characters was initially introduced - indeed we all probably thought Leeta was going to end up with Dr Bashir. But hey, it's deep space and anything can happen. It's a great love story with Rom eventually as the heroic husband ("Call to Arms") and Leeta as a strong wife and step-mother.

Spare a thought for our favourite Klingon though - love and relationships really aren't his raktajino. His mate, K'Ehelyr is killed by his nemesis, Duras, so Worf in turn kills him and his wife is murdered at the hands of Gul Dukat in DS9's Bajoran temple. Somehow Counsellor Troi survived! It's a shame and his luck with women is even passed over into the fictional universe with David Mack's The Persistence of Memory from the Cold Equations trilogy. Perhaps someone should tell Worf to steer clear of anything long term - then the odds must be against him as he does have more screen time than any other Trek character. Oddly apart from the instances of relationships for Worf noted here he tends to steer clear of female company. Maybe he knows something we don't - or perhaps is even more aware of his jinx than we are!

So enjoy Valentine's Day if you're partaking of it's romantic vibes. What have we learned here? Don't date a Klingon? Make sure that you have a relationship in the Delta Quadrant if you do? Don't give up on a Trill (at least not for a couple of lifetimes) or a Betazoid? Possibly worth keeping away from anyone who happens to be deeply involved in the spiritual background of an alien people too....never know what could happen there.

Just think yourself lucky that you're not posted out in deep space or living in an alternative timeline considering what we've glimpsed over here - and the less said about the romance between two lizard creatures, the better. Add avoiding crossing the warp threshold to the above list in that case....

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