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Watching Trek with Calvin

Started: 2018-01-05 21:32:25

Submitted: 2018-01-06 16:40:33

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator shares Star Trek with his eight-year-old

Last summer I spent two weeks in Omaha working in my employer's data center, leaving Kiesa to take care of our children. She came up with the idea to substitute Calvin's bedtime story with an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, on the explicit agreement that he'd go to bed immediately after finishing the episode; she could start the episode and finish putting Julian to bed and clean up the kitchen, then join him for the second half of the episode.

By the time I returned, they'd made it through the first three seasons, at a breakneck pace made possible by skipping all but the best episodes (according to the TNG rewatch on tor.com) -- and since the first three seasons were not the show's best moments, there were plenty of episodes to skip. The 'bedtime story' worked well, so I joined the viewing, starting with the fourth-season episode "Family".

We finished our run of TNG in October, and switched immediately to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

I started watching Star Trek in the fall of 1995, when (after spending all summer talking about Trek with Bitscape and Bouncing) I convinced my parents to let me watch the show. This corresponded with the beginning of DS9's fourth season, which was a great time to join the show. One of the first episodes I saw was the two-hour season opener "The Way of the Warrior". I watched all of the next three seasons as they originally aired, plus the end of third season as reruns, and sporadically caught up on earlier seasons as they were stripped in syndication. I went to college at the beginning of DS9's seventh and final season, where I lost easy access to my TV and VCR. I watched about half of the season, but never managed to finish the series.

I didn't pick up DS9 again for fifteen years. In the winter of 2015, when Kiesa was pregnant with Julian, we set up our Apple TV to stream Netflix, and looked for something to play as an end-to-end integration test to prove that the setup was working. I found the penultimate episode of fifth season, "In the Cards", one of my favorite episodes of television ever, and watched it. (I kept watching longer than strictly necessary to function as an integration test; unless I want to claim that it was an important part of the test to prove that it could play an entire episode.) I kept watching, using the tor.com DS9 rewatch as my guide, catching up on the entire Dominion War story arc in the sixth and seventh seasons, finally watching the final episodes of the show that I missed in 1999. I watched the last episode, "What You Leave Behind", a few days before Julian was born.

(I watched TNG, too, in high school, stripped in syndication (one episode a night, five days a week); mostly I set the VCR to tape the episode when it aired each night, then watched it the next afternoon after school. I watched essentially all of the show this way. TNG had its moments, and looms large in my consciousness in my formative teenage years, but I always liked DS9 better.)

(I also watched Voyager, though Paramount's decision to create a new network, UPN, to air the show -- and my local affiliate's decision to put their broadcast antenna on the other side of a mountain from my house -- gave me even worse reception than DS9 and TNG. Most of the second season of Voyager looked like a fuzzy ball to me, until my father installed a bigger and better TV antenna on our roof, and the fuzzball resolved itself to a somewhat-less-fuzzy image.)

(Given the trouble I had getting decent reception while watching broadcast TV in the nineties -- which continued as I moved around in Boulder County in the aughts and teens, still in the broadcast shadow with mountains between me and Denver's television broadcast antennas -- I am amused that in San Francisco I can now see my local broadcast antenna from my house, which gives me great reception.)

As we watched the first two seasons of DS9, I would feel a vague feeling deja vu half-way through an episode as I recognized enough of the plot to remember watching the episode -- or at least remember reading about the episode. By the time we reached third season, I'd seen most of the episodes, but now I had the chance to see them in sequence.

One episode that especially caught my attention was the two-part episode "Past Tense", in which Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are sent back in time to San Francisco to 2024 and get caught up in the social stratification of the time: Sisko and Bashir get picked up by local cops and sent to the local "Sanctuary District" -- a ghetto for people that society wants to ignore. (Dax gets picked up by a tech executive, giving me the opportunity to look at the "future" skyline; I was amused that the skyline does not include Salesforce Tower or the other buildings that emerged in the last twenty-three years.) When this episode was originally aired, the setting was 30 years in the future; now, it's right around the corner. Given the social stratification of my city, it's easy to see how the Sanctuary Districts could emerge, and how the haves in society (myself included) can ignore the plights of the have-nots, because it's inconvenient.

I'm still not entirely sure what Calvin is getting out of this -- his responses are monosyllabic at best -- but I at least am enjoying the opportunity to rewatch a classic sci-fi TV show from my formative years, and share the classic show with the next generation of sci-fi fans in my family.

You will always find those who think they know
what is your duty better than you know it.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Self-Reliance"