Last week, I got sick. The kind of sick that sits on your chest and won’t let you breathe. The kind of sick that gets into your head and screams until your skull starts to crack. The kind of sick that you have to fight all day long, so by the late afternoon, the only thing you want to do is just lay down.
That kind of sick.
My doctor tells me I caught a cold. No big deal. But the cold triggered asthma. I said, “Asthma?”
She nodded and said, “Asthma.”
Well, ain’t that fun?
So, I got sick. I had five different bottles of pills, kettles of hot tea, and the empty cardboard corpses of tissue paper rolls strewn around me. I couldn’t do anything except lay back, be miserable and watch Netflix.
Well, as it turns out, you can watch the entire run of Star Trek: The Original Series on Netflix.
I’m not a Trekkie, but I know a lot of them. Jess is a Trekkie, Chris is a Trekkie, Lenny is a Trekkie. Hell, even my dad is a Trekkie. But not me. I saw Star Wars before I saw Star Trek, so…well, you know how that goes.
Now, I may not be a Trekkie, but a whole bunch of people I love are. And because I love them, I want to understand the things they love…even if I don’t. For example, both Jess and Chris have Trek bathrobes. Jess has blue and Chris has gold. So, I got red. And one day, we’ll all be in the same place at the same time and wear them together. I also have an idea for a Trek RPG scenario I want to run for both of them. I won’t spoil it here, but it involves two of their favorite episodes from the classic show.
Yeah, I indulge in the things my friends love because I love my friends. And so, with my red Engineering robe on, I settled in and started watching the classic Star Trek tv show…for the first time.
That’s right. You heard me. For the first time.
Now, I’ve seen a couple episodes before. About…three, I think. “City on the Edge of Forever” (because I’m a fan of Harlan’s), “Trouble with Tribbles,” and “Balance of Terror” (at the urgings of many Trekkies). And I have to say, I liked all those episodes. In fact, “Balance of Terror” even beats out Harlan’s episode as my favorite. I loved that one.
But as for the rest, I’ve never seen them. Never once sat down and watched TOS. So, I figured, it was time. I started writing brief notes about each episode on my Facebook with the tag, #trekforthefirsttime. And the response has been pretty fun. At least it gets my mind off the fact that I can’t sleep because I can’t stop coughing.
Now, as of this writing, I’m not finished with the series. I’m halfway through Season 2—just watched “Conscience of the King”—but I still have a few thoughts I’d like to share with you about the experience. Specifically, as a Game Master. Because that’s the hat I’m wearing when I watch these episodes. And it’s gotten me thinking a lot about a Star Trek RPG.
As I began watching, I noticed that there are three kinds of episodes. I’m dubbing them:
- Kirk vs the Machine
- Kirk vs God, and
- The Good Ones
In “Kirk vs the Machine,” Kirk beats a godlike machine or android by using logic or absurdity. I didn’t like it the first time, I didn’t like it the rest of the times. I mean, it’s clear these episodes were written (or, in many cases, re-written) by people who don’t understand what the word “logic” means. It’s infuriating as someone who studied philosophy to hear “logic” thrown around so freely. In the world of Star Trek, nobody can agree on what “logic” actually is because they all have different definitions. Just like folks can’t agree on what “god” is because…
Well, let’s talk about that one, shall we?
And another thing before we get to the last category. Any episode that ends with someone solving the problem with technobabble is just not for me. Instead of Scotty saying, “We re-routed through the Jefferies tubes,” he may as well be saying, “I waved me magic wand and made the problem go away.” That’s boring. It’s like telling Dorothy should could have gone home at any time by tapping her heels together. I call bullshit. But more on that in a moment.
Let’s talk about Kirk vs God. Yeah. I…just…can we just not talk about this one? I mean, I’m the openly atheist in the room and this one just makes me feel dumb even thinking about.
As for the third kind of episode, this is where we get stuff like “Amok Time,” “Space Seed,” and the always delicious “Mirror Mirror,” along with the previously mentioned “classic” episodes. This is the real stuff. Nothing gets solved because of technobabble. And the reason is simple: there are no easy or simple solutions to the problems in the episodes.
Everyone likes talking about the Kobayashi Maru test: a test of character. And how Kirk fixed the test so he could win. But what’s interesting to me is how many Kobayashi Marus there are in the series. No good choices. Just choices. And you hope you made the right one.
“Balance of Terror” is an hour-long series of vague choices. Any one of them could doom the Enterprise at any moment. Kirk and his crew have to be at their best against an enemy that’s just as smart, clever and capable as they are. As fun as it was to see Khan in Star Trek 2, I would have loved to have seen the unnamed “Romulan Commander” make a return.
“City on the Edge of Forever” is another example. There’s no tricorder reading that can solve the problem of having to watch another human being die.
“Amok Time” sticks in my head for so many reasons, all of it weighing heavy on the dynamic chemistry between Kirk, McCoy and Spock. I understand why this was the first episode of the second season. Hell, I wish it was the first episode of the first season. And again, there is no easy solution to the problem. Sure, McCoy pulls a bit of trickery out of his med kit at the end, but the choice was still Kirk’s to make. A choice for his best friend.
These are the episodes that resonate in my head because they are about watching characters I care about—and yes, I’ve grown to care about them—facing real and certain challenges. The banter is fun. I like the banter. But what hits me hardest are the real moments of the show. When the characters talk to each other. And when they face dangers with no easy answers.
Remember that the next time you sit down at the game table. Do you remember your character’s stats? Do you remember how cool the initiative mechanic is? No. You remember when your character had to make a choice and nothing on the character sheet could help you.
That’s when shit gets real.
So, more of that, if you would Mr. Roddenberry.