Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Favorite Character, Essay #1: Matthew Weflen

Star Trek is a rich repository of characters. For some, they're the main reason for watching the show. While I'm not in this camp, there are many, many characters I feel a great affinity for. So, here is my essay indicating which characters are my favorites. I'll go by series, then pick an overall favorite for the whole franchise.

The Original Series

Well, there are three obvious choices for "strongest" or most developed. It's hard to pick any of the supporting players, simply due to how screen time was divvied up.



Spock is a huge fan favorite, and he seems to embody many of the things that nerds value - logic, cool detachment, suppressed torrents of emotion just under the surface - just like the comic book guy or stereotypical Trekkie lurking in their parents' basement. But I kid, Spock is a great character and Nimoy really sold it. It's easy to see why fan mail started to pour in to Nimoy instead of the other actors.

McCoy is both comic relief and heart and soul for TOS. De Kelly was masterful in the role, with perfect comic timing as well as real emotion and grit.

But my favorite has to go to James T. Kirk, as portrayed by William Shatner. To me, he is the embodiment of the themes of TOS. He is Roddenberry's ideal man, the man of action who is just as much a man of learning, wisdom, and reason. Kirk has read his Milton, but he's also willing to punch an Andorian right in his stupid blue monkey face. And Shatner played it to the hilt - striking the best notes in Seasons 1 and 2, perhaps letting it slip into caricature in some of the silly Season 3 outings. But he reined it in again in the movies, giving us a nuanced, deep, and emotionally grounded Kirk, a Kirk who struggles with mortality, aging, friendship, and duty. It's a tour de force, and I love Captain Kirk, even if I don't always love Shatner (and I mostly do... come on... it's the Shat!).

The Next Generation

Here's where it gets harder - the franchise producers and editors made a clear effort to develop all 7 principals, until the Data show derailed everything by the end.

Speaking of Data, he's not my favorite. I like him, especially earlier on, but it just became tiresome by the end. Generations really cinched it for me, and I felt that Spiner went off the rails in his portrayal.

It isn't going to be Geordi, either, if mainly because of his utter incompetence at getting laid. Seal the deal, Geordi!

I had a hard time respecting Troi after the first two seasons of "pain!" and "I sense deception." I certainly think she grew, especially when she was awarded real clothes, but she isn't my pick.

A lot of people hate Wesley. I like him. I always liked him. Wil Wheaton played the character as well as he could given the sometimes awful writing, and I always identified with the wunderkind who had pressure to live up to his potential. And I envied the living shit out of him, too.

The three who really vie for the prize are Dr. Crusher, Commander Riker, and Captain Picard.

Captain Picard is wonderfully admirable. Patrick Stewart breathed life into the character and set the tone for the entire show, if not the entire franchise. But do I like him, or do I respect him?

Dr. Beverly is a personal favorite and guilty pleasure of mine. She's definitely high up there on a 24th-century MILF calendar. But sometimes the writers didn't give her much to do, and then there's the whole Ronin thing...

So for me, the fave goes to William T. Riker. I respect him, but I also like him a lot. I wish he could get over his fear of commitment, and sometimes he's a bit too randy for his own good, but his joie de vivre, his panache, and his down-to-earth humanity win me over every time. Riker is a great flawed character. He's got daddy issues, commitment issues, libido issues. But he always shines through with a desire to improve and to grow. And for Jamaharon.

Deep Space Nine

First things first: It's not Sisko. Avery Brooks' flamboyant scenery chewing was off-putting, and by the end, I found his character arc kind of silly. So he's the son of a wormhole alien who becomes Bajor-Jesus? Sorry, not particularly entertaining or identifiable.

Quark was too much of a caricature for me to really dig. The same goes for Rom and Nog. I really hated Bashir for a while, but I grew to tolerate him. O'Brien is cool, but I'm no engineer. I just don't "get" him. Jake was a devoted son with the worst fashion sense ever. Once the atrocity of the Kira-Odo relationship was committed to screen, there was no way I could view either of them the same way again.

In my initial draft, I left Worf out completely. I'll put him here, since he was in both TNG and DS9. In fact, Worf has appeared in more episodes than any other character, which is quite a distinction. So why don't I care about him? Well, other than my apparent racism against Klingons, the thought that springs to mind is that he was a caricature more than a character. If I had to hear one more time how the enemy of the day lacked honor... Still, he was fun. And Dorn was a good actor and a nice guy. I waited for a cab in LA with him once. He chatted with me and was very cool. So sorry, Worf. But you don't make the cut.

So it comes down to Dax, Dukat, and Garak for me.

I really like the idea of Dukat becoming the devil - but they didn't go far enough with it. Dax is a great character idea, but sometimes great ideas falter in terms of execution.

So it's Garak. Our irrepressible tailor, longing to be returned to grace, his motivations always in doubt, he was just played so well by Andrew Robinson, every second he is on the screen is entertaining, mysterious, and fun.

Voyager

Kelly will probably tell you that Voyager has the strongest set of characters. I'm not going to disagree. Jeri Taylor wrote an entire bible for the show's characters and published it as the novel Pathways, and it's clear that they are labors of love.

Harry is the Geordi of Voyager, the lovable loser. And while I do love him, he isn't my favorite.

I really hated Neelix for a season or two. But gosh darn it, his cheerfulness eventually won me over. Just like root beer won over the Ferengi in the end.

B'Elanna is my sister Elizabeth. I love my sister. But she's not my favorite character.

Chakotay started out pretty badass, but eventually Robert Beltran's distaste for the franchise shone through a bit too much. And they started writing for him less.

Tuvok was a lot of fun, but he wasn't as compelling as Spock.

Voyager also had a pretty amazing run of child characters who weren't irritating. Icheb, Mezoti, those other two kids, and Naomi Wildman were all pretty cool.

Kes was kind of a non-entity. And she was having sex with Neelix. Eew.

Seven and the Doctor: are they forever linked? The actors did a heck of a job portraying the two. Great comic timing, interesting emotional development, ginormous tits, they really just had everything going for them... which is why the writers really ran that ship into the ground by season 7. I love the characters and the actors, but I got a little tired of them by the end. Plus - does leaving any computer on in the 24th century result in sentience? I'd hate to see what their office computers are like...

So it's either Janeway or Paris for me. I think Janeway is a wonderful, well-rounded character who Kate Mulgrew really brings to life. But she should have done it with Chakotay. I also felt she was swayed too often by emotional appeals by her subordinates. (See: "Captain, when you first liberated me from the collective, you said X...")


So for me it's Tom all the way. Tom is the screw-up - a rare character in the Trek pantheon, who eventually makes good. You can't help but me moved by that sort of arc - at least I can't. He's made mistakes that will never be erased. He's been at the poop end of the stick socially because of it. But there is a spark of goodness in him, and he and his compatriots nurture that spark until he is a full, bright, wonderful human being. Plus, he likes nostalgia, movies, and gadgets. How could I not like him?

Enterprise

To some degree, Enterprise suffers from the same issues as TOS in paucity of character development. I think however, that this was due more to ineptitude on the parts of Berman and Braga than anything else. It is true that some of the actors were perhaps a bit less than inspiring, as well.

So it probably comes down to Archer, T'Pol and Trip.

Well, it ain't Archer. I found him to be too much of a Kirk retread - but with more annoying mannerisms and less compelling idealism.

Connor Trinneer did something I scarcely thought possible - made a character who walked, talked, and sort of looked like George W. Bush both sympathetic and likable. His devotion to his friends was charming, his homespun witticisms were amusing, and his spirit of exploration was infectious. He narrowly missed being my absolute favorite here.


I think Jolene Blalock did a whale of a job portraying T'Pol. She conveyed enough "alienness" to really sell the concept of the Vulcans, and you really got the feeling that she was a cool, logical being who was being buffeted by the unwanted stimuli of her crewmates. But underneath it all, you could see that something in humanity was perversely attractive to her, as well. So my favorite character nod goes to T'Pol, a super-sexy perv from beyond the moon.

Other

No, I did not have a favorite character from the new movie. This is because the new movie did not feature characters who made any sense, had logically consistent internal lives of their own, or operated in a universe with any comprehensible rules or order (most galling was the Spock-Uhura fiasco, but that can wait for another time). So for NuTrek(2009), the answer is: None Of The Above.


Overall



So who wins the ultimate prize? My candidates are Kirk, Riker, Garak, Tom Paris, and T'Pol.

Garak and T'Pol don't rate in this calculus. They either weren't around for long enough or weren't developed enough. The mark against T'Pol for me was her inexplicable dumping of Trip. Granted, this was the writers' fault. But it weighs against the character.

Kirk is undoubtedly the most heroic of the five. He isn't really swayed by selfish motives, and he always has the bigger picture in mind. He is still quite human, and is swayed by his emotions when he makes decisions. Doe he get some alien tail? Frequently. But he almost always uses these encounters to advance an agenda, whether it was saving his ship or preserving some greater principle. He does make sacrifices, in terms of relationships, family, and personal happiness. Presumably he does this because he values those goals that he works in favor of more than the others. But he ends up regretting his decisions, or at least regrets them half the time. Is this something to admire?

Riker, on the other hand, has greater impulse control problems. At times, his romantic interludes interfere with missions instead of serve them. He also doesn't keep his eye on the prize in the way Kirk does. Riker makes different decisions than Kirk would have made, decisions based on his own happiness, as opposed to excellence. He could have made Captain already, but he was happy in his little rut. Admirable? Maybe not. But relatable? Certainly. In the end, I might have to say I find Riker more admirable - he has balanced his life in a way that Kirk hasn't. He has goals, and works towards achieving them, but he sees the forest for the trees.

So do I go with Tom Paris over Riker? Tom is a different sort of male archetype. He is the aimless, feckless youth whose deficiencies of character lead him down several bad paths - but whose own qualities, along with the love and support of his peers, help him to see a different, better path. Then, he has to endure the slog of rebuilding his life, his reputation, and his character.

I think Robert Duncan McNeill did a great job of portraying this story arc. The reason I say this is not because he chewed scenery with a bunch of obvious "I want to be better" crapola, but because it was behind his eyes in so many scenes. You could see than McNeill had really internalized Tom Paris and knew how he would respond emotionally to the environment and the people around him.

Both Paris and Riker make decisions in favor of balance. They both end up with a fulfilling relationship and a worthwhile career too. Both have daddy issues. But one of them was a rebellious kid (Tom) while the other (Riker) submerged his daddy issues into a drive to succeed that was eventually replaced by a healthier drive to be happy.


Riker might be the guy I want to be - fabulously talented, someone who makes pretty good decisions all the way, and finds balance and happiness. But Tom is probably closer to who I am. Fabulously talented but also a bit rudderless at the start.

And so I think I'll have to go with Tom. This was a tough call, but a worthwhile one to think about.

So who are your favorite characters? Let us know!

3 comments:

  1. What about Worf. Not even a mention!

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'm not your favorite character? What a let down. But at least you love me. :)

    ReplyDelete