Thursday, June 30, 2011

My Favorite Character, Essay #2: Kelly Therese Pollock

Characters are probably the single most important element of any TV series (or book or movie) for me. I can forgive a lot of flaws in plot, tone, and production values, as long as I care about the characters. I'm sure at some point we will discuss our favorite series, but it's no secret that Voyager is my favorite series, in large part because of the characters. I love the characters in every Trek series; naming my favorites is no easy task, but I'll give it my best shot. If you asked me to revisit this in a year, chances are that some of them would have changed. (Amusingly enough, it's now taken me almost a year to write this, and nothing's really changed!)

This isn't a hint to where I'm going with this essay. Really.
[Warning. This essay assumes full knowledge of all of the series. If you haven't seen a series, you may not want to read my walkthough of the characters. Don't say I didn't warn you.]

The Original Series
This is probably the most difficult series for me. I love the friendship between Kirk and Spock so much that I almost can't separate the two.

Spock is somewhat of an aspirational character for me. I don't necessarily want the level of control that he has, but I would at times like to have more control over my emotions than I do. And yet, at times Spock shows such depth of feeling, for lack of a better word. He's not afraid to be a nerd, not worried that others will feel inferior around him. I think that's a good model for smart little children, although perhaps they should be discouraged from being quite so condescending. And Spock is sexy (at least for those of us who have a thing for smart guys!).
It's illogical to hate me because I'm sexy.

But Kirk is Kirk. I've never understood people who don't like Kirk or Shatner's portrayal of him. He's charming and a great leader whose people really respect him. I didn't really appreciate Kirk as a captain until watching The Enemy Within and seeing what Kirk would be like with just the compassion and none of the ability to make the tough decisions. Kirk clearly cares a great deal about his crew and about completing his missions, but he also has a lot of fun doing his job, and I appreciate that.

Evil Kirk is necessary too.

In the end, I think I have to go with Kirk. He's the spirit of TOS, the balance between Spock's cool rationalism and McCoy's heated emotionalism, and he's just so damn fun to watch!

The Next Generation
Oh, TNG. This one is definitely the most difficult for me. I really like most of the main characters, but I'm not sure that I love any of them in a way that makes one my favorite.

The female characters are a bit disappointing. I know the show was a product of the 80s, and the female characters are somewhat caricatured in a way that was not out of line with how women were commonly represented. This is especially true of Deanna Troi and Tasha Yar. Deanna is soft and emotional, about as stereotypically feminine as you can imagine. Tasha, on the other hand, is powerful and highly sexualized. She's the 80s feminist, basically a man. It would be easy to imagine her in a power suit, shoulder pads and all. It's still shocking to me that Marina Sirtis and Denise Crosby originally read for the opposite parts, as I simply can't imagine those actresses playing each other's characters. We'll never know if Tasha would have been further developed if her character had stayed past the first season. I think they both have their moments as characters, but in the end they just are not as fully realized as I'd like.

Beverly Crusher is a more balanced depiction, being both a caregiver and a respected scientist. And as I prepare to have a child, I appreciate more and more her role as a mother. Star Trek would revisit Starfleet-crewmember-as-parent, but Crusher really gets to set the stage here, and it's a terrific portrayal. I can't quite put my finger on what it is about her that keeps me from being as wild about her as a character as I am about the women in Voyager. Reading her Memory Alpha bio just now, I realized that we do learn a fair amount about Beverly's life during the run of TNG, but somehow a lot of those bits seem to get lost or are only important in passing. Regardless, I like her a lot, and I do think she's a great role model. She resonates with me on a personal level in a way that none of the male TNG characters do.

If K'Ehleyr had been a regular, she'd be my favorite TNG character hands-down. Alas. I will probably come back in a future essay to the crime TNG committed by introducing so many really terrific female guest stars but only use them for an episode or two. Sigh.

Deep Space Nine
I'm going to cheat a bit here and say Dax. If forced to pick a host, I'd go with Jadzia, but only because we see more of her. I thought Ezri was a really fun and relatable character; we just don't see enough of her. They didn't always explore it as much as they could have, but I really enjoyed the interplay between the host and the symbiont, and I find the idea that the host lived for years as an individual and retains those memories really fascinating. I thought that it lent a lot of depth to the friendship between Dax and Sisko that they had this relationship before in a different form.
I can't see Curzon and Sisko cuddling like that.

I've only watched DS9 through once, so perhaps on repeated viewings I will feel more affection for the other characters. I like, but don't love, Kira, but anything I felt for hew was ruined by the romance with Odo. Ick. Sisko is just too over-the-top. O'Brien never stops being a minor character for me. And Bashir is just inconsistent. If Garak had more screen time, he might rise to the top, but I think Quark is the only one likely to challenge Dax for the top spot.

There are no characters on Voyager that I don't like. I would happily watch a spin-off show starring any of them. Even minor characters, like Suder, Vorik, and Naomi Wildman, had so much life that they felt entirely real and believable. I won't go into great detail for every character, but suffice it to say that I feel like Barclay; I would love to build a holodeck recreation of Voyager and hang out with the crew. I even really like Neelix.

Matthew mentioned Pathways, Jeri Taylor's show bible for the characters, which I highly recommend. She obviously loves these characters, and as a result, we do too (or at least I do).

I have a particular affection for the women of this show (with the exception of Kes, who is kind of blah).  They're real. They're flawed. They're emotional. They're sexy. But they are strong, competent women. Even to this day, it's difficult to find a fully-fleshed portrayal of female leaders on TV. They're usually strong or emotional. I can think of exceptions (Buffy, Scully, and CJ in The West Wing spring to mind), but it's rare to see three of these character in one setting, in a way that makes it seem like there is true gender equality in the 24th Century, and it's not just a case of a token woman breaking into the Old Boy's Club.

I love B'Elanna. Like Kirk, she gets split in two in Faces, and it really shows you the depth of her character, that her two sides are completely necessary. I think it's fantastic that she's an engineer--a typically male profession--and a Klingon, to boot, and yet she's still feminine. We see her reading romance novels and falling in love with Tom. And however much I may disagree with what she wanted to do, she had her unborn child's best interest at heart when she wanted to genetically alter her to remove the forehead ridges. You could tell B'Elanna was going to be a great mother even while remaining a great engineer. (And this comes out even more in the follow-up novels).

Seven is also terrific. I think the best part about her is that Jeri Ryan, the actress, was able to really transcend what could have been a mere sex symbol of a character. It's always struck me, many years after the show aired, that the producers may have introduced Seven just as a way to get guys more interested in the show. But Seven is a fascinating, complicated character, and it's really interesting to see her develop as a machinelike human who is still undeniably female. The show made some mis-steps in exploring her emotions (cough, relationship with Chakotay, cough), but it was great to see her start to embrace her feminine side without losing her strength.

On any other show, B'Elanna or Seven could easily be my favorites, but on Voyager there's no question that it's Janeway. Jeri Taylor also wrote a backstory for just Janeway, called Mosaic, which is even more richly detailed than Pathways, and her love for the Janeway characters shines through in Voyager. As a woman (and one who wanted to be the first female President when I was little), I can't tell you how much it means to see a female Captain. What I especially love about her is that she leads as a woman. She doesn't adopt Kirk's or Picard's leadership style; she does something uniquely her own. She cares a great deal about her crew and even about the ship itself (which is something you usually see more from male characters). I'm sure I'll revisit this in another post at some point, but I really think that a lot of the Voyager hate out there comes from audiences not knowing how to react to seeing female leadership (I do recognize that there are other problems with the show, but I still find it really well-done). Janeway is the kind of character we still need more of in popular culture.

But when I say Janeway is my favorite character on Voyager, it's not just because of some political stance I have. I genuinely like her. I want to hang out on the holodeck with her. I admire her as a character, but I also just really enjoy watching any scenes with Janeway.

Trip is easily my favorite character on Enterprise. He's so likable, and yet so smart, so competent. I think sci-fi tends to favor the engineers. They often get to be quirky and fun, and Trip is no exception. The romance between Trip and T'Pol does much to flesh out both of their characters. While T'Pol is humanized, I think it shows Trip growing up, in a way that makes him even more sympathetic. I HATED the finale of Enterprise and thought it was a slap in the face to fans to kill off such a lovable character, especially for no good reason. 

Like DS9, I've only watched Enterprise through once, but I'm fairly certain that none of the other characters, with the possible exception of T'Pol, will rise to favorite status. I don't hate Enterprise, and I think some of the fourth season stories are great, but unfortunately, the characters are just a little bland (I'm looking at you, Hoshi, Travis, and Malcolm). Dr. Phlox and Captain Archer are somewhat interesting, but at least with Archer it seems a little forced. So, Trip it is.

2009 Movie
For all its faults, I found the movie to be a lot of fun, in no small part because of Chris Pine's portrayal of Kirk. He's not Captain Kirk from TOS and isn't meant to be, but he is exciting and willing to take risks. The Abramsverse Kirk is never going to be my overall favorite Trek character, but he's so far ahead of the other characters from that movie that there's really no contest. I like Zachary Quinto as Sylar (or did when Heroes was a good show), but I was disappointed in his Spock. The rest of the characters just seem like filler.

This is the easy one. It's Janeway and always will be. I wish that Voyager would have been around in my childhood, or at least that I would have seen Voyager when it originally aired. If we have daughters, they will be watching Voyager (of course, if we have sons, I'm sure they will be too). I want our children to see that women can be leaders and still be women. And I definitely want them to see that women can be scientists. If you get a chance, watch this clip of Kate Mulgrew at DragonCon 2009, talking about how incredible it's been to realize that she's inspired girls to become scientists. It's truly heartwarming.

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