Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Beginner's Guide to Star Trek Part I

In the most recent episode of LDC, Dubs and I took our phillistine co-casters on a journey into SPPPPAAAACEEEEE.  Functionally, we just barraged them with reasons that Star Trek is awesome, and they left convinced that maybe this is something worth checking out.  Yet, the problem persists: where does the proto-Star Trek fan, poised to take it's first awkward flipper-steps on land, eyeing the water's edge nervously (as if a giant oil monster might burst forth and kill it unexpectedly and somewhat meaninglessly), begin?

Fear not, gentle reader.  Dubs and I have taken time from our busy schedules of debating other equally meaningless topics for the express purpose of assembling a guided introduction to the best Star Trek has to offer.  We felt this list necessary because a guided viewing allows the reader to ignore the warts of late 80s/early 90s television production. There isn't a single series of Star Trek that didn't take time to find its voice.  There's a lot of rewarding stuff in those lesser episodes, but they took place in a different era of television.  Additionally, there are some episodes that require a certain prior knowledge of the universe, and thus, although tremendously rewarding, can be inscrutable to a new viewer. We're here to provide a modern filter; a hammer to crack the tough, mollusk-like, seemingly impenetrable shell of things like the below image, so you can get to the juicy, life sustaining inner meat of what truly makes Star Trek great.

We're as confused as you, buddy.

We have built the list in a specific order, not necessarily chronological, but with the episodic nature of Trek (versus the serialized TV of the post-LOST DVR era) chronological arrangement is not a requirement.  The idea is to gradually introduce concepts.  Some concepts build upon each other (Deep Space 9, the height of Trek on TV, is a spinoff series).  Our hope is that once you have completed this list you will have grasped what is great about Star Trek, and can then look past the warts, grease make up, and man skirts, to enjoy what we have been talking about this whole time.

1:  Cause and Effect: Star Trek:The Next Generation, Season 5 Episode 18

If this episode doesn't grab you, then I can't help you.  Cause and Effect represents the side of Star Trek that is both intellectual and engaging, simultaneously.  Just watch up to the opening credits.  I dare you.  A large portion of the Book "The Physics of Star Trek" by Lawrence Krauss, is based on this single episode.  There are many other sides to Star Trek, it is a beautiful, multi-headed beast.  However, this is amongst the most instantly engaging, and requires very little prior knowledge.  A great starting off point.

2:  Darmok:  Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5 Episode 2

Darmok is the best example of the other side of the Star Trek coin.  Where Cause and Effect features action, explosions and SCIENCE! Darmok, instead, is a personal and philosophical story.  It also features some phenomenal acting by Patrick Stewart and his Co-Star Paul Winfield, without whom the ambitious narrative conceit of this episode would likely collapse under its own weight.  Thankfully, we get to experience the storytelling bravery and genius of Star Trek at its very best.  As an additional note, there are several episodes of the original series which might fall under the same rubric, using abstract narrative conceits to make a strong point.  We have selected "Darmok"  as a representative for these.  We simply felt that this episode was the most accessible example of this particular Trek subgenre. 

3:  Measure of a Man: Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 2 Episode 9

If you're going to watch Star Trek, at some point, you're going to have to watch an episode of people standing around talking on a spaceship.  This is the episode that convinces you this is a worthwhile way to spend your time.  As we mentioned on the cast, part of the genius of Star Trek is that it debates challenging ideas.  Never is that on more naked and powerful display than in "Measure of a Man."  This episode debates duty, friendship, and perhaps most grandiosely, the true meaning of sentience, autonomy and freedom.  Patrick Stewart's acting chops come through again, as well.  I think this episode makes any top 10 list of Trek episodes, but it's a nice bonus that it is accessible for a new viewer as well.

4:  Chain of Command I & II:Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 6 Episodes 10 & 11

Feeling comfortable with Star Trek?  Getting to know the characters?  Good, now we can shake that up.  Chain of Command is significant in your trek (get it?) into Star Trek (now you got it) because it is your first 2 parter.  You'll start getting used to these, because often, Star Trek, particularly at its best, operates on a narrative scale that is simply too big for a single episode.  This episode is powerful on any number of levels.  You are, for the first time, introduced to one of the big bads of the Star Trek universe, the Cardassians, whom will become even more important later, once we start hitting the Deep Space 9 episodes.  In fact, the very impetus which sparks Deep Space 9 is contained within this episode.  Additionally, all the tremendous dramatic tension of the episode is balled up into some very informative narrative structures, where you get to learn about what is really going on with this whole starship thing, and what is going on in the universe it flies around.  However, the most powerful part of this episode is the statement it makes about the human spirit, loyalty, torture and resolve. Like all good Trek, it teaches us something about ourselves.  Like much of the best Trek, the lesson learned is an aspirational one. Incidentally, if you like Battlestar Galactica, Ronnie D. Moore, the creator of that show, was the writer for this episode.   

5:  Clues Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 4 Episode 14

Ok, that last one was pretty serious, and dark.  This next one lightens things up a little, and yet, is amongst the most compelling episodes Star Trek has ever produced.  As I mentioned, Star Trek often hits upon many genres, and mystery is counted high among them.  We get to see a slightly more playful side of Captain Picard, but, simultaneously we are pulled into a tremendous mystery, with extremely high stakes.  Once again, we're exploring some profound concepts (loyalty and truth) and we're exploring them in a way that only Star Trek can.  What a great piece of science fiction.

Next Time on Loaded Dice CastBlog!  We'll give you some more episodes to continue your guided introduction to Star Trek.  



  1. You skipped a key episode, 11001001 featuring: Riker trying to bone the ships computer, A wildly inefficient race called the binars who must work in pairs, and Data trying to learn humor from Joe Piscopo (That was his go to, no, really).

    1. You mean trying to TROMbonethe computer.

      Also we have a part 2 coming up...

    2. I have so much respect for you right now.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I've now watched all of these. 1, 2, and 3 are awesome. Truly great stuff. Chain of Command set up an interesting bit, but didn't really deliver for me. I wanted more payoff in every plotline, and it just wasn't there. Clues was fine.

    My concern now is that I don't know how to continue watching without the watchful guidance of the Dubs and Kevin. So I watched Wrath of Khan instead.

    1. New list now up! Oh, and we may or may not have a list of all of the movies coming up in the future...But yeah, Khan is top tier.

  4. I appears the author bases his interpetation of "Good Trek" on individual performance rather than content and message.

    One that lists Measure of a Man obviously doesn't read into the "meat" of an episode.

    1. Yanks,
      I appreciate your comment, but I'm not sure I get it. Measure of a Man is an episode that doesn't have much to it BESIDES content and message. Admittedly, a strong performance by Sir Patrick Stewart is probably the other thing it has.

      What do you mean when you talk about the "Meat" of an episode?