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Star Trek: Enterprise – United (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Romulans are a very curious species.

They have a long history within the Star Trek franchise. They were introduced less than half-way through the first season of the show, in Balance of Terror. The Klingons would not show up until Errand of Mercy, towards the end of that first year. The Romulans have appeared in just about every iteration of the franchise, their reappearance in the final episode of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation serving to connect the show to its legacy. Appearing in both Star Trek: Nemesis and Star Trek, they appeared on both sides of the film franchise reboot.

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship...

This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…

Still, the Romulans have never truly been defined. Unlike the Klingons or the Cardassians, the Romulans have never been developed into a fully-formed culture. There are great episodes built around the Romulans, from Balance of Terror and The Enterprise Incident to Face of the Enemy and In the Pale Moonlight. However, there has never been recurring Romulan character afforded the depth of Worf, Martok, Quark, Dukat, Damar or Garak; if populating that list with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine characters feels like cheating, no Romulan measures up to Soval or Shran.

Although they only appear in four episodes of the season, exerting influence over another two, it feels like the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise affords more attention to the Romulans than they have received in a long time.

"All right, who arranged the bridge power display to form a smiley face?"

“All right, who arranged the bridge power display to form a smiley face?”

Part of this is down to the simple decision to position the Romulans as a recurring antagonist as the fourth season builds consciously towards the Star Trek universe that fans know and love. Broken Bow had opted to have mankind venture into space as a crisis unfolded with the Klingons, and understandable decision given how iconic the Klingons are within the larger franchise. However, the fourth season affords a lot more attention to the Romulans at the same time that it starts laying solid foundation for the formation of the Federation.

The fourth season of Enterprise repeatedly positions the Romulans as an antagonist force existing in opposition to the ascent of the Federation. Of course, part of this is simple continuity. The Romulans had first appeared in Minefield at the start of the second season, and fans had long been anticipating the potential drama of the “Earth-Romulan War” that had been teased back in Balance of Terror. As with a lot of the background details slipped into early Star Trek episodes, the Earth-Romulan War has sparked all manner of debate and speculation.

"Damn. There goes symmetry."

“Damn. There goes symmetry.”

The conflict holds a fascination for fans and creators alike. Certain sections of fandom expected that they might see the conflict – or a prelude to the conflict – play out on Enterprise, despite the fact that the Romulans only appeared once in the show’s first three seasons. As with a lot of rumours and gossip about possible story ideas, it is hard to know how much stock to put in the suggestion that Rick Berman and Brannon Braga reportedly considered casting a Romulan as the antagonist of the Temporal Cold War. (Presumably at a point when it wasn’t going to be Archer.)

In fact, this fascination with the Earth-Romulan War extended beyond the realm of Enterprise itself. In January 2005, while the United trilogy was airing, producer Rick Berman discussed plans for a possible eleventh Star Trek movie. Titled Star Trek: The Beginning, the film would have been set during the conflict without any established cast. (With the possible exception of Shran.) The production team actually considered the Earth-Romulan War to be a strong enough concept to carry its own Star Trek feature.

"You can trust me. I'm a pre-TNG Romulan. We're all about the honour."

“You can trust me. I’m a pre-TNG Romulan. We’re all about the honour.”

The fourth season of Enterprise engages with the Romulans in a very direct fashion for the franchise. Although one of the iconic Star Trek aliens, the Romulans have been relatively under-developed in the larger context of the Star Trek universe. They never got the attention that was lavished on the Klingons or the Cardassians or the Borg. They were always presented as secondary antagonists. Perhaps the most consistent portrayal of the Romulans came during the middle seasons of The Next Generation, where they were presented as Cold War antagonists.

However, since the end of The Next Generation, the Romulans have been largely overlooked and ignored. Although Deep Space Nine did great work with the Cardassians, the Ferengi, the Klingons, the Founders, the Vorta and the Jem’Hadar, the show struggled repeatedly to get an insight into the Romulans as a potential antagonist or ally. Indeed, Deep Space Nine attempted to develop the Romulans a number of times, never getting it quite right. It seems likely that the only reason that Deep Space Nine tried so many times was because the Romulans were iconic.

"I mean, the Ferengi get more exposure than we do. We really have to work on our brand."

“I mean, the Ferengi get more exposure than we do. We really have to work on our brand.”

Deep Space Nine attempted the “Romulan attaché to the station” plot twice, much like they tried the “Federation assigns a security officer to do Odo’s job” plot twice. When the Defiant was introduced with a Romulan cloaking device in The Search, Part I, the show introduced the character of Subcommander T’Rul as a Romulan representative on the station. Played by Martha Hackett, who landed a recurring job on Star Trek: Voyager, T’Rul was never seen or mentioned after The Search, Part II. (Much like Odo’s first rival, George Primmin.)

Four years later, the show would introduce the character of Senator Cretak as a representative of the Romulan government in Image in the Sand. However, the character quickly faded from view following Signs and Symbols. When Cretek did reappear later in the season in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, the role had been recast from Megan Cole to Adrienne Barbeau. During the show’s final arc, the Romulans were represented by a largely silent character (General Velal) while the Federation and Klingons were represented by a host of recurring well-defined characters.

"Have you tried hitting F1?"

“Have you tried hitting F1?”

The Romulans were largely marginalised over the course of Deep Space Nine. While The Next Generation had defined the Romulans as masters of trickery and deception, they were skilfully gamed and manipulated by the Federation late season episodes like In the Pale Moonlight and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges. During the climactic battle of What You Leave Behind, the Romulan flagship is casually destroyed while all major Klingon and Federation characters survive.

When the Romulans appeared on Voyager, in episodes like Eye of the Needle or Message in a Bottle, they were generally treated as representatives of the established Star Trek universe rather than as a race or culture of themselves. The Romulans were also marginalised in the film franchise. The plan had originally been to feature the Romulans in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, but they were replaced by the Klingons quite late in the planning stages. When the Romulans did appear in Nemesis, they were largely reduced to muscle for Shinzon.

"You remember Nemesis?" "EVERYBODY remembers Nemesis."

“You remember Nemesis?”
“EVERYBODY remembers Nemesis.”

All of this is to say that the Romulans had never been characterised or defined as consistently as the other major Star Trek aliens. The fourth season of Enterprise places a considerable focus on the Romulans, tying them into the corruption of Vulcan society in Kir’Shara and positioning them as the antagonists of the United trilogy. In the documentary Before Her Time, Manny Coto talks about wanting to do more with the Romulans:

At the same time, there were all those stories that I really wanted to do. I thought could have touched into… moved into the Romulan War, and done more interesting arcs with the Romulans. And really explored that culture in the way that we explored the Vulcans. I knew there were touchstones and things that I wanted to do.

It is interesting that both Kir’Shara and the United trilogy consciously position the Romulans as doppelgängers or alternates. The Romulans are presented as something akin to the shadow self, an enemy that succeeds not through direct engagement by through manipulation. This is consistent with their earlier portrayals in episodes like Redemption, Part I and Redemption, Part II. But there is more to it than that.

"Brent Spiner told me this was a great way to catch Romulans. He said it worked a treat during the Klingon Civil War."

“Brent Spiner told me this was a great way to catch Romulans. He said it worked a treat during the Klingon Civil War.”

In Awakening, Surak talks about those who left Vulcan “under the raptor’s wing”, emphasising the shared history between the two peoples. In Kir’Shara, it is revealed that the Romulans have infiltrated and coopted Vulcan society; Talok is revealed to be a Romulan double agent, and there is the possibility that V’Las might also be an undercover Romulan. The episode also teases the idea of reunification of Romulus and Vulcan, foreshadowing Unification, Part I and Unification, Part II.

However, there is a fairly significant emphasis on the idea of the Romulans as an enemy within; an enemy has deeper and stronger connections to our heroes than typical antagonists. In Babel One and United, the Romulans attack Andorian and Tellarite ships in disguise. The teaser to United even finds the Romulans posing as the Enterprise while destroying a Rigellian Freighter, in the hopes of causing a deeper rift between humanity and their potential allies.

"Red light. That's not good."

“Red light. That’s not good.”

This approach to the Romulans as doppelgängers and subversives reflects Mike Sussman’s plans for the character of T’Pol. During the fourth season, Sussman had been playing with the idea that T’Pol’s father might have been a Romulan rather than a Vulcan:

I had this sneaky plan to reveal that T’Pol’s father was a Romulan, but who knows how that would’ve played out. I think I could’ve sold Rick and Brannon on it. The Xindi arc was a lot of fun and we did some great episodes, but if you’re going to spend an entire season on one conflict, then just do the Romulan War. That’s what season three should’ve been.

It is a story idea that would arguably played to Jolene Blalock’s performance style; Blalock portrayed T’Pol as a highly emotional Vulcan, and that piece of retroactive continuity might have accounted for her choice. It would also have underscored the idea that the Romulans were an embedded threat; one heavily integrated into the Federation.

"Green light. That's probably not good either."

“Green light. That’s probably not good either.”

There are, of course, pragmatic reasons why Enterprise would opt to develop the Romulans in this manner. Many of these reasons are tied into the fourth season’s fascination with canon. When the Romulans were introduced in Balance of Terror, the script stated that this was the first time that humans had ever actually seen a Romulan face-to-face. In fact, the plot of Balance of Terror hinged on that fact, with the crew taken aback that their antagonists could look so remarkably like their closest allies.

Of course, there is a lot in Balance of Terror that is difficult to reconcile with the world of Enterprise. Most obviously, the oral history of the Earth-Romulan War presents a conflict a lot more primitive than those depicted on Enterprise; ships that travelled at impulse and waged war with atomic weapons. Those details are treated malleable and flexible. After all, Earth and Romulus would have to be right next door to make such a sub-light viable, which seems highly unlikely given the portrayal of Romulus in the later spin-offs.

"First the Borg won't introduce themselves, and not these guys won't show their face. Continuity is no excuse for being rude."

“First the Borg won’t introduce themselves, and now these guys won’t show their face. Continuity is no excuse for being rude.”

Nevertheless, the idea that nobody has ever actually seen a Romulan is treated as an inviolable aspect of Star Trek continuity. (Even Minefield got that detail right, despite featuring a cloaking device, which was presented as a prototype in Balance of Terror.) According to Garfield Reeve-Stevens on the commentary on United, this was a major issue when plotting the three-parter:

I remember lots of – I guess when this was in the planning stage – trying to figure out how we could be having an arc and be featuring the Romulans and yet never see them. I remember one time we were taking a pitch from one writer who’s gone on to great things, and started telling us this great story about Archer and Trip captured by the Romulans and taken to a Romulan prison. And we sat there – it was a great story – waiting for the twist. And he finished the story, and we said, “You realise that nobody sees the Romulans until Balance of Terror in the original series?”

The script repeatedly draws attention to how hard it is working to keep the Romulans separate from the action. When Vrax points out the risk of discovery in United, Valdore is quick to assure him, “That’s the point of this project. No prisoners to capture, no bodies to recover. These drone ships can never be traced back to us.” It seems like the script is also taking pains to reassure fans.

"I've checked the canon, Captain. We should be okay."

“I’ve checked the canon, Captain. We should be okay.”

At the same time, this approach to the Romulans allows for more engaged commentary and metaphor. As the name implies, the Romulans are basically space!Romans who happen to look like Spock. It is worth nothing that this idea of space!Romans recurs throughout the original run of Star Trek, often as a parallel to the Federation or contemporary America. It happens so frequently that it feels like a conscious allusion to the oft-cited (and somewhat cliché) comparison between the United States and the Roman Empire following the Second World War.

Given how deeply Star Trek is rooted in American self-image following the Second World War, this recurring image feels intentional. In Balance of Terror, Kirk is compared to his anonymous Romulan opponent. In Mirror, Mirror, Kirk finds himself visiting an alternate version of Starfleet that is very consciously modelled on the Roman Empire. In Bread and Circuses, Kirk visits a planet with a culture that approximates mid-twentieth century America blended with a more modern Roman Empire.

"They've been watching TNG reruns!"

“They’ve been watching TNG reruns!”

The fourth season of Enterprise devotes considerable attention to two of those three space!Roman cultures. The Romulans are presented as a genuine existential threat to the formation of the Federation through their manipulation of Vulcan society and their secret was against the Andorians and Tellarites. The Terran Empire reappears in In a Mirror, Darkly, Part I and In a Mirror, Darkly, Part II for the first time since the original Mirror, Mirror. (Although the Terran Empire branding did appear on the mirror!Defiant in Shattered Mirror.)

These elements reappear at an important point in the history of the United States, when the country is embroiled in two separate large-scale military conflicts on the other side of the planet that provoked all manner of protest and criticism. While both the Romulan Star Empire and the Terran Empire provide a gateway to pre-existing Star Trek continuity, they also play into issues around identity and imperialism that reflect contemporary anxieties. The third season of Enterprise is overtly about the War on Terror, but the fourth season is just as engaged with the theme.

"When on Romulus..."

“When on Romulus…”

If the Federation is an idealised extrapolation of contemporary American values into the future, then the Romulans embody the opposite side of that equation. This is not a novel idea by any measure. Diane Duane explored it quite skilfully in The Romulan Way. Similarly, the repeated humiliation of the Romulans on Deep Space Nine seemed to suggest that the Federation might not really need an entire race of duplicitous doppelgangers; humanity was quite capable of demonstrating its own worst traits without a shadow self.

The United arc treats the Romulans as an extremely militarised counterpart to the Federation. The Romulan Senate and the Romulan Military are consciously entangled with one another, trapped in a toxic co-dependent relationship. “Bring your ship home,” Senator Vrax instructs Valdore after the first humiliating setback. “I’ll tell the Senate that your test has been a success. Otherwise, they’ll make someone pay for this failure.” Later, Vrax complains that Valdore’s military failures have political consequences, “Do you realise how you’ve weakened my position?”

"It really has been a long road, getting from there to here."

“It really has been a long road, getting from there to here.”

There is timeliness to the trilogy as well. The Romulans are conducting drone warfare against the Tellarites and Andorians, using unmanned space craft as part of a covert (and undeclared) war in an effort to minimise potential casualties and possible blowback. These sorts of tactics are relatively novel in the larger context of Star Trek; even during the Dominion War, there was an assumption that most space craft were manned and that only a handful of remote defenses could be reliably automated.

However, warfare in Star Trek has seldom engaged with science-fiction high concepts. The Dominion War was largely presented in conventional terms, with both space warfare and ground combat conforming to popular understandings of military conflict. Stories like The Ship and The Siege of AR-558 were very clearly grounded in popular contemporary conceptions of the Second World War rather than a logical extrapolation of what combat might look like in the futuristic world of Star Trek.

Operating on autopilot...

Operating on autopilot…

The same is definitely true of the United trilogy. The Romulans are using drone warfare against their enemies at the same time that the United States had committed to aerial drone warfare in northwest Pakistan. The campaign began attracting media attention in June 2004, but quickly escalated. This modern form of warfare is highly controversial, allowing the United States to engage in tactical action without risking the lives of soldiers but also running the risk of damaging the country’s reputation.

In some respects, this focus on drone warfare seems rather prescient. Although unmanned aerial drones were employed by the Bush administration, the programme was accelerated by the Obama administration. Popular culture has only recently begun to grapple with these issues, with the release of films like Andrew Niccol’s Good Kill or Gavin Hood’s Eye in the Sky. To see Enterprise touching on these ideas as early as January and February 2005 is quite striking.

"You've seen Day of Honour, right?"

“You’ve seen Day of Honour, right?”

Nevertheless, the remote-operated drone is not the focal point of the story. Instead, it serves as part of the larger portrayal of the Romulans. Much like Judgment seemed to threaten that the War on Terror was pushing America closer to the Klingons than the Federation, the United trilogy suggests that the state of perpetual warfare runs the risk of aligning the United States more closely with the Romulan Star Empire than with the United Federation of Planet. The United trilogy seems to tease two possible futures extrapolated from the contemporary status quo.

In offering some character development for Valdore, The Aenar suggests that the Romulan Star Empire is a culture that sees itself trapped in a perpetual conflict with the larger universe. In keeping with Balance of Terror, and in marked contrast to the characterisation of the Klingons, it is suggested that the Romulans view this war as a tragic reality more than a romantic fantasy. When Nijil insists that he is a scientist, Valdore corrects him. “We’re all soldiers, Nijil, from the moment we’re born,” Valdore reflects. “When we forget that we invite disaster.”

Soldiers of the Empire.

Soldiers of the Empire.

In some ways, this reflects some critical attitudes towards the War on Terror. There are commentators who see the War on Terror as endless, sustained by a state apparatus that has come to depend on the power afforded to it by a perpetual state of conflict. Glenn Greenwald reflects:

But what one can say for certain is that there is zero reason for US officials to want an end to the war on terror, and numerous and significant reasons why they would want it to continue. It’s always been the case that the power of political officials is at its greatest, its most unrestrained, in a state of war. Cicero, two thousand years ago, warned that “In times of war, the law falls silent” (Inter arma enim silent leges). John Jay, in Federalist No. 4, warned that as a result of that truth, “nations in general will make war whenever they have a prospect of getting anything by it . . . for the purposes and objects merely personal, such as thirst for military glory, revenge for personal affronts, ambition, or private compacts to aggrandize or support their particular families or partisans.”

If you were a US leader, or an official of the National Security State, or a beneficiary of the private military and surveillance industries, why would you possibly want the war on terror to end? That would be the worst thing that could happen. It’s that war that generates limitless power, impenetrable secrecy, an unquestioning citizenry, and massive profit.

The portrayal of the Romulans in the fourth season of Enterprise seems to tease out this idea, presenting the Romulans as a culture that thrives on warfare in a manner more subtle (and perhaps more nuanced) than the Klingons.

Maybe they should call him "Val-dour", amirite?

Maybe they should call him “Val-dour”, amirite?

Valdore also offers some hints of his own back story, reflecting that he was once a Romulan Senator who was humiliated and stripped of his status for daring to question the truths that drive his people. “I made the mistake of challenging the precept of unlimited expansion,” Valdore explains to Nijil. “I asked the question, ‘is conquest truly the best course for our people?’ And I was expelled.” Once again, there is a sense that the Romulans embody certain uncomfortable aspects the American character; they are something deeper than a simple War on Terror metaphor.

There is something telling in Valdore’s choice of words. “The precept of unlimited expansion” sounds almost like a religious doctrine, a spiritual principle around which a society might organise itself. However, it also recalls the doctrine of “manifest destiny”, the founding principle of the United States that suggested the European settlers were all but morally obligated to expand westwards and to claim the continent from the indigenous people. That guiding principle served as a foundation of American identity, brutality and genocide incorporated into frontier myth.

United we stand.

United we stand.

Star Trek is itself an expression of that frontier myth. What is “the final frontier” but an extrapolation and continuation of that doctrine beyond the continent and even beyond the world? Of course, the franchise has attempted to explore and to rectify some of the more uncomfortable implications of that doctrine. The Star Trek franchise hasn’t always succeeded, but it has attempted to offer a counterpoint to that early imperialist doctrine. The optimistic future of Star Trek is about reinterpreting that myth without the suffering and destruction.

In that context, the United trilogy seems to position the Romulans as a cautionary tale. They represent the dark side of “the final frontier.” It is perhaps the strongest interpretation of the iconic aliens since their appearance in The Enterprise Incident, if not Balance of Terror. (Excluding perhaps Diane Duane’s reinvention of them in My Enemy, My Ally onwards.) It suggests a cohesive approach to their culture and society that has largely been absent from part portrayals of the species.

It's been a while since Shran really blue up...

It’s been a while since Shran really blue up…

Historically, the Romulans have tended to occupy negative space in the franchise, defined by their relationship to pre-existing concepts. Balance of Terror labelled their home planets as Romulus and Remus, framing them explicitly in terms of human reference, while revealing that they were a secret violent offshoot of the Vulcan species. When they appeared on The Next Generation, they appeared to occupy the space of “generic antagonists” vacated by the Klingons. On Deep Space Nine, they were the shady conspirators outwitted by the even shadier Federation.

The fourth season of Enterprise takes this approach to the Romulans, their lack of the distinct independence identity that makes the Klingons and the Cardassians so intriguing, and turns it into a defining attribute. As befitting the species that introduced the cloaking device to the franchise and wage a secret war, the Romulans seem to haunt Star Trek. Positioned at the very beginning of the franchise’s history, at the dawn of the Federation, they represent its antithesis; an isolated militaristic culture driven by a philosophy of perpetual conquest of a hostile universe.

"You're right. Opening the blind at the end of Babel One really let some light into the room."

“You’re right. Opening the blind at the end of Babel One really let some light into the room.”

The United trilogy positions the Romulans as a spectre.

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19 Responses

  1. Before DS9, the Romulans were my favorite Trek race. I agree that they were never well defined, but I think they had a fair amount of definition. In fact, there are a few aspects to Romulans that always stuck out to me:

    Romulans are intelligent. As enemies, they were always brains over brawn. I think they came across as “sneaky” or “manipulative” simply because they their plans usually involved intricate schemes that bespoke a keen intelligence. I always thought this was a refreshing change of pace from most Trek enemies, who simply relied upon brute force (especially the Klingons, who at times come across as quite dimwitted and impatient).

    The differences between the Federation and Romulans always seemed political rather than personal. Romans almost never display abject hatred of the Federation. Perhaps fear, mistrust, or a sense that the Federation must be stopped (the one exception I can think of, the centurion from TNG’s “The Enemy,” eventually accepted Geordi as a friend). But there’s always a sense that the Romulan plans against the Federation are due to some strategic imperative, not simply a desire to cause harm.

    We also hear Romulans complain about their government and oppression, most famously in “Unification.” In “Face of the Enemy,” the captain recalls that one of her family members was interrogated by the Tal Shiar. Then of course there are all those moments when it seems humans and Romulans could almost become friends under different circumstances. The captain in “Balance of Terror” says this explicitly. For me, the most interesting example is the end of TNG’s “The Chase”. It’s a great moment, in which the Romulan commander and Picard, whose governments are sworn enemies, are the only ones to appreciate the scientific discovery (the Romulans certainly seem more akin to the Federation than the Klingons, then the Federations allies). There’s always this sense that, without the Romulan government getting in the way, the Romulans and Federation would get along famously.

    Finally, there’s an interesting gender dynamic. Romulans seem to have made greater strides towards gender equality than any other Trek race (including the Federation). There was a female Romulan commander in “Enterprise Incident” during the same season when Kirk said a woman couldn’t captain a starship. Many of the franchise’s most memorable Romulans were female (Sela, Cretak, etc).

    All this I think fits with your point of the Romulans being a sort of dark mirror for the Federation. There are a lot of things we can admire and even see in ourselves, such as gender equality, intelligence, scientific curiosity, but in the end they’re still not quite us.

    • Those are all very good points, and I’d actually missed a couple of them. I also can’t help but think, like Ed suggests below, that the Romulans were somewhat undermined by the introduction of the Cardassians around the fourth season of The Next Generation.

  2. It’s weird. Romulans change with each iteration. I think all those course corrections and retcons (now they’re Salafi muslims!) take their toll.

    The Romulans on TNG stepped into the shoes of Colicos, Campbell, and Ansara. At least that’s my impression. (The Klingons of TNG are rarely spotted outside of the high council, which mirrored Patrick Stewart’s work with the RNC.)

    On DS9, the Romulans lost focus because they were supplemented by the Cardassians. Who are basically the same, except they have this fun sense of irony about it.

    • That said, the Klingons also underwent a lot of changes between various iterations as well, but endured quite well.

      Although I suspect that’s because the Klingons were always more “curated” than the Romulans. Nobody has developed a Romulan language except for Diane Duane. No staff writer ever paid the Romulans as much attention as Ronald D. Moore paid to the Klingons. There was never really a Romulan episode like Sins of the Father.

      But I think you’re on to something about the Cardassians rendering the Romulans somewhat redundant.

      • Well, I jumped to that conclusion from reading your DS9 reviews. Something about Cardassia representing the new-style of American anxiety:

        False flag operations (Waco?), political upheaval (Bosnia, Yugoslavia), mass surveillance (Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of ’95).

        The Romulans worked beautifully as Russians. The late nineties simply called for a different kind of villain. More to the point, I think a small reason why Star Trek “lost its way” is it relied on nostalgia rather of pitting the crew against a relatable menace. Raoul Silva represented intelligence “blowback”. Not only do the villans fail to capture the public consciousness, but they don’t even line up with the strengths and weakness of our heroes.

        Kylo Ren represents teenage fascism. If anyone can tell me what the Borg Queen on VOY was meant to represent, I’ll be happy. (Though if Janeway were a militant lesbian like in fanfics, there might be a a connection there, ha.)

      • Yeah, rewatching Voyager, I get the sense that it really is incredibly retrograde. It’s a nineties show that wants to be set during the Cold War. Whether that’s just nostalgia for the early years of TNG or a reflection of a deeper malaise, I’m not sure. But the whole “space western” thing of Caretaker and the awkward “Kazon as racial other” vibes have a strong nostalgic feel to them. Part of me thinks that the Borg on Voyager were still meant to be communism, which is arguably a step backwards since TNG positioned the Borg as at once a metaphor for communism or all-consuming globalisation.

        Which is a long-winded way of saying I mostly agree with you.

        I have to admit, I’m surprised that the rebooted Star Trek series hasn’t yet given us a villain who wants to set things back to the way that they “should be”, which would really be the perfect antagonist for 2016 on both a cultural and political level. I’d love to be able to pitch something like that to IDW, for example. But I’m not quite sure it would be of interest to them.

      • Ed, What on earth is “teenage fascism”? I thought one of the more clever aspects of Force Awakens (which otherwise relied way too much on nostalgia) was making the First Order a cult-like group rather akin to a terrorist organization.

      • I suspect, and I don’t want to speak for Ed here, that he might be alluding to movements like GamerGate. (And, possibly the “no girls allowed” school of Ghostbusters fandom, though that skews a little older.)

  3. I like the Romulans, though I agree they suffered thanks to the introduction of the Cardassians.

    That said their supposed manipulative abilities have been undercut since as early as the original series – ‘The Enterprise Incident’ showed them to be fairly naive when it comes to espionage. While it is not flattering to the Romulans to see them outwitted again and again (and again) I actually think it makes sense that a deeply isolantionist state with an unshakable faith in its’s own superiority should be rather poor at cloak and daggers.

    I think the franchise has always had a bit of a problem tying together the Space!Roman strands (represented both by the honourable Romulan military officers and scheming politicians we see) with the super secretive Cold Warrior strands (represented by the criminally inept Tal Shiar.)

    • “criminally inept”

      The only thing they accomplished of note was turning Geordi into a “manchurian agent”. Even that was done with Klingon help.

      Another thing which benefited the Cardassians was the separation of powers. The CC wants to expand but the OO wants to insulate. The military seems to have a huge amount of influence on congress, but the civilians can undercut them at the worst possible time.

    • Yeah, for all the hype around the Tal Shiar, they really were quite terrible at their security brief, weren’t they?

    • As I said earlier I think it makes sense from an in-universe point of view that Tal Shiar are such poor spies because the Romulans are established as hyperisolationist – they are secretive but at the same time their actual knowledge of foreign powers is nearly equally sketchy.

      I can picture the Tal Shiar being effective at quashing internal dissent – the wanabee Vulcans in TNG were infiltrated after all (as I said earlier, in retrospect the decision to make ‘good’ Romulans into proto-Vulcans always felt deeply uncomfortable to me, a strangely reactionary idea that Romulan civilisation has little or no good points on it’s own merits but is simply a wayward Vulcan offshot – at least the Cardassian dissidents weren’t trying to turn their people into humans.)

      • That’s a very fair point. I just think it’s hilarious that their reputation is so absurdly overblown outside the Empire. Then again, I think that the Klingon spies in Visionary set a low bar for espionage competence in the Star Trek universe.

  4. I think part of the problem with defining the Romulans is that they, as well as the Klingons, underwent a 180 degree shift between the original series and The Next Generation.

    In both “Balance of Terror” and “The Enterprise Incident” the Romulans are depicted as honorable warriors who lament the fact that they are being used & manipulated by ruthless politicians as pawns in an unjust war. The Klingons, in contrast, are characterized as brutal, devious, manipulative warmongers governed by a police state, a culture that executes hostages and double-cross their allies at the drop of a hat.

    Fast forward to The Next Generation, and the two species have almost completely swapped positions. The Klingons are the ones extoling the virtues of honor and or conquering a foe in a fair fight, and who often find themselves being let down by their ambitions, unscrupulous politicians who fail to adhere to those principles. The Romulans, on the other hand, are now depicted as treacherous, secretive, manipulative figures who subvert other worlds and betray their allies while living in fear of their own totalitarian government.

    • I think it’s possible to trace that switch back to Star Trek III, which also gave the Klingons their own Bird of Prey. That was the film that was originally written to feature the Romulans as bad guys, only to swap them out for the Klingons with minimal re-writes. Kruge is an underrated Star Trek bad guy, but you can see little traces of honour in his behaviour and that of his crew. (He is also an unambiguous villain, to be fair; but he seems to regret having to kill his lover, even as he is obligated to do so, and his motivations are clearly outlined as patriotic.)

      • I don’t know if ST III was the point, since that *is* the movie where the Klingons murder Kirk’s son in cold blood. I really think the switch was made when TNG began, and Worf was first introduced. Obviously back in 1987 it would have been totally unthinkable for a weekly TV series to have a regular character who was portrayed as someone who launched sneak attacks and who executed hostages. That sort of darkness or moral ambiguity was virtually anathema to American television at the time. So Worf was instead cast as an honorable warrior, someone who was hotheaded and saw nothing wrong with violence as a solution, but who would never in a million years have acted like Kor in “Errand of Mercy” or Kurge in ST III. Then when we learned Worf’s backstory, that his parents and numerous other Klingons were killed years before in a Romulan sneak attack, suddenly *they* became the brutally treacherous species who were diametrically opposed to the Federation’s expressed values.

      • That’s a very fair point, actually.

  5. The Romulans are still my favorite “villain” race in all of Trek, and no surprise they’re the only truly interesting villain in this old series.

    Anyway, I’ve watched and talked about WAY too much Star Trek for my own good, and I’ve gotten sick of it, so I’m taking a long break, and I’m going to stop responding to all these blogposts, esp. since I only nearly averted a flame war with someone who felt the need to try to insult my politics but failing miserably. Thanks for the reviews, they’ve prompted me to try to write my own take on the franchise.

    • No worries! I’m glad you enjoyed the reviews, and I wish you the best of luck in your own reviews. It’s the fiftieth anniversary, so what better way to celebrate the franchise?

      If you do ever pop back, the reviews will still be here. Thank you very much for your comments and input. I’ve really appreciated them.

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