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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Spooky Star Trek

Ha! Back... and fully charged.

Star Trek
is a TV series that isn't exactly known for its tales of horror.

Ever since that one episode of TOS that was trying explicitly to be a Halloween-themed entry made Kirk and Co. go up against black cats and highly questionable witches, the series had tried to stay away from the realm of Doctor-Who-like monsters. And it's been all the better for it, I say: the less you depend on the foam-rubber monsters, the harder you have to try to tell a good story. This inevitably led to the Star Trek Renaissance, in which episodes of TNG were not limited to sequels to TOS episodes and other shows about aliens posing as gods, humans posing as gods, your imagination posing as a god, and computers posing as gods.

This isn't to say that there aren't any moments of fantastic flight or interstellar horror starring Data and crew. It just means that, like all media, Star Trek has had to be a bit more cerebral in its portrayals. Rather than outright scary, or even spooky, Star Trek has had to try for creepy.

Here are three moments from the Star Trek universe that actually succeeded in freaking me out. These scenes rely on atmosphere rather than gross-outs or jump-scares, and that makes the images stick with you long after you've seen the episodes.

Torres Has an Encounter With Bleeding Metal

Trekkies have always had a hard-on for Klingons. I never got this, quite frankly. Oh, I tried - back when I was playing the Star Trek CCG in its early days, there were only three groups you could play as, and I latched onto the only group I had enough cards to actually play: the Klingons. And so I started to claim that the Klingons were my favorite alien race. But, I mean, really: once you got beyond that contrived "honor" bullshit, there wasn't a whole lot to like about the klngons. They were violent, often smelly, and I must have missed the class where honor was defined as conquering those weaker than you in order to build a vast interstellar empire, as well as settling any and all grievances, no matter how trivial, with a big curvy knife. Seems kind of primitive, is all.

But like I said, the majority of fans friggin' love Klingons. So, Rick Berman tried to squeeze as many forehead-ridges into the show as he could back in the day when he was running things. And that was how we got the episode, early into the sixth season of Star Trek Voyager, called "The Barge of the Dead."

B'Elanna Torres is the chief engineer aboard the U.S.S. Voyager, and she's also half-klingon. Her mother was the proud warrior type, and her human father seemed like he was probably the one sewing up tears in B'Elana's Klingon cheerleading uniform. Occasionally, when the writers were out of ideas and Berman shouted from his office that ratings were slipping and they needed a Klingon episode, B'Elanna would run into conflicts with her "Klingon heritage." You should read that line as "Sometimes she would worry about whether she was being quite as violent as she could be."

Anyway, "Barge of the Dead" involves B'Elanna suffering a hallucination while in a coma after a shuttlecraft accident, which makes her believe that she is on the aforementioned barge of Klingon Mythology. Here, she is charged with saving her mother's soul from Grethor, i.e. Klingon Hell. It's supposed to be a character-building episode, I guess, but it strays too far into woo-woo territory for me to care all that much.

On the scale of "the human condition" stories, this one ranks pretty low. We've already seen Worf go through all of this, and, hell, even Spock can be counted as among the many aliens that had to try to deal with the little bit of human that was infecting their blood. But I'm not here to review how well the B'Elanna character was handled - I'm here to show you images that will shock and disturb. Behold!

Bleeding metal! In the first moments of B'Elanna's hallucinations, she imagines that her shuttlecraft was damaged by a piece of debris from a hunk of metal from a Klingon space-vessel that, by the logic of the series, shouldn't be there. When she takes it back to her quarters (because, really, a girl's gotta have her knick-knacks) and goes to fiddle with the food replicator, a rising crescendo of the moans of the damned swells in the background, and the metal begins to ooze blood. It's all very Nightmare on Elm Street.

It's the sounds that really get me. You've got to see it for yourself to understand how bloody freaky it is.

Voyager Wants to Kill and Eat You

Another Voyager episode creeps me the hell out in "The Haunting of Deck 12." In this one, Neelix (the obligatory annoying alien character) is charged with keeping the children on board (there's only five of them, but trust me, that's five more than were really necessary) occupied when the ship has to run on minimal power as it heads through some weird-ass nebula (which, in it's own scary-ass way, turns out to be mostly alive). This means that the ship has to be kept almost entirely in the dark for around three hours.

To accomplish his duties, Neelix decides that it'd be a good idea to (keeping in mind that the entire ship is dark, claustrophobic, and there may or may not be any number of alien stowaways aboard) tell the kids some camp-fire ghost stories. He settles on the eponymous "Haunting of Deck 12," in which the ship is invaded by a nebula alien that can control electronic systems and will flood the decks with poison gas unless you turn that ship around right now and take it home this instant.

And that's the scary part of it all. It's the haunted house story, but a whole lot worse - it's more like the haunted submarine, mixed with a little techno-phobic terror. Once the alien gets tired with using subtle methods to try to return home (making Paris look like a jackass by flying the ship in circles is its main strategy here), it gets angry and begins to turn off the lights, make the atmosphere poisonous, and just generally turn the U.S.S. Voyager into a giant death trap. A sentient death trap, in which there is no escape.

Oh, but it gets worse. See, you may already know that in the Star Trek universe, all of the computers talk. And as 2001 and Portal have taught us, there is nothing more frightening than a piece of technology suddenly acquiring free will and deciding, in its flat, monotonous voice, that it wants to murder you.

And then you realize that it totally has the capability to do so. I dare you to watch this and not be spooked when Captain Janeway tells the nebula creature that she's not going to take anymore of its crap by saying "You'll have to kill me!" and then hearing the ship respond with a simple, direct, "Acknowledged."

Dead Tired

The downright creepiest scene that I have ever seen in an episode of Star Trek isn't from Voyager. It's from my childhood favorite, The Next Generation.

By the fourth season, TNG had finally gotten its legs, and was on the way to becoming one of the most popular shows on television, paving the way for Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. And it was because of writing that gave us scenes like this one, in the episode "Night Terrors."

In "Night Terrors," the Enterprise encounters the U.S.S. Brattain, a starship that was reported missing. When they investigate, they find that they entire crew have murdered each other, and they have no idea why. As the Enterprise stays within the area to study the ship and the surrounding space, they discover that something unusual is happening: they are unable to enter REM sleep, that is, they've lost the ability to dream. And then the shit hits the fan.

The crew begin to go insane, seemingly from the lack of REM sleep. Riker hallucinates that is bed is full of snakes (ahh, "Indiana Jones Syndrome"), Worf tries to off himself, and Doctor Crusher? Well, Doctor Beverly Crusher, CMO of the starship Enterprise, gets to experience this:

And really, if you don't know what scary about the recently deceased, still covered in body bags, sitting straight up and silent in a morgue (of which you are in the middle of, surrounded by said body bags), then I can't talk to you anymore: You lack the capability to be frightened.

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