Friday, December 11, 2009

Peak Oil as Metaphor in Star Trek - Voyager Series

Just watched Star Trek Voyager episodes "Demon" (May 6, 1998) and "Course: Oblivion" (March 3, 1999). The two episodes were written separately and Course Oblivion was broadcast a year later. It's not until more than half way through that you realize your watching "Demon" Part ll. Another brilliant bit of writing from Jeri Taylor (- and those other guys who wrote DS9).

For those unfamiliar with the story line of the series the Star Ship Voyager has been hurtled into the "Delta Quadrant" by a vastly superior life form known only as "The Caretaker". The journey home is the series nine-year story arch.

Four years into their journey, some seventy years from home, Captain Janeway is forced to set Voyager down on a 'demon class' planet for fuel. A silvery liquid lays in pools everywhere on the surface of the 5000 Kelvin planet - it contains elements that can fuel Voyager's engines. The 'silver liquid' also has a strange quality, the ability to mimic anything it comes in contact with - including the crew.

Two members of the crew doing a preliminary exploration of the planet are copied by the fluid and are mistaken for 'real' by the crew of Voyager. Soon though the originals are found, with slow leaks in their spacesuits, and near death. The ship is now sinking into the 'mimetic fluid' under the ship forcing Captain Janeway to use any means necessary to escape. Her efforts hurt to doppelgangers now in sickbay, thus Janeway discovers she can negotiate with the mimetic fluid outside - through the dopplegagers inside. A new life form has been born and it wishes to continue, just as humans do. Negotiations ensue and a deal with the 'planet' is struck: fuel in exchange for DNA samples of the entire crew.

Que the music and role the credits, the magnificent Voyager lifts off, the doppelganger crew left on the surface waving goodbye.

Continuing the story, the second of the two episodes titled "Coarse: Oblivion" takes place ten months and eleven days later story time, broadcast ten months later.

Everything is going swimmingly and thanks to the new 'enhanced warp drive' Voyager is now a little over two years from earth - then things begin to go terribly wrong. Soon the officers discover that they, the crew and the ship are all made of the bio-mimetic fluid - from the Demon planet they encountered almost a year earlier - and it is beginning to lose cohesion; the ship and the crew are beginning to disintegrate.

And this is the point of this essay.

Captain Janeway decides - in a conscious denial of the available facts - that in order to maintain the purpose of Voyager - the zietgiest - the reason for continuing, that the mission cannot change. In a consultation with her 'Number One' Commander Chakotay, Janeway says,

"The way I choose to look at it is this: if everything about us was duplicated, that includes our memory engrams, the emotional centres of our brains; so if you feel something, if you remember something, if you believe something...."

And Later to the crew:

"Duplicate or not I'm still the person I was yesterday; and so are all of you, and that means we're going to do everything we can to complete our mission, which is to reach earth."

I don't know that the writers (Bryan Fuller and Nick Sagan), had this in mind when they wrote 'Coarse Oblivion, but I think the choice Janeway is faced with reflects the conumdrum America finds itself in today regarding the oil economy.

The present coarse is no coarse at all, but it seems at one point, it's the only one we've got. When Janeway finally does turn around, recognizing her folly, a nearby oasis turns into great disappointment - they are turned away by a belligerent alien space force. The scene spot-lights Voyagers weakness at a crucial time in a cruel universe.

Trapped in a neurotic psychosis for too long Voyager now has no way out. In a gallant run back to the Demon planet using their enhanced warp drive, Voyager disintegrates at high warp, disassembling in a liquid implosion.

(Boy now that I write it out, maybe Bryan Fuller and Nick Sagan did have that in mind when they were writing the episode.)

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