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Reality Ensues / Star Trek

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  • In the famous Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" Kirk and Spock travel back in time to Depression-era New York in order to avert a disastrous event that changed history, but they don't know what it is. Fortunately for them, the information is stored on their tricorders. Their tricorders are damaged and Spock works to fix them, but he quickly finds it almost impossible. No matter how smart Spock is, the tricorder is centuries ahead of the most cutting-edge technology available at the time, and he's been trained to use highly advanced tools in a time where getting a pound of pure gold or platinum for your amateur electronics project is a simple matter. Imagine trying to rebuild a computer with the contents of a medieval blacksmith's forge to get an idea of just how much of a challenge he's facing — Spock compares it to working with "stone knives and bearskins". He's reduced to using consumer-grade electrical goods such as lightbulbs and radio sets, and can only get a few seconds of functionality out of the tricorder after weeks of work and constructing a rudimentary circuit board the size of a bed. Also, in order to buy those materials he and Kirk need to work menial odd jobs and live in a homeless shelter, and in order to fit in they steal clothes off a clothesline... where they are promptly confronted by a police officer.
    • The episode "Balance of Terror", a Whole Plot Reference to submarine movie The Enemy Below, opens with the wedding of a never-before seen character, which is broken up when the Romulans attack. Throughout the episode we keep cutting back to him, until he's killed in the fight, leaving his fiance distraught, and the whole crew mourning the death of a man whose last day alive started as the happiest of his life, indicating that, even if the audience don't see it, those disposable crew members are still people, and their deaths are still mourned.
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    • It didn't come up much, but even in the utopia of The Federation, there was clearly some tension between the various races that made it up, partially due to racism, and partially due to Values Dissonance as to what constitutes acceptable behavior between such different species. For instance in "Journey to Babel", the Tellarite ambassador harasses Sarek and even tries to pick a fight with him over a coming vote, which is extremely rude from a Vulcan or Human perspective, but perfectly normal to a Tellarite.
    • Also, while people had become more civilised over the intervening centuries, Human nature was still essentially the same in the future of Star Trek, and people were still capable of animosity and hatred. In the episode "Errand of Mercy", Kirk is ashamed to admit that, although he knew how terrible it would be and intellectually didn't want it, he was raring to go into open war with the Klingons, and was briefly enraged when Sufficiently Advanced Aliens called the Organians forced a truce on them.
  • So the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-parter "The Best of Both Worlds" ends with our heroes defeating the Borg and saving Picard/Locutus of Borg, restoring him to his humanity. Incident's over, time for another adventure, right? Nope. For one thing, the battle-damaged Enterprise needs to put in for repairs. More importantly, though, Picard has to take an episode off so that he can recuperate both physically and mentally from what the Borg did to him. (This was, in fact, Enforced by Michael Piller, who insisted that Picard, who was for all intents and purposes a rape victim, would not be just fine after what happened to him.) When he tearfully tells his older brother what he suffered through, he's told that it will be with him for a long time—and future Borg encounters in "I, Borg" and Star Trek: First Contact prove that Picard will in fact be forever haunted by what happened to him.
    • Speaking of which, this also provides another demonstration of an aforementioned point — that humanity's "evolved sensibilities" (as Picard puts it) don't preclude hatred and the desire for vengeance. Lily Sloane is the one who makes this point, calling bullshit on Picard's self-righteous façade and making him realize that he's going Captain Ahab against the Borg for what they did to him.
    • In "Reunion", Duras murders Worf's mate, K'Ehleyr, for getting too close to the truth about the Khitomer Massacre, and Worf kills him in revenge. Perfectly SOP for a Klingon — but not for a Starfleet officer, as Picard makes clear afterwards. As a result, Worf ends up with a reprimand on his record.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Blaze of Glory", Sisko and a wounded Michael Eddington have rescued several surviving members of the Maquis from a planet controlled by the Dominion. Due to his wound Eddington asks to be left behind to hold off the Dominion soldiers in order to give the others time to escape. However, as he gets up for the last stand (even joking if anyone knows a rousing song to play) he is promptly shot at least half a dozen times in the chest and thrown against a wall. He does succeed in delaying them though.
    • In another episode "Valiant", Nog and Jake Sisko stumble across a ship of elite Starfleet cadets called "Red Squad" deep behind Dominion lines who were on a training mission when all the instructors were killed, leaving the ship in the command of the senior cadet. They decide to gather information on a new Dominion warship, and after discovering a weakness, try to destroy it. Unfortunately, the "captain" is cracking under the stress and is using drugs to deal with it, and his crew have developed an almost cultish loyalty. When they get ready for the attack, the ship is shown going to battle stations, including a rousing speech from the captain with dramatic music. Their ship is destroyed and they all die within five minutes, because inexperienced college-aged rookies led by a stoned demagogue are not the kind of people who can bring down a massive battle cruiser.
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    • The pilot episode "Emissary" shows Sisko fighting at Wolf 359, where his wife, a civilian scientist living with him on the ship, was killed when their ship was damaged, proving that if you have families on board starships, eventually there will be casualties. Also, Sisko was openly hostile to Captain Picard when they met, even though he knew Picard wasn't in control of himself, it's hard to be friendly with the human face of the force that killed the person you love.
    • A recurring storyline throughout the series was the struggles in Chief O'Brien's marriage. Miles and Keiko loved each other, but their marriage was not perfect and they had frequent rough patches, but not because of any specific thing one of them did; they simply quarrelled and occasionally got on each other's nerves like any couple that has been together for a long time. Also, as much as Miles enjoyed spending time with his wife and children, occasionally he preferred to have a drink with his friends, like any man with a family.
    • Garak suffers from claustrophobia so severe that it causes panic attacks, a fact that he kept secret until he needed to climb inside the walls of a prison camp to use a jury-rigged transmitter (though there had been hints, if you'd been paying attention). Halfway through he freaks out so badly that he's almost catatonic, although he's eventually able to face his fears and finish the job, he isn't cured by the end of the episode, and suffers several attacks in later episodes. In Real Life, overcoming severe phobias takes years of counselling, and often the best people can do is learning to manage their fear, rather than overcome it completely. Also, the whole experience was so visibly traumatising that the fact that he was even willing to attempt it earned him the respect of Worf and Martok, two Klingon warriors.
    • A running theme through the first few seasons was just how fragile the Bajoran Provisional Government was, and how much of an ecological mess Bajor was in after fifty years of occupation.
    • The character of Jake Sisko was in many ways a rebuttal to Wesley Crusher; rather than an idealised Child Prodigy who saved the day on a regular basis and was an integral part of the crew, he was simply a normal kid joining his military officer father on his latest posting. He was almost never the focus of the story or even contributed to the plot, preferred the company of kids his own age to the main characters, sometimes got in trouble, dated girls his father didn't approve of, didn't always do great in school, spent much of his leisure time hanging around the station rather than studying or working on projects, and ultimately didn't want to join Starfleet despite everyone's expectations that he would.
    • In "Soldiers of the Empire", General Martok is given command of the Bird-of-Prey Rotarran and sent on a dangerous mission. It's an exciting opportunity for a Klingon — and one that he almost screws up, as he was recently rescued from a Dominion POW Camp where he was held for two years, and his warrior's instincts and reflexes are rusty, to say nothing of the emotional trauma that has him doubting himself and almost afraid of battle. It takes Worf attempting a Klingon Promotion for Martok to get his groove back and lead his forces to their first victory.
    • Played for laughs in "In the Cards" as Jake wants to bid on a rare baseball card. Having grown up in a Federation that long did away with a monetary system, Jake honestly doesn't grasp things like the cost of something valuable. He thinks simply offering anything of Nog's will make up the cost of the card and Nog (whose entire culture revolves around profit) has to educate Jake on how these things work.
    • In "The Siege of AR-558" Nog gets shot in the leg and almost killed. Unlike other characters who suffer grievous injury, he's not back to normal in time for the next episode; instead, he comes down with a serious case of PTSD as he's forced to confront his own mortality. His struggles with it was the focus of an entire episode. He also keeps suffering from the "phantom limb" syndrome, despite the doctors insisting that his leg is gone, so it can't possibly hurt. Naturally, the pain isn't physical, but that doesn't make it any less real to Nog.
    • And then there's the Battle of Prexnak, in which ten Ferengi stood against 273 Lytasians — and got slaughtered, because when you fight a battle in which you're outnumbered 27-1, you're gonna die.
    • In "Take Me Out to the Holosuite", Sisko's Vulcan rival from the Academy challenges him to a baseball game. In response, Sisko spends two weeks turning his senior officers and a few friends from a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits into a competent baseball team, so they can defeat their all-Vulcan opponents. When the big game arrives...the "Niners" get their butts kicked 10-1, because the Vulcans are in overall better physical shape and have been training longer.
      • And speaking of Sisko and Vulcans, the same episode reveals one from Sisko's backstory. Specifically, what happens when a drunk human challenges a sober Vulcan with thrice his strength to a wrestling match: he ends up in the infirmary.
    • "In the Pale Moonlight" is built entirely around this trope. Reality repeatedly clashes with Captain Sisko's and Starfleet's lofty ideals (symbolizing the TNG era of Star Trek), first to the point of breaking and then rapidly beyond. At the start of the episode (and in the episodes leading up to it), Sisko notes how his belief that Starfleet could win the Dominion War is slowly being eroded, as more and more war casualty lists keep streaming in. Betazed, one of the Federation's paradise worlds, is then conquered by the enemy. As per Starfleet's idiom, Sisko hopes diplomacy can convince their sworn enemies, the Romulans, to join the war; but Dax instantly yanks him back to reality by demonstrating how astronomically unlikely it would be. Against his own moral compass, Sisko decides to use fake evidence to convince the Romulans to join, and has to hire one of the most dangerous men on DS9 — Garak — to handle the matter for him. Things only get worse from there, with Sisko having to pay for the work in advanced medical contraband that could be used to make a biological weapon. Yeah. Oh, and then there's the murders. In his ultimate monologue, Garak slaps Reality in Sisko's face so hard that he is forced to acknowledge his own crimes. No wonder this is sometimes considered the darkest episode in Star Trek history.
  • A major story arc in Star Trek: Enterprise was the formation of The Federation out of a coalition between Vulcan, United Earth, the Tellarites and Andorians. It showed very clearly how difficult that would actually be to do in Real Life: firstly due to the fact that the three alien powers had been essentially in a state of perpetual Space Cold War for as long as anyone could remember; secondly, the humans (who were the major driving force) had a serious credibility problem as the "new kids" on the galactic stage; and third, due to their century-long affiliation with Vulcan, the rest of the galaxy initially saw Earth as a Puppet State to Vulcan, which had been acting like jerks to the rest of the galaxy like it was going out of style for centuries.
    • Another thing about Enterprise is that a ship that's limited to warp 5 from a planet that's just starting to really explore space will spend most of its time several months away from proper repair facilities. That, plus the fact that they haven't yet invented the technology to magically replicate whatever materials and spare parts they need, means that battle damage isn't so easy to repair. This is brutally demonstrated late in Season 3 — Enterprise gets the crap beaten out of her in "Azati Prime" and stays badly damaged for the rest of the season, with proper repairs only really starting when they finally make it back to Earth.
  • Star Trek as a whole had a tendency to establish alien cultures based around a single trait, and create main characters that embodied them: Spock as the epitome of Vulcan emotionless logic, Worf as an honorable Klingon, Quark as a greedy Ferengi, Deanna Troi as a compassionate empathetic Betazoid, etc. Then, they would introduce characters that were the exact opposite of the stereotypes, for instance, a lot of Vulcans were shown to be smug, prejudiced and arrogant; many Klingons were cowards and bullies; Rom and Nog were terrible businessmen but great engineers with good hearts; and Lwaxana Troi was a man-chasing still-attractive older woman and a bit of a drama queen. Real-life cultures are not totally homogeneous, and even in societies built around a single ideal, some people either won't measure up or will chose not to follow that ideal, we shouldn't expect aliens to be stereotypes any more than we would expect people to be.
    • The Federation seems to run on a moneyless "New-World Economy" which is portrayed as a good thing...until they deal with cultures that still use money. Not so easy to do business with somebody who expects coins (or latinum) that you don't have.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation came up with the idea of putting civilians and children on starships like the Enterprise-D, under the assumption that it would be nice for Starfleeters to have their families with them and for children to experience the wonders of space for themselves. What this actually meant, as Captain Picard laid out more than once, was that every time the Enterprise wound up in some sort of trouble (Negative Space Wedgie, Borg attack, or what have you), hundreds of innocent lives were put at risk. This got taken to its logical conclusion in Star Trek: Generations, which showed numerous terrified children screaming their little lungs out during the crash-landing sequence. It's rather telling that future starships like Voyager and the next Enterprise weren't shown with civilian amenities or children (or, at least for Voyager, not when first launched).
  • In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Admiral Kirk responds to the incoming V'Ger threat by using his clout to reassume command of the Enterprise. Unfortunately, he's been out of the Big Chair for over two years, and that chair is on The Bridge of a thoroughly redesigned Enterprise. As a result, he nearly gets the ship destroyed before they've even left the Sol System.
    • In addition, Kirk reclaiming command of the Enterprise means taking the big chair away from his hand-picked successor. This naturally leads to plenty of resentment that undermines their professional relationship.
  • In Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Kirk and his senior officers successfully steal the Enterprise for an unauthorized trip to Genesis planet. Certainly an awesome feat...until they end up going into battle in a half-crippled starship and end up completely disabled, forcing them to self-destruct the Enterprise rather than letting the Klingons capture her.
    • Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home then shows that as legendarily heroic as they're considered and as well-intentioned as their actions were, crimes such as theft, sabotage, and insubordination can't be simply overlooked. The only reason they don't all get cashiered (and likely imprisoned) is because they save Earth from an alien probe; even so, Admiral Kirk gets demoted to Captain (which, for him, is more like Unishment).
  • Star Trek Into Darkness
    • Turns out that when you're a cocky, inexperienced captain of a starship who keeps breaking the rules like Kirk, you eventually get relieved of command.
    • The Enterprise ends up facing a warship, a fast battleship to be exact, that severely outclasses her. She doesn't defeat the Vengeance in combat, gets shot up pretty bad and is only saved because both Scotty and Spock pull a fast one on Marcus and Harrison.
    • During the space jump between the Enterprise and the Vengeance, while dodging large chunks of debris, Kirk's face mask takes multiple hits from tiny chunks, cracking and nearly killing him. It also disables his HUD.
    • The Vengeance is heavily automated; in an emergency, a single person can pilot it. But it has very little crew to repel boarders.
  • Star Trek: Discovery:
    • Burnham clearly displays that if you take an emotionally traumatized Human child, then have them raised by Vulcans who teach the repression of all emotion, it's going to leave you with a seriously screwed-up adult who is incapable of handling emotions in a healthy way. Also that Vulcans—while they pursue the suppression of emotion—don't always manage to practice what they preach.
    • The first officer of a ship knocks out her captain in an attempt to open fire on a Klingon ship without provocation (which was planning to fire on them anyway, as its commander is spoiling for war), and is held partly responsible for the subsequent battle in which over 8,000 Starfleet personnel are killed, including said captain. Reprimand on her record, maybe told she'll never be given command? Nope. Try conviction for mutiny, stripped of her status in Starfleet, and sentenced to life in prison. Not to mention the resetment of other Starfleet officers, who have lost friends and loved ones in that battle and the subsequent war.
    • While the Discovery has a new means of propulsion that allow it to teleport anywhere in the galaxy in the blink of an eye, making her the fastest ship in the fleet, she is still a science vessel, not a front-line warship. This is shown when the Discovery comes to the rescue of the Gagarin, which is outnumbered by Klingon warships, all of which now have cloaking devices. The result? The Gagarin is lost with all hands anyway, and the Discovery sustains heavy damage and is forced to flee.
    • How does the spore drive work? By using a living being for navigation. Lieutenant Stamets finds a way around keeping that living being caged by injecting himself with its DNA and using his own body for spore drive navigation. Except such an act is illegal under Federation law, and in Season 2 the spore drive is relegated to "emergencies only".
    • A Starfleet doctor finds that something isn't quite right with an officer who spent several months as a POW. Does he confront him with a pair of security officers in tow? Does he put him in an isolation field? Nope, he tells it all to him while (mostly) alone in the room, and gets his neck snapped for his trouble. He comes back to life, but only because of a convoluted sequence of events and because the showrunners were bombarded with criticism, since the doctor in question was gay.
  • The Orville. While the show is a light-hearted Spiritual Successor to Star Trek, it does deal with some serious issues, and this trope comes into effect more than once:
    • A male-only culture deals with occasional female births by forcibly "correcting" their sex. One of the parents is convinced by human crewmates that it's okay to have a female child. The other parents (himself originally born female) demands that the child undergo "correction". The case goes to court on that race's homeworld. The humans make a compelling case and even bring out a famous philosopher of that culture, who turns out to be an "uncorrected" female. And the court... finds no reason to delay the procedure. It turns out it's incredibly difficult to change a deeply-set cultural belief. Furthermore, the issue crops up later, when it's revealed that the first parent still hasn't forgiven the other for forcing their child to undergo the procedure. The same culture also considers heterosexuality to be a crime, and one of the most bitter heterophobes is the one who was once a female.
    • A crewmember accidentally causes a primitive culture to develop religion. Analogous to our own history, this religion eventually warps the message of peace and kindness into forced obedience and the local analog of The Spanish Inquisition. When the same crewmember (who is considered a deity there) confronts the Pope analog and convinces him to change the religion, he is promptly murdered by his underling, who doesn't wish to give up the power.
    • Two human crewmembers infiltrate a hostile alien ship using holographic disguises. They befriend a teacher aboard the ship. They then hatch a plan to kill everyone on the ship, except for the teacher and her students. They are successful, but instead of being grateful, the teacher and the children now resent humans even more, for killing their friends and loved ones.
    • A humanoid culture practices electronic democracy. Does this now mean everything is decided in a fair and unbiased manner? Yeah, right. The episode reveals all the problems of social media and snap judgment, as evidenced when a girl decides that a guy is guilty based simply on the fact that she doesn't like his face. The crew also shows how easy it is to manipulate this system to get a desired outcome. As one character summarizes it (and this troper is paraphrasing), "opinion is not knowledge."

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