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  • Ric Crossman

3.1.15 "Galloping Around The Cosmos Is A Game For The Young"

Too Short A Season

Karnas' guards shoot at our heroes.
"Am I hitting anything? I can't tell if I'm hitting anything."

“Too Short A Season” presents itself initially as rather cliché. Your standard tale about how reclaiming one’s lost youth is a quixotic quest, one both impossible to achieve, and damaging to yourself and others if you attempt it. You know the sort of thing: working hopelessly to turn back the clock wastes what little time you have remaining.

No prizes for originality, then. I mean, obviously it’s better than the original idea for the episode – an attempt to display a kind of “men’s menopause”. That’s the kind of pitch to give me nightmares. As I said while discussing “Unexpected”, any smart comments on gender issues you can make via this kind of switcheroo get completely unbalanced by the decision to take an almost quintessentially female story, and somehow still find a way to centre it around men.

Three cheers for going obvious rather than obnoxious, I guess, even if there’s something uniquely irritating about wasting people’s time with their umpteenth reminder about how their time is limited and precious. And we shouldn't cnsider this a total loss With Picard in charge, this is the perfect show to give us this episode. Moreover, it arrives at just the right time.

The Curious Case Of Jameson Butthead

Bear in mind that “Too Short A Season” was written and filmed less than twelve months after The Voyage Home was released. ’86-’87 saw the franchise return to its roots at exactly the same time as it was labouring to grow beyond them. This put the franchise in a state of tension over the question of age. Should one step aside as one gets older, to let younger bodies take the strain? Or is there room for the next generation to take hold of the reins, without the previous one needing to relinquish control completely?

“Too Short A Season” isn’t completely clear on this point. On the one hand, it talks a good game about the virtues of age. Admiral Jameson’s age-reversal is considered a curse rather than a blessing by essentially every character who comments on it, regardless of how old they are. The closest anyone other than Jameson himself comes to defending it is when Troi implies it might ultimately be a necessary evil if the hostages are to be released. That’s hardly a glowing endorsement, and soon afterwards it becomes clear that it’s Jameson’s fault the hostages are in danger in the first place. The tragedy in this situation isn’t that age eventually comes for us all, but that neither the admiral nor Karnas are able to move past the follies of their youth.

Add in Picard’s comments on the benefits of age in the closing scene, and it should be clear where the episode’s sympathies lie. But there’s a catch, isn’t there? Because this the next generation. This is a show built, from the title upward, on the promise of new blood. Of youth and virility. You don’t squeeze your entire cast into lycra bodysuits if you want to focus on the benefits of age. Still less do you inflict Wesley Crusher upon the world.

Is this simply base hypocrisy? Is it, to be more kind, an expression of confusion made almost inevitable by attempting to relaunch a franchise with a fresh take on the format, but with the sexagenarian original creator back in charge? Neither are impossible, but I think something else is going on. Picard noting that “age and wisdom have their graces too [1]” takes on new weight when you remember Patrick Stewart is less than ten years younger than William Shatner. This new show’s title notwithstanding, the two leads themselves come from the same generation. And this fact, combined with the actual generational gap between their respective series, means Picard is noticeably farther into his career when TNG starts than Kirk is during TOS. Stewart turned 47 during the filming of “The Naked Now”. Shatner turned 47 the month Star Trek: The Motion Picture was announced - a film, let's not forget, which featured an ongoing plotline about Kirk competing for command with a younger, more dynamic captain.

TNG closes down the possibility of a similar tension between Picard and Riker almost immediately, with the latter’s respect and support for his captain obvious almost from the very beginning. And meanwhile, as Picard ruminates on the benefits of age and experience (which is what I assume is actually meant when the script says “wisdom”), The Voyage Home unashamedly demonstrates that the original crew still has what it takes, by both literally turning back the clocks, and doing so in such a way that the original crew get to demonstrate they can hold their own against the nightmare of the long 1980s.

Two films and four years after Kirk gave me the quote I’ve used for this post’s title, then, he and his crew remain prove they can still manage, at the very least, a cosmic canter. Moreover, by sending Kirk and co. to the dying days of the Reagan era (though not, tragically, the dying days of Reaganism), The Voyage Home casually deploys a subtle but razor-sharp shiv into the belly of the whole vile era. Jack Graham has covered this tremendously well, so I won’t attempt to rewrite him. I think the point is clear in any case. While TNG is using the age of its captain and the history of the franchise to warn against doomed attempts to recapture lost youth, the fourth Star Trek film is making use of the age of its principals and the depth of their historical context to warn against attempts to reforge human interaction as a business expense, in which youth is prized predominantly because it lets employers work you harder and for longer.

“Too Short A Season” works as a companion piece to The Voyage Home, then. The two generations are talking to each other, rather than trying to take each other’s roles. Youth and age are not in opposition. They complement each other.

So long as we allow them to, that is.

Double Your Displeasure

This is an episode about more than how society views the inexorable march of time, though. In fact, it’s not hard to make the argument that Jameson’s decision to neck two orders of Age-B-Gone doesn’t affect the plot very much at all. Karnas is planning to lead Jameson into a trap so he can kill him, and that’s almost exactly what ends up happening. Jameson only actually escapes execution because Karnas wants to see his self-medication continue to cause him agony, and that process ends up killing him anyway [2]. Viewed like that, the most important contribution Jameson’s decision makes to the plot is that it marks him out as an obvious git.

This needs some careful framing, because of the issues involved in me claiming the right to criticise a man in a wheelchair for deciding he’ll risk an untested treatment that may improve his mobility. That very clearly isn’t my place. Nor can I claim the authority to comment on him keeping that decision from his wife and care-giver, though I will note that one doesn’t have to take the position that he’s done wrong in order to understand the force and direction of Anne’s reaction.

We can walk away from that territory easily enough, though. There’s plenty of solid ground on which place our feet and throw stones at the man. We’ve got the unedifying sight of him arguing Anne should support him both in trying to return to his youth and in denying her the same opportunity. There’s the related outrage of him wanting credit for securing her a surprise priceless gift, that he then took advantage of himself (somehow making Homer Simpson only the second most selfish gift-giver in my pop culture references). Another check against him, less obviously brass-necked but still worthy of side-eye, is him making sure that during every Skype call with Karnas, his face is too far in shadow for his newfound youth to be apparent. This tells us his desire to return to his youth ahead of reaching Mordan IV isn’t just about having the endurance or presence of mind to handle the situation. It’s also about concealing that endurance. It’s about about weaponising this newly-acquired advantage: virility as a concealed weapon.

And had Jameson had his way, this would have just been the very start of an entire second career. Whatever damage his gambit will do to Karnas’ schemes, the pain it will inflict on Anne is orders of magnitude greater. It isn’t just The Voyage Home that can gaze askance at how human beings arrange their priorities.. Even in a society without money, it’s apparently still possible for a woman to not see her husband for months at a time so that he can relentlessly pursue a career. And now, with the admiral on the verge of retirement, he’s conspired to arrange a situation so that he can do it all again.

It’s hardly surprising that Anne’s reaction to his decision differs from everyone else’s. It’s not just some hypothetical distaste for rejecting old age that’s driving her. It’s the realisation that Mark is attempting to separate himself from her twice over – first by age, yes, but also through his capacity to start working again. Anne and Mark had reached an agreement about how their lives together would go, with Anne front-ending her sacrifices, and now Mark wants her to do it all over again so he can go back to work. [3]

We see here that careerism comes with issues that cannot be solved simply by removing the financial justification for it – indeed, by removing the excuse that it’s being done out of a need for money, the hollowness of considering working too hard as a sign of character, as opposed to something forced on us out of necessity, becomes all the clearer. It’s not as direct a critique of our society as we get from The Voyage Home, but it’s still there, reminding us that a huge part of why we see aging as bad is because we’ve been taught to believe that work is central to our existence, and moving past the point where we can keep working is therefore somehow a problem.

(This leads us to the best defence possible of Counselor Troi arguing Jameson can be understood for thinking his current physical state was unsatisfactory – a subconscious fear that she will one day reach this point herself. Note that I say “best” here, rather than “actually any good at all”. Troi’s position here is rather ageist and/or ableist (age and disability never really being disentangled here). Starfleet clearly believes the man to be capable of conducting his duties as an admiral, which would definitely seem to include diplomatic missions.)

As with Jameson himself, then, outward appearances are not necessarily representative of what's going on inside. It’s rather impressive going for (ironically) so young a show. And sure, you can criticise it – it's based on a well-worn trope; the action scene in the third act seems desperately tacked on and once again wastes Tasha Yar, and I’m aware how much I’ve had to lean on “The Voyage Home” to get this positive reading to work.

But the fact I can make those links in the first place is telling. This is an episode of a not yet fully formed television show that I’m holding up against arguably the best movie outing of a cast of veteran actors who know their characters completely. The fact “Too Short A Season” doesn’t wither away in the glare of The Voyage Home – the origin of the explicitly post-currency Federation, no less – tells us it has some real mettle.

The Next Generation is doing precisely what a show about leaving behind capitalism should: reminding us of why we need to.


2. Too Short A Season

[1] Not that I’m thrilled about the idea of conflating age and wisdom. The link between the two is always grossly overstated, in my view, mainly to disguise the much stronger relationship between age and difficulty in believing meaningful change is possible. “I’m smart enough to have given up hoping for a better world”. Which surely would be an odd position for TNG to take.

[2] Note how similar the name “Karnas” is to “Karnak”. The latter is a major temple complex in upper Egypt, built and modified over centuries by successive pharaohs. It was partially destroyed by an earthquake, and never fully restored. Karnak thereby represents a link both to a past that can be revisited but never fixed, and to a culture that to western culture (rightly or wrongly) tends to associate heavily with images of death. Karnak even includes a temple precinct dedicated to a god of war. All told, the foreshadowing for Jameson’s trip to revisit Karnas is not auspicious.

Oh, also? Karnas’ planet is called Mordan IV. So there’s that.

[3] Yes, the fact the Enterprise carries families means Jameson’s second career wouldn’t cause the same separation issues as his first, as Anne herself points out. That’s an incidental detail that doesn’t really fit in to the more general tack the episode is taking, though, so we can discard it. Besides, you can lose someone to a job even when they come home to you every night.

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