Archetypal Aliens

Saru - Star Trek Discovery

Alien Races as Allegories

In the trailer for Star Trek Discovery, we are given only glimpses of what is in store for the newest Trek crew. One of the unsettling portions of this peek into the future is the quote from Lt. Saru; “My people were biologically determined for one purpose alone: to sense the coming of death; I sense it coming now.

It’s unsettling because it leaves the viewer with the impression that this is a fundamental aspect of his species, perhaps the only one, and that, is worrisome. In the pantheon of Star Trek alien species, the most memorable, notable, and for that matter enjoyable, are the Klingons, Vuclans, Romulans, and Borg (not to mention the Cardassians, Trill, etc). Gene Roddenberry cleverly used these races as an allegory about human culture, conflict, and psychology.

Anyone that has spent time watching documentaries, or reading about The Original Series, The Next Generation, or the movies knows – or on some level has an idea – that the Klingons began as a hodge-podge of the USSR, Norse, and Asian cultures. The Vulcans were a mirror for the myriad of human emotions that govern almost all of our actions. The Romulans were quite plainly modeled after the Roman Empire, save for their seeming distaste for decadence and indulgences. The Borg were cleverly a hint that a loss of individuality is harmful to a society.

The Borg assimilate, resulting in a loss of individuality - Star Trek: First Contact (courtesy Paramount Pictures)
The Borg assimilate, resulting in a loss of individuality – Star Trek: First Contact (courtesy Paramount Pictures)

Stories Filled With Allegory and Metaphor

These allegorical and archetypal aliens served to tell compelling and engaging stories that still resonate in a timeless and entertaining way. To ignore that in favor of what seems like somewhat of a cheap plot device is to render much of the fan loyalty moot before Star Trek Discovery ever has a chance to make an impact. And it should be clear to anyone that reads this that we clearly live in a time rich with opportunities to use allegory and metaphor to captivate, educate, and enlighten audiences on a gargantuan scale.

At this point, we do not know anything about Lt. Saru’s species, not even what they are called. However, with this one line, we are told quite a lot about them, or at least their ‘biological sole determined purpose’. Ignoring the silly and ambiguous nature of that, the question of whether this will be Lt. Saru’s “Jim, I’m a doctor not an X” line seems not only legitimate, but already answered.

If this is meant to be a recurring theme throughout the series, it will wear thin rather quickly and likely be one of the primary detractions. Will it be used in multiple climaxes? Will it be used more than once per episode? We won’t find out until September, but without much other information and background before then, it may already be too late for anyone that has watched the trailer with any amount of skepticism or consternation.

The fact that someone had a fully formed thought that a species ‘biologically determined for one purpose alone: to sense the coming of death’ would be a wondrous addition to a new Trek should generate a tangible level of cringing along with the anticipation that is surely encompassing long-time Trek fans.

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About Carl Buck

Carl Buck is the newest contributor to our Opinion section. You can find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nahskkrit. For now, he values his privacy. Be sure to check back here in case he is willing to share more about himself in the near future.

  • cass ada

    For me, the thought that a species is biologically determined to sense death is a concept that seems more Star Wars than Star Trek. Less sci-fi and more fantasy, magic, and mysticism. But I’m more than willing to give Saru a chance. Doug Jones has previously said that one of the things he likes about portraying a new species is that he has a chance to help form the culture and customs of that species.

  • Osmiumism

    I really dislike this supernatural stuff. It does not only imply predictability of the future but also that death of a life form would be something special in terms of physics which sends out some signal or something.

    • J Ascher

      Sensing something isn’t new to Star Trek species. Deanna Troi and the entire Betazed species had telepathic abilities. Even the ever-so-logical Vulcans had a similar ability. Please give Saru a chance to show what his species’ ability can do.