My earliest memory of television is a memory of Star Trek. It was the final few minutes of The Next Generation episode “New Ground.” I saw a young man rescued from a fire, then speaking with an adult; both had teeth and foreheads I had never seen on a human before. I didn’t understand every word they said to each other — I certainly had no concept of what a “Klingon” was — yet even at four years old, I realized the scene wasn’t really about any of those things.
It was about a father and a son.
I’d love to say that began a lifelong affair between Star Trek and me, especially at such a young age. Yet the franchise and I spent the next few decades exchanging passing glances. I saw a Deep Space Nine episode in a hotel room at age ten (“In Purgatory’s Shadow,” I believe) and the stray Next Generation episode here and there in my teenage years, but I never really delved in. I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 Star Trek film while in college, but it still wasn’t my gateway.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the shows — quite the opposite — but as a lover of comics, Star Wars and other things people considered “geeky,” I was already on thin ice socially among my peers at school. While becoming more extroverted in high school definitely made people more accepting toward my hobbies, there’d still be the few who’d scoff at them, sometimes while scoffing at me in the process.
So I’ll admit, there was trepidation. But then, a funny thing started happening behind the scenes. The success of the J.J. Abrams movies eventually convinced CBS and Paramount that it was time to bring Star Trek back to television — or the next best thing, streaming. My favorite entertainment site made a startling announcement: a new Star Trek series was coming. One not based in the Kelvin timeline of the new movies, but in the original universe of the shows.
It looked like my gateway — my wormhole, even — to Star Trek was finally getting ready to open.
I watched Star Trek: The Motion Picture — fell asleep, but loved the ending — and For the Love of Spock, which was screened by Adam Nimoy himself at a local film festival. I even got to see Walter Koenig receive a much-deserved lifetime achievement award at the same event. Once again, I began feeling the franchise’s allure; I watched Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan on Netflix immediately after watching The Motion Picture and loved it, as many do.
Yet I still couldn’t find the time to fully delve in until the new show, Star Trek: Discovery finally debuted. I was impressed by the moral conundrum at the heart of the pilot, along with its accessibility — something Star Trek isn’t always known for. What most got my attention, however, was the relationship between Michael Burnham and Philippa Georgiou. I didn’t realize it at the time, but there was something familiar about their relationship that went well beyond their ranks of Captain and Commander.
What I saw instead on a screen were a mother and daughter, that family connection hitting me once again.
And with that, I’d finally found my opportunity. That pilot had awakened a hunger in me. Before I could exit Netflix, I thought, “I’m finally going to do it. I’m going to watch Star Trek. Not just the new show streaming now… but the shows that everyone remembers.”
So I started at the beginning, with all five of them. I decided to watch all the live action pilots in order (sorry, The Animated Series!) and go with the show whose pilot I most connected with. Sure, not every great series has the best pilot (and vice versa), but whatever show I chose, I was definitely going to start with the first episode.
In the end, it was “Emissary,” the pilot to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, that won me over, nearly moving me to tears. I immediately connected with Captain Benjamin Sisko and his feelings for his wife and son, despite having neither, thanks to the strength of the performances and the writing.
Yet there was another reason: Star Trek’s portrayal of families is what kept drawing me to the franchise over and over again. It’s no coincidence, I see now, that my second favorite pilot was Voyager’s “Caretaker”: I may have not agreed with the Caretaker’s actions, but he was still essentially a father figure to the Ocampa, and genuinely cared for them.
Perhaps it’s not so bizarre that the pilots that I most connected to were about family. Family is very important in my Latin American culture. Sure, some days we can feel as close as Worf and Kurn, or as explosive a pairing as Data and Lore during the big fights. Yet most days, we’re like Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the NCC-1701-D, or the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation in real life. Perhaps when I saw Worf and Alexander Rozhenko all those years ago, I was reminded of myself and my own father. Not that we’re all that similar to Worf and Alexander: my dad tells a lot more jokes than Worf, and I never acted out the way Alexander did when I was his age. Yet it was that bond that formed between them in the ending of “New Ground” — where Worf actually smiled for once and openly expressed affection toward his child — that I related to immediately.
The real beauty of the way Star Trek portrays family is that it shows just how many forms it can take. It can be the family you form through shared experience, like Seven of Nine and the Borg children (not to mention every Star Trek crew), or biological, like Beverly and Wesley Crusher. It can be multi-ethnic, like Miles O’Brien, Keiko and Molly, or made up of people from completely different societies, like Rom, Nog and Leeta, or Worf and Jadzia Dax. The shows were great at capturing different family dynamics, as well, like when your parents embarrass you (Deanna Troi and Lwaxana, anyone?) or your child impresses you by doing things you never could (see Data and Lal). Or sometimes, it’s the other way around — Picard may have been as much of a father to Wesley as he was to the rest of his crew, but he still found the young genius annoying sometimes. Poor Wes.
Like in the real world, every Star Trek family is different. And of course, not every family gets along. You may not have a killer android brother like Lore, but perhaps you’ve had an overly strict father like Owen Paris, or a rebellious son like Tom. Or maybe you feel resentful toward your parents because you don’t understand them or because they weren’t there for you, like David Marcus and Alexander Rozhenko. Maybe you had a child you never knew, like James T. Kirk and Worf. Yet, like Worf and Alexander, you keep trying to build that bond.
I finally had the chance to watch “New Ground” in its entirety last year, almost exactly 30 years since I’d seen its ending the first time. I smiled when I realized my memory had captured parts of that final scene perfectly — after all, one does not forget the prosthetics of a Klingon so easily. My smile grew even broader when I again saw Worf finally let down his stern warrior guard he’d worked so hard to cultivate to show his son he cared.
This year, when my younger sister was visiting, the subject of Star Trek came up. We had been talking about something to watch together and I thought it’d be nice to introduce her to that world. However, she doesn’t consider herself a sci-fi person. “New Ground” might have been a risky one to star her with, given how much Klingon culture, which she’s fairly unfamiliar with, plays into the story.
So instead, we watched my favorite episode of Deep Space Nine, “The Visitor.” And it’s only looking back now that I realized how fitting that choice that was. Without even thinking about the comparison, I had picked an episode that revolved around the same theme as the final scene of “New Ground.”
The love between a father and a son.
Tomás Baliño (he/him) is an entertainment writer and avid dom-jot player. He continues going through each Star Trek series in his pilot-centric manner.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.