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What We Learned From Star Trek in 2020

In this, the longest year in recent memory, Star Trek was the gift (maybe the only gift) that kept on giving.

Star Trek 2020

In a curious way, I’ve marked the passage of time during the pandemic through Star Trek.

The pandemic began as Star Trek: Picard was midway through its debut season. In the dead of summer in August I laughed along with Star Trek: Lower Decks. As winter draws closer, I’ve turned to the third season of Star Trek: Discovery. In between, there were favorite episodes of classic shows that I rewatched, including binging Deep Space Nine twice all the way through.

I grew up tracking the passage of time through TV shows that were currently airing or major movie releases, but this year it feels different. This year, both memorable in the historical significance and numbing in the sameness of quarantine, is unlike anything I’ve experienced, and for me, the only way to make sense of that is through the media I’ve consumed. Perhaps it is selfish of me to want to make sense of the senseless via a television show. After all, this is a year marked by death, by upheaval, by a desire to leave the apocalypse that was the pandemic for a braver, kinder world. But as someone who’s always tried to understand the world through the lens of the media I consume, perhaps for me the best way to try and look for hope is through Star Trek.

As I continued to draw comfort from the franchise, I noticed that online, others were doing the same. From fans who grew up with the franchise to people who just watched the show all the way through for the first time, as a community we grew closer through our shared love. It connected us through screens and online, and in a time of isolation it helped so many of us find a community at a time when we needed it most.

I reached out to several of our freelancers and other voices in the Star Trek community for their thoughts on how Star Trek helped them through 2020, from rewatching classic favorites to exploring brave new worlds. Check out what they had to say below, and share how Star Trek helped you through 2020 on our social channels.

A Special Message for Star Trek Fans

Swapna Krishna, contributor:

This year was a grim one for so many of us, and sometimes it was difficult to see the hope amidst all the darkness. But then Star Trek: Discovery’s third season burst onto the scene, brash and unapologetic in its message that no matter how terrible things seem, there is always hope — and sometimes, that hope is you. It’s us. Our hope is our faith in other people and in ourselves. And as Michael Burnham is the personification of hope that Aditya Sahil so badly needed to keep going, maybe I can be the hope for someone else who’s feeling lost. And they can be mine. And together, we can make it through to a brighter future.

Mike Chen, author and contributor:

As 2020 has gone from bad to worse, my wife and I have increasingly leaned on Star Trek -- in particular, watching Voyager, Picard, DS9, and Discovery to get us through it all. The real world has thrown us isolation, disinformation, and an ever-present sense of dread, and yet that nightly hour of Star Trek is more than a mere escape. Just as Janeway crossed the Delta Quadrant, just as Sisko maintained order among chaos, just as Picard found hope in the face of trauma, just as Burnham and Saru built a new way to live, Star Trek has modeled a way forward despite everything around us. May we all live long and prosper in 2021 -- we've earned it.

Jay Stobie, contributor:

Just like the three ghosts who visited Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens tale A Christmas Carol, Star Trek has gifted me with knowledge from the past, present, and future throughout this strenuous year. Looking back, I leaned on episodes from classic Star Trek series and wrapped myself in their nostalgic embrace. While revisiting Reginald Barclay’s experience in “Hollow Pursuits,” I even observed a correlation with my own life that aided me in my struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety.

In the here and now, I savored every new episode of Short Treks, Picard, Lower Decks, and Discovery. As always, contributing to ranks as one of my favorite activities, so you can imagine the joy I found in pouring through those fresh installments of Trek and analyzing them for the official site. I shared my love for the franchise through discussions on social media, and I also had the pleasure of interviewing Star Trek fans and cast members about a variety of topics.

Peering ahead presents the return of Captain Pike, Number One, and Spock in Strange New Worlds, as well as a multitude of other Star Trek series entering production. Hope is truly on the horizon.

Jake Black, contributor:

In January (aka the before times), I wrote a piece for about how Picard would teach my son morality in the same way TNG had taught me when I was his age. I had no idea how timely and personal the lessons would be for both of us. As I watched Picard, I saw our heroes plagued by what I call “existential grief.” Picard grieved Data and the fall of Starfleet. Raffi grieved losing her family and career. Jurati grieved Bruce. Seven, the renewed loss of her humanity. Rios, his former Captain. Soji, her sister and home. Deanna, her son Thad. Similarly, my boy and I struggled with the grief that has arisen from the pandemic. Millions have suffered physically, financially, emotionally, and in many other ways. I grieve for those I’ve personally watched suffer. But, I saw in Picard the way to work through it: with the help of loved ones. Riker helped Picard. Picard helped Raffi and Deanna. Rios and Jurati helped each other. Deanna and Kestra helped Soji. Elnor helped Seven. It reminded me that in 2020, as cliché as it has become, we truly are all in this together, no matter how motley our crew.

Una McCormack, Star Trek author:

I thought I already knew a great deal about everyone’s favourite Cardassian tailor Elim Garak, but nine months in exile lockdown has made me understand him considerably better. Isolated, bored, missing familiar faces and beloved places – no wonder poor Garak loses it.

What Garak eventually works out is that even suspicious-minded ex-spies occasionally have to reach out to other people. This is why you will find me most evenings on Twitter, sending out random thoughts about my DS9 rewatch, hoping they entertain anyone else stuck at home, and trying not to get tempted into assassinating any Romulan senators who happen to come within range.

With the first vaccines now rolling out in the UK, I’m confident (unlike Garak) that my exile will soon be coming to an end. I sincerely hope that when it does, my home city of Cambridge is in much better condition than Cardassia Prime. But I’m feeling optimistic, for the first time in ages.

Hrisoula Gatzogiannis, contributor:

When my office officially shut down in March, and all normal plans were thrown into chaos, I started another rewatch of Deep Space Nine. In all honesty, I rewatch DS9 quite frequently, but in 2020, there was something different about it. As the uncertainty of the day would come to a close, and stress seemed insurmountable, I resumed where I left off every night and felt something I hadn’t in a while: comfort. Seeing Sisko and Dax laughing, Bashir and O’Brien playing darts, and Quark and Odo bickering on the promenade, brought familiarity and solace during a tumultuous time. But it was more than that: it was an awareness that whatever will happen in the show, or in life, it’ll be alright.

Star Trek has always given us storylines that push our characters to the limit. We are taught that oftentimes things happen that are beyond our control. 2020 is no exception. Difficulties arise every day, but Star Trek taught me that it’s how we handle these challenging situations, how we pull through together—that’s what matters in the end. The comfort of the familiar, and the knowledge that it’ll be alright (courtesy of Deep Space Nine), made a lasting difference in my life this year.

Margaret Kingsbury, contributor:

While all of 2020 has been hard, November was a particularly difficult month for me. A close family member was diagnosed with cancer, several family members and friends contracted Covid, and one of my steady jobs shut down. While I’m pretty optimistic, each new bit of bad news left me feeling more depressed. When I watched the fourth episode of Discovery — “Forget Me Not” — some of that sorrow lifted from me. In this episode, Burnham takes Adira to the beautiful Trill homeworld, and Adira finds out why they can’t remember their past Trill selves. Meanwhile, with the ship’s help, Saru is attempting to bring Discovery’s crew closer together after the trauma of leaving everything and everyone they know behind for a future that does not embrace them. It’s such a beautiful episode, from the creature that leaps out of a pond when Adira and Burnham first arrive on Trill to Saru’s carefully laid table and the themes of self-discovery, challenging norms, and embracing change. It was a cathartic episode. And to end this on a further positive note, after my family member had surgery to remove the cancer, the biopsy showed it had never been cancer at all.

Kenneth Mitchell Shares a Special Message with Fans

Laurie Ulster, contributor:

How startling, how lovely to find out that even in 2020, Star Trek still has the power to bring people together. The team, spread across three time zones, wanted to feel less isolated during quarantine.  Thus we started our Sunday night Star Trek viewing parties, and watched “Day of the Dove” (TOS) when the anger and bitterness of election season was at a peak. It perfectly encapsulated what’s been happening in the world—and occasionally in fandom itself.

An alien who feeds on hatred pits the Enterprise crew against the Klingons, trapping them together and dooming them to endless lifetimes of meaningless, brutal conflict. Convincing both parties to see the real truth and put down their weapons seems impossible, until Kirk and Mara realize that only by joining forces can they confront the real enemy who’s manipulating them.

That 52-year-old episode is a potent reminder of what politics is doing to America today, but also reminds us that all is not lost even when our differences seem unresolvable. It’s the most Star Trek lesson of all, isn’t it? Knowing that message came from another tumultuous time in our own history gave us all something we don’t always feel during these confusing times: hope.

Nick Mancuso, author and contributor:

I’m so grateful for Star Trek this year as it gave me two incredible things. First, it gave me  transport to a universe away from my house and quarantine, and brought me to places and alien worlds like Freecloud on Star Trek: Picard, or the 32nd Century on Star Trek: Discovery, or to Nepenthe to see some old friends like Will Riker and Deanna Troi. The second gift Star Trek gave me in 2020 was some raw good cheer, whether when the USS Titan arrived to save the day on Star Trek: Lower Decks, or Tilly’s long deserved promotion to First Officer on Discovery, Star Trek this year felt good, and not only that, but provided some needed joy, in a year of such darkness. I’ll always be thankful for those bright spots this year.

Lauren Coates, contributor:

Star Trek was one of my saving graces in 2020. Re-watching Deep Space Nine and getting to fall back in love with each and every character was a much-needed distraction from the insanity and stress of the pandemic. Star Trek has always had its own unique brand of utopian escapism while still also managing to be very current and tackle pressing issues, and when viewed under the lens of the pandemic, so many episodes are even stronger. It's not just the episodes, either - Alexander Siddig and the Sid City Social Club have become a staple of my week - it's so uplifting to meet other Trekkies and get to engage with a beloved actor on such a personal level. The more recent script reads they've been doing have also quenched my thirst for DS9 content - it's almost like a mini-series/reunion. For any Trek fan looking for a unique way to spend time with others while safe at home, getting involved with the Trek community has been just what the doctor ordered.

Kate Gardner (they/them) is the editorial assistant for