One Trek Mind #43: Sagan Family Business
By Jordan Hoffman - September 19, 2012
There's something endearing about going into the family business. I know I buy all my pastries at Scarlatto and Sons Bakery. To that end, it gives me great joy to look back at certain episodes in the Star Trek canon and to notice a story credit by Nick Sagan, who celebrates his 42nd birthday this week.
Nick Sagan is, of course, the son of noted late professor, astronomer, author and scientific interlocutor Carl Sagan. Perhaps best known for producing the 1980 series Cosmos, Sagan was able to bring true science to the masses in a fun and engaging way without dumbing it down. After his death in 1997, NASA named the site of the Mars Pathfinder lander the Carl Sagan Memorial Station. Those of you with sharp eyes no doubt noticed a Martian commemorative memorial with the same name in the Enterprise episode “Terra Prime.”
But by “Terra Prime's” airing in 2005 the word Sagan already had Star Trek associations. Nick began his career bridging the world of science with entertainment as a young man during the final season of The Next Generation.
His first script was for “Attached,” an energetic episode with three different things going for it. Foremost is that it addresses something that I know kinda bugs a lot of people. Whenever the Enterprise encounters a planet there usually is a centralized government, and beings from that world all tend to look and act similarly. Other than obvious exceptions like “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” you rarely see regionalism on a planet. That isn't the case on Kesprytt III.
The planet's majority wishes to join the federation, yet a small but significant section does not. What's a good will Captain to do?
Another neat thing about “Attached” is when Picard and Dr. Crusher have devices implanted in their brains that transmit their thoughts to one another over psi wave patterns. It is exciting to watch them adapt to the technology, and also funny when some “overheard” thoughts are awkward. “Attached” is also a great episode for those fond of the Picard/Crusher romantic angle, and a fine lead-in to the eventual finale “All Good Things...”
Sagan's second TNG episode was “Bloodlines,” a real treat for hardcore fans. It brought back Daimon Bok (remember that guy?), the evil Ferengi from season one. He still wants vengeance on Picard, whose actions on the Stargazer killed his son. As such, Bok plans to kill Picard's son.
Wait, what? Picard has a son? Well, I guess the term “oops” still exists in the 24th century. A former paramour of Jean-Luc's, Miranda Vigo, gave birth to a child after a swift but passionate affair.
Picard is able to rescue Jason Vigo, now a young man, and after a difficult meeting eventually form a bond. In the end it is revealed Bok spoofed Jason's DNA sequencing, and the two are, indeed, not related. The scenes between the would-be father and son are still quite touching, and one need not be a psychoanalyst to see how “Bloodlines” may be Nick Sagan's most personal story about a man following in huge paternal footsteps.
Sagan next transported to the Star Trek writer's room during season five of Voyager. He served as a story editor, which means that his involvement on all the shows of that year is mixed in to their primordial soup. He can, therefore, take at least a partial bow for “Bride of Chaotica!”
There are, however, five episodes from that season where he has sole or shared screenwriting credit.
The first is “In The Flesh,” which was a really clever way to bring our Voyager gang back to the world of Starfleet while still stuck out in the Delta Quadrant. They encounter a full scale reproduction of the Academy right down to Boothby the Groundskeeper. It turns out to be a training ground for Species 8472, however, and Janeway discovers that it is less for leading an invasion than for training to respond to an invasion. Could it be that Species 8472 is just as scared of the Federation as Voyager is of them? This leads to an easing in tension between the two foes.
“Gravity” is a hardcore time-scrambler in the vein of TOS' “Wink of an Eye” or DS9's “Visionary.” Tuvok and Paris are stuck on a planet in a “spatial sinkhole” and cannot get in contact with Janeway, who is in normal space. This is enough of a setting to get Tuvok hooked up with a highly emotional alien and give us some further insight into his own struggles with Vulcan beliefs. A great one for Tuvok fans.
“Course: Oblivion” is a real gift for fans, calling back to the episode “Demon” and the duplicate Voyager crew created on the Class Y planet. However, they don't know, at first, that they are copies (just go with it.) This gives us an opportunity to see our characters facing a no-win situation when circumstances dictate they must not only break off their quest for the Alpha Quadrant, but scramble to find another Class Y planet. The episode ends tragically and, in a unique twist, the struggle goes unrecorded by the real Janeway or by Starfleet. Makes ya wonder what else is going on out in the galaxy that no one's telling us about.
“Juggernaut” is a genuine corker. B'Elanna Torres must use all of her engineering skills, as well as the strength of her Klingon character. A dead in the water Malon freighter is poised to explode and take out a nice chunk of space with it. Plus there may be a gnarly beast on board. In addition to being loaded with tension and action, this is the first time, finally, that we see one of these “sonic showers” we keep hearing about.
If you are getting a sense that Sagan had a fondness for the mind-scramblers, you aren't mistaken.
In “Relativity,” Seven of Nine is recruited from the 29th Century to go back to the Voyager's pre-launch to seek out and defuse a bomb that will disrupt the timeline. How getting her to do this so that it itself doesn't also disrupt it is just one of the juicy morsels of confusing paradoxes. This is one to just have fun with, plus it also affords us an opportunity to see into the Voyager's past with a knowledge of its present.
With all of this cool sci-fi stuff under his belt, Nick Sagan has gone on to work on his own successful book series, adapting other properties for TV and film and working on Space.com. In terms of science fact, though, it is unlikely he'll top an accomplishment he made when he was 11.
When his father was a consultant to NASA and creating the Voyager Golden Record, a recording of young Nick's voice saying “Hello from the children of Planet Earth” was shot out beyond our sun's gravity and into deep space. If there was one thing cooler than being a writer for multiple episodes of Star Trek, that might be it.
So what was your favorite Sagan-penned Star Trek episode?
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, ScreenCrush and Badass Digest. On his BLOG, Jordan has reviewed all 727 Trek episodes and films, most of the comics and some of the novels.
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