Wednesday, November 27, 2013

#638. Next Generation Rewind: The part about the mad scientist

I've previously written about the Star Trek Generations villain Dr. Soran, Guinan, and El-Aurians here, but it occurred to me that once I got started writing about Picard's favorite bartender, I lost track of my larger points concerning the mad scientist.

You will remember that I reasoned all El-Aurians were essentially inherently intuitive in social affairs, a trait that made it easy for Guinan to work the room in Ten Forward.  Now I'll circle back to Soran.

Like the rest of his people Soran lost most of what he knew and loved when the Borg destroyed the El-Aurian home world.  He lost his family in the bargain, and the whole point of his Nexus obsession was that it gave him a way to bring them back, essentially.  I'm here to argue that perhaps Soran wasn't such a bad guy (aside from recklessly destroying worlds, just like the Borg, in the midst of his quest).  He was more like a lonely immigrant.

Generations is all about isolated individuals somehow becoming more isolated by events outside of their control.  Kirk, for instance, is lost from time, and in the Nexus broods that he passed on an opportunity for happily married retirement.  Picard loses his sense of family continuance after assuming his brother's son would continue the line when his own career got in the way of Picard being able to do it himself.  Data finally obtains emotions, but they overwhelm him and even seem to cost him the life of his good friend Geordi, and he can't even remove the chip that gave him the blessed curse to begin with.  Soran?

He was a scientist.  Unlike Guinan, his previous lifetime was occupied in isolation.  As my theory goes, community life is everything for El-Aurians, something that comes so naturally to them that they don't really need to speak in order to understand each other.  Soran had this in his life in the form of his family, his one great tether to an essential part of his being.  When that tether was severed, he became even more isolated, dangerously so.  And in the midst of trying to find a new home, he discovers the one way left to him to get it back.

As the years passed, after being forcibly pulled from this paradise by meddling Starfleet officers, Soran grew increasingly bitter and cynical, a callous shell of his former self.  And what self was left, exactly?  Only the scientist, the detached individual who was used to thinking in clinical terms, separated from a functional reality, his only tether gone, a tether that had once been so strong and pure, something every El-Aurian had probably taken for granted.  Think of this comment he makes to Picard:

"They say time is the fire in which we burn."

He can't possibly know what has happened to Picard's brother and nephew, and yet he strikes upon an evocative image that is directed related to how they died, and exactly what immediately began haunting the captain upon learning the news.  He's taunting Picard because for Soran, the captain is like everyone else.  He can't be himself.  He can't be known, and anything he knows about someone else is no longer important to him.  He has no bonds.  He is the very picture of the lonely immigrant, his lost culture something so profound that perhaps you can't truly understand it unless you've been isolated like that yourself.  And Picard does know.  He's known Guinan for years.  In the scenes that follow, he finally discusses his emotional turmoil with Troi, and then a little later has another counseling session, this time with Guinan, and then a third, this time with Data, in which he's counselor.  A fourth follows later, with Kirk.

For someone like Soran, he wouldn't have had to talk with anyone at all, not when he was back in the old days, back with his family, back among the most sympathetic of a sympathetic species.  But after they were surgically cut from him, by the Borg, who we must remember are a collective devoid of individual consciousness, which is only a step or two removed from the perfect intimacy of the El-Aurians, he becomes someone who won't listen to anyone ever again, not the way he once did.

This type of storytelling was no doubt considered by the filmmakers to make for appropriately cinematic Star Trek, the same way The Motion Picture nearly twenty years earlier had gone for the cerebral rather than the kind of blockbuster material even audiences at that time would have better appreciated.  All of this is implied knowledge.  If you don't see it you probably will never even realize it's there, and thus consider the whole movie a bust, even though at least four characters are soaked in this rich tapestry of echoing textures, so that even questionable decisions like how Kirk dies or Data seemingly being reduced to mere comedy suddenly make a great deal of sense.

So I offer you the challenge: consider the part of the mad scientist.  Soran's more than that.  He's actually the heart of the whole movie.


Pat Dilloway said...

I'm sure you've spent far more time on this movie than most fans. It's too bad they didn't find a better role for Malcolm McDowell. He's usually great, even in those cell phone commercials with James Earl Jones.

Tony Laplume said...

Usually? I think you mean always.

The Armchair Squid said...

I have seen the movie, though not since it was in theaters. I remember the scene with Kirk riding a horse... and not much else.

Maurice Mitchell said...

The best villains are ones you almost sympathize with. I gotta say your analysis of Soran is the best I've read so far. Most people don't look that closely. Myself included. :) I hope your day is filled with awesome sauce.

Tony Laplume said...

Squid, the horse riding sequence was definitely memorable, but curiously one of the scenes critics pointed to as being anticlimactic concerning the much-anticipated meeting between Kirk and Picard. But clearly it was memorable, so that's as much the point, isn't it?

Maurice, it was filled with dinner rolls, just the way I like it!

The Armchair Squid said...

It was definitely memorable.

Hey, Happy Thanksgiving!


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