The Hero’s Journey
The Hero's Journey narrates, in universally archetypical images, the internal process of human self-realisation. It is an integral part of cultures all over the world and throughout the ages, with so little variation that Joseph Campbell, the great scholar of comparative mythology, coined the term monomyth. Well-known examples from contemporary popular culture include The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Matrix, Harry Potter, and Avatar. Classical examples comprise e.g. the Gilgamesh epic, the Kalevala, Parzival or Mozart’s Magic Flutest.
The fantastic realms, the local or "far, far away" galaxies through which the hero and his fellows travel symbolize the internal realm of the microcosm, the human being in its entirety. This metaphorical stage is populated by personifications of internal aspects whose often dramatical dealings and actions lead to a complete liberation and renovation of the entire microcosm. Words, music, still or moving pictures can at best hope to hint at what follows. We intuitively sense that those next steps belong to the transcendental realm of the "Other", the immortal within us. Thus, the Hero’s Journey usually has a vague or open end. Again, our intuition tells us that the process continues (or maybe even truly begins) in a different realm, one inaccessible to our current, "normal" state of mind.
The archetypical plot of the Hero’s Journey can be outlined rather quickly: usually the story unfolds in a situation of general disarray and turmoil, ages after the downfall of a "golden age" (the original, whole, yet pre-conscious state of existence). Evil, hostile forces rule with an iron fist, threatening to eradicate the last pockets of resistance. Now a young, ignorant and basically helpless principle appears whose vocation, despite becoming obvious rather soon, he must at first refuse. Dramatically thrown into his fate, however, our hero embarks on his journey and surpasses himself (with a lot of help from his friends), ready to sacrifice himself and, after recovering from a climactic initiation gained at high costs, overthrows the evil antagonist.
The situation of Star Trek is somewhat different: after devastating wars, humanity’s existential, planet-wide crisis has been overcome centuries ago. Earth is united and the known galaxy’s mature civilisations have formed an alliance based on mutual trust and respect, cultural exchange and scientific cooperation. For all intents and purposes, self realization has superseded self preservation as the cultural leitmotif. Science and technology have, apparently, ushered in a new golden age with unlimited energy and resources putting an end to poverty and war.
But the human being’s development is not yet complete at this stage, for the way towards the inner self has not yet been travelled in full. From a certain point onward there is no more “automatic“ development directed from “above”, but the human being is called to embarking, consciously and autonomously, on an inner exploration “filed", as it were, in humanity's collective subconscious under The Hero's Journey. He proceeds by his free will to spiritual dimensions with all the actions taking place in the inner universe of man and mankind.
Instead of just one hero, Star Trek features several whose actions and experiences form a tightly-knit, overarching fabric.
New Developments, New Protagonists
In the "good old" days of Capt. Kirk (an earlier, almost innocently playful state of mind by comparison) things were clear: there was, on one hand, the United Federation of Planets comprised of Humans, Vulcans, Andorians and Tellarites. There were green-skinned slavers from the Orion constellation, the reptiloid Gorn and others standing in, rather exchangeably, as "alien of the week". We had the scheming, authoritarian Romulans and, of course, the cocky, warlike Klingons whose appearance meant inevitable trouble. Meanwhile, the Federation and the Klingon Empire have made a somewhat uneasy peace – the savage, aggressive side and the cultivated, adaptive side of the mind have converged and reconciled as far as possible. Now the Klingon Empire's internal power struggles become increasingly relevant to the story – while integrated for the most part, this side of the human being's inner workings has not yet found peace.
Between the Romulan and Federation territories a Neutral Zone has been established – but the Romulans themselves (insidious trickiness) have not been heard of in decades. When they re-emerge with a bang, the Neutral Zone turns into a theatre of constant provocation and testing. Interpretation: the mature conscious has put its own insidiousness aside (which poses as cultivation only to strike without remorse at any opportunity) – but it is still there, lurking invisibly, biding its time. Appropriately, Romulan ships are equipped with cloaking devices, allowing them to elude detection until the last moment.
The Trill are of particular note: a symbiotic double species comprising a humanoid host joined with a larva-like symbiont. The symbiont is permanently implanted into the host's body cavity – and transplanted into the next one at the end of the current host's lifespan. A great honour for which potential hosts are trained extensively and with utmost discipline from childhood. The joining of host and symbiont is not only physical but includes mind, personality and memories. In every Trill, the characteristics and memories of every former host live on. A take on the idea of reincarnation which is about as typically Star Trek as it gets.
Furthermore, the greedy Ferengi are introduced whose entire culture is based solely on the acquisition of profit, the militarist Cardassians who have been brutally oppressing the fundamentalist Bajorans for decades (both races playing major roles on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), the primitive yet cunning Pakleds and many others. The truly powerful, dauntingly dangerous opponents are Q and the Borg.
The Great Antagonists
"Q" is the name of a species, of said species' every member – and of one particular specimen introducing himself as early as in the Next Generation pilot film and haunting the Enterprise crew repeatedly until the last episode. The Q Continuum has developed past their physical state of existence ages ago, turning into practically omnipotent beings of pure energy. Tortured by boredom and stagnation they vegetate in a dull, murky non-realm filled with mock realities, starting quarrels over anything and nothing. There seems to be nothing more for them to experience and no room for further development. In theory they could rule the universe and be worshipped as gods by all other life forms – but they became bored of even that eons ago. Since their self-centred boundlessness makes it impossible for them to lovingly "stoop" to "lesser" lifeforms (even if it occurred to them), their minds starve on their pinnacle of conceited mock-perfection. Are we possibly looking at a representation of the entities that Ephesians 6:12 refers to as "the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places"?
One of them (in whom, as we may infer, sheer desperation has led to a budding new openness) develops an almost child-like fascination with the crew of the Enterprise (much like an actual child might be fascinated by an anthill), frequently concocting hopeless situations for them, appearing as a malicious manipulator or merciless bully. The unbreakable dignity, fidelity, sincerity and loyalty these fragile, short-lived beings display even in the face of mortal danger becomes the touchstone to his carefully repressed imperfection. His apparent omnipotence crashes into its boundaries whenever he tries to tempt these puny mortals into betraying themselves. Q can be read as Mephisto, "the spirit that denies". The cosmic opponent and tempter, himself chained in eternal denial, who cannot be defeated – only tricked or, facing the likely consequences, refused. The Federation's encounter with the Borg collective is also Q's doing – prematurely so, as Guinan remarks, who has already made the experience. Let's remember: Guinan represents the aspect of wisdom.
The Borg are a humanoid race, far advanced technologically – or rather a hodgepodge of humanoid races – augmenting their organic bodies by means of cybernetic implants almost beyond recognition. They do not possess individual consciousness but are locked in a hive-mind, every Borg drone constantly sharing the entire collective's thoughts. The Borg consider themselves the pinnacle of evolution, all other species as inferior, and their invariable message is "Resistance is futile!" Upon contact, other races are "assimilated", i.e. bereft of their will, cybernetically disfigured and integrated into the collective.
The Borg symbolize the cosmic antagonist force that applies imitation, trying to mimic the Divine by profane means. A truly diabolical inner principle, causing mercilessness, delusions of grandeur, intolerance, the urge to oppress, exploit, and destroy, in the human mind. Their (purely factual, materialistic) knowledge constantly expands due to the traits and achievements of the races they assimilate (and annihilate in the process). As a collective they are powerful and nigh immortal. They abuse technology (which we interpret as applied, creative intelligence) to meddle with their own state of existence, having turned themselves into repulsive hybrids. Not yet machines, but no longer truly living beings, either, they destroy life, multiplicity, individuality, identity, liberty and sentience without missing a beat where ever they encounter them. In their ice-cold, destructive delusion they embody the very opposite of what they believe they are.
That said, the Borg are by no means the invincible assimilation machine they fancy themselves; the Q could flick the Borg out of existence at a whim – if only they could be bothered. And much later, during the course of Star Trek: Voyager the Borg encounter the completely alien Species 8472 from an equally alien dimension. An opponent that cannot be assimilated but who is every bit as aggressive and destructive as they are.
Interestingly, a single Borg whom the Enterprise crew name Hugh and (in much greater depth and detail during the course of Star Trek: Voyager) Seven of Nine exemplify how Borg drones can regain their individuality when separated from the collective. We also learn that the collective is not governed by its hive mind but by a Queen. And towards the end of Voyager a mutation enables a small percentage of the collective to congregate free of the hive mind's totalitarian oppression in the Unimatrix, a dream-like state, as the individuals they used to be prior to assimilation.
(to be continued)