The right captain at the right time – WHY WE LIKE PIKE! (Discovery editorial)

I usually write my weekly STAR TREK: DISCOVERY review editorials on Fridays and Saturdays after the new episodes premiere on Thursday night. But the family and I are leaving on tonight for the weekend. So I’ve decided to pre-write my weekly blog—not about the latest episode—but about a character who is rapidly becoming my favorite starship captain in Star Trek: actor ANSON MOUNT’s portrayal of Christopher Pike.

It was literally the last thing I expected going into season two. I mean, I hoped that the show would course-correct after the disappointing and often frustrating season one (at least in my opinion, but I’m not alone). I was curious to see how they’d handle Pike and some of his crew—Number One, Dr. Boyce, Yeoman Colt, and of course good ol’ (young) Spock. But never in a million years would I have predicted falling in love with Captain Pike and having him rapidly take his place as my favorite Starfleet captain!

Granted, it’s still early. We’ve only had 7 or 8 episodes featuring Pike…versus a hundred hours of Kirk, nearly twice that for Picard and Sisko and Janeway, and about the same amount for Archer. Upcoming episodes could ruin the character or make me start counting the minutes until Pike goes back to the Enterprise.

But I doubt it.

Part of the reason I like Pike (and so do MANY others) so much is the outstanding performance of Anson Mount. He really is an amazing talent…and if you haven’t watched his previous series Hell on Wheels, then you are missing some amazing television and yet another awesome character.

But it’s not just that Pike is being played by a top notch actor. William Shatner, Sir Patrick Stewart, and the others are all stellar performers portraying iconic captains. So why have so many fans (even ones like me who couldn’t stand Discovery a year ago) fallen in love with Captain Pike so quickly?

I think I know…

Pike is the kind of captain, the kind of leader, and the kind of person most of us want in our lives right now…today. But before I go into exactly what those qualities are about Pike that the world is yearning for at the moment, let’s take a brief look back at how the other major Star Trek captains were also responding to the call of the world during their times in history. Some were reflections of their their times, others were responses to those times. But all had qualities that many viewers watching wanted to strive for.

I realize that doctoral dissertations—hundreds of pages long!—have probably been written analyzing Captain Kirk and the others as societal zeitgeists and reflections on political beliefs and cultural struggles of their times. I’m gonna try to do the same thing, just without the hundreds of pages…

CAPTAIN JAMES TIBERIUS KIRK

We’re skipping the Chris Pine version and sticking to the classic William Shatner archetype. After all, his Kirk was the vanguard, setting the bar against which all successors would be measured.

Jim Kirk was everything the 1960s needed at the time because he WAS America. He was bold, confident, a strong leader. America was bold and confident, as well, asserting our muscle across the world, showing other countries that we could lead them into becoming strong, functioning, free democracies and save them from those who don’t share our values. That was Kirk, who always knew what was right for a planet…and usually left them better off than he found them (or so we were led to believe—was Vaal really that awful?).

But like America, Kirk also had his doubts, his fears, his uncertainties. He never let the crew see his weaknesses, though…only McCoy (occasionally) and Spock, friends he could trust like America’s closest allies. While we fought in Vietnam and rattled our nuclear sabres at the Soviet Union, war protests proliferated at home. As we struggled to promote and protect civil rights, we were simultaneously fighting to overcome racism, segregation, and hatred. In the 1960s, outwardly America tried to project confidence and hope to the world as we went to the moon and did those other things. But underneath it all, we were facing our demons, struggling to overcome our own doubts and insecurities…just like Kirk.

And of course, I can’t forget to mention Kirk the ladies man—at a time when America was as chauvinistic and objectifying of women as we’d ever been. Kirk represented the “ideal” man, the one whom all the women wanted and who could love ’em and leave ’em and come back to them years later and they’d want him all over again. Men wanted to be Kirk, and—as hard as it is to believe from the perspective of the #MeToo era—women swooned over him (although more of them wanted the emotionless Spock…but that’s a whole other blog!).

Anyway, Kirk was the perfect captain for the turbulent, chauvinistic 1960s.

CAPTAIN JEAN-LUC PICARD

The 1980s saw a very different America. Like the 1960s, the times they were a’changin’. But now America wasn’t quite as sure of ourselves. Vietnam had left a huge scar. Despite our best efforts to spread the blessings of liberty and democracy to world, things had gone wrong in a LOT of places: Iran, Central America, parts of Africa, even some countries in Europe. African-Americans had emerged from the 1960s and women from the 1970s into new and stronger places in society, but there was still a long way to go.

In many ways, Picard was a lot like Kirk: strong and confident, an inspiring leader, but with a certain amount of humanizing uncertainty. But Picard’s uncertainty was different than Kirk’s. Kirk would question his actions AFTER making them (much like America had done in the 1950s and 60s). Picard would question his actions BEFORE making them. Picard was way more thoughtful and cerebral than Kirk, sometimes to a fault.

But many in America wanted that thoughtfulness. Ronald Reagan was so certain that the Soviet Union was the “evil empire”and that there was black and white in the world. And wile a segment of Americans supported that, others worried that World War III might be a button-press away. So we all wanted to feel like there was a leader out there thinking things though…rather than a cowboy-turned-diplomat.

Picard showed America the kind of leader it wanted to believe in. He led his crew with confidence, to be sure, and he had a definite moral compass. But there were lines that Jean-Luc Picard would not cross, rules he would not break, and that made us all feel a lot better.

CAPTAIN BENJAMIN LAFAYETTE SISKO

By the 1990s, the traditional America family was breaking down. More parents were divorced and single, and/or trying to balance a family with a career.

Enter Benjamin Sisko—not only the first black actor to lead a Star Trek series but the first (and so far only) one to do so with a child. While TNG began to explore the concept of children living on a starship with their parent(s)—and Worf ultimately had Alexander in the occasional episode—DS9 took it to the next level. The commander/captain was a dad, a widower trying his best to raise a son while doing a demanding job. That was what America was becoming, and we wanted to see someone managing to accomplish what so many people were striving to do.

Another aspect of the 1990s was that the idea of “gray areas” from the 1980s had grown from just a concept into very much a reality…all over the planet. Sure, there were still despots and dictators who were pure evil in the world, but there were also places where the alternative to the despot wasn’t necessarily anything to write home about either. Our own leader—Bill Clinton for most of the run of DS9—was himself flawed, a walking saxophone-playing gray area. While a strong and popular president, his checkered past, suspicious land deals, recurring charges of philandering, and lying under oath made it impossible to simply put him on a pedestal.

Ultimately, Benjamin Sisko carried some of that same kind of baggage (though not nearly as much as Bill Clinton!). While Sisko had a moral compass, it tended to “wobble” quite a bit. And as often as not, viewers would find Sisko straying from the straight and narrow in order to get things done. But get them done he did, as the ends often justified the means. In America in the 1990s, we were all hoping that our ends would justify our means, as well…and Sisko reassured us that they could.

CAPTAIN KATHRYN JANEWAY

Janeway showed women the way to run things. Sisters had been doing it for themselves certainly since the Eurythmics has first recorded their iconic suffragette song in 1985. But by the time Star Trek: Voyager premiered in 1995, women were well on their way to busting through that glass ceiling. (Sadly, nearly a quarter century later, they are still “on their way” to busting through that glass ceiling…as that is one frickin’ strong ceiling! But it’s gonna happen!!)

In some ways, however, Janeway was not the captain America wanted…at least, not all of America. In order to rise to the top, Janeway had to forego a family…leaving only a seldom-mentioned male partner behind but having no children and no relationship on board for seven years in the Delta Quadrant (which was probably a good thing, as I wouldn’t want to be the “ex” of the boss on such a small ship!). But the message for women, unfortunately, was: if you want to rise to the top, don’t start a family. That message resonated with some but pushed away others.

CAPTAIN JONATHAN ARCHER

The first episode of Enterprise premiered two weeks after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. While the character of Jonathan Archer had been written to be eager and hopeful—almost an excited puppy dog going out into space…with his OWN puppy dog—he was almost immediately not the captain America wanted. He was too naive, too starry-eyed. The world outside of the Paramount lot had turned upside down. It was a dangerous and ugly place. But here was Jonathan Archer boldly going with a big smile on his face.

Of course, Archer was exploring the galaxy 150 years after the World Trade Center towers came down and the world changed forever. But viewers were still living in that world, and so it was probably inevitable that season two would end with a similar surprise terrorist attack on Earth.

Suddenly, Archer was the angry, vengeful captain we all wanted and needed…or was he? The change from puppy dog to pit bull in season three felt wrong on so many levels. This wasn’t who Jonathan Archer was at his core…and by 2003, it wasn’t who we wanted him to be either. Sure, America and the world had been furious after 9-11, but by the time we invaded Iraq in 2003, nearly a third of Americans weren’t even convinced that Saddam Hussein had any weapons of mass destruction (and of course, he didn’t). Our rage and fury began to ease just as Archer’s began to explode. Season three was very uncomfortable, and thankfully, Jonathan Archer’s character was returned to his kinder, gentler, more optimistic roots as the Xindi story arc ended and the fourth season began.

CAPTAIN CHRISTOPHER PIKE

Naturally, I’m referring to Anson Mount’s Pike, although I must tip my hat to the late-great Jeffrey Hunter, who was the first actor to ever portray a Starfleet captain. So why do I (and so many others) like Pike so much? Is he what America is looking for right now?

Before I continue, I need to apologize for making this article so Americentric. I realize there’s a BIG planet out there full of international Trekkers who each have their favorite captain and series. I get that, and no insult is intended. I’m simply writing this blog with the understanding that Star Trek is an American show, written and produced by mainly American industry professionals and (until Discovery) made exclusively in America. Also, despite its global popularity, Star Trek‘s primarily audience has always been Americans, and that’s traditionally been the demographic the studios have most coveted (except when Paramount wanted the JJ Trek movies to do really well in China).

Okay, back to Pike…

Now, of course, there are many strong character traits that all of the captains share: bravery, confidence, insight, dedication, loyalty, etc. But they each have their own unique combinations, with certain aspects standing out more than others depending on the captain. So what stands out most prominently for Discovery‘s Pike?

I commented last week how, of all his positive qualities, this iteration of Christopher Pike seems to most convey a sense of PATIENCE. Have you noticed how patient he is? Just look at every interaction he’s had with Tilly or his reaction when Burnham told him she wasn’t yet ready to share what she knew about Georgiou. Kirk, Picard, Sisko, Janeway…none of them would have been nearly as patient with the apparent insubordination (maybe Archer).

Hand-in-hand with patience is Pike’s empathy and understanding. When he first comes on board, he talks to the bridge crew and acknowledges how they were betrayed by their previous captain. “I’m not Lorca,” Pike says. He apologizes to Saru for needing to take over command from him. It’s a sincere apology, and it shows that Pike cares about the feelings of others. Not that the other five captains were heartless, but you really feel the empathy most from Pike.

Along with patience and understanding is an open-mindedness that is quite refreshing. Pike isn’t locked into doing things his way, and he’s willing to be convinced otherwise without putting up knee-jerk resistance. And this open-mindedness goes way back with Pike. His father taught science and comparative religion…two aspects of human culture that are usually at odds. Pike seems to keep them in a working balance.

This is not to say Pike doesn’t have his disagreements with people. Obviously, he’s been at odds with Tyler/VoQ since the former Klingon torchbearer first stepped on board. But while Pike doesn’t hide his dislike of Tyler, he isn’t ruled by it either. Pike works with Tyler (as he is supposed to) and doesn’t try to stab him in the back. Pike shows respect even to those for whom he has disdain.

Pike is also a good-natured optimist. He believes in hope—a staple of Star Trek—and can see the best in people. He has a fun sense of humor and isn’t afraid to marvel and even poke a little fun at the the strange things the universe throws his way. He’s not full of himself or too serious. And of course, he’s loyal to his people and risks two ships in order to save a single crew member (Tilly) from the Mushroom Universe.

And this is all wrapped up in a commanding officer with a moral compass who knows the rules and respects them. He’s obviously very knowledgeable about Starfleet procedures and protocols—as all good captains should be—and he doesn’t waver in a crisis. His orders are clear and directed, his strategies clever, and he stays cool under pressure.

In short, Pike is everything we want in a leader at the moment…most of which we aren’t getting.

And as I step on the third rail of bringing politics into this blog, let me state that I’m bashing both sides of the aisle, not just Donald Trump. Patience, understanding, open-mindedness, respect, morality, loyalty, humility, good-naturedness, knowledge composure—few politicians from either party are demonstrating these virtues at the moment.

And it’s not just our political leaders. There is a distinct lack of civility throughout our country and the entire world right now. Just read the comments on any website or Facebook page. Heck, I suspect we’ll see a few doozies right here in the reactions to this blog! As a society, we’ve lost our sense of common courtesy to others. We’ve closed off our minds. We’re quick to judge, even quicker to insult, and slow to forgive.

We are not Pike.

And I think this is why we viewers gravitate to Pike so much as a character and captain. We all wish we had more Pikes in our lives—patient and understanding, open to seeing other perspectives, and able to disagree without being all nasty and back-biting about it.

Think about how much you’d like to work for a guy like Pike or have him as a good friend. He’d be someone you could rely for support and wisdom. Most of us don’t have many of those in our lives, and the few we might have, we cherish. And so we cherish Pike, as well.

Like Kirk was in the 1960s, Picard was in the 1980s, and Sisko was in the 1990s, Captain Christopher Pike is an ideal we all strive to be. Maybe we are not Pike, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if we were?

“Be like Pike!” I think I should put that on a T-shirt or a bumper sticker.

18 thoughts on “The right captain at the right time – WHY WE LIKE PIKE! (Discovery editorial)”

  1. Absolutely amazing summation. On a lighter note my wife is not really a Trekkie but has subjugated herself to watching every Star Trek Series with me. She gave nicknames to all the Captains: Kirk- captain cowboy, Picard- Captain Wussy Pants, Sisko- the Governor, Janeway- Captain Grumpy Pants, Archer- captain beagle, Lorca- captain mean Pants, Pike- grandpa

  2. Jonathan, thank you for a really interesting article — fascinating to read. As some like to take you to task whenever possible, you may get comments of being too simplistic, but any greater depth would have made the piece far too long. For me, well-pitched.

    But I’m really responding to the paragraph preceding, “We are not like Pike.” In one paragraph you hit on the essence of so much that is wrong today; as you say, not just with America but with the world. Although our political problems here in Australia have a different nature to yours in America, our politicians still have the country in a mess — or is it that in both countries the politicians are just reflecting the nature of what surrounds them?

    There is an issue of cause and effect. Do we have the wrong sort of political figures because they are a product of the modern world, or have the wrong sort of politicians contributed to creating this world you describe? (Not that I think we can blame the politicians for all the ills of the 21st century though.)

    I think you missed one common failing of today and that is — greed. From the individual to the nation, there is a common problem of looking after number one paralleled with an unwillingness to accept responsibility when things go wrong. I don’t watch the current Star Trek, but perhaps Pike is relatively free of such failings.

    1. I think Harry Mudd is the only resident “greedy” person in Discovery…although Star Trek over the years has had a few (Cyrano Jones, the Iotians, the Ferengi, Kevas Fajo, Professor Berlingoff Rasmussen, Henry Starling…to name afew off the top of my head). As for greed being at the root of today’s evil, yeah, I can give you that. 🙂

  3. Damn Johnathan that was really well written. While Pike is far from my favorite Captain you make some good points. If it wasn’t for Mikey Spock, the Not Klingons, mushroom drives and tech a few hundred years before it’s time he might actually save that show. Oh I almost forgot about the horrible pizza slicer design and the horrible lighting. And they need to quit using section 31.

  4. I just wish his first line on the bridge hadn’t been “Where’s my red thing?” or whatever it was. Wouldn’t inspire confidence in me that this guy was a captain I could rely on to make sound, intelligent decisions. Still, the writers have redeemed themselves since and, yep, I like him (even if he is American 😉 ).

    P.S. Hate to think what a starfleet captain representative of Britain would be like right now, but I think the crew would be well advised to abandon ship…

  5. I like Discovery. Yes, the first season was so dark, but suitable for the age. I agree that it is far advanced from the original clunky ST. I was young then but was just as clunky.
    We need to keep hope alive since society in transition is chaotic. The modern and the traditional are struggling, but watching Anson Mount ‘s portrayal of Pike is right for right now.

  6. Great Review. I like Pike and the return of the Star Trek Franchise to one of hope, a bright future, not the Mirror, Mirror one of last season. Though Georgiou aptly represents the CIA, KGB, MI6, FSB, Mossad, Saudi, et. al., secret services from all countries, that is not the bright future that Roddenberry envisioned.
    What dismays me about all of the franchise is the out-of-date, we-can-never-really-change, YOU or THEY upset me, black and white outlook, especially towards the totally “evil” characters they create. Modern Rational Psychotherapy enables people to take back the control they have given to other people to upset them.
    Most people think that other people and events cause our emotions. But do they? Think about a football game. Millions see the exact same game. Yet about half go home happy, about half go home sad, the rest go home somewhere in between or at the extremes. Since they all saw the exact same game, it can’t be the game that caused this wide variety of emotions. It was their belief that one of the teams was, “My Team”, that the game had something to do with their worth.
    I love Roddenberry’s vision of a bright future. My intent is to help us get to that future – by getting people to see that it is our illogical beliefs that cause our painful, self-defeating emotions and subsequent self-defeating actions – that we can dispute and replace those illogical beliefs thereby launching ourselves into Roddenberry’s bright future. Of course, there are primal emotions like lust and fear of attackers that are not created by beliefs. But even they can be tamed by training ourselves to really embrace what is logical.
    It is not easy to change habits. We are like a horse and rider. The “rider” is our consciousness – the horse is our subconscious, our genetic instincts, and our habits. When we discover a better way to do something, we can make our horse do it. However, when we stop thinking about it, our old habits kick in and we go back to our old ways – until – we have trained our horse to go the new way. It’s like learning a new sports’ move or new language. It takes practice, practice, practice. That practice actually creates new neural pathways so we don’t even think about it – we just do it. But no one will ever be perfect at it. I like the 80-20 rule: 80 percent of the work is done with the first 20% of the effort – the closer we come to our imagined perfection, the more it costs, logarithmically. The wasted time spent on chasing the perfectionism dragon needlessly reduces the total number of our accomplishments.

    At any rate, if you have any influence, I would love for Star Trek to implement the future of psychology, Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and its not-so-eloquent cousin Cognitive Behavior Therapy, true Stoicism (Vulcan philosophy is NOT Stoicism), as well as, Trauma Incident Reduction Therapy (which cures PTSD http://www.tira.org).

    I am an expert in Rational Psychotherapy. I have created several video reviews of this year’s Star Trek Discovery along the lines I have outlined above. http://www.youtube.com/user/thewaldenthree

    As for Stoicism, Epictetus said, “sick and yet happy, in peril and yet happy, dying and yet happy, in exile and happy, in disgrace and happy.” Stoics do not try to suppress emotions, just the self-defeating ones

    1. “At any rate, if you have any influence…”

      The only influence I have is what my eight-year-old eats for dinner, Jimmy! And even that is waning. As for how CBS makes Star Trek, I have as much influence over that as I have over the orbit of Neptune. 🙂

  7. A couple of thoughts. Perhaps what we’re seeing with Pike is that he’s masculine, intellectually speaking, and even patriarchal. That patience and confidence we see, through Anson Mount’s rock solid portrayal, points me in that direction.
    On the idea of Janeway’s sacrifices to be a captain, I somewhat disagree, though some may also see it that way. Consider though, what captain doesn’t make those same sacrifices. I wouldn’t say its a uniquely female problem. Besides, Janeway was as much of a bad a**, pardon the expression, as Kirk and the rest. She earned the big chair just like they did.

    1. Some captains did manage to have families, though. Kirk’s old CO, Captain Garrovick of the USS Farragut, had a son who went on to serve on the USS Enterprise. Commodore Decker’s son Will became a captain himself. Captain Sulu had Demora. Ben Sisko had Jake. And even Captain Robert April was married…albeit to his chief medical officer. Come to think of it, Captain William T. Riker of the USS Titan is married to his ship’s counselor.

      But yes, being a captain isn’t exactly a career that makes it easy to raise a family.

  8. Yaa back to agreeing with you. Captain Pike is most definitely my third favorite Captain. It is hardly surprising since he is a mixture of Captain Kirk and Captain Picard a choice I am sure AM made deliberately, a man of action yet slightly more cerebral and 3 dimensional than Captain Kirk. Not that I am denigrating Williams Shatner’s performance in the role but it was a different time and audiences expectations and tastes were different. John Wayne road of into the sunset he didn’t blub and spend 10 minutes discussing his feelings.

    The role of Captain in TNG set the bar at a whole new level and one which though I like the other Captains I dont think they came close, it was a lot more nuanced and complex though I have to point out AM has had very little time in the Captain’s chair to settle in and find his footing so far.

    Unfortunately AM has not yet found his stride when being more emotional, insecure and vulnerable. He gets lectured by Mickey Spock, allows Tilley to ramble on or swear yet as a Captain he is supposed to be training her to be a command officer and opens up to a section 31 operative he dislikes just because they shared a life or death situation where he saved the supposed super spy anyhow. Whereas when Captain Picard is in these type of emotional scenes not only does he nail it but he never loses his command presence. Whereas you are left watching Anson Mounts performance and wondering if it’s actually Ensign Pike.

    Well it is early days and you have to give him time to settle in he has done extremely well so far. I do think he is a skilled enough actor to pull such a complex role off but my worry is that he may not be allowed to. All these touchy feely scenes seemed forced upon the actor added on almost as an afterthought to fulfill some SJW quota girl power tick etc. Whereas in TNG they happened more organically often as a vital part of the story.

    Though STD has gone through many changes I believe the makeup of the writers room has remained unchanged and that is well overdue, perhaps they can steal a couple from the Orville LOL. With better writers Anson Mount could be an outstanding Captain and rather than my third favorite perhaps even my favorite though a long way to go yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.