28th Mar2009

why can’t geordi READ!?

by jerad.formby

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So Many Great Characters, Some Just Never Get Rocked

I just finished reading Star Trek: Countdown #3 and I’m totally excited about how it’s pushing a backstory for our new Star Trek movie. I’d talk about it in depth, but I don’t want to spoil anything if you’re planning to read it.

Well, I will spoil one thing. Spock has talked Geordi LaForge out of doing the big-epic suicide mission that I’m guessing will land Spock in the 23rd century. So I had a bit of a chuckle. A bit of a ‘what if’, which I know is a hot topic on trekcast right now. So, ‘what if’ that conversation had gone differently?

Geordi would be in the new movie and not Spock.

That’s kind of a fun idea when you come to realize that Geordi has never gotten a fair shake all across the Star Trek universe. In fact, his best treatment is right there in the Countdown comic book.

I can cry about any number of characters who have been slighted in Star Trek but this one’s going out to Geordi.


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Geordi LaForge was created to be a disabled crew member for the Next Generation. Gene Roddenberry loved the idea of having a main character who had a physical challenge to deal with from week to week. David Gerrold drummed up a memo for him listing various possibilities and Roddenberry zeroed in on blindness.

Gerrold went further as to suggest that Geordi LaForge be named for a real life Star Trek fan who had Muscular Dystrophy. Roddenberry approved of the name and also decided that Gerrold was right to suggest that Geordi be black to keep within the ethnic framework of the new ship.

Of course in the newly imagined 24th century, Roddenberry loved the idea that a blind man would be able to fly the ship, so LaForge landed squarely at conn –which at inception was a rocking position.

The guy flying the ship? Are you kidding me? Obviously there’s lots to do with the guy whose main function is all of the evasive maneuvers and course plotting and warp jumping.

Or maybe not.

As TNG ran its course, we discovered how unimportant the position actually was. Geordi was moved to engineering and conn was filled by… well, choose who. Wesley Crusher did it for a while. Ensign Ro Laren took a spin in that chair. The rest of the time it seemed relegated to an Unnamed Crew Member of the week.

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I would say that this formula holds as true as “red shirts” dying on the original series. There should be a term like “red shirt” for it… for the faceless pilot with lots of responsibilities. Hmmm.

So there wasn’t a lot of story fodder for Geordi having one of the most important jobs on the ship. He moved on. Which was a fantastic idea! Obviously a job where he would have control over his own set piece would up his importance, notably, and do loads to flesh out his character!

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When Next Generation was still in its embriotic stages, David Gerrold made a suggestion to Gene Roddenberry that they conceive of the show as being more “ensemble” driven as opposed to the original. The original series actually came with contractual responsibilities that Kirk or Spock be the main focus of every story they told. Gerrold pleaded with Roddenberry that the new show not go down that same path.

To my knowledge, that was a battle he won. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the show, but every character or cast member was given the same potential to break out like Data, Picard, or Riker. It just never really seemed to happen.

Oh Geordi, I wished we’d known you better.

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Everybody gets a whole lot of face time in the original pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” and that scene with Geordi in particular where Crusher suggests he switch the VISOR out for something else is actually one of my favorite parts. I remember being fascinated with his choice to handle his disablility with what was familiar and so I found him instantly relatable.

When the idea of blindness was being explored initially, Gerrold wanted Geordi to have some sort of “enlarged lenses,” but his idea was jettisoned in favor of the banana clip we all know and love today. I’ve heard all of the stories about how the VISOR impeded LeVar Burton’s vision, but the bigger crime I think, is that it impeded his acting.

Burton, like any actor, has to do the best with what he’s got. One of an actor’s greatest, biggest, and most reliable tools is his ability to make an expression. Poor Geordi could only ever make his lips do things… his eyes never impacted what he was doing or what people were feeling around him. One of my favorite Geordi expressions is when he blows through his lips in awe of something or blows through his lips when he’s unsure of something and follows it up with something like: “It’s a shot in the dark, captain.”

Burton did his work for the character, absolutely. He’s spoken about aspects of Geordi’s VISOR that I never even contemplated. He knew the VISOR could see sound, the electromagnetic spectrum –everything! One of his regrets is that on the series, we never saw exactly what Geordi sees. He feels it was under-utilized story potential.

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Although I see his point,  in the end it’s a bit cooler that we never saw that. I liked the air of mystery surrounding the VISOR. It wasn’t until I read about Burton’s own take on the VISOR that I realized how profoundly Picard under-realized the truth of Geordi’s vision.

I’m happy leaving what he saw in the dark. What  I’m unhappy with is how little happened that truly transformed him. TNG, like its predecessor, sadly just zeroed in on a handful of its ensemble and developed Riker, Picard, and Data. The only person to break through the paradigm was Worf –although I think he truly didn’t come into his own until DS9.

I don’t know why the writers relegated him to the background for character stuff. One of the best tokens they threw him was his friendship with Data. LaForge sort of became this sounding board for Data to practice his character development. That relationship seemed very one sided.

Of course LaForge couldn’t really be expected to seek out the real advice he needed from Data. Dating advice.

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That’s really the only other major thing the writers gave LaForge. He’s a blindman. His best friend’s a robot. And he’s a lonely man. That’s the short list of Geordi’s deal.

I’ve noted in previous blogs that Next Gen has always trumped itself as the “sexually liberated” Trek –but nobody ever got any play (except for Riker in his blue shirt). And when they did, it was a huge deal (dramatically). Geordi’s play was all near-misses.

I feel like Geordi and women mirrored some of the stories they were throwing Wesley. Why was a full-grown man going through the awkwardness of puberty all the dammed time? I hate to say it, but I think any decisions regarding our very favorite blind guy were a little uninspired.

Geordi should have been getting it on all the time. It would have given him and Riker a lot to talk about. It would have been cool for Data to seek relationship advice from somebody who could actually rock some business.

He only hooked up (off-screen) in “All Good Things” which was one possible future. Of course that’s not a hook-up, that’s a wife –totally different thing (but I digress).

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While we’re on the topic of Geordi’s future, I thought we’d fast forward past the series and take a look at the man in the movies.

Generations is a nightmare for Geordi. His ship is destroyed because of his handicap. Because of his VISOR, the rogue Klingons are able to get the drop on him and his crew. On the one hand its too bad, but on the other hand it seems like a weakness that should have been explored on television and not in the movies.

Geordi handles his torture like a pro. I wish they’d have done more of that sort of stuff with him in the seven years of TNG. He’s a strong guy, we know that mostly because we’re told that –we’re so rarely shown that.

After Generations, he gets “ocular implants” and you can see the difference right away. I defy anyone to watch First Contact and not give a giggle when you see all of the eyebrow movement and facial expression Geordi gives when he speaks for the first time. It’s a true hoot –as if the barn door has finally opened and the wild horses of Burton’s acting are finally allowed to run free.

Why did he get the implants, though? That’s one of my big questions –I’m sure someone in the EU has expanded on this, but in the strictest canon, there is no explanation given. That just brings me back to that scene in “Farpoint” that I liked so much. He knew there was better tech out there. He knew there was a way around the VISOR.

But he’d stuck with the VISOR for so long that his sudden blue eyes confused me. This was a character I knew and understood. He’d gone and made a choice off-screen ages ago and I had no idea why. The only thing I can think of is my own EU scene:

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I know it’s a seemingly light story point, but it’s a huge character leap for Geordi to ditch the VISOR. This sort of decision should have warranted Burton a scene of some kind. I would love to know the truth –if you know, don’t hesitate to comment.

Geordi is only one of a handful of characters I wish had followed Worf over to DS9. The writers there were rocking their ensemble so hard that they had character development for days. They threw some of the extra bits to fifth and sixth string characters.

On TNG, Geordi is a major character and he would have short-circuited his VISOR with tears of joy had he been given a quarter of the interest the writers gave these seemingly minor characters on DS9. I could pick anyone, but for the sake of argument, I will compare Geordi too… ah hell, let’s go with Ziyal. Gul Dukat’s daughter.

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But the character doesn’t stop there.

The VISOR contained the seeds of the Geordi drama. His tech was superior in a lot of ways to other choices, but it caused him headaches. He chose his method for seeing over any other possibility –that could have come out a little more.

Now, with all of that said, let me take you back to Countdown #3.

Geordi left Starfleet to design his own ships. He is the designer of the ship Spock will use in the new movie. He sports a rocking, gray goatee and he wants to fly the mission himself.

Sadly, the real drama of Spock talking him out of it is left off-screen. It’s told in a scene with Ambassador Picard. Even though his new story elements are cool, they still don’t warrant enough attention to document drama in the here-and-now.

If Spock hadn’t talked him out of it, the new Star Trek movie might have been Geordi’s most rocking moment in history.

But I’m happier it’s Spock. I just wish I knew Geordi as well as I know Spock.

Or Ziyal for that matter.

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