No matter how hard I try, I can't stop enjoying Star Trek. In my defense, I'll assert the various Treks do at times provide the pleasures of well-made SF, in which a "fascinating" (thank you, Mr. Spock) idea is extrapolated to its (extra-)logical conclusion. Kirk's Tribbles and his visit to the City on the Edge of Forever, Picard's endless Prime Directive quandaries, Sisko's future socio-political history, even Janeway's internecine struggles; more often than not I find myself watching puzzles unfold — and, more importantly, the figures who cause or solve those puzzles, so that, in the end, Trek's characters provide, I think, the deepest rewards.
As with any TV series, familiarity breeds content (ha, ha), and the Treks are generous in their efforts to give us "interesting" (thank you again, Spock) but readily identifiable characters. On the surface, Star Trek is "comfort video," as challenging (OK, and as good for you) as any beige middle-American meal, and as easy to consume. This partly explains why I've recently turned to Enterprise on DVD, perhaps the last Trek series; I'm watching every episode — almost dutifully, I'll admit (to continue the gustatory analogy, I guess I'm being good and cleaning my plate), but also along the way gathering some rewards: the series takes place about a century before Kirk's Trek, and includes affectionate nods to the first series' day-glo aesthetic and mini-skirt/Nehru jacket sensibility; more importantly, in its plots and characters it rewards The Faithful without turning the series into a poster-board presentation at a Trekkie-con.
But, beyond the blandly satisfying familiarity of series television and the intermittent SF rewards, what is it about Trek that holds my interest? I want to get back the characters - specifically, one recurring feature of Trek characterization. To clarify I'll turn to anthropologist Jon Wagner's 1998 book, Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos, which offers compelling arguments for the Trek-as-myth-cycle, as it charts the shifts in the various Treks as reflections of similar movements in modern American society.
A number of years ago, a friend pointed out that every other culture has their myths set in an imaginary past; modern Western society, on the other hand — at least since the late nineteenth century — positions its myths in the future. Wagner's book explores how Trek contributes to this future-engineered myth-making, in part how it manipulates its characters. In a section called "The Doppleganger Effect," Wagner points out how often Treks deal with the idea of the doppleganger, the alter ego that haunts us. He notes that Jung considered this "the strongest of all the archetypes." This "evil version of the self" is "the repository of all the personal traits that one ordinarily refuses to confront and may actively deny." Jung insists, though, that we must recognize and reconcile with this double.