If Aristotle was correct when he said life imitates art, then “Star Trek: Discovery’s” Captain Christopher Pike is an opportunity for the science fiction genre to reshape the American narrative on masculinity.
Pike inspires his people to “be bold, be brave, be courageous.” In contradiction, sitcom television and college campuses influence Americans to believe that men are solely misogynistic buffoons. In fact, men are so incompetent, they stand over their barbecue grills watching their sons fight with each other as some form of weird ritual. How did we ever reach some sense of civilization over the past 5,000 years with men at the helm?
“Star Trek: Discovery” is the successor of 50-plus years of the Star Trek universe as well as one of the greatest franchises to explore the human condition. Discovery uses the fictitious Captain Pike to reexamine the masculine archetype, long downtrodden in our postmodern society. The series and its writers (inadvertently) recaptures one of the greatest virtues of science fiction long gone missing in other genres: a strong, self-sacrificing, masculine hero.
Such masculine archetypes are sorely missed in television. Welcome back, Captain Pike. Welcome back. America has a great lesson to learn from you and Star Trek.
In the original Star Trek series of the late 1960s, viewers discovered Captain Kirk was not the first captain of the Enterprise. Instead, fans learned Captain Christopher Pike served for 13 years before Kirk assumed command.
In the “Menagerie” parts 1 and 2, Kirk and Spock meet Pike, who is confined to a wheelchair and unable to communicate due to severe gamma radiation burns. Pike, the eager hero, met this fate when he saved several cadets from certain death. Ultimately, Spock breaks Federation law to return Captain Pike to Talos IV, where Christopher can live out his remaining days in peace and tranquility with a sense of healing from his wounds.
Set 10 years before Star Trek’s original series, Pike startlingly joins the U.S.S. Discovery to investigate a series of indeterminable signals that appear immediately after the end of season one’s conflict with the Klingon Empire. When Pike takes command of the Discovery, a look of dread appears on the faces of female crew members.
Their fear of a new captain stems from season one, in which Discovery was captained by Lorca, a despotic, achieve victory at all costs, tread everyone under foot leader. He is the antithesis of the heroine captain, Philippa Georgiou, whom everyone loved and admired. Captain Georgiou was killed by the nationalistic, male-driven warrior race, the Klingons.
Pike is the opposite of the despot Lorca. He asks men and women for their opinions and possible solutions. He praises his female and highly competent first officer, Number One, played by Rebecca Romjin. When danger arises, Pike is the first one to put his life on the line, which he does numerous times throughout the 14 episodes.
Federation leadership feared if the Klingons won, then a contingency must be made to preserve the greatest exemplar of all that is good. Someone with strong virtues must remain alive to rebuild a crushed Federation if the Klingons succeed. Pike is that exemplar, and he feels tremendous guilt for following orders to stay out of the war.
Pike lives out the virtue of commitment when ensign Tilly is trapped by an alien race. Captain Pike issues a ship-wide announcement, “Starfleet is a promise. I give my life for you. You give your life for me. And no one gets left behind. Ensign Tilly has every reason to expect us. Good luck and God speed to us all.”
With this promise they go after their lost comrade while two female officers share an approving glance with each other. The healing is taking root among the crew just like the healing of the male archetype narrative can take root in America.
Toward the end of the second season, Captain Pike must travel to the Klingon planet Boreth to retrieve a valuable crystal. To possess the crystal, Pike must accept an impossible future: in ten years he will save cadets from an explosion of gamma radiation, which will leave him in an almost vegetative state, burned beyond belief and confined to a wheelchair. Or Pike can reject the crystal’s curse and leave empty-handed to continue his unfettered life.
Faced with this horror, Pike digs deep. He reminds himself of his core values and the virtues that guide his daily life. He’s not worried about which craft beer he’ll miss out on. Nor is he worried about his alpha-female wife’s condescension. Pike chooses to practice the virtue of self-sacrifice for the greater good of others living in a jeopardized future.
Historically, Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, sought to address the societal challenges of the 1960s through the adventures of the Enterprise. Racial barriers were non-existent on the starship despite those of the day. The misogyny of the ‘60s received confrontation while exploring narratives of true, respectful love. If Rodenberry were with us today, perhaps he might see one of the greatest societal plights is masculinity in the 21st century.
Like the original series, “Star Trek: Discovery” proves itself contemporary on the subject of masculinity, even if unwittingly. The show champions the virtues of the masculine archetype for a society that needs masculinity’s inspiration, not more fodder for sitcom television. If art imitates life, then our sons and daughters should tune in to one of the best offerings of science fiction known as Star Trek in hopes to imitate their lives after great art.
“Discovery” gives us Captain Pike, a character who can inspire our sons to “be bold, be brave,” and “be courageous,” inspirational words that commend young men to be who they are born to be before television and college campuses buffet their gaze to the ground. Be bold, be brave, be courageous men we hope our daughters will discover instead of being conditioned that their only hope is to settle for a man they will also need to raise alongside their children.
If art imitates life, then Captain Christopher Pike shapes the imagination to model the virtues of masculinity.