7 Days/ UPN

Sentience, Anyone?
Wednesdays Please distribute this URL as you see fit.
By Ted Baldwin
written 5/14/99
7 P.M.
Occasionally inventive, sometimes imaginative time-travel show shows spirit. And there is not a "temporal prime directive" anywhere near this actioner. Amusing, isn't it?

     I promised myself not to use reviews and commentaries on television shows as bitch sessions about Star Trek.

     Sorry. I am a sucker for an easy target. The contrast between 7 Days and Star Trek philosophies is an ocean of difference. The Atlantic.

     Here is the premise of UPN's 7 Days: Temponaut travels back 7 days in a rickety off-again, off-again time machine. Mission? Undo whatever tragedies befell the planet sometime in the last 7 days. Why 7 days? Because they have not figured out their sphere of influence, and 7 days is about all they can handle.

     Suffused throughout this series is humor, and a look at the feelings and frustrations of a man who is sometimes 7 days ahead of the others. He knows things about them they don't know. How they will act. What decisions they will make when it comes down to it. Whether or not the beautiful female scientist will kiss him, or slap him. Sometimes this information is useful, sometimes not. Often it is painful. And he quickly learns not to take things for granted.

In my favorite episode to date, Frank goes back in time over and over and over, trying to undo the problem, and each time things get worse until he gets the woman he loves killed. Having to relive the same few hours with a hyper-annoying nerd leaves him feeling loopy, and his frustration level skyrockets. By the end he is plowing through trouble makers and rough spots at a well-practiced and bewildering pace. Reminiscent of Groundhog Day, and certainly influenced by it, but the twists are original enough.

     In a way, the strength of the suspense in this series is like Hitchcock's approach to suspense. Always tell the audience more than the stars. (e.g. Rear Window.) Because we are now with Parker, 7 days ahead of the world, we know what is about to happen. The game is to stop it. Clever.

     But none of this matters. Not the characters, not the situations, not the technology. What does matter is that they waste no time in undoing the past, and in suffering the consequences. They are acting toward the good. And, unlike the perpetually renewable teflonic Star Trek people, ships and chiseled-in-stone philosophy, things get screwed up in 7 Days. And they don't always get fixed.

     7D's bedrock philosophy? One of the episodes framed it this way (roughly). "Suppose we go back in time to prevent the assassination of a dictator, which saves other lives. But because we saved them, the dictator then kills a little girl. What if she were the one? What do we do? Go back in time or not? The answer? Go back in time. We can do it. Though imperfect, we are justly motivated. For whatever reason, God allowed us to develop this ability, and we should do our best with it." Unusual, to hear God mentioned in a sci-fi series. And rather nice, too.

      Make rules, but break them when necessary; when concerned individuals can exercise judgement.

     That is the law serving man.

     Take that Prime Directive! Take that Picard! I rave a little, because I am still hacked about the ancient Star Trek Next Gen episode where Picard prime-directively refuses to help some poor sons-of-bitches on a planet about to lose its air. "That is their natural evolution - we must not interfere! It is not our place to interfere." Lah-de-dah! Bullshit. It is precisely their place.

     That is man serving the law.

     In the Star Trek dramaturge, it was left to subordinates to rescue a few of the planetypes behind Picard's back. The payoff? When a rescued teenager accidentally left the holodeck simulation and ventured out into the reality of the ship, he realized that his world view was all wrong! SO HE DIES! The shock is too much!

     And the crew pontificates about how it is sooooooooooooo wrong to upset such people (and how superior they are to the savages) and that is why the prime directive is so sacred. Better the child die of suffocation and being sucked out into space to have his little lungs explode than think something new? What a load of crap. HE WAS GOING TO DIE ANYWAY! And people, be they aliens or not, are a whole lot more adaptive than that! Especially TEENS!!! Exploration is how we get to be sentient in the first place!

What is really at heart is Picard's worship of Starfleet Regulations. His world view is the one that cannot stand inspection, and he is the one who would (and did) sacrifice untold millions for the sake of his honor and obeisance to authority. (Like when he had a chance to intellectually nuke the Borgs but couldn't find the moral authority to "commit genocide". So untold millions more have to die.) So in the future, when even the Borg have passed away, and the archeologists uncover the ruins, the great law will be all that is left, stained with our blood. That and Picard's honor. Like Ozymandius.

     The original Star Trek series broke rules, which made it interesting. Our own cultural rules, and their own Federation rules. Janeway, on Voyager, breaks them once in a while, but she is still slavishly devoted to the directives. Thankfully her crew is more rebellious (read: interesting)

But you can't go around teaching people to think for themselves! They can't handle the responsibility! And we need order in this society - especially when we go to a one-world government (with a European model for socialized citizenship, by the way.) Yep, us Americans just have a little too much freedom, especially on the Internet (Ask Hillary about whether we should look hard at all this Internet stuff or not.) I am sure there is a directive coming from somewhere about that, too.

      More on totalitarianism later.

     It is precisely the breaking of rules that makes 7 Days interesting. And that is also what makes it valuable to a free mind, irrespective of its many faults. We need to agree to abide by and respect authority and our system, but we should never be afraid to question it, Never. And we should never forfeit the right to hold and speak opinions different from the authority. Especially when nine Supreme Court Justices are camped out under your bed...

There come times when it is necessary to break rules. Would you speed on the way to a hospital to save someone's life? Run traffic lights, drive in the center turn lane? I did, to take my dad to the emergency room. It felt weird. It did not feel right. And that is good. But getting him there expeditiously was a whole lot more important than following the traffic rules.

More on civilized disobedience later.

      Meanwhile, back at the review...Any faults of 7 Days lie in the mechanics of its time travel process, and exactly who is where, what and when. It can be confusing even to an experienced sci-fi watcher. But these are small details, and the characters have been breaking out of their stereotypecast molds.

      For example, Nate, the balls-forward loudmouthed security chief is grating and at times idiotically opposed to the main star, to say the least, but they have shown him over the year to be a stand-up professional who has what it takes. He cannot tolerate Frank Parker, the temponaut, and continually shows his ass. But, thankfully, as with all the other characters, he is showing increasing depth, and they all have something going on behind the scene that makes them valuable to the time travel project, and interesting to us.

     The intrigue of competent people working toward a goal in different ways with different temperaments is one hell of a lot closer to reality than you might think, despite the fantasy of the series situations. It is what makes their people leaders instead of rule spouting babysitters. And they will make hard choices - despite their feelings for their friends. Enter tragedy, enter drama.

And the concept of action to ease the suffering of others is somehow more like the good old-fashioned American way. And I am not ashamed of that. Which is why I like this little UPN sci-fi series.

An Aside...

     I am angry too at the real-life nature photographers who documented the deaths of a tribe of chimpanzees in some God-awful desert.

They could not violate their professional ethics by interfering with the natural chain of events. I see. How daring!

I would like to think I would never knowingly help one of those photographers, but I know of course I would. I have a soul.

What the hell is civilization for? Where is compassion and generosity? Who do they think they are that their "natural philosophy" is so perfect they cannot help a poor unfortunate chimp? And their self-congratulatory grief was overwhelming - Ohhh! We felt such compassion for the poor creatures, but it was not our place to do anything except film them slowly dying..."

It was precisely their place. Barf.

A Simple Test

     You're in a desert. (Doesn't make any difference which one - this is completely hypothetical.) You're walking along in the sand, when all of a sudden you look down and you see a tortoise, (a turtle, same thing) crawling along towards you. You reach down and flip the tortoise over. The tortoise lays on its back, its belly baking in the hot sun, beating its legs, trying to turn itself over -but it can't, not without your help. But you're not helping.....

  Why is that, Leon? *

Holy Voight-Kampf, Batman! I am living in a world of replicants who don't have the emotional capacity to give a chimp a drink of water.

     That is man serving the law.

*The indented quote is from the opening sequence of "Bladerunner", if you were curious.