Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Utterly Indispensible Second Banana

If Kirk was a heroic and sometimes even swashbuckling leading man, in a decade when both movies and TV were painfully short of heroes, what then of the rest of the crew? While a lot of lip service gets paid to the idea of the ensemble cast, the most memorable stories from TOS seem to be those in which the secondary characters are playing clearly recognizable roles from the Gallery of Standard Sidekicks. Spock, for example, frequently plays the part of the selfless genius sidekick who thinks of clever things the hero is too busy to notice, while McCoy most often functions as the cranky comic relief sidekick who's at his funniest when he's at his gloomiest. (Think Eeyore. "Dammit, Pooh, I'm a donkey, not a bricklayer!")

Scottie is the utility player; sometimes he's the crafty scrounger who can fix anything, sometimes he's the comic-relief drunk, and he's often at his most interesting when he's the designated arse-kicker. It comes from chivalric fantasy traditions: a truly noble hero, you see, can never stoop to certain actions, no matter how sensible, so he often has a lower-class sidekick who can do the thug's work when necessary. Kirk is far too noble to call up the Flemgonian Ambassador and say, "You have five minutes to give us back our hostages. If you don't, we will incinerate every city on your planet in alphabetical order." Scottie on the other hand can, and still provide Kirk with a scrim of deniability.

My current theory is that one of the reasons why the later ST series are not as memorable as the original is that they truly tried to achieve an ensemble cast, and thus rarely went into the library of recognizable sidekicks (except for the loathsome boy genius Wesley Crusher, but enough about him). It isn't until we get Archer, Tucker and Reid on Enterprise that we get back to the formula of heroic leading man w/ squires, and as for that...

No, I am not going to start ranting and swearing about the abyssmal last episode of Enterprise. Not here. Not how.

Instead, let's turn it over to discussion. Who is your favorite ST sidekick character, and why?