Monday, July 22, 2013

Secret Star Trek: Levels Above Human

If Star Trek is indeed inextricably linked to the human potential movement and a bizarre flying saucer cult, why is that so? What is the purpose of programming these strange themes into what is one of the most successful sci-fi franchises of our time?

For all its nods to political correctness over the years, Star Trek is about one thing and one thing only: the militarization of space.

Depicting a universe ruled over by a benevolent military dictatorship, Star Trek and the roughly contemporaneous Dune marked a distinct about face in 60s sci-fi, a return to the ethos of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers. This certainly fit the agenda of the Great Society, which married social largesse at home with unrelenting militarism abroad.

In trying to fit the puzzle pieces together you see how the military of the Cold War era was constantly on the lookout for new weapons or potential weapons, and the weaponization potential of extrasensory perception was something even the most dimwitted colonel could grasp. At the very least the Human Potential Movement offered the promise of better recruits into the military from the get-go.

It's in this context we should look again at Roddenberry's famous "Box" for Star Trek: The Next Generation, forbidding any kind of interpersonal conflict among the crew, even disallowing children to mourn their parents.

Indeed, Roddenberry's idealized Enterprise seems suspiciously inhuman, or a level above human. Perhaps his "New Human Movement" wasn't just a throwaway:
The new Human movement represented a popular advancement of the Human civilization in the 23rd century, a grouping created as an outgrowth of the advantage of potential in Humankind on Earth and other Federation worlds where Human populations lived in total peace and were able to devote themselves entirely to their own betterment. Without conflict and turmoil, education became more advanced and the intelligence of the average individual increased, creating a dynamic of social freedom not before experienced by the species. 
This ethos, which in fact has its roots in old fashioned Puritanism, is the other major thematic strand that ties Esalen to Star Trek, the first of course being The Nine.

From the Esalen website:
(Michael) Murphy’s research on this database led to the groundbreaking books The Future of the Body and The Life We are Given. The central finding stemming from his research is that most human attributes have extraordinary expressions, in which those capacities are taken to new levels of experience and sophistication. This suggests a larger purpose for the continued evolution of human embodiment, which is a central premise in Esalen’s vision and programs.
It shouldn't come as a surprise then that so many of the major players in the Trek franchise would explore this idea of Level Above Human in their later projects, or that the denial of human impulses and needs would have such a powerful effect on some of Star Trek's most fanatical followers....

The best-known and most successful of the post-Trek projects was Ronald Moore's revamp of Leslie Stevens' Battlestar Galactica, which added a fresh coat of Bush-era paranoia to the militarization of space theme. But it also introduced transhumanism into the mix, with the Cylons no longer depicted simply as chrome killbots but as highly sophisticated androids who are essentially indistinguishable from human beings.

Moore's BSG depicted his militarized universe as a stylish kulturkampf between monotheists and nominal polytheists, although his Democrats-in-Space theme would be considerably more accurate if the humans were militant atheists. BSG was beloved by liberal reviewers, despite the military monoculture it helped to reinforce in the public imagination. 

It went unnoticed outside geek circles, but Trek fans were stunned when Moore not only left the fold in 1999, but aired his grievances with Voyager showrunner Brannon Braga in a very public fashion, condemning the UPN flagship as a betrayal of the Trek ethos (and a nightmare to work for).

Moore also dismissed Berman's stewardship of the franchise, observing instead that it was Michael Piller (who we've discussed so much in this series) who was the man who made Star Trek: The Next Generation the cultural juggernaut it became.

Piller later jumped ship as well to develop and produce USA Network's series adaption of Stephen King's psi-themed The Dead Zone (starring former Brat Packer Anthony Michael Hall), which ran a respectable six seasons.

After developing Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda for syndication, Robert Hewitt Wolfe reinvented Jim Butcher's dour Dresden Files as a dramedy for SciFi (who badly dropped the ball with what could have been a major hit).

Wolfe's Files presented sorcerers in the same context that has become dominant in sci-fi franchises such as Twilight, Underworld and True Blood; supernatural beings are a hereditary subset of humanity (or a Level Above Human, more accurately) governed by a parallel, invisible government comprised of councils and elders and so on.

As much a cliche as it's become in pop circles, this basic formula was originally derived from occult sects and secret societies, the same types of organizations who believed they had been contacted by the gods of Egypt beginning in the late 1940s.

Wolfe later joined former Deep Space Nine showrunner Ira Steven Behr over at Syfy's Alphas,  a shortlived superhero-sans-spandex series. However, the Alphas were predominantly psychic superheroes; they didn't leap tall buildings in a single bound or save cheerleaders.

Like Heroes, Alphas was deeply derivative of a series which re-ties the endless links between Star Trek and The Outer Limits: USA's The 4400.

The Levels Above Human here were filled by the titular 4400, ordinary humans who were kidnapped and given superpowers (usually of the psi variety) by future scientists to head off a coming apocalypse. The elevator pitch was essentially X-Men meets X-Files (with liberal doses of Taken) and focused on the travails of the new superheroes and the government agency assigned to deal with them.

What sets the series apart from later clones such as Heroes and Alphas is the 4400 Center, an urbanized Esalen run by the mysterious Jordan Collier (played by Bill Campbell). Collier also dies and rises, sets up a Temporary Autonomous Zone within Seattle city limits, isolates the compound which gives the 4400 their powers and begins doling it out to ordinary citizens to recruit them to the 4400 cause.

The series has a distinct Scientological undertow to it as well, reminding one of the popularity of Dianetics among the CIA's remote viewers, not to mention the occultists involved in the first Nine-like eruptions into the culture (despite the grotesque abuses of the Church's leadership- abuses that seem to be a feature, not a glitch-- there's also the inconvenient fact that Scientology actually seems to work).

But most importantly The 4400 embodies the lingering connections between Star Trek and The Outer Limits, since it was created by longtime Trek staff writer René Echevarria and (New) Outer Limits producer Scott Peters. What was long implicit was now explicit.

After several attempts, The Outer Limits was finally rebooted in 1995 by Alliance Atlantis, the prolific Canadian studio that also produced the various Stargate series (with considerable help from the US Air Force).

However, The Outer Limits was markedly different from most Atlantis product, eschewing jokey, fannish LARP-fi for more serious-minded sci-fi. It was a successful anthology (running six seasons on Showtime and a final season on SciFi) at a time when execs has long written anthologies off for dead.

But just as the original series did, the new Outer Limits also served as a venue for a host of faces familiar to Trek fans, most notably Leonard Nimoy in a remake of Otto Binder's 'I, Robot'. The better episodes of the series also featured Mirina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Dwight Schultz, John De Lancie and Michelle Forbes from TNG, Nicole De Boer, Rene Auberjonois, Nana Visitor and William Sadler from DS9 and Robert Picardo from Voyager.

In other words, the Star Trek-Outer Limits feedback loop had now entered a new generation...

Then there is 'The Deprogrammers', an episode starring Brent "Data" Spiner playing way against type as a resistance fighter who kidnaps the human slave (played by Erich Anderson) of an alien overlord in order to reverse his mind control programming. It's a fantastic bit of sci-fi with a vital message for these times so I won't spoil the shock ending.

I will strongly advise you to watch it, however.

But here's where the sweater begins to unravel: Anderson previously appeared in another mind control themed drama, this time on ST:TNG, proving that the Outer Limits producers were paying very close attention to what Trek was doing:
After the crew's memories are mysteriously erased, the computer records indicate that the Federation is at war with the Lysians, and that the Enterprise has been ordered to attack their command center.
Anderson plays a spy who poses as the Enterprise's first officer. His goal is to commandeer the ship to destroy an space station and drag the Enterprise into war with his people's enemies. 

A classic false flag using mind control, in other words. Go figure.

But there are two curious details here that deepen the weirdness. First of all this episode is one of Michelle Forbes' few guest appearances as Ensign Ro, connecting us to Bajor. And the space station is a repurposed Godship all the way back from 'Justice', the very Esalen-flavored episode from the first season of TNG.

So in other words, the episode in which the Outer Limits' producers chose to reference Star Trek has very distinct yet clandestine links back to The Nine; through Ensign Ro to the Prophets and through 'Justice' to the non-corporeal machine intelligence.

I should add that Leslie Stevens was listed as program consultant and/or consulting producer in the first four seasons of the new Outer Limits (he died in 1998). The Leslie Stevens Enigma may be why there seems to be so many tales being told out of school in the new Outer Limits as well as the old. It also should be noted that nearly all of the Trek guest slots on TNOL came while Stevens was still alive.

And so another episode featuring another familiar Trek face also brings us straight back to that West Coast corridor connecting the Stanford Research Institute to Esalen with its remote influencing and shadowy military men.

The fourth season episode 'Monster' has long been a mystery to me. Like so many other resonant TNOL eps it features a Star Trek alumnus, Nicole de Boer in this case. 

And just as we saw in the Trek-related film Wavelength, 'Monster' seems to dramatize an extremely bizarre and terrifying episode in which military remote viewers were killed during an exercise in a deep underground bunker:
Nick Redfern's book Final Events begins with a story told by a priest named Ray Boeche, who was also involved in the murky world of UFOlogy. He claims he was approached by two men who worked for the Department of Defense in 1991, who were concerned about the work being done in the field of psychotronic warfare. They claimed that black project groups were getting involved in heavy occult activity and seeking to contact NHEs, or non-human entities, which they intended to weaponize...Boeche was shown a series of photographs of the catastrophic results of one of these experiments.
Information given, but not allowed to note during meeting: Discussion of individuals killed during psychotronic weapons experiments.
1. Male, white, 25-30 yrs., allegedly death by remotely induced cardiac arrest.
2. Female, white, 20-25 yr., allegedly death by remotely transmitting and creating head trauma equivalent to crushing of right anterior portion of the skull. 
3. Male, white, 30-40 yrs., allegedly death by remotely controlled suffocation. 
Setting was in a laboratory environment. Alleged victims were wired for EEG EKG, seated in reclining chair, somewhat similar to dentist's chair.

What's even more fascinating is that the petite, pixieish deBoer is very much an idealized version of the woman who was at that time one of America's most notorious remote viewers, Prudence Calabrese, who was.... 
 (the) second-most prominent figure at the controversial Farsight Institute, a remote viewer trained by Farsight founder Courtney Brown ...Calabrese was a key participant in the infamous "Hale-Bopp Companion" fiasco in the spring of 1997, in which she and Brown claimed on national radio that a planet-sized object of apparent alien origin was following close behind the huge comet...
Normally this kind of thing wouldn't attract much attention outside Coast to Coast fan circles. But that night a desperate man was tuned in, awaiting a message of deliverance for himself and his flock of the ultimate Star Trek: The Next Generation fans:
When 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed suicide last March in the apparent belief that they could thereby gain entry to a UFO trailing Hale-Bopp, more than a few horrified onlookers directed a share of the blame at Farsight.

For some reason, very few people have bothered to notice that even if Hale Bopp didn't bring a planet sized UFO in its wake, it most certainly heralded one of the most remarkable UFO flaps of recent times. We have no evidence that the Heaven's Gate cult were aware of the Phoenix Lights but there's no doubt that they would surely have believed their prayers had been answered:
Marshall Applewhite heard an alleged "remote viewer" claim on Art Bell's show that a ginormous UFO was trailing Comet Hale-Bopp and saw this as the great signal that it was time to beam up. The UFO meme was soon debunked but as he and his followers were wrapping up their affairs, the Phoenix Lights were causing panic just a few hours drive away from their Rancho Santa Fe stronghold. 

Did the Gate hear about the event? I haven't found any evidence yet that they did but the timing of the event- whatever you may think of the exact nature of the sightings themselves- is bone-chilling.

The Gate were awaiting a giant UFO to come pick them up. And just as they were preparing for its arrival thousands of people were reporting a giant UFO in the skies over Phoenix, a hop, skip and jump away.
But we've been there before. The story actually gets a lot stranger...

Way too much Star Trek

Heaven's Gate-- America's most notorious Trekkies-- were a lot more isolated than the cache of video and text released postmortem would lead you to believe (they were able to support themselves as web designers without tipping off their clients as to how extreme they were). They were also a lot angrier and paranoid than the impression given in their happy-face "exit interviews."
Applewhite required his "class" to give up virtually everything. This included families, friends and sex, five of his male followers had themselves surgically castrated like their leader. They also surrendered and/or renounced all their worldly possessions. His "crew" was told they must overcome and do battle spiritually with dark forces known as the "Luciferians" and those they influenced. This became a negative label that could be applied to anyone or anything outside the group.

It was through a process of rigid regimentation that Marshall Applewhite was able to purge his "class" of their individuality and program their minds to accept his doctrines.

A lot of their literature isn't much different than typical Fundamentalist conspiracy literature and they held to a deeply apocalyptic worldview. Contact with outsiders was closely monitored and Applewhite's suicidal tendencies were exacerbated by a deep persecution complex. However, they did maintain a website and post various manifestos on USENET so they weren't exactly invisible. It's simply that there wasn't much to distinguish them from a number of similar cults until their mass suicide.
According to Marshall Applewhite the world was merely a "stepping stone" to "the true Kingdom of God." And this world was about to be "recycled" or "spaded under" because its inhabitants had refused to evolve. Only those who were bound together through his teachings could survive by traveling to the next level.

The group's suicide was almost logical within this mindset, since Applewhite insisted that "the Truth can be retained only as one is physically connected with the Next Level, through an Older Member" (i.e. Marshall Applewhite). Thus, without Applewhite there was no hope of transition to the next "Evolutionary Level."

A typical apocalyptic cult, right? Well, aside from the Phoenix Lights synchronicity I'm trying to figure out why --or how, more accurately-- The Outer Limits aired a strange parallel world version of the Heaven's Gate story, a kind of wish-fulfillment lucid dream for the cult and their leader.

That aired the same week of their suicides.

Bringing us back to the realm of the ancient astronauts, the episode in question aired March 28, 1997 and was written by Stargate SG-1 producer Jonathan Glassner and was entitled 'Double Helix'. Here's the pitch from the Wiki:
A geneticist, Dr Martin Nodel, is a researcher looking into introns, mysterious sections of DNA that he believes hold the secret to future evolution. He develops a formula that he believes will activate them, and ...tests it on himself, and begins experiencing strange symptoms, including a sort of map that grows on his back and a pattern that grows on his hand.

Shortly after he begins looking for students that are suitable candidates. They have to have a high IQ, never had surgery, and are free from imperfections such as tattoos or glasses.
After finding the needed candidates, he reveals the map. The area is discovered to be a hidden military area not on any normal map and, along with Nodel's son and his girlfriend, the group travels to the area.

Inside that area is a spaceship-type device with symbols that match the ones on the Doctor's hands. It activates, and a message from an apparent alien race is played back. The Doctor and the students decide to enter the ship on a journey to the home planet.
Applewhite believed he was Christ reincarnated

So what we have here is an idealized version of Heaven's Gate;
like Nodel, Applewhite was a college professor and looked upon his cult as his students. He creates a serum which elevates him to level above human, discovers the spaceship and takes his class with him to visit the alien creators.

Exactly as Applewhite spent a quarter century dreaming about.

It's as if Heaven's Gate's wildest dreams had come true, at least onscreen. Seriously- if you watch the episode the parallels will simply smack you upside the head. It's like Heaven's Gate's own Hollywood movie of itself. 

Even more so than The Mysterious Two, which is in fact based on Heaven's Gate.

The retreat into the woods is an exact parallel of Applewhite leading an early version of his cult into the forests of Oregon in 1975, where he and Bonnie Nettles hoped they would find exactly what we see in this episode. What's more the Nodel character is drawn into the aliens' orbit because of a health crisis, just as what happened with Applewhite. One student even identifies his class as being like a "cult."

And did I mention this first aired two days after Marshall Applewhite's death?

The language is all remarkably similar to Applewhite's as well: evolution and the scholastic lexicon colliding with nakedly religious iconography. In many ways it plays like a Stargate episode (lost alien artifact, curiously benevolent military men, creator gods), which of course isn't surprising.

What's more, a sequel would run the following season in which the earth had indeed been "spaded over."

Some interesting details about this episode though- there aren't 39 people who enter the ancient spaceship, there are only nine. 

One of them- Martin Nodel's son- is played by Ryan Reynolds*, star of...

...The Nines.

You know, about the noncorporeal space gods who inhabit human form.

Note that Reynolds' girlfriend in 'Double Helix' is named Hope† and Hope Davis plays a similar role in The Nines. But more importantly note that Martin Nodell is also the creator of...

Green Lantern. 

Portrayed on film by... Ryan Reynolds.

The Green Lantern Corps is controlled by the cosmic space gods known as the Guardians of the Universe. How many of those were there originally?


And just to make this all completely insane, here is Ryan Reynolds as Hannibal King watching William Shatner in Leslie Stevens' Incubus for absolutely no reason at all. The film is Blade: Trinity which presents Dracula as a Sumerian god, unearthed during the Iraq War.

Hannibal King later receives the stigmata.

Incidentally, a few days before the Heaven's Gate suicides began an episode of Voyager aired in which one of the crew mysteriously began to manifest the Stigmata.

Why is all of this significant?

Because at the very same time all of this was happening Michael Piller was hired to begin work on Star Trek 9 aka Star Trek: Insurrection. Aka Star Trek: The War for Esalen....

*Reynolds co-starred in the same first season episode that Dwight Schultz appeared in.
† The same actress also played Neith in Stargate SG-1.