The Fabulous Wife is a fan of the TV show Stargate SG-1, which ran from 1997 to 2007 and is shown on Tuesday nights by Comet TV. In the episode she watched last night, the Asgard, a variation on the hairless, asthenic little “gray alien” meme, introduce themselves to Colonel Jack O’Neill (Richard Dean Anderson) by affirming that humanity has tremendous potential.
Talk about sci-fi memes! It’s hard to imagine one more ubiquitous than the conceit of humanity’s unlimited potential. Star Trek doesn’t leave orbit without it. Even Babylon 5, my favorite sci-fi TV series, follows from the premise that humans bring qualities to the galaxy that extraterrestrials lack. It’s as if all these shows’ writers got as far as the “What a piece of work is a man” speech in Hamlet and failed to read — or worse, forgot about — the rest of Shakespeare’s oeuvre.
Just once I’d like to hear ETs introduce themselves to humanity by saying “We’ve been studying you for years and find you have no potential whatsoever. You’re not even worth destroying, especially since you’re doing such an efficient job of that yourselves.”
The Orville, Seth McFarlane’s series on Fox, is threatening to go there. Last week the crew ran into a planet of artificially-intelligent robots who have concluded the “biologicals” in the 300-member Planetary Union have no redeeming qualities and represent an impediment to the robots’ evolution. So the robots are off to destroy the earth.
It will be interesting to see how McFarlane plays this. Star Trek is his model, and in that franchise humankind survives and even flourishes no matter how dark the threat. But The Orville’s Kaylons are not like Star Trek’s Borg. The Borg found value in humanity and sought to assimilate it. The Kaylons see no value in humanity and thus are intent on using their superior technology to annihilate the species.
I suspect humanity will come through just fine, especially since this season of The Orville has six more episodes to go. Perhaps the one Kaylon who spent time with the crew will identify a redeeming quality of biologicals and persuade his robots-in-arms to call off the attack.
But wouldn’t it be cool if humanity doesn’t come through? It would certainly bring home Stephen Hawking’s warning that “the development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” It would go where no sci-fi show I’m aware of has gone before, presenting McFarlane with a serious narrative challenge: how to keep an audience interested in a sci-fi show where humans are peripheral or even absent.
Sorry to sound so down on humankind, but come on, you can’t tell me you haven’t had these same thoughts yourself at one time or another!