Original Premiere: August 31, 2004
Once upon a time, in a land 1200 miles away, a meerkat and a warthog conspired to bring you this episode. I kid you not. Many, many years ago, I was forcibly transported across the country to visit the alleged Happiest Place on Earth. It was 95 degrees, raining, utterly humid, and for some reason I was the only person in Orlando that didn’t get a suntan. Still, it was a decent trip—definitely not the happiest place on Earth… but I did come away from Florida with this episode. Nestled deep within the confines of Disney World was this corny little movie about conservation and preservation and all that, starring Timon and Puumba from The Lion King… You know, Puumba was building his new mud hole in the African Savannah when somebody comes and builds a hotel on the spot. Or something like that… it’s been YEARS since I actually saw the movie, but the general theme tended to stick with me.
Admittedly, I was not eager to develop the idea. While the notion itself was interesting on some degree… it just seemed very hard to make an entire episode about conservation interesting. I mean, Timon and Puumba ran out of steam after ten minutes or so. Thus, the episode sat, collecting dust in the back of my mind for the better part of a decade—it didn’t even make the list of “possible episodes” I drew up before TFF began (and to show how low of a priority this episode was, that “possible episode” list did include an episode about a magic wishing well, which THANKFULLY got canned well before the series premiere).
Anyway, with the final episodes of TFF rapidly approaching, I knew that there were still a few things I wanted to accomplish before the end—and one of those things was to write a Neelar Drayge episode that didn’t suck. After the disastrous “Affairs of the State” in Season One, poor Neelar never really had a chance to shine, because I never really used him. I tried to gradually redeem him over the years, with episodes like “Accretion Disk” and “Soul Searching,” but I always made certain that he was paired with someone else, that way he wouldn’t have to carry the entire episode—and admittedly, both of the aforementioned episodes were pretty good. So when “Spectrum” came around in Season Four, I was ready to take the plunge. Neelar did indeed carry the brunt of that episode, and it wasn’t wretched… But I wanted something more—something better—and knowing that “Nature of the Beast” was going to be one of my last chances to do that, I went for it.
The original concept for the episode—titled “The Innocents’ Lament”—was more along the lines of a standard border dispute between the Darsaeans and another alien species; the Darsaeans were pretty much obliterating these aliens, and nobody cared, so Neelar stepped in to save the day. Unfortunately, Neelar probably wouldn’t be in charge of a situation like that—I mean, we were talking something that bordered genocide, so the Federation would definitely get involved, effectively shoving aside Neelar. Additionally, a conflict between two space-faring civilizations would also necessitate epic space battles—and considering the number of epic battles coming in the Final Chapter, I didn’t want to do a big battle in this episode. And really, I didn’t want to do genocide again, either.
Since “Spectrum” seemed to work for Neelar, I decided to do something similar. Besides, TFF was long overdue for another strong episode that really dealt with something relevant to the real world—and I immediately thought of Timon and Puumba. Of course, these are always the most difficult episodes to write, because everyone has an opinion about these real-world issues, myself included… so when I’m writing, I have to be very careful to make sure that I address both sides of the issue, while at the same time, craft a tale that is entertaining and not overly preachy—I mean, people don’t read TFF for my soapbox rants (though admittedly the Romulan War in Season Four might have been slightly biased—but you could say that those episodes were Star Trek at its best… after all, they made a VERY strong statement about the war in Iraq). Thankfully, it’s a little easier to write about the preservation of animals and their natural habitats…
And while the conservation story was indeed satisfactory, the characters somehow managed to take that satisfactory material and raise it to a much more powerful level. I mean, this episode was a tour-de-force for the Starlight’s crew; everyone had something to do, and boy… did they do it WELL. I hadn’t really been upset with the way the characters were progressing, but… Seasons Four and Five really muted the charisma—I think, in part, because there were more plot-driven episodes, the characters just didn’t have a chance to really shine as frequently as they did in Seasons One and Two. Certainly, the error was rectified with “Nature of the Beast,” a trend that will undoubtedly continue as TFF heads into the final few episodes.
I also wanted to mention tomato soup, Neelar’s meal of choice when he’s in the mess hall with Lucas. If you have ever had the luxury of hearing me talk about Bolians, then you have undoubtedly heard my tomato soup rant (and if you haven’t heard the said rant… well, you’re about to).
Really. I’m not kidding. I’m about to talk about tomato soup.
This all stems back to that travesty of an encyclopedia available for viewing at startrek.com. Now, I don’t usually make fun of the powers that be… but I have to admit, that encyclopedia is the absolute WORST Star Trek resource available on the Internet. Not only did it claim that the Borg first appeared in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (they did manage to fix that error), it is so poorly written that it makes your eyes bleed:
A Federation race of humanoids, most distinguishable in appearance by the narrow yet distinctive ridgeline running at least from over the skull from the spine to the nose and down the neck. In addition, they also have longer ears than humans and their skin tone ranges from a yellowish green tinge to a blue darker green tinge to medium blue.
Though three Bolians who appear — V'Sal, Mot and Rixx — are bald, the Bolian Haro (later discovered to be a false image) has a head-full of styled, green-tinted blond hair, parted and thinning along the top front of her head and exposing her Bolian ridgeline.
Though very few Bolians serve in Starfleet, they can be found in various places throughout the Federation. Natives of this bald, bluish-skinned Federation race are often seen around Deep Space Nine on the station's promenade — including Lysia Arlin, who runs the Jumja kiosk and has a crush on Constable Odo, circa 47603. Bolian Freighters often visit Deep Space Nine and the area. A civilian female member of the blue-skinned, bilaterally-ridged humanoid species is a regular at Quark's, and is there in the Founders' imposed hallucinatory test of a United Federation of Planets-Dominion test. Another is an ensign in the security section on the sabotaged, Tzenkethi-bound Defiant.
Bolian "crystal steel" is a highly collectible material and not usually available on DS9 — one of Quark's would-be expanded sales items by inter-station monitor. Cultural items include a variety of tomato soup.
Wow, don't those Bolians have an incredible culture? They're probably the only race in the universe known for their variety of tomato soup. By the way, did you know that the Bolians are blue-skinned species of humanoids from the Federation? And that three Bolians are bald—but this one Bolian had hair, so we’ll talk about that at length, even though she wasn’t actually a Bolian… Oh, and get this… you can find Bolians in various places throughout the Federation! Really! You can find a member of the Federation WITHIN the organization’s borders! Holy shit! And naturally, when historians look back upon the great Bolian Empire, they will undoubtedly note that Lysia Arlin ran a jumja kiosk on DS9. End even more noteworthy is the fact that an unnamed female Bolian visited Quark’s—centuries from now, Bolian children are going to be required to know this…
But none of that manages to top the tomato soup reference. The Bolian civilization has undoubtedly flourished for centuries, yet the only thing noteworthy about their culture is… an unspecified variety of tomato soup? That’s not even a Bolian food! It’s HUMAN! If I were Bolian, I would be downright furious. I mean, I would be filing a complaint with Federation Council!
… …Anyway, now you can see the humor behind the tomato soup reference.
There is one last thing I wanted to share in this commentary, and that is a deleted scene. Originally, you got to see the derelict freighter get creamed by the Qinxaea in the beginning of the episode—this was the last scene in the prologue. I cut the scene because I didn’t want to reveal the Qinxaea so soon—and because I just wasn’t too fond of it to begin with; it was bit too vile, even for TFF standards. So… here it is (and yes, I recycled the names once this scene was cut):
“We are going to be rich!” Aaitus Tor gleefully proclaimed as he staggered through the dark, narrow corridors of the cargo ship Hidraea. After what seemed like several years of misfortune on the final frontier—freak warp core breaches, greedy marauders, ion storms—Aaitus and his crew finally had something to be proud of.
“We’re gonna be filthy rich!” sneered Boedus, the Hidraea’s scraggly little navigator. The man certainly had the filthy part down, that much was certain. “When we gets ourselves back to Darsaea—hiccup—I’m gonna get me one of those fancy replicator things!” He to took a swig from his misshapen bottle of Grintaka Ale. In his drunken stupor, he probably didn’t even realize that there were replicators located throughout the Hidraea. “What you gonna do, Aaitus? You gonna get you a replicator, too?”
“No,” Aaitus calmly replied. Even though he was also quite drunk, Aaitus liked to maintain the illusion that he was still in command of his body. “I’m going to buy a few Orion slave women.”
Boedus opened his mouth to comment on the pending purchase, but an incredibly sonorous belch rang out instead. Boedus immediately broke into laughter. “Hey, that one was pretty good!”
Impressive as it was, Aaitus saw no need to comment on the belch. Anything he might say would undoubtedly encourage Boedus to drink and belch even more—and that was the last thing Aaitus wanted. A drunken navigator was never a pretty sight. “I think you’ve had enough, Boedus…”
Despite his drunken state, Boedus stopped dead in his tracks. “What?”
Slowly, Aaitus reached for the gangly bottle of ale. Boedus still had a death-grip on the bottle’s neck, but Aaitus knew that a simple distraction would be more than enough to loosen Boedus’ grip. At times like this, the man had the attention span of a Trindorian maggot (and the stench, too). But before Aaitus could put his plan into action, the ship itself provided an ample distraction… The deck started to vibrate.
The rumbling immediately caught Boedus’ attention. “Maendor must be in the shitter!” he proclaimed, his sonorous words echoing throughout the narrow corridor.
“I don’t think so,” said Aaitus, shaking his head. In the distance, he could hear the bulkheads beginning to groan. Tremors jolted through the deck plates, and the lights began to flicker. “This is something else entirely…”
But the realization came too late.
Something suddenly blasted through the bulkhead in a heavy rain of sparks and debris. Aaitus only caught a glimpse of the greenish tendril as it crashed through the bulkhead on the opposite side of the corridor. The lights summarily failed, and in the blink of an eye, both Aaitus and Boedus were dead…