Star Trek was never a simple action-adventure science fiction property, instead eschewing wanton violence and carnage for complex philosophical examinations and allegorical plots about topical issues. To achieve the complexity necessary to fulfill those narrative aims, Star Trek often presented conflicted characters striving to define themselves in a larger world like Spock, Data, or Odo.
Yes, Star Trek has often relied on familiar tropes regarding heroism and villainy in its narrative, but, on the whole, the franchise has presented some of the most compelling “villains” in pop culture history, some of whom have the audience siding with them in terms of moral justifications.
10 The Gorn
Even the infinite expanse of space may not be big enough to keep differing galactic races from encroaching on each other’s space. When this happens, any species has a right to defend itself from annihilation. However, what constitutes aggression may be harder to justify when you factor in the disparities in alien cultures.
One disastrous first contact experience occurred on Cestus III where a Federation colony was destroyed by the Gorn. Though Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise believed this to be an inexcusably hostile act, the Gorn were simply defending themselves from invasion, as they have a right to do.
9 The Crystalline Entity
It is rare that a species or individuals act out of evil intent; most of the time, they are simply trying to fulfill a biological function, such as protecting themselves or finding food. Unfortunately, sometimes, the main prey item is a Federation colony or starship crew. Although the fact that alien species need to eat doesn’t give solace to the victim’s families, no one can argue that an alien entity has the right to sustain itself.
One of the more tragic cases of an alien feeding on humans was the Crystalline Entity. Having stripped whole planets of life, the alien was eventually destroyed by a grief-stricken scientist who had lost her son to it. The tragedy is that the Entity was probably not evil, but only trying to survive.
8 The Melkots
Of the many alien races in the Star Trek universe, some are open to the idea of joining a federation of mutually cooperative planets, while some are extremely guarded and xenophobic. In the case of the latter, Federation procedure and the Prime Directive stipulate respecting their inhabitants’ wishes and leaving the planet alone.
For some reason, the Melkots were one race Starfleet was determined to force a relationship with. In retaliation for Captain Kirk’s continued entreaties, the Melkots created an illusionary world where he, Spock, Scotty, and Dr. McCoy would relive the roles of the losing side at the shootout at the O.K. Corral. The Melkots were completely justified in doing this, as they repeatedly informed Kirk they just wanted to be left alone.
7 Professor Moriarty
The introduction of the holodeck to Star Trek lore afforded the writers many opportunities for storytelling, usually in the form of it malfunctioning and endangering the crew. In one particular episode, the crew of the Enterprise-D faced a situation that even they couldn’t anticipate, as one of the holograms gained sentience.
As an outcrop of a wager between Geordi LaForge and Dr. Pulaski, the Sherlock Holmes character Moriarty realized the nature of his being and promptly took the ship hostage until he could be freed from the confines of the holodeck. Not even Captain Picard could deny Moriarty’s right to life and autonomy.
The events of the entire Star Trek film series from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan onward may have been avoided had Captain Kirk made it a point to check up on Khan and his crew. After all, Kirk knew Khan and his people were on Ceta Alpha 5; he could have made it a point to inform Starfleet Command to send a ship there annually, if to do nothing other than keep an eye on Khan.
Considering the fact that Kirk’s oversight cost Khan 15 years toiling on a barren planet decimated by a planetary explosion—to say nothing of the death of his wife and comrades—his desire for revenge seems justified.
5 The Horta
Star Trek episodes are replete with examples of alien life forms who seemingly kill out of malice, but are simply acting out of a desire to protect their offspring. The original series adeptly illustrated this with the first season episode, “The Devil In The Dark.”
Here, it was revealed that the creature killing Federation miners on a distant planet was only protecting its young, whose eggs were inadvertently destroyed by the excavations. From that vantage point, the Mother Horta was completely justified in protecting its young and the future generations of its species.
4 Captain Endar
Amongst the captains of Star Trek, Jean-Luc Picard is usually held up as an example of diplomacy and morality. But, Picard is far from infallible, as was evident in the episode “Suddenly Human.” In the episode, Picard discovers a human boy living among the Talarians, a former Federation adversary.
Named Jono, the boy was really Jeremiah Rossa, a survivor of a Talarian attack who was subsequently adopted by a Talarian captain named Endar. Picard quickly sought to return Jono to his relatives in the Federation, breaking the tie between him and the only father he ever knew. Justifiably, the Talarian captain was more than prepared to go to war to get his son back, but, thankfully, Picard came to his senses.
3 The Founders
The Founders are a race of shapeshifting aliens from the Gamma Quadrant. Subjected to violent persecution and scorn by non-shapeshifters or “solids,” the Founders eventually devised a plan to protect themselves. Going on the offensive, they conquered large swathes of the Gamma Quadrant with their genetically engineered shock troops, the Jem’Hadar, and their devious administrators, the Vorta.
Calling their empire The Dominion, the Founders brought their quest to subjugate all “solids” to the Alpha Quadrant in a hugely disruptive war. Although their methods can be decried, the Founders’ desire to defend themselves from violent persecution cannot be.
Being a part of a galactic federation with some of the most advanced technology and weaponry in the galaxy at your disposal can sometimes lull even the most grounded Starfleet officer into an air of superiority. The truth is that the Star Trek universe is full of races and entities that could destroy the Federation with little to no effort, a lesson Q taught Picard when he first introduced the crew of the Enterprise to the Borg. Aside from stressing the fact that humanity should not rest on its laurels in its exploration of space, he gave the Federation a needed warning about the incoming Borg threat.
When the Dominion invaded the Alpha Quadrant, the Federation quickly found itself in a fight for its very existence. Rapidly losing territory and lives to the Dominion and their Cardassian allies, the Federation/Klingon alliance soon found itself desperate for new support. It was then that Captain Sisko had an idea: try to bring the neutral Romulans into the fight on their side. However, doing so required finesse and deviousness, so he recruited the Cardassian tailor Garak to his cause.
Whereas Sisko was hoping to convince an influential Romulan senator to jump on board the war effort, Garak arranged to have him murdered and framed the Dominion for it. In a classic example of the ends justifying the means, Garak’s Machiavellian maneuvers brought the Romulans into the war and saved the Alpha Quadrant from the Dominion’s conquest.
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