Feb 05 2012

Ariel Must Die

Not too long ago in the crossover novel The Chains of Error (with Sam Redfeather’s Gibraltar), a number of people were a little surprised to read that Ariel Elannis died in the line of duty while trying to bring the evil Colonel Galmesh to justice.  I wanted to spend a little time talking about what my thoughts were and how I came to the decision to kill her off.  [Warning: some racy pics below the cut, slightly NSFW, no nudity… just bikinis and cleavage…]

The Genesis of a Sex Kitten

To understand my thoughts, I really have to take you back to the beginning of the planning of FSA.

Aubery Plaza in Scott Pilgrim vs The World

In her original form, this is how I imagined Ariel would look. Bangs, glasses, shy and introverted. (Aubery Plaza from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World)

I write Ariel with the intention that she is a divisive character; that is to say that she’s intentionally awesome or intentionally unlikable.  Within Star Trek, there tends to be a homogenous method toward character constructions, and I wanted to bring a sense of real sexuality (not implied or slyly hinted at) in the form of a Starfleet Officer with a colorful background.  In the original treatment of Full Speed Ahead, Ariel was rather introverted and would, over time, become more confident in herself.  In my “alpha” discussions with a few of my trusted advisors, there was a consensus that within the “Holy Triad” of characters in Leone-Kincaid-Ariel, that Ariel was the weakest character sketch I had so far.  Among the many points that were raised was that it wasn’t remotely believable that a lieutenant commander in any naval organization would be bereft of ambition due the rank.  Much like Captain Picard discovered in the TNG episode, “Tapestry,” that removed of his drive and ambition, he never advanced above lieutenant (jg).  The same had to be applied with Ariel’s character.  And so, there was a lot of time spent on the notion of how to rebuild the character from the inside out.

The best note I got during that time simply read, “Turn Ariel upside-down: smoking hot, sexually aware, and extreme in personality.  She needs to steal the show, not hide in the shadows.”  Upon further discussion on what they meant, I decided to change her racial makeup from Human/Vulcan (with human dominant traits) to Human/Orion, and I made her in full touch with her sexuality and how it affects others.  Her core flaw is that she wants what she can’t have, and although most people would give up after so many years of failing, Ariel’s core flaw is her utter devotion and drive toward that goal without regard to the adversity.

The first scene I wrote for Ariel was her scene with Baris.  Full Speed Ahead in its entirety is a writing experiment for me, but it was the first scene I’d ever written that was laced with sex.  I figured that if I was going to make this type of character work, I really needed to get over my hesitation at writing erotica.  I had avoided it with a lot of fade to black or ending scenes with implied innuendo, but if I was going to give Ariel the sucker punch that she needed to be able to deliver within the context of upending the aforementioned Triad, then I had to be able to write erotically to give FSA one of its many edges.

And I have detractors on this point.  I’ve heard the arguments for curtailing the sex scenes and keeping it within the realm of PG-13, but I tried writing those scenes in a less overt manner and the impact of scenes before and after were blunted severely, and I was less than pleased with the result.  That first scene is not explicit, but it allowed me to dip my feet in the water and get a sense of who Ariel is at heart.

On the Path to Self-Destruction

Ariel was always on a ticking clock; living on borrowed time.  As I mentioned earlier, she was very devoted and driven.  Over time, given her constant need to be within Leone’s sphere of influence, Ariel changed from a confident mustang security officer to a person who needed the approval of another.  Going back to her construction, the core flaw thing kept driving me crazy, because I had figure out Leone and Kincaid’s core flaws and was pretty pleased with them.  Ariel’s core flaw was difficult   Now, I don’t ever pretend to tout myself as an expert in homosexual relationships, but when the decision was made to make Ariel be in love with Leone, I decided to not worry about the homosexual aspect of the desire and treat it like I would any other unrequited love.

Ayda Fields from Stuff Magazine

Ayda Fields was my first thought on the new character concept; she was starring in Studio 60 at the time. (Stuff Magazine)

Everyone who’s ever been in love knows that unrequited love is a bitch.  As much as you wish the other person would return your feelings, you’re trapped in the knowledge that you can’t do anything about it.  Sometimes, you move on.  Sometimes, you just let it eat you up.  Ariel chose the latter path because at the very least, she wanted to maintain that friendship for as long as possible.  She thought that perhaps given enough time with Leone, that maybe she would eventually see Ariel for the great person that she is and take their relationship to the next level.  Unfortunately, this never happened, but Ariel never once wavered in her belief that someday it will.  She wasn’t looking for the big romance or the Hollywood ending; she would’ve been satisfied with even one minute of Leone seeing her as Ariel wanted to be seen.

By the time we get to Chains, Ariel’s been through about five of the proverbial wringers.  Over the course of my planned story arc for Full Speed Ahead, Kincaid abandoned his post as executive officer of Farragut to join the Maquis and Ariel was promoted to be the new executive officer. During his departure, Leone was in the middle of a divorce from her husband of nine years and was a wreck.  Two years later, in the middle of the Dominion War, Leone is a rear admiral and Ariel is reassigned to another ship as XO.  She realizes that she works best with Leone over her and is faced with the horrors of the war, she turns to deadening the pain by turning to chemical addiction and sex.  This results in her loss of position and a transfer to Starfleet Medical to deal with her problems.  By the time she gets back into the war, it’s over, and no one wants her.  She has to beg Admiral Leone for a position within her office, as she is now at Starfleet Intelligence.  Leone, at this point, is embarrassed by Ariel, who is given a lowly desk assignment and they barely see each other.

Ariel is now struggling to hold on.  The mission to finally hunt down Kincaid is what gets her back in the game, and Ariel devises the plan from top to bottom.  Leone signs off on it and feigns confidence in Ariel’s ability to get it done.  Ariel grabs hold of that confidence and pursues the mission with everything’s she got, because she thinks she can get back in the game with one swing.  In the middle of trying to please her friend and get back into her good graces, she happens upon Star Trek: Gibraltar‘s Pava Lar’ragos.

I want to take a moment to say something about Pava.  In reading Sam’s works prior to joining United Trek, I always found that while Captain Sandhurst got a lot of the focus, that Pava was to Gibraltar as Ariel was to Farragut.  The black sheep with a lot of issues just barely below the surface.  The consummate professional, but anytime you stared into their eyes, there was a storm brewing in there somewhere.  I loved reading the Pava and Sandhurst scenes, because it reminded me a lot of the conflict that Ariel and Leone sometimes found themselves in.  Not to say that I used it as a guide, I just thought that at some point, I would love to see Gibaltar and Farragut interact.  The problem was that my stories took place about 11 years prior to Sam’s.  I’m so pleased that we worked it out and got Chains going, because collaborating with Sam has been amazing and raised the bar for me as a writer.

In Pava, she finds a kindred spirit.  They work well together, in and out of the bedroom.  Though, at first, she’s appalled by his ability to pick her apart so easily, and then she find comfort in it.  And a light appears at the end of a very long tunnel; it is possible that she could find a love as fulfilling with someone other than Leone?

The Realization Right Before The End

The opening of Ariel’s eyes to that possibility is the great tragedy of her life that I had envisioned from the beginning.

Bianca Beauchamp from Glamour Lounge

I watched an interview with Bianca Beauchamp; she won the role with her confidence and outlook on sex. (Glamour Lounge)

Although, when I put her together, I didn’t know how she would die.  Sam and I sat down to discuss the plot points of the novel, and as we approached the climax and ending of the story, I told him, “I think this would be a great place to kill Ariel off.”

Sam was taken aback by that and said, “Really?”

I told him yes.  I explained to him where she was, much as I did in the previous section of this post.  That realizing how Pava affects her and thinking about how she might treat her life differently, she makes the conscious decision to protect him as she would Leone.  Giving what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion.”  See, she wouldn’t hesitate to trade her life for Leone’s, no matter the circumstances.  When she realized how Pava saw her, unlike the others in her life who professed their undying love for her, she realized that Pava’s emotions were true and not driven by the usual cloud of pheremonal lust that followed her wherever she went.  The rawness of Pava’s admissions and insights made her realize that someone saw her for the first time since Leone did when they first met over twenty years ago.

Ariel was never going to be a character who would live happily ever after.  Even with Pava at her side, I had a really hard time writing Ariel in a relationship where her feelings were actually returned.  So, I thought that by ending her life with that final realization, the culmination of those years with Leone and being on Farragut were appropriately capped off.  She would never retired her commission willingly, and she might even seek to transfer to Pava’s unit, had she lived.  Inasmuch as Ariel’s death was necessary for the character, it was also necessary for Pava, Leone, and Kincaid to deal with as well.

By the way, writing Leone’s reaction to the news was one of the most difficult scenes to write, ever.

Conclusion

I’ve heard from a number of readers that Ariel is their least favorite character for many reasons.  Sometimes, it’s the sex.  Sometimes, it’s the fact that they can’t believe that such a personality could advance as far as she has within any military organization, even Starfleet.  The crazy thing is, that male personnel in today’s military get pretty far, even with that kind of attitude.  Although, I’ve been accused of being anti-feminist, I think I’m attempting to level the playing field by showing that a woman could be every bit as predatory as a man.  Also, Trek has handled sex pretty badly, even when they were trying really hard to do a sex-based story (ie: DS9’s “Let He Who Is Without Sin…”) they did not close the deal at all, and the execution left me with a “Huh?” feeling than anywhere near the titillation that Behr wanted to pull off.

Though, I will admit to being a healthy, heterosexual male and finding Chase Masterson’s Leeta pretty sexy.

In the end, I write Ariel how I want to because there’s a bigger design in play.  Unfortunately, you get to see the end of her story before you experience the rest of it, but I’ve always been of the opinion that it’s never about the destination… it’s about the journey.

That’s where the real adventure lies.