Saturday, September 19, 2015

ST:TNG - Haven and The Big Goodbye

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate: 1.11

Oh, lord, I'm overdosing on heartfelt violins over here. This would be the episode concerning Deanna Troi's arranged wedding - which might've meant something to us viewers if we actually knew something about Deanna Troi to begin with, if this weren't the character's first episode as starring attraction. Top that off with a few ridiculous lines about magic elixirs and love as a universal force an' ya gotcherself a "what did I just watch" episode. Not only was this a nonstop cheesy pastiche of a romantic operetta which could've been cut in half by removing the scenes where characters are staring musically into each others' eyes, but much like other TV shows at the time it somehow managed such a ham-fisted, backward attempt at social activism that it insulted every side involved without actually taking a step forward in any direction.

For one thing when you name a character Deanna of Troy try not to condemn her to the middle of a love triangle, family argument or culture clash in her first character-centered episode. It's bad enough that her defining trait was her cleavage, but we barely got to see her do her thing as ship's counselor or telepath in any episodes before this. Hell, her biggest role so far was fainting in Riker's arms blind stinking drunk in the third episode. Instead of giving us time to sympathize with her as a professional and individual being thrown into an unwanted social obligation "cleavage chick" suddenly talking about getting married seems perfectly fitting.

But while I'm sure one could get any number of feminists foaming at the mouth at the injustice of Troi's portrayal in this episode, feminism's stranglehold on left-wing discourse in contemporary politics and its congenital horse-blinders ensure the equally insulting portrayal of Troi's intended is at best ignored, and more likely somehow claimed as patriarchal oppression of some sort.
Quoth Tyler Durden: is this what a man looks like?
Son, put that chin away before you hurt someone. For the love of fuck, he's a fawning, diffident prettyboy artiste drawing endless pictures of the woman of his dreams... and he's wearing a turtleneck... in space! Like every damn female ideal of masculinity in every romantic novel and comedy, his every interaction centers on his being despised or used by the women around him until he makes a grand gesture sacrificing himself for his lady love, at which point he's condescendingly bestowed "nice guy" status. Physically and economically idealized, young, behaviorally reinforcing his upper-class manners at every step, utterly spineless in his dealings with women and possessed of no further motivation than servile self-sacrifice to gain a woman's favor; here's a dirty little secret: Prince Charming was no more individualistic a figure than the damsel in distress.
By the end of the episode, Troi gets to keep her life aboard the Enterprise while he's abandoned his... for love!

Of course it doesn't stop there. The traditionalists in the episode are crass and low-brow, the liberals are flighty hippies prancing around naked, the planet of peace is coincidentally also somehow the planet of weakness, Riker as the jealous boyfriend, a guest appearance by Lurch from the Addams Family, the... oh, screw it. On to the next train-wreck.

Seriesdate 1.12
The Big Goodbye

It's not worth going too far into this episode's plot because even more so than the previous one, most of it has nothing whatsoever to do with Star Trek. It's the first holodeck episode, in which Picard and a few others get trapped in a pulp detective novel - hilarity ensues. Holodeck episodes were emblematic of a major problem with TNG. Where the original series suffered from a highly ritualized sequence of events, episode after episode (Enterprise threatened, shipboard drama, away-team sacrifices a redshirt, Kirk saves day and makes out with hottie, beam-us-up-Scotty) TNG digressed from the themes and concerns of the Enterprise and Federation much too often and jarringly.

However, I've lumped these two episodes together because Wikipedia lists them as concocted by the same writer and both show the same central flaw. The good Mr. Tormé (co-creator of Sliders, apparently, among other things) certainly showed mastery of pulp fiction tropes in general but seemed utterly lost as to what made for good Science Fiction. Both episodes would be entertaining enough for romance / detective niche audiences, but both do more to undermine TNG's central themes than build them up. Sad, because The Big Goodbye managed quite a few good lines and the actors certainly sank their teeth into the cheesy fedora-period acting. Spiner, as usual throughout the series, tends to act the pants off the rest though.

Overall, watching the series in order increases my amazement that TNG ever made it past its first season. Half the episodes were just utterly random filler seemingly motivated more by re-using sets and costumes lying around the studio to save money than actually promoting TNG as Science Fiction.

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