Monday, March 14, 2016

ST: TNG - The Child

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: 2.01
The Child

What a perplexing choice for the plot of a season-opening episode. Apparently it was dredged up in lieu of nothing due to a writers' strike at the time, and it shows. Deanna Troi gets immaculately impregnated by a fleshlig- I mean flashy light. Before I get to that, though, what else is goin' on?
Look, we have props now! No, not the thing Picard's holding. I mean Riker's finally grown his beard. The whole start of this first showing of season two plays as a charmingly artless attention-grabber trying to prove to fans that the show's improved. We're given a tour of the cargo hold complete with shuttlecraft and glossy new force field special effects, plastic polygons as handy gratuitous props plus the ship's bar. Make sure to note we got us one-a-dem space-age negresses serving drinks. Class, pure class.
But that's not all, oh no. Dr. Pulaski (whom I always preferred to Crusher) finally makes it on board, Geordi's promoted to grand poobah of tinkertoys, sweet promises of Wesley's departure fill the air and did I mention Riker has a beard now? He does. He is totally bad-ass. So totally badass that he leaps tall chairs in a single bound... except the chair's awkwardly tall so Frakes ends up looking like a dog taking a leak while the other two stare at him with apt consternation. But hey, it wouldn't be Star Trek if it didn't spoil something by over-reaching a simple gimmick. Well, over-straddling in this case. Fine, I know it's a very minor point, one second of the episode, but if he wanted to play the devil-may-care bad-boy with a chair-back that size he would've just flipped it around to straddle it or leaned on it without sitting.

Alright, fine, let's move away from Riker's crotch over to Troi's where the real action is. Nobody seems to consider an immaculate conception worth more than a casual "huh?" so we proceed to a thinly-veiled after-school special version of the abortion discussion, a meeting in which Troi stares down her nose at Picard, pouts her ruby-red lips and declares:
 "Captain, do whatever you feel is necessary to protect the ship and the crew but know this: I'm going to have this baby!"
Oh, isn't she brave folks. Round of applause, everyone, for the plucky young heroine. What else can the captain of the ship do but meekly abide?

Okay, first off, if you're gestating some flesh-eating monstrosity that'll gobble up everyone on board, the captain's duty is to yank that half-betazoid, half-whatever freak out of you and give it the old Office-Space copier treatment. Your bodily autonomy doesn't over-ride that of everyone else you're endangering. I believe I can cite precedent in the case of Ripley vs. Chestburster, 1979.

Second, I did not realize how much of a token female Troi had been at the start of the show. I've remembered her over the years as the self-possessed ship's counselor at the captain's left hand, warning him of imminent danger, going into hysterics when a psychic uber-being approaches, calming the crew or working the magic of psychobabble on that one crew member with anxiety issues. However true that was in later seasons, up until this point her role has consisted of playing a drunk party girl swooning in Riker's arms in episode three, then a bride in an arranged marriage and finally "petulant pregnant chick." Her only good showing in Tasha Yar's death episode was dragged own by... well, that whole episode.

Third, how is it that whenever this "choice" of abortion makes it onto TV, we kind of already know what the right choice is? That line "I'm having this baby" has been repeated more often than "eat my shorts" and what's worse, passed off as some sort of grand self-assertion by plucky young heroines defying tradition. Bullshit. Having the baby is tradition. How about Troi instead saying:
"Captain, do whatever you feel is necessary to protect the ship and the crew but know this: if you don't get this parasitic, mindless proto-ape out of me, I will synthesize a damn katana and do it myself!"

Anyway, she gestates the little leech to term in three days (jumpin' stretch-marks, Batman!) and delivers it in a heartwarming (completely painless) procedure with Data (and not Riker) at her side in loco paternis because... stuff? Oh, right, the professional writers were on strike.

Also, we dedicate a plot-crucial minute or so to little kids playing with puppies 'cuz... yeah, ratings. Finally after a few days and the inevitable dramatic link between the Enterprise's dangerous, dangerous plague cargo and his presence, Troi's insta-bake man-child self-immolates, martyrdom being part of the whole "immaculate conception" deal.

Oh, alright, the show's got its high points. Whoopi Goldberg does great as the wise old Guinan from her very first scene, Geordi seamlessly steps up his game as a major character and Dr. Pulaski's serious, competent presence manages to somewhat balance out the teary-eyed magic baby nonsense. Even Wesley's much less Wesley than usual. The actors do their jobs, as do the rest of the film crew. Just, oh, man, that hare-brained excuse for a plot...

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