Friday, October 6, 2017

ST:TNG - The Price of Booby Holidays

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.
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Seriesdate: 3.08
The Price

Deanna makes time with hotshot interstellar negotiator. He's tall, well-dressed, slick, flawlessly coiffed, aristocratically mannered, Hollywood pretty, a smooth talker and best of all he's implicitly filthy rich! You go, girl!
Said negotiator's negotiating in a bidding war for stable wormhole, a heretofore unproven scientific phenomenon. Here to waaaay "fore." The planet over which it spawned ('course anything in space happens near an inhabited planet, it's not like there's lots of space in space or anything ; shut up) happens to be inhabited by a race devoid of other marketable goods or technology so like any beggar with a diamond they're pawning the damn thing off to the highest bidder. Enter the Ferengi, who dump a bag of gold on the table... because 24th century bidding war equals some bazaar from One Thousand and One Nights, apparently. Before they can escalate to bartering on donkeys and olive oil or whatever, they decide they should probably get a closer look at what they're buying, and boldly worm the hole alongside a Geordi / Data shuttlecraft expedition. Hilarity ensues.

If you're wondering what exactly all this has to do with dedicating half the episode to gently and sensually caressing Marina Sirtis from head to toe to the tune of harps, well you're probably not the only one. This scene, though:
- is totally plot-crucial, and I'll definitely explain why as soon as I figure it out.

So, anyway, turns out Deanna's Troi-boi's secretly part betazoid like her, which is such an amazing coincidence it almost sounds contrived. By the end of the episode, she unmasks his underhanded psychic manipulation of the auction, likely ruining his career in the process. Far from resenting her for it, he instead takes his browbeating, shows up at her door and begs her to come with him to "help him change" and become a better man, by the power of ovaries. She tells him off and he shuffles meekly into the sunset.

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Seriesdate: 3.19
Captain's Holiday

Picard makes time with Lara Croft's less-endowed umpteen-great grand-daughter.
After getting pressured into taking a vacation on the planet of swimsuits and negligees and making a laughing-stock of himself for getting tricked into openly displaying the local equivalent of a fertility fetish in public, he gets dragged by another tourist into a race against her former Ferengi colleague to claim a super-weapon from the future. Prodded by time-traveling aliens claiming the weapon by right of "'cuz we said so" Picard -uses his authority as a Starfleet captain to requisition a high-tech geological survey team and rapidly pinpoint the location of the incredibly dangerous star-destroying macguffin in a logical and scientific manner.-
Heh. No, just kidding. That would make too much sense.
They spend a night digging for it. With shovels.
Isn't it nice when the whole plot's a hole?

I mean, you almost don't notice it, as on one hand this re-iteration of Planet Baywatch offers plenty else to ogle and on the other hand the directing's quite impressively tight and snappy and does an excellent job of drawing the viewer in. Still, seriously, there's suspension of disbelief, there's plot holes and then there's this level of Gilligan's Island goofiness.

Anyway, despite the student archaeologist repeatedly lying to Picard, mocking him and deliberately endangering his life (not to mention the whole planet) she's just so lovable a rogue that he doesn't even bring up her endless list of transgressions. It's not like he's any sort of legal authority figure or anything. By the end of the episode he soulfully declares his fervent wish they'll meet again.
...
Why, Jean-Luc? You hoping she'll toss you down a volcano to fish her up some diamonds?

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Seriesdate: 3.06
Booby Trap

Geordi Makes time with... a hologram.
Umm, okay.

The Enterprise investigates a thousand-year-old battlefield only to set off an unexploded mine and gets stuck in the interstellar equivalent of a Chinese finger trap. The more they light up their reactor, the harder it pulls them in. Not the most original plot premise, but it's well executed aside from the unresolved question of why it took the Federation's finest minds forty-five minutes plus commercial breaks to come up with the obvious solution of coasting out of range on minimal power.

Anyway, we start the episode by watching Geordi get humiliated for being disconsidered as a mate by the ship's women. We proceed to Guinan condescending to Geordi that he should just "be himself" and then to sneering at him from behind the fourth wall for flirting with a holodeck simulation of a ship designer.

Pause.
Let's just admit right now that any putative holodeck's memory banks would likely hold the same proportion of fuck-bots as the internet's content of porn. Geordi's actually showing remarkable restraint in not holding these debates about drive shafts with his computerized houri while shafting her drive.
Resume

Anyway, by the end of the episode the hologram simulating that sexy nerd-girl tells Geordi that she'll always be with him. Anytime he's touching the engine, he's touching her (which is not regulation use of a fuel injector!) and so he ends the simulation, presumably so he can go back to throwing himself at the mercy of human women in return for fifty shades of "let's just be friends" and condemnation as a blue-balled loser. And they all lived happily ever after, at least by women's definition of happiness anyway.

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Season 3 drove in a very decisive fashion toward fleshing out the individual lives of the Enterprise's inhabitants. Crew members begin to state personal preferences and acquire quirks, hopes and shadows of the past big and small. Much of the time it works out well, as with the re-iteration of Picard's archaeology hobby or Worf's childhood trauma. However, whenever the topic turned to the crew's sex lives, TNG's writers consistently embarrassed themselves, torturing otherwise workable plots into sheer nonsense in order to shoehorn in romantic interludes. Leaving aside the more obvious fan service (fine, leotards are funny enough, but does bending over in front of a mirror recharge dilithium crystals or what?) it's interesting to note the presumptions of good and evil, entitlement and vilification apparent in these relationships.

For one thing, of three men and one woman the only one to actually get laid is Deanna. Picard's femme fatale strings him along quite expertly and Geordi's simulacrum presumably has "Mattel" stamped across her crotch. Riker's romantic target from The Vengeance Factor was taken so far as to be explicitly asexual and aromantic and yet he's still groveling for her attention.
When Riker praises the creativity of Risan women, Troi immediately takes umbrage. When Troi's new boyfriend flaunts his conquest of her to Riker, Billy stiffens up his lip and claims he's "just friends" with her and meekly stays out of it.
Deanna rates a paramour du jour quite clearly above her station who endlessly lavishes attention on her, while the captain of the Federation's finest vessel gets leashed by a petty crook, his chief engineer gets beaten off with a stick by a random female redshirt and the first officer moons after a serving girl whose privates froze a century prior.
Geordi's attempt to woo a female crew member with romantic music is explicitly ridiculed, yet two episodes later the music score swells with romantic strings as Troi meets her new lover's eyes... from... across... the... room.
Picard's running off to go digging in the night with Lara Croft's a ridiculous lapse in his professional integrity, sure, but when Troi hides the negotiator's clearly unethical (and probably unlawful) deceit for half an episode, we're actively pushed to feel sorry for her as though she'd somehow been personally wronged by her own lying, despite losing nothing, risking nothing and receiving not so much as a scowl for shirking her duties in not bringing this to the captain's attention.
When Riker shoots his teenage centenarian girlfriend in defense of law and order, he's shown drowning his remorse at the end of the episode. Troi, on the other hand, who outright helped her criminal boyfriend, gets to slam him one last time and retain the moral high ground. 

The entire paradigm's pretty tidily summed up by contrasting the presentation of Troi and Geordi. She, a radiant fertility goddess, he a stumbling schlub whose every romantic mishap is entirely his fault and who must change himself and abandon his ideal while she re-affirms her social superiority.
This was the gender paradigm in 1990, the horribly anti-woman world of feminist legend, already bashing men at every step, already blaming men for all of women's problems plus their own. This has always been the dominant gender paradigm.

Oh, well. In one respect at least the Booby Trap episode rings true.
Errr, two respects if you count the inherent pun in the title.
Given the larger variability in male genetics as compared to female, highly intelligent men outnumber comparable women the smarter they get. Geordi LaForge the brilliant engineer would indeed be very unlikely to meet any women to whom he can truly relate.
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- which is of course his own damn fault for being too smart, the sexist pig!

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