This is the inaugural essay accompanying the long form Star Trek Rewatch, originally coordinated by @TOSSatNight on Twitter. Follow the discussions via the hashtags below.
I think my story is the same as any other Star Trek fan. Once upon a time, a troubled kid who felt different from everyone else saw something in a show about starships and interstellar diplomacy that made them dream of a world where their differences were celebrated rather than ridiculed. Where everyone was different than everyone else. They came from different places. They believed in different things. And people were excited by these differences, and took pride in treating one another with mutual respect and dignity. But most importantly, when the kid looked at that world full of matter replicators, holodecks, and sociopolitical quagmires, it didn’t just give them hope that tomorrow would be better. It made them believe that the things that made them feel different and strange were the things that would help them make tomorrow better.
I didn’t watch TNG in order right away. I saw Generations, and, though my father and brothers had watched the show, I was enchanted by the movie before I remember watching an episode all the way through.
So, as we launch a TNG rewatch, I’m enjoying the opportunity to observe the series in order, with a more critical eye. Our journey begins with the unedited pilot episode, Encounter at Farpoint.
Warning – the following contains some spoilers for a 35 year old television program, maybe. I am terribly sorry.
When people ask who Autistic people identify with on this series, people naturally assume Data, and they’re not wrong. But I always found myself identifying with Deanna Troi, as a great many Autistic women have, I’ve discovered. A great many people call out the character’s portrayal in this episode, as the character diverges and becomes a level-headed voice of reason throughout the series. But in this episode, she visibly experiences the emotions of other people, to a disruptive degree. This wasn’t great for the flavor of the story they were telling, so it was discarded from the mix. But, in the real world, this is a pretty fair assessment of how Autistic women metabolize the emotions of others around them. Sensing other people’s general emotional states is somewhat commonplace for people who are hypersensitive, so when people around us are stressed, we get stressed. If they’re sad, we get sad. It’s an overweening sort of empathy that can keep us from being as helpful as we would like to be when our friends are struggling. But Troi shows in this episode that it is possible to take on the high stress work of a Federation officer when one has developed the necessary stamina and coping mechanisms to mitigate the pressure.
Picard is exhibiting some symptoms of anxiety and neurodivergence as well. He snaps at everyone for giving him more information than he can handle at once, and more than once yells at people to turn off warning alarms and klaxons that have become overwhelming.
When he finally meets up with Riker, his chief concern is that his rigidity and anxiety is going to make it hard for him to connect with the 1000-some-odd people (and children) he’s been put in charge of in this pressurized tin can that he’s forced to pull apart for combat purposes on the very first day.
Speaking of children, people remark on the inclusion of the boy genius Wesley (a stand in for boy genius Eugene Wesley Roddenberry), as it is a major divergence from the atmosphere of Kirk’s Enterprise. Kirk didn’t have to deal with a lot of children on his ship.
But while the child angle was an interesting divergence and an opportunity to tell stories that weren’t possible on the original Star Trek, I think it was also an opportunity for a show that has always been on the cutting edge of social progress to outline the societal impact of a new player on the American social stage at the time – the working single mother. We forget how novel a concept this really was in the 1980’s. Women barely had access to maternity care, let alone adequate maternity protections in the workplace. Women could often expect, if they took a maternity leave, that there might not be a job waiting for them should they choose to return.
Wesley is a well developed stand alone character, but I think he was created largely, if not primarily, as an object to illustrate Beverly Crusher’s successes. No longer was an audience to look at a widow and her orphan waif son as helpless victims of fate and circumstance – we see in Beverly Crusher a character whose career was in no way impacted by her family planning decisions, or the tragedy that circumvented them.
This episode also makes it clear that the reason Picard is so uptight around children is that he’s a huge giant pushover who will give them anything they want.
Nitty gritty points of interest:
- They practically abandon the miniskirt uniform conceit in the middle of the episode. It was reassuring, because these dresses couldn’t hold a candle to the original style.
- Again, halfway through the episode, it feels like they let somebody else take over writing Q. He begins with an absolute air of antagonism, and it feels like there’s no segue between that and his panting hot man crush on Riker. That also didn’t seem to last very long before he focused his attention on Picard from Season 2 onward.
- I tried my darnedest as a kid to make the weird buzzy whistle noise that Data makes in the holodeck when Riker first meets him, and I think I made my whistling just worse overall. Oh well.
This weekend, join us for the livetweet discussion as we stream episodes at home on Paramount+
Join @TOSSatNight for Star Trek – Season 3, Episode 16: The Mark of Gideon
Then on Sunday, join us as we continue the TNG journey and take in Season 1, Episode 2: The Naked Now
Follow our discussions on Twitter:
#TOSSatNight – Star Trek: The Original Series – 9 pm Pacific on Saturdays
#TASSatNight – Star Trek: The Animated Series – 10 pm Pacific, every other Saturday
#TNGSunNight – Star Trek: The Next Generation – 8 pm Pacific on Sundays
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