I was warned that this episode hadn’t aged well. All the more reason, I thought, that it warrants observation and discussion. And, really, I’ve seen some questionable stuff in the name of research that I’ve been able to neatly place in historical contexts. I’m sure I won’t have any problem metabolizing the themes this episode presents.
There’s a lot here, obviously. But I really only want to focus on my observations. I am a 21st century social scientist watching a 20th century TV show about a 23rd century diplomatic mission. I’m just going to focus on my questions, for now.
Again, the following contains spoilers for a 35 year old American television show. I am filled with regret.
- They’re still figuring out how their replicators work in this early episode, so the whole plot hinges on their getting a supply of a life-saving vaccine (they usually are) from a passive aggressive world government.
- They’re also still figuring out how Post-Kirk Starship Diplomacy is going to work: How would Kirk have reacted if his female chief of security were just kidnapped by some alien dudebro? He’d probably chase them down, fire on their world capital, rescue his crewmate and liberate the vaccines for the good of the galaxy. Picard’s way takes a whole hour.
- I’m going back and watching frame by frame to see how many scenes Levar Burton is actively biting his tongue during. The racial tropes being portrayed by this alien species are straight up painful to watch. On the other hand, on an episode of Trek Untold, Karole Selman, the actress who played Yareena, Lutan’s wife, expressed regret that the show had been panned. We can say what we will about the themes, but all of the actors played the heck out of their roles.
- On that note, notice how Worf isn’t in this episode at all? Would any of this had happened if Lutan and the Ligonians had had a Klingon staring them down the entire time? Tasha pretty roundly and squarely kicks everyone’s ass repeatedly, so it’s not like they needed him, but such are the sexist tropes being played out, Worf’s presence would likely have dampened a good bit of the plot
The ironic third act turn is, of course, that the guy wanted his wife killed fair and square because the women on his planet actually control all of the property and things of riches. So the Enterprise is actually successful in helping Yareena kick a scrub to the curb, keep her money, and marry for love.
The complex social issues and the weird way they play with sexuality and social power in this episode almost make you forget that one of the main themes of the episode is that VACCINES ARE SO IMPORTANT AND LIFESAVING THAT CAPTAIN PICARD IS WILLING TO LET STARFLEET PERSONELL BE KIDNAPPED AND TORTURED TO ACQUIRE IT. It used to be that this wasn’t even a question, so I’m not sure where things went so horribly wrong. Do we really expect to be ready for First Contact in 2063 if we’re scared of needles?
I’ll keep studying biology until people stop abandoning reason.
This weekend, join us for the livetweet discussion as we stream episodes at home on Paramount+
Join @TOSSatNight for Star Trek – Season 3, Episode 14: Whom Gods Destroy
Then on Sunday, join us as we continue the TNG journey and take in Season 1, Episode 5: The Last Outpost
My earnest thanks to Cignus-X1 for their repository of Star Trek Screen Caps. You are gentlefolk and scholars.
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