There’s a pattern to any Geordi LaForge-centered episode of Star Trek the Next Generation that suggested the Chief Engineer of that particular Enterprise was forever unlucky in love. I’d noticed that, in the original series, the same seemed to hold true for Scotty. The handful of episodes dealing Scotty’s love life showed he had feelings for female crewmembers who didn’t reciprocate, or he was heartbroken for a love affair between episodes, or he goes off with some woman who was suddenly murdered by Jack the Ripper. Hmmm, those last two happened in the same episode.
I think the point is any time we find out Scotty is in love, there’s a creepy air to it when looked at through modern eyes.
At any rate, “The Lights of Zetar” has Scotty in love again, only this time the woman is returning those feelings and, well, it is still a bit creepy.
With a script giving a co-writer credit to Shari Lewis (yes, the Lamb Chop puppeteer), “The Lights of Zetar” shows Scotty romancing young Lt. Mira Romaine. She’s on her way to her first assignment at the Federation’s Galactic Library, and since it’s her first time in space, Scotty decides to take care of her a bit. Plus, for the first time, Scotty’s feelings are being returned.
So, OK, this is fine so far. Yes, obviously Romaine will be at the center of the plot, and it will be something to tear at Scotty, but there’s something…not right about Scotty’s romance here.
First off, Kirk in his own log refers to Scotty as being a man of a certain age, pointing out that veteran Engineer Scotty is notably older than the young Lieutenant. That by itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m sure there’s a double standard at work here. We won’t be seeing Chapel or Uhura with a younger man any time soon.
Second, it is suggested that Scotty might be Romaine’s superior officer. At the very least, he does outrank her. That isn’t cool.
Thirdly, Scotty talks to her like she’s a kid. It’s a very condescending tone he uses at all times, constantly giving off a “daddy knows best” vibe. The episode itself sees no harm there. When Romaine loses consciousness after the Lights of Zetar do what they do to the bridge crew, she isn’t really co-operating with McCoy or Chapel. Scotty shows up, does his mansplaining, and she goes along with the tests, causing Chapel of all people to comment on how good Scotty’s bedside manner is.
Really, as someone who is a little concerned I mansplain from time to time, I know it when I hear it. And I hear it coming out of Scotty. When Romaine has some (as it turns out, very legitimate) concerns about what is happening to her, Scotty just poo-poos her concerns as impossible or just nerves.
Oh man. Is Scotty aware psychic powers are a thing in this universe?
No one in this episode holds Scotty accountable for this sort of stuff. Kirk reprimands him lightly for not being at his post once or twice, but that’s about it. Even Romaine doesn’t tell him to back off a bit.
Then again, this episode shows the Federation’s library, the holder of all its information from every member planet, has no shields. Yeah, it’s not supposed to be a military outpost and it’s open to scholars from all over, but some shields might not be a bad idea in case of some kind of cosmic rays or something. One good EMP and all that knowledge is gone forever.
Which is sort of what happens.
See, the Lights of Zetar are some fancy lights in space that make up their own minds. They somewhat bond with Romaine for reasons unknown and Spock realizes that not only is the weird storm alive and probably sentient, it is also at least ten distinct things. When Scotty finally does report Romaine’s condition to Kirk, namely after firing the ship’s phasers at the storm hurts her. A check up by McCoy shows her brainwave patterns, a distinct pattern as reliable as a fingerprint, have changed, and Spock confirms it has the same pattern as the light storm.
Yes, apparently, the Lights of Zetar are the last survivors of an otherwise extinct race of humanoids. They decided they didn’t want to die, and they won’t if they take over Romaine’s body. Kirk finds that unacceptable because living at the expense of another sentient living being is wrong. There’s some stuff there that ends up killing the Zetars but not Romaine. In fact, it’s done in a pressure chamber which somehow has zero gravity inside of it, so Romaine can float there while a concerned Scotty watches. Everything there works out. Romaine lives, and Kirk decides to let her spend some time with Scotty until they drop her off at her first assignment rebuilding that library.
You know, all things being equal, this is actually a fairly smart episode. There’s some good Trek-style philosophy about how much someone’s right to live extends, and the sci-fi elements are suitably weird, but I just couldn’t enjoy it quite so much given the way the episode’s romance worked out. It’s probably good that Scotty, like Kirk, is most likely in love with the Enterprise itself, or perhaps just the engines. He doesn’t do love very well.