Star Trek has a history and reputation for using sci-fi analogies to look at social issues. But then there are attempts like “The Outcast” that are theoretically doing so but end up causing controversy in execution.
Jimmy and Tom have some thoughts on it.
Riker develops feelings for a member of an androgynous race.
jimmy: Is the reason this episode didn’t work for you because Geordi had a beard?
tomk: No. More like this episode is one of the few times this era of Trek even acknowledged gay people existed, and the feeling is they did kind of a half-assed job of it.
jimmy: What do you feel makes it “half-assed”?
tomk: Well, rather than suggest there could be gay humans, it puts all the gay people on an alien planet we will never see again. Also, it suggests conversion therapy works.
Plus, Jonathan Frakes said he thought the love interest of the week would work better if they were more masculine or even played by a man.
jimmy: I get those complaints. And that conversion therapy sure works fast!
tomk: They have more practice on that planet than they like to talk about.
jimmy: Riker didn’t even have time to get a rescue attempt done, in what seemed like hours.
tomk: It’s only 45 minutes of television, Jimmy. How much time do you think they could spend on something like this?
jimmy: Maybe more than 45 seconds.
tomk: Honestly, this episode demonstrates one of my least favorite tropes from episodic TV: a character seems to instantly fall in love with someone they just met.
jimmy: Yeah, I found Riker’s declaration of love a bit much.
tomk: It’s something I have seen many times, but I don’t think I have ever liked it all that much. The best relationships on TV are more slow burn, like the main romantic connection in Babylon 5 where the characters spent many episodes getting to know each other.
jimmy: As you said though, they only have 45 minutes.
tomk: True. It’s a problem for episodic television.
jimmy: Attraction? Sure. Lust? No doubt. Fall in love and tell someone as much in a couple of days (in universe)…probably happens, but likely not common.
tomk: Keep Riker away from Space Vegas.
jimmy: It’s called Risa. He’s been there.
tomk: And nothing good happens there. Not even on Deep Space Nine.
jimmy: Or whatever happens at Risa stays at Risa.
tomk: Not if you bring any ridiculous headsets back from there.
jimmy: Your headsets eh? Now we’re on to something.
tomk: It’s a moot point because Riker gets into emotional trouble without going anywhere near Risa.
jimmy: Where there’s women or androgynous aliens confused about their sexuality, Riker will be there.
tomk: Riker just wants to know where he can stick it.
And by “it,” I mean his friendly and helpful demeanor.
jimmy: He does like to be helpful.
tomk: And if he gets something out of it, well, that’s just proves kindness is its own reward.
jimmy: Plus a kiss from Troi.
tomk: Eh, lots of things get you a kiss from Troi. Like Barclay’s holodeck programs if you don’t tell the actual Troi.
jimmy: I know they have a bond, and have dated before, but I’m still friends with some ex’s, I don’t kiss them.
tomk: I am friend with at least one ex. I don’t kiss her because her husband might take issue..
Plus that isn’t the kind of relationship we have now.
And I rarely see her because she lives in another state.
I’ll stop now.
jimmy: You mentioned earlier that Frakes thought it would have been better if the alien had been more masculine and played by a man. Whether or not that happened, if Andro had identified as male as was attracted to Riker, you think he reaction would have been the same?
tomk: Probably. The thing most Trek fans with problems about this episode have is that producer Rick Berman really didn’t want Trek to do social issues the way Gene Roddenberry always used to. Roddenberry wanted to put gay people into Star Trek, but never really got around to it. I saw George Takei in an interview once say he approached Roddenberry when the original show was still on the air because everyone except for Shatner pretty much knew Takei was gay, and Roddenberry basically said he only barely got the interracial kiss episode out and didn’t think he could do a pro-gay episode.
So, here’s Berman’s thing…do this one episode, never show these people again, and aside from a same sex kiss on DS9 with Dax, never really go anything along those lines again.
jimmy: Trek’s a very different beast these days.
tomk: Yeah. Two actors on Picard can just make up a bit where they make goo-goo eyes at each other in the final episode of the first season and everyone behind the scenes is like, “Sure, run with that.”
jimmy: Discovery has/had a gay male couple.
tomk: Is that on before or after Naked and Afraid?
Oh, wait, that’s the Discovery Channel. That’s different.
jimmy: In either case, I thought the commentary they were going for was fine (and perhaps even more relevant in this day and age with the androgyny), but I understand the feelings around it being a bit of a cop out.
tomk: For its time, it’s a decent first step though of all things The Golden Girls actually went further.
jimmy: Some Golden Girls episodes got surprisingly deep.
tomk: Like the time Rose was dealing drugs at the housing project? Oh wait, that was The Wire.
jimmy: They did get into some pretty political topics for a sitcom about older women (who really weren’t as old as you would remember, and not much older than us now). Same sex marriage, interracial marriage, in-vitro fertilization, homelessness, etc.
tomk: Yeah, and you know what? Fans don’t think they half-assed it like some say about Berman-era Star Trek today.
jimmy: Tom out!
tomk: Just like Worf offering to help his commanding officer break one of the Federation’s top rules. It’s primary directive, if you will.
jimmy: Which Picard seemed to take a “what I don’t know won’t hurt” approach to.
tomk: Picard probably knew the procedure was already finished.
tomk: If the love interest of the week doesn’t want to leave, Picard doesn’t have to fill out a lot of paperwork over a potential diplomatic problem.
jimmy: That is an interesting angle though. If Picard already knew, he’s not too concerned about Riker and Worf sneaking off to kidnap someone and break the prime directive. He just plays along with Riker and let’s them go knowing what will happen and then they can move onto the next mission. Everything’s coming up Picard.
tomk: He just needs to hope no one noticed the six foot human who towered over every person on that planet and the only Klingon in Starfleet weren’t noticed assaulting people at the prison/hospital/whatever.
jimmy: Training exercise.
tomk: I suppose it does take training to practice being unconscious.
jimmy: See. Picard’s no fool.
tomk: You thought he was?
tomk: Picard is a master diplomat. He has to be to avoid the paperwork.
jimmy: I can’t blame him. Paperwork suuuucccks!
tomk: Even in the future, bureaucracy ruins everything.
jimmy: Grr future. Grr bureaucracy. Grr future bureaucracy. shakes fist
tomk: But it’s better than society deciding you are broken and mandating mental reconditioning to fix you.
jimmy: That is also true.
tomk: Like how nefarious forces tried that on Watson and he came back worse.
jimmy: That’s like trying to torture Homer with endless donuts.
tomk: Or spelling “Spider-Man” without a hyphen. It just doesn’t work.
jimmy: You get a hyphen! No you get a hyphen!
tomk: They might be accusing each other of skipping the hyphen.
That or one of those Spider-Men is Wesley Crusher.
jimmy: It’s always Wesley all along. Even when it was the evil shock treatment brain reprogramers, I knew it was him.
tomk: Who do you think invented the things?
jimmy: An evil teenager no doubt.
tomk: That’s right. Or maybe younger.
jimmy: Good call on the globe, you definitely don’t want to get you brain dirty.
tomk: Seems kinda fragile. Like that society that needs to brainwash dissidents for the crime of having gender.
jimmy: Removing the pain and dangers of childbirth seems like a good idea. Removing everything else, not so much.
tomk: Deep Space Nine taught me Bajoran women can only give birth when they are completely relaxed.
jimmy: Women completely relax?
tomk: I’m not touching that one.
jimmy: That’ll help with the relaxing.
Good to see Worf’s back is all healed up enough to go on a stealth mission.
tomk: Redundant spine.
jimmy: And I guess no hard feelings with Riker refusing to help him kill himself.
tomk: Worf recognizes when someone bests him strategically.
jimmy: That’s an honorable way to be bested.
tomk: Game respects game.
tomk: Well, Riker found and lost love again. Feels like we’re going in circles.
jimmy: He should just stick with Troi.
tomk: Well, sometimes whole episodes seem to go in circles.
jimmy: Like this segue?
tomk: Would you like to find out what that means only once?
tomk: Good. I don’t like repeating myself.