The Negative Space Wedgie of the Week makes Counselor Troi lose her empathic powers.
"Therapists are always the worst patients - except for doctors, of course".
A story about a superhero losing their super-powers can be used to test how well they survive without them, but it can also be used to explore the character; their reactions to such a traumatic event, and how they deal with that trauma and whether or not they readjust.
Loss, whether of a person, a job, a lover, a friend or even physical possessions if they all disappear at once, is a difficult thing to deal with, and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) can and have been applied to all sorts of losses (though I have a suspicion anger and bargaining should probably be swapped around in the case of some romantic relationships!). In the course of this episode, Troi goes through denial (with Crusher), anger (at Riker and Crusher), bargaining (yelling at Crusher to find a solution), depression (crying to Riker) and acceptance (in her conversation with Guinan and ability to help Data) - though of course, she has recovered her powers by the episode's end.
Everyone experiences loss and this is a decent enough walk through the basic issues. The episode also touches on disability issues, though it doesn't really have room for much on top of everything else. In particular, Troi makes a really nice point about the way other people change when something terrible happens - covering a variety of reactions (avoidance, walking on eggshells, over-bearing attempts to help, inspirational anecdotes) but all marking a change in the behaviour of others towards a person struggling to deal with a change themselves. Anyone who has experienced severe illness or disability, either themselves or that of a close family member (in which case the reactions, while second hand, are much the same) will empathise with Troi here.
So the episodes is all very relatable and interesting, but is it any good? This is a Troi episode, and Troi episodes are notorious among the fandom for being somewhat less than stunning, except for the few exceptions that are really very good. This is not one of the exceptions - it is a little bit plodding in the way it works its way through the requisite issues and poor Troi, while we sympathise with her, is really very annoying in places (it really isn't, on any level, Crusher's fault). However, it's not a terrible episode either. Troi's struggle is real (fantastic alien super-powers aside) and she's a good choice for this sort of story, since she's so willing to talk through her feelings openly. (We get some nice Riker/Troi scenes along the way as well, which is always a bonus for the shippers among us). There may be better Troi episodes out there, but there are far worse ones as well.
Bits and pieces
- I feel bad for the woman whose husband died and all, but my goodness she's infuriatingly smug at the beginning of the cold open.
- If you're wondering why Kim Braden, the actress playing her, looks familiar, it's because she plays the fantasy wife in Generations.
- Why the heck does Riker start accusing poor Deanna of being a snob when she's at a low point? Helpful, Riker.
- Guinan seems to counsel people more often then Troi anyway, she really should become ship's counselor.
Crusher: If you were anyone else, you know the first thing I'd do? I'd send you to Counselor Troi.
Troi: Well then, I have an advantage, don't I? I see her quite often.
Troi (to Guinan): People come to talk to you about things they want to reveal. As ship's counselor, you have to get them to talk about things they don't want to reveal. (Which, of course, Guinan is equally good at).
It may not be one of the outstandingly good Troi episodes, but it's a decent attempt at an exploration of grief and loss. Two and a half out of four lost super-powers.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.