Star Trek The Next Generation: Man of the People

Troi gets involved with a visiting ambassador, and it all goes horribly wrong. Yes, that description could apply to more than one episode of this show!

"How do you think it feels to sit and listen to someone whine about themselves all the time?"

It's a Troi episode.

It's not a Good Troi Episode.

To be fair, this episode isn't entirely terrible by any means. Maylor's initial hostility to Troi could easily be that of an over-protective mother, so although the twist isn't especially astonishing, it works well enough. Marina Sirtis does a good job with iffy material, being really quite sexy as she gently touches herself (above the waistline) while still staying just the right side of family viewing. Almost. And Alkar is a suitably hiss-worthy villain.

What doesn't help the episode is where it sits within The Next Generation. Episodes 24 and 25 of Season 5 ('The Next Phase' and 'The Inner Light') were all-time classics, especially the latter. The two-parter across the two seasons, 'Time's Arrow', was silly, but good fun. 'Realm of Fear' featured fan favourite Barclay, and without spoiling anything, 'Relics' is another all-time great, 'Schisms' is an interesting story and a personal favourite of mine, and 'True Q' features another fan favourite (guess which one!). And here, in the middle of the series' overall high point, is a fairly inconsequential episode about a visiting ambassador (again) and Troi.

This is also yet another Troi storyline revolving around her sex life. For some reason, right from the very first Troi episode, the writers of this show seemed to struggle to do anything with her that didn't involve romance, sex, or (as in this case, since although Troi is initially attracted, Alkar appears to essentially roofie her with his stone thingy) sexual abuse and violence. Some stories featured her mother, but Lwaxana Troi's force of personality tends to make those about her - and they're still all about sex.

I think this points to a bigger problem for the show in general, as Dr Crusher tends to get stories that are either about romance or motherhood as well, while in her short time on the show, Tasha Yar was put into overt explorations of sexism (and no one knew what to do with Pulaski). Troi suffers the most because while Crusher gets to be 'mother' and Yar 'tough girl', the writers seemed to struggle to give her a personality beyond her sexuality.

This episode is a classic example of the problem. There's some talk about Troi's empathic abilities but they don't really affect the outcome of the story, a lot of male gaze views of Marina Sirtis and a slimy ambassador who's up to no good. None of it really relates to Troi's character, as she's just being used by Mr Slimy, while his attempt to justify violating and killing her because it makes him a better diplomat is ridiculous. On the plus side, we do get to see Picard's righteous indignation at being forced to listen to it.

All in all, this is a thoroughly forgettable episode that feels like a throwback to the simpler telling of earlier seasons, with a sinister visiting ambassador and dodgy sexual politics. By this point in time, the show was capable of much better.

Bits and pieces

 - There are some nice Troi/Riker scenes for the shippers, so the episode isn't a total loss.

 - The hair, make-up and costumes are rather nice throughout this episode - with the notable
exception of Troi's bizarre Bride of Frankenstein look, in which she incorporates the grey hair that is a symptom of her problem.

 - Troi's counselling session where she brutally tells a crew-member they won't be coddled and need to get a grip or leave the ship is terrible but... also a tiny bit satisfying! But terrible, obviously. Bad counselling.

 - This episode also uses another classic Star Trek trope - deliberately "killing" someone (i.e. stopping their heart without causing brain death) in order to save them. On Trek, it always works. In real life - do NOT try this at home!

Quotes

Troi: There have been instances when having an empath along has been helpful.
I don't want to to overly mean, because I like Troi, but - when, exactly?!

Maylor: If you do, you'll regret it - the rest of your life.
i.e., not very long!

Riker: It's that time again - the dreaded crew evaluation reports!

Final analysis: TNG by the numbers, and not particularly good numbers. One and a half out of four Brides of Frankenstein.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

1 comment:

Billie Doux said...

I agree with every word of your review, Juliette.

Even worse, it just didn't make sense. How could Alkar do what he did? How did he acquire his Dorian Gray stone thingies? If he was running through young women and killing them like that, why did no one notice that they were 1. missing or 2. growing really old much too quickly?

If they had explained the stone thingies, the plot might have worked better if they'd just left sex out of it, too. Why were these women sexually obsessed with Alkar when he was slowly sucking the life out of them, anyway?