Pleasant and Unpleasant Differences (S01:E19)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Heart of Glory

When the Enterprise stumbles on to a group of renegade Klingons, Worf is confronted with the heritage he has been distanced from.

The episode opens with an experiment: the bridge crew gets access to what Geordi sees through his Visor, thanks to a technological gizmo that he and Data concoct. They marvel at the beauty and extraordinariness of the images, and at Geordi’s ability to sort the information (which is compared to a hearing person’s ability to sort through voices in a crowded room). While Geordi’s blindness is a difference that the bridge crew often engages, it’s also a difference that brings additional resources to them without demanding much of any adaptation on their part. There is little to no discomfort or stretching required from those around Geordi.

Worf, however, asks his colleagues to move significantly outside their comfort zone in this story. We learn here that he has not lived among Klingons since he was very young, and has been almost entirely immersed in human culture. Whatever sense of tension he felt before between his Klingon self and his human environment, it is intensified by this, our first introduction to Klingon culture. We learn there are Klingons that object to the new alliance with the Federation (much lauded in Starfleet), and some of these free Klingons encourage Worf to rediscover the wildness he has tamed to live peaceably with humans.

Apparently, Klingon culture is a complete unknown to most of the crew. After Worf partakes in a brief death ritual with the renegades for a fallen comrade, Data explains its significance to an aghast Picard and Riker. Picard even comments that he didn’t recognize Worf anymore; only a small move into Klingon “space” makes him unrecognizable to shipmates. The rest of the crew is quick to question his loyalties, as they also misunderstand Klingon culture (for example, leaping to the assumption that a stray child will be taken as a hostage, which would not be considered honorable or appropriate to the Klingons, even during desperate moments).

Eventually, Worf finds that the renegades’ philosophy is too extreme for him. Once he begins to integrate these new experiences of what it means to be Klingon into the values he’s carried with him already, he tells them they are looking for battles in the wrong place, and describes the internal struggle to embody honor, duty and loyalty. By the end of the episode they have given their lives in a battle they’ve created rather than assimilate to the peace of the new alliance.

There are later episodes where Worf’s friends are more supportive and embracing of his Klingon culture. But it is the raw honesty and complex tension of this episode that is compelling to me right now. It is a sympathetic, respectful portrayal of Klingon culture given by the storytellers, but Worf’s friends, whom we as viewers respect, don’t yet understand. I debated writing this post as well, since at the time, I noticed none of this. I was on the verge of boredom, as Klingon culture didn’t appeal to 13-year old me much. But, I still absorbed the story, and was absorbed by it. And I wonder how watching Worf in that place of tension between two starkly contrasted cultures really affected me. I’d like to think it made me feel less alone, on some deeper level, when I eventually reached toward being in this world, but not of it.

Note on the episode: I don’t know how intentional they were in this thematic tie-in, but in this episode focusing on difference, they finally mention the hostile-but-tangential race that becomes the primary enemy of the series: The Romulans.

Published in: on June 9, 2012 at 7:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Parenting a Starship (S01:E18)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Coming of Age

While Wesley takes his entrance test for Starfleet Academy, Captain Picard endures a secretive and stressful investigation from a visiting admiral.

What stands out for me are two very important actions from Captain Picard:

A) In one instance, a distraught young man has stolen a shuttlecraft to run away from his problems on board the ship. Picard makes contact with him just as a major malfunction happens on the shuttle. Picard remains calm and talks the boy through his life-threatening emergency, even while managing a stressful situation of his own. But more than that, he also speaks very kindly and compassionately about the young man, forgiving him for a rash decision and treating it as an opportunity for growth.

B) When Wesley fails to win a spot at the Academy2 3, and expresses the disappointment he expects everyone to have of him, Picard encourages Wesley to “measure [his] success and failure from within”, and comforts him. He ends the conversation by inviting Wesley to continue their shared mission together.

Despite his famous dislike for and discomfort with young children, Picard repeatedly shows himself to be a nurturing man, capable of great parenting skills. Indeed, he approaches his leadership role as being partly about good parenting: in this case, forgiving mistakes, treating failures as a chance to learn, and encouraging and providing for growth opportunities for the people in his charge. He was honestly my first role model for learning nurturance and right relationship. I’m reminded of how much power there can be in the stories we tell ourselves, and I’m grateful I had these.

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2. As an aside, I was vividly reminded of Wesley’s psychological exam from this episode years later, when I took my psych testing for ordination. Thankfully, I wasn’t required to drag anyone through the spewing futuristic wreckage of an explosion. But I totally would have been able to calculate the proper matter:antimatter ratio on any word problem they gave me.
3. Hey, while we’re on the subject of asides, this is the longest conversation Worf’s been given to date, providing Wesley with a pep talk before his psych exam. I enjoyed his “only fools have no fear” line then and now.

The Cruelty of our Assumptions (S01:E17)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Home Soil

The Enterprise visits a team in the early stages of terraforming a planet. But when suspicious events escalate, Picard must eventually solve a murder mystery.

This is another really solid episode, with a few things I want to mention. First, Deanna provides the captain with useful information during the investigation about who’s being deceptive and who’s trustworthy; that’s noteworthy because I don’t remember Deanna being useful all that often.2 Second, Riker is becoming a textbook of some of the basic violations that feminism critiques. While every other scientist on the planet gets introduced as their own person, the only female scientist is introduced through a heavy stream of admiring and “charming” looks from Riker. I couldn’t have picked that out at the time, but I do wonder how much this primed me to understand the concept of the pervasive male gaze later in my life.

Third, it’s the first time we see the Federation fuck up with a new life form and admit it. They are an inorganic species – not carbon-based, like all other life the Federation has found3 – and this challenges the very definition of life that Starfleet uses. So the beings go unnoticed during the planet’s evaluations for the terraforming process, and many of the life forms have already been killed before the Federation members finally notice the communications that have been aimed at them. At one point, as they examine all the clues they had missed, one scientist says “We were told by the best minds that there was no life. We weren’t looking, so we did not see.” This would become a critical theme in my life: the damage that is done when our basic assumptions and basic working definitions exclude some beings, or even make them invisible.

Picard articulates that, to the Federation, “all life is beautiful.” It’s a value to admire, that influenced me. But the Federation’s actions are not easy to forgive, and the newly found life form ends its communications by naming humans too arrogant and untrustworthy to interact with yet. I appreciate this response to violence and broken relationship, as the response feels authentic to me.

1. From
2. Their attempt to include psychology and psychological health as an aspect of this crew’s life is commendable. But I think their intentions were so far past what they had actually integrated into their storytelling, that Deanna’s role suffers immeasurably. They just couldn’t figure out what to do with her. And since she is half of the eventual female complement of the main cast, the presence and integration of women suffers too.
3. Other than the inorganic life form Kirk and company found in that one original episode that was a lot like this one. But this is otherwise such an awesomely done episode, I can forgive the blip in continuity.

Radical Responses (S01:E16)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

When the Bough Breaks

The Enterprise discovers Aldea – an advanced, idyllic world thought to be only myth. But when the Aldeans abduct children from the ship, Picard and Dr. Crusher must puzzle out some of the world’s gravest problems.

I’ve gone back and forth on whether to write about this episode. I don’t remember it having much immediate impact on me as a kid, outside being a suspenseful plot about kids in danger. I know there’s several elements that appeal to me as an adult. I don’t think all of them apply to my purposes here (my response now doesn’t necessarily reflect the story’s impact then; it’s hard to tease all that out). But I do want to talk about a couple of elements that I hope and believe planted some seeds in me.

Wesley is the only teenager abducted, along with six other younger children. Once down on the planet, he consistently, clearly and firmly objects to their abduction. He begins to train the other children in passive resistance (and calls it such, my first exposure to any nonviolent tool for change). He eventually organizes a hunger strike amongst the children. I was amazed and awed by his tactics as a kid.

Coupled with this was a portrayal of the abductors as very kind and ostensibly loving in much of their behavior, even nurturing the children in various arts they loved. But we never forget the chilling truth that the children have been taken forcibly from their families. It was a complex characterization of coercion and consent issues in relationship that I suspect left an impression on me.

It would be several years before my impulses toward nonviolence came to fruition, and more years still until I start exploring coercion and consent deeply. I have a feeling, though, that I can thank moments like this for aiming me in that direction.

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Published in: on June 7, 2012 at 5:43 am  Leave a Comment  

Riker’s Perfect Woman (S01:E14)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.


During engine upgrades at a starbase, a strange series of events occurs that traps Picard and Riker in the holodeck and sends the unstaffed Enterprise light years away.

This episode has a lot of things going for it. Riker’s tour through the ship near the beginning of the episode fleshes out the stories we don’t see of life on the Enterprise, rounding out the feel that it’s a living community. The mystery of what’s happening to the ship is compelling and suspenseful in its pacing. We are introduced – only briefly – to an alien race without gender, but even that little taste enthralled me at the time. And, on a personal note, we first hear the ‘correct’ voice of the Enterprise-D’s computer: that of Majel Barrett Roddenberry, who would speak as the ship’s computer for the remainder of the series.

A big chunk of the episode, though, is Riker showing off some deep misogyny in his romantic choices. I knew the first time I saw the episode that I didn’t like what was going on, but I couldn’t place my finger on it. For that feeling, I give myself a lot of credit. Riker spends a great deal of time profoundly infatuated with a made-to-order woman on the holodeck.

First, the fact that a satisfying leisure activity for him is customizing and enjoying the company of a fabricated woman on the holodeck is pretty disturbing to me. He begins by dictating to the computer exactly what he wants her to look like, rejecting some bodies on sight (one wasn’t ‘sultry’ enough) until he likes what he sees. He then starts with his opening line, and is delighted at the response he gets.

Riker: What’s a knockout like you doing in a computer-generated gin joint like this?
Minuet: Waiting for you.

With stars in his eyes, he marvels that “She already knows what I want her to say before I’m aware myself”2 and “I could develop feelings for her.” The appeal isn’t that she’s enjoyable to be with, or even that she is wise enough to know him deeply. It’s that she already knows how he wants her to seem and communicate… making it clear that catering to his needs and desires is far more alluring to him than her actually being a person.

I didn’t come away then with a good impression of Riker, and I don’t now. There’s some dark humor in knowing that the woman is not only programmed by Riker to be attractive to him, but is also being programmed by the Bynars to keep him enchanted and distracted. And he falls for her hook, line and sinker. Even Picard, for a much shorter time, is seduced – though his time is spent marveling at the technological skill needed to create the image of a charming woman out of thin air.

But it’s Riker that is coming to consider a solicitous computer program to be the perfect woman. Ugh.

1. Photo from,40903/
2. Emphasis mine. Just, fucking, ew.

Published in: on June 6, 2012 at 7:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Of Men and Matriarchs (S01:E13)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Angel One

The Enterprise must work with a rigidly matriarchal society to rescue stranded survivors of a shipwreck.

The writers put some real effort into commenting on gender on a broad scale, having the Enterprise interact with a culture where women are considered more intelligent and capable, and men are relegated to second-class status. There is a real feeling amongst the women leading the planet that men just shouldn’t worry their pretty little heads, and they use the phrase “against the natural order” to describe a more egalitarian concept of gender. When silencing some men who are demanding more equal rights, the leader uses language around “keeping the peace” and “dealing with revolutionaries.” When Riker dons native garb to hang out with Mistress Beata, Troi and Yar both comment on how demeaning the dress for men is. I was very intrigued at the time, and I’m grateful now. It was another encouragement to look around, to question and to think critically. It got me thinking about not only what I was told about gender, but also how the language used by authorities is shaped by their agendas.

Nowadays, I’m a little annoyed that none of the “stronger” race of women are cast any larger in build than, say, Cameron Diaz. The narrowness of body type shown in the series amazes me more and more, the longer I watch. We have another backwards world of aliens, and it’s a little trying that there have been so few races that the Federation considers to be equals so far. I also really can’t figure out how the Prime Directive has absolutely nothing to say about Riker sexing up foreign dignitaries.

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Double your Pleasure (S01:E12)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.


When the Enterprise visits the colony where Data was originally discovered, they learn about his creator… and meet his twin brother Lore.

“Datalore” is what I think of as old school science fiction done well. It has broadly evil and noble characters, each with indicative lighting styles to inform us, the audience, of their intentions. It has a melodramatic yet straightforward mystery that unfolds mostly through betrayal of relationship between characters. And it has a baldly ambitious villain, with intentions hidden from almost everyone (and who tends toward speeches about his greatness and his dastardly plans). All of this is done with a deft hand though: good pacing, good acting, and a quality script. The only thing missing is theramin music.

Also typical for sci-fi, it has layers of social commentary built in to the story. Data’s colleagues struggle with embarrassment and feelings of intrusion in asking questions about his differentness as an android, trying to understand Lore and how he should be treated. Even Picard, who is the first to ease the discomfort by talking about similarities they all share, still fumbles with what pronouns are most appropriate for Lore. These are everyday experiences for many members of groups seen as different and misunderstood in our culture. But, even though Data’s differences are focused on here, there is still another character less seen and with less power than he. The character chosen by the writers to see Lore’s deception before anyone else does is Wesley… who, as I mentioned earlier, is easiest to dismiss, so he’s a logical choice. Unfortunately, the situation did nothing to endear him to his detractors. The treatment he receives is a classic, crazymaking denial of reality (including the now famous rounds of “Shut up Wesley!” from multiple authority figures), which reinforces my feelings that he’s arguably the “queerest” and most marginalized person in the crew.

I’m sure finding out that Data has a mentally unstable family member only made me feel closer to him. And themes of differentness and visibility/invisibility were and are compelling. But mostly, this is another episode of general bonding to a quality show, at any and every age I’ve been.

1. God bless wikipedia.

Published in: on June 3, 2012 at 9:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Episode Index – Star Trek: The Next Generation

Greetings! You’re so kind to take this journey with me!

First, if you haven’t, read the introduction to this kooky endeavor here. Then, you can use the Star Trek tags in the right sidebar to take the whole trip in reverse, or you can use the index below to chart your own course.

I’m writing these explorations from a very personal point of view, focusing more on the effect of the series on my individual development, and less on the series itself. For that reason, if an individual episode didn’t contribute substantially to my journey, I didn’t write about it. Those are noted below.

Happy travels! 🙂


1. Encounter at Farpoint
2. The Naked Now
3. Code of Honor (combined with ep.4)
4. The Last Outpost (combined with ep.3)

5. Where No One Has Gone Before
6. Lonely Among Us
7. Justice
8. The Battle (no post)
9. Hide And Q (combined with ep.10)
10. Haven (combined with ep.9)

11. The Big Goodbye
12. Datalore
13. Angel One
14. 11001001
15. Too Short A Season (no post)
16. When The Bough Breaks
17. Home Soil
18. Coming Of Age
19. Heart of Glory
20. The Arsenal of Freedom (no post)
21. Symbiosis
22. Skin of Evil
23. We’ll Always Have Paris (no post)
24. Conspiracy (no post)
25. The Neutral Zone


1. The Child
2. Where Silence Has Lease
3. Elementary, Dear Data
4. The Outrageous Okona
5. Loud As A Whisper
6. The Schizoid Man
7. Unnatural Selection
8. A Matter Of Honor
9. The Measure Of A Man
10. The Dauphin (combined with ep.11)
11. Contagion (combined with ep.10)

12. The Royale (no post)
13. Time Squared
14. The Icarus Factor
15. Pen Pals
16. Q Who
17. Samaritan Snare
18. Up The Long Ladder (combined with ep.19)
19. Manhunt (combined with ep.18)

20. The Emissary
21. Peak Performance
22. Shades Of Gray (no post)


1. Evolution
2. The Ensigns of Command
3. The Survivors
4. Who Watches The Watchers
5. The Bonding
6. Booby Trap (combined with ep S04:16)
7. The Enemy
8. The Price
9. The Vengeance Factor
10. The Defector
11. The Hunted
12. The High Ground
13. Deja Q
14. A Matter of Perspective
15. Yesterday’s Enterprise
16. The Offspring
17. Sins of the Father
18. Allegiance
19. Captain’s Holiday
20. Tin Man
21. Hollow Pursuits
22. The Most Toys
23. Sarek
24. Ménage à Troi
25. Transfigurations
26. The Best of Both Worlds



1. Best of Both Worlds Part II
2. Family
3. Brothers
4. Suddenly Human
5. Remember Me
6. Legacy
7. Reunion
8. Future Imperfect
9. Final Mission
10. The Loss
11. Data’s Day
12. The Wounded
13. Devil’s Due
14. Clues
15. First Contact
16. Galaxy’s Child (Combined with ep S03:06)
17. Night Terrors
18. Identity Crisis
19. The Nth Degree
20. Qpid
21. The Drumhead
22. Half a Life
23. The Host
24. The Mind’s Eye
25. In Theory
26. Redemption


Published in: on June 3, 2012 at 12:19 am  Leave a Comment  

Dixon Hill, private dick (S01:E11)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

The Big Goodbye

A holodeck malfunction traps Picard and company in the gritty, dangerous world of 1940’s P.I. Dixon Hill and the mobsters he investigates.

This episode was and is absolutely delightful. It’s the first full-on home run the series hits, with smart humor, tight writing, and some wonderful characterization developing.

Other than just being damn good television, we learn about Picard’s fascination with detective stories, and we see more of Data’s delight at playacting. We learn Riker is entirely unskilled at diplomacy, and we meet another backwards race that only presents obstacles to the Enterprise. Wesley is brought in to help fix a problem on the ship, but only as a concession when it’s remembered that his mother’s life is in danger. Patrick Stewart and Brent Spiner have a bit of physical comedy with a lamp that is pure gold. And the writers imaginatively use our first malfunction of the holodeck to start hinting at what personhood really is, with the friendship, feelings and will to live of virtually-created beings.

This episode is among my all-time favorites, and was a big part of my process of falling madly in love with Picard and Data.

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Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 11:49 pm  Leave a Comment  

But Wesley’s the annoying one. Sure. (S01:E09; S01:E10)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Hide and Q

Q returns to tempt Riker with powers beyond his imagination.


Counselor Troi prepares to enter an arranged marriage, while Riker manages his feelings about the wedding. The Enterprise meets survivors of biological warfare that were long thought dead.

As I’ve mentioned, it took me a long time to warm up to Riker. He reminded me of my older brother then, which makes sense to me now, because so far he’s mostly been a douchebag. When interacting with Q, their arrogance is a good match for one another. Riker sometimes seems to admire Q, and he’s certainly quick to adjust to the mantle of great power over others that Q gives him. When his friend Deanna is in a very difficult situation, Riker’s only thoughts are of himself and he gives her no discernible support.

In what I believe is an attempt at decisiveness of character, Riker himself seems most sure of the facts that he’s very good at ordering people around and that he’s entitled to something. His moments of kindness feel more like benevolent paternalism than anything else. Q giving him Q-like powers isn’t so far removed from the career of hierarchy-climbing he’s devoted to. He is in a leadership position over others already, but shows none of the understanding of human nature, empathy or curiosity that Picard does. If I weren’t already aware of a future character trajectory that I recall as being rather benign, I think I’d find him a lot more disturbing and ominous at this point. He’s the more visible reminder of the unspoken limits on compassion and self-awareness in this rigid Starfleet system of control.

I’m glad I found him offputting then, and take that as a sign that I knew a thing or two at that age.

Other news in these episodes:

Picard loves Shakespeare (this would encourage my love for theatre and film). He also responds with compassion when Riker is insistent on making himself look like an idiot.

Q is frightened by humans’ drive to learn and improve; humans are characterized as not abiding stagnation, and having change and growth at the heart of who we are. I have no doubt that this philosophy helped me find a way out of a very dark place in my life.

We meet Deanna’s mother Lwaxana here, who vividly reminds me of someone else in my life… but we’ll save that for another time

In another dazzling display of ethnocentrism, arranged marriages are considered backward and unenlightened (have we had a post without the word ‘backward’ in it yet?)

1.From the enjoyable Not Paying Attention to Star Trek tumblr:
2. Ibid.