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 http://www.avclub.com/articles/11001001too-short-a-seasonwhen-the-bough-breaks,40903/
2. Emphasis mine. Just, fucking, ew.

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

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