“The Outrageous Okona”
Written by Les Menchen, Lance Dickson, David Landsberg, and Burton Armus
Directed by Robert Becker
Season 2, Episode 4
Production episode 40272-130
Original air date: December 12, 1988
Apologies for the delay in this one. Worry not, we’ll be back on track with “Loud as a Whisper” on Monday. Onward....
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise comes across the interplanetary cargo ship Erstwhile, which has a failing guidance system. The captain is a smartass named Okona, who beams aboard with his crappy engine part while the Enterprise takes him in tow.
He pretty much charms the entire crew, including seducing the transporter chief and discussing humor with Data. While La Forge fixes the guidance system, Data discusses his inability to get humor with Guinan, eventually seeking out a 20th-century comic on the holodeck.
Data’s rather sad attempts to be funny are mercifully interrupted by a call to the bridge. A ship from one of the planets in the system, Atlec, approaches and locks lasers on the Enterprise. The crew is amused, since firing lasers on a Starfleet ship would be about as effective as spitballs. Captain Debin nonetheless requests that Picard heave to and prepare to be boarded. With a straight face, and everything.
Debin claims that they are towing the ship of a “known criminal.” Okona has committed crimes on Atlec and Debin requests that he be turned over. Then another ship from the other occupied planet in the system, Straleb, arrives; its captain, Kushell, also demands Okona.
Picard has Worf drag Okona to the bridge. It’s an open question who is more intimidating, Worf with his growl, or Picard with his very quiet rebuke. The Straleb legation accuses Okona of stealing the Jewel of Thesia, while Debin accuses him on knocking up his daughter Yanar. The two ships argue back and forth, with Picard getting frustrated at the posturing. Okona tells Picard that he didn’t steal the jewel and that the other matter is between him and Yanar. However, he decides to surrender himself; Picard invites the two legations on board, where Okona says he’ll marry Yanar. Kushell’s son Benzan objects strenuously.
The Romeo & Juliet-lite plot comes to the fore in short order: Okona isn’t the father of Yanar’s son, Benzan is. Okona’s been secretly smuggling the two of them to see each other, and Okona does have the jewel, but he didn’t steal it — Benzan gave it to Okona to bring to Yanar as a pledge of marriage. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the chance to deliver it because his guidance system crapped out.
There’s posturing and bitching and moaning and any number of other bits of clichéd nonsense before they finally settle down. Yanar and Benzan declare their love for each other publicly for the first time, their fathers’ belligerence turns to somewhat more affectionate banter now that there’s a mutual grandchild, and Picard leaves the room as fast as he possibly can. Okona then heads off, new guidance system in hand, while Benzan and Yanar plan their wedding.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi mostly uses her empathic abilities to verify that people are exactly what they seem to be. This makes her seem more ineffective than she actually is — the real issue is that everyone in this episode is so gosh-darned transparent that the empath is actually redundant.
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data attempts to learn more about humor by studying at the feet of an aggressively mediocre 1980s standup comic, leading one to think that the computer has a better sense of humor than Data by providing that unfunny hack to teach Data about what’s amusing.
On the other hand, we do get to hear Data reference Burns and Allen (“It still works!”) and say “Take my Worf — please,” so it’s not a total loss....
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf gets to be intimidating with Okona on more than one occasion, and also bitches about the Atlec and Straleb ships, calling them glob flies.
The Boy!?: After talking with Riker about Okona, Wes proudly says that he’s already made his choice as to how to spend his life. This is ironic given Wes’s ultimate fate in the seventh season’s “Journey’s End.”
Welcome Aboard: Three guest stars of note in this one, two before they were famous, one on the downslide away from it. Billy Campbell (credited as “William O. Campbell,” the middle initial necessary to distinguish him from the guy who played Trelane and Koloth) as Okona, soon to be the star of the criminally underrated The Rocketeer and later to star in The 4400; and this episode’s Robert Knepper moment, Teri Hatcher, of later Lois & Clark and Desperate Housewives fame, as the transporter chief Okona seduces. The standup comic is played by Joe Piscopo, who was never heard from again after this....
I Believe I Said That: “Lasers can’t even penetrate our navigations shields, don’t they know that?”
“Regulations do call for yellow alert.”
“Mmm — very old regulation. Well, make it so, Number One. And reduce speed. Drop main shields, as well.”
“May I ask why, sir?”
“In case we decide to surrender to them, Number One.”
Picard and Riker discussing the “threat” of the Atlec ship.
Trivial Matters: Look closely at the bit where the comic says his Jerry Lewis impersonation was a hit in Teaneck, and Data responds, “A word ending in K!” Piscopo has his hand near his mouth and he’s very obviously trying desperately not to laugh. One suspects that was an ad-lib of Brent Spiner’s (calling back to an earlier comment the comic made about how some people think words ending in K are funny) that broke Piscopo up, and this was the take where he didn’t actually burst out laughing.
Piscopo himself apparently ad-libbed a lot of his bits, which explains quite a bit. His Jerry Lewis impersonation is fitting, since the producers originally approached Lewis to play the role, but he had a scheduling conflict.
Data tells Guinan that there is nothing more “uniquely human” than laughter and humor, something your humble rewatcher would make significant use of in his 2007 TNG novel Q & A.
Okona would return in several issues of DC Comics’s TNG comic written by Michael Jan Friedman in 1991.
Make it so. “A monk, a clone, and a Ferengi walk into a bar...” The textbook definition of “filler,” this episode is actually quite a lot of fun, if disposable and cliché-ridden. And hey, the filler is the best part of a Twinkie, and this episode is very much a yummy piece of snack food that’s enjoyable to chow down on but has no actual nutritional value, and isn’t something you’d want to eat every day.
Enough of the tortured food metaphor. Mostly what makes this episode work is the charm and talent of two actors, Brent Spiner and Billy Campbell. Data’s attempts to be funny succeed entirely on the back of Spiner’s superb comic timing, as he’s at his most hilarious when the character he’s playing is not being funny. It certainly doesn’t owe anything to a labored turn by Joe Piscopo, who was already well into his fifteenth minute.
As for Campbell, his overall charm is infectious and his easy banter with Data, Wes, and La Forge is completely convincing, though his seduction of at least two female crewmembers is a bit less so. Also, while Campbell brings the witty banter effortlessly, his attempt to be tough and macho fails miserably. When he tries to go toe-to-toe with Worf, it’s just laughable, as it’s very obvious that Worf would eat him for breakfast and only suffer from mild indigestion.
Mention must also be made of Sir Patrick Stewart, whose disdain, annoyance, and frustration with the two disputing families is hilariously played. And points also to the script for not moralizing against Okona’s freewheeling lifestyle, with Picard even outwardly stating that Okona is free to socialize with the crew.
Warp factor rating: 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new items coming out soon: the novel Guilt in Innocence, part of The Scattered Earth shared-universe science fiction project, the graphic novel Farscape Volume 5: Red Sky at Morning, continuing the post-Peacekeeper Wars story of Farscape (written in collaboration with series creator Rockne S. O’Bannon), and short stories in the anthologies Liar Liar (featuring stories about fibs and falsehoods by members of The Liars Club) and Tales from the House Band (featuring stories about music, edited by Deborah Grabien). Go to Keith’s web site, which is also a gateway to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter, not to mention his twice-monthly podcast Dead Kitchen Radio.