Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 5, Episode 17
Production episode 40275-217
Original air date: March 16, 1992
Captain’s Log: The J’Naii—an androgynous species—have asked for the Enterprise‘s help in finding a missing shuttlecraft. Data finds no sign of the shuttle, but he does detect a neutrino pulse with no source. They launch a probe, which also disappears into what they soon realize is a pocket of null space.
Riker and Soren, one of the (many) J’Naii on board, devise a rescue plan. As they work together on this plan, they ask each other about their respective cultures. But when Krite, another J’Naii, interrupts their conversation in Ten-Forward, Soren gets all formal and leaves. Krite obviously makes Soren uncomfortable.
Later, Soren and Riker take a shuttle to map the null-space region, the first step before attempting a rescue. Soren also asks Riker a lot of direct questions about how bi-gendered species mate as compared to the J’Naii. Soren explains that the J’Naii used to have two sexes, but they evolved into their current form, and they think of genders as primitive.
While mapping the pocket, one of the shuttle’s engines brushes across the null-space and damaging it. Soren is injured and taken to sickbay. While there, Soren queries Crusher about being a woman.
They go back to fix the shuttle, and Soren admits that there are those among the J’Naii who identify themselves as male or female, against tradition. Soren identifies as female, and tells Riker of others who buck the gender system—but those who are caught are taken away and “reeducated” into properly androgynous people.
Riker and Soren are able to map out the null field and rescue the two people in the J’Naii shuttle. They’re also falling for each other. This does not escape the notice of Krite, who has Soren taken into custody for perverted behavior.
Soren insists that “misfits” who identify with one gender are not unnatural, that they are just like every other person. (Riker tries to barge in and say he forced himself onto Soren, but Soren doesn’t let him take the heat.) This impassioned plea is met with disgust and arrest. Soren is taken away to be “cured.”
Picard offers to negotiate with the J’Naii, but he’s not sure what can be done. The captain urges Riker not to take matters into his own hands, which leads Riker to go ahead and take matters into his own hands. Worf stops by Riker’s quarters as he prepares his clandestine mission, and offers to aid him. Unfortunately, they’re too late, as Soren has already been reeducated.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Pockets of null space can absorb electromagnetic energy, making them difficult to detect, and almost impossible to get out of.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Riker goes to see Troi to, in essence, ask permission to date Soren. This is a bit odd, since Riker and Troi haven’t been any kind of item since reuniting back in “Encounter at Farpoint,” and it’s not like either of them have asked permission before when they’ve seen other people (e.g., “The Price,” “The Vengeance Factor“).
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf acts depressingly Neanderthal during the poker game, describing Troi’s wild-card-heavy game as “a woman’s game.” Hard to reconcile this with the guy who said “Klingons appreciate strong women,” and, for that matter, who was captured and tortured by Lursa and B’Etor not long ago. However, he redeems himself in the end, helping Riker with his rescue attempt. (I always thought that Worf’s eagerness to disobey orders on Riker’s behalf was his way of paying Riker back for his come-to-Jesus talk in “Ethics.”)
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Riker and Soren start out curious about each other’s sex roles, and then fall in love. Apparently. I gotta say, “Commander, tell me about your sexual organs” is one helluvan opening line….
I Believe I Said That: “Men want to be attractive, too, believe me. They just go about it differently. They like to pretend they’re not doing anything to attract a woman, even when it’s the most important thing on their minds.”
Crusher, talking about the difference between men and women.
Welcome Aboard: Melinda Culea is less than compelling as Soren, which matches nicely with the equally bland Callan White as Krite. Megan Cole’s pretty blah, too, but for the judge character she plays, that actually works, as it’s the blandness of pseudomoral authority, which is effective. Cole will also appear in two episodes of Deep Space Nine as Romulan Senator Cretak.
Trivial Matters: This episode establishes the Federation as being founded in 2161. Amusingly, that was a conjectural date that Mike & Denise Okuda came up with for the Star Trek Chronology, which writer Jeri Taylor used as her guide for writing the poker scene, thus making the speculation official.
In your humble rewatcher’s TNG comic book series Perchance to Dream, the Enterprise deals with a species that has three genders, the Damiani. In Peter David’s New Frontier prose series, Burgoyne 172, one of the officers on the Excalibur, is a Hermat, who is both male and female. In the New Frontier anthology No Limits, Robert T. Jeschonek decided to have some fun and do a Burgoyne story called “Oil and Water” that has hir working with both Damiani and J’Naii.
This episode was deliberately written to be an allegory for homosexuality, the first time Star Trek ever did so. (And not the last time they’d do it badly.)
Make it So: “We have been taught that gender is primitive.” It’s really hard to discuss this episode because it’s become such a major touchstone that goes way above and beyond the episode itself. There are entire web sites that have been dedicated to Star Trek‘s poor track record with regard to dealing with homosexuality. David Gerrold’s first-season script “Blood and Fire” would have had an openly gay couple on the Enterprise (something that has yet to be seen on screen, though the tie-in fiction has plenty of it), but that script was killed. (Later, Gerrold repurposed it for his Voyage of the Star Wolf series, which is a series of space opera novels that are thinly veiled TNG-how-Gerrold-would-have-done-it stories, and again for the Star Trek: Phase II series of fan films.)
This particular episode fails on a number of levels. As an allegory of attempts by religious groups to “cure” homosexuals, it’s not bad, if a bit sledgehammery. Unfortunately, the big speech has to be delivered by the charisma-less Melinda Culea, who has all the passion of a dead fish as she pleads for understanding.
Indeed, this is the biggest failing of the episode. We’ve gone over this ground before—”The Emissary,” “The Price,” “Half a Life,” “The Host“—and the problem with having a relationship-in-an-hour episode is that you need the guest love interest to, y’know, not suck. Riker and Soren’s relationship is utterly unconvincing, which is entirely on the back of Culea. When Riker says “I love you” at the end, it’s impossible to even believe him.
Everything about this episode that’s supposed to challenge gender stereotypes instead just reinforces them, from Soren’s talk with Crusher to Worf’s macho idiocy. In addition, as with “Code of Honor,” a casting decision makes the script come across worse than it actually is: all the J’Naii are played by women with awful haircuts. Jonathan Frakes is on record as saying the episode would have been much stronger if Soren was played by a male actor—indeed, it’s impossible to think of Soren as anything other than female, the way Culea plays the character—and he’s absolutely right.
Hell, even the opening captain’s log is problematic. Yes, the purpose of those logs is more to provide the viewer with exposition than to actually be a true captain’s log, but dammit, identifying them as “an androgynous race” in the log? He never would say, “We’ve taken on a delegation of Vulcans, a pointy-eared species,” so why’s he pointing it out here?
The crimes committed by this episode have been enumerated by many, but they mostly lose sight of one of its worst: it’s a crummy episode. Poorly written, with a forgettable technobabble problem to keep the plot moving that’s mediocre even by TNG‘s incredibly low standards of forgettable technobabble problems to keep the plot moving, and a complete failure as a guest character, it’s just bad.
Ultimately, this episode reminds me of a famous exchange between Oscar Wilde and one Mr. Carson, who asked, “May I take it that you think The Priest and the Acolyte was not immoral?” to which Wilde replied, “It was worse: it was badly written.”
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido was the person who put a homosexual character in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series: Dr. Bartholomew “Bart” Faulwell, the ship’s linguist and cryptographer, was gay. It was the first Star Trek series in prose or screen form to have a “main character” who was homosexual.