Tuesday, December 3, 2013

"What's a warp core?"

During the four day Thanksgiving weekend, I had an unplanned television binge: BBC America did a "Star Trek: The Next Generation" marathon, and like a moth drifting lazily toward a bug zapper on the corner of the porch roof I was slowly drawn in and unable to turn the channel for hours. Since then, I've continued watching whenever I'm flipping channels and it happens to be on, and for some unknown reason it happens to be on a lot.

In viewing so many episodes in a row, and in discussion the show on Facebook, a thought has recently occurred to me:

For all the years that I have been a fan, I may have misjudged Counselor Troi.

Deanna in action

No. You heard me. Like Baby's dad in "Dirty Dancing", when I'm wrong I say I'm wrong, so don't push it, lady.

I've written before about how Counselor Troi is kind of the most worthless crew member on the ship, but I've realized something in binge-watching: the showrunners did the character a horrible disservice by putting her in those all of those unprofessional, casual cleavage suits for six seasons instead of a uniform. I'm sure that guys watching liked it, but...

Here's what was wrong with all the bunny suits:

1) In a practical sense, they left Counselor Troi disadvantaged compared to the rest of the crew in potentially hostile situations. If an away team beamed down, everyone else had a belt, or loops on their pants, for holding things like phasers, tricorders, datapads, or whatever else they might need. If Counselor Troi beamed down with an away team, she had cleavage. No pockets, no loops, not even a purse.

2) In a visual sense, they left Counselor Troi professionally disadvantaged. Sure, casual clothes might make her more approachable as a counselor, but for bridge duty she should have had a uniform. Imagine, for a moment, that you are skyping with the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. Everyone you see in the room is wearing a standard issue, regulation uniform, except for one sitting off to the side in a dress. Would you assume that person was a valued, key member of the leadership team, or would you assume they were a civilian? There's a reason why Ensign Ro looks so surprised that Counselor Troi is a lieutenant commander in "Disaster": It took the writers five seasons to get around to mentioning that she carried any military rank at all, much less one that designated her to be mid-level management.

3) All that cleavage made it even easier for the writers over the years to mold her into the helpless female/damsel in distress role. What kind of episodes and plotlines did Deanna get over the years? Mind raped repeatedly, kidnapped, imprisoned, forced into an arranged marriage, harassed about not being married and not having grandkids, unwanted alien pregnancy, henpecked by an overbearing mother, and let's not forget "Eye of the Beholder", where she spends an entire episode in a girl-on-girl catfight over Worf with some poor woman. Compare any Counselor Troi plotline with the ones that the other major female castmembers had and the difference is jarring. While Guinan was always written as kind of sexless, Dr. Pulaski, Dr. Crusher, Tasha Yar, Ensign Ro, Nurse Ogawa, and even Keiko O'Brien were always written as professionals first and females second. That's the reason why episodes like "Sub Rosa" and "Code of Honor" seem so out of character: they are. In most episodes you could change the gender of Dr. Crusher or Ensign Ro and only have to make minor adjustments to the plot. Counselor Troi is continuously infantalized and helpless, dependent on the men around her to protect her, which may explain why she was dead in almost every alternate future shown.

Realizing that the show creators contributed heavily to my negative impressions of Counselor Troi doesn't fully redeem the character. I still have three main problems with Counselor Troi.

1) I caught her in a lie. In the first season episode "The Battle" she tells the captain that she senses deception from the Ferengi, but in the third season episode "Menage a Trois" she tells Riker that Betazoids cannot sense any Ferengi emotions. I guess in the first season she was eager to prove her worth or something. (By the way, "Menage a Trois" is yet another example of #3 above. Not only are Deanna and her mom kidnapped, but they spend most of the episode naked after the Ferengi forbid them from wearing clothes. These kinds of things didn't happen to the other female characters, but they happened to Counselor Troi more than once.)

2) In seven seasons and multiple movies, Counselor Troi was shown at the helm, driving the ship, only one time. That time, in "Generations", she crashed the ship into a planet and destroyed it.

3) She doesn't know how the warp core works. For years I have referred to her as Counselor Deanna "What's a warp core?" Troi, on the grounds that she asked that question in "Disaster". Having finally rewatched "Disaster" tonight, I've discovered that, well...

Counselor Troi never actually said that.

But she said something equally stupid, related to the warp core. When Ro and O'Brien are explaining that the antimatter containment fields are collapsing, Counselor Troi foolishly asks what will happen then. Ensign Ro gives her the WTF? look that I remembered, and blurts out that the ship will blow up. She finds it incredible that Counselor Troi doesn't know this, and she's right to be annoyed about that. Counselor Troi, as a lieutenant commander, is a Starfleet graduate and as such is expected to have a basic working knowledge of how the engines (which are powered by a matter/antimatter reaction) work. We know, because it was a question that Wesley Crusher had to answer on the Starfleet Academy entrance exam in "Coming of Age". You can't even get into Starfleet without knowing how the engines work, but Counselor Troi has somehow managed to get in, graduate, and spend five seasons on the Enterprise without knowing it. In the entire run of the series, that may be the dumbest thing she ever said.

So, in closing, Counselor Troi may not be as awful as I've always said she was.

But she's still no Dr. Crusher.


Marcheline said...

Yeah, isn't it weird how shows or movies we've watched over and over can develop their own mis-memories? I'm slightly (okay, very) obsessive over certain films, and it always amazes me when I discover a line or a continuity error that I never noticed before. Even though I'm not a Trekkie, I can relate to this post due to the sheer immersion factor. We have that in common, just with different shows.

And as for "Counselor Troi has somehow managed to get in, graduate, and spend five seasons on the Enterprise without knowing it.".... Answer?


Anonymous said...


Not into Star Trek but wanted to comment on something I noticed. You also infantilized Counselor Troi by making her out to be a victim who was damaged by the showrunners' portrayal of her. While it makes sense to say a sort of "wtf that's illogical" about decisions they made, you can't say you were biased against her by how she was portrayed as if a different portrayal would have given you a different feeling toward her. Remember, she's not real. What was seen of her is who she is. So you may disagree with their decisions in creating and developing her character, but you can't say they did her a disservice because they created her. They made her that way on purpose.