I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.
The J’naii are an androgynous people who don’t experience gender. Soren, one of the J’naii, works closely with Riker to solve the mystery of a few of their people who have disappeared into what appears to be null space. The two discuss human and J’naii sexuality and the various aspects of the same, and Soren reveals that she is gendered, which is dangerous because the J’naii brainwash and recondition those who express being gendered. Back on the J’naii’s planet, the two kiss, but the sexuality of Soren is discovered and she is captured. Riker and Worf try to rescue her, but it is too late–she has already been reconditioned.
The episodes in which TNG explores moral issues are usually quite interesting, and “The Outcast” is no different. It’s a tough topic and it touches on highly relevant issues for today. Questions of gender identity and gender dysphoria are at the forefront today, and it looks like TNG was looking ahead in this regard for bringing up issues of sexuality. That said, it seemed the episode didn’t do a very good job of presenting the complexity of the issue on either side. The J’naii are portrayed as uniformly terrible in regards to the issue, with hardline views that allow for no compromise. On the other hand, Riker and others go to the opposite extreme. Sure, it has to all fit into one episode, but a less black-and-white picture of the discussion would have been appreciated.
That said, it’s a pretty good episode with plenty of intrigue and some genuinely hard moments. The ending was particularly rough on Riker, who has really unfortunate things happen to his love interests very often. Poor Riker.
Probably the biggest problem with the plot of this one is how compressed it is. I get that TNG needs the Enterprise to keep moving, and it wouldn’t necessarily make much sense to have the episode take place over a longer period of time, but it really felt like Riker and Soren’s romance was contrived. It’s hard to take Riker seriously when he talks about how important Soren is to him and how he’s willing to throw away his Starfleet career because of this person he met just a few days before. I know that such whirlwind romances are common in TNG, and apparently sometimes in “real life,” too, but it’s just really hard to take it seriously.
Grade: B “Difficult questions raised in a compelling fashion, but the ‘believability’ quotient was low.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was pretty good. There were some abrupt plot jumps that brought the quality of the story down.”
“Cause and Effect”
The Enterprise is caught in a time loop with only a few indications of what is going on for the crew to try to figure out in a very short time period. They race through each day trying to discover what’s happening and eventually manage to send a message, via Data, to warn themselves. Ultimately, they are able to change the decision that gets the ship destroyed and re-loops time, thus also saving the crew of another Starfleet ship… which was trapped 80 years ago.
The plot summary doesn’t really grasp how delightfully complex this episode was. Having the same scenes shot from different angles with very minor differences was a genius way to illustrate what’s happening, and the fact that it never really feels repetitive shows the mastery the director had in filming it.
I found myself looking for the most minute details to see if I could figure out what was going on and how to solve it ahead of the crew, and episodes that keep you guessing like this are great. Trying to figure out what the clue sent through Data meant was a blast, and although it felt a little bit forced, it was still an exciting way to solve the problem.
The ending is pretty bleak, which anyone who’s kept up on these posts will know I like. Nothing like a smack of reality in the face at the end of an episode. Picard basically says “We need to talk…” and it ends. I really wonder how that conversation went. “Sorry, everyone you know is dead… you’re 80 years in the future and stuck here.”
That would be something to chew on for a while.
Grade: A “A great mystery episode with a tough-crap ending. Fantastic drama.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “There was a good plot and good acting throughout. Well done Star Trek!”
J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!
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