Sunday, September 15, 2013

Thoughts on TNG and Agency

Well, Star Trek: The Next Generation made it to the seventh season before I felt the need to write about its problems. I'd love to say it's because the writing is so progressive, I have nothing to complain about, but it's much more true that after The Original Series, I was just relieved that the women had real jobs and weren't all yeomen in tiny skirts taking drinks orders.

On the downside, Deanna Troi's uniform for the first six seasons is ridiculous, and they hardly ever reference her rank, which is Lieutenant Commander, btw, equivalent with Data and La Forge. And La Forge is a total Nice Guy, has really creepy relationships with women, and actually got a woman to apologize to him for being offended at his serious invasion of her privacy and agency ("Galaxy's Child", Season 4 ep 16), while never really apologizing to her for his inappropriate behavior with her holographic double ("Booby Trap", Season 3 Ep 6). I spent those episodes making this face: :/

I love Troi and Riker's relationship, they are supportive and loving, even while they know they can't be together. I LOVE Pulaski, her defiance of authority was a joy to behold, particularly since the actress was one of the many women used as props and foils on TOS. I love how the franchise recycles its actors, it's a delightful scavenger hunt to find actors from one series playing a different character on another.

I have a love/hate relationship with Dr. Beverly Crusher, and that makes me love her even harder. I can't help but be interested in characters that aren't written as simply good or bad, characters that have enough depth to make me feel conflicted over them, especially female characters, because let's not kid ourselves, we still aren't getting enough real-life representations of women in the media. Dr. Crusher could be shrill, pious, and stubborn, and something in the actress' speech has always tripped me up, and of course, there's the awkward ghost sex. ("Sub Rosa", Season 7 Ep 14). But her smaller, subtle moments are quite beautiful and I'm enjoying her relationship with Picard immensely.

Ensign Ro and Guinan have been favorites of mine since childhood and I'm so happy that they've held up over time. Guinan is even better than I remember and Ro is almost painful to watch, the actress plays her so raw. Worf has somehow become a major favorite, when I was a kid I was bored by his storylines, but now I kind of get him. And of course, Worf has the best comedic moments, and I'm a sucker for a laugh.

Riker constantly reminds me of James T. Kirk, or what he could have been if Shatner hadn't smarmed it all up. He likes the ladies, and he's only a little gross about it, and he can be condescending, but compared to Kirk, he's downright respectful. He's confident, brave, and sometimes brash, but he makes room for other people, whereas Kirk (or maybe Shat) was fighting to dominate every scene.

And I love Picard more than anyone ever. Patrick Stewart makes TOS what it is.

Wow, that was a lot of Star Trek feelings, and I haven't even gotten to my point yet.


I just watched a Data-centric episode called "Inheritance" (Season 7, ep 10) that really pissed me off. In it, Data is reunited with his mother, Juliana, the woman who helped his maker, Dr. Soong, create Data and his brother. Over the course of the episode (SPOILERS FOR A 20 YEAR OLD SHOW WATCH OUT) Data finds out that she is actually an android as well, the human Juliana died and Dr. Soong created her in his dead wife's image, with his dead wife's memories. He designed her to appear human in every way, including to eventually die of whatever natural causes, and never told her that she was an artificial life form. Dr. Soong's holographic projection implored Data to continue the ruse, so she could live out her life "happily", as a human. So, Data had a decision to make.

I just knew he wasn't going to tell her. To their credit, the senior staff had a meeting and presented all the issues of agency that are making me feel sick to my stomach, but Data chose to keep her ignorant in the end, and it was coated with a nice veneer of romanticism and a son's caring for his mother. AND she was played by the glorious Fionnula Flanagan, who is such a badass in so many of her roles. It is very upsetting to me that they just sent her on her way, to live her life in ignorance of her own state of being, to possibly find out in some other way anyhow. Oh, this episode ticked me off.

It's like not telling a cancer patient she's terminal, under the guise of letting her spend the time she has left happy. Except, that's taking away a person's choice. That dying person might want the opportunity to say goodbye to a certain person, or to go sky diving. Juliana might have wanted to be a super-cyborg if given the opportunity, maybe she'd have wanted to be reprogrammed to run search and rescue operations, or to obtain scientific data from extreme situations, or maybe she would have decided to live out her life as a regular old lady with a more interesting past than most. But, they took away that choice for her, and I really, really wish they had gone the other direction.

But no. She smiled beatifically at her son from the transporter pad, satisfied that she had made good on her relationship with him before she left him again, probably forever, completely unaware of who she was. I felt sick at his betrayal, that the whole room knew she wasn't human, except for the woman herself.

Bringing it back to the blog: There's a loss of agency that happens when a person is as sick as I am. I can't make decisions for myself all the time, and with the significant cognitive impairment that often comes with my migraines, I feel vulnerable letting myself be taken care of by others. I don't want to be cared for like a child, and I want to be the person who is the most in charge of my life. Like Juliana, it would be too easy for those with more power to manipulate my life to suit their needs, and that is very scary to me, though it's never happened to my knowledge.

Our right to choose how we live our lives should be one of our most sacred birthrights, but too often, when a person is disabled (or any minority group, really: gay, black, female, etc) their agency can be taken away without a thought, because the majority always knows better.