Star Trek: The Next Generation
Air date: 3/16/1992
Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
The Enterprise comes to the assistance of the Genai, a race that has no gender, to help retrieve the crew of a shuttle that went missing in a mysterious void of "null space." Riker teams up with one of the Genai, named Soren (Melinda Culea), and in the process of their investigation Riker learns more about Soren and the Genai society.
It turns out that the Genai once had male and female sexes but have since "evolved" into asexual beings — their current-day reproduction involves a baby being grown in a husk or something — but occasionally there are some Genai who identify with one gender or the other. Such identifications are forbidden and those individuals are subject to a psychotherapy "treatment" that eradicates those "abnormal" feelings.
"The Outcast" is a Star Trek message episode, plain and simple — an allegory that is born of good intentions about tolerance and acceptance. Every once in a while, Trek will decide to tackle an issue head-on (in this case, acceptance of gays) and go all-out preaching a message; "The Outcast" is such an episode.
But there's a fundamental flaw in the conception of "The Outcast," which is that it's so obviously an allegory about the discriminatory issues facing gays, and yet, in the 24th century, there apparently is no such thing as homosexuality. Riker and Soren have lengthy conversations about sexuality and human sex roles (and these discussions touch upon only the most conventional of sexual and gender roles, ignoring the rest), but there isn't so much as a word that homosexuality exists — or ever existed in human history. The writers dance around the subject completely, as if afraid to offend their audience. Maybe if this episode had aired in 1967 as part of TOS, I could forgive the tap dance. But airing in 1992, this strikes me as gutless. (Might it have been more of a challenging choice, for example, to have Soren be played by a man instead of a woman?)
Also, since Riker is presumably, from all past evidence, 100 percent heterosexual, how exactly would sex even work between him and the genderless Soren? I suppose the message here is that romantic love can transcend sexuality, but the episode sort of glosses over this issue while at the same time purporting that Riker can fall in love with Soren in a matter of days, a TV cliche I never find convincing.
It certainly doesn't help that Soren here is performed by Melinda Culea in dull, relentless monotone — no doubt to make her seem more androgynous. As a person, Soren just isn't compelling; she's a mouthpiece for the message and nothing more. Once Soren is outed by the Genai authorities, she makes a lengthy, impassioned public speech that is preachy and didactic to the extreme, laying out the allegory for the audience in about as heavy-handed a manner as is possible. It fell completely flat for me, especially given the implied hypocrisy of arguing, allegorically, for an idea the TNG universe itself doesn't even acknowledge as existing.
One thing I liked from a character level was Riker and Worf teaming up to break Soren out of the "treatment" facility. Watching Riker get uncharacteristically riled up over an injustice — and his willingness to even break the Prime Directive — is interesting. And I liked Worf signing on to this as a matter of personal friendship. Similarly, Picard's warning to Riker about putting his career in jeopardy is simultaneously accompanied by Picard turning a blind eye to what Riker then does — also interesting. But they're all too late, and Riker finds that Soren has been psychologically "cured" of her "condition." It would be a tragedy if Soren were a character I cared about instead of a placeholder in an allegory. Good intentions here. Not much else.