Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Outcast"

**

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.

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38 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 6:39am (USA Central)
I agree with you that they blew it on the "exploring sexuality" front. Just like the episode where Beverly can't handle that Odan is now female--she was all excited to meet the new Odan until she sees her, then it's "Damn. Wrong genitals."

But I disagree that Soren is unsympathetic, or that falling in love in three days is unrealistic--at least on TNG. Characters would have to be on multiple episodes to extend that time limit, and that would get difficult to execute. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for the sake of keeping the series uncluttered with potential lovers all over the place.

I really liked Soren's character--her cute little questions about sexuality were adorable. I was very sad when all that was taken from her.

I know many people find the portrayal of Riker in this episode completely unbelievable, but I loved it. Probably the romantic in me, but I loved seeing him willing to "risk all" for his "girl"friend.
Beta - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 12:58pm (USA Central)
Minor nitpick: It's "J'naii" instead of "Genai".

Glad you're back, Jammer!
Jammer - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
I see from StarTrek.com that it's "J'naii." I'm pretty sure I got the spelling I used from the DVD captions.

Who's right? Who's wrong?

Let's chalk it up to multiple translations.
Destructor - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 8:28pm (USA Central)
Disagree disagree disagree!

This episode affected me profoundly as a teenager and I still love it to this day. 3.5 stars.
Josh - Thu, May 12, 2011 - 2:55pm (USA Central)
Look on the bright side. Only five more years until 'Rejoined'. I didn't care much for the episode itself, but it certainly rights the wrong of this episode. DS9 was also similarly blazé about lesbianim in 'Let He Who Is Without Sin'. I know it is considered the second worst episode of DS9, but at least give it credit for the way Worf could become jealous of Vanessa Williams without so much a hint that Jadzia having a lesbian affair would be regarded in any way as - well - queer.
Ian Whitcombe - Thu, May 12, 2011 - 8:50pm (USA Central)
Modern Trek has did well with acknowledging homosexuality in "Rejoined", but they've never done an story that examined sexual orientation as we've seen it in modern society. On one hand, this is valid because humankind hold different value systems than us in the present. However, it becomes a bit of a cop-out (as in this episode) when they cannot even discusss from a historical perspective their own past, particularily to an alien who is surrounded with sexual stigma.

I always felt that the easiest allegory for Trek to have done would've been an extradition/Prime Directive epsiode surrounding an alien race's stigmatization and percecution of homosexual behaviour. Hell, if they didn't want to offend anyone they could even make the circumstances of the story even worse than 1992 America.
Elliott - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 7:44pm (USA Central)
As a gay man, I want to like this episode, but you're right, Jammer, the hypocrisy just flies in one's face. Most telling is Riker's explanation of human mating and how uncomfortable he is even saying "sexual organs." It's painful. I do, however, disagree that the mischaracterisations of Picard and Riker are "interesting." If anything, they worsen the episode and divert one's attention completely from the issues at hand (poorly handled though they were). Regarding "Rejoined," I also agree with Jammer that the episode was NOT about homosexuality at all.

2 stars for good intentions is about right.
Brian - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 12:35am (USA Central)
Maybe it's that I was 13 (and gay in rural Ohio) when this aired, I really did appreciate at least the acknowledgement that intolerance and inequality were wrong, and that society would protect its values over protecting its citizens. It was a lesson that helped me as I was growing up.

At 31, however, I can 100% understand and even logically agree with your assessment, Jammer. But the 13 year old in me will always remember and cherish this ep.
Jammer - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 11:47am (USA Central)
@Brian: I think that just goes to show that there's no one way to react to these stories. It depends not only on who you are, but what stage in your life you're at.
Andy - Sat, May 14, 2011 - 3:59pm (USA Central)
I read somewhere that Jonathan Frakes had pushed for a man to be cast as Soren, but they didn't go for it.

You make a good point, Jammer, about the good intentions foiled by hypocritical execution. Especially sad given that, in all the time since this episode aired, Trek hasn't had a straight-up gay character (or, at least, cast-member character). Way to have it both ways, guys.
Marshall Maresca - Wed, May 18, 2011 - 11:37am (USA Central)
I'm always a little fascinated to see people complain about how this episode fumbled on its gay-issues allegory, but completely miss it as a transgender-issue story. That's not even allegory. That's text.
charlie - Tue, May 24, 2011 - 11:50am (USA Central)
I agree with Frakes that this story would have been more effective if Soren was a man. Having said that, it was a nicely played drama with an appropriately downbeat ending. I remember reading a 4 star review of the episode in USA Today the very night it aired in my area.
I must also point out that the makeup job on Melinda Culea was really good. Check out how hot she is on "The A-Team" & "Family Ties" and you'll see how good the makeup was at changing her appearance.
pviateur - Wed, Aug 17, 2011 - 12:35pm (USA Central)
This episode failed on any number of fronts including:

Makeup on the Genai: not androgynous enough. It was too easy to tell male actors from female making Riker's attraction to Soren too understandable.

The story didn't work as a homosexual allegory because the desire of Soren was to become normal...as nature intended not abnormal (the male/female division of the genders is apparently the norm throughout the Federation if not the galaxy so far as we've seen of the Trek universe which begs the question as to how the Genai can hold on to their ideas of physical superiority in the face of so much overwhelming evidence)She/he was already abnormal. So her/his struggle to be free was a sympathetic one and her/his subsequent reconditioning tragic.

The story makes far more sense when any consideration of homosexuality is removed from it.

Riker's totally unbelievable actions at the end of the episode was ridiculous! Not only is it impossible to believe that he could fall so head over heels in love in so short a time, but that he could do so with such an unattractive lump as Soren after making love to some of the most beautiful women in the galaxy! On top of that, he breaks the prime directive in the most blatant fashion, even to crashing a legal proceeding! Compounding that, Picard says nothing of his trangression! Anybody else doing such a thing would be brought up on charges but would forever lose any possibility of commanding a ship of his own. How could Starfleet ever trust an officer like that for such an important responsibility?

So far as hipocracy or tap dancing by the writers is concerned, Trek is primarily a family show so who needs it to be cluttered up with such sordid subjects as homosexuality? Ugh.
Brian - Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - 7:28am (USA Central)
--So far as hipocracy or tap dancing by the writers is concerned, Trek is primarily a family show so who needs it to be cluttered up with such sordid subjects as homosexuality? Ugh.--

I think that is awfully short-sighted, pviateur. Trek may have become homogenized/sanitized in the Berman years, but once upon a time, Trek was a show that actually pushed people to think about the world they lived in by presenting stories of peoples "out there"

Was the first televised interracial kiss ever sordid and family show un-friendly?

Family shows doesn't have to equal unchallenging or safe. Kids like to think too.
Nathan - Thu, Sep 29, 2011 - 12:49pm (USA Central)
I think my biggest problem here is that her so-called "female urges" are never explained (and that they probably couldn't be). The only way they seem to manifest themselves is in attraction to male aliens. Perhaps the allegory would have worked better if there were two groups of J'naii, one evolved into androgyny and the other still male/female, who interacted but not sexually, and the evolved 'deviants' found themselves attracted to the unevolved.
Steve - Fri, Oct 7, 2011 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
"So far as hipocracy or tap dancing by the writers is concerned, Trek is primarily a family show so who needs it to be cluttered up with such sordid subjects as homosexuality? Ugh."

The spelling error says enough about this comment. Ugh, indeed.

Imagine that gay people are in families, too.
Steve - Fri, Oct 7, 2011 - 3:02pm (USA Central)
This episode is more directly applicable to transgender/intersex issues than it is to homosexuality.

However, the "psychotectic treatment" program is indistinguishable from today's "reparative therapy", with two exceptions. 1. The former actually does convert the person. 2. Perhaps the converted person will be happy. The so-called "reparative therapy" (ex-gay hate yourself to heterosexuality) con doesn't convert people, only their behavior. It doesn't lead to happiness, only denial. It's also not done for the good of society; it's merely a business.

While there is research that suggests that homosexuals are sexual hybrids to some degree (brain studies find that gay people use reasoning strategies of both sexes to some degree, finger-length patterns of 80% of gay men match heterosexual women's, etc.) homosexual men are still more man than woman and lesbians are still more woman than man. The perfectly neutral androgyne is rare indeed. Jamie Lee Curtis is a potential case. I say potential because she chose to behave/dress/act in a feminine manner. Biologically, however, she is XY.

Recent research has also contradicted earlier research and supported the existence of bisexuality.

One other problem with this episode is that it doesn't clearly distinguish between orientation and behavior. That's quite lazy, given that it's a critical matter in today's politics to realize that virgins have just as much of a sexual orientation as prostitutes and porn stars have — that sexual orientation isn't about "acts" as much as it's about desire.

I think it's tremendously shameful that Star Trek has committed genocide on the gay people of the future by refusing to give them space. This episode certainly does not qualify.
Captain Tripps - Wed, Oct 12, 2011 - 10:19pm (USA Central)
Bisexuality needed support?

Trek message episodes are rarely subtle (He''s black on the left, and white on the right!), so this one kind of fits into that dynamic, but it doesn't make it any easier to watch. I can totally understand anyone growing up LGBT connecting with the message here, however the writers skip around the issue as it actually applies to the audience. As an adult tho it's groan worthy how ham fisted it all is handled.

Found it funny that after 5 years of basically trying to out-Kirk Kirk, Riker has a sit down with Deanna to explain he's seeing other people.
Speaking of Action Man -

Alien Judge - "These proceedings are closed!"

RiKirk - "I just opened them!"

Percivale - Wed, Oct 19, 2011 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
Putting the social message aside for a moment, I want to point out how sub-par both the writing and cinematography were in this episode.

It is boring both to watch and to listen to. Beyond the guest actress's monotone, the conversations were unusually long; the technobabble was particularly uninspired; the scenes were static and slow; and, during one scene (the one where Riker talks with Troi in her quarters), there was even this strange slow zoom that I don't recall seeing in any other TNG episode. It felt like a soap opera in its production values. This could have been much more passionate, but it ended up being very insipid.

I agree with Jammer's "Good intentions. Not much else."
Jay - Mon, Jan 23, 2012 - 3:41pm (USA Central)
Worf sure healed fast from his traumatic injury...he's already back on duty here...
xaaos - Sat, Jan 26, 2013 - 6:52am (USA Central)
Riker to Soren: "I love you".

Yeah, right...
Q - Sun, Jan 27, 2013 - 8:09pm (USA Central)
BTW. This episode was evidently inspired by Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Left Hand of the Darkness".
mike - Tue, Mar 5, 2013 - 9:45am (USA Central)
For my two cents, this would have been more interesting and plausible as a Wesley-centered episode. I really have a hard time accepting that Riker, a man whose had plenty of relationships would be so indiscreet and impetuous. Wesley I could believe.

Making the Soren character a youth subjected to this corrective therapy and Wesley trying to prevent it would have made this theme more daring and plausible.
Grumpy - Fri, Mar 29, 2013 - 7:42pm (USA Central)
Mike... or given Wesley's absence, LaForge might've been more plausible. Desperate for dates, likely to fall for brains not boobs (more likely than Riker, anyway), plus he literally sees people by their auras, not their surface features.

Funny how the episode completely ignored the Little Green Man in the room, as Nathan alluded to earlier: "The only way they seem to manifest themselves is in attraction to male aliens." That is, the J'naii authorities couldn't stand that Soren wanted to tug on Riker's... beard... but seemingly had no problem with the fact that he's a *different species*!
Trans - Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - 4:29am (USA Central)
As some have pointed out this episode is rather about transgender issues than gay issues. Aside from telling us how wrong it is to impose ourselves on other peoples sexuality, it also raises an important point of that it's just as right to embrace your gender (whatever gender you want) as it is to distance yourself from it. It's a good intentioned episode that fall short because of writing and "tip toeing" around what they thought the audiences would perceive as "offensive".
mephyve - Wed, Jul 24, 2013 - 4:19pm (USA Central)
I actually didn't mind the ' tip toeing.' it seemed to me that the point of the episode was not to tell us how to think on the issue, Rather than tackling the issue it appeared to me that they were merely presenting both sides of the issue and leaving the audience to draw its own conclusions.
People who side with Riker will find the judge to be close minded and offensive. People who side with the judge will find Riker 'preachy' and offensive.
I know this kind of writing can be seen as cowardly because we like to know what side somebody is on. As a big fan of 'Boston Legal' however, it is always clear what side David Kelley is on, on any issue, many times to the detriment of the show imo, because the show became his pulpit.
Whether or not transgenders/homosexuals existed in the TNG universe becomes a moot point if they are not taking sides.
William B - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 9:27pm (USA Central)
Count me among those who agree with the episode's intentions but find the result sadly terrible. A lot of this comes down to the concept chosen to represent homosexuality in the episode, which is to create a race of androgynous people, and to represent a person questioning one's own gender and sexuality by asking a lot of questions about gender of the main cast. Then the main cast, without fail, describe gender and sexuality in the most normative and stereotypical ways. Men are sometimes attracted to demure women, sometimes attracted to other kinds of women [but always women]. Women style their hair more elaborately and wear makeup, while men play it cool. Worf inexplicably becomes extremely sexist suddenly during the poker game, hating on the J'naii for having no genders (is this really the first androgynous species they have ever encountered?) and declaring that only women are weak and have so many wild cards. It's not so much that Worf could never behave sexistly, but his overt "women are weak!" attitude comes mostly out of nowhere, and one wishes that Tasha were there to give him a smackdown (Ro or Guinan would do). Geordi grows a beard for this episode because, um, men have facial hair being men and all (all except Data, who's an android, and Picard, who's totally old). And as Jammer points out, every discussion of gender assumes that gender and sexuality go hand in hand, that a defining trait of maleness is being attracted to females and vice versa.

Somehow, the episode becomes even worse in its second act, zooming through improbable scene after improbable scene. We have the Riker/Troi scene in which he asks if they can still be friends while he dates Soren, as if their breakup was a month ago rather than around seven years. There is Soren and Riker's kissing scene, following stilted dialogue about beautiful plant life which is some attempt at romantic which fails entirely. And then comes the tour de force, the courtroom scene. In his review of Patch Adams, the late, great Roger Ebert said, "Any screenwriter who uses a courtroom scene in a non-legal movie is not only desperate for a third act, but didn't have a second act that led anywhere." Whether this is true in all cases, it certainly seems true in this episode, in which the courtroom gives Soren an opportunity to get up on her pulpit and deliver her "hath a female not eyes?" speech with passion. Alas, her speech, like most of the episode, falls apart in part because the literal and metaphorical meanings of the speech clash. Soren caps her speech by talking about how the state has no right to interfere in the way people love one another, which, yes, I agree with -- but it caps off the episode's misguided conflation of gender and sexual orientation into one thing, wherein the only possible meaning of being female or male is that you fall in love with other males or females respectively. Not only that, but at no point in the episode has Soren given a single line of dialogue which indicates in what way a male/female J'naii relationship would be different from a standard androgynous/androgynous J'naii relationship; there are no restrictions on who J'naii can be attracted to, and the method of procreation is presumably the same. Does the J'naii government lay in wait, trying to catch couples where (to use Beverly's examples) one styles their hair more elaborately and the other pretends not to be interested in impressing the other. And there it is. What does gender mean to Soren? What does Soren's lifelong repressed urge to be female mean to her? It means that when she meets a man like Riker, she wants to date him. That is it -- that is the entire meaning that this episode can manage to apply to Soren's plight, the only concrete identifier that anyone can think of to identify either gender or sexuality for the character meant to represent a whole wealth of complex issues.

Riker's deciding that he's in love with Soren is indeed unlikely; really, while TNG often goes to the well of the one-episode relationship, for the adult cast members it actually has been pretty good about recognizing the difference between instantaneous infatuation and a deeper connection. And the times in which a one-episode relationship was presented as a chance at real love, it was with characters -- Beverly, Lwaxana -- who had been established as lonely, worried about never feeling something again. Riker may have been pained when he fell for Yuta, but there was no indication that he *loved* her; Picard liked Vash a lot, but, you know, that was as far as it went. Riker's ILY at the episode's end feels painfully unconvincing, which is a matter of the problem of the premise itself of presenting a one-episode love for womanizer Riker, a failure of the writing to indicate what distinguished Soren from Riker's other one-episode flings, and a lack of chemistry on the part of the performers.

I'm actually neutral on Riker's rescue attempt -- TNG has some precedent, from "Half a Life," that it's possible to grant asylum to someone if they request it; and so the fact that Soren clearly would *want* asylum (at least before her treatment) should perhaps count for something. That Riker's going in and punching a bunch of guards has zero consequences is another frustrating point -- at least a line indicating that Picard had to clear up their scuffle would have helped. I do very much like Worf joining with Riker.

The ending is memorably downbeat. I do grant the episode that it went for full-on tragedy, and demonstrated the unsettling consequences of this society's actions. I was reminded of something like The Twilight Zone's "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" or some such -- in which the possibility of a break from conformity eventually is naturally stamped out, and the person is transformed so that they can't recognize what they lost. It's the one thing in the episode that does stand out as successful, in what is otherwise a hopelessly muddled and poorly characterized work. I think even 2 stars is far too generous, even granting good intentions; I would probably give it 1 star, all things considered.
William B - Sun, Jul 28, 2013 - 9:35pm (USA Central)
I had meant to say, at the end of the first paragraph: and as Jammer points out, the episode presents no examples of gay people in the 24th century, implying that they don't exist. (I think I got my wires crossed a little while writing.)
Jens Nordmark - Fri, Aug 30, 2013 - 6:08pm (USA Central)
I do not agree with the assumption that the episode is about homosexuality, instead I think it is a perfect allegory for transgender issues. It is simply inverse transgenderism we see in this episode. The basic issue of course is still the same: irrational traditionalism that one would presume to have vanished in the enligthened 24th century.

Anyway, I hate it. Two lines of conversation were cut, where Riker would have implied that restrictions on sexual orientation would prevent the J'nai from being considered an enlightened race (www.st-minutiae.com/academy/literature329/217.txt):

----
NOOR: In fact, we are a remarkably free and open society. Our people have rights and liberties which give them a great deal of self-determination. We are, by all measurements, an enlightened race.

RIKER: Then how is it... that Soren has no choice about her sexual orientation?
------

Also, the end is unnecessary and might be seen by a conservative viewer as justifying the therapy. Instead, she could have been found dead from suicide for the episode to be a good statement on the issue. The episode fails to give any definite indication of the status of sexual minorities in the Federation.

The choice of Riker as the one falling in love is a strange idea as well, but I am mainly frustrated by the political stuff.
Jack - Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - 8:14pm (USA Central)
Enterprise (!) tackled a similar issue better with Cogenitor, an episode far more interesting that this one, and with a downer ending that outdoes even this one.
Moegreen - Thu, Dec 12, 2013 - 8:08pm (USA Central)
I think it's wishful thinking that it's a transgender allegory and that what resulted owed to the fact that the writers didn't have the balls to openly cover homosexuality.
Andy's Friend - Sat, Dec 28, 2013 - 12:28pm (USA Central)
Dear all:

What I am about to write may seem provocative. Please read exactly what I write, and don't read anything that isn't there.

Also, I would like to add that English is not my first language. I'm European, and where I come from, we don't suffer from some of the nomenclature issues that seem to be important in the United States. Where I come from, blacks call themselves blacks, and so on. If anyone feels offended by my choice of words, please just insert the word you would prefer. I mean no disrespect.

Regarding this episode: first, I believe this to be an allegory about gays, not transgendered. In March 1992, gays (and AIDS) were being discussed much more than transgendered. The analogy is clear, if inverse: in our old-fashioned world, you were supposed to choose your opposite (sex); choosing your equal was "wrong". In modern J'naii society, you are inversely supposed to choose your equal (genderless); choosing your opposite (being a "sick" male/female) is "wrong". The analogy is as clear as it gets, only inverted.

Secondly, about the absence of homosexuals in Star Trek: what if - just what if - there are no homosexuals in the 24th century?

What I mean is this: I have no doubt that we in Picard's era will be much more "enlightened" (see below) than we are today. Nevertheless, I am convinced that no matter how enlightened, there is a very good probability that, given the possibility to screen and genetically modify embryos, we will make use of that technology. And given that possibility, I believe extremely few people, if any, will be born as, for example, dwarves, or albinos, or blind, or with Down Syndrome, if a simple genetic modification is all it takes to make the embryo "normal". We can all agree that there is nothing wrong with any of these people, but nevertheless, I am convinced that virtually all parents would prefer said small "corrective" genetic modification(s).

There is no doubt that it will some day be possible to do this, and all human history shows us that what is possible to do is also done. All we need is to get used to the idea. A hundred years ago, the notion of cosmetic surgery for no other reason than vanity would be considered wrong, and the idea of having an organ transplant from an animal donor would have shocked every ancient philosopher since Socrates and Plato. Can you imagine how Seneca would have condemned it? Will it shock anýone in three hundred years?

The question is, where does homosexuality stand? I can't help but wonder how many parents, if given the choice, would/will prefer their child to function "within normal parameters"?

Did the producers of Star Trek ever contemplate these matters? Why do we virtually never see anyone outside the norm in Star Trek? On TNG, we never even see any overweight humans. (David Ogden Stirs' character in "Half a Life" was an alien. So are the Pakleds. Other than that only a couple of guest stars are slighty chubby). Is this a mere coincidence? What do you think? What will happen when we finally begin to be able to make such precise modifications to our genome?

I would argue that there is a significant difference between aborting a child and genetically modifying it. Personally, I consider abortion immoral, not on religious, but rather on philosophical grounds. Most classical philosophers - but not all - would agree to this; curiously, some of the early and mediaeval Christan theologians, notably Thomas Aquinas, would say that it depends somewhat on the time elapsed since conception. Now, whether genetic manipulation is immoral from a philosophical point of view is an open question. However, whether it will be done in future centuries is not, I believe. What do you think?

We know that genetic manipulation takes place in the Trekverse, and while "enhancement" is prohibited, what do we know of "corrective" procedures? Can genetic manipulation be the reason why virtually every human on Star Trek is so "normal"? Why we never seen any disabled, or even overweight, human of any kind? Can this be why we never encounter homosexuality among humans on Star Trek? (The only two examples I can think of were both Trills). More profoundly, is it thinkable that humanity in the future will voluntarily eliminate homosexuality along with other "anomalies" by simple genetic modification? That in enough centuries, we will all be some sort of "perfect" mainstream beings? Or is it thinkable that we will leave such technology, which undoubtedly will be developed, unused?

Finally, on the issue of "enlightenment": I find it incredible that so many comments on this site state that DS9 (or BSG) are more "realistic" than the "utopian" TNG. Does anyone have any idea of how much human values in some aspects have changed over the past centuries?

250 years ago, in any major European city, people would rejoice at public executions; depending on region, entering a city you might be greeted by a row of impaled criminals left to rot, or pieces and bits of quartered criminals at city gates, bridges, and similar city crossroads. You might witness a criminal being dragged to death by a horse in the city streets, people being burned alive, or simply the rather mundane beheadings.

250 years. With a bit of luck, one of our great-grandparents' great-grandparent witnessed such events in their youth. Think of it: with a bit of luck, one of us may actually have known someone who knew someone who had witnessed such events. It really isn't such a long time ago.

When our great-grandparents were young a hundred years ago, in virtually every country masters were allowed to hit their servants (or apprentices), parents were allowed to hit their children, and men were allowed to hit their wives. Women in virtually all countries weren't allowed to vote, and most places they weren't allowed to have their own bank account, let alone buy say, a house. And all this had always been considered obvious.

Fifty years ago, smoking was comme il faut, driving after enjoying a bottle of wine and a cognac was no problem whatsoever, gays were sick, you were of course still allowed to hit your children, and any man pushing a pram must of course be a closet gay. And very few people would ever dream of quitting their job to embark on a journey of "personal growth and development".

Now tell me humanity isn't moving forward. Tell me mentalities don't change. Look at how far we've come in the past 250 years, and tell me that in another three hundred and fifty years (350!), Gene Roddenberry's vision isn't possible, that it's "utopian" and "unrealistic".

Look at Scandinavia today; they're almost halfway there, so to speak. Roddenberry keenly observed the evolutionary journey of human (Western) society, and extrapolated. His social vision will, I believe, come true, and quite possibly around the time he predicted. Anti-consumerism will rise, "personal growth and development" will become paramount, and money wil lose most of its significance. We can already see the beginnings to all this.

I'm sure that in the 24th century the BSG approach, which so many here seem to praise, just like most other "dark" and "realistic" sci-fi will be derided, and that Roddenberry will be considered a visionary and a genius for having seen which way the world was heading.

The bottom line is: people calling TNG "utopian" seem to forget that it's set in the late 24th century. They consistently judge it by today's standards - and they seem to forget the fantastic journey we as a people have always been on - and still are.
DavidK - Wed, Jan 1, 2014 - 3:17am (USA Central)
@Andy's friend

Your comments on homosexuality in the future certainly got me thinking. While it's an issue I regularly fight for, to be honest if I knew my unborn child was gay and I had the opportunity to "fix" it, I might even do that...not out of shame or anything, but because I can see in my friends how much harder it is to live with. But then that's probably more an indictment on our society than on them. Ideally we reach a place where it's not such a negative, in which case even if the option were available, it may not be something that's taken up.

I won't go on that topic too much, it's a big one, but it also leaves me wondering why Geordi's vision wasn't caught earlier either.

What I really wanted to reply to was as far as TNG's idealism goes. The thing about the Roddenberry vision that bothers me is that it presumes humanity moves forward in one collective heap. But we don't, there are always outliers. Most of the things you listed still happen. "Society", as a set of regulations that overlays the way we interact with each other, might condemn them now but it doesn't stop them from happening.

So I liked the middle ground that DS9 took. I still argue that it had an optimistic view of the Federation, that by and large it was made up of good people, but they were willing to say there are bad apples. There will always be bad apples because what society defines as a "bad apple" is someone with a different idea, and if no has different ideas then we never move forward. I don't believe that Section 31 *could not* exist in the Federation, but I do believe it would be small, it would struggle to gain traction amongst the wider human society, and the majority of Starfleet citizens would react just like Bashir and O'Brien did: with horror.

On top of that, people seem to ignore that DS9 was able to put most of its dissenting "voice" into alien characters like Quark, Kira or Garak. I think that's fair. Roddenberry had a vision for how humanity would evolve, but we would still have to interact with the rest of the galaxy.

To put it another way, just because we're a moneyless society in 350 years doesn't mean Starfleet doesn't have a stash of Gold-Pressed Latinum, or else what are they trading with the Ferengi? They can't say "oh we're a moneyless society", the Ferengi reply "well, too bad, we're not giving it to you for free".

My point is I think we'll go a long way in 350 years, but who knows what we'll find out there when we get there. "Utopia" sort of implies a closed system in a way, but what happens when utopia has to interact with everyone else? *That* was the interesting question I thought DS9 was asking. Because it's easy for someone on Earth to never see Latinum and live in harmony, but a posting on the fringe like DS9 requires a different skill set. Example 1: if you want to bond with the locals, you can't sit in your quarters drinking your free Starfleet beverages, you need to hang out where they hang out, and bond. And to do that, you're going to need a stipend of local currency of some kind, which I assume is how they paid Quark's tab. Example 2: religion may have died off in the Trek future, and fair enough, but if you want access to another culture's wormhole you can't go throwing it in their faces.

Eh, I'm rambling slightly now, haha, hopefully there's some cogent message in here. The point is, I loved TNG and I loved DS9. A metaphor I've used before here: sometimes I like a restaurant and sometimes I like a bar. They both serve different functions, they have different atmospheres, and they are both true. Some people find restaurants stuffy and boring, some people find bars uncouth and messy and dangerous. But for me at different times, in different moods, I like them both. But most importantly they can be true at the same time.
Jons - Fri, Jan 3, 2014 - 12:39pm (USA Central)
This episode is a complete cop-out. it would have been interesting to study a genderless society. But of course, the episode just goes to demonstrate the exact contrary to the premise: there can never be a REAL genderless society according to Star trek. OF COURSE in the end they're all either male or female, and OF COURSE the one Jnail they encounter is very interested in genders and wants to be one of them... Pff.

I haven't been so disappointed in a Star Trek for a long time. As often, ST pretends to explore different types of societies but usually ends up being incapable to sticking with REALLY different cultures. The Vulcans are emotionless, except that we see them struggling with their emotions 90% of the time. The Jnail are genderless except they actually have genders that they repress and any genderlessness is naturally born out of a dictature etc...
Andy's Friend - Sat, Jan 4, 2014 - 4:34am (USA Central)
@Jons:

It's a valid point, but I think perhaps you're missing the point.

Star Trek, in many, many (most?) cases, isn't attempting to depict utterly different societies. Many times, Star Trek is attempting to hold up a mirror. A slighly twisted, distorted one, that forces you to have to look twice before thinking, "Hey, could this actually be me...?"
Moonie - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 3:16pm (USA Central)
Strange, I really liked this episode.

I did get a not annoyed at yet another speech about the Prime Directive. I think quoting the Prime Directive in the face of abuse, torture and cruelty is a moral cop-out. It always bothers me a lot when it happens.

I like Riker even more after this.
Mark - Mon, Jan 20, 2014 - 5:53am (USA Central)
I love Star Trek, but I hate this episode. I just do.
Jamie Stearns - Sun, Mar 23, 2014 - 11:02pm (USA Central)
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions."

I think that sums up this episode. I have to commend them for trying to address the sexuality issue, but the episode waters it down so heavily and has the characters mention so many sexist stereotypes that it sabotages itself.

Similar "contemporary issue episodes" also took the time to make at least a cryptic reference to the "real" issue being discussed in the dialogue; for example, "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" had Chekov and Sulu mentioning that Earth was prejudiced before and "In The Hand Of The Prophets" included a line from Keiko asking Winn what she would do when the class covered theories of evolution. No such luck here, and it's not like there was any lack of opportunities; when Riker was describing male sexuality to Soren in Ten Forward, he could have easily said, "Also, believe it or not, some men are actually attracted to other men." Or go with a continuity nod to "The Host" during the sickbay scene.

All in all, I appreciate that they tried, but it needed to be a lot less watered-down.

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