Considering how obsessed I am with Star Trek, I think it's high time that I shoved a passel (not quite a flock but, you know, more than a gaggle) of my very decided opinions about the women who populate the various series down your Borg-collective throats. Today, I want to hold forth about the X-Chroms of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I'm still in the slow process of savoring Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's seventh season, which means that, until I digest it, I won't be dealing with those chicks just yet. Also, I haven't quite gotten around to actually watching more than about four complete and completely random episodes of Voyager, so I can't exactly offer slams or kisses for those women. However, from what small amount I have let seep rather unwillingly into my brain, I do know that I hate Kes, love 7 of 9, and am pretty ambivalent about Captain Janeway. Maybe when I really get into watching the meat of the show, I will be able to comprehend the fan-hate of Janeway that is brewed as dark and bitter as her ubiquitous coffee, but right now I'm just content to be thrilled that they finally got around to casting a woman as a captain.
I don't think I'd be rocking anyone's world here if I stated for the record that Star Trek: The Next Generation was honestly? A seminal series. More than Star Trek (the original series), Star Trek: The Next Generation is responsible for the sci-fi we see on television and how it has infiltrated our pop culture today: from the writers who now have gone forth and prospered—and prospered greatly—on other sci-fi series, to the Klingon language camps that sprang up only after Star Trek: The Next Generation was on the air, to the references that have wormed their way in and attached themselves to today's pop culture lexicon. (Everyone is familiar with the phrase "Resistance is futile," even if they don't know exactly where it comes from.) Not only did Star Trek: The Next Generation outlive its older brother's television tenure by four years, but that particular series revived an entire franchise and resonated with an even greater audience than the '60s attempt. Yet, even with all this influence, this nearly two-decade-old show did very little for women. Sure, it did more than Star Trek series with its comparative lack of minis, fuck-me boots, and women brought on just so Kirk had a sparkly, eyeshadowed-and-Aqua-Netted-within-an-inch-of-her-life alien to knock boots with, but for an '80s show it's certainly saying something that the two female leads happen to be, in my opinion, the weakest and least interesting characters of the series.
I'll speak plainly: I despise Dr. Beverly "The Dancing Doctor" Crusher. She's whiny, wimpy, sniffly, and, to top it all off, she's Wesley's mother. Is that not damning enough for you? How about the fact that in "Sub Rosa" she got turned on by reading about her dead grandmother's sexual exploits with a younger man, after which she MASTURBATED to a candle genie in Picard's august presence? Ugh. I still shudder over that episode. No, except for the series finale where she played Picard's future ex, replicated a spine, and ordered the former captain's wrinkly (yet still surprisingly hot) ass around, I am not a fan of Dr. Bev; I'm firmly a Pulaski girl. In the TNG fandom, the Crusher vs. Pulaski debate is a nasty one. The Crusher Lovers hate how cold and calculating Pulaski acts. They don't like her treatment of Data, they abhor her cold, no-nonsense bedside manner, and many Star Trek fans seriously object to her Bonesing up her role and turning into "Dr. McCoy: Now With More Mammaries."
I frankly adored her. I thought she was a refreshing change from all the moronic and stereotypically female touchy-feeliness that oozed out of Dr. Bev and Troi's Sex and Yoga Talks. In fact, I consider Pulaski one of the most well-developed characters in the series. While the rest of the ship was walking on eggshells not to offend Data—a manbot who could quite literally not be offended—Pulaski took a more realistic attitude. She treated him exactly like what he was: an android with no feelings. Now, before all you Data-lovers cry foul and overload your emotion chips, I will say that the reason why I completely appreciated the way she treated Data is because it showed how much she could evolve. Sure, she was "mean" to Data in the beginning, but by the end of her season-long stint on the show, Pulaski gained a clear and definite respect for the android. In fact, her behavior toward the Big Bird of Star Trek was so markedly more pleasant that it made for really nice character growth. That change from treating him merely as a computer to treating Data as a fellow sentient who is worthy of her respect and support is especially apparent in "Peak Performance." In this episode, Pulaski forces Data into playing Strategema against Kolrami, the performance expert, and Data loses. Data takes the loss to heart and sequesters himself in his quarters as he attempts to determine what deficiencies in his programming allowed him to lose the game. Pulaski visits Data and attempts to shake him out of his "sulk," but she then comes to the realization that she never should have goaded him into playing Kolrami in the first place. She visibly softens and apologizes to Data for getting him into this whole mess. Now, apologizing to an android, a computer, is not something that an early-season Pulaski would have thought was polite, much less worth the breath doing. Close to a year before, Dr. Katherine Pulaski was wondering how it could possibly matter to Data that she was mispronouncing his name. Now, however, she has gotten to know Data, to respect him as an individual to the point where she feels remorse that she's responsible for him doubting his full abilities.
I also never had a problem with her often-decried relationship with the fairly jerky Pa Riker. It's not like they were having an affair when Ma Riker was still alive, and I see nothing wrong with a mourning widower seeking solace in a new relationship. It wasn't Pulaski's fault that Pa Riker sucked as a father, nor was it her place to tell him how to be a good father. As a last word on the subject, I just want to say that Pulaski could kick the Dancing Doctor's namby-pamby ass sixty-seven ways to Saturday. Dr. Bev would be the hair-pulling, hand-biting, face-scratching type, but the prickly, flinty Pulaski would be all, "Bitch, please," and punch her square in the face.
Moving on, Deanna "Captain, I sense . . . something" Troi can wear on me almost as much as Dr. Bev, but for some reason I like her just a bit more. It must be the lack of Wesley and the addition of the outrageous Lwaxana, which comically makes her the long-suffering, Embarrassing Mother-weary daughter. However, while she doesn't bug me as much as Dr. Bev, I still get sick of her chocolate-obsessed helpless female crap. Granted, it's not her fault that she's written as the most possessed, attacked, raped, or unwittingly impregnated character on the show, but it does make her the Victim Character and, I'm sorry, but that just gets annoying. Fast. I mean, why can't she stand up for herself more? After that dick-smack, Ambassador Ves Alkar, used his Lumerian emphatic powers to turn Troi into his personal Picture of Dorian Gray all in the name of mediating some alien dispute in "Man of the People," why the hell didn't she yank herself up by her overly-permed hair and get with some ass-kicking mental self-defense moves? Seriously, how can an entire race of telepaths, who are probably pretty constantly in danger of psychic attacks, NOT have developed some sort of cerebral protection? I'd love to see someone like Shinzon (via the Viscount) try his hand at attacking Deanna in Nemesis only to have a scene where he grabs his head, jerks around as though being pimp-slapped by an unseen force, and later is shown with an ice pack sliding off his bald scalp. In fact, the only time we really see Deanna (and for that matter, Dr. Bev) getting into real hand-to-hand combat without phasers is when we are treated to scenes of the two of them cracking vases over their attackers' skulls in Qpid. I ask you, vases? What, pillows and short nighties weren't available? Why the hell weren't they given swords? So, as partial as I am to Marina Sirtis's lilting, plummy tones, give me Guinan's bad-ass, "That's setting number one. Now, anybody want to see number two?" any day. And that was just to break up a potential bar brawl in Ten-Forward.
Speaking of making Whoopi, Guinan's already intriguing character is made even more fascinating by the simple fact that she's not forced upon us in every episode. Not only that, but instead of exhaustive, probing gazes at her planet's people, the El-Aurians are kept fairly mysterious. Hints are dropped here and there, just like hints of what Guinan is all about. But the full story is never laid bare, and I like that mystery. I thrill in the fact that we never really know everything about her.
Guinan's got many facets: she can be gentle, persuasive, flirty, forceful, patient, and practical. Take how she deals with Ensign Ro Laren joining the ship in "Ensign Ro." Ro is unfriendly and antisocial, yet she hangs out in Ten-Forward amidst crowds of people, a paradox which Guinan, while gently pushing her friendship on the supposedly resistant Ro, points out. Though her character is superficially togged out in the trappings of a typical advice-giving bartender (do bartenders actually give advice anymore? The ones I perch in front of are way too busy filling drink orders to allow for casual conversation, much less probing the inner workings of their patrons' tortured or androidal souls), Guinan takes her vocation a subtle step further. She doesn't just dispense advice as easily as she pours prune juice for Worf. She makes her clients work for it, think it out themselves. She is merely a guide, a sympathetic sounding board who lets the confused and troubled come to their own conclusions and make their own decisions. Guinan gives off an aura of calmly knowing everything, but unlike her nemesis, Q, she doesn't exploit this possible gift, nor does she use it to control people or situations.
As grounded and down-to-earth as Guinan appears, it is always amusing to remember her as a San Francisco socialite who hobnobbed with Mark Twain in "Time's Arrow" and to digest the fact that she comes from a race of "listeners," yet has a child who doesn't listen. Even bartenders have their problems. (P.S. I totally want the name of her haberdasher—with hats like that you'd never have to worry about sunblock.)
Where Guinan is calm and competent, Ro Laren is angry and bitter. That's all I ever really got from her. She's angry, bitter, and bitterly angry some more. Plus, she's got a chip on her shoulder the size of Gibraltar. Yes, she had a terrible childhood. Yes, she watched her father get tortured to death by Cardassians, but all that does is make her a one-note character. She's the dour and damaged female who gets the benefit of Picard's finely feathered wing, but we barely see her grow. Remember the time Guinan tried to draw Ro out of her cynical shell after a bunch of them got Never-Never Landed for an episode? Even though Lil' Ro ended up letting loose by (gasp!) jumping on those supremely bounceless Enterprise beds with the weird pillows, that forced frolic didn't exactly turn her into a stick of Carefree sugarless gum for the remainder of her stint on the ship.
Even after being snatched from the jaws of death, she can't revel in a celebratory un-funeral feast (the Mad Hatter would have loved that, don't you think?) the way Geordi does. She sits there, not eating, just stewing and sulking over the fact that she may or may not have lost faith in something she had finally sort of convinced herself to believe in. I'm not really sure what the issue is—something about how she never really believed in the Bajoran faith's idea of the afterlife, but once she thought she was dead, she decided to go and believe in it and then when she was alive, she couldn't believe in it anymore? Man, I was just relieved when she finally jumped ship to join the Maquis resistance, never to be heard from again. Until she joined Battlestar Galactica, of course, but that's another column entirely.
I feel that I should at least mention Tasha Yar, but she had such a wickedly short stint on the show and was then cast off in such a deplorably senseless death that it's almost pointless to try and dissect her character. Tasha was another hardened female calloused by a violent upbringing, and one of the worst things they ever did to her character—aside from her death by oil slick, of course—is when they made her cry because Q put her in a "penalty box" during one of his more annoying visits to the ship. Ridiculous. The woman had grown up dodging rape gangs only to be brought to tears by Q, of all people? It's almost as though the writers didn't think the viewing public was ready for a toughened female character who actually could put aside all emotions in the name of duty. I can't think of a time when a male character was made to cry in a similar circumstance. Yes, the men cried, but it was usually warranted because of extreme or tragic events. It was an unfair undermining of the Tasha Yar character and an insult to the female audience. I will admit that in "Yesterday's Enterprise" and "Redemption, Part II," they managed to resurrect a better end for Tasha's character and that it was sort of a poetic "live by violence, die by violence," but it was also a bit of an afterthought. It's too bad we couldn't have lived longer with the character in order for her eventual capture, forced marriage, and death by Romulan hands to have more of an impact.
As disappointed as I might be with the likes of Dr. Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi, and Ro Laren, I am equally thrilled with the sort of females Star Trek: Deep Space Nine offered up. From Jadzia Dax to Kira Nerys to Kasidy Yates, there's enough development there to fill Anna Nicole Smith's bra.