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Retro Review: Man of the People

Posted by Michelle - 22/01/10 at 12:01 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 03 (s06e03)

Original US airdate: 10/5/1992

A visiting empathic ambassador begins to affect Troi’s psyche, causing her to act rudely and age prematurely.

Plot Summary: The U.S.S. Enterprise is summoned when another ship is critically damaged while transporting Lumerian Ambassador Alkar to help end a civil war in a system that’s of crucial importance to a Federation trade route. A Starfleet admiral concludes that Alkar and his party must travel aboard the Enterprise, since any lesser ship would likely come under fire by the combatants. Alkar, an empath, forms an immediate bond with Troi, but his elderly mother expresses loathing of the counselor from the moment she meets her, accusing Troi of having sexual designs on her son. Alkar explains that his mother is ill, and indeed, she dies shortly after her arrival on the ship. Alkar then asks Troi to perform a mourning ritual with him. Afterward, Troi has little patience with her job counseling and completing crew evaluations. Instead she begins to dress provocatively and tries to seduce first Alkar, then Riker, then a crewman she meets in a turbolift. When delegates from the warring planets come aboard, Troi is nasty to both of them, particularly to a female representative named Liva whom Troi accuses of lusting after Alkar. Troi is also showing signs of premature aging, and Alkar tells her that he does not think she should accompany his team to the surface – an announcement that provokes Troi into attacking him with a knife. Crusher and Ogawa realize that Troi’s body is being overwhelmed by neurotransmitters, just as Alkar’s mother was when she died. Though Alkar has stated that his people forbid autopsies, Picard allows Crusher to perform one on the old woman, whom Crusher discovers is neither elderly nor Alkar’s mother, but who apparently died of the condition now afflicting Troi. Picard beams down to confront Alkar, who admits that he uses his empathic abilities to channel his darker emotions into women so that his own mind can remain peaceful when he negotiates. Realizing that Alkar will not willingly free Troi, he permits Crusher to lower Troi’s metabolism to a near-death state. Believing that she has died, Alkar returns to the Enterprise and asks Liva to perform the mourning ritual with him. Picard orders Liva beamed to safety at the same moment Crusher revives Troi and purges her neurotransmitters, forcing all of Alkar’s negative emotions back into his mind. Now it is Alkar who ages prematurely and dies as Troi returns to her previous appearance and personality.

Analysis: “Man of the People” is one of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s worst episodes. If you’ve managed to miss it thus far, do yourself a favor and skip it. About the only thing I can think to praise is the directing, since Winrich Kolbe gets a fairly strong performance out of Marina Sirtis, who has the most thankless acting job since some of her first season “Pain!” moments. And there’s nothing terribly wrong with the special effects, though the aging makeup looks pretty terrible and the process by which Troi de-ages makes no sense at all. Maybe the storyline would play better with the sound off, although I’m inclined to doubt it because it’ll still be pretty obvious what’s going on with Troi.

Know how you can tell when a woman is going bad? That’s right – because she wants to have sex! It isn’t even that she wants indiscriminate sex, or rough sex, or sex with more than one partner at a time, all of which apparently are causes for labeling a human woman a bad girl in the 24th century. Our very first clue that something’s the matter with Troi is that she starts stroking her throat and chest while practicing tai chi, studying herself in the mirror, enjoying her body. Naughty Deanna! Then she goes to the man who has put her into this aroused state, reminding him of all the things he told her they had in common, but he makes faces and rejects her, which really pisses her off. So she grabs the first attractive young crewman she finds, who apparently goes to her quarters very willingly, though he earns a glare from Riker when the first officer arrives to tell the counselor that they’re supposed to be working on crew evaluations. Troi, however, would rather talk about sex, first trying to find out whether Riker is jealous, then sulking when he won’t play along and orders her to think about work. Wicked Deanna! Finally, with her hair already beginning to turn gray, she puts on an exotic dress and goes to Ten Forward, apparently looking for Alkar again, though she becomes incensed when she sees him sitting with Liva and takes out her anger on the woman. Nasty Deanna! When Riker escorts her to her quarters, she grabs him and kisses him, and he only half-resists until she scratches his neck during a kiss, at which point he yells at her and flees. Evil Deanna!

Let me see if I have this right so far: A powerful man decides to make a woman the dumping ground for his nasty dark emotions. When she becomes the victim of this psychic abuse, it is immediately obvious that something is wrong because she stops wanting to nurture everyone around her and starts thinking about erotic satisfaction instead. The most obvious sign of her alteration, though, is that she isn’t pretty any more – she looks like an old woman! This is so embarrassing that Alkar refuses to take her with him to the negotiations, even though leaving her on the ship is a risk because someone else is sure to see what’s going on with her – and they do. They only notice that the abuse has changed her entire personality, though, when she is hideous enough to shock them. Picard barely pays attention to the fact that Troi has stabbed him because he’s so appalled at what has happened to her appearance. He demands to know what Alkar has done, makes a speech about the immorality of using an innocent woman to shoulder the burden of his unpleasant emotions, then is sent back to the ship when Alkar’s adoring female negotiator and next-in-line for his neurotransmitters brings in heavies with guns to threaten Worf. Liva is then dangled as bait to get Alkar’s nasty bits out of Troi, with the assumption, or at least the hope, that the crew can get Liva out of the way before anything irreversible happens to her…even though they’re not yet positive that Troi’s condition is reversible. Fortunately, once Alkar stops sending out uncontrollable sexual impulses and jealous rages, Troi recovers completely! Her hair even turns brown again instantaneously! It’s a scientific miracle!

And Riker is so happy to have his sweet, undemanding Imzadi back again, he doesn’t even apologize for failing to have a real conversation with Troi and see if there’s a reason for her sudden lack of control. Apparently he just assumes it’s PMS or something. If Riker or LaForge or (hahaha) Picard had walked into Ten Forward on the eve of delicate negotiations in front of lots of crewmembers and diplomats wearing tight clothes, flirted with an alien ambassador, had a screeching fit of jealousy aimed at another negotiator, then threw a tantrum when interrupted, he’d be in sickbay as fast as O’Brien could transport him there. What is Riker thinking, writing this off as a bad mood the way he earlier wrote off her preference for boy toys over her duties as ship’s counselor? At least he tells Crusher about his experience – he has to, since Deanna’s fingernails break his skin – but instead of heading down for a casual check-up of the ship’s counselor, Crusher goes back to fretting that Jean-Luc won’t let her perform an invasive autopsy. Why do I have a feeling that if she’d really wanted to, Crusher could have figured out the dead woman’s real age by examining a single skin cell? It isn’t only Troi who acts out of character, but she’s the epicenter of it, and we’re supposed to accept that the rest of the crew would let such extreme behavior by the ship’s counselor slide. No wonder Alkar always picks a woman as the receptacle for his dark side – apparently nobody in the 24th century finds it all that odd when a woman has public hysterics because she can’t get a man.

Wouldn’t it have been awesome if Alkar had put his negative emotions into Troi and she had tried, calmly and lethally, to take over the ship? Or used her empathic gifts to exploit weaker crewmembers so that instead of doing work, she could spend all day in the holodeck plotting a takeover of Vulcan and reintroducing emotion there? Or simply quit being ship’s counselor and demanded to conduct the negotiations herself? What a great story that would have been! Instead of becoming a walking cliche of a bad girl, Troi could have done something out of character, completely unexpected, and really interesting. Or, rather than aging her prematurely, it could have made Troi feel young and strong to have sex on the brain – like her mother, who often seems younger than Troi, not to mention happier with herself and her life. What if Alkar had discovered through her that what he’d been dismissing as “bad” emotions were in fact empowering, giving him insights he’d never had had if he’d kept trying to shunt off all lust, jealousy, hunger and rage? What if he couldn’t negotiate between warring factions precisely because he couldn’t relate to them? So many ways this episode could have been about something…so many ways it fails. And now this review is out of the way, thank the Great Bird, and I never have to watch “Man of the People” again.

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