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Retro Review: Liaisons

Posted by Michelle - 23/07/10 at 03:07 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 07 Episode: 02 (s07e02)

Original US airdate: 09/27/1993

When his shuttle crashes, Picard is cared for by a woman who falls obsessively in love with him.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise plays host to two Iyaaran ambassadors while Picard goes to visit their planet’s leaders. Picard asks Troi to act as liaison to Loquel, who is immediately smitten with the food aboard the ship, while Byleth requests Worf as his escort, a role Riker gladly cedes when he sees how belligerent Byleth can be. Picard boards a shuttle with a pilot named Voval, who is injured when the shuttle encounters unexpected turbulence and crashes before reaching the Iyaaran homeworld. Unable to reach the Enterprise because of plasma storms, Picard leaves the shuttle and is struck by lightning. He wakes aboard a damaged freighter, where a woman named Anna tells him that Voval has died and Picard has several broken ribs. She is the sole survivor of a cargo freighter crash and has been alone for seven years. With his movement restricted by the stasis field binding his ribs, Picard asks Anna to retrieve the shuttlecraft’s communication equipment, but she damages it when she uses a phaser to cut it free. When Picard says that it can’t be repaired, she becomes upset, and when he tries to comfort her, she kisses him and declares that she loves him. Meanwhile Troi is tiring of Loquel’s gluttony and Worf becomes irate with Byleth, who insults Worf’s intelligence in front of LaForge and steals his poker chips during a game. When Byleth denies cheating, Worf attacks him, but rather than being angry, Byleth is pleased by the experience. Back on the planet, Picard removes the statis device, realizes that his ribs were never broken, and accuses Anna of keeping him captive. She becomes hysterical and runs outside, threatening suicide. When he follows, Picard encounters Voval, who explains that his species can slow their metabolism when injured, which must be why she thought he was dead. The two separate to look for Anna, whom Picard finds ready to jump off a cliff if Picard will not swear that he loves her. Picard can’t find Voval and sees so many inconsistencies in Anna’s story that he tells her to go ahead and jump if that’s really what she wants. Instead she transforms into Voval, who introduces himself as another Iyaaran ambassador. He was assigned to study love, which Iyaarans do not experience, while Loquel was supposed to study pleasure and Byleth antagonism. The Enterprise crewmembers put aside their initial displeasure to strengthen their communication with the Iyaarans.

Analysis: I’m sure I’ve seen “Liaisons” before, because I watched every Next Gen episode when the series first aired and most of them several times in syndication, yet I had no memory of “Liaisons” at all when I started watching for this review, and put it down to the fact that it aired the week my older son was born so I was very distracted when I first saw it. In fact, I now believe that I must have blocked it out. Surely there are worse episodes of Star Trek than this one, but I really have to concentrate to think of which they might be. Suddenly “Where Silence Has Lease” doesn’t seem so horrific nor “Devil’s Due” so sexist. I suppose it isn’t quite as bad as the other epic alien sexual harassment storyline, “Man of the People,” but it’s a near thing. I’m trying to think of some saving grace, something we learn about a character or Starfleet or science or human nature, but the characters are all sleepwalking through their expected parts, Starfleet hasn’t been intelligent enough to do a background study or send a first contact specialist along on this mission, there are no scientific explanation of anything from the Iyaarans’ unusual reproduction to the plasma storms on the planet, and “human nature” here may best be summed up as embarrassing cliches…not even human in all cases, for although the Iyaarans first became aware of humans from the diaries of the real Anna – who indeed crashed and fell in love with a fellow castaway – pleasure as Loquel experiences it is limited to a half-Betazed’s favorite vice, chocolate, while Byleth’s study of aggression centers on someone who’s not human at all. I’m not sure who should be more embarrassed by the stereotypes to which they are reduced, women or Klingons.

In fairness, Worf at least gets some “I am not a merry man” moments that are very funny. The episode starts with Riker arriving to nag Worf to hurry up to the welcome party, saying Worf should be glad that at least he doesn’t have to escort any Iyaarans around for the next three days. It’s not like Riker to complain about duty, particularly while he’s scolding another officer for being a slacker, but Riker is so out of character all episode that this seems a small oddity. Anyway, Worf then complains that the formal uniforms look like dresses, to which Riker barks a retort that that’s an outmoded and sexist attitude and besides, Worf looks good in a dress. If only the rest of the episode were so concerned about outmoded and sexist attitudes! Troi finds herself in essence babysitting a big kid who wants sweets and the company of other children – apparently he’s too unsophisticated for pleasures like sex, drugs, and rock & roll, even though on his planet people emerge full grown from natal hubs. He plays poker willingly enough, but it seems that pleasures like mental games, scientific challenges, and athletic prowess are unknown on his planet, too. Funnily enough, no one thinks to mention to the Enterprise crew that they’re, oh, shapeshifters. It doesn’t occur to the Enterprise crew to accuse them of bad faith when they find out, either, though Picard casually mentions that on his planet, Voval’s behavior would be considered a crime.

All the actors except Michael Dorn look embarrassed to be there, and I can’t blame them – at least Worf gets to punch someone, and I can’t blame him, either. I could blame Riker for not putting him on report, but Riker seems content to sit and watch the fight with only an occasional shout of protest instead of immediately calling security, so maybe we should assume that the entire crew agreed to pretend this entire incident never happened. It’s funny while Worf is complaining, which he does nonstop from the first scene, announcing that Klingons don’t procrastinate, telling Data that Byleth is demanding and rude, threatening to rip out Byleth’s esophagus with his bare hands, roaring that if Byleth were not an ambassador then Worf would disembowel him – but it stops being funny when Worf loses it and goes on the attack, even though the scene is played for laughs. It’s one thing when Worf attacks a fellow Klingon or someone from a species where such a defense of honor has been clearly established, but to lunge physically at a visiting diplomat seems to me the sort of thing that could get one kicked out of Starfleet. Yet his fellow crewmembers mostly gape while Worf and Byleth do some serious punching and throwing, and Riker squeaks a protest only when it is over, while Loquel for his part hardly looks away from his dessert.

Still, this is easier to take than the Picard storyline, which we’re expected to believe was constructed based on the Iyaaran reading of a human woman’s diary. I can’t help wondering whether it was actually a copy of Stephen King’s Misery that they mistook for a personal journal, since the plots are so similar. Here a needy, clingy woman encounters the first human she’s seen in more than half a decade, and instead of worrying about sufficient food, better shelter, a means of escape, all she wants to do is beg him to love her, then threaten to kill herself when he doesn’t instantly agree. Given her age when Picard meets her, she must have been an adult when she landed on the planet, and even the loneliest adults with the slenderest grip on reality know that you can’t force someone to fall in love by means of coercion and threats. Which means the Iyaarans’ previous understanding of human behavior came from one who was insane, though I don’t think the show’s writers think that, since it isn’t discussed – I think they consider Anna’s behavior within the norm for lovelorn females. Picard goes from being mildly sympathetic to moderately alarmed to telling her to go ahead and kill herself, which, while amusing in the same perverse way as Worf attacking an ambassador, doesn’t sound like anything Picard would ever say no matter how irritated he was at being manipulated. His dealings with Anna go from boring to stupid to icky. How charming that he finds it a relief to discover he kissed a manipulative man instead of a crazy woman.

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