Monday, December 13, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: Angel One

Airdate: January 25, 1988
14 of 176 produced
13 of 176 aired


In search of survivors from the missing freighter Odin, the crew of the Enterprise visits Angel One, a planet ruled by matriarchy, in which the old gender roles of Earth's past have been reversed. It turns out that the survivors are threatening the balance of Angel One's culture, by being... all manly and stuff.

Why did they have it in Riker's size? Must have been Mistress Beata's drag outfit.


Matthew: This episode represents some low lying fruit for criticism. So I'm going to bypass the obvious sexism issues and tackle the story first. The Enteprise is looking for a freighter that is 7 years overdue, so it mustn't have been particularly important cargo. In their search, they visit Angel One, a planet "similar in development to mid 20th century Earth" (uh oh...), a prewarp civilization that is somehow very important to maintain good relations with, so they call up the president of the world, and she answers right away. So we have yet another planet named something silly, yet another government made up apparently of 7 people who all can answer the phone on short notice, yet another prewarp civilization that the Federation has very important contact with for some reason. Do we see any problems here?

Kevin: I always read the seven year thing as something akin to the idea they would eventually develop in Enterprise, i.e. that freight hauling was a long term business similar to sailing the ocean in the 1700s. It's still stupid as modern warp drive makes those distances smaller, but yeah, it seems silly to divert the flagship on a recovery mission for a seven year-old freighter. As for the Angels (Angelites?), there is no credible reason for this planet to be important and it sets up the episode as stupid right away.

Matthew: Seriously. If these freight missions last in excess of seven years, but it only takes the Enterprise a few days to traverse the same distance, this notion that the region is of utmost importance is belied. Anyway, whatever the problems with the A plot may be, the B plot is even more ridiculous. Wesley and some classmates go on a "field trip" to the holodeck, in which they ski in silly outfits. While on the holodeck, two things escape the doors - a snowball that hits Captain Picard when the door opens (apparently only to let the snowball out); and a pathogen that gives everyone a really bad cold. From the holodeck. Let me repeat that. A pathogen escapes the holodeck and infects the entire crew. And just in case this preposterous B plot hasn't complicated things enough, an utterly inconsequential C plot rears its head with Romulans threatening the neutral zone.

Kevin: Okay, a careful rewatching of the episode shows that they went skiing on the "Denubian Alps." Later, Dr. Crusher said she quarantined all the students from the "Quazulu VIII field trip." Now, I have just enough faith in the writers to believe those are two separate places, and that Picard and Worf happened to encounter them on the holodeck when they happened to be contagious. Now, Memory Alpha agrees with Matt that the holodeck program was the source of the virus, but I would argue the episode is silent on this point, and in that silence, I am salvaging my respect for the writing staff. What bothers me is that Dr. Crusher is investigating a respiratory illness and doesn't consider for quite some time that the disease may be spread through the air. Dr. Nick Riviera (Hi, everybody!) could have cobbled that one together. Then there's the pesky question of how the transporter didn't catch it, and...I'm just gonna stop now. It's a stupid plot, but it may not suffer from the particular egregious sin Matt outlined.

Matthew: OK. We've beaten around the bush long enough (so to speak). [Editor's Note: Boo, Matthew. Boo. ---Kevin] Now let's talk about the sexism. Essentially, we have a planet populated by butch 80's feminists whose crass, unthinking sexism is supposed to be comparable to that of men in the 20th century. Except, really all these bitchez needed was a good deep-dicking. Think about it. Ramsay and his crew of superstuds land, and their sheer manly power is enough to disrupt the entirety of Angel One's planetary social stricture. And even though the conservative Mistress Beata has resisted the sheer, throbbing power of masculinity until the beginning of this episode, she is swept off of her feet by the hirsute man-beast himself, Will Riker. Then, when things come to a head, Riker lays the smack down and sets the hoes straight with a speech, by telling them how the world and society and evolution really work. In the process, we get sort of a half-hearted referendum on capital punishment, just in case our lesson about sexism wasn't edifying enough. The good intentions are all over this episode. You can see the writers straining to make some sort of good, progressive point. But they failed, and miserably so.

Kevin: What kills me is there is an opportunity to explore gender inequality and turn the issue on its head. You could have traditional gender roles, but with feminine attributes valued over masculine ones. There are notes of that is DS9's "Sanctuary" where women lead because men are considered too aggressive to be be trusted. Instead of a world at the risk of annihilating itself through aggression, you could have decision-making paralyzed by too extreme an attempt to be compassionate, working so hard to make sure no one is unhappy rendering an actual solution impossible. The lesson about gender equality comes by showing neither approach works on its own. Both selfishness and selflessness, aggression and negotiation have a place in a society, and seeing that would have been interesting. Instead, we get a bizarrely misogynist lesson in how powerful women are just evil dykes.

Matthew: Random notes - Troi senses deception, but the unfocused kind. How in the hell could Data be unfamiliar with the word aphrodisiac? The music cue tells us that this is Geordi's first command, when he relieves Picard. The names were not very good: Ariel, Trent, and Beata sound like 80's Earth names, not alien names. We get a site-to-site transport in this episode. How did the Enterprise crew determine there was no platinum? The Angel One library would simply never have heard of it, while the ship's sensors would find it on the planet and probably assume it was naturally occurring, just very rare. Data mentions that only Starships are bound by the prime directive, which might explain a few things ...badly. Ramsey speaks pretty quickly in volunteering for everyone else's deaths. I mean, maybe they've discussed it already, but can we at least indicate that the non-speaking roles had a say?

Kevin: I think both TOS and subsequent TNG discuss the Prime Directive being a Starfleet rule, so I enjoyed its explicit discussion. The Romulan subplot annoyed the crap out of me, especially because we forget about this incident in a few episodes when the Romulans reappear after a supposed decades-long absence.


Matthew: For all the problems with the story, the female guest stars were pretty good, especially Karen Montgomery as Beata. She seemed strong and commanding, which was nice. She had decent chemistry with Frakes, and her domineering came off as natural. On the other hand, the men on this world were just about the twinkiest gays ever, especially Trent, played ably by Leonard Crofoot, who also played Lal in "Offspring." I was not really digging MacGuyver... I mean Ramsey. Sam Hennings was just about the prototypical 80's manly man with mullet. His performance was a non-entity, and his appearance annoyed me.

Kevin: Trent didn't even come off as gay, he came off as a cheap stereotype of gay held by someone who has never actually met a gay person. I would say it's more the writing than the acting, though. It's as though the writers simply couldn't envision a strong woman or a passive man without indulging in stereotype. A scene of Trent dealing the minutiae of parenthood or homemaking could have been far more effective. It achieves the same point without needing Trent perfuming himself. Not to start a rant, but part of what nags me here is that when asked to portray a non-masculine man, they went right to mincing gay stereotype. Sexual orientation and gender roles are two different things, and it was just icing on the absurd cake of this episode that they lump in more offensive stereotyping on top of the more obvious ones.

Matthew:  Frakes gave it his all. He should really be lauded for playing the costume scenes straight. Denise Crosby was hit and miss - her seriousness regarding security was OK, but her dingle-berry sexuality was not convincing. Stewart played sick pretty well, and McFadden got to be the nurturing doctor yet again - see how far we've come?

Kevin: As with some of the weaker outings of the Original Series, the crew can really act their way into some nice moments even in bad episodes. I particularly agree that the scene in Picard's quarters was a nice moment for both of them.

Production Values

Matthew: We are introduced to the oft-reused matte painting cityscape, and it's a good one, easily the best so far in the series. The detail and the lighting effects are a real cut above anything we've seen thus far.

Kevin: The night version of this cityscape was particularly good as well.

Matthew: As far as set design goes, we get some pseudo-Asian furnishings (quite in vogue in the mid to late 1980's) which kind of look... weird. It never felt cohesive and just always stuck out to me. The clothes on the women were not flattering, especially on the security personnel. They were sort of like Bushido robes, in keeping with the Asian theme. I don't see why, even if they are the dominant gender, they wouldn't flatter their physical assets. No matter how tall these women are, they don't have giant shoulders, and I don't see why their fashions would have evolved to exaggerate them.

Kevin: I have to say that over the first half of the season, I would definitely identify alien worlds as the design departments weakest point. Ligon in Code of Honor springs to mind. It's always a bizarre attempt at futuristic architecture combined with knick-knacks from a 1980's Pier One Imports.


Matthew: This is a really tough call. For a long time, I thought I would give this a 2, probably based on nostalgia. But upon further reflection, this is definitely in the bottom decile of Trek shows. I mean, we're talking over 700 hours of television, and this certainly has to slot somewhere into the bottom 70 episodes of all time. The plot is weak, arbitrary, and dumb. The sexism is laughable. The acting doesn't resurrect it. The production is hit or miss. So it's a 1. But I want to offer the caveat: it's not as bad as Code of Honor.

Kevin: "Not as bad as Code of Honor." That is the faintest praise with which I have ever damned anyone. I do agree, though, that this is a 1, for a total of 2. This episode didn't just fail at making the point that gender equality is good, it makes me question how truly the production staff believes it. That, if nothing else, earns the lowest score we can give.

1 comment:

  1. HD Highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    The matte painting looks very nice in all its iterations. Riker's indigenous costume shows all of its colorful variety. The planet, yet again, is magnificent. Truth be told, though, this isn't the best HD upgrade in the season one set. It is quite adequate, though.