Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Violations

The Next Generation, Season 5
Airdate: February 3, 1992
111 of 176 produced
111 of 176 aired


The Enterprise plays host  to the Ullians, a group of traveling historians who use their telepathic abilities to probe the memories of their subjects. But when several crew members fall prey to otherwise inexplicable comas, the terrifying prospect of telepathic rape becomes apparent. Who is to blame, and can they be stopped?

Sooooo..... is it too soon to get our freak on?


Matthew: Reviewing this episode is tricky. It's a slippery maneuver trying to pin down what doesn't work about it. If I say it's creepy, is that a bad thing? It was going for creepy. Boring? Am I just criticizing any episode that unfolds deliberately without phasers and explosions? With that in mind, I will try to list the things I think fail. Our main theme is rape, right? It was nice that Tarmin called it rape near the end of the episode, just to ensure that we all understood the parallel. But then, having had the parallel established, we don't really get the sort of full-bodied investigation of the theme that I would want. Who counsels the counselor? Does Riker need post-rape psychological help? How do you prevent someone from telepathically violating someone? These are interesting questions, and only one of them is even briefly addressed (the last). As a mystery story, I think this one falls flat, too. We knew that Jev was going to be a creep before the first rape scene, because the music tipped us off in the turbolift. There was no real tension, even when there was the false accusation floating around against the father. I just get the feeling that the writers of this story wished they were working with Vulcans, and felt hamstrung by Troi's "half" telepathic status. There must have been a better way to dramatize all of this. What we get is inert, somnambulent, creepy yes, but without real teeth and consequences.

Kevin: I think the sexual assault parallel should have been drawn more brightly and explored more thoroughly. I like that Riker and Crusher's memories were not of a sexual nature, and I think it could have made the parallel discussion more interesting. Sexual assault is not about sex; it's about power and control. It's hurting someone because you have the ability to hurt them, so picking vivid, but non-sexual memories reinforces that, and could have led to interesting discussion about the 20th and 24th centuries view this kind of crime. I would have liked to have seen fallout between the characters and the real people these memories were about. Would Troi have trouble separating her real memories of Riker and the real man who is her friend from the memories of an assault she now has? We've seen characters lash out at friends and family in response to dealing with emotional trauma before, and survivors of sexual assault deal with the same problems as people of other kinds of violence, so I think that would have given the episode some real teeth, and real tension.

Matthew: Although I have strong criticisms, one of them is not of the rape scenes themselves. I found them uniformly interesting, especially the one with Dr. Crusher. Since these were the interesting elements of the show, I wish they had been expanded. Give us five minutes in the past with a young Picard and a dead Jack Crusher. Give us the details we want! Expand on Riker/Troi, what the nature of their relationship is. Did they actually get busy on the poker chips? What was the crisis in which Riker sentenced a fellow officer in Engineering to her death? These scenarios were so much more interesting than the weak "mystery" of the alien visitors. Jeri Taylor, who gave a weak script a "teleplay" polish, returned to this structure of story much more effectively several times in Voyager.

Kevin: I liked what they chose for Crusher because it makes sense as a traumatizing event in her past, and it's a nice continuity nod. Again, it rewards the longtime viewer without burdening the casual one. There's been a trend in the last few episodes, in that the episode contains a high degree of emotional literacy, but falls apart a little in the action or storytelling department. New Ground, Hero Worship, and this episode all center around people dealing with traumatizing events beyond their control. The twist here that really could have been mined for something is what happens when Counselor Troi, who in the last two episode was providing the advice, needs help. We've seen her break down before in "The Child" and "The Loss," and the actress can bring it, and it makes her character more interesting. It almost could have been a mini-arc for her, to face increasingly traumatized people and then suffer a trauma herself. In the end, I think Jeri Taylor did a good job of telegraphing the emotional aspects of trauma of this kind of assault, and the rest of the writing staff dropped the ball by not tying it into a larger arc for the characters or a more nuanced examination of this type of assault.

Matthew: Although I liked that Troi got the chance to stand up to her assailant and show her strength, I wish she had defeated him on her own, in a telepathic battle of wills or something. Maybe she could have forced a flashback of his life, and brought him low with it. Instead, the happenstance of the bridge crew working through medical records databases is what ends up seeing him apprehended. This was a much less interesting and more boring resolution to the story. The episode as a whole seemed to eschew interesting conflicts, and just focused too much on aliens, their alibis, and so on. It was very talky and slow.

Kevin: I almost hate to say it, but I almost would have liked to see her not be able to stand up to Jev. I think it ties the episode in too neat a bow, and it's not quite credible. A frequent question asked, usually derisively, of victims claiming a sexual assault is why didn't they do anything to stop it. A frequent reaction to this kind of assault is shutting down. A more credible psychological response would have been Jev coming to Troi's quarters and once she realized he was the one who attacked her, her being unable to move or speak. In a very real way, what happened to Troi, Riker, and Crusher would have been as intimate and violating as Picard's experience with the Borg, and it would have been interesting to see them really treat them that way, at least for the balance of this episode, if not following up later. Michael Piller did an interview for the DVDs where he said he conception of Picard's experience was that of a man who had been raped, and it gave BoBW some real teeth and was handled with amazing deftness in "Family." So to see it dealt with more literally, but less skillfully is odd and disappointing.


Matthew: Of the principle cast, it is Sirtis, Frakes, and McFadden that get the juiciest scenes - the flashbacks. Within the limits of the scenes written, they did well. Frakes looked upset and distraught by Riker's  fatal command decision. McFadden looked very upset by her necessary encounter with her dead husband. Marina Sirtis had the meatiest role, being the earliest and most public mind-rape victim. I enjoyed her confrontation with Jev.

Kevin: The way she acted the scene with Riker was deeply unsettling, and therefore very well done. Particularly when he puts his hand up her skirt, I die a little inside. They both mined their real world friendship and character history to really make that scene as upsetting as possible, so kudos to them for not shying away from what must have not been the most fun scene in the world to film.

Matthew: I did like the Ullians in general. I thought Ben Lemon was a much more capable actor than the script gave him a chance to play. I would have liked to see more deep scenes in which we could really get into his psychology.

Production Values

Matthew: The Ullian costumes were dumb. There are no two ways about this. White felt with cutouts is simply not a good look. Their makeup, with bumpy occipital lobes, looked pretty decent. I really enjoyed the opening scene of the episode, in which a young Keiko helps her Obachan with her ink painting. It was a neat change of pace.

Kevin: If there are any Project Runway fans on the blog, didn't Viktor's white jacket from his final collection totally make you think of the Ullians? Yeah, me too. I liked whatever filming decision they made in the ink painting scene. It had a faded, memory feel, without resorting to the trope of a hazy screen border.

Matthew: This was a bottle show, so most of it was set on the various sets of the Enterprise. Camera effects and severe close-ups were thus the primary means of expressiveness here. I must say, I didn't really dig them. The slo-mo on Riker was distracting, and the weird closeups of goose-flesh during Troi's rape was off-putting. The only new set was Crusher's morgue. It was drab and had decent atmosphere, but wasn't particularly interesting.


Matthew: As with many episodes that focus on flashbacks or mental scenes of the crew's hopes, dreams, fears, and nightmares, this episode focused on all the wrong things - an uninteresting mystery story about aliens we don't care about. As such, it was a terminal bore. The script was the big failure here, failing competent actors and decent production values. This is a 2 for me.

Kevin: Like I said, I think Jeri Taylor did a solid job of giving the show a core of emotional credibility on a very complicated issue. The focus could have been better placed squarely on Troi's response or the events made part of a larger discussion of violence and trauma. In the end, like "New Ground" for me, the emotional literacy displayed in the episode invests me enough to just give this a 3. It's a low 3, but still, that makes a total of 5. 

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