Monday, March 14, 2016

The Next Generation 5x17 "The Outcast"

rating: **

the story: Riker inadvertently ends up in a romance with a member of an androgynous species.

similar to: "The Host" (Next Generation), "Rules of Acquisition" (Deep Space Nine), "Distant Origin" (Voyager), "Cogenitor" (Enterprise)

my thoughts: Star Trek has a concerted history of exploring gender issues.  There's an equally concerted history of claiming it never went far enough, in that it never featured outright gay or lesbian characters, although it could be argued that it certainly explored bisexual and transgender individuals on a number of occasions.  However, in the mix of episodes I recommend to watch in relation to "The Outcast" is "Distant Origin" from Voyager, in which a society forcibly rejects the ideas of one of its own, whose viewpoint has been bolstered by one of our own.  "Distant Origin" is a classic.  "Cogenitor" (Enterprise), in which a third gender's rights are examined, is a classic.  "The Host," from earlier in Next Generation itself, is a classic.  "Rules of Acquisition" (Deep Space Nine), in which the equally routine fight for the rights of women is in the spotlight, is probably worthy of being considered a classic.

But "The Outcast" isn't.  At its heart, it takes for granted that Riker, in the classic Kirk tradition, is so irresistible that the episode doesn't even have to explain why so much as let the controversy that ensues play out.  It's a dull exploration of character for Riker, if it can be called that, and the gender-free individual who reveals they've always identified as female has no compelling reason to change her mind now, except, Riker: hot! 

It's an episode that will no doubt speak strongly to the LGBT community, as it was intended to (except at the time, it was simply meant to sidestep the homosexual issue itself, which has subsequently expanded), the way every such Star Trek episode does.  Yet the more of them there are to consider, the more one must question the merits of individual episodes.  The franchise built a large part of its reputation on fearlessly tackling social issues, and yet never addressed this one directly, except in roundabout ways like "The Host" and "Rejoined" (Deep Space Nine).

So I think of "The Outcast" more in how it presents an individual confronting a repressive society rather than on the issue that seems to be at hand.  Because in the end, that's what it's most passionate about.  It may be convenient to have a backdrop where you can visit a planet and then leave it, and leave whatever matters came up behind as well, but when you stretch it too far, sometimes it snaps back.  It rings hollow, the whole Riker arc.  Because it is.

But it's still worth remembering that on the whole, "The Outcast" remains significant, in its own way.

EDIT: An anonymous commentator observed that for Riker, this is the first time he exhibits heartbreak.  Take that for what you will.  As always, take my thoughts with a grain of salt.  I tend to overanalyze, not in the way you normally see on the Internet, with every little scene broken down so that you completely lose sight of the whole...Actually, if you wanted to take this only from Riker's perspective, you might find, for instance, an analogy for what happened between Riker and Troi, all those years ago, on Betazed, a sort of untold story that is, if anything, more fascinating than what "The Outcast" actually accomplishes on its surface.  I like to provide, if anything, starting points for fans to consider further, a deeper study of the franchise than I've seen elsewhere.  There's a lot to think about.  So thanks, anonymous commentator...

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential


  1. One thing worth noting, however: It might be the only time we see Riker brokenhearted.

    1. Interesting observation, and well worth noting.


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