Sunday, November 04, 2007

Love ... exciting and xenophobic!

Inspired in part by Siskoid's Trek recaps, and mindful of Shaenon Garrity's "Drunk and Watchin' Star Trek," I've been working my way through the 24th-Century series. Friday night was "The Dauphin," TNG's second-season look at Wesley Crusher's first lurve. Yesterday, I watched the "remastered" version of TOS's "Metamorphosis," and noticed some parallels. Naturally, I share these with you.


"Metamorphosis" first, because it offers more to discuss. Kirk, Spock, and Bones are ferrying diplomat Nancy Hedford back to the Enterprise in a shuttle. Comm'r Hedford was negotiating a peace treaty when she suffered a billion-to-one hit from a deadly virus. Without the Enterprise's sickbay, she'll die. However, the non-corporeal Companion pulls the shuttle down to a planetoid where 21st-century Earth pioneer Zefram Cochrane has been living for the past 150 years. He's told the Companion he'll die of loneliness, and since the Companion has been keeping him alive all this time, the rest was easy.

Cochrane tells our heroes he communicates with the Companion non-verbally, but Kirk literally sees more: in the sparkly, effervescent way the Companion's energy-form surrounds Cochrane, Kirk can tell the Companion loves Cochrane. This is confirmed when the universal translator lets Cochrane hear the Companion's "voice" for the first time -- it's a female voice, and that (dun dunn!!) wasn't programmed into the machine! ZOMG!!!

This is where things get a little screwy. Because the Companion is now demonstrably and objectively female, Kirk basically sings the "K-I-S-S-I-N-G" song to Cochrane. Cochrane is all eww gross, shut up!, and sounds very segregationist when he accuses the Starfleeters of having loosened their morals over the last 150 years. He wants nothing to do with a non-corporeal chick who's warm for his fleshy form, and it makes him more than ready to leave the Planetoid of Eternal Life.

Now, I thought that bit of characterization was appropriate. However you look at it, Cochrane's the guy who basically made the Federation possible. That doesn't mean he has to be a champion of diversity. In fact, I could see the Cochrane of Star Trek: First Contact having this attitude, which is also reminiscent of the Peter Weller segregationist character from the final "Enterprise" two-parter.

No, my problem is with Kirk's attitude, and the plot points it reinforces. First, I'm a little shaky on the idea that "male" and "female" have their own brainwave frequencies that can be analyzed by the universal translator. Second, and more importantly, female + male doesn't necessarly = romance. The Companion could also be a mother-figure, a gender-neutral guide, or even just half of a symbiotic relationship. Yes, I know Star Trek was groundbreaking for subverting audience expectations about space aliens, and making the Companion a relatively benign entity was part of that (see also "The Devil in the Dark," another Gene L. Coon script, where the monster is really a mother), but the way "Metamorphosis" gets there involved a couple of large leaps of logic.

We're not done yet, though. The dying Hedford has heard Cochrane's protests, and she starts to weep. Turns out she's an unfulfilled career woman who's never known love, and here he is rejecting it --! Fortunately, Kirk's been talking to the Companion about how her relationship with Cochrane is doomed. The upshot is, since the Companion's not human, she can't really love Cochrane. He's basically saying "if you love him, and by the way you'll never be 'able' to love him, if you get my meaning, set him free." Actually, if I remember right, Kirk says the Companion needs a soul, not necessarily any other body parts.

Kirk's thinking is that love sometimes expresses itself in sacrifice. Well, the Companion's actual sacrifice involves merging with Hedford so that both can continue to exist. Hedford gets to know love, because now Cochrane can love both her and the Companion; and thus the Companion also gets to have her love for Cochrane returned. The episode presents this weird arrangement as very sweet, and it is, in a way. At least everyone looks happy as the shuttle blasts off for its rendezvous.

So about twenty years later, TNG produced "The Dauphin," the tender story of a young planetary ruler, Salia, and her shape-shifting bodyguard who can totally whale on Worf and make him like it. I probably hadn't seen this episode since it aired, and honestly I was not looking forward to it, but it's a lot better than I remembered. "The Boy" is immediately taken with Salia, and she with him, probably because he's the first teenage boy she's seen in a long time and vice versa. Wil Wheaton does "smitten" quite well, and there's also a great little scene where Riker and Guinan quasi-flirt. However, as we know, this relationship is doomed, not just because she's got a planet to rule but also because she's a shape-shifter too. When Wes finds out, he gets all pissy and hurt, accusing Salia of toying with him and not giving her the courtesy of saying goodbye. However, his better impulses take over, and he sees in the end that she's really a non-corporeal being. He finds her energy form very beautiful, but in a completely platonic way, and goes off to Ten-Forward to cry in his chocolate.

Again, I watched "Dauphin" the night before "Metamorphosis," so couldn't help comparing the two; and again, I think "Dauphin" comes out ahead in its attitudes towards women. Indeed, "Dauphin's" Anja, the bodyguard, gets all of the "protective," parental aspects of the Companion, and it's Anja who Worf et al. must find ways to control. Maybe that's part of it -- there's no possibility of confusing Salia's role in the story. However, I'm more willing to give "The Dauphin" a pass because Wesley's attitudes are the erratic, unformed gesticulations of a hormonal teenager. I expected more from the adults of "Metamorphosis."

Thinking about "Metamorphosis" today, though, Cochrane actually ends up with quite the non-traditional relationship. True, seeing the Companion anthropomorphized in Hedford appears superficially to be the thing which confirms his love for her, but it could also be a sign to Cochrane of the extent of the Companion's sacrifice. Not to get all religious here, but the Companion was willing to give up her normal existence to be with Cochrane as a human. The X factor here is Hedford, who a) seems to fit the career-woman stereotype and b) has no reason to love Cochrane beyond the fact that he's literally her last chance to ever know love. I guess I feel the most uneasy about her place in the triangle.

Still, I presume they all lived happily ever after....

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