Being a life-long Trekkie, I feel it is my duty as such to make a shameful confession: I’ve never seen every episode of TNG, and have yet to watch Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. What makes this transgression all the more unforgivable is that I actually own every series and every film (I can feel your judging-eyes bearing down upon my innards, right down to my very soul). So, as penance for this unforgivable sin, I’ve decided to embark on a mission: to watch the entirety of the Star Trek franchise; every single episodic installment, as well as every single feature film, in chronological order. It’s been an endeavor which has taken several Earth orbits, not unlike the five-year mission of our beloved Enterprise crew. I’m currently a little past the halfway-point of Next Gen’s season five, which brings us to our current episode of discussion: The Outcast. I started watching this episode with zero knowledge about its premise. I typically throw on an episode via Netflix and merely let them roll on, one by one, until I’ve had my nightly fill. Since I’m in uncharted Trek-space right now, each of these stories is brand-spanking new to my beady little eyes. The Outcast is probably one of the best-written episodes I’ve watched from this season; not to mention one of the best-acted. A quick side-note before we continue: there will be plot points discussed which will ruin the episode for you if you are like me and haven’t gotten around to watching this particular one. Don’t wanna siphon the joy from any of my fellow Trekkie brothers and sisters (or incur the wrath thereof – eek! ). So, we’re good? Fabulous. Let’s proceed….
I thought the use of a genderless species was an extremely clever way for the writers to tackle the subject of sexual orientation; that is, to use non-gender as a stand-in for it. It allowed them to freely explore the bigotries and intolerance inherent amid a group which views any deviations from the “norm” as something to be frowned upon. Since I never saw this episode when it aired for the first time on network television, I didn’t know how the viewership responded to it, and thus was curious to find out. Luckily for me, the resources I possess allowed such a curiosity to be satiated; and by “resources” I’m referring to the library of Trek books I’ve amassed over the years. In Star Trek 365 by Paula M. Block and Terry J. Eromann, it’s discussed that while the episode did receive come complaints from social conservatives, it received the most complaints from the LGBTQ community – they didn’t think the discussion went far enough. The book also goes on to explain that, “According to a 2001 Salon.com article titled ‘Gay Trek,’ the most contentious issue was Soren’s statement that on J’naii, ‘Some have strong inclinations for maleness. Some have urges to be female. In our world, those feelings are forbidden.’ There was no mention of those with ‘urges to be female’ being attracted to other females, or the ‘male-inclined’ being drawn to males. There was no mention of homosexuality at all. And although Soren’s speech goes on to describe the need to ‘lead secret and guarded lives,’ gay viewers thought the producers felt the need to slink around the allegory.” While I do share their point-of-view that the discussion didn’t go far enough (Trek should always, in my opinion, trail-blaze with discussions that delve deeper than any its programming ilk are tackling), let’s not forget that this was 1992; a time when such discussions weren’t easy to present on any show, let alone one as widely viewed as Star Trek. Hell, even in 2017 these discussions are still being tip-toed around by the major networks. Fortunately for us, cable and digital content providers have transformed the media landscape into something much more progressive than what was available to us 25 years ago; but that isn’t an argument in favor of complacency. No content provider should rest on its laurels, and should endeavor to expand this landscape even further. The storytelling can only get better because of it.
The mark of any well-written story is its ability to provoke an emotional connection to it; to be angered, elated, or saddened by the events which transpire as the tale unfolds. In watching The Outcast, I experienced all of the above. The most notable of scenes which provoked a strong emotional reaction was Soren’s trial. The impassioned speech she delivers to her accusers really is one of the best-written monologues Star Trek has given us. To me, it was an amalgamation of various words that have been spoken over the years, reflecting all of the real-world statements that have been made by groups who are ostracized for being “different” in the eyes of the small-minded and willfully ignorant. It makes her accusers’ rejections of her plea for their understanding and compassion all the more heart-wrenching to watch, solidly confirming the caliber of acting on display in this episode. Noor, who is the J’naii leader officiating this trial, tells Commander Riker “You see, commander, on this world, everyone wants to be normal.” As you and I know, “normal” has always been an extremely subjective point of view, satisfying – and justifying – the need of those in the majority for reality to conform to their ideas and belief systems. It’s only when we evolve as individuals, and transcend this obtuse mentality, that we’re able to see how selfish and ridiculous it is to observe the world in this manner.
*steps down from soapbox*
I’ve watched this episode twice now, and both times it’s coaxed the same emotional-cycle out of me. The quality of the episode is such that it is now on my list of ones to use as a sort of “Star Trek 101” for the newbs. I hope you enjoyed it (or will enjoy it) as much as I have. Kirk out….