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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Haven (Review)

To celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and also next year’s release of Star Trek: Into Darkness, I’m taking a look at the recent blu ray release of the first season, episode-by-episode. Check back daily for the latest review.

Haven is… not as terrible as I thought it would be. There have been select episodes I’ve been dreading on my re-watch of this awkward first season. I was right to fear Code of Honour. I had perhaps been a tiny bit too harsh on The Naked Now. I am quaking at the prospect of watching Angel One and Too Short a Season again. However, Haven wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared that it would be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s filled with plot holes and it is as dull as anything, but it’s not actively that bad. If it sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, then I probably am.

Safe Haven?

Safe Haven?

I like Gene Roddenberry. It’s hard not to respect the man who not only created Star Trek, but kept it alive into the eighties, relaunching it as a new series over two decades later. The man made a lasting contribution to popular culture, and he deserves a lot of respect for his work in presenting a fundamentally optimistic version of the future. At the same time, I also suspect that Gene Roddenberry was perhaps the weakest link in this first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, with his edicts holding the series back and creating this relatively bland flavour-less first season.

Roddenberry believed that the characters on this show should be so evolved that interpersonal conflict would be next to impossible. It’s certainly an idealised depiction of humanity, to assume that we could lock thousands of people inside a tin can flying through the stars and expect everybody to get along perfectly. However, removing conflict pretty much kills any drama. If every member of a show’s cast shares the exact same opinions and views, then there’s little chance for character development, no real opportunity to define your ensemble relative to one another. There’s also no opportunity for human drama.

Well, he rose to the occasion...

Well, he rose to the occasion…

Once Roddenberry’s control of the series was allowed to slip a bit, the writers did relax this restriction a bit. From the thirds season onwards, the creative team found a way to make sure that every crewmember was respectful of their colleagues, but held their own slightly unique value system and ideals. I find this approach much more fascinating that Roddenberry’s bland “everybody thinks the same” philosophy.

Surely the hallmark of an advanced civilisation is the ability to accept and share differing perspectives without holding grudges. Instead of “we’re a family because we never disagree”, perhaps “we’re a family because when we disagree we work through it” is far more optimistic? It’s important that I’m not suggesting that the crew be at one another’s throats – I’m just suggesting that Roddenberry’s instruction that they be perpetually happy with one another strangles the potential of drama.

It's my Quark in a box!

It’s my Quark in a box!

On the original Star Trek, one of the reasons that Kirk, Spock and McCoy worked so well together was because each held their own distinct moral and philosophical values that occasionally came into conflict. It did not mean that they disliked one another, and it certainly didn’t mean that they didn’t respect one another, but it allowed for conflict and drama between the three leads. That conflict is sorely missing from the first season of The Next Generation, with only Riker very occasionally having the slightest hint of an edge to his character.

I’m mentioning all this in my review of Haven because Haven is perhaps the most obvious example of how the lack of interpersonal conflict really kills this first season. You can tell space exploration stories without interpersonal drama. Star Trek: Voyager did that for most of its run, and some of the more average first season episodes of The Next Generation do that was well. However, you can’t really tell character-focused stories without a hint of conflict or disagreement.

No gongs for this one...

No gongs for this one…

Haven is about Deanna Troi’s arranged marriage to Wyatt Miller, a man she hasn’t seen since she was a child. This is going to happen on a ship where she serves with her imzadi, her beloved. To be fair, both Riker and Picard show hints of discomfort with the position she is in. Picard notes in his log, “But I feel that she’s trapped by a custom of her world which 24th-century life has made unwise and unworkable. I wish I could intervene.”

It’s nice to see Picard actually has an opinion on the arranged marriage, but he never voices it or even hints at it to Deanna. You could argue that’s perfectly in-character – he is nothing if not respectful, even to cultures with which he disagrees. However, given Deanna’s supposed to be empathic, that isn’t even really necessary to have Picard express his opinion from a story point of view. The story could have Deanna or Lwaxana call him on his opinion and perhaps the hypocrisy of his silence on the matter. That way, you get to have some conflict and drama, but without portraying Picard as insensitive or prejudiced.

As usual, Patrick Stewart does the heavy lifting...

As usual, Patrick Stewart does the heavy lifting…

And then there’s Riker. To be fair, one of the things I like about The Next Generation was that it actually kept its couplings relatively in the background for most of its runtime. For seven years, Riker and Troi had this “are they still into each other?” chemistry that took a sharp left-turn in the final season. Similarly, Picard and Beverly would occasionally exchange knowing, trapped glances at one another, to the point where you knew they were both into one another, but afraid to act on that attraction. (The closest they ever came was during The Naked Now, although The Big Goodbye hints that they’re both still considering it.)

Given how awkwardly the show handled most on-screen relationships, I actually respect the decision to keep those main couples to the edge of the screen, and avoiding dealing with them too directly. The problem is that you can’t really do that in a story where one half of one of your flagship couples is getting married. That sort of situation generally forces that other’s hand – either they let go of their beloved, or they finally come out with their feelings.

Plague ship...

Plague ship…

Haven is reluctant to commit to that, and so we get one scene expressing the potential conflict between Riker and Deanna that falls rather flat, as neither really says anything of particular depth. Instead, the writing has the pair dance around each other, afraid to say anything of weight. More than that, though, it feels a little out of place given what we’d learn of Riker’s personality in the years to come. “Bill, more than anything in the world, anything, you want to be a starship captain, true?” Deanna asks him, at one point, and reiterates it throughout the episode. Unfortunately, it just seems to make Deanna completely oblivious to Riker’s character. And not just because she calls him ‘Bill’ rather than ‘Will.’

To be fair, this is really just a bit of a blind spot on the part of the writers. They probably had no idea how long the show was going to last. However, it seems a bit silly to give one of your characters the ambition of becoming a starship captain when you know that it’s physically impossible to realise within your series. In order for Riker to become a captain, they would either have to kill off Picard or get Riker off the ship. Since, even at this early stage, it seems unlikely that either was going to happen (climax of The Best of Both Worlds, Part I notwithstanding), it seems short-sighted to make that Riker’s primary character trait.

A holo romance...

A holo romance…

Later writers would somewhat salvage this by suggesting some hint of character growth. Maybe at this point Riker really thought he wanted to be a starship captain, like we all wanted to be astronauts or something. This is fine, but it makes Deanna’s affection for him seem a little shallow if she can’t even see through that. She is a trained psychologist, and she was once madly in love with him, so it really seems like she should have an insight into his character. Then again, at the time, this was his character. Which makes it seem even more ridiculous to think he turned down all those commands over the next seven years.

Even Troi’s suitor, Wyatt, is so bland that he’s practically unobjectionable. He is absolutely polite to everybody. He seems sincere in his conversations with Deanna. She is not the woman of his dreams (not enough midriff, apparently), but he seems ready to ‘settle.’ And it’s all handled in such a way that it’s not great, but it’s not inherently bad. Which, to be honest, seems kinda creepy. Marrying somebody you don’t love isn’t a sign that you’re an all-round swell person, even if Haven seems to want the audience to think that.

Not how he pictured her...

Not how he pictured her…

Wyatt is played by a young Robert Knepper. Knepper does a decent job with the material, and you can see that he tries to give Wyatt just a bit of an edge. Meeting his wife’s beloved, Knepper manages to make a whole host of “gee whiz! ain’t this awesome!” lines seem just a tiny bit passive-aggressive. From the rest of the episode, it seems like the lines were written in earnest, but there’s something about the way Knepper delivers “of course – running all this is a big job” that sounds like it’s designed to get underneath Riker’s skin.

There are other touches too, like the way that Knepper has Wyatt hide his sketches when it becomes clear that Deanna isn’t the girl of his dreams. Sadly, they aren’t enough to make Wyatt seem like a real character in a real situation. While making him a nice guy avoids a whole host of clichés, the interactions between Wyatt and everybody from Deanna to Riker go out of their way to avoid anything even approaching real interpersonal drama. And, as with pretty much all of these first season stories, it’s resolved in such a way that everybody winds up happy.

Don't think too hard on it...

Don’t think too hard on it…

If the central story were a bit stronger, we’d be more likely to forgive some of the obvious questions raised by the plot. The reason for the betrothal is given by Troi, “As you must have heard, genetic bonding is a Betazoid tradition. Steven Miller was my father’s closest friend.” However, that raises all sorts of questions. If it’s ‘genetic’ bonding, rather than social convention, how come there’s absolutely no biological reaction over the rest of the episode? If it’s ‘genetic’, how come it’s easy to involve a member of another species?

I suspect the script used the word ‘genetic’ merely to imply that this situation was unique to Betazoids, and so it couldn’t be read as a commentary on arranged marriages in other cultures – to suggest that something in the inhabitants of Betazed made them take a mate at an early age and forced them to only be compatible with one person. However, the fact that there is no chemistry between Deanna and Wyatt would suggest that the ‘genetic bonding’ isn’t anything that basic or logical. (It also raises the question of what would have happened if Troi and Riker had been together when the Miller family showed up.)

Well, that's unfortunate...

Well, that’s unfortunate…

It’s also implied that Betazoid culture isn’t too fussy about the whole thing. After all, Deanna didn’t quite know it was coming. Lwaxana apologises to her daughter for the situation, in one of the rare moments where Lwaxana feels like more than failed comic relief. “Darling, I’m terribly sorry about what happened here,” she assures Deanna. “Truly I am. Steven Miller tracked me down and reminded me of our vows.” This implies that it could never have happened if both sides agreed to let it lie, but it also raises more questions.

How come a human couple are pressuring a Betazoid family into following their own traditions? In a better episode, we’d get reasons and motivations, especially since it’s made repeatedly clear that the Millers genuinely despise Lwaxana Troi. As Mrs. Miller notes, cajoling her husband out of the transporter room, “Steven, you know full well Lwaxana Troi isn’t about to beam on board until we leave.”

I hear Riker's also quite good at turning women on, hehehe...

I hear Riker’s also quite good at turning women on, hehehe…

It’s implied that Lwaxana is responsible for this rift, following the death of her husband. Given the back story developed in Dark Page, this becomes something a bit more tragic – was it an unconscious effort to push away anybody who reminded her of her family? Here she boasts, “It’s shocking how they’ve changed since my husband and I knew them. It’s probably because I’ve grown beyond them. You realize that with Betazoids, our ability to read thoughts does see us grow faster than the typical plodding human.” Given that the marriage would make Lwaxana part of the Millers’ family (and vice versa), why is Steven Miller pushing the marriage?

Is it because of his son’s visions? The strange recurring dreams he has? Does Steven Miller think that his son is troubled by dreams of Deanna and the marriage will end them? If so, surely Steven Miller remembered Deanna well enough to know that she wasn’t a blonde? Or, perhaps, either he or Wyatt might have looked up a photograph of the Counsellor of the USS Enterprise to be sure that she was the girl in his son’s dreams?

Well, at least they're going to Troi to make this work...

Well, at least they’re going to Troi to make this work…

Alternatively, is it possible that the the Millers’ are looking for money? There’s nothing in the episode to suggest it, save for the fact that the jewellery comes from Betazed, and the other sexist undertones of this arranged marriage that suggest Deanna is chattel. “Will you and your husband be staying with the ship?” Picard asks, before she has even met Wyatt. It seems that Deanna’s career is all but ended by marriage, as she offers a fairly absolute answer, “No, sir.”

Wyatt and Deanna suggest that they could work together, but he never seems to suggest he could serve in the Enterprise Sick Bay under Dr. Crusher, although there’s nothing to suggest that the crew of the Enterprise (even Riker) would welcome him on board. It seems more like she goes where he goes, than vice versa or a compromise between the two. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Millers were hoping to collect a fairly substantial dowry, but the episode gives us nothing to support that.

At what point does this stop being romantic and start being creepy?

At what point does this stop being romantic and start being creepy?

And what about Wyatt’s visions? “Knowing you were Betazoid,” he tells Troi, “I assumed it was you projecting yourself into my mind.” It’s actually not a bad idea, but it turns out that it isn’t Troi who inserted herself into his mind. It’s some random space!leper girl. Even if space!lepers are telepathic, why did she hone in on Wyatt? Why not any of the billions of other aliens in the cosmos? And doesn’t it seem a bit convenient that fate draws them together like this?

Lwaxana tries to explain it in vaguely metaphysical terms, assuring him, “All life, Wyatt, all consciousness is indissolubly bound together. Indeed, it’s all part of the same thing.” It’s an interesting call back to Where No One Has Gone Before, one of the stronger episodes of the year. However, it seems a bit out of left-field in a show that has never really explored the idea of fate and mysticism. It might have worked a bit better on Deep Space Nine, but it seems like a lazy storytelling crutch to allow everybody a happy ending.

I guess Wyatt is a knock-out, after all...

I guess Wyatt is a knock-out, after all…

Hm. I’ve gone on quite a bit and I haven’t touched the space!lepers or Lwaxana Troi. I guess there was more going on here than I thought, but the problem is that none of it is gripping. To be fair, the space!lepers plot does generate a hint of conflict for Picard, which is an improvement over the main plot. As he states, the Enterprise is caught between two seemingly counter-intuitive priorities, “Our treaty requires us to protect Haven, and Federation policy requires that we assist life forms in need, which must include the Tarellians.”

It’s not a bad set-up, but it falls apart because there’s never any real suspense. At this stage in the series, we know that a solution that pleases everybody is just around the corner, and everything will be wrapped up rather neatly. It doesn’t help that the space!lepers are a rather transparent moral lesson in modern-day military science. As Beverly explains, they brought their illness on themselves. “They had reached Earth’s late 20th-century level of knowledge. That’s all you need if you’re a fool. A deadly, infectious virus which at that level of knowledge is not difficult to grow.”

Haven help us...

Haven help us…

And then there’s Lwaxana. Who, to be honest, was not as terrible as I remember. Although, to be fair, I suspect that the worst is yet to come. Here, she’s simply shrill and arrogant and overbearing, a parody of the “mother-in-law” archetype. Indeed, one suspects that one meeting with Lwaxana might have killed the romance between Riker and Troi. It’s quite telling that Lwaxana’s disagreements with the Miller family are the closest that this episode comes to anything resembling conflict, and it seems like it was only allowed because it was played for comedy. Mind-numbing, soul-destroying comedy.

However, there’s an interesting idea at the heart of Lwaxana here, and I am fairly sure that – as with a lot of this first season – the implication was accidental. Lwaxana goes on and on about how she’s growing and evolving. When Mrs. Miller snaps at her about the gong at the dinner table and how she never used to do it, Lwaxana explains, “I do it now. Unlike some people, I am in growth.” She makes various comments throughout the episode that imply she sees herself as inherently superior to the human crew due to her Betazoid heritage.

Well, I suppose it beats flowers and box of chocolates...

Well, I suppose it beats flowers and box of chocolates…

While the execution is groan-inducing, the concept seems like a rather brutal parody of the superiority we’ve seen from the crew of the Enterprise on multiple occasions – most notably in Lonely Among Us and The Last Outpost. If The Next Generation were a little bit more self-aware at this point in its history, I’d suggest that the writing staff were gently mocking the “humans are so special” subtext by playfully transferring that attitude to a non-human and pointing out how arrogant and racist it is. Sadly, I suspect that this is unintentional.

Patrick Stewart is, once again, the member of the ensemble who comes out of this looking the best. His comic timing is superb, and he seems to relish the chance to ham it up. As such, a sequence featuring Picard pretending that an empty case weighs a tonne is not as painful as it might otherwise be. To be entirely fair, the rest of the ensemble isn’t bad. Yar gets another moment that makes me doubt her competence, being surprised twice by the gift box in the opening sequence. She physically jumps. While Frakes and Sirtis aren’t the strongest dramatic actors around, they play well enough off each other when the script requires it of them, and the teleplay fails them, rather than vice versa.

Star-crossing lovers...

Star-crossing lovers…

Still, Haven isn’t actively bad. It’s not good, and it is boring as anything, but it’s not as actively terrible as some of the other episodes in the season. That’s damning with faint praise, but that’s about the maximum amount of enthusiasm I can muster at this point in the show’s life.

Read our reviews of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation:

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2 Responses

  1. I actually thought it wasn’t a bad episode. I found it OK. Little memorable about it, certainly. The exposition about the Tarellians was handled in a lazy way, since everyone seemed to already know all about them. I found Troi and Wyatt to have pretty good chemistry – better than Troi and Riker, in fact. Their awkwardness when they first met was handled well. And I love Lwaxana. Majel Barrett just steals every scene she’s in. She’s hilarious.

    • I think we may have to respectfully disagree on this. I actually think Riker and Troi worked well together, perhaps because their chemistry wasn’t driven so much by passion, but by a sense that they trust one another. The writing is clumsy, but I think Sirtis and Frakes play well off each other in a sort of a “tried it, didn’t work, but still like the other” sort of way.

      I don’t hate Lwaxana as much as most, but I really dislike the clumsy use of her as comic support. She worked well in Half a Life or Dark Page even (even though I have problems with that episode) because she seemed like a real person, rather than as cheap comic relief. It doesn’t help that most of the time we’re laughing at her, rather than with her, which feels out of place on The Next Generation.

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