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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Angel One (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.

Any time I worry that I might have been too kind on Datalore, watching Angel One tends to set me straight relatively quickly. Watching Angel One feels like somebody in the writers’ room said, “I really liked the racism in Code of Honour! Can we do that again, but with sexism?” It’s very difficult to imagine to imagine how the script got into production without somebody raising red flags about it. While a lot of the racism of Code of Honour arose from the decision to cast the Ligonian characters as black, sexism in hardwired into the DNA of Angel One, making it one of the most unfortunate scripts in a long line of unfortunate scripts.

I believe in Angel One... something crappy in every season of TNG...

I believe in Angel One… something crappy in every season of TNG…

To be entirely fair, the cast have been willing to call Angel One out on its sexism, with Patrick Stewart apparently being chief amongst them. Stewart has been rather candid about the difficulties that Star Trek: The Next Generation had with gender roles, including on the special features of this release, and it’s hard to argue with a lot of what he says:

One of my personal battles in the first season was about elements of sexism in the scripts. I thought that the women’s roles – I thought, they didn’t have to tell me – were archetypal and not thought through. And that they were fulfilling a kind of archetypal female television role. The “token” dark-haired one, the “token” (in our case) redhead, the “token” blonde with Denise. So there was a certain amount of unevenness.

Indeed, Gates McFadden and Marina Sirtis have both acknowledged that Stewart had a lot of problems with Angel One:

“In one of the most sexist episodes we ever had, Angel One, Patrick really pushed to get it changed,” says Gates.

“It was still sexist though,” adds Marina, “These women had been running their own planet for aeons, and then Commander Riker arrives, makes one speech and they start to consider changing their government.”

Strong woman, exhibit #1.

Strong woman, exhibit #1.

If only that were the worst of it. Angel One takes a somewhat ill-advised science-fiction staple, and manages to mess it up even more than usual. A planet dominated by women is the kind of idea you’d see in the most cringeworthy episode of the original Star Trek, undoubtedly written as some sort of bitter reaction against feminism. Were it a product of the sixties, we’d almost be able to forgive it as a product of a different time. We wouldn’t have to like it, but social values were different. However, as a piece of fiction from the more enlightened eighties, it is a lot harder to excuse.

Let’s start with the basic idea of Angel One, as outlined by Picard in his own log. “Our away team has beamed down to an unusual matriarchal society where the female is as aggressively dominant as the male gender was on Earth hundreds of years ago. Here, the female is the hunter, the soldier, larger and stronger than the male. An arrangement considered most sensible and natural.” The initial premise is a little clunky, but the execution is terrible.

Strong woman, exhibit #2.

Strong woman, exhibit #2.

There’s an argument to be made that males traditionally hunted because of certain biological advantages: male humans are stronger and faster on average, which is why sporting events don’t tend to be unisex; while women carry children to term for nine months, a considerable physiological challenge to hunting wild game. If you want to imagine a culture that reverses the gender dynamics rooted in these biological factors, you might want to suggest it in the episode itself.

In other words, don’t cast these female hunters as supermodels. I know that the audience at home likes look at conventionally pretty women, but it would have been nice to see some indication that female attractiveness on Angel One might be judged by different social mores than on our own world. The closest that we get to this is the idea that men wear – gasp! – perfume. Which doesn’t really seem that different from modern Earth, to be entirely fair. Of course, Jonathan Frakes is a tall actor, so it might have been difficult to find female actors of similar height (or taller), but the end result is that Frakes towers over these puny women.

The implications are crystal clear...

The implications are crystal clear…

We’re meant to believe that this is what a society of physically superior women might look like, conforming to Western ideals of beauty, so it feels more than a little shallow. Even the token man wandering around in the background looks pretty muscled. He is short, but he looks much physically stronger than any of the women inhabiting the planet, which really makes you wonder how far the producers really thought about this “aggressively dominant” female culture.

It doesn’t help that the show treats this all as a bit of a lark. If the episode were played entirely straight – if it were an oligarchy controlled by men subjugating women – you sense that Angel One wouldn’t be quite so tolerant and patronising in its attitudes. When the crew discuss Angel One, we get a rather patronising exchange, where Worf remarks, “Klingons appreciate strong women.” It’s really a line that can’t be delivered in a way that doesn’t sound sleazy, and I don’t blame Michael Dorn for how it turns out.

This really shouldn't phase me...

This really shouldn’t phase me…

Then Picard appoints Deanna to make contact because she has the right body parts. “Counsellor, as this is a female dominated society, you might wish to make the initial contact.” Imagine the outcry had Picard asked Geordi to make contact with Ligonia back in Code of Honour. Which raises all manner of questions. Explaining why he’s ignoring the sexism of Angel One’s inhabitants, Picard notes, “Starfleet are adamant that we maintain excellent diplomatic relations with this planet.” Ignoring the fact that diplomatic relations seem far from excellent (“ever feel like you’re not really wanted?” Geordi asks), it raises the question of whether the Federation would accept the male-oppressing Angel One into its ranks as is. Don’t try to change me.

It gets worse from there. Riker sleeps with the head of the government in order to smooth things along. I’m half considering calling it “the Riker Maneuver”, but it sounds too flippant. Imagine Troi had to sleep with Lutan to keep the Ligonians on friendly terms, and all the gender issues that would raise. Similarly, Riker is forced (well, asked) to parade around in an outfit that seems to recall the way that female characters were dressed on the original Star Trek.

It seems the writers have a gift for sexism...

It seems the writers have a gift for sexism…

Riker agrees to put it on, which is where you’d imagine you get a clumsy lesson about not objectifying people – whether men or women. After all, why make such a big deal out of it if it isn’t a commentary on the ridiculous wardrobe of countless Star Trek babes? It wouldn’t be the best writing in the world, but it would be better than the story we got. Instead, Riker decides that the story isn’t nearly sexist enough, and suggests that his female colleagues are getting all up in his face because they’re jealous of Beata, the head of Angel One. “This objection doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Beata is a woman, and an attractive one, does it?” Because we all know they want a piece of this hot Riker action.

Which side-steps the fact that making people parade around in skimpy outfits for titillation is objectifying them and not a good thing. Angel One gets considerable mileage out of reversing Hollywood’s idea of whirlwind romance, but plays it like a tired sitcom rather than earnestly addressing some of the problems with this portrayal. “I like the way your eyes pick up the colour of your tunic,” Beata tells Riker, which is clearly meant to be goddamn freakin’ hilarious because the guy’s supposed to compliment the girl, you know.

Well, at least now he knows how every female guest star on The Original Series felt...

Well, at least now he knows how every female guest star on The Original Series felt…

This leads to one of the creepiest moments in the episode when Riker asks Beata, “But will you still respect me in the morning?” This would be treated as a legitimate concern were the gender roles reversed, but Angel One plays it for laughs. Riker grins from ear-to-ear while saying it. I’ve remarked before that I kinda like that Riker is a bit of a dick in Roddenberry’s world of perfect humans, but turning him into a sexist douchebag without acknowledging it just pushes the character too far.

The scenes between Beana and Riker are awful, because they pretty much take the worst gender clichés imaginable, and try to flip them to seem intelligent. However, if you turn crap on its head, all you end up with is a mess. So we get the reverse of what would be an extremely sexist scene that is meant to be funny because – doncha know it? – it turns all our expectations about a sex scene on their head?

What a refreshing change to be with a man who knows what he wants.

And doesn’t have to be told by a woman?

Exactly. I knew you were bright enough to understand. You see, women, by our very nature, want only what is best for their men.

Men are not objects to be possessed, Mistress Beata.

Of course they’re not. It was merely a figure of speech.

See, sexism is funny when it’s women being sexist against men! But don’t worry, Riker will distract that silly woman by falling back on that old courtship standard – buying sex with gifts. Riker brings her a gift  – “an Albeni meditation crystal” – that prompts her to remark,  “And now I must repay you in kind.”

A nice bedside manner...

A nice bedside manner…

Which brings us to another disturbing subtext of the episode. Apparently  strong women are just dying to be treated like dirt be sexist creeps. The two speaking female characters on Angel One are both screwed into tolerance by strong male rogues who refuse to conform to their gender ideals. If Riker can simply sleep with every member of the ruling council, maybe he could get that happy ending faster. Even the most hostile member of the council, Ariel, is getting some hot alien lovin’ that justifies her position. Beata seems to mellow out at the climax because Riker straightened her out.

Turns out all those crazy feminists need is to get laid. That’ll sort everything out! Because, god knows, a woman couldn’t hold a particular position because she came to it herself, you know. The climax of the episode even features Riker lecturing the women at length, as if to suggest that those silly women just needed a man to explain how the world works to them. Because their puny women brains likely couldn’t process it. Ugh. How did this get out of the writers’ room?

He's a droid, and I... am incredibly ticked off...

He’s a droid, and I… am incredibly ticked off…

There’s also a subplot involving a virus on board and the reemergence of the Romulans as a credible threat – but neither manages to divert attention away from the main plot long enough to stop me wishing I were dead. It does, however, suggest that Strafleet medical practices leave a lot to be desired. Between this and The Naked Now, I can’t help but wonder if Starfleet simply transferred Crusher off the Enterprise due to her admittedly shoddy record.

Angel One is in serious contention to pick up the award for the worst episode of the first season of The Next Generation, which pits it in serious contention for the worst episode of Star Trek ever. Luckily, that means that things should improve dramatically from hereon out, right?

If you want a picture of Angel One, imagine a snowball hitting Picard's face — forever.Or for forty minutes. But it'll feel like forever.

If you want a picture of Angel One, imagine a snowball hitting Picard’s face — forever.
Or for forty minutes. But it’ll feel like forever.

Right?

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

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17 Responses

  1. I REALLY don’t like that guy in the 6th picture down. He’s always given me the creeps.

    • I think it’s because he’s an obvious stereotype. He is the one male we see on Angel One, a planet where the women do the hunting, leading, etc.

      Due to sociological differences, we’d expect the rules of attraction to be different. Surely, as the breadwinners, social evolution would have made the most muscled women on Angel One the most sexually attractive? If physical strength is valued in females in this culture, why do all the women conform to our standards of desirability? (The obvious answer is because Gene Roddenberry wanted to cast pretty women.)

      The same is true of the guy. He’s pretty muscled. He’d be pretty attractive by conventional standards on Earth. The only nod to the episode’s premise is that he’s a little short, but he looks like he works out to improve muscle tone rather than to – for example – lose weight.

      So the episode tries to “feminise” him by making him walk around in a silly robe, wear jewellery and put on perfume. Which is the most ridiculously trite and sexist way of conveying that idea.

      Well, that’s my take.

      • That makes a lot of sense. Writing a story that’s meant to be really non-sexist can be a little like telling someone to stop thinking about baseball. Once you mention it, their mind has to go right to baseball.

  2. I remember watching this when it first aired and thinking how awful it was executed.

    • It is really just terrible, isn’t it? It’s not even an idea that seems like an easy one to execute. You’d imagine somebody would be saying “handle with care.” Although I am glad to hear that Stewart at least objected to it.

  3. This is another example of how Roddenberry (much like, say, Hugh Hefner) went from cutting edge social figure to reactionary old fogey in a few decades. From the review I’m guessing you’re not aware that Roddenberry had, back in 1974, attempted to base a whole series around pretty much this exact same premise. This was through one of his several failed pilots, in this case “Planet Earth,” in which he-man John Saxon woke from cryogenic slumber to discover that the planet was now, gasp, run by woman.

    Hot women, generally.

    Sound familiar?

  4. I feel as if this episode is the one episode not meant to be ” over thought”. It’s probably meant to be a fun and entertaining twist. When you tend to over think things meant to be taken lightheartedly you begin to ruin it for yourselves. Yes having a world where a mouse is in charge is indeed creepy, but it’s Disney Land. Just enjoy it.

    Of course you can find major flaws in the plot, either sexist or cheesy. But just go with it for the entertainment of it. Number 2 is an attractive hunk that we got to see hook up with a hot woman in charge. Heck their babies could have been beautiful… He is like the high school captain of the football team who gets the cheerleader. You can either be jealous of the guy, or you can cheer him on. Either way, he’s character is what entertains. It’s his imperfections, no matter how great, that makes him fun to watch. Any story with a perfect protagonist is usually a boring one. Even superman has his cryptonite.

    • Hi Isaac.

      I can see your point.

      In particular, I think you’re on to something with Riker. And, on rewatching the show, I think that Jonathan Frakes plays Riker as a decidedly flawed character. Being frank, as played by Frakes, Riker is a bit of a dick. Look at that scene in 11001001 where he cracks wise abotu a blind guy teaching a robot to paint, or the bit in Justice where he takes the teenager Wesley down to a planet of hot people who are probably going to sleep with his mother. Not Frakes plays Riker as this sort of reckless rogue, who really thinks he’s funnier and more charming than he actually is – and Riker is pretty charming to begin with, so that gives you a sense of scale. I’m a big fan of the fan theory that Riker is a functional alcoholic during the run of The Next Generation, and that’s something I’ll touch upon in later reviews. I like Riker more and more as I grow older, and that’s because he stands out as the least perfect of the perfect human characters on the show.

      That said, the problem is that – at least for the first season – the scripts seem to assume that Riker is a loveable rogue, like Kirk. There’s no doubt in Angel One that the script intends him to be entirely correct and in the right. That’s where the problem crops up, and it’s that earnestness which stops me from being able to turn off my critical brain when it comes to Angel One. And the mouse example is a good one – but we’re talking about women in terms of Angel One. It’s hard to divorce the notion that Angel One is about how stupid and crap a female-dominated society would be* from the fact that (a.) we still have issues with sexism and misogyny in our own society, and attitudes towards feminism often seem reaction and overwrought, and (b.) Star Trek still has some very serious gender issues in front and behind the camera.

      Grace Lee Whitney was raped by an executive (who was never named or punished) and then fired from the original show. Gates McFadden was fired because she couldn’t work with a male producer. Two of the three female lead characters left the show after its first season, and the third spends the first episode of the next season being used as a hotel by the alien of the week. If Angel One were a one-off show. If it was a freak occurrance in the tale-end of the much less sexist Deep Space Nine – like, for example, the dire Let He Who Is Without Sin… – I’d probably be a lot less likely to point to the problems in Angel One as systemic and indicative of serious flaws with Star Trek as a franchise.

      Unfortunately, positioned where it is, Angel One becoems the focal point for all that terrible stuff, and hard to excuse as harmless fun.

      And, keep in mind, this is from a guy who actually doesn’t mind Datalore. So take it all with a grain of salt. 🙂 Doctors differ and patients die. 🙂

      * and it would be stupid and crap (because sexism is sexism no matter how you cut it), but not in this condescending “feminism is nonsense” way that Angel One approaches the issue

      • Your absolutely right Darren.

        I must point out that I have been living under a rock- I just now started watching this show on hulu. (I think I was to young when it first aired.) I just finished watching the episode and researched it online.

        It seems as if I watched the episode as a child at heart, thinking that the actors and the people involved with the show were perfect and professional. I had no idea what was going on behind the scenes. Reading what you had to say, I now see the flaws.

        Knowing what I know now, I realize ignorance was bliss. I will still continue watching the show with the idea that the majority involved are still genuine. But now I see the strings and gears behind the magic trick, it won’t be as entertaining. I feel as if I just pulled of santa’s beard.

        Thank you Darren for the reply. I hope my Disney Land comment was not taken against women, but just was an analogy toward a little nit picking. I just realize it could be taken the wrong way due to the plot of angel one.

        With all this said, I hope you and I can keep our prime directive; to enjoy star trek with all its fans… No matter how knew they are to it (wink).

        Thank you again Darren

      • No worries, Isaac!

        The world would be boring if we all got along, and I’ve never subscribed to the idea that there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach Trek. I look at it my way, you look at it yours. Your insight might add something to my interpretation, and vice versa. That’s why discussion is great, even if the internet can sometimes lead to some breakdowns. (And even then I’m not willing to generally assume malice – there’s a lot of nuance in speech that is missing from on-line debate and discussion.)

        Apologies if I overreacted!

  5. Something always bothered me about this episode and it wasn’t the horrible Planet of the Amazon women plot, it wasn’t the fact that Trent the man servant was flaming gay. (Admit it you must of seen how Trent was salivating over Riker’s man meat) It wasn’t even the super space cold everyone got stuck with after we were so smugly reminded that colds and headaches were eliminated in prior episodes.

    It was the ending, they we’re off to Battle the Romulans, because lots of Romulans have showed up to Battle apparently. Than a few episodes later we in Neutral Zone oh suddenly the Romulans are back for the first time in 10 bazillion years acting like they never appeared just after Angel One.

    • I generally don’t mind continuity like that too much. The writers obviously hadn’t planned The Nuetral Zone when they wrote Angel One, and it’s kept firmly in the background for the episode. It’s sort of like DS9’s “nobody’s seen a Breen”, despite the fact (a.) Kira and Dukat stripped two, and (b.) the Dominion had one captive in an internment camp. You do wish there was better planning or a tighter continuity watchdog, but it’s never something that wound me up as much as dodgy plotting or bad writing.

      • Continuity stuff like this bugs the out of me. I think we can all agree that Angel One really does have something for everyone to dislike.

      • Yep. There’s hate to go around!

  6. Wow….Why is it always the episodes (of ANY program that gets too close to the real issues that gets criticized the worst by so-called “critics” and often by men? I appreciate calling out the problems of “hot women” in the episode, even from a show and stars that are sexist all the time to begin with (female crew members all of one body type, tighter uniforms, unbelievably heavy make-up on women only, etc. = constant sex objects), however as a woman and well educated feminist, I use this episode in my Gender Studies courses. It does a GREAT job doing exactly what sci fi has done for decades: reverse roles to show how ridiculous the current society’s mores are. That’s how we use it in class. You are totally (conveniently, I suspect) missing the whole point. And btw, archeology has indeed found plenty of evidence of so-called “amazons” buried with their weapons and the men buried with household goods and even babies. Do some research, be aware!!!! I am disgusted to–YET AGAIN–find reviewers (who listens to them anyway?) so threatened by the males-being- treated-as-females trope that they will attack anything but what is really bothering them–and that in itself is the most sexist of all. That is also dishonest rhetoric—what we call in the business, a fallacy or false argument. It is false motive for critique and speaks volumes on the critics’ own sexism. So tired of shaking of my head on this topic……….DeniseO. Friere: “the oppressed internalize the values of the oppressor”

    • Oh my GOD you’re triggered by a review of a third rate episode from the late 80’s. Feminists and feminism is so lame. -_-

      Linda Sarsour your feminist leader is pro sharia and you’re a tool of George Soros the oldest privileged white guy. You can virtue signal all you want but your third wave movement is a sham.

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