Season Five - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outcast

Written by Jeri Taylor
Directed by Robert Scheerer

The Enterprise is contacted by an androgynous race known as the J’Naii to locate a missing shuttle. After analyzing the information available to them, the crew of the Enterprise reaches the conclusion that the shuttle was swallowed by a phenomenon known as “null space”.

Soren (portrayed by Melinda Culea), the J’Naii who is working with Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) on charting the area where the shuttle was lost, is very curious about the two sexes and the roles they play in humans. She questions Riker and then Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) extensively.

Jeri Taylor wrote this episode, and it’s debatable what she was trying to accomplish with it. For a long time during the episode, the message is quite clear. The status of those who prefer one gender over another on J’Naii is treated the same way homosexuals have been and in many ways still are treated in our society. The whole speech Soren makes talking about how one who preferred the male gender was treated in her school and was then carted off for therapy to “cure him” could be repeated word for word about the way our society has viewed homosexuality over the years.

Soren soon reveals to Riker that she definitely has feelings for the female sex, and is having feelings for him. Riker feels the same attraction. Although up until now she has managed to hide these tendencies from those in her society, at this point it becomes evident to those around her.

Part of the problem with the episode is the choice of Riker for Soren to develop an attraction. The character of Commander Riker was set up as the playboy of the galaxy. In just the last few episodes he seduced both Ensign Ro (Michelle Forbes) and Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). Throughout the years he’s had any number of relationships, mostly casual, but a few that were intended to be a bit more serious, all of which ended and he moved on. This background made it very hard to look at the Riker and Soren relationship as anything more than just another fling on his part. He often intends to have a more complex relationship with the females in his life, but it just doesn’t seem to be in his character at this point in his life.

Choosing a different crew member to have the relationship with Soren probably would have worked much better. For me, I think it would have worked quite well with the Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) since he’s always been shown to be very awkward around women. This would have put the emotional investment in him having his first truly serious relationship with Soren higher than it was with Riker.

The other problem comes with the ending of the episode. For a long time, it has seemed as if the story is supposed to (blatantly) parallel homosexuality on Earth during the 20th century. However, when Riker attempts to rescue Soren from the psychotectic treatments, but it’s too late. It raises more questions as to the intention of this episode when he offers to rescue her and bring her back to the Enterprise and have Dr. Crusher restore her to the way she was before the treatments, she asks “Why would I want that?”

Soren truly seems “cured” and happy about that, with no ill effects, face-twitching, or other side effects. She no longer has feelings towards Riker, or a preference for the female gender. Since the story made its parallels so blatant all along, this ending is a bit disturbing, as it seems to advocate that homosexuality can somehow be “cured” and “they will be happy about it” – a stereotype that has been fought for many years.

Taylor managed to create a good bit of continuity on the loyalty between the Klingon, Worf (Michael Dorn) & Riker. Writers have ignored it for quite some time and now have it in both this episode and Ethics. It’s a nice touch.

For an episode that really seemed promising, overall I’m disappointed. Even with the misuse of Riker, I probably would have put this at mediocre and recommended it. However, the ending nullifies a great message and I can’t recommend it for the poor taste it leaves in my mouth.

Previous episode in series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ethics

Next episode in series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Cause and Effect

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