Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "Haven" (November 30, 1987)


Stardate 41294.5

The U.S.S. Enterprise orbits the beautiful planet Haven, a serene world that is believed to possess mysterious restorative qualities for the humanoid soul.

There, however, Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) learns that -- to her chagrin -- an arranged marriage is about to take place.

This arranged marriage to a human named Wyatt Miller (Robert Knepper) will require Troi to leave her position on the Enterprise, and also end any possibility of a future romantic relationship with Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes).

The wedding guests, including Counselor Troi’s boisterous mother, Lwaxana (Majel Barrett), beam up for the event, causing many problems for the crew. Mrs. Troi flirts relentlessly, is rude, and prefers to communicate telepathically.

But another unwanted visitor could cause even more trouble for the Enterprise.

Sensors detect the presence of a Tarellian ship approaching Haven orbit. 

The Tarellians-- who were believed destroyed nine years earlier -- suffer from a devastating, and highly contagious plague.  As they near beaming range of Haven, the Enterprise must intercept the ship.


I must openly confess the following fact: I have been dreading a re-visit of “Haven,” the first episode to feature Majel Barrett as Counselor Troi’s mother, Auntie Mame.

Er, Lwaxana Troi.

If I had a choice, I would never watch any episodes featuring this character, again.

I don’t find the character particularly funny, or particularly well-acted. And, Star Trek is supposed to be a series about exploring the final frontier.  The relative “success” of “Haven” meant that we would soon be getting “family” episodes about Riker’s dad (“The Icarus Factor,”) Worf’s human parents (“Family,”) and on and on.


These stories tend to be standard soap opera fare about estranged relationships, rather than stories about exploring the final frontier.  

Let me be blunt: I don’t watch Star Trek to see characters bicker with their parents, or siblings. At least not as often as we get these kinds of stories.

I prefer stories about exploring the final frontier.

Yet every season, The Next Generation trotted out Lwaxana for another story. 

Not all of them are awful, but most of them surely are.  The exception to the “awful” rule is the fourth season’s installment, “Half a Life,” which actually explores a relevant social issue (how a civilization treats its elderly). 

But the rest of these segments are dreadful, and to be avoided like, well, the Tarellian plague. One such story -- featuring Lwaxana and Worf’s son Alexander (“Cost of Living”) -- is so bad that I have tried to wipe it entirely from my memory. It is one of the few episodes of any Star Trek series that I admit to watching only once.

But back to “Haven.”  

Lwaxana shows up to force Deanna into a shot-gun wedding that is apparently in keeping with Betazoid tradition. This tradition requires Deanna not only to marry someone she doesn’t love, to but leave Starfleet too.  This is despite the fact that the Enterprise can house families.

This subplot is problematic for a few reasons. 

First, it could have been made clearer that this is a Betazoid cultural oddity, not a fact of 24th century life for all women.

Secondly, Troi, Lwaxana, and Wyatt are all on record as not really approving of the tradition. So why do they all go along with it without a fight?

Thirdly, if we go by Lwaxana’s imperious attitude as demonstrated here, Betazed culture appears matriarchal, not patriarchal.

And finally, at one point, Troi’s father is mentioned, and it seems he was in favor of this idea.

It’s all confusing. Dad’s idea? Mom’s idea? A cultural tradition? Obligatory? Preferred?

The premise might actually have been more effective if turned on its head. 

What if a male officer -- someone like Geordi or Riker -- had to face the possibility of an arranged marriage, and leaving Starfleet? The point would have been a whole lot clearer.

Instead, we get a story that seemed dated in 1987, and much more so today.  I’m reminded of “Who Mourns for Adonis,” in 1967. There, captain Kirk mused of a female lieutenant that she would one day fall in love, get married, and leave the service.

“Haven” seems to pick up right there, in 1967.

Character motivations are baffling in this episode too. 

Troi goes along with the idea of marrying a man she has never met, and giving up everything important in her life to do it.

Riker, meanwhile, whines about Troi’s choice, while at the same time he proves absolutely unwilling to commit to her. He wants to get a command, I suppose, and keep Deanna on a long leash, in case he ever decides to settle down.


Above, I reported that I dreaded re-watching this episode. Perhaps because my expectations for quality were so low, I should acknowledge that hated “Haven” less than I thought I might. One recurring problem with nineties Star Trek is that it feels, too often, that it must validate every science fiction concept or idea with some techno-babble.

What is nice about “Haven” is that it doesn’t throw out some obligatory pseudo-scientific explanation for the connection Wyatt and Ariana share. Instead, it just lets that connection happen, and so this aspect of the episode actually does feel romantic. I wouldlike to think there are still some mysteries, out there, in space, that can’t be solved with a deflector dish and a sensor probe.

Also, I found that I enjoyed in “Haven” Data’s (Brent Spiner) fascination with the bickering wedding party participants, including Mr. Homm (Carel Struycken). We know that Data is fascinated by human behavior, and the “civilians” he meets here are quite unlike the disciplined officers he usually interacts with.

I also found fascinating the interaction between the Enterprise and Haven, a planet it is sworn, by alliance, to protect. The government of Haven is all touchy-feely and friendly, until its paradise is threatened by the Tarellians. Then, the leader of the planet grows demanding and unsympathetic. It is in that moment that we see the people of Haven are hedonistic and selfish.

True, I wouldn’t want a plague ship moving into transporter range of my house, but members of the Federation are supposed to be enlightened about such matters, aren’t they?

Like so many episodes of the first season, “Haven” is simply a story that doesn’t really seem necessary to tell. The idea of an arranged marriage in an egalitarian future seems hopelessly antiquated, and doesn’t develop Troi’s character in a meaningful way.


Finally, one note about changed characters.  Here, as in “The Naked Now,” Troi refers to Riker as “Bill,” rather than Will. Unless I’m mistaken, “Haven” is the last time we hear the name “Bill.”


Next week: “The Big Goodbye.”

Comments

  1. Anonymous9:03 AM

    I happen to like Lwaxana episodes (except the last one I think), but totally can understand if some people don't appreciate the character. The chaos she brings with her and the uncomfortable situations she puts Picard in are funny!

    -T.S.

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  2. Hi John.

    I remember seeing this one when it first aired, and I could not believe how bad it was. You are right, "Haven" is not funny.

    In regards to the 'exploration' theme you speak of: My favourite episode was/is "Family". When it originally aired I could not believe how good it was. Above average, certainly for that series.

    Keep in mind that I've seen perhaps 40 TNG episodes in total.

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  3. Can I just say how much I despise Majel Barret?

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  4. John,

    I'm glad you went out on a limb and told us that the character of Lwaxana Troi isn't your favorite. I never really liked episodes featuring her, and I don't think I've even seen all of them. This is not to say that I dislike Majel Barrett as an actress, but I found Lwaxana to be overbearing. Come to think of it, didn't Deanna describe her using the word "overbearing" in this episode, or one of the others?

    "Haven" will not be on my list of the top twenty TNG episodes for all of the reasons you've mentioned. I did like the spaceship design, and I appreciated Bill Theiss' choice of costume for Ariana. There was something poetic about Wyatt meeting a woman he had long before dreamed about. That pretty much ends my list of commendations.

    Also, I'd like to agree with Simon (again): "Family" is one of my favorite episodes of the series, and I've watched it multiple times.

    Steve

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  5. I admit I did laugh out loud at the dinner time scene, thanks to the skilled acting and comic timing of Brent Spiner. But yeah, I can do without these family episodes. Ugggg, any episode with Worf's son is absolutely unwatchable.

    Ah yes "The Big Goodbye". One of my favorite Next Gen episodes and IMO the best of the first season. Can't wait to read your review.

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