Star Trek: The Next Generation 30th Anniversary Blogging: "Angel One" (January 25, 1988)

Stardate 41636.9

The U.S.S. Enterprise proceeds to Angel One, a matriarchal oligarchy, where survivors of the lost freighter Odin are believed to have settled.

Commander William Riker (Jonathan Frakes) leads an away team to the planet surface to search for the Odin survivors, and to negotiate with the guarded leader of Angel One, Mistress Beata (Karen Montgomery).

An unexpected wrinkle arises, however, when the Odin survivors -- all men -- don’t want to leave Angel One with the Enterprise crew.  Instead, they are deemed revolutionaries on the female-dominated planet, and want to stay to effect change.  Beata finds their political views unacceptable.

Aboard the Enterprise, another crisis occurs.

A virus begins sweeping through the crew, including Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart), even as the ship is summoned by Starfleet to head to the Romulan Neutral Zone, where battlecruisers have been reported on maneuvers.

When the Odin survivors are captured by Beata, and sentenced to death for treason, Riker must convince Beata to succumb to the forces of not “revolution,” but rather “evolution,” and pave the way for the equality of men and women.

In roughly half-a-season’s duration, Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) manages to bungle a story involving race (“Code of Honor”) and one about gender (“Angel One.”) In the process, the first season of the series often appears more dated than its 1960’s predecessor does, at least in terms of pro-social commentary.

“Angel One’s” tale, of course, involves a militant feminist society; one in which men are sex objects (down to their skimpy fashions), and women hold all the power in government. The so-called “role reversal” culture clash is one of the hoariest and most-oft explored ideas in science fiction TV history. 

Not long ago on the blog here, I reviewed a series that carried this notion as its very premise: Star Maidens (1976).  In that case, and in others (such as Roddenberry’s Planet Earth), the concept of a “gender reversed” society might work (intermittently, anyway), if treated as satire, or commentary on our world.  In other words, we might laugh at the female-dominated culture because we recognize the flaws of a male-dominated one. “Angel One” gleans laughs from Riker dressing up in a revealing outfit for Mistress Beata, but is otherwise humorless in its treatment of the trope.

The episode largely comes off as a story in which Starfleet shows up at a wayward or backward planet, and shows it the error of its ways, hopefully paving the way for a fairer society. But the series writers don’t explain in “Angel One” why a society that treats either gender as inferior is wrong. 

Without this specific thematic point addressed, the idea of a female dominated culture is made to seem not like satire, but like a reversal of the natural order.

Meaning a male-dominated society is the right, proper and natural way to go.

It’s a shame, because somewhere in “Angel One” is the idea that the women of the Enterprise crew demonstrate their worth and value in the course of the mission.  For example, Dr. Crusher cures the virus that sweeps the Enterprise crew, literally by herself, since we see almost none of her staff.  Simultaneously, however, the episode backs away from a good role for Counselor Troi. She is the voice of the Enterprise when it first contacts Angel One, but is not given command of the away team for some reason. This episode would have proven much more powerful, and perhaps more even-handed, if Troi not only commanded the away team, but was permitted to give the valedictory speech about “evolution” that Commander Riker speaks. 

Instead, Riker gets that plum role, and to bed the hot alien leader.

In terms of the romantic scenes, this situation is certainly fun in a campy, silly way, and as a call-back to Kirk’s womanizing ways on the original series. 

But boy is this the wrong episode in which to hit that particular note. Riker’s easy romance of Beata again seems to suggest the “proper” value of women in society -- according to the series -- is as sexual objects. 

The episode is really, really confused about this point. It’s wrong for women to objectify men, for sex, but it is okay for women, like Beata, to be treated that way, by men like Riker.  The writers try to have the romantic scene come off as “equal” by making Beata assertive about her sexual desire, but the whole premise of the scene is a basic male sex fantasy.  Honestly, most stories of this type -- the female dominated society -- come off that way unless writers, directors and performers are very careful.

“Angel One” doesn’t fare any better with the “B” story it features.

Although it is great to see Dr. Crusher hard at work, brilliantly puzzling out the particulars of the strange virus, the subplot feels like filler, and confusing filler at that. 

Did the holodeck -- in the simulation where Wesley went skiing on a class trip -- generate the virus? If so, that is certainly an amazing malfunction, and one that Starfleet should watch out for.  What if the simulation was set in Europe during the time of Bubonic Plague, for example?

Or was the virus something related to Worf’s physiology, in particular, since the virus “smells” Klingon, and is transmitted via scent? 

The situation is terribly muddled, and some clarity would have been appreciated.

Finally, the Romulan threat is utilized most poorly here as well. A great deal of attention is paid to the fact that Romulan battle cruisers are moving about through the area of the Neutral Zone, and the fact that the Enterprise must travel to that location to shore up Starfleet defenses. Matters look grave when the virus strikes, and the ship becomes undermanned to the point that Data is the only officer left stationed on the bridge.

Then, the episode ends with the Enterprise on its way to the confrontation…and we never know what happened at the Neutral Zone, or with the Romulans!

In fact, the final episode of the season, “The Neutral Zone” goes out of its way to offer viewers the backstory that the Romulans have been quiescent for decades, completely forgetting about the events of “Angel One” in the process.

Next week: “11001001.”


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