Tuesday, April 21, 2015
“Put 'em On Ice”: Reunion
Yes, you're all in luck today. Been awhile since I've done a proper polemic on this blog, but here we are: “Reunion” is simply godawful. This one deserves to stand with “The Naked Now” and “Code of Honor” among the series' absolute lowest lows. This episode is pretty much everything I hate about scripted drama in general and Star Trek in particular all neatly wrapped up in a gift bundle.
Unless this is literally the first thing of mine you've ever read (in which case, hi! And sorry you had to come in on such a crap episode! Please go read something I enjoyed writing about instead!) you know why I hate “Reunion” as much as I do. What happens to K'Ehleyr is a textbook example of fridging: Randomly and unceremoniously killing off a female character solely to give her male significant other something to lament about. With no agency of her own, she's treated as a disposable satellite of a male character's dour, angst-ridden narrative existence. It's a flagrantly sexist (and in this case, borderline misogynistic given a few concerning habits the show's developed over the past couple of years and with an eye on one or two specific episodes coming up this season) approach to storytelling that Star Trek: The Next Generation not only has no business engaging with, shouldn't even be something conceivable to someone working in it.
It tells you something about how rotten and vile the concept of fridging is given that I'm not even a *fan* of K'Ehleyr and I *still* think she deserved better. Every woman does. Yeah, I still think K'Ehleyr was a not-entirely-functional attempt to “spice up” a show and cast the second season creative team didn't really know what to do with: Her big contribution, setting Worf on a path to put the Klingon and human sides of his personality in better harmony, could have been done a lot of other ways. I mean, isn't it *also* sort of sexist to have that all wrapped up in a single, female package? That's just the infamously-dubbed Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, which is just another form of objectification. It's always a warning sign when men expect you to breeze into their lives, straighten them out and help them figure themselves out. Those are men who don't know how to grow up.
But you know what? None of that actually matters, because you don't fridge characters period, not even Manic Pixie Dream Girls. Once again, what does it say that this creative team is so sadistic and creatively bankrupt their first instinct is to wheel in a former one-shot guest character and put a bullet through their head to give one of the mains some more precious “conflict” to deal with? Fuck off. Fuck off and think about what you've done.
K'Ehleyr's death is also stands in for a unanimous vote of no confidence in Suzie Plakson as a potential new member of the Enterprise extended family, which hurts for its own reasons. It didn't have to be, of course: The show brings back familiar actors to play multiple different roles quite frequently. But for some reason, perhaps because K'Ehleyr was her most reconisable Star Trek role, or the one most connected to a main character, or maybe just because she wasn't happy with the way she was treated here (all of which are perfectly reasonable assumptions to make, I might add), Suzie Plakson never returns to Star Trek: The Next Generation after this (though she will guest star in one episode of Star Trek Voyager and later on Enterprise at a point in history very far away from where we are now), even though Doctor Selar will be referenced and name-dropped constantly throughout the rest of the series as a vital, beloved member of Doctor Crusher's medical staff and the crew in general.
K'Ehleyr is understandably a bit of a dead end. But there were ways to deal with her not entirely working that weren't this. And it's actually Selar's loss that affects me more: With this episode she becomes almost like Tasha Yar, a phantom haunting Star Trek: The Next Generation, constantly reminding it of promising paths it deliberately closed off for no other reason than shortsighted stubbornness and a toxic fixation on melodrama. K'Ehleyr could have been conveniently ignored (as this episode makes painfully clear), but the show chooses not to ignore Selar, constantly trying to have her there without actually tangibly having her there. It's almost like its trying to make good on its transgressions here, but it's still not quite good enough. It's never good enough.
And just to drive the knife in a little further, what also happens in “Reunion”? Alexander is introduced. Worf and K'Ehleyr's son who was apparently conceived back in “The Emissary” because we can't have any sex (even implied sex) on television without punishing the participants, particularly the woman, with a child nine months later because sex for reasons other than procreation is apparently a sin against God (or maybe the Great Bird of the Galaxy). As if this waste of space wasn't revoltingly sexist enough already. And for what? Why did we need to kill K'Ehleyr or bring in Alexander in the first place? Please, actually tell me, because I've never been able to figure it out.
Doesn't Worf have enough of a reason to hold a grudge against Duras already? I rolled my eyes a bit at “Sins of the Father” last year because of its bombastic, self-indulgent sci-fi worldbuilding silliness, but it was still a functional, perfectly crafted and enjoyable hour of television and one of the highlights of an otherwise troubled year. There's the stuff with Captain Picard and K'mpec, which is good and I do like that, but I can't enjoy it because of what's going on with Worf and K'Ehleyr in the other half of the plot. And, as I'll talk more about when this particular plot tumour finally gets untangled, I think the relationship between Picard and K'mpec works just as well relegated to the show's newfound ethereal and imagined past. To be perfectly blunt, we all know “Redemption” is coming, but haven't we set it up enough? What actual purpose did “Reunion” serve, apart from making me hate my job and question my life choices again?
Speaking of, let's talk about Alexander. Specifically, why the fuck does he exist, apart from the aforementioned slut shaming? Granted, there are some decent stories about Alexander later in the show's run and I certainly don't hate him with the fervor some Trekkies do, but that's all for the future: Why does he exist now? What does he add to the story apart from reproductive futurism overtones and contributing to Worf's manpain? Is it because Wesley Crusher was about to get written out and for some reason the show felt it needed to have another “single parent raising a child on their own” setup? I'm not sure if it was common knowledge at the time that Wil Wheaton was leaving, though given that's going to happen in two weeks, I'd probably bank on it. But if that's the case, why is Alexander shipped off to the Rozhenkos at the end of the episode and disappears for a year? By that point we'd long grown accustomed to the new status quo, and having a new kid join the cast is not the most welcome of additions.
And if the team was so concerned with preserving an earlier version of the show's dynamic, why did nobody think to bring in a new Tasha Yar? Actually, on second thought, don't answer that.
It's a bitter irony that this episode comes literally the week after “Legacy”. Last time we saw Star Trek: The Next Generation's conscience telling us that straightforward drama and conflict-for-conflict's sake is not good enough to justify the show's continued existence. And now we see in stark detail why the show so desperately needs to learn those lessons-Because if it doesn't, it will end up dark, cynical, complacent, violent and reactionary. No better than the Borg. Star Trek: The Next Generation is in the process of rediscovering itself and trying to figure out what it wants, and needs, to be going forward. I really, really hope the last two weeks have shown it that it can't be this.