Thursday, September 18, 2014

“ less than the journeywork of stars”: Haven

And I knew you would be this brave.
Humans claim to always be in search of truths, yet all too often we blind ourselves and refuse to accept the ones we find. I am increasingly of the belief we overcomplicate our lives, not just in a material sense, but in a spiritual and philosophical sense. To go back, look back, to remember things we may have once known intuitively but have since forgotten...This is not sacrifice, but gaining an understanding of who we are and what's truly important. And sometimes we need our routine disrupted to remind ourselves of that. If the universe seems to be trying to tell you something, perhaps you might listen: We all find our own paths in time.

The issue at stake for Deanna Troi and Wyatt Miller, and indeed of Star Trek: The Next Generation on the whole, is one of destiny. In Westernism, we tend to think that our entire lives, our past, present and future in the common parlance, are either entirely up to chance and individual will or, conversely, planned out for us in advance, spelled out to the letter. An arranged marriage can than be seen as a metaphor for this in microcosm: The young couple's lives are planned out for them by forces entirely beyond their control and they have no say in the matter, seemingly bound by fate. And the show itself is caught up in this, threatened with the loss of a major character four episodes in. Given the washout of “The Naked Now” and “Code of Honor”, it does seem worryingly as if Star Trek: The Next Geeration is in the process of rapid implosion. Even Captain Picard seems to sense this, opening the episode apparently preoccupied, musing as to whether the titular Haven will provide some much-needed, yet “all too brief”, reprieve for him and his crew.

This subtle awareness seems to permeate much of this episode, almost as if Star Trek: The Next Generation is in some way aware of its recent transgressions and its desperate need to move onward and upward as quickly and as dramatically as possible. And “Haven” is in many ways the exact story this show needed to do now: It's the first episode since “Encouter at Farpoint” that unquestionably exists in its own world and doesn't make sweeping, obvious callbacks to the Original Series. If “Haven” does resemble any Original Series high water mark it might arguably be “Journey to Babel”, both being character studies about one of the regulars who has a strained relationship with their parents set against the backdrop of a diplomatic incident. But unlike its immediate predecessors, if it does, it's only on the level of basic storytelling structure, not a whole plot reference. And “Haven” goes above and beyond anything “Journey to Babel” ever did, by weaving all of its subplots together into an elegant demonstration of cosmic synchronicity. Indeed, it's this very synchronicity that's “Haven”'s trump card and key to its ultimate success.

But all in time. Another way “Haven” might be accused of plagiarizing the Original Series is by virtue of its guest star: Majel Barrett, who makes her debut as the inimitable Lwaxana Troi, Heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed and Deanna's irrepressible and overbearing mother. But far from being an obvious attempt to cash in on her popularity from the Original Series, Barrett's character and acting here are so overwhelmingly distinct from, and frankly better than, anything she's ever done before any memory of Nurse Chapel or Number One is washed away the second Lwaxana Troi walks onstage. This is Barrett's definitive role now and forever, and it's as clear here as it ever will be again. Which makes sense, as Gene Roddenberry apparently joked with her that he found her perfect role, and she didn't even have to act. One gets the sense Barrett always had this side to her just waiting to be let out: If you read the original script for “In Thy Image”, Doctor Chapel acts much the same way Lwaxana does here-Completely different from either Nurse Chapel or Number One (or for that matter any of the characters she played on the Animated Series, which was roughly all of them), but very, very much Majel Barrett herself.

(And indeed another major Star Trek star is born here too: Armin Shimerman, who will play many of the Ferengi antagonists on Star Trek: The Next Generation before being cast as Quark on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, is the Betazed Gift Box that stuns Tasha and horrifies Troi in the teaser. So Star Trek's past, present and future really do all coexist here together.)

It's Lwaxana who reveals the true nature and extent of “Haven”'s influence, because another myth about her is that she doesn't come into her own until very late in the series. This is plainly not the case: Lwaxana leaps onto the Enterprise fully formed, and its her presence that makes this episode as great as it is., Lwaaxana, and the wedding plot she brings with her, forces the episode into becoming a character piece, and forces Star Trek: The Next Generation to demonstrate what its approach to this kind of brief is going to be. Unlike “Journey to Babel”, which used its overarching plot largely as window dressing for its character drama, “Haven” weaves them all into one: Not only is the diplomatic situation equally as important as the love triangle Deanna finds herself in and Wyatt's uncertainty as to where his destiny lies, they are in fact one in the same. The world and the story are one with the characters' emotions, and they exist to explore and accentuate each other. Which is the only way it could possibly be, because the universe is as we all make it to be, provided we recognise it's guiding us to find our calling and become better people through doing so.

Which is exactly what happens in “Haven”. A wonderfully synchronous series of events transpires that helps Deanna Troi, Wyatt Miller and Ariana discover their calling. Oh yes, Ariana. Who first of all is basically my archetypical 1980s style icon, and one of the flat-out most memorable and iconic things about this phase of Star Trek: The Next Generation for me. Just as the episode's setting seems to be entwined with its story, so does Ariana intertwine with and evoke a world of her own. She's helped tremendously by her actor Danitza Kingsley, who has a haunting, unearthly and utterly unforgettable presence. Like all good style icons, Kingsley knows the power of the subtlest glance or expression and conveys volumes without uttering a world. Like all great works of 1980s visual media, Star Trek: The Next Generation has learned the power of images and emotions. Ariana and Wyatt, who have known each other since children despite having never met, are brought together through straightforward synchromysticism, because they are quite simply meant to be together. And though there are hints Lwaxana may have set this all up, in truth she's as much guided as everyone else.

Where Lwaxana is different is because she's inherently open and honest with herself as much as with everyone else. She allows herself to far more freely “go with the flow” of things, tavelling the universe's natural contours without overthinking things. She was tracked down by the Millers, who reminded them of the bonding ceremony, and both happened to be on Haven when the Enterprise showed up. Which happened to show up at roughly the same time Ariana and the Tarelians did. She thought her daughter was going to be married, but it turns out her destiny, just like Wyatt and Ariana's, was different. But Lwaxana can take this all in stride, because her perspective has granted her at least some familiarity with how the universe works. And this is why she's the one who gets to explicitly state the metaphysical and spiritual truth that underlines Star Trek: The Next Generation. As Lwaxana tells Wyatt
“All life...all consciousness, is indissolvably bound together. Indeed, it's all part of the same thing.”
which is the foundational tenet of animism. We are individuals, yes, but individuals who also exist as part of a larger community. I am we are all one. There is no divide between the spiritual life and the material one, between Earth and the dream; there is nothing that is not sacred, and enlightenment will come for us all when we begin to sublimate reality instead of trying to escape it. This is a truth that will guide both Star Trek: The Next Generation's philosophical post-scarcity as well as its larger utopianism, because it's only through understanding and respecting our shared existence that we can even arrive at such a utopia to begin with. And yet it remains so frustratingly out of reach for so many people, because, as Lwaxana also says, “it's too simple for some humans to comprehend”. And it's not just Lwaxana either-These are lessons Star Trek: The Next Generation must inherit from its spiritual teachers: Nausicaä, Kei and Yuri.

The reason Star Trek: The Next Generation stumbled so much in its previous two episodes was because it was spending too much time overthinking and obsessing over its identity it wasn't able to find its path to its Great Work. It needed to awaken into its true self, and it needed to meet someone like Lwaxana to inspire it to do that. And the universe made that happen, just as it guided Wyatt and Ariana to find each other, because Star Trek: The Next Generation is fundamentally good and will help bring about material cosmic progress. Utopias and idealism are only worthwhile if they have some tangible effect on the world, but thankfully the power of fiction is that its through stories and imagination that we can best see how the world of ideas and the world of matter are one in the same. “Haven” is the next logical step after “Encounter at Farpoint”: We've come to acknowledge and love the god within all of us, and the sacredness that connects us all can give life to the dreams that will change the world.


  1. Strange.

    I never really liked Lwaxanna on The Next Generation. She seemed very much a sexist stereotype - the horny middle-aged woman terrorising the male members of the crew. Haven is very much in that mode, but it REALLY comes to the fore in Manhunt, which culminates in Picard and Riker letting her publicly humiliate herself with Rex in a sequence treated as a deserved comeuppance. The Next Generation tended to treat her as a cruel joke outside of rare episodes like Half a Life or the (very) flawed Dark Page.

    I actually thought that DS9 did a much better job with her, to the point that I would not have minded seeing her once or twice more. The Forsaken is another very average first season diplomat episode in the style of Journey to Babel, but I think Lwaxanna functions more as a person there. Her relationship with Odo felt a lot more real and candid than anything on The Next Generation, juxtaposing Odo's "true" form with the happy chirpy face Lwaxanna puts on for the universe around her. (The episode becomes all the more poignant for the passing of Majel Barrett's husband. As you said, she very much IS Lwaxanna.) Fascination and The Muse may not be strong episodes, but I think they allow Lwaxanna more dignity and sympathy than her appearances on The Next Generation. The bit in Fascination where she reveals she is genuinely concerned for Odo as a friend after his discovery in The Search - while respecting that he might not want to talk about it, but she was there anyway - is perhaps the most dignified the character ever appeared on Star Trek.

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  3. I may have to rewrite the paragraph about Haven I drafted for a future article of my own. I just couldn't get past the whole "arranged marriage" thing. It seems to me like any reaction to arranged marriage other than "Fuck that noise." is retrograde bullshit that has no place in TNG-era trek (I may have been slightly on edge because I'd just watched "Lolani" and was pissed off about the middle third where Kirk and company waffle uselessley about how they have no right to interfere in another culture's slave trade and instead must hand over a runaway slave.)

    It's the first episode since “Encouter at Farpoint” that unquestionably exists in its own world and doesn't make sweeping, obvious callbacks to the Original Series

    It does occur to me to wonder if this isn't deliberately calling back to Amok Time, though. Since I'm feeling uncharitable toward this season of TNG right now, I can very easily see it as an attempt to show up their predacessor by saying "See? Betcha thought this was going to end with Riker tearing his shirt and engaging Wyatt in a fight to the death with one of those weighted stick things. We can get our telepathic character out of an arranged marriage using peaceful means, because this is the enlightened 24th century!"

  4. Any reason you're doing these in production order rather than broadcast order or stardate order?

    I admit to being very uncomfortable whenever SF decides to play with mysticism and spirituality. I'm more at home with the aggressively secular, and with stories that that treat woo like Lwaxana's remark to Wyatt with the derision it tends to deserve. "It's all connected" is an awfully convenient way to explain all the coincidences in your story, everyone meeting up with exactly the right person at exactly the proper moment. The galaxy is enormous, yet writers of stories like this have so little sense of its scale.

    But, Wyatt and Ariana meet, of course, because the story needs them to meet, because the show isn't about to evict Troi only ten episodes in.

    Sirtis is wonderful here, and I'm grateful to find that she did indeed have some characterization in the first season other than "I sense anger," etc., since I remember so little of anything she did in these early years.

    And I couldn't disagree more with the first comment about Lwaxana being, well, what someone, somewhere would eventually describe with the coinage of "cougar." She's brilliant here, sympathetic, funny, and her flirtation with Picard certainly doesn't qualify as terrorizing anyone. Maybe she gets worse later; I don't remember all that well. But I agree that here, she's fantastic from the get-go.

    1. "Any reason you're doing these in production order rather than broadcast order or stardate order?"

      Because I did the Original Series that way and I think one gets a better overview of the evolution and development of the series by looking at its material production history. And also it allows me to do something rather cheeky with Tasha Yar at the end of the season.

  5. Didn't catch at first that the title was a bit of Whitman. How are going about choosing your quotes? I would've expected you to use lines pulled from the show, that maybe that would just be copying Sandifer.

    1. I pick my quotes based on either overarching themes and concepts I see in the episode or that my post seems to convey. They're not always from Star Trek, no, partly because I *didn't* want to be seen as copying Phil.

      Well, any more than I am, at any rate.

  6. Lwaxana is the singular character that I've rethought, rethunk, and completely hundred-eighty degree changed my mind about over the years. Certainly not all of her appearances are as fantastic as this one.

    We also never get a better glimpse of just what Betazoid aliens have to offer in terms of understanding of the universe, slight hard sci-fi differences from human anatomy and customs. Far more than human-plus.

    While I couldn't help now but wonder how different the episode could have been had Denise Crosby portrayed Troi, I don't think there's much argument that Marina's Deanna wasn't channeling very relatable emotions, whether blowing up at her mother, being surprised at Wyatt's quality, slightly coy with Riker.

    Furthermore, I think that in spite of all the mud slung at the character of Lwaxana as being loud, overbearing, obnoxious, hard to watch ... the more I watch her character, and her interactions with Sirtis, the more I think "wow ... she's a good mother." Not without her foibles, but she seriously only ever has Deanna's best interests at heart.

    And I agree 100% that by forcing the show to be a character episode, Haven proves to be one of the first fine examples of where this show can go. This cast is tailor made for character work - the sci-fi is going to have to serve that, not the other way around.

    I also thought that the Haven Prefect had a fascinating and stylish look - a level of stylishness kind of huge for how minor her appearance was. Noticing Armin Shimmerman was less huge for me because the NetFlix queue wasn't playing in production order, so I'd seen Last Outpost a few nights ago.

    Haven is a good episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Possibly the first properly good episode. And it's a Troi-heavy, Lwaxana feature episode. Take that, haters!

  7. It always bugged me a little that the Tarellians were OH SO CONVENIENTLY a bunch of perfectly human-looking people, with Ariana as a beautiful blonde. I guess that's sort of necessary for the story, but I don't know if the "I always assumed it was you" twist in which Wyatt assumed Ariana's face was Troi's is so great that it couldn't be jettisoned for something that acknowledged more of the complexities of the situation. What if the Tarellians a) looked alien or b) had more obvious physical drawbacks, be they deformities or some other physiological problem (the plague in this episode definitely feels like a plot device and little more). Oddly, both "The Cage"/"The Menagerie" storyline from TOS and the Voyager episode "Lifesigns" deal with these issues somewhat more honestly.

    Seriously though: if we're going to have members of different alien races falling in love with each other, aren't we owed an episode where one of the parties is completely physiologically different from the other and the attraction is fully psychological and emotional?

  8. I have to say that Majel Barrett, as Lwaxana Troi is point blank just one of my favourite characters in TNG. Q is great but his stories don't always live up to expectations - but I still think he's brilliant. Lwaxana is a jewel though - I adore that she does not care about hierarchies in Star Fleet and just upturns any narrative she steps into. I have a deep love for other similar characters who come from the fringes of Star Fleet or hold viewpoints different from that of the Federation; will say more when we come to them and will be interesting to see what you have to say Josh.