Oh, Deanna… where to start?
Deanna Troi is often thought of as a relic of the feel-good, new-agey late 1980s. Although the necessity for psychological treatment is imperative to military personnel who suffer from trauma, Troi’s role was more or less a shoulder to cry on when she wasn’t stating the obvious. Or being forcibly impregnated. Or raped, mentally or physically. Pretty much every crappy thing you could do to a female character, Troi had it happen to her, besides being killed outright.
While also being “fanservice.” Wikipedia:
Fan service (ファンサービス fan sābisu), fanservice, or service cut (サービスカット sābisu katto), is a term originating from anime and manga fandom for material in a series which is intentionally added to please the audience. It is about “servicing” the fan – giving the fans “exactly what they want”. Fan service usually refers to “gratuitous titillation“, but can also refer to intertextual references to other series.
No, wait, they killed her in the alternate future of “All Good Things…”. Crap.
Just say the line
Deanna Troi is the ship’s counselor of the Enterprise-D, but is most often seen reinforcing the obvious motives of the characters the crew encounters each week. Troi’s spotlight episodes were rarely about her, or showed her in a bad light when they did. When her powers were neutralized in the episode “The Loss” Troi came across as self-pitying and somewhat condescending to non-telepaths. In “Eye of the Beholder” she’s made out to be a shrew before they reveal a technobabble ghost is making her do it. Especially damning is this little bit of trivia from Memory Alpha:
“As the first season progressed, the writers struggled with Troi’s character, believing her to be one of the hardest to write for. According to actress Marina Sirtis, Troi was almost even dropped from the series after she was unused in four episodes.”
Lieutenant Commander Fanservice
Troi wasn’t the first fanservice character Trek would offer — that would be Uhura — but she did kick off the trend of putting them in custom uniforms. Even Major Kira, who is arguably one of the strongest female characters in Trek, didn’t escape this trend, having her uniform changed at least once to make it “sexier.” Troi herself had at least 3 different casual outfits that she wore on duty, each with varying degrees of cleavage. It should come as a surprise to no one that Troi’s character was initially conceived to have 3 breasts, but thankfully better judgement prevailed.
It wouldn’t be until “Chain of Command” Parts 1 and 2 that someone would get Troi in a proper uniform, the controversial Captain Jellico who ran the Enterprise as a much tighter ship than Picard did. Upon his return, Picard decided to keep Troi in uniform, which would be one of the few steps taken near the end of the series to treat her seriously. Of course, your mileage may vary as to whether or not it was too little, too late.
No, seriously, one of her spotlight episodes is called “Violations”
When you wanted something gross and traumatic to happen to a character on TNG, Troi was your go-to. The second season premier was called “The Child,” and is pretty much what happens when an alien decides to use Troi as an incubator without her permission, complete with ham-fisted abortion metaphor. Reaching further for the bottom of the barrel is the aforementioned “Violations,” which has Troi simultaneously telepathically and sexually assaulted. When those weren’t happening, she was being kidnapped, transformed, weakened, or brainwashed by some vague space-thing.
In addition to a proper uniform, Troi would also take the test to become a full bridge officer. This direction would be short lived, as the series was nearing its end. In the films, she’s not very utilized or advanced as a character, other than bringing an end to her prolonged Will-They-Or-Won’t-They with Riker. But knowing Nemesis was to be the last TNG film, they went ahead and made sure to squeeze in one more mind-rape for good measure, down from the intended two, one of which was left on the cutting room floor.
Diamond in the rough
What makes Troi’s under-utilization especially egregious is that she genuinely had the opportunity to be a more dynamic character. Most of the episodes that feature her prominently involve some love interest or her mother, the extremely polarizing Lwaxana Troi, if nothing traumatic was involved. There was one occasion in particular that showed what Troi could have been like if she were given more to do.
In “Face of the Enemy”, Deanna has been kidnapped and surgically altered to look like a Romulan by Romulan Subcommander N’Vek. He did this to have her impersonate a member of the Tal Shiar, which is more or less the Romulan version of the CIA. Over the course of the episode we see Troi go from hapless victim to cunning manipulator, improvising the entire time as she struggles to maintain her cover in front of Commander Toreth, who is highly suspicious of her.
Troi was also shown to be a capable officer in “Thine Own Self.” We actually get a focus on Troi’s concerns for her career in this episode, wanting to take the Bridge Officer’s Test, which she sees as a means to get beyond career stagnation. She doesn’t do well at first, not seeing where she’s going wrong. After a small hint from Riker, she figures it out on her own, and passes the test. From then on, she’d continue to do bridge duty through to the end of the series in Nemesis.
Troi’s status as an empath, one who can sense the emotions of others, was extremely wasted on the show for most of its run. “Face of the Enemy” shows that Troi would have been incredibly useful as a spy, able to suss out truth from lies and use her powers to sense the presence of the enemy. Instead, Troi is famous for fanservice, being abused for the sake of drama, and crashing the ship in Generations. That last one is especially undeserved, since the ship was already crashing and her landing saved many lives. There’s many a “That’s what happens when you let a woman drive” joke about Troi, ignoring the countless female officers who took the conn, including a popular character who we’ll touch on later.