Editor’s Note: this article compiles the opening essay “Why Star Trek: The Next Generation Is Great in Spite of Being Mostly Terrible” and all 5 parts of Ash Freeman’s recent series dissecting how and why one of science fiction’s most influential shows failed to give its female characters adequate attention. Jump to your favorite neglected heroine below or dive in first with Ash’s explanation for why he still enjoys TNG even though its shortcomings now show more glaringly today.
1. Tasha Yar
2. Deanna Troi
6. Ro Laren
7. Lwaxana Troi
8. Alyssa Ogawa
10. Sonya Gomez
Star Trek: The Next Generation is, undeniably, one of the greatest sci-fi shows in the history of the genre.
But it wasn’t perfect. So when did it start to slide in quality anyway?
It didn’t start out that good — let’s be real.
Like many productions, TNG stumbled in its early seasons, regularly. As the show found itself, it began to consistently display the storytelling and endearing characters it would be known for even today… at around Season 3. Hell, the most famous episodes of the series, “The Best of Both Worlds” Parts 1 and 2, ended said season. But before that? It was hit or miss, and often the latter.
Season 1 is especially egregious, containing the worst good-to-mediocre/terrible ratio in the entire series. Yes, that is including the often (justifiably) maligned Season 7, generally the point where most shows have definitely passed their high point anyway. What set Season 1 apart from arguably more inferior seasons is the sheer volume of crap they had to crank out before they hit their stride.
No, seriously, it was pretty terrible in the beginning
“The Big Goodbye.” “Datalore.” “Conspiracy.” Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe “Skin of Evil.” Maybe.
That’s four (possibly three) episodes that could be considered great, at least by the standards of Season 1.
Out of 26.
Not off to a great start there, were they? Fans at the time certainly didn’t seem to think so, and their opinions are justified. Season 1 has its share of stinkers, and most of them appeared right out of the gate. The second episode, “The Naked Now,” was more or less a rehash of an original series episode. After that we got what is thought to be by many, including principle cast member Jonathan Frakes, as the most embarrassing episode in the entire run– “Code of Honor.”
“Code of Honor” has the dubious, ah, honor of being the episode that put a serious dent into TNG’s fledgling reputation as a more progressive successor than even the original series. Considered by many to be dragged down with stereotypical depictions of sub-Saharan Africans (as the species of the week just so happens to coincidentally look like, as mentioned by Captain Picard), “Code of Honor” was a bad episode made worse by the director’s decision to cast all of the aliens with black actors.
When juxtaposed against a later episode, “Justice,” featuring a so-called “perfect society” made up entirely of blond-haired white people in the fewest clothes network television would allow, “Code of Honor” just looks that much worse. “Angel One,” with its ham-fisted Straw Feminist society, was little better.
“The Last Outpost” basically ruined the Ferengi until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would set about the long task of fleshing them out into a species that could at least be taken somewhat seriously. These are merely terrible episodes, though — what made Season 1 bad was something far worse.
Set phasers to “Mediocrity”
Season 1 is terrible mostly because so many of the episodes are just nothing to write home about. If this was unique to Season 1, that would be one thing, but upon further analysis it really isn’t. Season 2 would continue the trend, though it has the distinction of having some of the best episodes by far: “Where Silence Has Lease,” “Elementary, Dear Data,” “The Measure of a Man,” and “Q Who” more than make up for “Up The Long Ladder” and “The Outrageous Okona,” but they are still four episodes out of 22. Seasons 3 and 5 would have the best ratio of good-to-bad episodes, but overall you’re left with a series whose reputation for its quality is largely overblown thanks to nostalgia.
This isn’t to say that the series overall is terrible, but if you’re a fan of the show and you’ve been away from it for a while, there’s going to be two kinds of episodes. There’s the kind that tattooed themselves across the surface of your brain for being heart-wrenching, inspiring, or creepy. After that there’s the episodes that didn’t leave much of an impression at all, if any. Those are the ones that you struggle to recall while reading the description on Netflix and only remember 15 or 20 minutes into the show. Many, many episodes end up being the latter, if talking to other fans about the quality of overall seasons is any indication. Quite a few struggle to remember when the classic TNG episodes actually aired without referencing Wikipedia or Memory Alpha, myself included.
“Undeniably great,” huh?
Yes, TNG is undeniably great. Although most of the series can be forgettable, what’s memorable (aside from what’s eye-rollingly terrible) deserves the space it’s carved out in the minds of fans around the world. When used correctly, Trek’s setting can be utilized to tell some of the most inspiring tales ever imagined. I can’t think of a single show on network television today, let alone in the late 1980s and ’90s, where an episode like “The Inner Light” or “Sarek” would get the time of day.
In a time where there isn’t a single contemporary Trek show on television that isn’t in reruns, The Next Generation especially deserves the recognition it gets from critics and fans as a great sci-fi show. What makes a TV show great isn’t how many episodes were the best ever made, but the moments that stick with you. Trek has those to offer in general, but some of the most memorable can be traced directly back to TNG due to setting the tone for much of what would follow in the rest of the franchise. Even Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which is arguably a superior show for any number of reasons, merely built upon the solid foundation laid out by The Next Generation.
…Come to an end.
“Encounter at Farpoint” was flat-out boring when Q wasn’t on screen. When “All Good Things…” aired, if you were watching along since the beginning, everything mattered. Nearly every scene was a call back to whatever they could fit into the running time about what made the series a classic over its seven-year run. Everything else was about how it possibly all could go wrong in the future, but when it was finished it left you with hope for the future, both for Star Trek and humanity. If that isn’t the mark of a great show, I don’t know what is… but “great” doesn’t mean “flawless.”
Star Trek as a whole is host to a vast array of characters, some more memorable than others. Loved or reviled, there are some characters that just stick with you. Female characters, however, seem to get the short end of the stick more often than not when it comes to depth and development.
1. Tasha Yar
Tasha’s character had her roots in the space marine Vasquez, from Aliens. Yar was originally conceived as “Mancha Hernandez,” and read for by Marina Sirtis. The character was renamed to Tasha Yar when Sirtis and Denise Crosby switched roles. Crosby had initially auditioned for the part of Deanna Troi. The effect this could have had on the show had they kept the characters they auditioned for is unknown. As it happened, the death of Tasha in the Season 1 episode “Skin of Evil” would greatly influence the development of Lieutenant Worf. Ironically, it was largely a lack of development for Yar that would cause Crosby to leave the show in the first place.
No Boys Allowed
Yar was built up to be the Enterprise’s badass security officer, able to take down any intruder that might try to harm the ship’s crew and passengers. What we saw, and what caused Crosby to depart, was Yar mainly going up against other female opponents. This fed into a double-standard at the time that didn’t want to see male characters beating up on females. Combined with not having much else to do (besides get space-drunk and bang an overly-introspective RealDoll), Crosby decided it was time to go.
Red Shirt Down
There are conflicting reports as to how amicable Crosby’s departure was, but the end result was the same: Tasha had to be written out. By that point in the season there wasn’t enough time to write an episode dedicated to this, so “Skin of Evil,” an upcoming episode, was hastily rewritten to squeeze in Tasha’s death. The episode involves Deanna Troi and another officer who crash landed on a planet that was home to Armus, one of the most vile and sadistic villains in Trek.
Yet another of several Red Shirts (or Gold Shirts, in this case), Star Trek’s favorite cannon fodder, was slated to die in an attempt to retrieve Troi and the officer from the shuttle. But he would be killed by Armus instead. The opportunity was obvious, and Tasha was killed instead. Opinions vary on if this sudden and unexpected death was realistic and shocking or an insult to Yar’s character, but dead is dead. Well, as dead as you can get in Star Trek, anyway.
A funeral scene for Tasha was written in, and “Skin of Evil” added a little more poignancy with Data reminiscing about how he’d miss her. Worf was her replacement, taking the roles of both Security and Tactical officer for the rest of the series. Oddly enough, the show seemed to chug right along into its second season with no noticeable difference, for better or worse. Crosby went on to attempt a film career, which was largely unsuccessful. Meanwhile, The Next Generation was beginning to pick up steam and gain an audience. Given how wasted Crosby’s character was, it was easy to see why she’d want to leave. However, as the show improved in quality and reputation, it was just as easy to see why she wanted to come back.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise,” arguably one of the greatest episodes TNG ever made, is set in an alternate universe where the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire continued into the present. This is because the Enterprise-C, which was lost in a battle with the Klingons long ago, somehow went forward in time to the present. The Federation largely abandoned its peaceful mission of exploration as a result of this, and Yar was never killed by Armus in “Skin of Evil.”
Guinan, an El-Aurian played by Whoopi Goldberg with the ability to “listen” (who will be covered later in this series), senses that this new timeline is wrong, and that Tasha Yar shouldn’t be there specifically. Upon learning the truth about the original timeline, Tasha chooses to go back in time with the doomed Enterprise-C to put things right, giving the character the heroic sacrifice she should have gotten from the start… at first.
Unfortunately, Tasha’s implied death turned out to be exactly that a couple seasons later. Thought to have died in battle on the Enterprise-C, it would ultimately turn out to be subverted. Denise Crosby still wanted to return to the show, but how could she when Tasha Yar was dead? At her own suggestion, the character of Sela would be created by the writers.
Sela, the half-human, half-Romulan daughter of the Yar from “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” is played by Crosby. It is revealed that Sela betrayed her mother to the Romulans because of her attempt to escape from confinement on Romulus after the Enterprise-C was destroyed. As a result, Tasha was summarily executed, rendering her chance to have died heroically in battle moot. Reaction to Sela seemed mixed, and she only made one more appearance in the series after her debut. The last we would see of Crosby would be in the series finale, “All Good Things…”, on the whole a loving tribute to TNG from its start, and Tasha’s character was given as respectful a send off as the others.
We Hardly Knew Ye
Overall, the tragedy of Yar’s character is that she could have been the Action Girl of television, a full decade before the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series aired. The lack of focus on Yar could have easily come down to being part of an ensemble cast that was a little too large for its own good. Then again, our next subject was around for the full run, and was just as underutilized… or worse.
2. Deanna Troi
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 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.
3. Beverly Crusher
Of the three original female leads of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Beverly Crusher is the one that ended up the most well-rounded, but that’s not saying much. Her appearances were even, more often than not showing up as a plot device to create that week’s magic cure if the problem wasn’t technobabble-related. She had kind of a rocky start, but came away more developed than even Geordi La Forge or arguably William Riker. The problem is that development never went very far. Is that a flaw in the character, or a flaw in the conventions of the show?
Dr. Crusher: Family Woman
Initially most of Crusher’s episodes revolved around her son Wesley and will-they-or-won’t-they romance with Picard, the two issues occasionally being intertwined. Wesley’s safety and well-being were especially focused on, as he was often put in danger for the sake of drama in the first season. This would continue on until Wesley’s last appearance where he would go off on a journey to the farthest reaches of the universe with Space Michael Jackson, aka The Traveller. If she wasn’t fretting over Wesley, Crusher was clashing with Jean-Luc in their latest round of semi-belligerent romantic tension. This too would continue through to the series end, along with Beverly’s habit of dating one-off alien species as much or more than Riker.
Insert love interest here
Romantic subplots were usually the other go-to for Beverly if she wasn’t science-ing up a cure for something, but they largely come across as arbitrary for a specific reason: the romances-of-the-week weren’t going to last, thanks to the show’s episodic nature. The worst that this ever got was in the much reviled episode “Sub Rosa.” Long and short of it is, a technobabble ghost that has been feeding off of Beverly’s female family members for generations gets the hots for her, tries to eat her like he did her grandmother, gets defeated by more technobabble in the form of a totally not-magic candle. “Sub Rosa” aired in the show’s seventh season, but it followed a familiar pattern of Beverly falling for suspicious and unattainable aliens played out in “The Host,” where she fell in love with a prototype member of what would become the Trill species.
Logically, the only real shot at a relationship she had within the confines of the show was Picard, which made the new love interests only seem like padding before the eventual get-together. The only hint we get at what a relationship between them might have been like was in the alternate future shown in “All Good Things…”, where the two were married and divorced. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like much more compelling television than maintaining a status quo with a foregone conclusion.
Welcome Back, Crusher
In season 2, Crusher was replaced with a different character, for any number of conflicting reasons. In season 3 she returned with a new direction: Actually using Crusher’s status as a doctor to tell some stories centered around her career. This was a great way of reintroducing Beverly to the audience, the problem is that these kinds of stories also ended up being of little consequence.
Most of the stories that focused on Beverly involved in a medical situation portrayed her as always being in the right, with no memorable exceptions. In the episode “Ethics,” Beverly is explicitly portrayed as being in the right for being against Dr. Toby Russel’s decision to use an untested medical procedure on the then-quadriplegic Worf. In “The High Ground,” she’s shown aiding terrorists in the name of her Hippocratic Oath, which apparently doesn’t extend to Worf. “Suspicions,” which has her facing a court marshal for violating medical procedure, lacks tension because the conventions of the series means that you know she will be vindicated by the final act.
In spite of all this, none of these issues stem from flaws in the character overall. In the initial series bible, Beverly was described with only one sentence, mostly focused on her not-romance with Picard and having a son, Wesley. The Next Generation was developed in a time where serialized storytelling on television was a rarity outside of soap operas, making resetting to the status quo standard procedure. Also, over time the focus of the show shifted from Picard, Riker, and Crusher to Picard, Data, and Worf, the latter two of whom became increasingly popular during the show’s run. Unfortunately this resulted in Crusher remaining out of focus again outside of her spotlight episodes.
Badass in the background
Most of Crusher’s later episodes focused on her medical career or some other science related story, but generally she was depicted as professional, competent, and when necessary, badass. In the series finale, “All Good Things…” we see Crusher as the captain of her own medical starship, no surprise to anyone who knows she took command duty on the bridge just to keep her skills in the captain’s chair sharp. In addition to this, Crusher also found the time to be a playwright and dance instructor, while maintaining an active interest in various fields of science and technology and Klingon bat’leth martial arts. Rare is there a time where we see Beverly commanding the ship, or doing anything other than assisting the other characters. When we do, she’s even more rarely challenged, either by the other characters and occasionally circumstance.
There’s two large faults with the character of Beverly Crusher, one being that she’s dangerously close to Mary Sue territory. One look at her profile on Memory Alpha would show that not only is she an exceptional doctor, she’s exceptional at most things she tries, as well as being on a first-name basis with most of the crew. However, this could easily just be a symptom of the utopianism inherent in the show’s premise, where only the “best of the best” get to be in Starfleet. The other is that her exploits are rarely the focus of any given episode, but when they are they portray Crusher as sanctimonious. This is hardly unique to her alone, especially as one of Trek’s doctor characters. In the end, however, Beverly Crusher did something that sets her apart from one of our next characters–she eventually rose above an initially shallow characterization to at least become something more, the other character never had a chance from conception.
4. Dr. Katherine Pulaski
Just give me a second to get my flame-retardant suit…
I like Dr. Pulaski. No, wait, come back! I know a lot of people hate her, and honestly, that usually comes down to one thing:
I’m not going to pretend like she wasn’t mean to Data (she totally was), and I don’t forgive it (I’m also a fan of Data), but the reason I like Pulaski’s character is that she was, well… kind of a bitch. This probably sounds really counter-intuitive, but think about the time in the show when she appeared: Gene Roddenberry was still calling the shots, and one of his stipulations for TNG was no interpersonal conflict between the crew. The reason for this is because allegedly everybody is “evolved” and past that kind of thing. While idealistic, this made for bad drama.
I feel that if Diana Muldaur had stayed on the show, and as much attention had been given to her character as Beverly she might have developed into a more sympathetic person, kinder towards Data. There are shades of an attempt there, such as in the episode “Peak Performance” where she encouraged him to think outside the box in order to beat Kolrami at Strategema.
Ultimately the entire relationship was a bad rehash of the one between Spock and McCoy on the Original Series. What worked then failed because Spock and Data were inhuman in very different ways and this made Pulaski seem like a bully whereas McCoy came across as merely teasing. The tragedy is that this take on Pulaski isn’t the result of being a mere ripoff, but instead a wholesale re-purposing of McCoy’s character.
The Fake McCoy
It also has to be kept in mind that many of the episodes Pulaski appeared in were recycled from Star Trek: Phase II, and she was blatantly ripped off from Dr. McCoy from the original series. The reason this happened is because of the 1988 Writers’ Strike, which led to the producers using the unused scripts from Phase II that featured the Original Series cast. Adapting McCoy to become Pulaski would have required minimal rewrites during the strike. As a result, Pulaski was never really given a chance to develop on her own, largely remaining a carbon copy up to her final appearance.
Muldaur’s experience on the show led her to decide never to do Trek again, which is a shame. An interesting development would have been to have her and Beverly on the ship at the same time, battling it out over their different decisions in medical matters.
Can a Negro be magical in a sci-fi setting? Guinan pulls it off. That aside? Great character. Well, other than being another who dips her toe into Mary Sue waters, as well occasionally being reduced to a plot device *cough* Generations! *cough*.
Intelligent, tough, knowledgeable, and fairly mysterious, Guinan is one of TNG’s more memorable characters due to a combination of Whoopi Goldberg’s acting and her irregular appearances. Whenever you saw Guinan, you had a fifty-fifty chance of two things happening. The most frequent is when Guinan gave stealth advice via a memorable speech (which happened frequently enough to become its own trope).
If Guinan wasn’t doing her almighty janitor thing, she’s going to have a hilarious interaction with one of the main crew. It is through these interactions that we actually learn the most about her character. A mother, a sharp-shooter, an ageless immortal, all were set pieces to emphasize the concerns of the main characters. The opposite was also true — some of the most fascinating things about Guinan came up in brief interactions, and we’d learn frustratingly little about her.
The episode “Q Who” is the worst example of this. In the episode, Q is threatening the crew of the Enterprise again, but Guinan happens to be present, causing her to take a stance that is implied to be combative. This is Q we’re talking about, a member of a species who is said to be omnipotent, and this particular member has no problem with abusing his power to silence an uppity mere humanoid.
Q also goes as far as to imply that Guinan might be a threat of some kind. None of this is ever followed up on again outside of a brief meeting where Guinan casually stabs Q to confirm that he had indeed been made into a human in “Deja Q.” Truly, the worst thing you could say about Guinan is probably that we didn’t get enough of her, on her own terms.
6. Ro Laren
Everything people hate about Major Kira? Check. Everything people love about Major Kira? Check. This makes sense, seeing as Ro Laren was intended to be on Deep Space Nine in the first place. As for her time on TNG, they took the character to her logical conclusion within the series by having her join the Maquis in her final appearance. Ro was never really a good fit for the Enterprise crew, and that was ultimately the whole point.
In “Ensign Ro,” her first episode, Ro was standoff-ish, prideful of her Bajoran heritage, and made it pretty clear that she was not particularly generous when it came to the Federation, or Starfleet in particular. Ro actively defied Starfleet protocol by wearing her Bajoran earring, and was penalized by Commander Riker.
This comes of as arrogant and needlessly combative, but also kind of points out a certain hypocrisy since Worf is allowed to wear his sash. Being at odds with the crew is partially due to her background as a Bajoran refugee, providing an intriguing contrast in the lives of Federation citizens who want for nothing (practically guaranteed on Earth), and people like Ro, who had to deal with a life of suffering under Cardassian rule.
Over time, Ro becomes genuinely personable in the episodes when she had her memory wiped along with the rest of the crew, in the episode where she started a fling with Riker, with whom she shared mutual loathing. This mirrors the eventual development of Kira Nerys, who started similarly and softened over the course of the first season and onwards to DS9’s finale. Like Guinan, she didn’t get much time, but she was effective when she did.
7. Lwaxana Troi
Lwaxana’s place in Trek fandom is as polarizing as they come; her pushy, enthusiastic nature was incredibly off-putting to some, while others were endeared by it. Her flirtations with Picard, and other suitors of the week were hit or miss, but the real depth in Lwaxana’s character came when they started to peel back the layers behind her bombastic exterior.
Lwaxana’s life comes across as tragic once more of her back-story is revealed in the episode “Dark Page.” In it, we are shown the worst moment a parent could have in their lives: the loss of a child. Lwaxana suppressed all memory of her lost daughter Kestra, refusing to speak of or think of her ever again. This, combined with the loss of her husband Ian was too much for her to bear. Eventually the strain of this began to make her erratic, forcing Lwaxanna into a coma. She recovers by the end of the episode (because of course she does), but when viewed with this information in mind, many of her exploits before and after this episode become tinted in a more heartbreaking context.
Lwaxana fussing over daughter Deanna dragging her heels to get married is her compensating for the loss of her husband and her own way of wanting what’s best for her daughter, as is her stubbornness to lose potential suitor Timicin to his culture’s suicide ritual in the episode “Half a Life”. Lwaxana’s aggressive interactions with Picard are also potentially a result of this. “Cost of Living” has her doting over Worf’s son Alexander like a grandmother, as she likely wishes she had the opportunity to do with Kestra. Lwaxana became more three-dimensional, but only insofar as one was willing to empathize with her after considering this subtext.
These themes of marriage and parenthood would continue on in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but the question of how effective they were and how well her character was integrated with that cast and setting is for another day.
8. Alyssa Ogawa
Alyssa Ogawa is what some Trek fans jokingly refer to as a “Mauve Shirt.” Unlike the “Red Shirt,” which is basically a faceless nobody who’s all but guaranteed to die in order to kick off or advance the plot, Mauve Shirts are named recurring characters that give settings a sense of continuity and depth. They’re also ready made to kill in order to detonate a drama bomb should one be necessary, and killing off a main cast member is not an option. When that was too much, they could be put in enough danger to establish that sh*t just got real.
Alyssa was subject to pretty much all of that except death, parallel universes not withstanding. Fortunately, instead of merely being a familiar face, Ogawa was given hints of back-story every now and then, including a love interest and a brief pregnancy arc which ended with the birth of her child in Generations. Ogawa was not just a fine supporting character, but an excellent example of how to add depth to the setting with them.
K’Ehleyr is the anti-Worf, and it shows in her character. Where Worf is a full-blooded Klingon and staunch proponent of Klingon traditions and customs, K’Ehleyr is a half-Klingon, half-Human woman who couldn’t care less and is more influenced by her Terran heritage. This was an interesting setup for a character that would end up as yet another example of Women in Refrigerators (female characters who are killed for the sake of drama and motivating the men) in her second and final appearance.
Given what we had of K’Ehleyr during her short time on the show, a lot could have been done with her, such as developing her romance with Worf, her conflicts with him over decisions regarding how to raise Alexander, her place in maneuvering the minefield that is Federation and Klingon politics as a hybrid species humanoid from both sides. She could have provided many episodes with interesting back-story and perspectives that we don’t often hear in Trek. Instead of making Worf more interesting, K’Heleyr’s death means we get to see Worf become the worst father ever without her, and Alexander flounder as a Klingon warrior in his attempt to escape from the shadow of his father’s neglect.
Wow, Worf is kind of a jerk, huh? Oh well…
Remember Sonya Gomez? Probably not, but you might remember the new officer that came aboard the Enterprise in Season 2 who spilled hot chocolate all over Captain Picard in Engineering. That’s Sonya.
Sonya seemed like she was going to be a major player in the show’s supporting cast, appearing in two consecutive episodes, and then vanishing without a trace thereafter, like a Chief Engineer in Season 1. Lycia Naff, the woman who played Gomez says that her character was originally meant to be a love interest for Geordi, and encourage him to seek a means to see without his VISOR. For whatever reason, the producers decided to dump this sub-plot abruptly, though rumor has it she was difficult on set and this may have been the reason that her character was dropped.
Oddly, yet vaguely related, Naff would go on to play the infamous 3-breasted hooker in Total Recall, multiple breasts being a feature the show had considered for Deanna Troi, but rejected.