“Put 'em On Ice”: Reunion

(11 comments)

No. Unforgivable. Fuck this and everything about it.

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.

Comments

Adam Riggio 1 year, 10 months ago

Even when I originally watched this episode, long before I was trope literate at all, I still thought this was a waste of a character that had a lot of potential. This sort of thing was a tired trope in the 90s, and the general popular disgust with refrigerators thanks to Internet fan culture has only made them a complete no-go. Audience contempt for narrative devices that are not only offensive, but also just plain old and tired, spurs creativity.

I find it fitting that this entry arrives in the wake of Phil Sandifer's epic takedown of the Puppies yesterday. Leaving aside all the horrific racism in their reactionary attitudes, the Sad and Rabid Puppies, and the art they push, show precisely why we need progressive-minded critics and bloggers like you using their rage and contempt to push creators to innovate in their narratives.

Puppy sanctioned art isn't just bad because it's so conservative. There can be good art with culturally conservative themes. It's bad because they see no need to push art into new territory, to abandon tired and overused ideas and plot devices and try something different. To stimulate and awe an audience instead of merely soothing them.

Art that pushes boundaries is art that's worth the effort.

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David Faggiani 1 year, 10 months ago

I'm just playing Devil's Advocate here (or Devil's Due) but I have a bit of a disagreement with this whole concept of the condemnation of 'fridging'.

I know you feel very passionately about it Josh, and I get the dismissive implications for female extension-of-protagonist characters (particularly in certain genres) but I'm just trying to understand. Isn't Hamlet's father 'fridged' to start the plot of Hamlet? Does this diminish Hamlet as a work? Or, to stay Shakespearean, and bring the murder of female characters into it, Desdemona?

Now, I'm not claiming 'Reunion' is any good, or of Shakespearean quality, but I suppose I'm asking, without intention to 'troll' or anything, do you just plain not like characters being murdered in drama? Or dying, and in doing so affecting characters' motivation? That's fine, of course, as a stance. Just trying to understand!

You see, I see brutal, sometimes random or pointless character deaths as being often quite artistically useful/compelling in drama, mirroring as they do the human experience of coping without awful, sometimes random or pointless loss. My problem, is when there's little-to-no follow-up, but I can hardly blame a 90s episodic TV drama for that. I know your thoughts on Tasha Yar, so I'm treading carefully here, no offense meant.

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David Faggiani 1 year, 10 months ago

To add maybe a more specific justification to K'Ehleyr's death, in a narrative sense, aren't 'Klingon episodes' of TNG basically episodes where the crew "steps outside the Utopia", so to speak? Into a violent, traditional, hierarchical, misogynistic society of literal 'honour killings'? So, isn't it kind of appropriate to portray the fact that such systems create victims, and isn't K'Ehleyr being that victim justifiable? Especially given that she lives half in Klingon (non-Utopian) and half in Federation (at least somewhat Utopian) society, as an ambassador, and is thus torn between those systems?

Also interesting to note that this is ultimately (at the end of DS9) what Worf ends up doing, at Martok's request.

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Ross 1 year, 10 months ago

I think the biggest part of the issue is that in nearly every instance where a character is killed off in order to motivate the characters, it's an underimplemented female character being killed off to motivate male characters, and especially to motivate a romantic partner.

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Adam Riggio 1 year, 10 months ago

It's about taking a character that hasn't been developed much, a character that is a woman often enough that refrigeration becomes a sexist trope, and turning her into a pure plot device. It's the denial of a female character's potential for her own stories and development for the sake of angsty, usually testosterone-heavy revenge narratives of a male lead. A female character is reduced to a plot device for a male character.

It originally comes from an example in a Green Lantern comic, where Green Lantern comes home (still in costume, which makes the scene all the stranger) to find that one of his recurring supervillains has killed his wife and stuffer her in their fridge.

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David Faggiani 1 year, 10 months ago

Yes, I've seen a picture of that Green Lantern panel. It was certainly gross. I suppose I don't want there to be a hyperbolic consensus critical reaction to the point where female characters are unable to die in fiction, and male characters are unable to react to those deaths. But I'm sure that's not what anyone here or elsewhere is suggesting, just over-reliance on tropes. I just think it's important to remember that tropes themselves are not bad, they're just memes (if you like) to be used, evolved, modulated and re-combined infinitely (IDIC!). Maybe that's me being small-c conservative critically speaking! Quite happy to accept that.

But I definitely don't think Alexander's existence is 'slut-shaming'. That's just silly. That would mean that literally any plot involving the surprise reveal of a child, and two parents negotiating his care (and their responsibilities would be somehow misogynistic. It's akin to saying that women getting pregnant is innately sexist as a narrative.

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Ross 1 year, 10 months ago

I think your argument may be in danger of straying a bit close to #NotAllDeadWomen

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David Faggiani 1 year, 10 months ago

I'll have to look that one up, not au fait with all hashtags, or the politics surrounding them! But I think I get your gist, that I'm being too reductive, or gender-issues blind? Perhaps.

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K. Jones 1 year, 10 months ago

So here's the thing about Reunion. I can't give it a redemptive reading. I hate the plot. But I think the actors act the heck out of it, and from a connective-tissue/world-building sense as somewhat of an important "Klingon Saga Episode" I always counted it in the "like" category.

But I can't upon critical analysis deny that it's cliched hackwork, and utterly wasteful. In a series that's absolutely loaded with "what might have been?" style missed opportunities, eliminating any Suzie Plakson is one of my biggest ones. Mostly because she's a more interesting personality than half of our core cast whether in Klingon or Vulcan makeup.

And so it goes. Worf does everything wrong, does everything the "Not Enterprise Crew" way. He'll at least have some redemption when his next parmach drama allows him to behave and react in a way befitting Season 1 Worf, "Next generation of Starfleet idealist" first, "klingon warrior" second.

Duras gets an ignominious defeat. We get saddled with a kid who makes little sense for a long time in the scheme of "Worf's story". And this episode of course marks the debut of Gowron, who I can't not like as a recurring character just because of Bob O'Reilly's crazy-eyed stare and over-the-top camp.

The worst part I think is that this hackwork plot is carried out with care and attention to quality - the opening bits are pretty exceptional actually, the ratcheting tension as covert meetings are engaged and K'mpec reveals he's been poisoned and that Jean-Luc has to sort out who killed him, and K'Ehleyr plays a logical role since she's a Federation/Klingon ambassador.

Irredeemably bad storytelling decisions are often couched in quality, actually.

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

I am so with you on all of these points Adam, as yes I am sure we can have good art that does come from conservative themes, it just has to do what all good art does and break boundaries.

We need writers and cultural commentators around like Josh, Phil, Jack (and you too Adam).

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Daru 1 year, 9 months ago

"With no agency of her own, she's treated as a disposable satellite of a male character's dour, angst-ridden narrative existence."

As K.Jones mentioned above, I missed the Season 1 Worf here, the Klingon who was not apparently controlled by his culture. I will sort of repeat myself with my comments from the last essay, but I really do find Worf's man-pain to be utterly dull storytelling and it would have been great to see it undercut somehow - say by having him *believe* that K'Ehleyr dies (and she doesn't), to then discover via skill and intelligence that she survives. Dunno... but just anything to get the story away from an unnecessary female character's death (Suzie Plakson was brilliant and irredeemably underused) and a two dimensional representation of the potentially interesting Klingons would be so much better.

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