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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

8 Comments

  1. Froborr
    May 27, 2015 @ 7:41 am

    A-fucking-men.

    Reply

  2. Robert Ciccotosto
    May 27, 2015 @ 10:49 am

    I'm glad you took this episode to task. No classic, this. Bravo for an excellent essay.

    Reply

  3. K. Jones
    May 27, 2015 @ 5:45 pm

    I didn't expect, and approve highly, of the nerd culture vivisections. Plenty more on that later.

    I think even viewing this episode as Data's story misses the mark, but I also feel like Data's story wasn't doing Data's story justice. There's probably plenty of real-world interest in exploring what happens when an emotionless (paradoxical, but we'll use it for short-hand) person decides to attempt a relationship anyway as an experiment. I've had to end most of my relationships because I realized that beyond some cultural stigma of dating as "something people do", passive curiosity and objective case study I had no emotive connection with a person.

    There's a distance there that's something of a safety net, it's terribly inhuman, it's exactly what Data ends up doing with none of the self-awareness, and if we're to believe Picard's testimony in Measure of a Man that one of Data's claims to sentience is self-awareness (to say nothing of 'other-awareness'), I just can't see how he wouldn't have learned any of this from 30+ years of interaction with other humans, reading of human literature, ad infinitum, at least enough to realize it after he'd already made the mistake (like most of us do.) Most relationships are somewhat one-sided, and you'd hope the parlance of TNG would be that utopian problem solving can be applied to binary romantic pairs as well, because couples who work through the issues, or start out with, well, utopian problem solving skills, seem like they could have a leg up.

    But it all comes back to that question of human experiences and the culture behind them. Haven't any of the people who contrived this bad 90s Sit-Com scenario ever been in a relationship with a non-receptive partner? Or any of them ever been the closed book in a relationship themselves? Don't they know that you can tune tropes and play them like an instrument so instead of grating stereotypes, they're deceptive and astute humanity vignettes? You can trot out all the old sit-com cliches and man vs. woman false dichotomies so long as you're aware they're you know … "false" dichotomies and play to that text by way of misunderstanding, comedy-of-errors, the sky's the damned limit.

    And that rant without ever getting into 1.) Blond-haired 2.) doe-eyed 3.) heart-sick 4.) naive 5.) Jenna's character.

    I'm convinced all the chuckles at the one-two beats (they do elicit chuckles) in this episode stem almost purely from Stewart's comedic timing while directing … and Spiner's funny faces.

    Reply

  4. elvwood
    May 28, 2015 @ 2:28 am

    Nope, don't remember this one at all, though I can picture how it goes from your description and quotes (and similar travesties I do remember). Sounds terrible.

    I'm glad I have no real connection with Trek fandom, if they consider such a thing a classic. The website where I got my ratings has it as fairly middling – the 84th best episode overall, so not terrible but far off classic status (there are 16 episodes ahead of it in this season alone, including Half a Life). So it seems like it provides a somewhat more balanced viewpoint – although it does still consider Reunion a classic, I'm afraid, in there at #23.

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  5. Adam Riggio
    May 28, 2015 @ 4:16 pm

    A comment that will disappear into the silent past of the old post. But I know you read these things, so I want to say them anyway.

    I find it so difficult to believe that this 45-minute-long cringe of embarrassment is written by the same person who developed the concept for The Bonding. Someone who could be so sensitive to the potential of Star Trek to heal also produced this ridiculous train wreck.

    Yet I see how they came from a similar impulse: using the setting of TNG to critique an element of TOS that was never really thought about at the time. The Bonding, as you pointed out in that post, was about the consequences of those redshirt deaths. It took a casual element of TOS – the deaths of extras to demonstrate that a situation is dangerous – and made it the centre of a plot. But that story soared because it was about an important ethical point: there is meaning to every life in itself, and every death is a tragedy that leaves scars and requires attentive healing.

    In Theory comes from probing another unspoken paradox within TOS. But this paradox isn't about a genuinely important ethical shortcoming of TOS itself, as The Bonding was. It's an inherently problematic presumption that the sexual charisma of Spock is a self-defeating contradiction: that the character conventionally referred to as "emotionless" is genuinely so, and so incapable of deep connections with another character. Those who would treat Spock or Data as sex symbols or objects of romantic fantasy and imagination are, in the course of this critique mocked. You're right that it's a much more hateful kind of critique, and it's a critique that also fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the "emotionless" characters.

    It's not that they're incapable of emotions – emotional connection is a difficult task, one filled with obstacles and problems, but still possible. And when it happens, it happens in a way that's peculiar to such characters. They're not unemotional; they're differently emotional, inherently alien.

    I think that's another dimension of Ron Moore's mistake when it comes to these characters of Spock and Data. He can't help but see them as incomplete humans, when really they're different kinds of life altogether.

    Of course, imagining an entirely different kind of life is much more difficult than simply imagining a human with one or a few of our ordinary abilities taken away. But that's why it's so much more satisfying, inventive, and innovative to push your creativity to make something utterly other than your own existence.

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  6. Daru
    May 29, 2015 @ 8:46 pm

    "This is the exact line of thinking that paves the way for the male supremacist and patriarchal fundamentalist Nerd Culture, which would in turn give way to things like the Men's Rights movement, the Sad Puppies and GamerGate"

    Bang on the nail.

    I am so glad I have never been a part of Trek fandom as I had not idea that this was ever a classic – what a laugh!

    And terrible that it gets lauded for being part of Data's developmental arc, shoving the woman to the sidelines when the idea that this even contributes anything to his growth is ridiculous. data so often shows that he is changed and touched by experiences and in no way do I see that happening here.

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  7. Stardust
    May 30, 2015 @ 6:10 pm

    Fantastic post. I'll join the party and say I had no idea it was considered a classic by anyone.

    I've spoken to female fans, and I have to say nothing could be so far from the truth; Spock appealed because he was emotional and tried to hide it, just like some nerdy girls tried to hide their feelings and tried to be nothing but logical all the time. If you were a geek girl who got nicknamed 'Spock' in school, naturally the character would earn your sympathy. Data appealed because, despite the best efforts of the writers, he clearly did have wants and wishes – which is to say, emotions, just not what we usually think of as emotions.

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  8. K. Jones
    May 31, 2015 @ 5:31 am

    I do find the almost 1:1 comparisons that occur between Data and Spock flagrantly idiotic. Yeah, sure, the writers sometimes jump through hoops trying to hammer home the one or two similarities. Bones's cameo in Episode 1, and Spock's eventual appearance, and so forth. But they could not be more different, nor represent more completely wildly diversely different things. (Troi has way, way more in common with Spock, minus the open emotions vs. closed emotions angles.)

    Which reminds me; the Betazoids really should've been this show's "Great Alien Race/Contribution" to the mythos.

    Reply

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