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Ideas may be bulletproof, but nobody’s tried plasma rifles

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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.

6 Comments

  1. Froborr
    November 30, 2014 @ 11:49 pm

    For all that SFDebris' Star Trek reviews can be deeply problematic, there's one bit of his review of this episode that is both really funny and really cutting, the redshirt death–which he notes is also an instance of "the black guy dies first."

    I really kind of despise Pulaski, and in part it's BECAUSE Muldaur is such a strong actress. She sells her horrifyingly racist attitude toward Data too well, such that her arc feels less like she's learning to not be racist and more like she's learning to treat Data as a sort of honorary human–she's still got the same attitudes, but he's "an exception." Which, given the way Star Trek in general struggles with wanting to not be racist, but also wanting to depict humanity as a monoculture that just happens to be exactly like a post-Christian, rationalist model of Western European culture with a strong undercurrent of American exceptionalism… yeah. (The introduction of Ro Laren really stands out here, where Riker struggles briefly with the notion that her family name comes first, because of course no human puts their name in that order in Star Trek's enlightened multicultural future. Gah.)

    I was confused a moment on who the other addition was–I actually had to look it up, because Guinan is such an essential part of TNG to me that I actually forgot she's not in the first season. Is there some kind of cosmic balance thing going on, that they introduced a black woman and a racist in the same season? (Same episode, actually, but I understand completely why you skipped "The Child"–bad enough having to do it once in Phase II, no one should have to do it twice.)

    The Escherprise! I love it! That scene in the bridge has literally haunted my dreams for decades–ever since I saw it, I've had dreams involving rooms where the doors behave like that. Most prominently my recurring crystal tree dream that I described here.

    Nagilum, on the other hand, is just another of the interchangeable and disposable descendents of Charlie X, of whom only Q ever really stands out as a character in his own right. The result is that I always forget where the Escherprise is actually from–it's a powerful image that stands out from an otherwise, at least for me, forgettable episode.

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  2. K. Jones
    December 1, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

    This faerie monsters at the edge of the world, map-maker stuff is the best. "Where Silence Has Lease" has the magick. It's not my favorite episode of Season 2. I like the concepts explored, I think the cast – especially Riker and Worf, whose Bromance really blossoms this season – interact well. But the sum of the parts doesn't add up to "favorite" in spite of it being "Updated Star Trek" – that is to say, a take on the better Original Series episodes where similar "Mariner's Legends" occur.

    Muldaur, I want to disagree about being embarrassed hearing some of that dialogue. It's not that I'm not affronted at reductive dehumanizing (in spite of my skeptical thoughts about Artificial Intelligence). But it's a matter of context. To the audience, Data has not yet been deemed "a life form". Those who consider him one through personal experience? We've been living on the Enterprise with him, in a utopian ship. Pulaski comes from "Outside".

    Quick mention here – my favorite parts of Star Trek are always when regressive impulses show up in actual humans, not allegorical aliens. Pulaski is my favorite TNG guest-star, and comes close to being a favorite character in much the same way O'Brien is my favorite on-the-whole, and O'Brien is a guy who ends up struggling with very real racism, and it feels like a kick in the gut every time I watch it – but that's a kick in the gut I don't get a lot in real life and need, and the feeling that "just being in the future doesn't fix the dark sides, banish fear, or nullify hatred, and just believing in an ideal doesn't reconcile your own occasional regressive thoughts" – is an important series of emotions to have to understand yourself and not be in denial about it.

    She doesn't just come "From Outside". Importantly, Pulaski comes from The Original Series. Whether it's Muldaur's casting, the "take" on a female McCoy (which I find to be subversive, actually), the contentious relationship with Picard, the ties to the "parent" (last generation) of one of our heroes, the country medicine. She doesn't quite trust technology, let alone Sentient Technology – this is the absolute and utter hallmark of "previous generations".

    She really does represent The Original Series entering into TNG – and her story arc over Season 2 is basically redeeming all the ideal parts of TOS, and casting away all the outdated bits. More on that when we get to the high-point episodes this season, of which there are many. I think it was an important step to redeem, reconcile and the exorcise the ghosts of TOS through an actual character, and a recognizable face doesn't hurt.

    For now I just want to mention how much I like McFadden as well, in spite of her poor material in Season 1. Season 3 out of the gate proves that to have been a lapse in sanity. I understand the special nature of Muldaur's special guest credit. I wouldn't ever choose one over the other, but I would have liked to see Pulaski return and interact with Crusher.

    I'd have at least brought her back regularly like John de Lancie or semi-regularly like Majel Barrett, because the real shame of Doctor Pulaski is that she finally fits in with the Enterprise, she's shipped out, when she's such a perfect character for follow-ups, and Muldaur's such a great actress, to bring out different sides of the cast. (The Tea Ceremony, or her conversation with Geordi about implants, which I always presume in my headcanon that she eventually is the one who gives him new eyes for the films, or who saves the Dax symbiont.)

    Anyway, I'm on that middle road. The Enterprise could always use more healers and scientists, because those are exactly the types we need when the story veers into magickal, faerie territory.

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  3. Adam Riggio
    December 2, 2014 @ 1:11 am

    Revisiting TNG with you (and Netflix) has been a damn revelatory experience. Pulaski episodes of the show are certainly contentious in my memory. It brings up my initial relationship of TNG to the original series. When I was five and six, which is when I originally watched TNG on transmission, I was already familiar with Star Trek from reruns. And I loved the swashbuckling adventure style of Kirk. Initially, I preferred Kirk to Picard, and Riker was my favourite of the cast because he led all the adventuring. I was five. I wasn't exactly engaging with the show all that deeply. I was five; I didn't even understand all the weird sexual stuff that some moments on the show explicitly made clear that Riker was into.

    (When we get to the Season 3 episode The Price, I'll tell you my girlfriend's remarkably perceptive account of Troi's sexual proclivities that make a lot of sense of why she and Riker kept breaking up.)

    But Pulaski was the only character I was genuinely angry to see come on the show (seeing her being so mean to Data was initially another strike against her). While she eventually had her charms, I knew that she was a replacement for Beverly Crusher, and because I knew nothing of the show's production circumstances, I had no idea why the replacement happened.

    But even at five, I could tell she was just a new McCoy, that her entire attitude was exactly as McCoy would have been, reiterated into the 24th century. I don't even want to say regenerated, though the thought occurred to me, because the Doctor changes more between his versions than I found Pulaski changed from McCoy. It just seemed utterly strange, and not the good kind of strange. TNG had its own way of doing things, and Pulaski's character felt like the original series' gravity weighing down the new show again. My own views, even at five, were that the original Star Trek should butt out of what TNG was doing. Ironic, given my own early attitude about Picard and Riker, but the insertion of Pulaski always felt like a weird invasion to me of the Kirk-era show into the new series. I think it was probably my first experience with meta-fictional thinking.

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  4. elvwood
    December 2, 2014 @ 5:19 am

    Nice analysis! I too really like Pulaski as a character, and for pretty much the same reasons (well, now that you state them – I hadn't really analysed it before). The loss of Dr. Crusher was unforgivable – she was (and is) my favourite of the female regulars – but that shouldn't be taken out on the substitute. Though I think I might have done a bit of that at first.

    Perhaps the middle road has more people on it than it seems? Perhaps it's just a case of the extremes making the most noise?

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  5. K. Jones
    December 2, 2014 @ 4:34 pm

    I wonder if there's a double-standard in there – not in your perception, necessarily, but certainly in mine. I know that I like Riker a lot because he's rakish and adventurous, and accusations by the uninformed about him being stuffy and by-the-book later are built to affront those of us who know he's more Okona than not. We like him as heir apparent to Kirk, pretty much doing the things Kirk does. God knows I understand that I've suffered double-standards before. It's only later now, in my twenties that I really connect with the great female cast – in my youth I could have reduced the cast down to just Picard sending Riker and Worf into action and been quite content, but an episode where Troi talked about feelings or her mother showed up made me irascibly, stereotypically annoyed.

    So I can love Riker for being Kirk-lite, but when a woman is heir apparent to McCoy, it doesn't work? No maybe it's not necessarily a double standard, but the easiest criticism to find and to level at a character because the treatment of McFadden rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

    This is more theoretical than anything – I always somehow liked Pulaski a lot. Most of that is probably Muldaur's natural gravitas elevating even the poorly conceived bits of Pulaski material. But as a dude, as a recent graduate from being a young fella, I can see how criticizing her as a referential character would be an easy mark. I just think it's sort of the low-hanging fruit of criticism for this season.

    Here's a woman who may not like Data at first, but jumps in on day one and forges unique relationships with everyone on the crew, and frustrates Picard to the point where in Season 3 he's forced to lighten the hell up. Tellingly, she's one of the originators of the Riker's Room poker games (so is O'Brien). She goes to meet Guinan first (seriously, they both debut in the same episode, which is also a solid ensemble ep, if nothing else) and cares more about something strange and terrifying that's happening to Troi than decorum, instantly becoming friends with her. She sees through Worf's bravado and wants to hear his poetry. She cuts through Riker's bullshit. She frankly and firmly and sensitively discusses health options with Geordi.

    It's stellar then that she's a surgeon – because she cuts right into the heart of the other characters, and she sort of dissects TNG, and Star Trek as a whole, and patches it back together better than where she found it.

    Crusher is typically a pretty fine Starfleet scientist, healer and chief experiment-doer/biologist, but Pulaski sells the role of "Ship's" or "Crew's" Doctor better in a very symbolic way. She also gets what, three or four crazy "Medical Drama" episodes in one season? That's unheard of, right? Sickbay life saving drama involving both of our leading men … "damn the cost, I'm saving these sick people" plague medicine that won't be seen again until The Quickening …

    I'm a card-carrying Pulaski apologist!

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  6. Daru
    December 11, 2014 @ 3:44 am

    My fave episodes of the show nowadays are those where the weird and magickal are explored too.

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