This weeks marks the twentieth anniversary of the “Delta Flyer.” Premiering in the October 28, 1998 episode of Voyager entitled “Extreme Risk,” the ship was built to handle things regular shuttlecraft couldn’t. Exactly why regular shuttlecraft couldn’t do anything it did was never really explained. The only difference seems to be its more aero-dynamic, which doesn’t make a difference in outer space. This episode also had decent development in the Tom/B’elanna relationship, a topic we’ll get back to at the end.
This week is the one year anniversary of the Discovery episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” Discovery’s take on the Groundhog Day trope, a lot of people consider this episode one of their favorites. There’s at least a subsection of fans who prefer the more traditional episodic installments to Discovery’s more serialized arcs. I’m hoping season two gives us some of each.
SLIGHT DS9 SPOILERS
This week also marks the twenty-third anniversary of the Avery Brooks directed DS9 episode “Rejoined,” which I personally think is the best LGBT related episode the franchise has ever done. Terry Farell and Susanna Thompson entirely rocked and had real chemistry with each other. The issues presented were all too familiar to anyone who grew up in a homophobic family/culture. The only weak part is the ending, which felt out of left field but was ultimately necessary if Dax was going to show up to work next week. I always felt that rather than having Dax die at the end of season six, Lenara should’ve come back and the two run away together. That would’ve had the added benefit of leaving it open for Jadzia to return for a guest appearance.
This episode was quite controversial for the time. They got a lot of phone calls and one affiliate went rogue and re-edited the episode to leave out the kiss. Ira Steven Behr’s favorite complaint, however, was the minister who even more than the same-sex kiss was very concerned that Star Trek was promoting the idea of (Trill) reincarnation.
So thinking about this episode got me interested in the other depictions of LGBT issues throughout Star Trek. Avocado Lovely Bones has written some really good stuff on the episode “The Outcast,” which is an episode that contains some really good moments and some really awful ones. Until Discovery, there aren’t very many other episodes that have something meaningful to say about the subject. DS9’s mirror universe followed the unfortunate trope that bisexuality was a trait of villains, and one of DS9’s worst episodes (“Profit and Lace”) plays gender reassignment surgery for laughs.
In the 1960s George Takei asked Roddenberry why there were no gay characters on Trek. Roddenberry told him he was “dealing with issues of the time.” That’s a frustrating answer since it implies that while Roddenberry wanted to be on the right side of history, he had no desire to be too far in front of it. During his convention tour ahead of TNG starting, Roddenberry said there would be gay characters on the series — a promise he never fulfilled. In 1991, Roddenberry admitted he had been homophobic for much of his life, but swore he wasn’t now.
As we all know, a canon gay character wouldn’t appear until Star Trek: Beyond and — shortly after — Star Trek Discovery (not counting the previously mentioned mirror universe villain).
The frustrating thing about all of this is that Star Trek is SUPPOSED to be a progressive show. That’s something it tells itself, it tell its fans, it tells the world. But as the Star Trek podcast “Post Atomic Horror” recently pointed out, the list of shows that got around to having a gay character before Star Trek did is downright embarrassing. Even in the 1990s, LGBT characters were rarer but they were present — even on network TV. Trek really had no excuse for it taking so long.
Here’s an essay from 2003 that shows the frustration as it was seen at that time.
One thing I know I haven’t talked about one here is David Gerrold’s proposed TNG episode “Blood and Fire.” David Gerrold is best known for writing “The Trouble with Tribbles.” He was also a writer for TNG before being part of a mass exodus at the end of the first season. During the first season, he wrote a script that featured a gay couple. During the course of the episode one the gay characters would die, since of course what would TV be without a good case of “bury your gays.” The studio was opposed to the idea of the gay characters (one memo read “we’re going to get angry letters from mommies”) and Gerrold was upset that Roddenberry didn’t fight for it (like, at all).
Gerrold’s story was eventually adapted into both a non-Trek sci-fi novel and an episode of the TOS fan series “New Voyages/Phase Two.”
But there’s an argument to be made that the “Bury your gays” aspect is subsumed by an even larger Trek-specific trope: ALL ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIPS ARE DOOMED. Trek is full of people falling in love, but it is also full of people dying. For dramatic and continuity reasons, those two things often go hand in hand. This doesn’t really apply to Kirk — he had no problem jumping in and out of relationships. But for most other characters who have found the love of their life, the only way to return to status quo is to kill off their love, or at least separate them forever. Terry Farrell was particularly good at playing brokenhearted. Besides for her previously mentioned performance in “Rejoined,” the episode “Meridian” (which I call “The Brigadoon planet”) has Dax loving and losing a soulmate of the week. Hell, the very first episode of Trek ever aired (“The Man Trap“) had McCoy finding and losing an old flame. Data perceived his relationship to Yar as very special and intimate (though there are no indications Yar felt the same way) and that loss hung with him throughout the series. Picard had to force himself apart from Nella Daren in “Lessons.” And of course there’s Worf. Poor, poor Worf. K’Ehleyr rejected his marriage proposal and then died. Troi and he broke up off screen. And of course, Jadzia.
In fact, the only two long term relationships that have a “happy ending” that I can think of are Miles/Keiko and Tom/B’elanna. Tom’lanna suffered from less than stellar writing and Tom’s insistence on using space travel metaphors as pick-up lines, but that relationship was a relatively organic and believable one. Much more believable than the Seven/Chakotay pairing they dropped on us from nowhere in the very last episode.
But sometimes even short relationships can be happy ones. Or so I’m told. What do you think? What is your favorite CANON romantic relationship in Trek? Is it the long-cooled-passion-becomes-friendship of Kirk and Carol Marcus? Moriarty and Regina? Riker and Minuet? Geordi and Leah Brahms? The Doctor and Danara? (Wait, why are so many of these about holograms?) Or is is Culber and Stamets, the adorably doomed pair on Discovery? There’s no wrong answer here, except for anything with Spock and/or Bashir because that’s probably not canon.
And now, a random image from Memory Alpha.