In the eighteenth episode of the second season of The Next Generation, what the hell just happened. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent, nonconsensual medical procedures, racial stereotyping.
I think there’s a good idea at the heart of this episode, one that is concerned with individual rights and autonomy and maybe a message that is pro-immigration??? The problem is that with the latter, I can’t really tell. On top of that, the pacing of this episode is so bizarre because so much time is spent building up the culture of the people from the Bringloid V planet. Which was necessary, I admit! We needed to see them and their lives so that we’d have the juxtaposition with Wilson Granger and his society of clones.
But… oh lord. So much of this is very awkward or full of unsaid implications that I can’t see. LET’S DISCUSS THIS.
It took me a few scenes to really solidify how I felt about the portrayal of the Odells, and lord, I get the intent here. In order for the Granger society to be shown as flawed, we had to see how the more advanced society utterly paled in comparison to to how the Odells operated. And I liked the idea that the less “advanced” society was the one who could save the other. Like I said, there’s a neat message buried in there about immigration and what immigrant cultures can offer to hegemonic societies. (Which is not to suggest that this is the only value in immigrants, obviously, and I honestly have little interest in trying to offer up an assimilationist narrative.)
But oh my god. The drinking. The meat and potatoes references. The casual misogyny. Practically everything in this episode ultimately feels like a disaster because the Odells and all of these people never feel like their own characters. They feel like archetypes meant to make us laugh or to make us salivate. It’s honestly horrific, and I know I talk about a lot of non-white stereotyping, but this still matters, too. This does not feel respectful or honest. It feels like a circus, full of characters who are bigger-than-life and grossly exaggerated in order to communicate simplistic and common story elements.
And let’s just make sure to note plainly that Brenna Odell exists here just to be a conquest for Riker and to act as the sole woman who accepts the fate of all the women here to be breeding stock for the Granger society. BREEDING! STOCK! That is an actual term in this fucking script, y’all, and even when Brenna rips the logic apart and calls out Picard and Riker and her father and Wilson for casting these women into this reality WITHOUT CONSULTING A SINGLE ONE OF THEM, her whole point is softly dismissed by Picard. She could become “breeding stock” for Wilson Granger, or she could go to a starbase and live on her own.
Well, we can’t have that, can we?
So, am I meant to assume that Brenna is metaphorically moving up the ladder with Wilson Granger, the disgusting bigot who thought that his survival warranted the assault on Riker and Dr. Pulaski? Will this new society be pansexual? Polyamorous? Or is the impetus placed on the women while the men get to enjoy the benefits of a non-monogamous world? This is when an open-ended conclusion fails because there’s too much left unsaid. There are so many weird implications here, y’all!!!
It’s kind of astounding to me that the same episode that contains one of the most viciously beautiful pro-choice things I’ve ever heard on television can be so stubbornly ignorant about the role of Brenna Odell. Like, please tell me people got pissed off at Melinda Snodgrass for sticking all the shit in this episode concerning the right to do with one’s body that one pleases to do. IT WAS SUCH A GREAT LINE FROM RIKER. And so was Riker calling the theft of his cells assault. YES. Y E S!!! Excellent, and utterly appropriate. As cluttered and dense as the second half of “Up The Long Ladder” is, I did appreciate the quickly growing sense of horror and dread that came along with this. We knew this was wrong. We knew Granger was wrong. We never once questioned that, and I wanted to compliment that part of this story. It’s fantastic.
So… was there supposed to be a greater point to the whole Klingon measles thing? Or was that just a brief plot that will never be brought up again? I kept expecting it to play a larger point in the story, but five minutes or so into this episode, it was abandoned. Was Worf cured? What about Worf and Dr. Pulaski’s friendship? Is something going on there?
I think this is yet another case of the writers stuffing too much shit into a single episode. I suspect that Snodgrass’s initial script was not this crowded; I’ve generally loved what she’s done prior to this, but this wasn’t as focused as I would have liked.
The video for “Up the Long Ladder” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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