In the ninth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, EVERYTHING IS UNCOMFORTABLE. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
I’m getting the sense that this show is actively getting better, that even all these one-offs are getting much clearer, cleaner, and more effective. There’s just one aspect of “The Vengeance Factor” that I don’t like: the constant need to have Riker hit on every woman of every species who drifts into his peripheral vision. It is utterly unnecessary here, point blank. It makes no sense to introduce a romantic subplot because death is already a rarity in The Next Generation. If we needed to feel like Riker was caught in a moral dilemma at the end of “The Vengeance Factor,” then him merely deciding whether or not to kill Yuta was enough. This show has strenuously avoiding killing off characters as plot solutions; hell, I’d say that the point of The Next Generation is to change how this genre can tell stories. And when it works, I feel like The Next Generation can do anything!
So that’s one of the reasons this inclusion is so unfortunate. Take it out, and the episode is actually better, a much more effective exploration of the issues surrounding Yuta’s mission. I do have questions about that, since some of it is left unsaid. The implications of what she reveals here aren’t spelled out, and I’m curious about why she insisted that she didn’t have freedom. Are we meant to assume that she’s programmed to complete this mission to kill off the surviving Lornak clans? Did she truly never have a choice, or was she merely used to a world where stopping wasn’t a believable option?
Well, okay, let me back up. I really think that as clumsy and silly as the costume design is for the Gatherers (I’m not ashamed of all the 80s metal references I made), this episode does a fine job of building up an incredible set of worlds. I love the idea that an inherently violent culture, one created through the perpetually-warring clans of this planet. I loved the concept of the Gatherers forming after the Acamarians tried to make their world better, knowing that they couldn’t live in a world where the quest for revenge wouldn’t be allowed to persist. So what do they do? They plunder. They spread through the galaxy, stealing and killing, doing whatever they want in the name of some sort of “freedom.” And even that is explored as nothing more than a cover for their terrible behavior. What does freedom mean if someone’s actions actively erode the freedom of others?
Within this, we’ve got another negotiation episode, though I’m surprised that this story felt so unlike the last one. Somehow, the negotiation between the Acamarians and the Gatherers is a million times more intense, particularly since the Gatherers have no real need to go home. They benefit greatly from the arrangement as-is, and they’ve got absolutely no reason to trust Marouk. So how does this get represented on screen? Beyond the obvious juxtaposition in costumes and the way that these two cultures speak to one another, the writers and actors chose to be… well, similar. I’ll agree with Picard’s assertion that the Acamarians and the Gatherers are not all that different from one another. Look at how passionate they are – almost violently so – and look how willing they are to defend what they believe is right. There’s that moment where both characters are ready to leap over the table to destroy the other, all because they are certain that they’re getting the worst part of the deal.
I found that story interesting enough, and I didn’t think that the introduction of the murder mystery within it was all that necessary until we found out that Yuta was designed to kill off that Lornak clan. I’m still confused what she means by designed. We discover that her aging has slowed and that she’s a carrier for a virus that only affects people of that specific clan. How did that redesign work? She mentioned being a survivor of the initial massacre, but she seems more like a clone than anything else. So, again, I have the same question: is she able to choose to do anything but infiltrate and annihilate? What sort of free will did she have? It’s strange to me that this is not as openly addressed as it could have been, given that there’s an entire subplot about Riker trying to sex up Yuta (YAWN, I DON’T CARE), only to refuse to do so because he wants to do so as equals. Which is nice and wonderful, sure, if a little creepy. Like, wanting power dynamics to be equal within sex is a great thing, but I’m just so bored by Riker’s character playing this specific role. Can’t we do something different with him? We don’t even need that subplot because you can still have the underlying story of Yuta’s struggles with equality and free will without it revolving around Riker’s sex life.
In the end, I felt sad for Yuta, who was created out of utter tragedy in order to continue an endless march that would inevitably end with her own death. There really was no other option, was there? I suppose that’s why this one aspect of her story frustrates me. Her story is meant to be part of Riker’s, since the writers focus more on the aftermath of him killing someone than they do on a woman who was put into an impossible situation. I wanted to know more about Yuta. I don’t want this review to make anyone think that I disliked “The Vengeance Factor,” because it’s just the opposite for me. This was another strong entry in this season, and I’ll repeat myself: this show is continually getting better. But criticism never is supposed to denote enjoyment; it’s just part of the process of analyzing fiction. This is a flawed episode, but it’s one I’m glad I watched.
The video for “The Vengeance Factor” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
Mark Links Stuff
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