In the fourteenth episode of the fifth season of The Next Generation, the crew struggles to cope with a loss of a very specific form of their memory. Intrigued? Then itâ€™s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of memory loss and consent / sexual consent.
This is an odd episode, one thatâ€™s well acted and strangely subtle at times, but holy shit, that ending is awful. The story itself is unnerving, and I think â€œConundrumâ€ allows the writers to explore the identity of some of these characters. But then we get a horrible dose of one of my absolute least favorite tropes ever, and it always seems to pop up in episodes like this. If characters lose their memory or if their fundamental identity changes, then SEX! Sex must happen! And it is always played as a humorous thing, because nothing in the world is funnier to writers than forcing two people to have sex who would otherwise never consent to such a thing.
Yâ€™all: THE NEXT GENERATION DID THIS ALREADY. Didnâ€™t the fandom universally hate â€œThe Naked Nowâ€? Didnâ€™t we already have Tasha Yar and Data hooking up without being able to consent? As far as I understand it, itâ€™s not like the fansâ€™ dislike of this was a secret. And yet, here we are, with another story about people being compromised in some way, then having sex even though their instincts should have told them, and then everyone laughs it off! Because SOMEONE HONESTLY THINKS THIS IS HILARIOUS. How is this funny??? Riker could have deeply offended Troi. (Though, to her credit, she deals with this as best as possible given the circumstances.) He could have irreparably damaged his professional relationship with Ro Laren. Thereâ€™s a host of ethical issues that are left utterly unexplored and unexamined, and itâ€™s enraging to think of them. Are you telling me that thereâ€™s no possible misconduct here? None? Nothing?
Itâ€™s lazy writing, created just to generate laughs from the type of people who find this funny. And while there are certainly elements of this episode that are fascinating and entertaining, the storytelling shortcuts we do get are ultimately distracting. I think Worfâ€™s story is about the only one thatâ€™s truly incredible, especially since without context, he assumes himself as the leader of the Enterprise. It speaks to his core identity as someone who views themselves as powerful and aggressive enough to lead others.
But what does that say of others? Without the context of his greater identity, does Riker just fuck anything heâ€™s attracted to? (Yes. Clearly.) What about the other crew members? I loved getting to see how moral and dependable Picard was, since it spoke to the kind of person he was. But practically everyone else here just drifts around, trying to be useful, and none of them get the treatment that the other characters do. (The whole joke where Data is a bartender just makes no sense to me, yâ€™all. I kept trying to understand it, butâ€¦ what?)
Thereâ€™s a part of me that appreciates MacDuffâ€™s presence here, but like the other elements of this story, thereâ€™s no deeper exploration of who he was or who the Sutterers were. Which is fine â€“ Iâ€™m okay with one-note antagonists. I think thereâ€™s something deviously fun about sticking him in the story as an unexplained commander because heâ€™s like a living MacGuffin in a way. Hell, his name even sounds like the device! He works â€“ to a point â€“ as a way to unravel the mystery, especially once he begins to push Worf towards some type of mutiny. I suspected something was going on here, but is that enough? We never see the Lyssians at all; apparently theyâ€™re not important to the story, and we never find out who the Sutterers are either. I think thereâ€™s an attempt at a deep story, but the treatment of it all feels so superficial, which is a shame. I donâ€™t think this is a bad episode at all, and any story where Deanna Troi is the moral center of the drama makes me happy. (And sheâ€™s brilliant here, for what itâ€™s worth.) Itâ€™s just plagued by some very bizarre writing decisions. I admit that the sex plot makes me feel so gross that I want to hate all of this, but I recognize there are other aspects to â€œConundrumâ€ that are pretty damn good. I just wanted a better episode, I suppose.
The video for â€œConundrumâ€ can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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