In the second episode of the seventh season ofÂ The Next Generation, OH MY GODÂ NO. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.Â
Trigger Warning: For extended talk of sexual assault, consent, nonconsensual experiments, stalking, suicide, gaslighting, transphobia/trans panic.
I don’t think that the script for “Liaisons” wants us to feel all too great about the Iyaarans, but I don’t think it’s nearly as harsh as it needs to be about their behavior. This episode is HORRIFYING. It’s viscerally upsetting on a number of levels because the Iyaarans treat the crew of theÂ EnterpriseÂ like nothing more than subjects in an experiment. At no point do they ask for consent for participation, and then, somehow, the crew areÂ okayÂ with this at the end of it all?
Look, I think that this is a believable conclusion for Deanna Troi and Worf more so than Picard. At the very least, Deanna’s experience with Loquel is largely pleasant, if just a little creepy at times. He constantly asks permission to experience new things, and he never once violates the consent of anyone around him. Ultimately, I’m perfectly fine with his behavior. My reaction to Byleth? A bit more complicated. The man uses racist/speciesist language towards WorfÂ constantly. He belittles him publicly, is deliberately adversarial at every turn, and then openly gaslights him!!! He steals chips and then tries to tell Worf that he observed it wrong, those chips areÂ his, and HE IS THE ACTUAL WORST.
At least there’s a reveal that Byleth was doing it all for an experiment before matters got truly out of hand. Once Byleth does that, what happens? He and Worf get to explore antagonism WITH WORF’S CONSENT in a controlled environment that allows the Iyaarans to learn more about these people. Is it as effective as the study completed without Worf’s knowledge or consent? Perhaps not, but ethically, there’s no reason for these people to experiment on others in such an exploitative way!
Which brings me to Picard. What Voval does to Picard is completely unforgivable to me, and it astounds me that the show would write Picard as being so understanding of this man. After having his consent violated by the BorgÂ andÂ by the Cardassians, it seems particularly cruel to me to have him forgive his attacker without any sort of recourse. Voval not only lies to Picard through an elaborately conceived scenario, but he preys on Picard’s willingness to be a good person. He convinces Picard that he’s been stranded on a strange planet full of plasma energyâ€¦ except wasÂ thatÂ even real? Did he really get struck by one of those bolts? Or was that fake, too? I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT’S REAL HERE. How much of this was designed to manipulate Picard into experiencing “love?” I DON’T EVEN KNOW.
That’s what is so insidious about this whole thing. Look, I know I’m going to feel strong about this because I’ve been abused, gaslighted, and raped before. Watching “Anna” attack Picard and force herself on him was nearly triggering to me. And let’s not even forget the horrible trans panic implications of the whole exchange, since that’s not even the “real” Anna. The show approaches territory that’s a whole lot like Stephen King’sÂ Misery, and then, in the end, all Voval gets is a stern warning from Picard. YO, THIS CERTAINLY DESERVES SOMETHING A LITTLE MORE INTENSE, DON’T YOU THINK?
Regardless, it’s a very creepy episode, and I think that’s what truly bothers me about it. There’s a sense of whimsy to that final scene, and I feel like that’s the wrong tone. This is like a horror film! What these aliens did was awful and exploitative, and no one seems all that bothered by it! Picard may get a chance to explain why Voval’s approach to love is flawed, but he never really hones in on why this was so destructive and terrible. The Iyaarans violated the consent of everyone and emotionally manipulated them for their own gain. That’s so fucked up, y’all.
Hey, at least there was a conversation about boundaries here! I loved that because it’s aÂ veryÂ important thing to be able to do. I know that my life has gotten safer and more rewarding once I learned to set very defined, clear boundaries about how I want to be treated. So, there’s that!
Whew, this was a rough episode.
The video for “Liaisons” can be downloadedÂ here for $0.99.
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