In the twentieth episode of the seventh season of The Next Generation, YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extended talk of racism, specifically directed towards Native Americans/indigenous populations.
WHAT A DISASTER. You know, I might even be less frustrated than usual if other parts of this episode weren’t quite good, but as a whole, this is just… WHY. WHY. It’s about as subtle as a brick through a window, it completely conflates EVERY INDIGENOUS GROUP OR TRIBE IN THE UNITED STATES AS IF THEY’RE ONE SINGLE GROUP, it appropriates Native culture, and WESLEY CRUSHER GOES ON A VISION QUEST. Someone thought that up! And made it happen! Oh my god, and it’s not even a real vision quest, either, and I HATE SO MUCH OF WHAT THIS EPISODE CHOOSES TO BE.
Let me address the one well-conceived and executed element of “Journey’s End.” Wesley’s behavior throughout the first half of this episode is frustrating and irritating, but it’s meant to be that way. He returns to the Enterprise a huge mess, and it’s a sign that he’s become increasingly dissatisfied by his life in Starfleet. Initially, though, we don’t know why he’s rude or sullen, nor why he lashes out at nearly everyone who talks to him. It’s a heartbreaking thing for Dr. Crusher to witness because she was so certain that Wesley was doing fine. Hell, he was mere months away from graduation, too! Why wouldn’t he be excited about that?
His displeasure manifests itself violently, but the events of “Journey’s End” give him the clarity to realize why he’s so unhappy. That part is what I love about this episode. You can even see how Wil Wheaton changes his body language and posture as he portrays Wesley’s transformation. The more honest Wes is, the more you can see that excited glow come back to his face. That whole scene between him and his mother is just so, so good! It even reminded me of the recent Deep Space Nine episode where Jake confessed to not wanting to join Starfleet, and I’d argue that this one was even more emotional and powerful than that one.
IT’S JUST UNFORTUNATE THAT IT’S GOT SO MUCH GARBAGE AROUND IT.
So, as I understand it, the Native peoples of North America just up and moved to this planet in order to “preserve their culture.” That presents a number of problems to me, so let’s start here: this episode does nothing to distinguish between different cultures under that banner, nor does it mention any tribes. Also unexplained? Whatever the fuck happened back on Earth to prompt these people to leave. If they all wanted to “preserve their culture” elsewhere, that implies that this was impossible back on Earth. Why? What the HELL did we do these peoples AGAIN to make this possibility so completely impossible? Did we further push the indigenous people off their land? Has society advanced so much technologically that there’s no room to appreciate nature or something? WHAT HAPPENED? All we know is that twenty years prior, something inspired these people to move to a planet LIGHT YEARS AWAY FROM EARTH.
It’s infuriating to think that this is unaddressed because one of the central ideas behind this episode is historical context and relevance. Picard is initially horrified by what Starfleet has asked him to do because he knows what a direct parallel the act is to actual American history. (See, even the characters themselves are acknowledging how unsubtle this episode is. WHOMP, WHOMP.) And yet, a character who understands the repetitive nature of history seems completely willing to accept the idea that he and his ancestors are in part responsible for what made this situation possible. Honestly, it’s one of the more challenging aspects of social justice work. How often have I heard people refuse to accept the legacy of oppression? How many times have white people refused to acknowledge the framework that made their success possible? Now, I don’t want to say that all these examples are perfectly analogous to the relationship between the Native people of America and the Spaniards/colonists. It’s dangerous to conflate things that aren’t quite similar. But there’s a pattern here at work that you see a lot of in this kind of theory. The only thing a person is responsible for is precisely what they did during their own lifetime. It’s where we get that asinine idea that success comes from pulling one’s own bootstraps. No one got any help! No one survived on handouts! Never mind that this theory is easily destroyed in most contexts; all that matters is that a person gets to believe that they did everything independent of others as if they’re some lone wolf roughing it in the wild.
I digress, though. If Picard can accept that the historical parallel between what the Spaniards and colonists did to the indigenous population centuries ago and what’s happening on Dorvan V, then he can also accept the role he’s playing a cyclical form of history. If your ancestor guaranteed your place within the world as Picard’s did, then I don’t find it all that ridiculous to ask a person to take responsibility for how their actions continue to contribute to that kind of violence.
The Vision Quest
So, The Traveler. Goddamn it, y’all. You realize his presence here means that he INVENTED LAKANTA. He literally appropriated an entire culture and a person within that culture. Why do white people so badly want to be a part of worlds they’ve rejected and mistreated and oppressed??? Granted, I’m not saying that the Traveler is responsible for what happened between the Native folks of the Americas and their oppressors, but I can’t help but pull myself out of the narrative and look at the larger picture. White actors are given roles they simply don’t belong in. The Traveler should not have been given a story where he wears mystical brown face (IS IT EVEN BROWN FACE AT THIS POINT??? THIS IS LIKE BROWN BODY OR SOMETHING), guides Wesley through a “vision quest” that’s technically not even real because the Traveler isn’t part of this culture, and then advises Wesley to COMPLETELY LEAVE ALL HIS FRIENDS AND THE PEOPLE OF DORVAN V BEHIND BECAUSE THEY CAN’T BE BOTHERED TO INTERVENE. You motherfucker, you’re using their culture to ascend to another plane of existence, but you can’t morally step in to stop the Cardassians from murdering everyone? FUCK YOU. You don’t get to use another culture’s traditions and beliefs to better yourself, and you especially don’t get to use them if you’re not willing to defend the HELL out of them from extinction. What an arrogant line of reasoning, y’all! Who thought that was a beautiful, honorable thing to stick in this episode???
What a mess. Unsubtle. Unnecessary. Blatantly offensive. SO GODDAMN ABSURD. Wesley Crusher on a vision quest! Wesley Crusher is now a Traveler! (I mean, that does sort of explain some of his abilities from past episodes, but maybe he should have used said ability when he and his friends contributed to the death of another cadet. JUST SAYING.) Starfleet finds it “unavoidable” to displace the Native Americans AGAIN. Just… No. This is one of the worst episodes of the whole show, and I’m gonna be mad about it for a long time.
The video for “Journey’s End” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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