In the twenty-forth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, this episode is uncomfortable and funny and strange and a million things all at the same time. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of sexual assault, coercion
Oh, I wanted to like this so much more than I did. Honestly! I love when The Next Generation can poke fun at itself, and there are so many moments where that happens within “MÃ©nage Ã Troi.” The problem I have with this episode is â€“ actually, there are a few of them.
Wesley’s development is not a terrible idea in and of itself. I think it’s pretty great that his contributions on the Enterprise are rewarded with a promotion, especially in wake of his sacrifice. But his story here felt convenient, jammed into a different story without all that much development or history. In short, it feels like it exists solely for the plot and nothing else. Someone needed to figure out where the Ferengi ship was, except they totally didn’t. Which is even more frustrating because DaiMon Tog was going to bring Riker and Deanna back anyway. We’re near the end of the season, so Wesley was going to have to take his final exam, so was this the reason the writers came up with to keep him on for another season? I feel like that story should have had its own episode, not been a subplot, you know?
Which brings me to my next point.
Tone and Theme
This episode is ALL OVER THE PLACE. I get the sense from the title, the setting, and the characters that this is supposed to a comedic episode of the show. From Lwaxana’s constant presence in every scene, to the escape capers, to the unreal (and, frankly, beautiful) sequence where Picard uses Shakespeare to woo Lwaxana, this is clearly an absurdist comedy. Right?
So why the hell is there a deeply uncomfortable and horrifying segment right smack in the middle of this episode where Lwaxana (and, by extension, Deanna) are threatened with sexual assault? Look, I don’t need this show to spell it out for me; I can read between the lines. DaiMon Tog was sexually attracted to Lwaxana and would have taken her if she had not relented. But I don’t buy it that this counts as her giving consent to sexual activity when she was coerced into giving it. That’s not how consent works, and yet, the show completely glosses over this. We go from a terrifying scene where sexual violence hangs over everything to a bunch of gags and jokes about how funny it is that Lwaxana is trying to trick DaiMon Tog into giving her his access code.
Tonally, it makes no sense at all, unless, of course, you assume that no one thought through the invocation of sexual assault. But that includes other aspects of “MÃ©nage Ã Troi,” since one of the major themes introduced in the first couple acts is utterly abandoned in the remainder of the episode. When Lwaxana is gloriously revealed to be a part of all this, she runs through the same message towards her daughter: get a husband, have a family, be happy. As a queer dude, THIS IS A VERY FAMILIAR CONVERSATION. I have had it hundreds of times. Yet we know that Deanna Troi is tremendously happy in her job as counselor on the Enterprise. We know that she’s not really interested in a relationship! Of course she has feelings for other people, particularly Riker, but it’s her prerogative to pursue them as she sees fit.
When she goes with Riker to Betazed, you could say it looks like they were on a date. Lwaxana certainly thought so. And once she started relentlessly bugging Deanna about this, I expected the rest of the episode to address this. But once DaiMon Tog kidnaps the three of them, it’s as if the writers completely forgot they brought this up in the first place. It’s not like Deanna gets her mother’s empathy. It’s absolutely wonderful to watch them get along and communicate with one another, but there’s no moment where Lwaxana finally understands why her daughter is single. This journey doesn’t change her mind, it doesn’t give her a new appreciation for Deanna, and Lwaxana is exactly the same character she was at the beginning of the episode.
So why spend so much time bringing up all of this if it was never going to be addressed? When you combine that with the tone issues â€“ is this a comedy or a stressful thriller? â€“ you get an episode that undeniably entertaining, but also quite messy. It’s not an awful episode by any means, and I think I can see the hope of a much better episode within it. It’s probably hard to come off of “Sarek” into this, you know?
The video for “MÃ©nage Ã Troi” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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