Naturally, people will try to parse that in this or that way, and we won't ever agree about the intent of the episode when it was made.
No, I think we all agree that the intent of the episode was that women couldn't be captains. (Edit after seeing Warped9
's post: Well, most of us do.) But most of us recognize that the audience is allowed to interpret a work of fiction in a way that differs from the author's intent, especially when that intent is in conflict with the rest of the series. The audience is not passive or subordinate. Every reader of a work of fiction is an interpreter of that work, bringing meaning to it from one's own mind and experiences that differs from the intent of the author. An audience should be actively engaged with fiction, thinking about it, using their own judgment and creativity to add something of their own to the work -- not just being passive sponges who unquestioningly accept what's fed to them. Speaking as an author myself, I think that if something I write doesn't motivate you to think for yourself and engage actively with interpreting the work, then I haven't done my job. Even if your take doesn't agree with mine, you're still thinking and imagining rather than just absorbing, and that means I've written something that made you think, and that's good.
So nobody has to be a slave to authorial intent. And really, nobody is. If you decide to go exclusively by what you believe the author's intent to have been, that's still
your own choice about how to interpret the work. Whatever you read into a work of fiction is ultimately more about your own
intent than the author's. If you go along with the author's intent, it's because you want to, not because you're required to. And thus you can make a different choice.