Re-evaluating Problematic Characters

Discussion in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' started by CuriousCaitian, Oct 20, 2020.

  1. CuriousCaitian

    CuriousCaitian Commander Red Shirt

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    Finally making my first stab at a thread; hopefully it doesn't go the way of Worf's dignity every time a hostile alien invades the bridge.

    There are a few recurring characters in TNG that, to one degree or another, are considered problematic, even derided and dismissed by some. I thought it might be interesting to look, with as open a mind as possible, at these characters, see if the dislike is truly justified, try to identify the source of genuine problems, and what could have been done to address those issues. I must stress: this is purely one person's opinion and speculations. To start with, and as an example, I give you Ship's Counsellor Deanna Troi.

    That very title is the root of the trouble with Troi for many; why does a ship even need a counsellor, let alone one that sits next to the Captain on the bridge? Department of Redundancy Department, particularly on a ship full of perfectly flawless people, right? Well, no.

    Emotional and psychological well-being is easily as important as physical well-being, arguably even more so, given how strongly the former can impact the latter (as an anxiety sufferer, I can vouch for that). That Starfleet acknowledge and respect that so much is likely a big reason why the crews are so well-sorted - though not, I would suggest, perfect; they made mistakes, and doubted themselves, and struggled with things, just didn't have many of the pointless hang-ups we do - and a counsellor so visibly at the heart of ship's operations is a pretty clear statement. Gene was actually kinda ahead of the curve on that one.

    There's also the useful perspective a counsellor could provide in many situations: how the people involved are likely to behave, how they'd likely react to you, and how you could adjust your approach to be most effective. This gains another layer in Troi's case courtesy of her empathic abilities, which can provide instant feedback and context, and in several episodes actually do. All of this is useful narratively, but especially the latter; she can tell you someone's being deceitful, but not why; you know something's up, but not what, helping to advance the story without giving too much away.

    All that considered, I'd argue that the idea of Troi wasn't bad, it was - and if this thread continues I don't doubt I'll be saying this a lot - the execution that caused issues. Something, or many things, got lost in translation somewhere, and we ended up with a frustratingly mishandled and inconsistent character. She had her moments, and anchored some strong episodes, but she was also saddled with some pretty poor ones (The Child comes readily to mind) and had thuddingly unsubtle moments ("I feel great happiness!"). Many of the writers just didn't seem to know what to do with her.

    Beyond what I've already outlined, something that may well have helped was making her the head of a full department, one with a broader remit than just the psychological. The show itself did something towards that by putting her in charge of education in later seasons, and I'm sure broader logistics regarding the families on board could be folded in, as well as strong ties to Medical. Emotions are intangible, difficult to quantify, so give her something tangible and more accessible as a foundation of sorts. Also a different title, maybe, though what that could be...

    Ultimately, though, a lot of it, I believe, comes down to this: if you're unwilling to accept emotions matter, then you're highly unlikely to accept a character focused around them, irregardless of their execution. Troi was an interesting idea, ahead of her time, but poorly realised, and possibly doomed never to truly work.

    Fascinated to see if people chime with this, what other perspectives are thrown in, and if we can get a nice discussion going. If this thread clicks enough with people, I do have two more characters in mind, and if any others occur, feel free to say. :-)
     
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  2. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Admiral Admiral

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    I think it was a little off to give Troi both the job of ship psychiatrist and head diplomat. A ship of a thousand sure needs a psychiatrist but the diplomat role is more important to the story more often.

    Both of her roles kind of got taken from her though with Picard doing most of the diplomacy and Guinan taking the psychiatrist role. So she often turned into more of the head of Human Resources.
     
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  3. Odo

    Odo Commander Red Shirt

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    Yeah, if they'd had her be "Chief Diplomatic Officer" and have Guinan do the unofficial counseling as a bartender, that would have made much more sense. At least she didn't have four breasts, like Gene tried to give her! I'm thankful they were able to develop her character and treat her more respectfully in seasons 6 and 7.
     
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  4. at Quark's

    at Quark's Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Yeah, Deanna got two roles that might require largely overlapping abilities, but that you probably wouldn't want vested in one and the same person. First, you'd think that the person generally responsible for overseeing the psychological wellbeing of over 1000 people (and perhaps significantly more, as we don't know if the 1013 number is crew only or including their families) probably would head a department and have a full time day job on that. There might be times when her combined responsibilities as a ship's diplomatic officer would bite each other in terms of time requirements. Secondly, it's questionable whether if you get half the bridge crew crying on your couch every three weeks and hear their most personal secrets, you can still be that impartial advisor on the bridge in diplomatic situations.

    Then the idea of a ship's diplomatic officer is an intriguing one, and could certainly have added value. If only she had been portrayed in that role to be a capable officer saying useful things, rather than just belaboring the obvious, giving mostly useless advice. That's just a case of bad writing, I think, but it still happened.

    Also, given that she was selected in that role for her abilities, her background doesn't quite make sense. She's a half member of a telepathic race, giving her reduced abilities - empathic rather than fully telepathic. I mean, suppose you're Picard and you can choose between Deanna, who can tell you 'I'm not sure Captain but I think he's hiding something', or anyone of an entire Federation planet of Betazoid full telepaths, each and any of whom who could tell you: 'He's planning on double crossing you, Captain, he's thinking right now about that secret meeting with a Romulan senator he's going to have in three days on the fourth moon of Geladrad 6 ' - now who would you choose as your advisor? Of course that in reality would have spoiled many storylines, so that the in-universe and out-of-universe requirements are ad odds with each other here.

    So yeah, I agree, the idea in itself wasn't bad, it just wasn't thought out well enough.
     
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2020
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  5. Orphalesion

    Orphalesion Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Frankly by the later seasons Deanna was doing more jobs than what was feasible for one person. She was both a therapist for civilians (including) children and work counselor in a (pseudo-)military setting....and advisor to the captain.... and a diplomatic assistant of some sort ....and liaison between Picard and the civilians on ship (organizing things like Captain Picard day) ....and worked on crew evaluations.... and worked with the children/schools on board in some capacity...and was a bridge officer... one has to wonder if she ever even sleeps at all.

    I think all that was a result of them creating a therapist as a main character in the first season and then realizing that they couldn't think of many ways to get a therapist involved into the weekly plot of an adventure-oriented, episodic scifi show, making it seem early on like she wasn't doing all that much on the show or on the ship. So they kept coming up with more stuff for her to do and just kept adding to her duties in an attempt to show "see, she is actually doing something!"
     
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  6. somebuddyX

    somebuddyX Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    I think Troi having her own seat on the bridge might have been a mistake. I think it kind of inflates her importance to seem at the same level as Riker when it really shouldn't. Bones never had his own seat on TOS and Crusher just used Troi's or those little benches. Then I wondered do you kick her out and put someone else in like Data, leave it absent for guest actors like Admirals/Diplomats, only have two seats like Voyager or just have everyone stand except Picard, like on Captain Riker's ship in "Parallels". I know it might be an odd thing to get hung up on but I think there's something to it when comparing the TNG crew to the other Star Trek crews.
    I wondered about reinventing Troi as more an analyst/investigator type person who might have worked with Riker for prepping away teams or helping security with interrogating someone. Instead of Counsellor Troi, she's Doctor Troi. I imagine her in a holding cell with some person and not even having to use her empathic abilities to read people and get information out of them.
     
  7. Orphalesion

    Orphalesion Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    So a bit like the telepaths in Babylon 5 eh?

    According to memory alpha originally Troi wasn't supposed to be on the bridge (instead the third seat would have been filled by Data) but that was changed to make her more visible.

    Personally I would have just ditched the whole therapist idea and made her Chief Science Officer and First Contact Specialist. I would have also made her a full telepath.
     
  8. Herbert

    Herbert Commodore Commodore

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    I can still remember talking to the guy who ran my local comic shop back in the 80s. TNG was new and I made a comment to the effect of "what is she even doing there?" referring to her role on the ship, and he agreed with me that the character seemed rudderless and out of place. To their credit, they did develop the character more, not to mention she got hotter (hey, I'm a male that finds women attractive, shoot me) as seasons went on but in those early episodes the character of Troi seemed to be unnecessary even superfluous at times.
    I still find the idea that all she had to do to become a command officer was to pass a test as if that made her competent to take command of the entire ship, and she then outranked Data who had been in Starfleet almost longer than she had been alive. The whole idea was kooky. There should have been more to it than simply passing the test.
     
    Last edited: Oct 21, 2020
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  9. CuriousCaitian

    CuriousCaitian Commander Red Shirt

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    Thank you all so much for some great responses and many thought-provoking points!

    The more I muse over it, and your comments in mind, the more I have to concede that while there is narrative potential in a therapist, and certainly character potential, it is limited in a show set up like TNG was. It worked, from time to time - The Bonding, Hero Worship, Dark Page and personal favourite Tin Man are all better for her presence, I believe - but not often. Maybe if they'd been willing to let the characters struggle with what they experienced more, and thus needed her more, but would that have weighed things down?

    She was certainly given too much to do in later seasons, likely, as alluded to by others, the result of different writers needing to give her something to do in a given episode, and things, including problematic overlaps, piling up as a result. Can't really begrudge Guinan's presence, because Whoopi, but she did detract a lot from Deanna, and I do wonder why Deanna didn't get more of those kinds of moments in the first place. Deanna did also look a lot better in uniform, felt much more a part of the crew rather than a random hanger-on.

    Some nice suggestions for alternative approaches here, too. The idea of her in a more investigative capacity has definite appeal, and we got a taste of that in Eye of the Beholder; mixed episode, but shows the idea could work. Reworking a show to fit a character isn't really a viable option, so how would we rework this character to fit the show? What other alternative Troi concepts are there?
     
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  10. XCV330

    XCV330 Premium Member

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    My reasoning as to why she got the guest seat on the bridge was that Picard immediately took advantage of having an empath in strategic encounters, though in the end whether it helped much I don't lknow.(ship being fired upon "I sense hostility captain", the old joke). If you have an ace like that, keep it close at hand. Starfleet may have instituted ship's counselors because long-term voyages had higher rates of depression or substance abuse (just thinking hypothetically), but Picard had been out in the black longer than most, and knew the advantage of having an emotional smoke detector in tense encounters.
     
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  11. Odo

    Odo Commander Red Shirt

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    If you'd like more insight into the character, check out these pages on Troi (and Guinan for comparison)from the TNG Writers/Directors Guide (revised for season 5):

    [​IMG]
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    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  12. CuriousCaitian

    CuriousCaitian Commander Red Shirt

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    Very good reasoning! Expanding on that, and earlier thoughts on telepaths, in a universe where mind-reading is not just a thing, but a common thing, then surely there would be methods for defending against them - ala Babylon 5 - and those on the front lines, for want of a better phrase, would be schooled in those techniques? Defending against an empath, controlling your emotions, would have to be a lot harder, and someone as tactically astute as Picard would realise that.

    Sadly, images not working. :(
     
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  13. Orphalesion

    Orphalesion Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I always thought that Deanna's mind reading (as I would have made her a full telepath and all) such have been something that takes conscious effort of her, like it's often portrayed elsewhere. With empath Troi from the show automatically picking up emotions from as far away as another ship or even from the planet they are orbiting of course makes her both a bit too powerful and passive. But if she has to work to reach into someone's mind we suddenly have an active character who faces challenges. This Deanna could both showcase her skill and intelligence as she works to overcome someone's mental defenses or has to be extremely subtle and sneaky to read someone's mind without them noticing and her compassion and empathy as she refuses to harm her target's mind to get the information she wants, even in a life-and-death situation.
    There would have also been a lot of potential uses of her and Riker's telepathic bond, including during action sequences that could have seen them work coordinate to overcome foes without having to talk it out first.

    And then there's the potential of giving Troi offensive telepathic powers. If a truly despicable foe or situation pushes Deanna past her breaking point she might be able to flood their mind with such overwhelming negative thoughts that it reduces them to a quivering mass. Or...to tickle the interests of some of the writers/show runners, she could have triggered the bliss centre in a target's brain and make them "orgasm themselves to sleep" to disarm them (Not my idea, something from Grant Morrison's X-Men run, where telepath and trained therapist Emma Frost used that to deal with an angry mob, but it shows the potential telepathy has if you really want to explore it)
    Suddenly this Deanna is useful on away mission and can even have a "oh shiiiiiiii*" moment when she's on the away team in the Borg cube in BoBW and realizes that her offensive telepathy, her last and most desperate trump card which the viewer knows by now she only uses in the most dire of circumstances, does not work on the Borg!

    I think for a therapist to work in Star Trek as a main character TNG would have needed writing that would have been a lot, sorry to say it, more quality, more planned out and more character driven than the average line-up of TNG episodes was.
    The TNG characters were often defined by their positions, and that left Troi in an awkward place for a adventure-oriented SF show. But with more modern writing, such as in DS9, DISC or Lower Decks, where the characters are people first and their jobs second, she could have been just as good and involved as Picard or Data.
    With the way TNG was structured and written I think it would have been better to give her a more traditional and active role (Such as Chief Science Officer and Third-in-Command...or even "Telepathic Officer", though that's more niche) would have worked better for her character and they could have made Guinan counselor rather than bartender and have Whoopi Goldberg in whenever they actually could exploit the role of a mental health worker to add to the story/drama.
     
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  14. JirinPanthosa

    JirinPanthosa Admiral Admiral

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    That's tied into the whole 'Space, time and thought are one' thing.

    Also you can invoke The Chase to help explain.

    I dunno, DS9 wasn't much better at writing therapists than TNG was. The times they used Ezri in that role ranged from forced to embarrassing.
     
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  15. Kor

    Kor Fleet Admiral Admiral

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    Then there was the matter of Troi sensing emotions from Data's positronic brain in "Descent."

    Kor
     
  16. Takeru

    Takeru Space Police Commodore

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    Troi should have been in uniform the entire series and she should have been second officer instead of Data justifying her getting the third command chair. I also would have made her diplomatic officer, shifting Picard's expertise more towards history and science.
     
  17. CuriousCaitian

    CuriousCaitian Commander Red Shirt

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    Brilliant suggestions! That would have been a much more involving approach to her, personal conflict leading to growth. If TNG had been made now, that's the kind of route you'd hope would be taken with her (though the cynical side of me thinks modern TV would go for a more head-asplodey, Scanners-esque trump card).

    Further to your Guinan as counsellor-when-needed thought, and since Babylon 5's come up a couple of times, would that show's approach of not having every core character in every single episode have worked? G'Kar and Londo were certainly better for not being crammed in at every opportunity, for example. Then again, that was serialised.

    Regarding @JesterFace's observation, as @Jirin Actin Kinda Sus noted, The Chase does provide some explanation with the ancient race seeding a template across the galaxy, but she was still overpowered in that regard, for sure. Varying effectiveness of readings depending on the subject's race/species would have been a lot more interesting.

    One last thought: was there a TNG series bible, and if not, would it have helped? Seems to me some kind of base guidelines or reference source would have aided consistency, if nothing else.
     
  18. Odo

    Odo Commander Red Shirt

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    Here ya go @CuriousCaitian https://www.roddenberry.com/media/vault/TNG-WritersDirectorsGuide.pdf - that's the original and first revision versions.
    I have the fifth season revised edition, which I tried to link a couple relevant pages to above - reveals a lot of what Gene was thinking when he created the characters. I try to upload the few relvaent pages again later, which makes for an interesting comparison for what Gene says regarding Deanna and Guinan.
     
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  19. Bry_Sinclair

    Bry_Sinclair Vice Admiral Admiral

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    The evolution of the Troi character is interesting, from Chief Psychiatrist and working in the medical department to occupying the chair beside Picard (originally where Data was going to go as the 'Captain's Advisor') as they realised that giving her the chair made her more prominent and gave her more to do. Granted, the writers still didn't have a clue and she was at risk of being axed at the end of S1.

    The episodic nature of TNG would only hamper the role of a counsellor, as the hardships of a particular mission or incident would disappear by the start of the next episode (Picard's dealing with being assimilated is the only exception, but Geordi being abducted by Romulans and brainwashed into being an assassin is fine the following week, likewise the fact the Picard thought there were five lights). Without the commitment to show exactly how she helps them with the stresses and strains of life in space all we get are "emotional issue of the week" (not necessarily always featuring the main cast), which again are magically cured in less than seven days.

    Bolting on lots of other things for her to do makes sense, as it bulks up how she can be used, though does make her role somewhat amorphous and ill-defined. Had they just settled on something like Comms/Cultural Officer, she could man a bridge station, deal with language/translation issues, as well as be a font of knowledge about sociology and psychology of alien races, their cultures and practices, making her a valuable asset on away missions or on the bridge--whilst her empathic abilities could be put to use during first contacts and diplomatic forays.

    However, she probably would've just been reduced to saying "hailing frequencies open".
     
  20. Oddish

    Oddish Vice Admiral Admiral

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    Ezri was a great character in a problematic situation. She was probably a very promising young counselor, but then, she was joined. Most Trill initiates seek to be joined, are carefully evaluated by the Symbiosis board, receive years of training, and are paired with a symbiont that matches their personality. Ezri had zero ambition, zero evaluation, zero preparation, just "hi, we're putting a slug in you, hope you don't mind". And suddenly, as a result, Ezri is struggling to get her mind around integrating eight new personas. Garak might have intended to be cruel when he unloaded on her, but he was right nonetheless.

    Sisko's decision to bring Ezri on board had nothing to do with her ability as a counselor, she was more neurotic than her patients. He just wanted Dax back.