The episode summary can be found here
. This is a Season 2 episode.
For those of you who do not know Star Trek, Riker and Troi (the first officer and ship's counselor on the Enterprise, respectfully) were lovers a long time ago, before they ended up working together on the same ship. He is fully human, she is half human, half Betazoid.
She is Betazoid aristocracy, a point which (strangely enough) doesn't come up at all, even though it's a very big deal to her aristocrat mother, who visits the ship from time to time (though not in this particular episode).
Troi, like all Betazoids, is able to sense the thoughts and feelings of others (although what exactly she can do, and how her abilities compare to that of full-blooded Betazoids, varies by episode). She was raised on Betazed
From Memory Alpha
"As a child living on Betazed, Deanna often learned aspects of Human culture from her Human father, Ian. One such aspect which he passed on to his daughter was a fondness for stories set during Earth's Ancient West, which he often read to her. (TNG: "A Fistful of Datas") In grammar school as a child, she had to memorize Jonathan Archer's speech at the Federation Founding Ceremony. (ENT: "These Are the Voyages...") She also heard stories from her maternal grandfather, who told them telepathically; something of a traditionalist, he rarely spoke, saying speech was for "offworlders and people who didn't know any better." (TNG: "Eye of the Beholder")"
Her father died when she was only seven years old.
So it's canon that until she grew up and left Betazed, she only knew other telepaths growing up, aside from her father. She grew up not only in a culture where telepathy was an absolutely normal and every day part of communication, but she grew up with an aristocrat/Ambassador mother
-- VERY wealthy and VERY privileged.
Keep this in mind.
One might expect her to feel a certain amount of identity conflict, being half-human and half-Betazoid, especially if growing up she lacked the same degree of telepathic awareness as her peers. One might suppose, maybe she feels self-conscious about that, maybe she feels "lesser" because of that. (Her mom does tend to point out her sensory deficiencies and throw it in her face, "you're only half Betazoid," but I'm not blogging about that episode yet. I'll get there.)
What's odd is that in her characterization, the reverse happens -- she consistently acts as if human non-telepath privilege is the Best Thing In The Galaxy, and that it's vitally important for her to stay in her "place" around them, and keep other telepaths also in their "place." (I will also get there, in another post.) Not only is this odd from someone who, aside from her father, grew up only among other telepaths, it's especially odd from an aristocrat
. She seems oddly not class conscious for someone who is the Betazoid equivalent of AT LEAST a duchess (and from a matriarchal society), who was raised by her extremely class conscious (even class-obsessed) mother, and probably loads of servants.
(Her mother displays none of this subservient "humans are superior, I'm here to serve them" meekness -- quite the opposite, in fact -- which is played for comic relief.)
I personally think it would have been interesting to have explored this aspect of Troi's character and upbringing, to have developed her as more than a "good little lapdog" telepath to the humans, to have her assert her substantial privilege in her society as a counter-balance to the meek and subservient role she's always expected to follow, but... no. No, she's "sexy and exotic," she frequently ends up little more than a plot device, she gets raped a few times (which actress Marina Sirtis wasn't exactly thrilled about) , and when we do see her interact with her mother, she wants little to do with her mother's lifestyle or social status. /sigh/ She may be the equivalent of a duchess on her home world, but human privilege is Where It's At.
Deanna was betrothed to one human man since birth (that arrangement didn't work out), and she's "Imzadi" with Will Riker (Betazoid for soul mates). She and Riker were going to get married, but broke up, and then later found themselves officers on the same ship (the Enterprise). At various points, especially in early episodes, awkwardness resulted.
At this point in the story, they've been working together on the Enterprise for over a year. Riker gets offered his own command of another starship, and is thinking of taking the position. So he's thinking of taking it. In fact, he's planning to leave the Enterprise in a matter of hours, and that's when he comes to say goodbye to Deanna (in her quarters, it appears, which also has an area which serves as her office). (The scene in question can be found here
, and starts at roughly 7:11).
This is how the scene goes:
Riker: "I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye."
Troi, sitting on a couch: "I don't like goodbyes. How about, 'until next time.'"
Riker, quietly, smiling: "How about until next time."
Troi, getting up and walking to him: "It's been a pleasure working with you, Commander."
Riker, hands behind his back: "The feeling is mutual... Counselor."
Troi, turning away: "I'm supposed to know how everyone feels, but... I can't read you right now."
Riker: "Perhaps your own feelings are getting in the way."
[Me, confused: It's 100% realistic that when you're feeling your own very strong emotions, it makes it difficult to feel those of others. I'm picking up on her odd wording: not "I usually know how people feel, but..." but rather, "I'm supposed to know
how everyone feels, but..." She phrases this as some sort of obligation
to others, like somehow in this moment, she's failing at some existential obligation (to others) because she's having strong feelings, and having strong feelings of your own (yes, in real life) makes it harder to sense others.]
She then confirms this is actually how she's feeling.
Troi: "My job is to help others sort out their emotions. My own feelings are beside the point."
[Me: WOAH THERE WHAT THE EFF IS THAT? She's not "on the job," she's alone talking with her former lover as he's about to leave the ship for good. It would be one thing if she just hid her feelings -- anyone might do that. She is actually saying that she's not allowed
to have feelings of her own because of her
er, job among non-telepaths. And so by having feelings of her own in this very personal and very emotional and very private
moment, which overwhelm her and make her unable to sense someone else for the moment, she is actually failing in her duties
-- which she tries to frame as professional but which are actually existential. She has some sort of obligation
to always serve non-psi people around her, and but herself second, or third, or maybe not at all, so that they
get what they
want or need ("sorting out their emotions").]
Riker: "Not to me. Our feelings are what make us all human."
[Me: Um wait, she's only half-human, you know that. Plus she's only telling you her feelings are "beside the point" because that's how she, as a telepath, is treated in non-telepath society. Her mom doesn't ever seem to think her own feelings are beside the point. (Where is Troi getting this?)]
Troi, pauses: "Are you feeling sad?"
[Me: So basically he's like, hey, I care how you feel! And she replies with a pause and "no no, I have to play this role because I'm a telepathic woman, don't you get it? I'm not allowed to have feelings of my own in this culture, this conversation has to be entirely about you.
Riker, walking over to her as the romantic music starts: "Yes I am." [Riker embraces Troi]
Troi, starting to cry: "So am I." [Riker gently kisses the top of her head as he holds her. Scene ends]
So, they both have feelings, and they both get to express them, but only after a little internalized oppression dance by Troi, where she tries to hide behind her "place" as a telepath in non-telepath, human society in order to get out of expressing her feelings.
The other Troi moment that gave me pause was an earlier scene with Dr. Pulaski. Here
, at 5:21, after Worf has completed his ceremony, Troi and Pulaski are standing together in the observation lounge. Yes, this is written in 1989 and has plenty "men are brutes, women are enlightened" stuff going on, and "humans are so much more evolved than Klingons, actually wait maybe not Riker and his dad" stuff also going on, but what struck me as odd was the strangely human-centric nature of the conversation. The humans seem to have it both ways, with respect to Troi -- when Pulaski wants to put down Worf, and all Klingons, for being uncivilized brutes, and she's talking to Troi, then Troi is human. When Riker wants to give her permission to feel her own feelings, he calls her human (like him). When anyone mentions her being telepathic (in general or in the context of "this is what we expect you to do for us right now"), then she's not human
, then she's alien, then she's "other."
Troi: "Is Lieutenant Worf all right?"
Pulaski: "He's never been happier."
Troi: "So it was a good ceremony."
Pulaski: "Let's just say that I was not about to stay around for refreshments." [She walks away from Troi and sits down at the conference table]
Troi: "Klingon culture is not in your taste?"
Pulaski: "I'm just glad that humans have progressed beyond the need for barbaric display."
Troi, dubious: "Have they? Commander Riker and his father are in the gymnasium, about to engage in a barbarism of their own!"
Pulaski: "Don't remind me, it's something of which I do not approve."
Troi: "In spite of human evolution, there are still some traits that are endemic to gender."
Pulaski: "You think they're going to knock each other's brains out because they're men?"
Troi: "Human males are unique... fathers continue to regard their sons as children, even into adulthood, and sons continue to chafe against what they perceive as their fathers' expectations of them!"
[Me: OH LIKE THAT DOESN'T PERFECTLY DESCRIBE YOU AND YOUR MOM? DIFFERENT GENDER AND
Pulaski: "It's almost as if they never really grow up at all, isn't it?"
Troi: "Perhaps that's part of their charm. And, why we find them so attractive."
[Me: Because women are attracted to barbaric man-babies? ...Really?]
Pulaski, smiling: "Particularly men like Commander Riker."
Troi, smiling: "And his father." [Because Pulaski has a crush on Riker's father.]
Pulaski, with a sigh: "I hope they don't injure each other."
[Troi looks off with worry and concern]
So in this scene, Troi is perceived as "human enough" for Pulaski to feel comfortable airing her "humans are so much more evolved than Klingons (and I'm so glad for that)" speech, in all its hypocrisy, and Betazoids are a peaceful enough people that she doesn't feel threatened. Troi, however, subtly reminds Pulaski of her other-than-human lineage: Pulaski keeps saying "men," but Troi says "human males."
From Amazon Interviews Marina Sirtis
, as one example (she spoke out in more than one interview):
 Amazon.co.uk: Troi has a very bittersweet time in Nemesis. She finally gets married but also undergoes one of the darkest events in Trek history, when she gets "psychically raped"…
Sirtis: Well, that assault sequence was kind of posited as a joke--me with a 23-year-old, nudge-nudge!--although, obviously, rape is hardly a joke. When we actually filmed it, it turned out to be one of the hardest days that I ever had as an actor. To make it as scary as it needed to be, we had to do it for real. Tom had to be really quite violent. I thought, this is never going to end up on screen! Obviously, they cut away all the really nasty bits, and what's left is kind of suitable for consumption.