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24 July 2013 @ 05:53 pm
Star Trek: TNG (Distaster)  
[Edited for accuracy 11/6/13]

This episode has no psi.

That's why I'm blogging about it.

In this episode, Troi, inadvertently, gets command of the Enterprise by being the highest ranking officer available. Despite the fact that there are a zillion opportunities for her to sense what's going on elsewhere in the ship during this episode, she can't.

Ensign Ro says people are alive in the saucer section -- O'Brien asks about Ten Forward, because that's where his wife is. Ro says the sensors can't be that specific. He turns to Troi, and she says she can feel there are people alive, and that they're scared, but nothing more specific than that.

Even though in other episodes she can feel individual crew members down on a planet if the plot requires it.

In an earlier post, on how to evaluate stories with psi characters/themes, I wrote:

"25. Are there psi characters in positions of command or authority? Do they have authority over only other psi people, or over psi people as well as non-psi people, or only over non-psi people? Are these characters "good" or "evil"? Is their command/authority real, or in name only? Are psi characters people with no authority: "under-dogs", children, child-like characters, weak and vulnerable characters (aside from psi)? When a "good" psi person exercises command or authority, does the story still make mention that they are psi? How/how not?"

This episode is the only example I can think of, in all of the science fiction I have consumed in my whole life, of a "good guy" psi woman, in a position of actual command/authority, over non-psi people.

And what is suspiciously absent from the entire episode? That she is psi.

She actually doesn't even "solve" any of the problems -- Riker and Data solve some problems, Picard and the kids solve some problems, Ro solves some problems, La Forge and Crusher solve some problems, Worf assists in Keiko's labor. Troi gives the order not to separate the saucer section, over Ensign Ro's objections, and it turns out Troi was right, but she admits that Ro just as easily could have been right. (Note: she didn't know that people were alive in Engineering, or anywhere outside the saucer section, because she could feel it, she is literally guessing. About something that she would ordinarily know if this were a different episode.)

She makes a key decision, but she doesn't actually solve any problems. (On the bridge, Ro's busy solving problems.) She does order power diverted to the console in engineering, though, which turns out to be key for Riker and Data.

I do also find it odd that Ensign Ro would be "demanding" Troi separate the saucer section, even though Troi is obviously the higher ranking officer. Would she do that with any of the other crew who outrank her? (Dunno, the chain of command idea can be a little fuzzy in Star Trek anyway.)

Back to the focus of this blog, on one hand we have a psi woman in a position of authority over non-psi people (not that she wants to be there, but she's thrust into that position due to a crisis), while on the other hand, the authors hand-waves away that she is psi for the duration of this episode.

The writing seems constructed thus: if she were to know anything beyond what the sensors can detect, it would destroy the "suspense," and so therefore, she just... doesn't know. I disagree -- I think her knowing what's going on (with she, O'Brien and Ro nonetheless being unable to do anything about it), can still be suspenseful! But no, the episode is going for a specific type of conflict between her and Ro, so the plot dictates her awarenesses just... don't work for this episode. There is no explanation, she just states that she can't in response to O'Brien's question, and the matter is taken off the table entirely.

When the plot "needs" some psi information from her, she can do whatever is needed, and when the plot "needs" her not to know things, she just can't. This is about as basic a definition of "psi as a plot device" as one can get.

And what it creates is a situation where Troi, when her psi abilities are relevant to the plot, is subservient or a victim, yet when she has real authority in one episode, she's "not psi" in any useful way. She has any power the plot demands of her until she's temporarily in command of the Enterprise.

Here would have been a perfect opportunity to show her senses as character development, or to make her senses vital to her leadership style or choices in some way -- perhaps when Ro demanded they separate the saucer section Troi could have said, no, I can feel there are still people alive on the rest of the ship, thus showing that her senses put her in a better position to lead in this crisis than Ro. (That would even make her abilities "plot relevant," and save non-psi people's lives!)

Maybe she'd not be able to feel where people are immediately, but maybe with concentration (perhaps specifically looking for Riker, her Imzadi), she could feel Riker trying to get to Engineering, and then at the right moment reveal that information to Ro and make her decision not to separate the saucer section. She should at least be able to feel Riker, right? She can feel him all the way down on a planet! She can't feel he's trying to get to Engineering?

But no. She comes up with the idea to divert power to engineering "in case" there is anyone there, having no knowledge that anyone is alive down there, or trying to get there, and Riker and Data happen to find that signal (just in time).

We must find a non-psi solution! A telepath is in power -- she can't be both a telepath and in command, over non-telepaths! (Or so says the master-narrative of what it means to be a "good psi character.") These things can't co-exist!

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