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21 November 2013 @ 03:19 am
The episode summary can be found here. This is a Season 4 episode.

So as I blogged before, in the episode "Icarus Factor," Deanna Troi explicitly says that as ship's counselor (but in particular, as an empath), her own emotions are "beside the point," and then needs to be given explicit permission to express them, even in private with her former lover. It's an odd thing for her to be saying in that context (as opposed to being with a client), and it's even odder in an episode where it's very clear others' emotions are front and center stage: Worf is trying to be left alone, and is clearly bothered about something, and all his friends rally around trying to figure out what it is and put on an appropriate Klingon ceremony for him, and the emotional mess between Riker and his dad is front and center to the plot. Troi doesn't even feel she has license to express sadness that in a matter of hours, Riker might be leaving the ship permanently, for a new assignment.

The theme of Troi's emotions being "beside the point" continues in another ST:TNG episode, "The Host." That episode is famous for its LGBT twist... at least what constituted one in 1991 when the episode aired. The writing of that could have been a lot stronger, but this is not that essay.

What struck me in watching this episode through again (because I've already seen it, and I know about the whole lesbian "twist" at the end that isn't really much of a twist viewed through today's eyes) was Troi's total lack of her "own" feelings on any of the episode's events, even when given her back story with Riker, there's no way she could not have very deep feelings. You mean to tell me she has no feelings at all about Riker volunteering to become the host to an alien symbiont, risking his life? That she has no reaction at all to feeling someone else's thoughts and emotions coming from Riker's body? That she has no concerns her former lover might not be coming back? That she's not relieved that Riker ends up OK?

Well, in this episode, she never so much as hints at any reaction of her own. Her role in the narrative is entirely to show us Crusher's feelings, and to counsel Crusher to follow her heart.

The full episode can be found here.

In this episode, Beverly Crusher has fallen madly in love with a Trill -- a race who at this point the Federation knows very little about (i.e. doesn't know a thing about their basic biology). Troi sees Crusher in the salon (where Crusher is getting a facial).

Troi: "Beverly, you're in love."
Crusher: "Sometimes I wish you weren't so... empathic."
Troi: "I don't think it's really a secret." (That she's in love.)

It's not a secret that Crusher is in love. Anyone could see this, maybe even Data. Troi comes into the salon and makes small talk. Crusher responds with a microaggression. (I mean how DARE she, right? Being in her space and noticing things! The NERVE of that Troi!)

Troi reacts with no offense taken at all, as if this sort of comment really is normal and OK and acceptable. If anyone else had pointed out to Crusher that she was in love -- said the exact same thing -- would Crusher have had this reaction? No. No, of course not. It's not what Troi said which was a threat, like in the case of Dr. Stubbs in the conference room in "Evolution," it's Troi's identity.

And again, Troi doesn't react, doesn't take offense, doesn't call this out. She says, "I don't think it's really a secret." (In other words, "I didn't 'violate you' or see something 'secret,' even non-empaths could see this plainly.")

Crusher: "It isn't?"
Troi: /shakes head/ "You've been glowing."
Crusher: "Oh. ...Must be the astringent."

Does she apologize for her earlier rude remark, now that she gets it's not a "secret" that Troi "violated"? Nope. She still has no concept of how her remark could be rude, nor does she care. It's still socially acceptable in that culture to say to a psi person that you wish they weren't... /scowl/ ...psi. (Because even simple stuff like pointing out "You're in love" can be perceived as some sort of threatening invasion of privacy, to which the proper response is to attack the marginalized identity of the speaker and try to take them down a peg, to reestablish your dominance.)

Imagine if Troi had dared say anything else!

You see why she doesn't.

Then you have this moment where it looks like Troi might actually speak up and comment about how Crusher's comment stung, but she pauses, thinks, and starts talking about her concerns about Crusher's new boyfriend instead. Which Crusher of course brushes off.

She is present in the scene in order to further Crusher's character development and the plot arc Crusher is in with Odin. She is not the center of the story.

Now we fast forward to after the accident, when they've had to implant the symbiont in someone else, and Riker's volunteered. Now keep in mind through this whole thing the long back story between Riker and Troi, and that this is the first time that Troi has seen him since he's become someone else (the Trill Odan).

Troi and Crusher are sitting in Ten Forward. Crusher is monologuing. What is it she loved about him (Odin)??? And asking for Troi's help. She doesn't seem particularly sensitive that though she never felt any of those things for Riker, Troi did, but by this point we know she's self-centered, and that her privilege supports this.

Then in walks Odan, now in Riker's body. You'd expect at this point that whatever Crusher's going through, Troi's going through her own version of it, because it has to be extremely weird to sense another's (alien) thoughts coming from the body of someone you know, your ex-lover and soul mate, no less. But instead, Troi doesn't mention this -- she goes on about her (human) dad, a story she tells in order to advise Crusher on what she should do in her relationship, not because this episode is actually about the relationship Troi had with her father. "Nope, I am not going to interrupt Crusher's self-centered reverie to tell her that I loved Will Riker and that it's actually really scary to think he might not be coming back because you implanted an alien symbiont in him, doctor. Nor am I going to tell you to stay away from Riker, because even though Odan is consenting, Will Riker isn't. No, my feelings are beside the point. (And apparently Riker's are, too.)"

And I'm watching this thinking, "You mean to tell me she doesn't want to smack Beverly Crusher upside the head for focusing only on herself during all this, and not considering at all that Troi might have her own feelings? That Troi might find Crusher's whole 'I've known him only a couple of weeks, but I'm so in love,' pretty ridiculous considering that she and Riker are Betazoid Imzadi, telepathically bonded betrothed? Seriously, Crusher? Is it too much in this episode for you even once to pause and ask, Deanna, how does it make you feel to see this happening to Will, who I know you also love?"

Crusher seems to think that on some level she and Troi are friends, but their actions here seem to reveal a different dynamic – that Crusher, as a non-psi person, has the privilege of her feelings mattering and being what can and "should" be front and center in any conversation, while Troi, as a psi person, does not, and she has to put her feelings aside and defer to that privilege that Crusher has. It's subtle, but that's how privilege works. They are not on equal footing, as shown right away in their first interaction in this episode (in the salon), where Crusher immediately denigrates Troi's awarenesses (and even species) because of a supposed (but fictitious) "violation" of her privacy. And when Troi points out (very gently, of course) that that's crap, Crusher doesn't apologize. She doesn't have to.

Crusher's attitude remains, in a subtle way, that Troi is there to serve her, and Troi doesn't challenge this, all of which makes sense in juxtaposition to that scene in "The Icarus Factor" where Troi says that her feelings are "beside the point." She is shown having internalized these attitudes to such a degree, she genuinely believes that her own feelings actually are "beside the point" when a non-psi person also has feelings.

If she and Crusher were truly friends, she would have been able to express her fears for Riker's safety, to express how awkward it feels to feel another's thoughts coming from the body of someone she was once so intimate with. But she can't ever be that friend to Crusher, because as an empath, not just as ship's counselor but as an empath, that's not her place.

There's also the other weird thing going on here – just because Troi's giving Crusher her permission to continue her relationship with Odan in Riker's body, no one still has any idea what Riker's going to think about all this when/if he comes back. He volunteered for the job to save the negotiations – finding out while you were out of it the alien that took over your body had sex with your colleague (with your body) has got to be extremely awkward! No one really thinks about that, or considers how Riker will feel about it. He doesn't exactly get to consent. (Eep.) Troi doesn't say, "Look, Odan might be consenting, but Riker isn't, and this isn't exactly cool." She says, "If you can feel those things from the man we know as Will Riker, accept it. Accept the love."

Which is supposed to be touching, but which I find creepy.

And then... Troi drops out of the story! We see the plot wrap up with Crusher and Odan (in the new host), even though that scene sure could have used better writing, and we never see one more mention of what Troi thinks about this (or even Riker!). It's more surprising to me that there isn't a final scene with Riker. Troi, well, her place in the narrative was just to ask Crusher about her feelings and tell her to follow her heart, never to have feelings of her own in the first place.
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