Sometimes the best way to commentate on human society is to put it through a mirror and pretend it's an alien society instead.
I'm not sure what the show is saying with Beata's apparent happiness with her delay of Angel One's "evolution" though. To put what's happening there into a human historical context, she's effectively exiled the suffragettes of our past to minimize their impact on public opinion. Of course, the men of that period in our history would have been equally smug at managing to suppress the voices of women demanding equal rights, but I'm not sure the tone of this episode quite works. It comes across as kind of saying "this is an OK solution"—which I would expect is not what the writers intended.
Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, the drama over a mysterious virus that spreads at an alarming speed clearly arose out of the need to effectively imprison the away team and Odin survivors on the planet, so they couldn't simply beam away before Beata's execution order was, well, executed. It was meant to force Riker into giving that very Picard-esque speech, and it did. It just did so in a very transparently plot device–like way, unfortunately.
I do think the subject matter this episode tried to tackle was important. It still is. The execution (sorry, these puns just write themselves!) left me wanting, though.
Sometimes I watch movies and shows and I'm like well I guess they're a product of their time but then I watch Star Trek and I'm like WOW they really did THAT and then it's difficult for me to excuse the shit from other shows and movies
Did I miss someting ? Where did that virus come from ? It either came from the holodeck (which should not be possible) or was it just there which also seems unlikely. Seemed like they just needed some story tool that prevents the away team from beaming up.
Anyway, not one of my favorite eps from S1. Good idea, very Trek, bad excecution. Scenes like Troy and Yar girlishly giggling upon seeing Riker didn't help much either.
[4.5/10] You want to give folks credit for having their hearts in the right place. “Angel One” wants to make a statement about gender equality. It uses the old sci-fi standby to do so -- abstraction. It’s easy to defend the current organization of society as right and fair because we’ve been socialized into it. But flip that society on its head and turn it into a thought experiment, and maybe you can get folks to think about gender imbalances and biases in a different light.
That’s what “Angel One” endeavors to accomplish by flipping the gender dynamics of the Western world. A matriarchal society has taken root on the titular planet, with women in control of the government, men made to be subservient and wear revealing clothing, and their culture founded on the idea that this arrangement is the just and natural order of things. It is, creditably, meant to lay the absurdity of that perspective bare, hopefully causing the audience to realize their same skepticism should apply to a real life male-dominated culture as well.
But as is often the case for season 1 of The Next Generation, the way the show goes about that hobbles its commendable message. For one thing, there’s a fair bit of hypocrisy here which is hard to ignore. In just thirteen episodes, the show’s returned multiple times to Tasha’s sexual history and attractions when giving her material. Dr. Crusher’s treatment has been a mixed bag at best. And it’s hard not to chuckle at the flouncy pirate outfits the planet’s men are expected to wear, meant to be ridiculous in their objectification, when Troi is constantly dressed in a jumpsuit with a deep V neckline.
While TNG does its best to show men and women working together as equals, there’s something presumptuous about the series trying to send this message when it has so far to go itself.
Still, even setting that aside, the narrative framing here doesn’t really work. There’s no nuance to the woman-dominated society we see here. Instead, it’s a cartoonish world with characters who basically announce their biases to the audience, and where people who question their society’s construction are put to death. It’s hard to have any kind of examination of the flaws in gender essentialism or communities built on it when the fictional society at play is so exaggeratedly, comically over-the-top in its prejudices.
It doesn’t help that the B-story back on the Enterprise is a grab bag of different tones and purposes. In a subplot that feels timely right now in 2021, there’s an airborne pathogen aboard the Enterprise that’s incapacitating the crew by the score. That’s particularly inconvenient since the Romulans are massing forces in the Neutral Zone and the ship might have to hightail it out of there, despite Riker and company’s diplomatic mission down below.
The story significance of all of this mostly boils down to the traditional Star Trek ticking clock. The away team can’t putter around on Angel One forever resolving the diplomatic situation there given the Romulan threat. But it also creates an excuse for them to stay on the planet and why they can’t just beam the refugees out of there when they’re facing death, given the plague threat on board the Enterprise.
But otherwise, it seems like the writers don’t know what to do with the concept. There is, appropriately enough, a chance for Dr. Crusher to shine by figuring out the source of the pathogen and creating a vaccine (though we never do learn where the virus came from). There are some attempts at humor with Picard being laid up in bed and forced to drink Crusher’s home remedies, Worf’s Klingon sneeze, and the captain trying to give orders while hoarse. There’s even a nice hint toward Geordi having a future in command when he drops a “Make it so” and delegates engineering issues so that he can run the bridge.
But for the most part, it’s superfluous to the main story down on the planet, which sees a seduction, a pack of revolutionaries, and one of those TOS-style speeches that lay everything on too thick.
It’s the former that’s the most egregious, as Riker seemingly beds (or is bedded by) the planet’s leader. Charitably, it can be taken in the spirit of “Don’t you see more clearly how sexual harassment is egregious and demeaning when the shoe is on the other foot?” But it plays like Beata basically fetishizing Riker for being a “take charge” kind of man and, worse yet, like their one night stand and pillow talk is what makes her change her mind about whether gender equality activists are an evil that should be stamped out. It seems to hinge on her personal evaluation of Riker, rather than any broader reevaluation of the system she presides over.
The rest of the tale is just cluttered. We find that the activists on Angel One are, in fact, the Federation refugees, who have settled there since being stranded and no longer want to leave. But it’s also not clear exactly how they’ve been agitating for equality or what they’ve been doing to achieve it, which makes their fight more abstract than salient.
There’s a crazy twist that the planet’s second-in-command is secretly fraternizing with the head of the Federation refugees/activists, which amounts to basically nothing beyond the planet’s leader being able to track the refugees down at a convenient time. And those freedom fighters (including a rough-hewn NPH analogue) give oddly flat performances that further undercut the message of urgency “Angel One” is shooting for.
(As an aside, the Prime Directive is still kind of a mess in the early going here. Apparently it only applies to Starfleet officers, and not civilians -- so a random person could still sell warp technology to cavemen? And as in “Justice”, interfering with unjust executions is prohibited but schtupping random aliens is fine, apparently. It’s a weird setup.)
It all ends with Riker giving one of those speeches about martyrs and symbols and how you can’t stop progress, blah blah blah. His trite monologue declares the point of the episode for anyone napping up until that point, and moves the heart of his paramour to spare the freedom fighters and instead exile them to a remote island. It’s at least a measured victory, rather than an all-out one. But apparently all Beata needed was the love and bedroom chats of a “real man” to be persuaded to swerve from decades of her culture’s history, so there’s that. William T. Riker -- saving the galaxy one romantic conquest at a time.
There’s an irony to the fact that “Angel One” tries to promote notions of gender equality in such a tone deaf, oft-hypocritical, and arguably even sexist way. The story it tells is clunky and scattered, and the episode doesn’t seem to know what to do with itself most of the time. But at its core, it’s trying to do something noble. The distance that fiction provides can help put into stark relief the flaws or contradictions at the heart of our way of life. TNG tries to do just that here, and deserves credit for that, but not for the hamfisted, underwhelming way it goes about it.
The story was good, as were the performances. I didn't care for the wardrobe, though, or the scene with Riker and that alien woman in bed. Still, this definitely isn't the worst episode of this series I've seen.
Riker wearing the Angel One outfit is truly a gift to mankind.