Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Ménage à Troi”

Menage a Troi“Ménage à Troi”
Written by Fred Bronson & Susan Sackett
Directed by Robert Legato

Season 3, Episode 24
Original air date: May 28, 1990
Star date: 43930.7

Mission summary

The Enterprise is hosting a trade agreement conference while in orbit around Betazed, which means it’s time for another installment of How I Studiously Avoided Meeting Your Mother starring Lwaxana Troi. Lwaxana seems happy at the chance to further berate her daughter for choosing a career over babies on Betazed, but gets derailed when a Ferengi named DaiMon Tog hits on her in the middle of the reception. For some reason “I would pay handsomely for you” doesn’t work on her, and she spurns him in front of the delegation before storming off. But Tog isn’t superficial–he wants her mind, too. To give him an edge on negotiations.

Riker gets assigned shore leave, so he and Deanna go for a walk down Memory Lane–and also the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens–on Betazed. But their little date is spoiled when Lwaxana and Mr. Homn arrive, and start Meddling. Mr. Homn goes off to pick some berries while Riker, Deanna, and Lwaxana get more and more irritated with one another. Just then, DaiMon Tog beams down! He still has the hots for Mama Troi, and won’t take no for an answer–beaming them all back to his ship.

They arrive naked, because that’s supposed to be funny. Tog again declares his attraction (and business proposition) to Mama Troi, and she decides to try and play him. Deanna is returned to a brig with Riker, with the Nibor guarding them. He has a weakness for (and at) 3D chess, though, which Riker attempts to exploit by goading him and offering a rematch of a game he won on the Enterprise… if he can get out of his cell. This works for some reason, and soon Nibor is out cold and Deanna and Riker are both free.

Meanwhile, Wesley has just passed his written Academy entrance exam and all that remains is his oral exam. He angsts about leaving the Enterprise… yeah I don’t think anyone cares enough for me to recap that.

Lwaxana has bought her daughter’s freedom, in part, by oo-moxing Tog, which sounds a little like Ferengi second base. Blech. She tells Deanna to take advantage of his “relaxed” state and try to fashion an escape for them. Unfortunately, it looks like Riker never actually bothered to incapacitate Nibor because soon they’ve been caught sending a distress signal and corralled back up with the exposed Lwaxana. Humiliated again, Tog consents to Dr. Farek’s demands that they mind probe Lwaxana. This doesn’t work anyway, so Lwaxana tries to buy her daughter’s freedom by agreeing to become Tog’s telepathic consort willingly. He likes this idea…

Wesley, meanwhile, missed the boat to the Academy because he deciphered Riker’s distress call and just had to show everyone. He saves the day again as the Enterprise catches up with Tog’s ship and demands the return of the trio. Tog happily returns Deanna and Riker, but shows that Lwaxana doesn’t want to go. Of course, Deanna knows better… and when Lwaxana hints over the viewscreen that she and Picard were lovers, Deanna picks up on the ruse and tells Picard to “fight” for her so that Tog will give her up.

PICARD: Er, er. It’s not over between us, Lwaxana. You’re mine and I will not let you go. I insist you return to my side immediately.
LWAXANA: You mean, you still care?
PICARD: My love is a fever, longing still for that which longer nurseth the disease.
LWAXANA: Tell me more.
PICARD: In faith, I do not love thee with mine eyes, for they in thee a thousand errors see. But ’tis my heart that loves what they despise, who in despite of view are pleas’d to dote. Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
TOG: You didn’t tell me that you and Captain Picard were
LWAXANA: You said you didn’t want to hear about my other romances. I have a new love, Jean-Luc. And you can’t keep killing all my lovers. That simply has to stop.
TOG: Killing?
LWAXANA: Oh, he’s insanely jealous.
PICARD: Listen, Tog, I must possesses Lwaxana. And if that means destroying your ship in the process, so be it.

Tog doesn’t call his bluff and beams Lwaxana back before he believes his ship is destroyed. All is well… and the captain goes out of his way to thank Wesley for skipping the oral exams to get back his first mate.

WESLEY: Is there something wrong, Captain?
PICARD: I’m just thinking that I’m saying goodbye to you as you are today.
WESLEY: But I thought you said I wasn’t going to be able to go?
PICARD: The Academy must make you wait, that’s true. But, when I review your service to this ship, your crewmates, I cannot in all conscience make you wait for the Academy. You see, Wesley, in my eyes you’re an acting ensign in title only. I hereby grant you field promotion to full Ensign, with all the commensurate responsibilities and privileges of that rank. Congratulations. You’re dismissed.

Menage a Troi

Analysis

This episode thinks it’s funny. It’s wrong. If anything, it’s a deeply disturbing portrait of female impotence and oppression. Pretty much everything that’s played for laughs here manages to be misogynistic and creepy.

First, we have Lwaxana’s loud rejection of DaiMon Tog at the reception. Deanna (and supposedly, the audience) winces in embarrassment–oh mom, how could you be so rude! But you know what? Lwaxana is absolutely right here. DaiMon Tog has no right to go up to her and declare his attraction, let alone offer to “buy” her. This is a professional conference. They do not know each other. He has no right whatsoever to her attention, let alone anything else. Yet Deanna chastises her behavior! She tells her mother that she’s rude, and putting on too many airs (when she points out that the sacred chalice isn’t so great) by humiliating him publicly. What a load of sexist crap. In trying to paint Lwaxana as the “rude” one, the episode condemns her behavior and completely sidesteps how disgusting and inappropriate DaiMon Tog’s behavior was. Sure, we’re supposed to think he’s gross, but gosh, Lwaxana, you didn’t have to be a jerk, right? Actually, no. She had every right to be a jerk to him. He insinuated himself into her sphere and her space, propositioned her in a professional setting, and refused to take no for an answer. He gave up the privilege of politeness, and I am furious that the writers wanted me to think anything different. This is a tired sexist cliche. If a man makes a pass at you at work, on the street, or on the subway, you’re supposed to be flattered. If you yell at him, tell him to go away, you’re the jerk. Screw that. Go Lwaxana.

Second, we have Lwaxana’s decision to flirt (and more) with Tog to try and buy her daughter time. This is beyond disturbing. The fact that Lwaxana is forced (or at the very least, coerced and left without a meaningful choice, since the alternative is a torture chair) into sexually “stimulating” Tog to try to save her life is sexual assault. Period, do not pass go, go straight to jail. Is it supposed to be funny that Lwaxana will whore herself out for her only child? Because it’s not. It’s awful. You know what else isn’t funny? That in the end, Tog asks if Picard will “forget” the whole thing and Picard suggests he may report Tog’s incompetency as a captain, but there is absolutely no suggestion that Tog should be punished for, gee, kidnapping and attempted rape. Because hahaha it’s all just fun and games, right? No, TNG. No it’s not. It’s unwanted touching and involuntary incarceration and at least the first half of an SVU episode.

Lastly, we have the big “showdown” between Picard and Tog. It’s fun to watch Picard ham it up, sure. But the sad fact remains that we have two men fighting over a woman, treating them as property to be won–conquests. They’re nothing but property (or, in a different sense, victims), utterly powerless except in their sexual wiles, and even those aren’t strong enough to earn their freedom. It’s not Deanna that gets she and Riker out of the cage, it’s Riker, by “manning up” against Nibor. Deanna doesn’t do squat. She doesn’t send the subspace signal, she doesn’t even distract the Ferengi. These women still need big strong men to come in and save them, and in the end the stronger man with the bigger ship and the bigger guns wins. Isn’t this supposed to be the future? Isn’t Deanna right in refusing her mother’s insistence that she give up her career to marry, because she feels empowered by her work and relishes her independence? Guess not.

At least we have that awesome B-plot where Wesley gets a field commission–hahahahahahahahahahahaha… haha… ha. If this is an oral exam, why does he have to be shuttled anywhere anyway? Don’t they have FaceTime? Why would Riker even pick the conference elevator music as his subspace signal? Why is Wesley the only one who can figure that out? Why is THAT what earns him a field commission? Why are there field commissions on a giant diplomatic shuttle van in a time of peace?

One of the absolute worsts.

Proposed: The only successful Star Trek comedy was Star Trek IV. See: Star Trek V, “The Outrageous Okona,” “Manhunt.” Discuss.

Torie’s Rating: Warp Core Meltdown (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread AlertThread Alert: A periwinkle pirate shirt (complete with deep, chest hair-baring V-neck) and a rejected 80s prom dress: This is what these people choose to wear on their day off.

Best Line: LWAXANA (after she and Deanna are beamed aboard naked): I should have known. Even their transporters can’t be trusted.

Trivia/Other Notes: Co-writer (and Gene Roddenberry’s secretary) Susan Sackett said that this story evolved out of a play on O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

Director Legato later revealed that Gene was very much invested in Wesley’s promotion, and in honor of the event he gave Wil Wheaton the second lieutenant bars he earned in the Army Air Corps (second lieutenant being equivalent to an ensign in the US Navy). Present at the ceremony (though it’s not clear to me if this was merely a happy coincidence) was General Colin Powell, who at the time was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Ferengi torture chair is a dentist’s chair. Har har.

If you don’t recognize his face, you should recognize his voice. Dr. Farek is played by Ethan Phillips, destined to be the Talaxian everyone loves to hate–Neelix–in Voyager. I’ve come to believe that it’s not his fault, though. You may recognize him from better outings like Lean on Me, Glory, or dozens of other TVs and movies. He’s also an accomplished stage actor, appearing most recently in Terrence McNally’s Golden Age.

You know, we never get to talk about Mr. Homn. Carel Struycken is a Dutch actor raised on Curacao, who wrote many Caribbean ballads before he began his acting career. You probably know him as Lurch from the various Addams Family movies. He’s over seven feet tall (due to the medical condition giantism) and was “discovered” when he was in Hollywood for a directing program and a woman stopped her car in the middle of the street on Hollywood and Vine to tell him she needed him for a movie: Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Frank Corsentino, who plays DaiMon Tog, previously appeared as DaiMon Bok in “The Battle.”

If you didn’t get enough of this story the first time, Lwaxana will tell Odo all about it in DS9’s “The Forsaken.”


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 23 – “Sarek.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 25 – “Transfigurations.”

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.