Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Angel One”

“Angel One”
Written by Patrick Barry
Directed by Michael Rhodes

Season 1, Episode 14
Original air date:  January 25, 1988
Star date: 41636.9

Mission summary

The Enterprise stumbles upon the remains of the Odin, a small freighter that collided with an asteroid seven years previous. While there are no life signs onboard, three escape pods are missing. The nearest class M planet where any survivors may have landed is Angel I, a matriarchal constitutional oligarchy with whom the Federation last had contact sixty-two years ago.

Riker, Data, Troi, and Yar beam down to the surface with Troi taking the lead out of respect for the “Elected One,” Mistress Beata. Beata and her council neither confirm nor deny the existence of survivors. She consults with her Fashion Club before revealing that four men, led by someone named Ramsey, survived and made it to their planet. They are fugitives on Angel I for being uppity and “causing trouble,” but as long as Troi promises to get them off this planet Beata is pleased with the idea of a manhunt. She’s also on a manhunt (rowr) of her own, intrigued by Riker’s masculinity, and sends him something a bit more comfortable to slip into. He heads to her private chambers and they begin to bring their cultures closer together with some mood lighting and an unfortunate softcore soundtrack.

Meanwhile, Data, Yar, and Troi locate the men hiding out in a cave. MacGuyver Ramsey refuses to return with them, though, explaining that the survivors have taken wives and some of them even have children: Angel I is now their home. When the away team reports this to Beata, the mistress is outraged. She orders the execution of Ramsey and his men, not leastwise because one of her own councilwomen, Ariel, is secretly married to Ramsey. Riker begs Ramsey to reconsider his choice to stay on the planet and face the death penalty, but the ex-freighter captain declines once more.

Meanwhile, everyone on the Enterprise is coming down with an incurable, untreatable flu. (As per usual, it’s Wesley’s fault.) The ship’s complement is bed-bound one-by-one, and command eventually goes to Dr. Crusher. Riker asks about beaming the whole Ramsey contingent up to the Enterprise against their will, but with this virus going around Crusher won’t allow it, so the away team is on their own. In a third and even less plausible plot, the Enterprise is needed at the Neutral Zone as a display of power towards the Romulans, so Data beams up to the ship to warp over there if a resolution isn’t reached.

With only 48 minutes left before the Enterprise must leave, Beata arranges for the execution of Ramsey via disintegration zapper. Luckily Riker is there to mansplain the whole men’s rights thing to her and in the end her womanly emotions are swayed. She releases Ramsey and orders them to exile instead. On the Enterprise, a cure for the flu is found and the recovering crew head to the Neutral Zone.


Ah, the first of several Very Special Episodes has finally arrived.

This episode could have simply been a single scene: Riker walking out of the changing area wearing that ridiculous outfit while Troi and Yar laugh uncontrollably. It perfectly encapsulates “Angel One,” don’t you think? Where Riker thinks he’s being progressive and diplomatic by wearing the local attire, the episode as a whole has the same unearned smugness about rejecting sexism. (Sexism! It’s bad! This takes 48 minutes to explain!) The “mistresses” (because we’ve met so many men out there in the Alpha Quadrant who call themselves “masters”…) blow out their hair, are catty to one another, and wear high heels and shoulderpads, so there’s no confusion that this is slyly about that uppity woman down the hall from you at work.

What really bothers me here and with just about every woman-in-power plot we see in the Trek universe (and beyond) is the hypersexualization of women with any degree of authority. They’re never simply leaders–they’re always oversexed leaders. The Romulan Commander is, of course, vulnerable to Spock’s charms, and the worst offender is certainly the women of DS9’s mirror universe, who go from 0 to bisexual sadomasochist in the blink of an eye. Here Beata latches onto Riker almost instantly, as if the problem weren’t sexism itself (which is bad! don’t forget!) but that Beata just needed to find someone sufficiently masculine to mansplain it all to her. She doesn’t come to respect the men on her planet any more, and in fact remains hardened against their empowerment. Rather, she acknowledges that she’s a reactionary whose days will soon be over, but not on her watch. Your heroine, ladies and gentlemen!

Ultimately, what I find so galling is that this is a story about sexism that utterly fails to capture any of the realities of sexism. From what I can tell here sex discrimination mostly involves wearing a stupid costume and being a waiter. Luckily the men of Angel I don’t seem to ever contend with the less absurdly trivial: the fallout of a culture that objectifies one sex would more realistically include related issues of self esteem and depression, a culture of rape and the constant threat of violence (domestic or otherwise), and so on. No, all we see is Trent looking a little jealous when Riker horns in on his “mistress.” It reinforces the idea that sexism is the behavior of a few misguided relics, long since “cured” in our own world, and not a set of subtle, institutionalized power structures that legitimize behaviors that reinforce those privileges. And isn’t it cute that they think maybe feminism can one day go “too far”?

Like with “Code of Honor,” while I definitely remembered the primary catastrophic failure (sexism! it’s really really bad!), I had again totally forgotten all of the other huge failures. I didn’t remember the Ramsey plot at all, and the logical pretzels required for the Starfleet officers to believe they don’t have the authority to force Ramsey off the planet. Who cares if he’s in Starfleet? The Federation has an obligation to protect its own citizens. I can’t just move my family to Prince Edward Island without a passport and a visa, and my country has the right to repatriate me whether PEI turned out to be an unstable coven of moonsisters or not. I was also shocked that both times the Federation representatives try to convince the oppressed men to leave, Ramsey unilaterally declares that they won’t. What about what the other guys want? Shouldn’t they be able to make their own choices? And finally, how does a holoprogram create a real virus that incapacitates an entire ship, and why should we even care?

I’m going to use this opportunity to introduce the First Rule of TNG: if Futurama did it better, this is probably one of the worst ten episodes.

Torie’s Rating: Impulse Power (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: Was there ever any doubt? Riker’s “sexy” ensemble, open-chested and sparkly for maximum 70s effect, complete with pants-chains and crotch diaper, is obviously the fashion of the future.

Best Line: YAR: They’ve broken off transmission.
LAFORGE: Ever feel like you’re not really wanted?

Trivia/Other Notes: La Forge only gets command once more, in “The Arsenal of Freedom.”

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 13 – “Datalore.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 15 – “11001001.”

About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.