"She took her marriage vows seriously but the fire in her pants spoke of greater truths. Would she falter to temptation or maintain her Code of Honor?"
Sometimes I wonder if any conservative political thinkers are fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Every aspect of the 24th Century relies on a model that took liberal values of caring for everybody and extending them further and further left. It's as socialist a world as you can get. And with that liberal mindset, we still get episodes like this. I'm not saying that liberals can't make mistakes in their social perspective; I'm saying the exact opposite. Liberals are often blind to the ways in which they support a racist system because they so fervently believe they aren't racist. And while this episode's intent probably isn't the way I'm perceiving it, how can I not see it as a bunch of white people teaching black people how to be civilized?
Well, maybe I'll tell you how later! Maybe!
The story centers around two separate cultures whose values and traditions come into conflict early. Maybe the story is supposed to be analogous to white imperialist explorers imposing their beliefs and traditions on indigenous peoples and we're supposed to judge the crew of the Enterprise by their actions. That is, after all, sort of the basis for the Prime Directive. Explore, study, learn but don't impose your will on others or interfere in any way with their progress. But it's hard to think it's a story about humankind's having learned from their past imperialist failings when the plot revolves around the people of Ligon II being "taught a lesson" by Jean-Luc and his cohorts. Perhaps I should just view the episode as a conflict between Jean-Luc and Lutan, the leader of Ligon II (planetary president, I guess?). It is, after all, Lutan's disregard for his people's own traditions that brings him into conflict with the Federation and not the Federation's disrespect for them.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself! Let me just stick to the plot for a moment. The Federation needs a vaccine that only the people of Ligon II can make. Dr. Crusher can't even replicate it in her lab without it degrading. So they need to deal with the people of Ligon II on their terms to secure a trade. The only thing the people of Ligon II seem to want is for the Federation to respect them. Seems easy enough, right?! Well, it's easy to pay lip service to another culture's beliefs and social mores. But when one of them kidnaps your head Security Officer, things become a bit more complicated.
One of the traditions of Ligon II is to kidnap a high ranking member of another tribe to show your prowess in, um, I don't know, social situations? After which, the other person has to plead for the return of this kidnapped person. The person is returned and all is well because the traditions of their social conventions have been met by each party. Jean-Luc understands this because the Enterprise has a full deck of interns researching every race they interact with to figure out how to not offend them. They should probably be paying this staff though because the staff always seem to realize the important stuff too late (see the episode "Justice" for more examples (which I haven't written yet so hold your horses)). Here, they forget to tell Jean-Luc that Lutan is going to kidnap somebody as part of the diplomatic process.
The real trouble comes not because of the kidnapping but because Lutan suddenly refuses to return Tasha Yar, instead deciding to make her his wife. This decision shocks even his own people because he is breaking some serious social taboos. Tash Yar, used to dealing with Rape Gangs, just takes it all in stride. Sure, she wants to kill somebody but doesn't she always want to kill somebody? She's more bloodthirsty than Worf (which is probably a racist comment but then I'm not the one who spent several television seasons making sure the audience understands that Klingons are violent killing machines who almost certainly choke each other near to death when they fuck (again, see commentary on "Justice")). In the end, Lutan's wife, Yareena, challenges Tasha Yar to a fight to the death which is too often par for the course when a guy steps out on his lady. She should challenge Lutan to a fight to the death. What the fuck did Tasha Yar do?!
In this episode, we also learn that Data doesn't know how to tell a joke and his programming allows for slips of the tongue. Maybe his creator added that because when he made Lore, Lore was all, "I'm going to fucking kill all humans!" and his creator was all, "Oh shit. I've got to put some flaws in this machine so I can defend myself against it!"
The fight to the death uses gloves covered in a fast acting poison. To make sure the audience understands the danger to Tasha Yar, Tasha knocks off Yareena's glove. It flies into the crowd, pricking a spectator who dies immediately. But since he never gets a name, we don't have to care about his death. Nobody does. Whatever. Too bad. Presumably, he knew the danger that came with ring-side seats to the bout.
In the end, Tasha Yar pricks Yareena after which she dives on her and they're both transported aboard the Enterprise. I'm no transporter genius (or layman, even) but that seems like a good way to have a serious The Fly transporter accident. How do the two of them not fuse on recombining?! Yareena dies from the poison but Doctor Crusher brings her back from death. It's important that she dies because her death ends the "fight to the death" challenge honorably and with accordance to all laws and Prime Directives. But it also dissolves her marriage to Lutan! And since women on Ligon II hold all material wealth and land rights, Lutan gets nothing in the separation! He loses everything and his second-in-command, who rooted for Yareena during the fight, winds up being her husband and, I guess, planetary president?
Lutan gets his comeuppance just like somebody who overreaches should. Just ask MacBeth about overreaching. Hoo boy, does it never work out! And I guess the people of Ligon II don't really learn a lesson. The white people don't show them anything new or civilized. Maybe my initial reaction to the episode was due to systemic racism influencing my every thought and not that the episode was racist even if it exists in a culture of systemic racism. In a way, I'm glad the producers aired an episode this early in the series that a viewer couldn't help seeing as analogous to white imperialists invading Africa and all the other continents of Earth. The comparison shouldn't be that the Federation was just doing the same old thing. What should be learned was how different the Federation, working within the Prime Directive, acts when encountering other peoples and cultures. They don't merely assume human beliefs and traditions are correct. They treat them as just one option to living that is no better than any other that developed in different ways on far flung planets full of diverse sentient creatures. And I know Jean-Luc Picard seems smug and above everybody else at times but how can you not adore him? He fucking hates children!
The worst part of this episode is when Deanna Troi tricks Tasha Yar into professing that she's flattered by Lutan's attraction to her. Really? She grew up being chased by Rape Gangs and we're supposed to believe that this incident wasn't traumatic but flattering?! I know Tasha Yar wants as much space dick as she can get but not in this situation! She should be fucking angry and pissed and scared. That's all Troi should be feeling from her. But instead, Troi is all, "He's kind of hot, right? And you know what they say about the size of Ligon II dicks, yeah?!" And Tasha is all, "*blush blush crotch overflow error*". It just seems like some tone deaf writing. Although maybe the writer of this episode, Katharyn Powers, didn't realize everybody else was writing all of this Rape Gang shit into her history. She probably skimmed the character portfolio on Tasha Yar, read "She loves to fuck!", and was all, "Oh yeah! Tasha's my girl! Get some mystery space cock, bitch!"