When I asked people what episodes I should review here at Feminist Trekkie, Angel One came up numerous times. I hadn’t seen it since I was a little kid and I’d skipped it in my most recent watch-throughs because of the bad reviews, like Wil Wheaton’s analysis:
“The final product is so unbelievably horrible, it was a challenge to do more than write, “This thing was stupid, this thing was also stupid, this thing should be retconned, this thing was lame,” etc.
It’s also infamously sexist. Gates McFadden has said it was “one of the most sexist episodes we ever had”.
So my boyfriend and I sat down last night to watch it, ready for one of the worst episodes of Next Generation ever.
The Enterprise arrives at the planet Angel I, looking for survivors of the lost freighter Odin. The thing that makes Angel I interesting is that it’s matriarchal, ruled by a council of “Mistresses” and their leader, “The Elected One”.
“Our away team has beamed down to an unusual matriarchal society where the female is as aggressively dominant as the male gender was on Earth hundreds of years ago. Here, the female is the hunter and soldier, larger and stronger than the male,” says Picard in his opening Captain’s Log entry.
“Klingons appreciate strong women,” Worf says.
The away team is made up of Troi, Yar, Riker and Data. When they arrive at the Mistresses’ ceremonial yoga studio, Troi leads the talks to show respect. Mistress Beata, the leader of Angel I, mistrusts the crew and only agrees to tell them what’s happened to the freighter crew once the Enterprise has agreed to take the survivors away with them.
The issue is that the four surviving men are all fugitives because “they went against the natural order”, which we are to assume means they thought men should be more equal.
As they prepare to go out looking for the survivors, Riker receives a delivery of Angel I clothes that he plans to wear for a diplomatic audience with Mistress Beata, or to compete in 1980s Olympic figure skating:
Troi and Yar share the audience’s giggles and express surprise that he’s actually going to wear the outfit.
“This objection doesn’t have anything to do with the fact Beata is a woman, and an attractive one, does it?” Riker asks, suggesting Yar and Troi are just jealous and that he’s as interested in getting with Beata as he is with diplomacy.
“How handsome you are,” coos Beata when she sees him. She has him agree to stay with her and make out while the rest of the away team searches for the survivors. Beata tries to sell their way of life, saying on Angel I the women take all the responsibility and the men simply have to enjoy the pleasures of life.
“In our societies we share the responsibilities and the pleasures equally,” says Riker.
Troi, Yar and Data transport to the fugitives’ likely location and meet their leader, Space MacGyver (left):
Problem is, he doesn’t want to go, because he now considers the planet his home. And unlike the other MacGyver, he has no crafty solution to the problem. The away team realizes they’ll have to leave him behind because taking the survivors by force would violate the Prime Directive.
Meanwhile, back on the Enterprise, Wesley and his school friends have brought a nasty respiratory ailment back with them from a field trip. Everyone is getting highly sneezy and irrational. This subplot really doesn’t do much for the episode, but Crusher gets some good scenes of being caring (bringing Picard tea), commanding (ordering Picard to relinquish command until he feels better), and driven (trying to find a cure with little time remaining.
The away team comes back to the city and interrupts Riker and Beata’s diplomatic relations. Beata is not happy that the team isn’t taking the survivors with them. She has the survivors and their followers rounded up and scheduled to be executed, catching them by following Mistress Ariel, Space MacGyver’s secret wife.
Riker tries to intervene and persuade the Mistresses not to go forward with the execution, which is to occur via vaporization and is demonstrated less-than-dramatically on a vase. Beata lets Riker speak and he gives a reasonable pitch that Angel I is evolving into a more equal society. If Beata goes ahead and tries to execute these people, they might become martyrs.
Beata halts the executions in order for the Mistresses to consider Riker’s speech. When she comes back she announces they’ve decided to exile Space MacGyver and his followers to a far-off region of the planet.
“For a man, you can be very clever, Commander Riker,” Beata acknowledges.
Conclusion: The writers’ original idea is that this would serve as an allegory for apartheid South Africa, but there’s no way to tell that from the episode. As an attempt at gender role reversal meant to highlight past and current sexism against women, it totally backfires. It’s almost like it’s meant to be ridiculous, poking fun at how disastrous it would be for women to be in charge. Riker, instead of Troi or Yar, is the one whose voice of reason ultimately triumphs, saving the day.
What we learn from this episode: ·
The women of Angel I come across as indecisive, backstabbing, image-focused and unable to resist an attractive dude like Riker or Space MacGyver.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass – Beata talks to Troi, Yar and Mistress Ariel.