The first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has just wrapped up and I was eager to see how it’d fare on the Bechdel-Wallace Test, where to pass, an episode must have:
- Two named women characters
- Who talk to each other
- About something other than a man
I don’t apply other conditions, like the length of time that a conversation needs to last. I have to give a big shout-out to my Women at Warp co-host Sue, who did the preliminary results and helped me gut check the two episodes that weren’t clear passes. If you haven’t already, check out her awesome SNW recaps on our WaW blog!
We have such a small sample of SNW eps (just 10) so we need to take that into account when comparing to other series with 4+ seasons. Still, SNW felt more like Discovery in that it was actually hard to keep track of every single interaction between women characters. You’ll see below that the notes capture just the first conversation that passed the test each episode.
We’re also not just seeing interactions like we did in Season 1 of Picard, but also meaningful relationship-building. Una and La’an’s interactions about their history, the Gorn, genetic modification, and Enterprise Bingo are one example. We also got to see La’an mentoring Uhura, and we got to see glimpses of Ortegas’ friendships with Chapel and Uhura. One notable gap is interactions between Ortegas and Mitchell, who sit next to each other on the bridge but rarely talk directly to each other. Hoping we’ll get a better sense of their relationship in future seasons, as we have with Detmer and Owosekun in Disco.
Revisiting the issue of non-binary characters
When I tested the first four seasons of Discovery I talked about how the Bechdel-Wallace Test is limited in that it doesn’t address characters outside the gender binary. I ultimately decided not to count dialogues between Adira and women characters, because I didn’t want to misgender Adira by implying they’re a woman. It also turned out not to make any difference to the Bechdel-Wallace scores: the episodes where Adira had great interactions with folks like Michael, Tilly and Detmer passed anyway. But a few folks suggested that I should’ve counted these conversations, because one of the major points of the Bechdel-Wallace Test is to point out the predominance of conversations between cis men, and of how women’s conversations tie them to heterosexuality. So I’m on the fence. I want to encourage Trek to continue to feature non-binary characters but I am cautious about not equating people who don’t identify as women with women. I also think “women and minorities”-type categories can be problematic and obscure important difference.
So let’s take a look at the specific episode where this matters in SNW: “The Serene Squall.” The episode features Jesse James Keitel, who is a trans woman playing a non-binary character, Dr. Aspen. If you don’t include conversations between Dr. Aspen and women, the episode fails. The closet we get is a scene where a group including Una, La’an, Ortegas, M’Benga and Pike talk about their “Alpha Braga” strategy to cause a mutiny on the pirate ship, but the women don’t really talk to each other as distinct from talking to the entire group.
Dr. Aspen plays a central role in this episode though, and that’s great. However, the vast majority of their interactions are with men (notably Spock) or about Spock or their lover, also a man who’s being held in T’Pring’s rehabilitation facility (this is the most I can say without major spoilers. Dr. Aspen does have a couple of interactions with Chapel and T’Pring, but they’re really peripheral to the focus on Spock and the person they’re trying to free. But technically they do pass. For example, Chapel asks two quick questions about their goals and they reply. When they contact T’Pring, before launching into talking about men, they note that T’Pring is attractive and have a brief exchange about whether T’Pring is a prison guard or works at a rehabilitation centre.
So it’s complicated, and that’s why I have two percentages below for this season!
Total: 80% or 90% Pass
|Strange New Worlds||Pass||Chapel and La’an discuss genetic modification|
|Children of the Comet||Pass||Uhura and Ortegas talk about what they’re wearing to the dinner|
|Ghosts of Illyria||Pass||Number One talks to Uhura about whether she can get a signal lock to communicate with the away team|
|Memento Mori||Pass||Number One and La’an talk about the Gorn|
|Spock Amok||Pass||Number One and La’an talk about Una’s nickname and Enterprise Bingo|
|Lift Us Where Suffering Cannot Reach||Pass||Uhura, La’an and Ortegas discuss Security procedures|
|The Serene Squall||Pass/Fail*||Pass if you count Dr. Aspen’s brief interactions with Chapel and T’Pring that aren’t about men|
|The Elysian Kingdom||Pass||Number One and Ortegas (as their fantasy characters) talk about their relationship|
|All Those Who Wander||Pass||Chapel and Ortegas talk about the party|
|A Quality of Mercy||Fail||Ortegas and Mitchell speak one after another in a meeting but not to each other|