I feel like “The Child” is well-worn ground for feminist Star Trek fans analyzing the series (I even wrote about it before for Bitch Magazine Blogs in an article called “Counsellor Troi and Telepathic Rape”) and there have been a lot of concerns raised.
Probably the most discussed aspect is the forced pregnancy and how Deanna responds to it.
In terms of the initial assault, I’m not the only one who considers “The Child” part of a troubling pattern of Troi’s body being invaded and violated throughout the series. In the beginning of “The Child” we actually see the energy spark-thingy float up to Troi while she’s sleeping and slip under the sheets, which is pretty darn creepy.
In the Feminist Frequency video “The Mystical Pregnancy”, Anita Sarkeesian says:
Deanna Troi from Star Trek the Next Generation is perhaps the quintessential example of the mystical impregnation trope as her character’s body and mind are regularly occupied, borrowed, violated and invaded by alien beings. During Season 2 in the episode “The Child” Counsellor Troi is impregnated with a rapidly aging alien fetus by a flying ball of “space” energy. Imagine finding out you’re pregnant, giving birth 36 hours later, raising the child within a day and then it dies, or in this case vanishes. We don’t see Troi dealing with the long term emotional ramifications of such a traumatic event and the experience is never mentioned again throughout the series.
Anita points out the “Mystical Pregnancy” is an old, tired trope that puts the focus on women’s bodies, distorts how we view pregnancy, and makes it seem like it can be a “here one week, gone the next” kind of thing.
“The Child” is certainly no exception. There’s very little effort given to actually explain the force that assaults and impregnates Troi, to grapple with how downright creepy the whole thing is, and pretty much no discussion of little Ian ever again.
Side note: the above is probably my favourite screen cap ever.
In terms of Troi’s response, oddly, the episode has become a grounding point for both pro-choice and “pro-life” Trek fans. I think at minimum it establishes that the Federation sanctions women’s reproductive choice, since it’s openly suggested that the fetus be aborted, but when Troi announces: “I’m going to have this baby,” Picard responds, knowing he’s heard the only person’s opinion who counts: “Then it seems that the discussion is over.”
That said, this one decision in no way makes it an empowering episode for Troi. Saying she’ll carry the fetus to term is pretty much the only time she gets a say in what’s going on; the alien being is pulling all the rest of the strings.
It’s also worth mentioning Riker’s territorial reaction when he finds out. In front of everyone in the conference room, he says, with a hint of anger, “I don’t mean to be indelicate, but who’s the father?”
Luckily, he comes around later and supports her later in a way that’s sweet, but could also be seen as implying the need for a father figure.
Beyond Troi, it’s important to look at “The Child” as the first episode that shows Doctor Pulaski and sows the seeds for a good chunk of the audience to dislike her.
When the Captain of the ship is positioned as the hero, it’s going to be really important that any new main character you add at least be respected by him. But the very first time you hear Pulaski’s name mentioned, Picard’s mad because she hasn’t reported in:
Picard: Sickbay, this is the captain.
Sickbay: Sickbay, aye.
Picard: Is Doctor Pulaski there?
Sickbay: Er, no, sir. The Doctor is in Ten forward.
Picard: Thank you.
Sickbay: Aye, sir.
Picard (sarcastically): A few hours on board and already she’s found Ten Forward.
Now it turns out she’s in there with Troi, but it’s just a horrible way to introduce her, making us think she’s a drunk who can’t be bothered to follow authority.
And of course, not long after that she disses Data, saying Troi “is going to need the comfort of a human touch, not the cold hand of technology” while she’s in labour. Later she mispronounces his name and tries to argue it’s not important when he corrects her.
This sticks in a lot of people’s minds and craws. Instead of making her seem sort of quaintly or comically anti-technology, she comes across as ignorant and arrogant.
I feel like if they hadn’t written in the confrontations with Data and Picard, Pulaski would’ve stood a much better chance being appreciated by a broader base of fans. Because otherwise, there is stuff to admire. For example, I really like her demeanour with Troi throughout this episode. The scenes with Troi let Pulaski demonstate competence, level-headedness and empathy. I’d sure let her deliver my alien energy fetus.
Random question to finish: What happened to the puppies we saw the kids play with at school? We never see anyone walking dogs on the ship. And they look like they’re going to grow into big dogs – they aren’t exactly like guinea pigs or budgies that can just live in the classroom once they grow up. I’m assuming they didn’t just recycle them into the replicator.
Bechdel Test: Pass. Pulaski talks to Troi during labour about the process.