“The Muse” is the last Star Trek episode guest-starring Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi, and I want to spend most of this review talking about Lwaxana in this episode. But first, I have to do my due diligence addressing the muse of the show’s title.
Onaya (played delightfully creepily by Meg Foster) is essentially a creativity vampire, who preys on Jake Sisko’s creative energy as he writes. She tempts him with promises of increasing his creative potential, but as he experiences her abilities, it’s like he becomes addicted, and he’s clearly in danger if he continues.
The first time he comes to her quarters, she suggests he write using a paper and pen. And he handwrites, because they might have stopped teaching cursive writing in a lot of schools in the 21st century, but gosh darn if it isn’t mandatory for 24th-century kids!
Anyhow, that’s not my major concern with this B plot (or A plot, it’s not really clear). Because they never really satisfactorily explain what Onaya gets out of these creative men this is really Jake’s story, not hers. Just like the “manic pixie dream girl” trope(an offshoot of the idea of a “muse”), it’s what Jake learns more than what she learns that’s important to the audience.
A guest character functioning to reveal something about a regular character isn’t bad, per se. But I didn’t find Jake’s experience particularly compelling or enlightening. And Onaya’s character is practically a cliché.
The place where the writers were coming from helps shed some light on why Onaya turned out this way. Ron Moore is quoted as saying:
“This is a real writer’s show. The idea that you would sit someplace and write, and as you’re writing a woman is getting off on your writing – that is the most inside writer’s fantasy you can imagine. I don’t know if anything else is quite like those scenes. He’s writing, putting words on paper, and she’s coming on to him. These are like our fantasies.”
That view makes it hard to think outside stereotypes, and it shows in the result. As Michelle Erica Green says in her review at Trek Today:
Jake almost got destroyed by a woman who wanted to suck the creativity out of him, but hey, we’ve heard that story before. Standard romantic stereotype of the artist who forsakes his wife and family in the name of freedom: the woman drains him of all his juices, so he has to get away. In this case, it was literal.
I think it goes beyond this stereotype about artists being cramped or drained by women to speak to a more general stereotype about women tempting and ultimately preying on men, sucking not just the creativity but the life out of them.
The Lwaxana/Odo plot is arguably more interesting. To summarize, Lwaxana arrives on the station, looking for Odo’s help. She’s pregnant with a male fetus, but her husband’s planet observes strict gender segregation and she wants a divorce so she won’t be separated from her son after he’s born.
Lwaxana at the end of her character arc is far different from the monster-in-law/Auntie Mame we met in TNG’s “Haven”, and I have mixed feelings about that. Early Lwaxana was a bit one-dimensional, but she was also bold, brassy, funny, and in-control.
Over time through later TNG and into DS9, the writers complicated her and gave her a darker past and serious personal challenges to deal with. She also bonded with Odo as another “outsider”, helping us connect with both their characters. In my view, “The Forsaken” is the best of her DS9 appearances, but I’ll have to get to that in another post.
But I don’t think “The Muse” does Lwaxana justice, partly because the episode is weak overall, but also because the story requires Odo to be Lwaxana’s knight in shining armour.
In her first scene, Lwaxana comes to Odo’s office, crying. The situation she describes with her husband can only be described as abusive:
Lwaxana: During our wedding ceremony, he spoke so beautifully about why he wanted to marry me, but afterwards it was as if I had become a piece of property in his eyes.
Odo: So you ran away.
Lwaxana: And it wasn’t easy, believe me. Toward the end, I was practically a prisoner in my own house.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the sense that the writers or actors were really sure how to play this scene. The lack of gravitas, and Lwaxana’s comic history on DS9 and with Odo make it hard to let the seriousness of what she’s saying sink in.
She ends up inviting herself to stay on the station, which is a little more in-character, but still feels a bit wrong.
Lwaxana: That’s why I came to you. Because I knew you’d protect me. You will protect me, won’t you, Odo?
With the exception of “Dark Page”, where Deanna has to help her mother overcome the trauma of repressed memories, Lwaxana usually doesn’t need saving. I feel her needing Odo to save her is a lot harder to swallow.
Even though he doesn’t want it, Odo has some power over Lwaxana. We need to remember the last time Lwaxana was on the station she set off total chaos from projecting her unrequited romantic feelings for Odo onto others. In this episode, her romantic interest continues as she inquires whether Odo’s interest in Kira has waned.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some very sweet moments in this episode that help you feel a bond between the two characters (they play hide and seek!), but I wanted a twist – something to show that Lwaxana hadn’t lost her cunning.
But it’s straight-forward. Lwaxana appears not to really have a plan, but Odo does some legal research and realizes he can marry her so her husband loses his claim on the baby, but in order for that to happen her existing jerkface husband must not doubt Odo’s sincerity.
Odo gives an eloquent speech:
Before I met her, my world was a much smaller place. I kept to myself. I didn’t need anyone else and I took pride in that. The truth is, I was ashamed of what I was, afraid that if people saw how truly different I was they would recoil from me. Lwaxana saw how different I was and she didn’t recoil. She wanted to see more. For the first time in my life, someone wanted me as I was. And that changed me forever. The day I met her, is the day I stopped being alone. And I want her to be part of my life from this day on. Marry me, Lwaxana. Let me into your light.
If it weren’t for Rene Auberjonois’ acting during the marriage scene, I don’t think it would be at all believable. Even if Odo could muster his emotion and display it in front of all his friends (including Kira) without a hitch.
But it satisfies the now-ex, who says goodbye to Lwaxana by letting her know “You were my most treasured possession” (I highly approve of him being sent packing).
The ending also challenges how sincere Odo was about his feelings for Lwaxana. She leaves DS9, telling him she’s still in love with him but knows he’s not in love with her.
This makes me wonder what the point of the episode was for these characters, since we seemed to end up pretty much where we started. We already knew Lwaxana loved Odo and we knew Odo appreciated her friendship and validation but didn’t really love her back.
I feel slightly better knowing at least the creative team didn’t feel this was a great episode, either. Episode writer René Echevarria says, “I had no feeling for either story” and director David Livingston has said he wished it had never been produced.
I’m not sure I’d go quite that far (there are certainly episodes I think are worse) but I certainly wish the writers wouldn’t have forgotten Lwaxana’s potential to be bold and cunning. It could’ve been a much more enjoyable show if Lwaxana had shown up with a wacky plan for Odo to participate in instead of leading…and maybe she could’ve even spotted what was going on with Onaya and Jake and helped that situation!
Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass – Lwaxana asks Kira and Dax what they’re going to do in the holosuite and they reply they’re going to Camelot.