Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outrageous Okona [2.4]

The Enterprise picks up the rogue-ish and attractive Captain Okona, whose ship is need of repairs.  Things get complicated when two vessels from neighbouring planets demand the Enterprise turn Okona over to them for various crimes.  Okona is eventually able to sort out the situation, revealing that he is guilty of neither crime that he is being blamed for.  Meanwhile, Data tries – and fail – to discover how humor works for humans.

Teleplay by Burton Armus. Story by Les Menchen & Lance Dickson and David Landsberg.  Directed by Robert Becker.

Previous Episode: Elementary, My Dear DataNext Episode: Loud as a Whisper

Now this is how you make an episode of Star Trek!  Take a lead story with little or no tension in it, keep the regular characters essentially on the sidelines in favor of the guest star, and build the drama around some boring side characters involved in some space-age nonsense soap opera.  Then create an unrelated “B” story where we give Brent Spiner a chance to once again prove his acting ability with seemingly endless scenes of Data failing to be funny.  Randomly chop these elements together, blending through a bit of wide-eyed Wesley Crusher offering his innocent and untainted view on life, and then bake at a low heat for 42 minutes, and garnish with a bit of growly Worf baring his teeth and an uncredited Teri Hatcher wearing a space-nightie and you have what must certainly be one of the most unimportant feeling episodes of Star Trek ever, up to this point.

What else is there to say?  It wouldn’t have been impossible to do this story in way that would have been interesting.  Okona and his care-free, go where the wind takes you attitude could have been used as a counterpoint with Picard or even better, Riker.  Okona is kind of a Riker-type without the concern for his career, so that there could have been some memorable contrasts brought out with a few telling scenes between the two.  But as it is, all we get is a brief chat between Okona and a doe-eyed Wesley Crusher who can’t comprehend why someone would want an itinerant lifestyle – sort of reminiscent of the naive Wesley from Symbiosis.

Joe Piscopo as the Comic is not quite as irritating as I remember him from first viewing this story, but he is pretty close.  Data’s attempts to understand humor don’t come across as either funny or sad, just boring.  This supblot again loses any potential it had to say something worth listening to by eschewing a genuine look at humor in exchange for a broad impersonation of vaudeville-style antics – more caricature than actual comedy.

Other than Data, the regulars are completely sidelined in this story, fulfilling functional roles but having little to do with the central drama.  And since that central drama itself is really just weak melodrama featuring some very boring guest stars, it makes the story feel not only bad, but irrelevant.

Setting Up the Future
Nothing really, but Wesley’s little speech about not understanding what it would be to travel without setting down roots sort of anti-anticipates Wesley’s eventual character development, heading off with the Traveler.

Data’s “frustration” about not understanding humor is the same thing that leads him to make the choice to use the emotion chip in the first Next Generation movie, Star Trek:  Generations.

Guest Cast
• William O. Campbell, who plays Okona, was a regular on The 4400 and starred in The Rocketeer.

• Joe Piscopo, who plays the comic, is famous for his role over several years on Saturday Night Live.

• Rosalind Ingledew, who plays Yanar,was a regular on Seaquest DSV as Dr. Wendy Smith, under the name Rosalind Allen.

• Teri Hatcher has an uncredited role as Transporter Chief B.G. Robinson.  She is well known for her regular roles on Lois and Clark, Desperate Housewives, and apparently The Love Boat.

• Troi’s input on Okona, upon first encountering him, are completely superfluous, highlighting a bunch of very obvious qualities.

• Data’s goofy list of synonyms for “Rogue” is pretty funny when he hits “wild elephant.”

• Worf recommends granting Okona limited access to the ship – but you’d assume there was some sort of standard protocol about that for non-Federation officers / citizens.

• Data’s laughter is far funnier than any joke said by the Comic.

• This episode is Guinan’s second appearance, and her second bit of sagely wisdom (although ultimately she is unable to help him).  This time it goes to Data.  They actually have a couple of pretty reasonable scenes together.

• Data says poignantly, about humor, “But there is nothing more uniquely human.”  It’s a funny way of saying it, isn’t it?  Not all organic life forms are human, not even on board the Enterprise.  Or is it just their way of saying  humanoid?

• There is a brief moment somewhere in the story between Riker and Wesley which is the first hint at the “fatherly” role that Riker took on for the boy at the beginning of the season.

• This is the first episode this season not to have just one writer credited, which seemed fairly unusual for the series.  Instead, there are four contributing writers.  It doesn’t seem to have helped.

Dialogue High Point
In spite of how annoying the Data story is, Data has some good dialog.

Talking about love with Okona, we have this semi-insightful exchange:

Okona:  What about Love?
Data:  The act or the emotion?
Okona:  They’re both the same.
Data:  I believe that statement to be inaccurate, sir.

And later, with the Comic, talking about humor

The Comic:  Whatever makes you laugh is funny.
Data:  Nothing makes me laugh.

Previous Episode: Elementary, My Dear DataNext Episode: Loud as a Whisper


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