Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outcast [5.17]

Commander Riker works closely with Soren, a member of an androgynous race in which identification with one gender or another is forbidden.  Soren confesses attraction to Riker, and acknowledges an identification with being female.  Riker and Soren begin a relationship, but this leads to Soren being discovered, arrested, and “cured”, in spite of Riker’s attempts to rescue “her”.

Written by Jeri Taylor. Directed by Robert Scheerer

Previous Episode: Ethics • Next Episode: Cause and Effect

I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing about The Outcast, as it is one of the least satisfying and least enjoyable episodes of Next Generation ever.  The series was already fairly bad at romance stories in general, but here we have just about the least likely romantic pairing one can imagine.  Riker – the ship’s playboy – and Soren – a being who is not only genderless, but also seemingly humorless and passionless – are completely mismatched.  One can see their friendship and how Soren’s situation arouses Riker’s sympathy, but there is nothing that comes close to the romantic chemistry that would be needed to justify Riker’s later actions.  Other than being a good pilot, Soren doesn’t seem to display any of the qualities that one normally associates with Riker’s mates (and there have been a fair chunk of them in the show so far), including the ones that Riker describes in this very episode.  And since the romance falls flat, the entirety of the last third of the story or so just seems forced and contrived.  It becomes very obvious that the show is sermonizing, and doing so at the expense of the story.

The first half of the episode is weak – with the fairly boring science fiction plot being nothing more than an excuse to get Riker and Soren to work closely with each other.  And the ending is simply ludicrous.  Riker beams down, and openly and publicly beats up a bunch of local guards, in order to rescue Soren.  How is this not going to cause a problems for the ship and for the Federation?  How is Riker not going to get in trouble for this, even if Soren didn’t want to go?  The only positive thing in this whole sequence is the way that Worf volunteers to go with Riker.  Coming right after the previous episode, Ethics, it seems to strongly solidify the two officer’s friendship – almost like Worf is paying Riker back for his willingness to help him in the prior installment.

It’s been famously quoted by Jonathan Frakes that Soren should have been played by a male actor – that that would created a stronger statement, etc.  That is of course, possible, but it would not have made the episode any better.  And it might have had the unfortunate side effect of making the episode more memorable – whereas now it’s fairly easy to forget and put behind us.

As I have been writing this I thought of what would have made the episode better:  if Riker had not shared Soren’s attraction.  As I said, while the romance between them is ridiculous, their friendship does seem believable.  The episode could have had a more true-to-character story if it had been about Soren being attracted to Riker in a way that really startled him, and that he doesn’t reciprocate (for all the reasons we’ve mentioned already), and reveals so on their walk.  However, Soren gets in trouble anyway, with the rest of the story playing out largely the same (except for the rescue scene being a bit less stupid).  The overall result would have been slightly better.  As it is, the script has to work so hard at selling the romance for obvious agenda’s sake that whatever strength the episode might have had is  lost.

Guest Cast
• Melinda Culea, who plays Soren, was the actress who played the one woman (Amy Amanda Allen) in the first season of The A-Team

• Megan Cole, who plays Noor, also appeared as the Romulan Cretak in a couple of episodes of Deep Space Nine.

Shout out to the Past:
• I may be completely reading into it, but, as I said, to me it feels like Worlf’s comments to Riker about him being his friend ties nicely into the scenes between Worf and Riker in the previous episode.

• It seems odd to me, aside from for plot exposition purposes, for describing the Genai as androgynous right in the opening Captain’s Log entry

• It’s hard to not see these androgynous beings as female, since they are all played by actresses who are obviously female.  The aliens back in the original series The Cage and The Menagerie did a better job at creating that odd, androgynous look (by being played by female actresses with lots of make up, while their voices were done by male performers.)

• Nice exchange between Riker and Soren–

RIKER: Well, who leads when you dance? If you dance.
SOREN: We do, and whoever’s taller leads.

• Also, some interestingly awkward questions from Soren:  “Commander, tell me about your sexual organs,” and “ I’m interested in your mating practices. What is involved with two sexes?” with Riker’s hilarious response, “Correcting course. Zero two one mark zero.”

• The Federation was founded in 2161.

• The Poker game scene is fun and nice just to provide a bit of relief from the poor romance.  “That is a woman’s game,” says Worf.  In addition, Crusher, Troi and Data are involved.

• I quite like it when Soren says to Riker, after admitting “her” attraction to him, “I have had to live a life of pretence and lies, but with you I can be honest. Please, don’t say anything. Just think about it.”  I just think it’s ridiculous that Riker’s eventual response is a kiss.

• Geordi has a beard!  Nice.  Looks good on him.

Dialogue High Point
Worf’s line to Riker before embarking on their semi-silly rescue mission is probably my favorite

Sir, you are my commanding officer. If you order me to stay on board, I will obey. But I ask you not to give that order. A warrior does not let a friend face danger alone.

Previous Episode: Ethics • Next Episode: Cause and Effect

2 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Outcast [5.17]

  1. While the romance may have been a bit weak, I do think the episode would’ve been better with a male actor, simply because it would’ve made the actual point of the episode a lot clearer. As it is, using a female actor, it just winds up being largely pointless.

  2. I guess I agree in that it would have made their point “clearer”, but it wouldn’t have made the episode better, I don’t think. It’s not just that the romance is weak…the whole story is weak, and the romance is abysmal – the worst one I’ve encountered in my Next Generation re-watching.

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