The Outrageous Okona (TNG Rewatch, Season 2, Episode 4)

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

A pony-tailed pirate-shirt-wearing pile of charisma steps out of a Renaissance Festival sideshow onto the Enterprise for a silly low-stakes caper. Meanwhile, Data tries stand-up comedy.

I cringed when the guest star put the moves on the pretty transporter technician (played by a before-she-was-famous Teri Hatcher), and I had to take a break while watching an excruciating scene featuring Data interacting with a holodeck recreation of Joe Piscopo.

I have to give the performers credit for doing their best with this weak material. Troi’s knowing smile as she chooses the word “rogue” to describe Okona, RIker’s knowing smile as he recognizes Okona’s game plan, the way Wesley enjoys big-brotherly attention from Okona, the way Data seems in awe of Okona’s sense of humor, the way he banters with LaForge and even the way he baits Worf — it’s all well done, but just a bit too perfect.

Picard wisely orders that Okona get only limited access to the ship, but the order seems pretty meaningless, only in place to create some sense of mystery.

I rather liked seeing Picard getting flustered trying to deal with conflicting demands from rival factions that each claim Okona is their prisoner, and I liked that the big plot twist does not involve Okona trying to take over the ship, or the transporter malfunctioning, or Worf getting beat up, or Wesley saving the ship.

The scenes with Guinan were so well done, we could have gone from the scene where Data marvels as Okonas sense of humor, directly to the scene in Ten Forward where he tries out some stale jokes he picked up from a holodeck program. Perhaps I am just too used to the idea of learning complex things by watching YouTube videos, and the 1980s audience needed to see a dramatization of the process.

It was kind of touching to see the insight Data gains from this personal quest, and I did enjoy how the writers worked in the other characters chuckling at an unintentionally amusing thing that Data says. 

While trimming the B story would give more room to develop the A story, this episode doesn’t have much in the way of a complex A story. Overall the episode asked me to care too much about a Larry Stu wish-fulfillment character, in a very low-stakes plot.

My daughter is rehearsing to play Luisa in a production of The Fantasticks, which, like this episode, features two quarreling fathers, their children who fall in love, and a charming but cynical rogue who helps the lovers face the real world. Picard dismisses this story as a “morality play” and Troi says that their antiquated values are meaningless, but I’d have preferred to see more of the Romeo and Juliet story and less of Data practicing his Jerry Lewis impression.