The Outcast (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 5, Episode 17) Genderless civilization oppresses deviance

Rewatching ST:TNG

Members of a genderless civilization (portrayed by female actors with bowl haircuts and dour expressions) seek help from the Federation after one of their shuttles disappears in a Space Thing.

The fact that Picard’s opening log goes out of its way to identify the J’Naii as “an adrogynous race” is a pretty obvious cue that this episode isn’t about the random space thing, it’s all about gender.

After Riker carelessly refers to a J’naii leader as “he,” pilot Soren points out the error, but can’t supply him with a better word. “We use a pronoun which is neutral. I do not think there is really a translation.”

Soren soon begins asking more detailed and intimate questions about human gender. Because this is episodic TV and the plot requires it, Riker is attracted to Soren, the relationship becomes physical, and there’s even a scene where Riker tells Troi “I’ve met someone.”

After 30 years what was designed as a risky episode seems awkward. Because up to now Riker has never shown any interest in reserved, nerdy techies with bowl haircuts, the story seems forced. The plot conjures up a scenario where it’s the genderless majority that controls the institutions and defines normalcy, but the script is also carefully designed to uphold traditional gender concepts. Troi has a scene where she is sorting through a box of dolls her mother sent her, and Crusher has a scene where she answers Soren’s questions about makeup. And it’s the manliest men on the cast, Riker and Worf, who attempt a commando rescue mission, liberating a female from the genderless oppressors who want to erase her identity.

On the production side, the episode is memorable for two-person scenes between Soren and Riker, and shows off a new full-sized mockup of a big shuttle, originally built for the movie Star Trek V.