With season three, there were so many good episodes, that I skipped over the clunkers (“The Price” I’m looking at you), but I’m not going to do that with season four. While last week’s “Brothers” is perhaps not as strong as I would have liked it to be, “The Loss” is first up on my list of cringe-worthy episodes, not just because it’s a Troi episode, though those have a sometimes deserved reputation of being terrible, but because the episode really doesn’t make much in the way of sense.
The episode opens with Troi at work, and notably, this episode is one of the few to demonstrate how 24th century mental health professionals work, at least those who are not up to nefarious purposes anyway. Ensign Janet Brooks has come to see Troi as part of a regular session following the death of her husband Marc, and Troi makes the obvious inference—that Brooks can’t even see okay from where she’s sitting. While escorting Brooks out, Troi doubles over with a headache as the Enterprise, previously en route to another unimportant destination, gets dragged out of warp. When Troi wakes up, she has lost her empathic powers, and no matter what Dr. Crusher attempts, she cannot seem to restore them. Troi handles the titular loss with nothing resembling grace, lashing out at everyone. Meanwhile, Data and Geordi discover that a large group of two-dimensional beings have caught the Enterprise in their progress toward a cosmic string, which will destroy the ship, should they not be able to break free. Troi, upset that she has nothing to offer resigns her position, but Picard insists that she has something to offer. Of course, based on her current experience, she deduces that the beings are acting on instinct and therefore saves the day. In so doing, she regains her empathic abilities, and everyone on the show returns to normal.
I suppose this episode technically follows the A story/B story pattern we’ve come to expect from TNG, but really, the cosmic string and the implausibly two-dimensional critters exist only to give Troi a problem to solve despite her new “handicap.” The problem with this is that focusing on Troi here requires that the show deal with one of its female characters, and frankly, TNG is utterly, utterly terrible at doing so. Losing her empathic abilities should have afforded Troi the opportunity to grow as a character, to become something more than a purple MacGuffin with a questionable accent, and it absolutely, unequivocally fails to do so. Yes, Troi experiences incredible anguish at the loss of her abilities, and she lashes out at her coworkers. Her anger would be understandable if there were some sort of nuance to it. Troi literally goes from being a relatively stable individual to being an absolute terror in a single moment, and that could have worked if there had been some groundwork laid for Troi as an individual. Unfortunately, Troi runs afoul of the TNG problem.
At one point in the episode, Riker comes to see Troi in her quarters, ostensibly to offer comfort. Instead, he ends up rebuking her for her sense of superiority, which is a luxury afforded to her by her empathic abilities. He all but calls her Betazoid abilities a cheat card and criticizes her for not being more in touch with her human half. This sequence is deeply disturbing on a number of levels. Riker comes off here as putting the overly emotional woman in her place. How dare she react to a deeply disturbing event? Moreover, how dare she not be immediately mollified by his manly efforts at comforting her? Doesn’t she know who he is? That whole sequence is rendered even more disturbing by the relationship Riker and Troi are meant to have. She’s his imzadi; he’s supposed to love her, and yet, he rejects not only her trauma but her very nature.
Beyond the misogyny, however, lie the really questionable racial politics hinted at by Riker’s disdain for Troi’s dual heritage. He literally tells her that part of who she is, something over which she had no control, has somehow given her a leg up. This exchange goes beyond cluelessness into potentially racist territory, and what’s worse, the episode clearly expects the audience to side with Riker on this. Voyager wrestled with a similar issue with B’Elanna Torres when it literally splits her into her two constituent halves (we’ll ignore the ridiculousness of that for the moment). Torres eventually concludes that she cannot exist without both her human and Klingon halves, but here, in TNG, we’re supposed to accept that Riker is right because the episode has gone overboard in demonstrating just how awful Troi has become. The episode even ends with Troi laughingly rebuking him for this disdain, but it occurs in the context of her acknowledging just how terribly she behaved.
The point of “The Loss” is to demonstrate that Troi is more than her empathic abilities, but it utterly fails to do so. Even when Brooks comes to Troi to explain that despite Troi’s lack of empathy (and isn’t that a bit on the nose), Troi still accurately understood Brooks’ mental state, I remained unconvinced precisely because Brooks was played to be overly obvious. Guinan even steps in to help Troi realize her worth, and no matter how much Bagger Vance Guinan channels, it falls flat because honestly, Guinan has been better at Troi’s job than Troi from the moment she appeared in season two.
The episode wraps up with Troi deducing that the two-dimensional critters are acting on instinct, which is a word she pulled from her conversation with Guinan, so she’s able to save the day. She gets her empathic abilities back because this is not a show that does permanent, which also undercuts whatever tension there should have been in the script. Furthermore, the return of those powers seems to involve a lot of bosom-heaving, and while I don’t know for certain if this is a directing choice or Sirtis’s own acting decision, it’s pretty terrible, much like most of the episode.
Rating: Two dimensional critter meh
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Can someone explain to me why Troi would have a random shelf in her office to hold onto personal effects of deceased crew members? What does she do, go through it all and psychically deduce what might be necessary to keep? That doesn’t even make sense as far as her empathy goes.
- I also wonder why she chose a music box. While I applaud the show’s decision to have it be one of Marc’s most treasured possessions, I can certainly tell you that no one I know would have made that call