Inspired by a fabulous discussion on lady-centric episodes with the ussfeministkilljoy crew, here are my Top 10 Feminist TNG Episodes.
In order to help narrow it down I limited myself to episodes that pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test (for full TNG Bechdel-Wallace results click here). Other than that, I was looking for episodes where we see strong, complex and/or non-conformist female characters with an important role in the plot; strong relationships between female characters; feminist messages; and general lack of sexism/gender stereotyping.
When episodes felt pretty close on these fronts, I ranked higher the episodes I would most want to rewatch.
10. “The Outcast” (5X17)
“The Outcast” is an episode that was intended to allegorically represent the struggles of lesbian and gay people for equality, but nonetheless fails to really commit to the issue. The facts that Soren is played by a woman, the TNG characters who talk to her don’t get into anything deeper than the most conventional and basic descriptions of sex and gender identity, and that Soren is shown as “cured” – even if it is portrayed as tragic – all prevent this episode from making it any higher on the list. But I had to include it because of the overall theme and the excellent, moving scene where Soren challenges her people’s bigotry and stands up for who she truly is:
And it was written by Jeri Taylor!
9. “Legacy” (4X06)
In “Legacy,” Beth Toussaint plays Tasha Yar’s sister, Ishara, who grew up with and is still involved in the gangs on their home planet of Turkana IV. The Enterprise crew are challenged by not completely trusting Ishara, but also wanting to both trust and like her because of her relation to Tasha. This episode succeeds because Toussaint is compelling and Ishara is a super-tough, complicated character with an arc. By talking with Data, Riker and Picard, Ishara helps them gain insight into themselves, and also comes to appreciate Tasha’s strength and the value of friendship, even if (believably) she can’t give up the way of life she’s always known.
8. “The Emissary” (2X20)
Another awesome female guest-star ep, “The Emissary” is our introduction to K’Ehleyr, a badass, sassy, complicated half-human, half-Klingon diplomat who gets romantically involved with Worf. Suzie Plakson makes K’Ehleyr memorable and manages to convey her self-doubts without making her appear weak or less capable. K’Ehleyr also gets a decent scene with Troi where they talk about the difficulties that come with being mixed-race. Although K’Ehleyr is “Worf’s love interest,” it’s clear she’s much more than that and that’s why this makes the list!
7. “Who Watches the Watchers” (3X4)
“Who Watches the Watchers” is an underappreciated episode about what happens when the Mintakans, a group of primitive, proto-Vulcan aliens, encounter the Federation anthropologists who have been observing them. It makes the list because A) Troi gets halfway decent stuff to do and B) the Mintakan matriarchal society is portrayed without falling into the kinds of stereotypes and ridiculousness we get in episodes like “Angel One.”
6. “Preemptive Strike” (7X24)
Ensign Ro is one of TNG’s greatest gifts to feminism. In this, her last episode, she faces conflicting loyalties when infiltrating a Maquis cell. Michelle Forbes owns the role of Ro and this episode gives us great insight into what drives her. We also get to meet Kalita, a human member of the Maquis, who makes a big impression in a short amount of screen time, being suspicious about Ro but eventually growing to trust her (she later returns in an episode of DS9). Bonus points for “Preemptive Strike” because it also includes Admiral Nechayev.
The only reason I didn’t put this higher on the list is that a big part of this episode is Ro’s need for paternal approval. She initially signs up for the mission to justify Picard’s faith in her, and later changes sides after seeing her Maquis father-figure, Maclas, die. At the end of “Rascals,” Ro draws her mother. It would’ve been cool to see that developed further, maybe by having Maclas’ character be female and a maternal figure.
5. “Suspicions” (6X22)
Doctor Crusher shows off her scientific chops, stares down a Klingon, and solves a murder mystery. ‘Nuff said.
4. “Dark Page” (7X07)
I love Lwaxana Troi, but her earlier “Auntie Mame” persona is problematic because it plays into stereotypes about irritating mothers and necessitates that the audience not see or appreciate her as a whole person. “Dark Page,” written by Hilary Bader, brings them closer together than they ever have been, as Deanna has to help Lwaxana recover repressed memories of another daughter who died by drowning. It puts Deanna in an important position where she has to use her empathic and counselling abilities, and shows us an incredibly deep mother-daughter relationship.
3. “Ensign Ro” (5X03)
All the things I said about Ensign Ro above but in this, her first episode, we get less need for male approval and more Guinan awesomeness.
Also Ro gets to wear her earring, even though Riker has some nonsense objection to it. And in the last scene:
Picard: I think you’ve got a great deal to learn from Starfleet.
Ro: I always thought Starfleet had a lot to learn from me, Captain.
2. “Face of the Enemy” (6X14)
Hands-down the best Troi episode, as Deanna finds herself unwittingly undercover as a Tal Shiar agent on a Romulan warbird. Though put in a situation with limited options, she manages to take control, do things her way, and succeed. The ship’s Commander, Toreth, was originally written without any idea of what the character’s gender would be and maybe that’s why she ends up being as great as she is. Toreth is powerful but deeply principled and unafraid to verbally challenge the Tal Shiar for the injustices they have committed.
1. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” (3X15)
Last but not least, often ranked one of the top TNG episodes PERIOD, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” brings us the only female captain of the Enterprise, Rachel Garrett. Garrett is obviously heroic; her first concern being the welfare of her crew, but she ultimately is willing to sacrifice herself and her crew for the greater good.
Just as importantly, this episode gives Tasha Yar’s character a second-chance at an honourable ending after the ridiculousness that was “Skin of Evil.” And she gets there with Guinan’s help.
What do you think? Are there other episodes that would go on your list?
One that came really close for me was “Remember Me,” which is a really powerful portrayal of Dr. Crusher refusing to be gaslit. It only barely passes the Bechdel-Wallace test, though, in a quick scene where Crusher and Troi talk about whether Crusher is sane.
I think it’s fabulous to see Crusher keep resisting everyone else trying to define her as the problem. But it was the end where she’s saved by Wesley and the Traveler, plus the fact that it lacked another awesome component like “Suspicions’” badass lady scientists, that put it at number 11 or 12 for me. But I can definitely see why someone else would put it in the top 10.