Paging Dr. Crusher

During my recent post-injury convalescence, I watched a great deal of Star Trek --- lots of DS9, some TNG, even a few Voyagers and Enterprises.  I was looking for some deep-cut TNG, when to my amazement, I realized that there was an episode I had never seen or even heard of --- 6x22, "Suspicions."  Now just the fact that, almost 20 years later, I should stumble across a lost episode, is amazing.  But this is a Dr. Crusher episode, and a lot of it doesn't work for me.  Crusher suddenly hosting a science conference with no participation from the rest of the crew doesn't work, Crusher going rogue doesn't work, and the whole thing just kind of plods along.

Truth is, Beverly Crusher is my least-favorite TNG regular.  I excuse Yar on the basis of early installment weirdness --- watch "Yesterday's Enterprise" and you can imagine that she would've gotten better.  Pulaski was, in many respects, a misfire --- but more about her later.  I've written about Wesley before . . . when played more as a legendary captain in the making and less as Space Mozart, I like young Wes well enough.  Troi suffered from having a rather thankless role, but at least we understood what made her tick.  Once Ronnie Cox told her to put on a damn uniform and start acting like a Starfleet officer --- less therapist, more human resources / diplomat / second officer --- Troi worked fine.

But Dr. Crusher?  Just very flat.  I don't think it was bad acting, although when they give a soap opera actress some rather soap opera lines, it's no wonder that Crusher sometime seems to be on a soap opera.  No, I think it was simple lack of attention, and a failure by the writers to add up all the pieces.  So here's my attempt to deconstruct and reassemble Crusher.  Like a transporter.  Who is this lady, and what does she want?

First, the family stuff.  She's the widow of a Starfleet officer and the mother of a future Starfleet officer.  Bev was occasionally allowed to play tragic and lonely, and worried about her son, and that's about it.  Why not show how this has affected her work?  She's on a ship full of Starfleet officers and crew and their families.  Every one of them is a potential widow or orphan.  I'm not saying she needs to have PTSD, but she may have a unique understanding about the risks involved in their work, and how every loss of life in the life of duty will affect the survivors for the rest of their lives.

For that matter, when Worf is facing life as a single parent of a difficult son, where is Beverly?  She's been there.  I suppose you can joke that Worf didn't want Alexander to turn out like Wesley, but truth is, Beverly was having an amazing career, and her son was a full Ensign at 17 with unlimited potential.  Worf should've realized that he and Alexander were not going to have lives among the Klingons.  Alexander was prime Starfleet material from the day he was born --- mixed species background, early years on Earth raised by a retired CPO who got two sons into the Academy, later years on the flagship.  Worf should have wanted to learn everything Crusher had to teach about balancing parenthood and professional obligations.

Second, Beverly is herself a career Starfleet officer.  She has more time in service than anyone on the crew other than Picard, and as a full Commander, she outranks everyone on the ship except Picard and Riker.  She was "head of Starfleet Medical" for a year.  She is qualified to command the ship, and just for the hell of it, she sometimes takes a shift as officer of the watch.  In an alternate future, she's captain of a medical ship.  This is a woman with a certain amount of ambition and a certain interest in --- and talent for --- leadership and administration.  

This should not have been left as mere subtext --- she's CMO of the flagship, she's already decided that she doesn't like a purely administrative gig, and after 20 years of hard work, she should be deciding what comes next (especially since the boy is off the college).  Forget Scottish space ghosts --- you want a Beverly Crusher episode, you have her go to Riker and say, I want to get some command experience because I think I would like to captain a medical ship someday.  Teach me everything you know.  At a minimum, show that she is a department head, same as Geordi or Worf --- this lost episode makes it seems like her entire staff is Nurse Ogawa.  She should be managing and mentoring and leading.

A final point on the subject --- everyone on the damn ship from Picard down to O'Brien seems to have taken a turn explaining to Wesley what it means to be a Starfleet officer.  Everyone except his mom, the Starfleet officer.  Beverly should not come at Wes's career purely as a worried mom who lost her husband to this job.  She should make sure he understands the risks and the rewards, and then once he makes his decision, she should be pulling every available string, calling in every available favor, and otherwise making sure that Wes's career get off to a good start.  When Wes screws up at the Academy, Beverly should be coming at him both as a mom and as a superior officer.

Third, you have her personal life, mainly her relationship with Picard.  There was actually a decent progression there --- they were somewhat professional and distant in Season 1, they grew closer as confidants and breakfast buddies, and they finally put their emotional cards on the table because of implausible alien technology.  Now generally, the show hit a pretty good sweet spot with these two.  Having a 7th season episode where they finally discuss their relationship and why they might or might not want things to evolve was a great idea, and it did a pretty good job of justifying why things had sort of stagnated between them.  My main criticism is that this came a couple of seasons too late.  A more fully realized Beverly should've been reevaluating her personal life along with her professional life, and she should've been a bit more proactive in deciding what she wanted.  

And as to "Suspicions" . . . you suddenly like metaphasic shielding, Bev?  Hey, you know likes metaphasic shielding?  Geordi.  Go have a cup of coffee with Geordi.  His dad's a xenobiologist, you know.  You like xenobiology, don't you?  Hey, being a department head has a lot of challenges.  Do you ever think about transferring to command?  That was a crazy adventure we had in the cargo bay that one time.  Call me Beverly.  Say, would you be interested in checking out the new decontamination gel protocols?  

Bam, storyline.  Geordi and Beverly try a colleagues-with-benefits thing and try to keep it on the down-low.  Their efforts at discretion fail, because his best friend is a super-android, hers is an empath.  Wes walks in on them.  Picard feels a twinge of jealousy.  Barkley walks in to them.  Riker silently nods to Geordi, a look of understanding and respect.  Wes and Barkley start to develop a weird stepbrother dynamic.           

Her other major relationship was with her supposed BFF, Troi.  They took a Klingon tai chi class together, and gossiped about Tom Riker, and they chatted about being a bridge officer, and that was about it.  That's a damn shame, because what's it like to have a best friend who's an empath?  Troi was at least quasi-medical, but apparently not directly under Bev --- what about seeing them as professional colleagues, or even having a difference of opinion on a psychological / psychiatric issue?

Finally, she's got these weird little hobbies.  She tap dances and she directs little plays.  I have an aversion for community theater, and I've never been crazy about the idea that this is what passes for a good time in the 24th century.  Give a guy like Picard a love of Shakespeare and xenoarcheology, a late-blooming interest in the flute, and an apparent lack of talent as a painter, and he's just a well-rounded individual.  Maybe Bev just needed a bit of context --- just acknowledge that yeah, I'm forty and widowed, my kid is off to school, I have time on my hands,  and I'm trying different things.

So I think the raw materials were all there.  Put them all together in a slightly different configuration, and Beverly would've been both more three-dimensional and more formidable.  Like Pulaski, this is a tough woman, someone who is every bit the equal of the captain (aside from one grade of rank) and can go toe-to-toe with anyone on the ship.  Maybe she's in a period of transition where she's deciding what she wants out of life --- but when she figures it out, get out of her way. 



Harold Trammel said...

Excellent, PLee. One of my issues with TNG was the too frequent drift to space soap opera. You proposed a very valid alternative that unfortunately will never come to fruition. I completely missed the whole command/rank aspects, which you accurately nailed.

Great job.

Jeeg said...

We need to come up with a series names for these awesome posts. "The Secret Lives of Star Trek" perhaps?

Beverly is the perfect example of how TNG could have been even better. Dr. Crusher might have been a platform to explore all the things you mention here, but it just never happened in the episodic format of TNG. Instead it was DS9 that ultimately took a meaningful look at parenthood, relationships, marriage, religion, and the like.

PLee said...

Thank you, gentlemen.

Rank and chain-of-command on Star Trek can be pretty aggravating. The current Navy distinguishes between unrestricted line officers, restricted line officers, and staff officers . . . essentially, "We know you're a really high-ranking therapist, that doesn't mean you can command the aircraft carrier." On TNG, you need about two weeks of night classes and a demonstrated willingness to send Geordi to his death, and then you have the bridge, Commander.

Again, DS9 brought a sense of verisimilitude to these matters that TNG often lacked. Guys like O'Brien and Eddington and DS9-era Worf knew exactly where they stood in the pecking order.

Jesse Acosta said...

I'm surprised nobody mentioned Joust. It was a real faithful port on the 2600, which is a surprise considering many games were so clunky and ugly compared to their arcade counterparts. I'm assuming Joust was a later era port, as the games got better with programmers gaining experience over the years. We would play for hours, and this was even with an NES and Genesis in the house.

As for Donkey Kong, the Atari 2600 port was my first exposure to the game. At age 5 or 6, when my brother introduced it to me, I thought DK was a gingerbread man who threw chocolate chip cookies at Mario. Only a few years later I'd get Donkey Classics for NES and really experience the game (well, minus the pie factory stage, something that I still have a grudge with).

Really great podcast guys, I'm so glad to have found you, Cult Film Club, and Retroist.