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Galaxy's Child

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 20, 2009 - 11:20 PM GMT

See Also: 'Galaxy's Child' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Picard informs LaForge that the designer of the Enterprise's propulsion unit, Dr. Leah Brahms, will be visiting the ship to meet with him. LaForge - who once created a hologram of Brahms that helped him through a difficult situation - is delighted, though Guinan warns him of the dangers of falling in love with a fantasy. Sure enough, the real Brahms is aloof, obsessed with her work, and irritated about some of the changes LaForge has made to her designs. While LaForge tries to come to terms not only with her offputting personality, but with the discovery that she is married, Picard and the crew encounter a large creature that shoots energy discharge at the Enterprise when it approaches. Picard orders Worf to fire phasers to protect the crew from rising radiation levels, then is horrified when the weapons kill the alien. Data detects an energy reading within the lifeless creature and concludes that there is a fetal alien within the body of the larger creature. Crusher and Worf perform surgery with the ship's phasers to help the infant emerge, though they fail to anticipate that the young alien will imprint on the Enterprise in the mistaken belief that the ship is its mother. When it latches itself to the hull and drains energy from the engines, LaForge and Brahms are forced to work together to boost the ship's energy, but Brahms inadvertently discovers LaForge's holographic version of her and is furious. When three adult creatures approach from a nearby asteroid belt, Brahms suggests that contaminating the energy might cause the baby to detach from the ship. The plan works, the creature heads off with its own kind, and Brahms forgives LaForge for his self-indulgent use of her image in his holodeck simulation.

Analysis: There's a nice story about seeking out new life and new civilizations in "Galaxy's Child," but everyone seems to remember this as the episode where Geordi meets Leah Brahms, not the episode where the Enterprise performs a C-section and suckles a baby alien. I've always been more drawn to the grownup storyline about Picard, who knows full well the risks and responsibilities of first contact with powerful aliens, yet is devastated when he gives an order that accidentally kills one. Unfortunately, the fear and wonder surrounding that storyline gets buried under yet another holographic dream girl scenario. One of the ship's other resident grownups, Guinan, summarizes the storyline nicely in two sentences, noting that everyone falls in love with a fantasy every now and then but warning that a romantic image of a perfect woman rarely holds up in real life. From that exchange two minutes into the episode, we know exactly what's about to happen, but we have to sit through it anyway.

And sure enough, Leah Brahms shows up and acts like a prissy, possessive little princess, wanting to keep her engine designs pristine without LaForge's grubby real-world modifications. She's bitchy from the moment she steps off the transporter, snarking that LaForge fouled up her work, and she only gets worse from there: she's snotty to the whole engineering team, she suspects LaForge has been poking around in files above his security clearance, she takes private communiques in LaForge's office (cue the foreshadowing music). Geordi acts like an overeager puppy, spending an interminable amount of episodic time choosing the right mood lighting and music for what he hopes will be a romantic dinner; apparently we're supposed to find this charming rather than pathetic, considering this is a woman he doesn't know at all. Except he thinks he does. Leah Brahms is part celebrity, as the person who put together the ship's propulsion, and part Penthouse pet, as the image of the woman who once kissed Geordi on the holodeck. Though he objects strenuously to her implication that there may have been more than "When you touch the engine, you're touching me," it's pretty obvious he's imagined it even if he's never acted it out with her holographic double. It's pathetic that we're led to believe LaForge doesn't have a chance with Brahms only because she's married. He shouldn't have any more chance with her than a guy who owns a Jenna Jameson inflatable and has seen all her movies would have with the real Jenna Jameson.

I can never decide whether to be impressed or embarrassed that Star Trek's writers have been frank about how the holodeck would get used to fulfill intimate fantasies. "Galaxy's Child" is a follow-up to the third season's "Booby Trap," in which we learn that LaForge works best with an objectified version of his dream girl around - someone who alternately challenges, nurtures, and arouses him, all the while talking him through his nerdiest engineering interests. It's no surprise to anyone but the hopelessly immature LaForge when the real Leah Brahms turns out to be more complicated than the one he put together out of selective entries in her personnel file. This being Next Gen, though, it's also no surprise that the difficult issues raised by her discovery of holo-Leah get swept under the rug in the name of Starfleet interests and being a good sport. I always come out of this episode, and Barclay's senior staff slobber-fest, and Riker's Minuet scenario, and Janeway's Irish sex-toy storyline, feeling a little bit dirty. I keep remembering Troi's face when she discovered Barclay's version of herself as the Goddess of Empathy, then wondering why we're encouraged to find Brahms' reaction to a similar discovery to be excessive.

Oh, wait...I do know. It's because, as Star Trek fans - the sort of people who wear Vulcan ears in public and go to conventions to declare our love for William Shatner, whom we can't tell from Captain Kirk - we're expected to identify with Geordi, who's emotionally closer to Wesley Crusher's age than Will Riker's. Nowadays, no one thinks there's anything stalkerish about doing the equivalent of reading someone's personnel file after seeing an attractive photo of that person; it's the entire premise of online dating, which is more widespread now than singles clubs and personal ads were in the days before electronic media made them ubiquitous. Yet in this decades-old episode, LaForge is squeamish enough to look only at Brahms' service record - he doesn't check to see if she's married, something that's surely not hard to track down - let alone things like whether other people have found her difficult to work with. Despite the usual pat Trekkie endings, I think we're supposed to be exactly as embarrassed by holodeck episodes as I pretty much always feel; it's okay to have a one-off like Riker with a super-hologram like Minuet, whom we're led to believe he never visited again once she appears as his fictional wife in "Future Imperfect," but as a general rule, fantasy romance is reserved for people like LaForge, Barclay, and Janeway, who can't get any in real life.

The science fiction storyline - which gets as little time in "Galaxy's Child" as it has in this review - gives us a lovely graceful cuttlefish-type creature that may merely be trying to say hello when it inadvertently bombards the ship with deadly radiation. With no means of communication, Picard does the only thing he can do to save his crew and orders a minimal phaser strike, then appears inconsolable after the creature dies, though everyone on the bridge agrees he acted as any Starfleet officer ought to have done. He's become philosophical about the entire mission, the fact that the Enterprise can't help making mistakes with aliens - "We're out here to explore, to make contact with other life forms, establish peaceful relations, not to interfere, absolutely not to destroy" - when Data discovers the creature's pregnancy. So determined is Picard to undo the harm he has caused that when the baby starts nursing from the Enterprise's warp drive, he permits only minor irritants like decompressing a shuttle bay to try to get it to swim on home. I don't think of Picard (who was prepared to leave Riker to die, if necessary, to preserve a first contact situation in last week's episode) as a deeply sentimental person, so it's delightful to see this man who claims not to like children form an attachment to an orphan. This is Picard's adopted baby.

And that's what makes this episode palatable to me, because otherwise we're treading close once again to derailing serious drama with puerile sexual relations. Last week it was Riker being an object of lust for someone who only wants him for his alienness; this week it's LaForge's outrage that Leah refuses to see romantic gestures as friendship, that she feels violated rather than flattered by his use of her image, that she wants to be dealt with as the scientist she is rather than the woman he wants her to be. There's an undercurrent of suggestion that Brahms needs to be softened, with LaForge beginning to relate to her only when he concludes that her engine designs are like her children. Sure, she could be a little nicer, but given some of the nutcase scientists we've seen in Starfleet, couldn't we have had a bit more celebration of her genius rather than a pity party for LaForge and his fantasies of the girl of his dreams?

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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