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The Outrageous Okona

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at October 26, 2007 - 8:25 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Outrageous Okona' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is traveling on its merry way when it comes across a disabled cargo ship and offers aid to its pilot, Thadiun Okona. A charming rogue, Okona impresses everyone from Wesley, who admires his devil-may-care attitude, to the female transporter officer whom he convinces to . But Data cannot understand the man's sense of humor and seeks aid from Guinan, who points him to the holodeck, where he attempts to learn from past masters the art of laughter. Meanwhile, two ships from the local solar system approach the Enterprise and demand that the ship turn Okona over to them for his crimes. Planetary leader Debin claims that Okona seduced and abandoned his daughter Yanar, who is pregnant with Okona's child; rival planetary leader Kushell says that Okona helped his son Benzan steal the treasure of their world, the Jewel of Thesia. Picard agrees to help Okona escape in order to prevent either leader from declaring war on the other, but Wesley convinces Okona to turn himself in and remain loyal to the people there. It turns out that Benzan is the father of Yanar's child and he stole the jewel himself as an engagement gift. The two did not tell their fathers because they knew neither would permit the marriage if they knew of the plans. Yanar agrees to marry Benzan, Okona is freed, and Data gives up on trying to study holographic wit.

Analysis: There are bad episodes of The Next Generation, and there are boring episodes of The Next Generation, and then there are episodes that should be both those things yet time and nostalgia make them work in spite of themselves, at least for a time. There are three principal pleasures for me in watching "The Outrageous Okona": seeing Desperate Housewife Teri Hatcher as Lieutenant Robinson, the pretty transporter officer who ends up in Okona's bed; seeing Rocketeer Bill Campbell as Okona; and seeing Joe Piscopo as an anonymous comic named "Ronald D. Moore," which is particularly amusing as writer Ron Moore wasn't yet working on the series. The plot itself drags and the acting of both the regulars and guest cast isn't very impressive, but it's somehow sufficiently amusing to see The Next Generation at this larger pop culture intersection.

Usually Next Gen does a pretty good job of integrating its A and B stories, but the tactic isn't particularly impressive here. Data's sudden compulsion to understand amusement after a brief interaction with a stranger seems contrived; why does Okona strike such a chord in him when Riker and LaForge's gentle reminders that he just doesn't get humor have never seemed to bother him? Why have Joe Piscopo mimic Jerry Lewis -- why not either a pastiche of many famous comedians through the ages, or original material that's actually funny? What saves the storyline is Brent Spiner's perfectly on-the-nose performance, first ruining physical humor by overplaying it, then being unintentionally funny by performing badly in front of an audience programmed to laugh no matter what he does, only slowly realizing that they don't appreciate his jokes but find even the most trivial gesture to be witty. Like Spock, Data has always been more valuable as the straight man than the comic relief, the equivalent of the raised eyebrow in the face of a bad pun.

The main story is simply thin, and attempts to stretch it by bringing in regular characters just ends up making everyone look silly. Why don't Picard and Riker demand some answers of him sooner? Why doesn't Troi (who's back to stating the painfully obvious) sense deception right from the start, but also that this is fundamentally a good guy, not a liar and a thief? Why would Wesley Crusher have a crush on this showman? I'll accept that a lieutenant who looks like Teri Hatcher might fall on first sight for a space pirate type with a scruffy beard and long hair, though there's a bit of "Space Seed" vibe going (how many women will lunge into bed with the bad boy without a second thought?). It becomes quickly apparent that the two stuffy planetary leaders are much more loathsome than Okona, at which point it becomes likely that he won't turn out to be the villain, but it's somehow a letdown when we learn that really he was just the messenger boy.

And then there's the love story. Romeo and Juliet this is not, though it wants to be, with a heroine whose father considers her property like a jewel and a hero who's too much of a wimp to tell Daddy that he got the wrong girl pregnant. Benzan wants to marry Yanar, but he'd also kind of like to inherit that Jewel of Thesia, and rather than creating some unexpected drama by telling the children that they must make a choice - each other or the privilege in which they've been raised - there's a syrupy truce and an engagement that it's difficult to take seriously. Even more difficult to accept is the sudden, boring passivity of Okona. One conversation with Wesley and he wants to be a good boy, bring peace to his planet and win the respect of the grownups? Bah, what's the fun in that?

The directing throughout the episode is stiff, particularly the group confrontation and Data's scenes with Guinan, which are riddled by two-shots that keep putting the focus on her when we should be looking at his attempts to emote. (It doesn't help any that wonderful comic Whoopi Goldberg is reduced to claiming that lines like, "You're a droid and I'm annoyed" are funny.) There was an opportunity for Data to play straight man to someone who is genuinely hilarious, but because Guinan is supposed to be kind of sober, serene and imperturbable, it isn't allowed to happen. Still, by mixing two slow storylines, the pacing manages to stay above the agonizing slowness of "Where Silence Has Lease." And at least no one's taking the proceedings overly seriously.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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