Consent in Star Trek

Content warning: discussion of rape and sexual assault

Since I’ve been stuck at home because of the pandemic, I decided to watch Star Trek: Enterprise for the first time. While I love all the other Trek shows— Deep Space 9 is my favorite, and I’ve even seen all the Animated Series!— I just never gave Enterprise a try.

While I’m enjoying it so far, one episode has really stood out to me, and not in a good way: “Unexpected.” This is the one where Charles Tucker III is impregnated against his will. Yeah, you heard that right: the chief engineer of Enterprise is date-raped and forced to carry a child…and it’s played for laughs! What the hell? What is an episode like this doing in a show that’s supposed to be about a science fiction utopia?

This episode made me want to examine how different Star Trek series have handled consent over the decades. Especially when it comes to Next Generations’ Counselor Troi… who has the unfortunate distinction of being the only other character, aside from Trip, to be impregnated against their will.

After rewatching a lot of Trek, the main thing I noticed is that, while the writers generally agree that rape is bad, they don’t seem to understand exactly why it’s bad. Which is pretty telling, and troubling.

You could ask: why talk about consent and boundaries in a show that’s about science fiction, not about sex? Well… society’s values are often shown in our pop culture… and since Trek is an example of both pop culture & scifi, it’s definitely worth looking at how the show deals with issues that are not science-related. Also, when we see characters we admire dealing with issues, it reminds us that we’re not alone in our struggles.

 It’s not that Trek’s writers don’t understand why assault itself is bad. There are plenty of episodes that deal with assault, from questions about medical ethics, torture, and civil rights. From the Borg assimilating people against their will, to questions about Data’s civil rights as an android, the Trek franchise generally understands the ideas of consent and assault.

On the left: Chain of Command, S6 E 11; on the right, Measure of a Man, S2 E9, both TNG.

When the writers want to show us that a society is evil and lawless, they include rape to reinforce this. In the Original Series episode “Return of the Archons,” a landing party witnesses a town run amok at the “red hour.” People smash windows, get into fights, and men carry off women during the “red hour.” One of the women carried off is in the next scene, obviously traumatized by what happened to her, which is clearly implied to be rape. In the Next Generation, Lieutenant Yar mentions the rape gangs of Turkana IV, the failed Federation colony where she grew up. During the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, Bajoran women were raped and sometimes taken as “comfort women” for the Cardassians.

Tasha Yar on Turkana IV, Where No One Has Gone Before, TNG S1E6; Kira in “Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night,” DS9 S6E17

Last, there’s Chakotay’s complicated family past. In Voyager’s season 2 cliffhanger, his former lover, Seska, claims to have given birth to his child. While wrestling with what to do, if he should accept the child or not, he undergoes a vision quest and his father’s spirit speaks to him. He is Native American, and part of Chakotay’s family history includes the violent legacy of colonialism in the US. His father tells him that some of Chakotay’s ancestors were conceived when white settlers raped Native women. Yet those children were still accepted into the tribe.

Chakotay in Basics, VOY S2E26.

I should also point out that while Seska planned to carry Chakotay’s child, she didn’t go about it the old-fashioned way, but by impregnating herself with his DNA… meaning that he would have been forced into fatherhood against his will. This would have been an interesting theme to continue in Basics, part II. However, in the next episode, which retcons a few things, it turns out that Chakotay is not the father. While Voyager did have a pretty terrible understanding of how to portray Natives in a respectful and accurate way, at least the show did acknowledge the violent past of white colonizers. And reproductive coercion is definitely a type of assault.

Moving away from more serious issues, characters that are untrustworthy are shown groping or ignoring people’s boundaries. We see this a few times with Quark, the Ferengi bartender on DS9 who always skirted the line of what’s ok— especially with how he treats women. 

Kira to Quark: If you don’t take that hand off my hip, you’ll never be able to raise a glass with it again.

Grilka to Quark: I really am very grateful for all you’ve done, Quark. That is why I’m going to let you take your hand off my thigh instead of shattering every bone in your body.

Kira in Emissary, S1E1; Grilka and Quark in House of Quark, S3E3, both DS9.

In Voyager’s Darkling, after he makes changes to his holographic program, the doctor starts acting a little off, asking Torres if she’s been “naughty” by ignoring his medical advice and finally stroking her thigh.

This is just the beginning of his aberrant behavior, as later in the episode he kidnaps Kes and believes himself to be superior to everyone else on the ship.  

Kes and the EMH in “Darkling,” VOY S3E18.

Last, there’s the throwaway joke in Lower Decks episode “Envoys,” where Ensign Mariner is possibly felt up in a bar.

Ensign Mariner: Excuse me sir, I don’t know you. That is Starfleet property you’re handling!

Heck, some episodes even show a good understanding of consent in a sexual context. In the Voyager episode “Blood Fever,” Tom Paris refuses B’elanna Torres’ advances because she’s under the influence. In this episode, her mental state is altered, as she’s affected by a Vulcan crewmate who’s undergoing the pon farr, the Vulcan mating cycle. While the episode has some seriously questionable moments, understanding that a person in an altered state of mind cannot consent isn’t of them.

Paris to Torres: No. No. I’m your friend, and I have to watch out for you when your judgement’s been impaired. If you let these instincts take over now, you’ll hate yourself, and me too for taking advantage of you. I won’t do that.

Paris and Torres in “Blood Fever,” VOY S3E16.

It’s also reassuring, to me, that the only time issues of consent and being under the influence come up is when everyone involved is under the influence. There’s no “I didn’t realize how much Klingon blood wine she had” defenses. 

For example, in the Animated Series, the whole crew flirts with each other because the entire ship is affected by Mudd’s love crystals, and Nurse Chapel had to be manipulated into using the crystals on Spock. Though this does start the tradition of men being coerced into sexual situations in Trek, and the idea that men being coerced into sex isn’t as serious as when women are.

In the Next Generation episode “the Naked Now,” Tasha Yar kisses and flirts with other men who are under the influence of a space-virus with symptoms similar to drunkenness. I suppose you could make the case that she took advantage of the naive Data, but considering that she was impaired when she did it, I’m giving it a pass. Same with the DS9 episode “Fascination,” which had every main character suddenly being attracted to each other at random— Jake going after Kira, Jadzia throwing herself at her old friend Sisko, Kira abandoning Vedek Bareil to chase Bashir. They were being affected by Lwaxana Troi’s telepathic illness. Which is likely the only time that Lwawana pushed boundaries without actually meaning to.

Before we jump into the episodes themselves, I want to lay down some ground rules and definitions. And of course, there’s a content warning on this whole episode for frank discussions about sexual assault, as well as for series spoilers.

My own rule: try not to judge other cultures by human standards too much, and to try and take alien cultures into account.

For example, although I’m not a fan of Neelix and Kes’s relationship in Voyager, I’m not going to talk about the age gap between them, as Kes’s species, the Ocampa, have a very short life span. Likewise, I won’t discuss the cringeworthy concept of empathetic metamorphs in Next Generation’s “Perfect Mate.” This is the episode where there’s a beautiful woman whose entire existence is devoted to taking part in an arranged marriage, because she can imprint on someone and become their ideal partner, as she can sense their desires. Gross.

Not this time. Kes and Neelix, Twisted, VOY S2E6; Spock, Amok Time, TOS S2E5.

I won’t get into the Vulcan’s mating cycle of pon farr- that would require a whole video to itself. I’m also not going to deal with Ferengi culture, because that’s a huge suitcase to unpack. Captain Kirk’s antics with women are also something I won’t get into, again because of time constraints, nor will I do an in-depth analysis of the sexism in the Original Series. Same with people flirting with someone to get something— for example, Kirk and whoever, any man and Counselor Troi, this creep and Janeway in Voyager, or Narek and Soji in Picard.

Last, I’m not going to address two of the worst episodes in Trek: Voyager’s “Threshold,” and DS9’s “Profit and Lace.” Both of these have pregnancy and sexual harassment in them, but I just can’t bring myself to rewatch them. These two episodes are ranked as some of Trek’s all-time worst. 

“Profit and Lace” especially has been heavily criticized for being sexist and transphobic, as it has Quark become a woman for the episode due to plot reasons. “Threshold” combines bad writing with bad science as Tom Paris takes the ship past Warp 9, causing him to turn into a giant salamander, kidnap Captain Janeway, and have baby salamanders. The less said about these episodes, the better.

In addition, I’m not doing this in chronological order. With all the reboots, time travel, and retcons, that would be really difficult. Also, it’s worth noting that Trek doesn’t start out as super sexist in the ‘60s and then get more enlightened over time. Something— (cough, cough, Rick Berman)— made the series regress occasionally. So instead, I’ll do this in order of theme. Since Trek is sci fi, a lot of the consent issues are ones that we don’t have to deal with. For example, issues with telepathy, like “mind rape,” where someone forces someone else to think about a sexual encounter. This is beyond something psychological, like grooming, gaslighting or emotional abuse— this is, to me, is a type of rape.

Interestingly, Trek shows a good understanding of consent when it comes to telepathy and Vulcan mind melds. In the Voyager episode “Remember,” (S3E6) the Enarans are telepathic, and can easily share information and memories with people— but they have a clear understanding of when it’s appropriate to do so. When one Enaran shares his knowledge of music with Janeway, and she reacts in surprise, he realizes his mistake and apologizes.

Last, at the end, I’ll talk about the parallels with Borg assimilation and sexual assault.

Let’s start with Project Respect’s definition of consent: “A mutual verbal, physical, and emotional agreement that happens without manipulation, threats, or head games.”

Even the rough traditions of Klingon courtship require an eager and willing partner. Further, the BDSM community, who engage in sex acts involving playing with power, control and physical pain, have a clear idea about safewords to end a scene if someone is feeling overwhelmed, and aftercare, to help all involved decompress after an intense physical & emotional experience.

Unfortunately, a lot of Trek episodes get into the territory of manipulation and threats, or just ignore the idea of consent altogether. Because I think we can all agree: the Dabo girls at Quark’s aren’t enthusiastically agreeing to be sexually harassed by him— if they disagree, they literally get fired.

(Because yes, this actually happened in a first season episode of DS9, “Captive Pursuit,” E6. Luckily, Sisko made Quark remove that part of the work contract.)

There’s also Sisko’s comment to Bashir about hitting an admiral who was harassing an ensign in DS9. 

Sisko: “The day I hit one of the guests. it was a simple misunderstanding over his attempts to coax a young ensign to his quarters… against her will.”

While I really like what this line shows about Sisko’s character, I’m curious… #metoo is still a thing in the 24rd century, right? This admiral got punished? There’s also O’Brien’s remark about his father chasing a nurse around sickbay in TNG’s fourth season. 

O’Brien: Last time my old man was on board I found him chasing Nurse Stanton around a biobed in Sickbay.

I get the implication that the older generation is less progressive… but there’s centuries between now and Trek. You’d think this generational dynamic would have changed.

Let’s start with… privacy. We know that revenge porn, where someone posts nudes without someone’s consent, is bad. Here, what Trek writers fail to understand that using images without getting someone’s ok is also bad.

For example, in the Next Generation, Lt Barclay using his crewmates’ images in a holodeck program (“I am the goddess of empathy” is such a painful line to watch);

Troi: I am the goddess of Empathy. Cast off your inhibitions and embrace love, truth, joy.

 LaForge’s creepiness in “Galaxy’s Child,” where he channels a “nice guy” from the internet and is sad that a female engineer isn’t like the holodeck program of herself: 

Dr Brahms: I’m outraged by this. I have been invaded. Violated. How dare you use me like this? How far did it go, anyway? Was it good for you?

ADr. Brahms rightfully angry in Galaxy’s Child, TNG S4E16.

And in DS9, Quark trying to take a picture of Major Kira for an erotic holodeck program. All three of these episodes skate around the basic question: do people have a right to how their images are used? While Kira’s episode does have the gratifying scene where she confronts Quark, I find it a little strange that this isn’t… illegal. Yes, the scene where Quark’s head is holographically photoshopped onto Kira’s body is a fun moment, but these issues are serious. Using images of your co-workers in this way is extremely messed up. I’m surprised that these episodes gloss over this issue. Or that Odo doesn’t find some excuse to arrest Quark. Of all the times for Odo to play by the book…

Likewise, there are several episodes that handle sexual harassment pretty poorly. For example, in the DS9 episode “Chrysalis,” Doctor Bashir treats a woman, Sarina, who has similar genetic enhancements to his own. However, the episode only focuses on his romantic interest in her. While he does technically stop being her doctor before pursuing her, he breezes by this ethical breach awfully quickly.

This was in the season seven of DS9, during the Dominion War. While I could easily see first or second season Bashir being this clueless, his character had actually shown some growth since then. He wasn’t an arrogant young thing whose pursuit of Jadzia was just cringeworthy. At least Chief O’Brien pushed back on the idea of a doctor dating his own patient— good man.

O’Brien: Julian. She’s your patient.

It’s troubling, especially since Sarina has to feign muteness to get Bashir to realize what’s wrong. She even explains that she doesn’t feel like she can say no to him.

Sarina: What am I supposed to do? What am I supposed to feel? Tell me. I want to make you happy. I owe you everything. 

Bashir: Shh. No, you don’t owe me. You don’t owe me anything.

Bashir and his patient, “Chrysalis,” DS9 S7E5.

This isn’t the only time we see someone’s boundaries pushed, then trampled all over, in the Trek universe. Which is why I don’t think a lot of the writers understand exactly why rape is bad. Too often, characters are flirted with or pursued, even when they’re not interested… and that discomfort is played for laughs or a cheap thrill.

The worst example of a cheap thrill goes to the 2013 film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, from the rebooted Kelvin timeline. Here, Dr. McCoy’s daughter, Dr. Carol Marcus, decides to change her clothes in front of Kirk for important plot reasons. She tells him not to look, but he ignores that and looks anyway, because the director needed an excuse to film the actress in her underwear.

Sometimes, there’s no thrill, just lots of awkward. An especially uncomfortable example of this is in Voyager, when Q returns in the third season episode, “The Q and the Grey,” and tries to seduce an willing Captain Janeway. Not kidding. Q gets into a fistfight with the black captain and tries to bed the female captain. Progressive! While Q is all about pushing boundaries, making a bed with red silk sheets and heart-shaped pillows while talking about “mating” is a new level of boundary-crossing.

Janeway and Q in “The Q and the Gray,” VOY S3E11.

The two worst examples of sexualized boundary pushings are, not surprisingly, from Enterprise. Between the producers, Brendan Braga and Rick Berman, and the show airing on UPN, Enterprise had some of the most blatant examples of sexualizing women and juvenile sexual attitudes. Most of Enterprise’s attempts at sexiness are not erotic, they sound like a giggling Homer Simpson wrote it.

Let’s start with Enterprise’s mistakes by looking at the second season episode “Bounty.” Vulcan science officer T’Pol has her mating instinct, pon farr, triggered by an infection. This leads to T’Pol trying to seduce her doctor, Phlox, before finally breaking out of decon and going after… Malcom Reed, the grumpy tactical officer. K. She finally collapses in her quarters in this alluring pose.

T’Pol in “Bounty,” ENT S2E25.

I hate this episode, because it’s such a lame, obvious attempt to be sexy. It’s out of character for T’Pol, and reads more like bad fanfic than an actual script. The only reason this happened is because T’Pol is played by an attractive actress. Actress Jolene Blalock, who played T’Pol, is an actual supermodel. If T’Pol were a man, this episode would never have happened. No one would have made Spock or Tuvok go through this nonsense. It’s also pointless: she doesn’t remember anything afterward, so it’s not like it advanced her relationship with Trip. Or did much of anything.

Likewise, in the Enterprise episode “Stigma,” there’s another instance of a woman pursuing an unwilling man. Here, we meet Phlox’s wife— and we learn that his species, Denobluains, are polyamorous: they have more than one spouse. So, in this episode, do we learn how this works? Do we learn if these are like trouples or polycules, that is, a group of people living together? Do we learn how the different couples interact with each other?

Nope.

Phlox’s wife spends the entire episode flirting with a visibly uncomfortable Trip. I’m sorry, I’m calling BS on this whole premise. If a society has open marriages, and open marriages that work, the key to all of this is communication. What would be a worthwhile episode is Trip unwittingly signalling his interest in Phlox’s wife, and then his confusion when she invites him to dinner and presents him with the Denobluian version of The Ethical Slut. But that’s not what happens. We’re supposed to laugh at Trip’s discomfort, like it’s funny when someone is throwing themself at a person. Honestly, the scenes are difficult to watch, as she repeatedly invades his personal space and refuses to take any of poor Trip’s hints or non-verbal cues.

Trip reacting to a game of unwanted footsies, Stigma, ENT S2E14.

What makes this episode worse is the main plot: the disease T’pol contracted when she was mind-raped. I’ll deal with this episode again when I talk about assault.

I’ve mentioned Lwaxana Troi… and wow, there’s a lot to unpack with her character. I have no idea how a telepath, and a high- ranking person at that, can be so oblivious to how people react to her. The Next Generation episode, “Manhunt,” shows just how terrible her antics are: she tricks Captain Picard into having dinner with her. He thinks it’s for an official function and shows up in his dress uniform. Not only is this an uncomfortable scene, I dislike how this behavior is played for laughs. Lwaxana’s behavior is borderline stalkerish and harassing. Just because she’s a woman doesn’t mean she gets a pass. If the situation were flipped, it’d be easy to see how creepy the behavior was.

However, Lwaxana is not just the aggressor— she’s also the one assaulted in one instance. I’ll talk about this episode later.

Before we continue, I’m going to review the issues we’ve addressed so far: privacy and control of images; power dynamics and dating, such as doctors dating their patients; women as sexual aggressors played for laughs; and mind rape. Now I want to look at some examples of more obvious consent issues.

Let’s start with how the Original Series dealt with rape, back in the 60s. Surprisingly, there’s only one episode that doesn’t seem to understand assault— and that’s in the hastily-rewritten episode “Shore Leave.” The Enterprise crew is visiting a planet that manifests their thoughts into reality. Since the crew doesn’t realize the planet can do this, humor and disaster ensue. One of the female crew members, Yeoman Barrows, is found screaming, the shoulder torn from her uniform. She explains that she was attacked by a man with a cloak and a jeweled dagger, and says she was thinking that “All a girl needs is Don Juan.” However, the seriousness of this situation is shrugged off. Barrows doesn’t return to the ship to change clothes, instead wandering around the planet arm in arm with Doctor McCoy, in her torn uniform, until she dreams of a princess outfit, which she happily changes into. It’s also worth mentioning that this part was supposed to go to the actress who played Yeomand Rand, but she had already left the show after she accused a show executive of sexual assault.

This recovery was way too quick: “Shore Leave,” TOS, S1E15.

However, generally when rape is referenced onscreen, the writers usually understand the seriousness of it, and it’s generally used to show how violent a society is. There was the aforementioned scene in “Return of the Archons,” where a woman was left distraught after an assault. In “The Gamesters of Triskelion,” a large, male alien attempts to rape Uhura off-screen. He visits her in the cell where she’s being held, and explains, “I have been selected for you.” Both Uhura’s screams, along with Captain Kirk’s anger, underscore what’s happening— and drive home the point that this is a brutal, unjust planet. It’s a stark, effective scene, in which we only see what’s happening in shadow, and the only sounds are Uhura fighting back and screaming. In the third season episode, “Day of the Dove,” Chekov is under the influence of an energy being that feeds on negative emotions. He tries to force himself on a Klingon woman named Mara, tearing her dress — and when Kirk sees what’s happening, he starts to beat up Chekov. When Mara’s husband, Kang, sees her torn dress, he reacts badly. All these scenes are used to drive home the idea of the evil in certain societies or individuals.

Uhura and a thrall in “Gamesters of Triskelion,” TOS S2E17; Chekov and Mara, “Day of the Dove,” S3 E11.

The first time Trek dealt with rape was in “The Enemy Within,” in the first season. In it, Captain Kirk is split into two people in a transporter malfunction— a good half and an evil half. Evil Kirk takes on all of the captain’s negative qualities, first drinking alcohol while walking around the ship, and then by trying to rape Yeomand Rand. They struggle, but she manages to fight him off, though Kirk is incredibly rough with her, throwing her aside as security comes to his quarters. Afterwards, Rand is obviously shaken up by the encounter. Bonus points to Trek for understanding that rape is serious… though the line about Rand feeling unsure if she would report it really reflected the time.

Rand: If it hadn’t been. I can understand. I don’t want to get you into trouble. I wouldn’t have even mentioned it!

Rand in “The Enemy Within,” TOS S1E4.

But the way Spock leered at her at the end of the show undoes all this:

The, er, impostor had some interesting qualities, wouldn’t you say, Yeoman?

Um, what? What could Spock possibly mean by that? Especially from a half-Vulcan who’s supposed to be very logical?

This line looks especially bad when viewed in the context of Spock’s behavior in the 6th Star Trek film, “The Undiscovered Country.” Here, we see Spock perform a forcible mind meld on his protégé, Valeris. She’s part of a plot to thwart a peace agreement between the Federation and the Klingons. Spock wants to know who her co-conspirators are— and he forces the information out of her.

The scene is difficult to watch, likely deliberately. It’s shot in close up of Spock and Valeris, with ominous music. At first, she tries to step away from him, but he grabs her head and forces her to stay. By the end she’s screaming, and the looks of horror from the other actors —particularly James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols— reinforce the quiet horror of this scene. Valeris is clearly unwilling, and we’re left with the feeling that if the Federation weren’t trying to prevent a war with the Klingons, Spock would not have done this.

Now, I want to compare the attitude of this film to mind rape to how the Next Generation handles the same issue.

I’ve mentioned Lwaxana twice already. Not all of her episodes are about her own inappropriate behavior. “Ménage à Troi” is a giant mess. This is the one where a Ferengi takes a liking to Lwaxana, and she turns him down cold. So the obvious thing to do is to kidnap Lwaxana, her daughter, and a Starfleet officer. Riker. Then the Ferengi beam both Lwaxana and Deanna out of their clothes.

I’m going to pause here, not because I think this is okay, but to point out that Betazoid weddings are in the nude, while Ferengi women aren’t allowed to wear clothes in public. What could have been an interesting alien argument about nudity and clothing instead becomes another gross scene in this dumpster fire of an episode. Because while there’s kidnapping and torture in this episode… it’s supposed to be funny.

There’s extended scenes about the Ferengi forcing himself on a clearly reluctant Lwaxana, including ommox and this retractable bed. While this episode is obviously about rape. The light-hearted ending makes me wonder if the writers understood how serious these issues really are.

Worse, Lwaxana gets telepathically assaulted. The Ferengi needs to probe her mind for important plot reasons. So he hooks her up to a machine and forcibly mind probes her. Fun.

The episode ends with Picard singing Shakespeare to win back Lwaxana because she’s decided to stay with the Ferengi. Why does this happen? I don’t know. It’s either terrible writing or Stockholm Syndrome. Pick one.

From mind rape to memeable moments in “Ménage à Troi,” S3E24.

Keep in mind, this isn’t about changing attitudes. The film “The Undiscovered Country” was made around the same time as this episode— the film was in theaters in 1991, and this episode first aired in 1990. As I said earlier, Trek doesn’t exactly have a linear progression of greater awareness and sensitivity about sexual assault issues.

The fourth-season Voyager episode, “Retrospect” (E17), is a good example of this. While the assault in question isn’t sexual— Seven of Nine accuses an arms dealer of sedating her and stealing some of her Borg implants— the writing and acting make it seem like a rape metaphor. She even says, “He violated me” when discussing what happened to her. How this episode got made without anyone noticing the parallels to rape survivors is beyond me. The writers intended the episode to be about “false memory syndrome.” However, that intent isn’t clear, as Seven acts how we would expect a rape victim to act: flinching at the Doctor’s touch, panicking when her assailant stands close to her. This episode has all the nasty stereotypes, from an unreliable witness who invents memories with the help of a doctor to a man’s life being ruined by the accusations. Never mind that the accused man runs away from the investigation and causes his ship to blow up.

The bumbling approach to how rape is handled is especially obvious when we look at Star Trek: Enterprise. For some context, one of Enterprise’s co-creators was Rick Berman. Berman caused Terry Farrell, the actress who played Jadzia Dax, to leave due to sexual harassment, such as continual remarks about the size of her breasts.

Honestly, addressing Berman could be a whole video itself— from Seven of Nine’s outfits to the pointlessly sexual decon scenes in Enterprise.

So, with Berman’s influence in mind, I’ll now discuss what happens to T’Pol in the episodes Fusion, Stigma, and Kir’Shara.

In the first season of Enterprise, T’Pol is forced into a mind meld with Tolaris. Tolaris is creepy, and a member of the Vulcan splinter group V’tosh ka’tur, that rejects suppressing their emotions. He seems very taken with T’Pol, telling her that her emotions are closer to the surface than other Vulcans. He then convinces her to put off the nightly meditation ritual that helps suppress her emotions. She agrees. That night, she dreams about a time she went to a jazz club on Earth— which is intermixed with her having sex with Tolaris. I’m unclear if this is him influencing T’Pol telepathically or what, but it makes the whole episode feel seedy and disquieting, especially with the freeform jazz overtaking her memory. A statue of Surak, the father of Vulcan philosophy, breaks, and she wakes up.

The next day, he convinces her to try a mind meld with him — an experience Tolaris describes as “profoundly intimate.” While T’Pol initially agrees to the meld, she still seems resistant at first, telling him that it’s not working. He presses her to continue, and they relive T’Pol’s memory of the jazz club together, the club named Fusion, the title of this episode. But it’s obvious that Tolaris is enjoying this— he’s breathless, and urges T’Pol to try and describe her feelings, suggesting that she’ll feel invigorated and elated. In the vision, she tries to leave but Tolaris grabs her arm and forces her to stay. In the real world, she forces him away from her. He leaves her quarters and she collapses, but not before calling sickbay.

I have mixed feelings about this episode. While it doesn’t shy away from the awfulness of assault, I’m a little confused why no one tried to arrest Tolaris. Aside from a stern talking-to by Enterprise’s captain, Archer, there aren’t any real consequences for him. Archer does acknowledge that T’Pol was manipulated by Tolaris, though, which is a nice touch.

I’m especially torn at how the follow-up to this arc, the aforementioned episode “Stigma,” further addresses this plotline. In this second season episode, it’s revealed that T’Pol contracted a mental disease, Pa’nar Syndrome, from this meld. However, there’s no cure. Because mind melds are forbidden in Vulcan society at this time, there is little research into helping to heal it.

What happens next is a clumsy metaphor for HIV and AIDS. Since only a small minority of Vulcans can initiate mind melds, the stigma around people with Pa’nar Syndrome is an attempt at a metaphor for people with HIV. Um, ok. Remember, the B-plot to this episode is the doctor’s polyamorous wife hitting all over the unwilling chief engineer… as a joke.

I despise this episode. Oh, that’s very brave. Coming out in support of people with AIDS… in 2003. This was way past the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, when former president Ronald Reagan acted like it was something only gay people got. TLC’s song mentioning AIDS, “Waterfalls,” was released in 1994. I’m also irritated that up until this point, Star Trek hadn’t had any out LGBT characters— ignoring the queer coding of Garak and Bashir, or Jadzia Dax.

Further, this episode completely negates a point that “Fusion” eloquently made— that consent can be withdrawn at any time. Because T’Pol initially agreed to the mind meld with Tolaris before withdrawing and asking him to stop. A big part of the episode’s drama revolves around T’Pol having been forced into the meld, a detail her crewmates think she should share with the Vulcan Medical Council. Since she was coerced, she isn’t one of the stigmatized minority, and so the Council might give her their scant research on the disease. T’Pol doesn’t want to disclose this, however, because that would just reinforce the stigma. Good on her.

Anyway, all of this gets retconned in the fourth season episode “Kir’shara.” Turns out that most Vulcans can perform mind melds; the High Command has been lying to everyone all this time. Pa’nar Syndrome is caused by melding with someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing, and is cured by melding with someone who has experience with it. While I appreciate this retcon, it does make me wonder why on Earth anyone thought changing the Vulcan’s established lore this way was a good idea.

Creepy Vulcan in “Fusion,” S1E17; “Kir’Shara,” S4E9.

The last episode we need to address before we move on to Troi and Trip is one about TNG’s Commander Riker… but not in the way you’d think. 

And the episode I mean isn’t “A Matter of Perspective.” That’s the one where a scientist’s wife accuses Riker of trying to rape her in the guest bedroom of a space station, and we get three different points of view— Riker’s, who remembers the wife trying to seduce him; the wife, who remembers Riker trying to rape her; and the second-hand account of the husband’s memory, which had them consensually seeking each other out.

This episode is based on the 1950 Japanese film, Rashomon. It’s about the alleged rape of someone’s wife and her husband’s murder, and everyone involved having contradictory memories of the same event.

The problem I have with Star Trek’s take on this is that… the rape here is real— at least the attempt is. Troi says she can’t sense any deception from the wife… which means that she isn’t lying about Riker trying to rape her. I get it, the episode is trying to show us how subjective reality is. But when the climax of the episode hinges on techno babble and Kreiger waves, I’m left feeling more uncomfortable than anything. To me, it feels like the accusations against Riker are just hand-waved away because… well… sometimes women get confused about if they were raped or not. And I dislike that message.

There’s actually an episode where Riker is the one who is assaulted.

A male friend actually brought this one to my attention, as I’d somehow blocked it out. It’s “First Contact,” the 15th episode of Season 4. It’s an otherwise great episode about first contact from the alien’s point of view, that’s sullied by a scene where Riker is forced to have sex.

I think the episode escaped my mind while researching this video because of how much the coercion was downplayed. Basically, Riker is trapped on an alien planet. He’s undercover and disguised as an alien when his cover is blown. As he’s trying to escape the hospital where he’s being held, a nurse offers to help him… if he has sex with her. And he agrees. 

Riker: Now, will you help me? 

Lanel: If you make love to me. 

Riker: What?

Lanel: I’ve always wanted to make love with an alien. 

Riker: Listen, Miss…Lanel. 

Riker: Lanel, I really have to get going. All the other… aliens are waiting for me. 

Lanel: Oh, it’s not so much to ask, and then I’ll help you escape.

Riker: It’s not that easy. There are differences in the way that my people make love.

Lanel: I can’t wait to learn. (she takes of her spectacles) 

Riker: But it’s…

Lanel: It’s your only way out of here, my alien.

Like Picard’s discomfort with Lwaxana, this is played for laughs. What’s worse is what Riker says afterward, when the nurse asks him if she’ll see him again.

Riker: “I’ll call you the next time I pass through your star system.”

Great. Now I want to take a shower. Moments like this only help to reinforce the idea that men can’t be raped because they’re always willing. In turn, this idea stigmatizes men who’ve been sexually assaulted, and discourages male rape victims from either seeking help or reporting the crime in the first place.

Unfortunately, the way Riker’s assault is handled sets up the way Trip’s assault is handled. “Unexpected” is in the first season of Enterprise, when the series was still unironically having decon scenes. The aliens of the week, the Xyrllians, are having a problem with their ship, and Trip offers to help. It’s really a shame about this episode, as it has a very interesting concept for the aliens. Since the Xyrllians have a different atmosphere than ours, humans have to undergo a lengthy procedure to adapt to it. Because Trip is going over to their ship, he has to undergo this procedure.

The ship looks strange, as there’s grass and edible plants growing on the walls, and water comes in cubes. Trip and the female engineer, Ah’len, bond over the repairs. In addition to showing him the basics of the ship, she takes Trip to a holodeck to show him what her home world looks like. It’s here she introduces something she calls a “game.” Keep this wording in mind. Ah’len shows him a bowl full of pebbles. If two people stick their hands into the bowl, they’re able to share thoughts.

And share genetic material, apparently. After he returns to the Enterprise, Trip notices a strange growth on his arm, which a medical scan shows is… a nipple.

What follows is the most cringeworthy, awful dialogue. Soon, Trip’s clothes no longer fit him because it’s not just a new nipple he’s developed; he’s carrying another life. That’s funny! Plus, he’s hormonal! He’s eating more! Isn’t that all just so hilarious? Trip’s obvious discomfort and confusion is played for laughs. 

T’Pol: This engineer wanted you to see her planet?

Trip: So?

T’Pol: Perhaps the next step would have been to meet her holographic parents. If I’m not mistaken, on some planets that’s a precursor to marriage.

Trip: I never had any intention of becoming a working mother.

Archer, to Trip: Show him.

Klingons: (laughter)

Trip getting laughed at for being date raped, ENT S1E5, “Unexpected.”

Meanwhile, the Enterprise crew tries to find the Xyrllians so they can explain how their pregnancy cycles work. No one asks Trip how he’s doing, or shows any concern about Trip’s mental or physical health. He is literally playing host to an alien embryo, and no one is alarmed. It’s just a big funny joke!

Even worse, the show writers can’t do us the favor of letting this episode fade from memory. They keep referencing it… like it was a good or memorable story. In “Oasis,” T’Pol rubs it in Trip’s face in a jealous snit… because getting jealous that your crush was date raped and impregnated is logical. In “Dawn,” as Trip faces death and thinks back on his life on Enterprise… yeah, he actually thinks about this episode.

Now we need to look at how Next Generation’s Counselor Deanna Troi is treated by the writers. Before I examine her storylines, though, I’d like to mention one more thing I learned about Trip during my research: some feminist writers see Trip as breaking the stereotype of a typical macho male character. He’s extremely emotional, especially when it comes to the people he loves. The death of his sister at the end of season 2 is shown to have profound effects on Trip in Season 3. His reactions to learning he and T’Pol have a fatally sick child at the end of the series reinforce this.

I mention this, because Troi is an extremely feminine character, from her clothing to her role in the show as an empathetic and sensitive ship counselor. It’s worth noting that none of the writers can apparently resist the idea of a telepathic woman forced into a sexual experience. Both Troi and T’Pol have the dubious distinction of being telepaths who appear in multiple episodes depicting their assaults; Troi and Trip, as I said earlier, are the two characters who have both been impregnated without their consent, and neither character is coded as traditionally masculine. Unfortunately, Chakotay gets an honorable mention in this category, for his almost-child with Seska.

It’s creepy how often Troi’s telepathic powers make her a target for assault. Aside from “The Child,” the episode where Troi is forced to have a baby, there’s the hair-sniffing scene with Ral in “The Price.” Troi’s stiff posture and stoic expression make this scene skin-crawling-ly awkward instead of sensual. Also, Ral has the smarmy energy of a guy selling “Herbalife” who has “entrepreneur” in their Instagram bio.

Also, there’s the fifth season episode, “Violations,” which is the most clear-cut depiction of mind rape. “Violations” introduces us to the Ullians, who are telepathic historians who use their mental powers to help people remember forgotten things.

Troi shares a turbolift with Jev, the son of the head historian, and they each discuss their overbearing parents. Troi then returns to her room alone, where she has a flash of a memory with Commander Riker. She gets herself a hot chocolate to calm down, but the memory surfaces again— this time, with Jev in Riker’s place, forcing Deanna to have sex. Troi falls into a coma where she remains for the rest of the episode while her crewmates try to figure out what’s wrong. Research uncovers that Troi isn’t Jev’s only victim— other victims are found at other locations he visited. The euphemism they use is “telepathic memory invasion,” but pretty sure they just mean mind rape.

This episode does have a somewhat satisfactory ending— Jev is eventually arrested, but not before trying to assault Troi again.

Troi in “The Price,” S3E8, and in “Violations,” S5E12.

I also need to point out that this is the second time it’s suggested that Riker raped someone. Troi’s memory is of her and Riker having a moment after a poker game, and Riker doesn’t stop when she asks him to. It’s not clear if this is a real memory, or something Jev created. The other memories the Enterprise crew relives are very real— for example, Dr Crusher and Picard going to the morgue to confirm that her husband is dead. As in “A Matter of Perspective,” I’m not comfortable with Riker’s actions left so ambiguous. 

While it’s not exactly an example of rape, I’d also like to mention the sixth season episode, “Man of the People.” Here, we’re introduced to an ambassador and his elderly mother. The ambassador acts as mediator between two warring groups. He seems attracted to Troi, but his mother is hostile towards her— asking Troi “if she’s mated with him yet.” Yeah, she actually uses the word “mated.” As do a lot of the Trek episodes, actually.

After his mother dies, he invites Troi to perform a funeral rite with him. However, it isn’t a death ritual— it’s a way for him to transfer his negative feelings and emotions into Troi, turning her into a human psychic waste dump. The older woman he was traveling with was also used this way, hence her older appearance and nasty demeanor. Soon, Troi begins aging and acting out in a similar way to the older woman— randomly touching herself during her exercise routine, sleeping with an ensign, inviting Riker over and answering the door in a revealing dress, just so Riker can witness the ensign’s walk of shame.

Last, there’s Shinzon’s mind rape of Troi in the film Star Trek: Nemesis. Shinzon is a clone of Captain Picard, which makes this scene disconcerting enough. When Troi and Shinzon first meet, he wants to touch Troi’s hair— and knows a lot about her. That evening, Shinzon forces himself into Troi’s mind when she’s having a romantic night with her husband, Riker.

It’s actually a joint effort with both Shinzon and his Remen viceroy. During the rape, Shinzon calls her imzadi, which is Betazed for “beloved.” She panics, pushes Riker off of her, and then we see the scene from Riker’s point of view. I’m a little confused as to how Shinzon did this. I’m guessing, since Remens are cousins of the Romulans, and Romulans and Vulcans are distant ancestors, and Vulcans have some telepathic ability…? But this really seems like a stretch. There’s also the weird scene later in the movie, where the writers try to redeem this assault on Troi. During a critical battle scene, she’s able to resume her telepathic link with Shinzon and his viceroy so she can sense where his cloaked ship is hiding, enabling Worf to fire at them. Actress Marina Sirtis does deliver the line “remember me” very well, but in my opinion, this just makes the rape scene worse. It doesn’t advance the plot, it’s just a cheap trick to show us that Shinzon is a villain. I mean, the guy is trying to gain control of the Romulan Empire and the Federation, and kill Captain Picard in the process. We don’t need to be reminded he’s a bad guy— it’s painfully obvious.

Having looked at the other episodes about Troi and issues of consent, let’s return to the episode “The Child.”

 The episode begins with a glowing ball of light flying into the Enterprise, and wandering around the ship before finding a sleeping Counselor Troi. The ball of light travels up the length of her body as she starts writhing under her sparkly blanket. Gross.

We find out there’s a pregnancy in Ten Forward, at the same time we meet the new ship’s doctor, Pulaski. Troi just sits there staring off stoically while the new doctor delivers the news to a stunned Picard. Troi’s pregnancy announcement to the crew is about the most awkward thing. It’s in the observation lounge, and Picard tells everyone while Pulaski puts pictures of the fetus on the screen. Riker wants to know who the father is, Worf wants to know if Troi’s going to have an abortion, and I want to know why this is happening. I mean, if this is being treated like a normal pregnancy, then why this weird announcement? If this is a threat, as Worf seems to think… then why is this so casual?

This scene only emphasizes the gender imbalance among the main cast at this point in TNG. In season 2, the only two women serving on the bridge are Troi and Dr. Pulaski, with Yar dead, Dr. Crusher transferred, and Guinan only appearing as a supporting character.

Honestly, though, I’m with Worf here. An alien life form has forced a pregnancy on someone, and we’re all going to act like this is a normal birth? How do we know it’s not a parasite? No one asks how this could affect Troi’s life or career. There’s no mention of maternity leave, day care, or other pesky details working parents have to face.

And no physical effects, no hormones, no nothing. This seems less like a miracle and more a lame plot device to avoid the reality of what’s happened to Troi. Growing a whole other life is not easy, and if it happened in such a brief time, it’d be sure to leave a mark, mental or physical. But dealing with the messy realities of morning sickness or postpartum depression would interfere with the plot. So, Troi has a pain-free delivery, Data is in awe at the miracle of life, and we learn that Troi’s newborn child continues to grow at an astonishing rate.

As much as this episode is about Troi, it doesn’t really explore her character that much. She’s literally an incubator for a new life, while her character just serves as an incubator for this story. Particularly when we find out why this glowing ball of light impregnated Troi and became a child: He wanted to learn more about us. What the hell? What kind of culture does this life form come from? How do his people say hello, have conversations, or have diplomatic missions? Honestly, I can’t imagine a scenario where this is a normal way to “talk” to people.

Whew. Poor Troi. Rewatching TNG, I wish they’d written some better stories for her, as well as given her some better love interests. Most of the time, her telepathic abilities are an Achilles heel, not a source of strength.

This brings me back to my observation at the beginning of the video: Trek writers often fail to understand why rape is bad. When Picard is assimilated in “Best of Both Worlds” or tortured in “Chain of Command,” it’s understood that torture and forcibly implanting medical devices are violations of one’s bodily autonomy, and therefore of one’s civil rights.

But with Trip and Troi’s pregnancies, that understanding is simply not there. Their pregnancies are played as either jokes or miracles, but aside from Worf’s comments, they’re not presented as a violation of any kind. While it’s true that neither the Xyrllian woman or the glowing ball of light had consciously bad intentions, that doesn’t matter— their actions still caused harm to the people they encountered.

At least with Troi’s child, unlike Trip’s, everyone has the decency to forget about it ever happening.

Trip and Troi.

And yes, I hate the mystical pregnancy trope. This is where women are impregnated by some supernatural force. It reduces women down to a set of organs, it makes the men in the episode confused spectators, and takes a perfectly natural part of life and turns it into something bizarre and sinister. I think it’s a lazy plot device that rarely, if ever, produces a compelling story. Worse for Trek is how differently Trip and Troi’s pregnancies are handled: Trip gets laughed at constantly, while Troi is treated with care.

I should also note that when T’Pol and Trip are forced into parenthood at the end of the series Enterprise, the violation is not well understood. A lot of the dialogue focuses on Trip wondering if T’Pol had ever been pregnant and keeping that from him, not understanding that both Trip and T’Pol had been violated.

As a final note on this subject: I find it very concerning that the characters singled out for types of sexual assault are some of the more feminine characters in Trek. It’s as femininity itself is an invitation to assault, or that not being traditionally masculine somehow invites physical attacks.

I think now, with the new Trek shows, the writers seem to understand the reasons why rape is bad. In Star Trek: Discovery, first aired in 2017, one of the main characters, Ash Tyler, is a victim of rape. His backstory is complicated. Originally a Klingon named Voq, he underwent an agonizing procedure called the choH’a’. This transformed the disgraced albino Klingon into a human named Ash Tyler, who somehow ends up with not just his appearance, but also with Tyler’s DNA and memories.

Tyler’s grisly transformation is shown in a series of wrenching flashbacks in “Into the Forest I Go” and “The Wolf Inside.” After his disgrace and the grisly procedure, he then spent 227 days in a Klingon prison, being abused and raped by his Klingon captor, a woman named L’Rell. When he sees L’Rell again, his memories of the abuse resurface, and he is overcome with crippling PTSD.

Ash Tyler, DIS, “Into the Forest I Go.”

The way these scenes are shot– with a flickering, strobe-like effect that highlights the nightmare of Tyler’s experience — show us that the director and writers understand the brutal horror of what’s happening. The bloody physical transformation is shown alongside Tyler struggling with his rapist. The pain and anguish of these memories eventually cause Tyler to have a mental breakdown in a later episode. There is nothing sexual about these scenes— they’re a stark look at the realities of rape and assault.

More wrenching, Tyler explains after he recovers from his PTSD that he realized L’Rell had an attraction to him— one that he encouraged, hoping she would go easier on him if he submitted to her sexual demands.

Her name’s L’Rell. She’s the reason I’ve had nightmares… every night since Captain Lorca and I fled her ship. She’s also the only reason I’m still alive. Two hundred and twenty-seven days. But it only took one to realize I wasn’t gonna make it out alive, not unless I made a choice. What did you do? I survived. That… That Klingon… was more than just my captor. She was my torturer. One who took a particular… interest in me. And I saw a way out. A way to live past day one, day ten, day 20, day 97… I encouraged it. Her sick affections. Her obsession with me. Because if I hadn’t, I’d be dead, like all the others. And I got out. I get to keep living my life.

I’m glad that Trek doesn’t shy away from difficult topics like this— and I’m happy to see the franchise’s attitude becoming more progressive and understanding. 

I mentioned the Borg at the beginning of this video— and now I want to return to the idea of assimilation as assault. One reason I love Star Trek is how it finds metaphors for different aspects of the human condition in a scifi context. How the Borg assimilate people into their collective represent many different types of trauma—as this is both an intense mental and physical violation. It’s painful, evidenced by the screams of those undergoing it. The Borg strip away your individuality and replace it with machine parts.

The Borg are Trek’s most terrifying villain: a collective mind of cybernetic beings, an entire race built on the forced assimilation of people. Many scenes on Borg vessels show just how immense their ships are, and how small and powerless individuals are in comparison. 

The mental trauma of assimilation is clear when we look at the long journey to healing that two characters took— Seven of Nine and Jean-Luc Picard. While their experiences with the Borg were very different, both character’s arcs show that recovering from trauma is a lifelong process. They are brought together in the new Trek series Picard, which highlights their shared trauma.

Assimilation as assault is suggested to be similar to rape in several ways. When Picard poses as someone selling a Borg, he describes the implants as “defiling” Seven, using deliberate sexualized language.

Picard: Disgusting thing. Once they get the Borg inside them, there is no coming back, no matter what they think. Defiled is what you are. Damned. Cursed. 

Scary alien security guard: Quite a prize. Rare to find one with so many implants still fully operational. 

Picard: She is not one of the new ones. When the Borg entered her, she was a jeune fille. You are going to have to dice her up to get it all out.

Let’s begin with Picard’s assault and long healing process. Picard is kidnapped by the Borg at the end of season 3 in Best of Both Worlds. He’s chosen to be a “voice,” a bridge between the Borg and humanity, and is forced to help the Borg attempt to assimilate Earth. In the DVD commentary of TNG, producer Rick Berman referred to Picard’s assimilation into Locutus of Borg as rape. The scene where Picard is assimilated emphasizes this: he is frozen, emotionless, as machinery is implanted into his body, while tears roll down his face.

I am Locutus of Borg. Resistance is futile. Your life as it has been is over. From this time forward, you will service us.

We see his helplessness as he’s forced to watch his own ship being attacked by the Borg— an attack he is helping. Even when he’s rescued by the Enterprise crew, it’s clear the toll this has taken on him.

Riker: How do you feel? 

Picard: Almost human. With just a bit of a headache.

 Crusher: We’ll get you to Sickbay. We won’t have any trouble getting these implants out now. 

Riker: How much do you remember? 

Picard: Everything. 

The episode following the Borg two-parter, “Family,” has Picard opening up about the trauma of what happened, in a conversation with his brother.

Picard: You don’t know, Robert. You don’t know. They took everything I was. They used me to kill and to destroy, and I couldn’t stop them. I should have been able to stop them! I tried. I tried so hard, but I wasn’t strong enough. I wasn’t good enough. I should have been able to stop them. I should! I should! 

Robert: So, my brother is a human being after all. This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it.

The assimilation becomes a major part of Picard’s evolution as a character. When a single Borg is brought onto the ship in the episode “I, Borg,” Counselor Troi reacts with concern for Picard— and her language sounds similar to how a therapist would talk to a rape victim.

Troi: Sometimes, even when a victim has dealt with his assault, there are residual effects of the event that linger.

In this episode, we get to see how Picard is still struggling with what happened to him. When he is alone with the Borg, named Hugh, we see him shift into a more “Borg” voice, likely as a defensive mechanism.

Hugh: Locutus.

Picard: Yes. I am Locutus of Borg. 

Hugh: Why are you here? 

Picard: This is a primitive culture. I am here to facilitate its incorporation. Identify yourself. 

Hugh: They will resist us. 

Picard: Resistance is futile.

This is also the first time we see the idea of Borg as not just victimizers, but as victims themselves. This idea will be explored more with Seven of Nine’s character in Voyager.

The pain of this is carried into other Trek series as well. During Deep Space 9’s pilot, Picard is reminded of what he did as Locutus when he meets Commander Sisko, who lost his wife in a battle with the Borg. His reaction shows how he still carries the shame of this with him.

Picard struggling with his trauma is the focus of the movie, “Star Trek: First Contact.” In the film, the Borg are planning to attack Earth, but because of Picard’s history with the Borg, Starfleet keeps him away from the fight. He disobeys that order, and is pulled into the past along with a Borg vessel. Once there, they discover that Borg are slowly taking over the Enterprise, assimilating both the ship and crew.

While he says he wants to fight the Borg, his actions show the truth: he is after revenge. He doesn’t try to save his crewmates who are being assimilated, choosing to kill them instead.

Picard: No….. No! …I will not sacrifice the Enterprise. We’ve made too many compromises already. Too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again! The line must be drawn here, …this far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done. 

It’s not until his refusal to save his crew by blowing up the Enterprise and being compared to Captain Ahab from Moby Dick that he realizes the extent of his obsession.

Lily: See you around, Ahab.

 Picard: ‘And he piled upon the whale’s white hump, a sum of all the rage and hate felt by his own race. If his chest had been a cannon, he would have shot his heart upon it.’

“The line must be drawn here.”

While the Borg Queen is a divisive character, her desire to see Picard surrender not just his body, but his mind as well, makes the violation of assimilation clear for the whole audience, not just Trekkies.

Picard: That’s it. I remember now. It wasn’t enough that you assimilate me. I had to give myself freely to the Borg, …to you.

The theme of assimilation as assault is continued into the series Picard. When Jean-Luc has to visit a deactivated Borg cube, he reacts the way someone who has PTSD would— as do the people who are having their implants removed. And when he sees the freed Borg again, Hugh, they greet each other like old friends who have survived an intense experience together.

Picard seeing the recovering ex-Borg is one of my favorite scenes from the show.

I’ve learned from my own recovery from trauma that you cannot begin to truly heal until you acknowledge the loss of control. Turning now to Seven of Nine, her story arc shows this, as well as the idea that Borg are not just victimizers, but victims as well.

Her backstory is tragic, told in pieces, in flashbacks over multiple episodes. Like most trauma, it’s repressed, buried— only surfacing when certain things trigger her memories to the surface.

Seven was assimilated as a very young child, named Annika Hansen. Her parents studied the Borg, following their ships into the Delta quadrant.

Annika as a child, “Dark Frontier,” S5E15.

Annika: Zoom, zoom.

Her father: Ah, ah, ah, put down the cube, Muffin. It’s not a toy.

And this ended how you’d imagine, with the entire family being taken by the Borg.

When Seven arrives on Voyager, she’s been a drone most of her life. She’s left behind when the link is severed, and wants to be returned to the collective.

Captain Janeway, a bit forcefully, unassimilated her, having Seven’s Borg implants removed. Unlike Picard, however, Seven resists being taken from the collective. The Borg life is all she has known.

Seven of Nine: Your attempt to assimilate this drone will fail. You can alter our physiology but you cannot change our nature. We are Borg.

This begins her journey to find her lost humanity. It’s a difficult one, as she remembers her childhood: how her parents were interested in the Borg, and how that interest resulted in her being taken.

In the episode “The Raven,” Seven finds her parents’ old ship— and as her memories resurface, she becomes childlike, her voice changing from her commanding Borg tone to a more childlike one.

Seven of Nine’s flashbacks, “The Raven,” S4E6.

Annika! Run! Run, hide!

Papa? Help me.

Over the seasons, we see Seven slowly begin to embrace her human side, though she still prefers her Borg name over her human one, Annika. In “Dark Frontier,” her complete backstory is revealed, and we also learn about the fate of one of her parents— her father was assimilated into the collective.

I want to end this video with an exchange from the show Picard, between two characters that were assimilated into the Borg collective— Jean-Luc, of course, and Seven of Nine. In the fifth episode, “Stardust City Rag,” they bond over their shared trauma— a trauma that can take a lifetime to heal.

Seven: After they brought you back from your time in the Collective … did you honestly feel that you regained your humanity?

Picard: Yes.

Seven: All of it?

Picard: No. But we’re both working on it, aren’t we.

Seven: Every damn day of my life. 

Picard and Seven of Nine, “Stardust City Rag.”

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