Gender politics on Star Trek have never been very cutting edge. For all their grand visions of the future, genre writers have often struggled with an inability to create convincing female characters, or give them a role to play beyond "pretty, pretty princess" or In the sixties, this was forgivable. Different times, different values, and maybe the Sexual Revolution hadn't really caught up to Prime Time quite yet. We can accept this as a flaw inherent in the design, mention it when it becomes impossible to ignore, but generally get on with our lives. I expected more from TNG. Not because the '80s were a hotbed for feminism, but because that now is closer to our now. I mean, I was alive in the '80s! Women had jobs and everything back then.
Here we have a brand new cast, and we have women in leading roles, which is great. There's the doctor, no problems there, and the counselor who reads people's emotions... um. Well, maybe that will prove more useful later on. How about the head of security? That's undeniably bad-ass, right? I mean, once you get past her clear psychological problems and the whole "rape gang" issue, she's a strong, forceful character, one who flies off the handle at a moment's provocation, which is exactly the attitude you'd want in someone in her position. Er. Still, it's a step in the right direction. We live in a world, after all, when casting a woman as a star ship captain was somehow considered a big deal. Geeks don't really enjoy "change," especially when that change involves ladies who yell and order and don't charge by the hour.
So I'll give them some credit. Then "Angel One" shows up, and, gah, I don't even know anymore. It's not even as though the episode was that bad. It mostly made sense, or at least it made roughly the same amount of sense as everything else we've seen so far. Apart from Riker's ridiculous outfit, nothing here made me cringe with embarrassment ala "The Naked But the concept is so thoroughly inane that I feel like I can't give this a passing grade.
The planet of Angel One is a matriarchy, because here, the women are physically powerful and the men are weak and wear lots of paisley. It's exactly like Earth used to be, only with the gender roles reversed. Oh wow, what a crazy mix-up! And you know, when the women get the power, they go absolutely nuts with it. Like, dictatorship and disagree-with-me-on-penalty-of-death style nuts. It's the sort of place the new Enterprise should avoid like the plague, given the dictates of the Prime Directive. I mean, a matriarchy is such an obvious affront to God and Nature that any red-blooded male wouldn't be able to stop himself from getting involved. Too bad, then, that Picard and the rest of his team of misfits have tracked three escape pods from the disabled freighter Odin to the Angel One. Looks like it's time for some red hot Riker interference.
Sci-fi nearly always gets goofy when it posits matriarchal societies. "Angel One" is a more modern version of movies like Queen Of Outer Space, which features a team of dude astronauts crash-landing on a planet ruled by, well, you follow the rest. In Queen, the men have to rescue the "good" women from the evil queen, whose evilness rests on the fact that she was horribly burned, making her physically ugly and therefore undesirable. She has the gall to hit on the hero of the movie, and even though the hero could save everyone's lives by sucking it up, he's overcome by the Butherface Blues, rejects her, and winds up with Zsa Zsa Gabor. It's an amazing picture, I strongly recommend checking it out.
The point, anyway, is that matriarchies in fiction are often built around powerful women who would perfectly happy hanging out at home if they ever met a real man. "Angel One" doesn't do a damn thing to buck this trend, despite its pretensions towards depth. Beata, the elected leader of the only society we ever meet, is forceful, direct, and calm. She's also immediately turned on by Riker's masculine charms, and while she doesn't go quite so far as to abdicate power, she does sleep with him, and pay more attention to his big speech at the end of the episode than she otherwise might've. There's a lot of hilarious sexual harassment, which is funny because, see, usually it's a man who does the harassing, not the woman! Ha! Crazy times. I'm not sure what the reversal is supposed to achieve, honestly. It's like when Disclosure came out, and to teach men a lesson because good lord, who'd want Demi Moore groping them at work?
Even worse is how completely the episode dismisses the male population of the planet. Beata is trying to put down a potential rebellion, which prompts Riker to give a lecture on evolution and progress and so forth, but the only reason Angel One is experience any civil unrest is due to those pesky survivors of the Odin. They crash-landed, and repaid the locals' hospitality by immediately seducing and marrying some of them. Going by the Prime Directive--the Directive that gets referenced multiple times in this episode--isn't this a bad thing? The "progress" here is being introduced by an outside influence, and not developing organically from within the society. The men of Angel One are largely background noise. Only one gets a name, and he doesn't seem all that keen on the revolution, to tell the truth. Really, this is just another version of the Queen fantasy world. These women aren't entirely alone, but the guys they do have are so obviously inferior to real men that they're willing to throw over their culture and betray their race for a chance at the Marlboro Man.
There's a sub-plot about a virus loose on the Enterprise. It's silly, although it does give us Geordi alone on the Bridge for a scene or two. The virus is used to make predicament of Riker and his away team more pressing, because Beverly refuses to allow anyone back on the ship once the infection starts spreading. This is absurd. The illness hadn't caused any deaths yet, and the Odin survivors were facing execution. Besides, how hard is it to quarantine people on a space ship? The Enterprise should have stronger protocols for potential contaminants, giving how often the crew members interact with alien races. To have everything collapse because of a bad case of the sniffles is absurd.
That's par for the course for this episode, though. As an attempt to approach real-life social issues from a different angle, it's a failure, and that makes it impossible to enjoy on a pure story level. I'm willing to put up with a lot, TNG, but you'll have to do better than this.