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The Outrageous Okona
It's like Romeo and Juliet in space, but with added sexual harassment
The Enterprise is bumming around in the Omega Sagitta System. even though Picard provides literally no reason that they should be there. But wait, what's this...? Is it the Batris from "Heart of Glory"? The freighter Sanction from "Symbiosis"? Why no, it's the Erstwhile, how could you possibly mistake it for these other rather similar looking spacecraft! Aboard is Han Sol... I mean, Captain Okona. He's a rogue - Troi says so explicitly - as well as exercising her new Level 2 power to describe people in three adjectives: "mischievous, irreverent and somewhat brazen." Okona wastes no time sexually harassing the Enterprise's female crew, although sensibly avoids the cast members with top billing. Eventually, two other ships turn up and demand that Okona turn himself over to either get married or go to jail. He chooses marriage. But it turns out he was just the go between in a lovers tryst and he escapes both fates. Meanwhile, our B plot revolves around Data's difficulties with the human concept of humour. Even Guinan says so. So our beloved android summons up a holographic comic who isn't very funny, and has Guinan come to the holodeck in order to confirm that yes, this comic is not very funny.
It seems unavoidable that this character was named in the Irish style, i.e. O'Connor, but was styled 'Okona' solely to make the name sound futuristic. Burton Armus, who wrote the screenplay, seems to have really struggled with the Trek format, and the screenplay is riddled with content that is significantly different from what appears in the final episode in ways that show that this story must have been heavily edited by Maurice Hurley in order to get it into shape. As just a single example, the Omega Sagitta System appears in the original script as Omega 12, which is a kind of polyunsaturated oil you find in fish.
There are some lines where Armus' technobabble survives and the editor just cleared up the flow of the sentence, such as:
It's the Zelebium contacts that wore down and then fused. Why not replace them with Tricellite?
On your old one here, the Zelbium contacts wore down and then fused. Now what I've done is replace them with Tricellite.
...although this could just be LeVar Burton's delivery making this turn out much more naturally.
There's also a lot of throwaway uses of sci-fi sounding words like 'Humanoid', and 'Laser'... Okona's ship is equipped with lasers to show that it's not very high tech next to the Enterprise, while Worf determines via a scan that whoever is onboard the ship is 'humanoid'. Just how the scan establishes this is undetermined, but then this is all rolled into the way the Trek mythos uses magical science for exposition, most egregiously with tricorders.
This episode is packed to the rafters in guest stars, so many that I can't do them all justice, so let's focus on the key acting roles and the most spectacular mullets. Behind Mullet #1 is William O'Campbell as Thadiun Okona, who is very likeable in his bargain basement Han Solo role even if his sexual exploits on the Enterprise don't look quite so heroic in the 21st century than they presumably did in 1988.
The screenplay describes him as follows:
The heroic visage of Okona MATERIALIZES and smiles down at the Group assembled. He is dressed in a loose-fitting, open-necked blouse, wide belt and casual looking pants, his look is in opposition to the well-tailored Enterprise crewmembers. His sidearms are also less sophisticated and are tucked into his waistband. The malfunctioning guidance mechanism swings nonchalantly from the burnt-out wires in his grasp.
O'Campbell was actually the second choice to play Riker, so if Frakes had suffered a terrible trombone accident in 1987 this could have been our second officer! He would go on to play Jordan Collier in The 4400, a show by TNG alumnus and DS9 heavy hitter Ira Steven Behr, whose collaboration with TNG doesn't begin until the next season.
Mullet #2 is Saturday Night Live alumnus Joe Piscopo. This role was offered to the legendary 'King of Comedy' Jerry Lewis, who Piscopo impersonates as part of his bit.
Honestly, while I'm certain the people making the show found Jerry Lewis hilarious, his humour did not work half as well with the generation that followed, and even Piscopo feels a quite uncomfortable fit to this story. The fact that they have Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan, deadpan, saying "You sure you made a living doing this?" kind of sums up the whole B plot for me, although I have friends who really enjoy this Data subplot.
I rather love that Worf gets a dramatic scene marching through the Enterprise corridors to arrest Okona, a sequence which Michael Dorn delivers with gusto, even if it is slightly undercut by the music that was composed to go with it.
Meanwhile, our Transporter Chief this week is played by the one and only Teri Hatcher, and her character shockingly has a name - B.G. Robinson. Yes, Colm Meaney has appeared four times and doesn't even have a surname yet, but Teri Hatcher wanders by the Paramount lot and gets not only a family name but two initials as well. That, in my view, is the most outrageous aspect of the entire episode!
Allegedly, Hatcher asked for her name to be taken from the credits since most of her scenes were cut, leaving her as just a random sexual conquest for Okona. The trouble with this anecdote is that there is nothing in the screenplay featuring this character that didn't appear in the final episode. I suspect she was just excited to get an acting gig on a prestige show (it is only the sixth in her career), and later realised how flimsy this bit part really was.
No Dr Pulaski this week, but we do get Wesley, who moons over Okona like he was a role model. I note that he never moons over Riker like this. Must be the outfit...
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
Speaking of haberdashery, a quick nod to the wardrobe department. Okona was dressed in a style I can only call ‘Space Pirate Chic’, and I do find it oddly charming - certainly more charming than his behaviour.
You may have noticed that the comic's name appears on the LCARs terminal as Ronald B. Moore. This was the Visual Effects Supervisor on the show, and should not be confused with the writer Ronald D. Moore, who doesn't join TNG until the following season.
Weirdest visual effect of the week has to be the esoteric red line dividing the split screen communications... it's really quite bizarre but it's also easy to miss. Looking at it as a still photograph really drives home the oddity of the design, though!
Last, but by no means least, we get not one but three new studio miniatures in this episode. Firstly, Okona's ship, the Erstwhile should look familiar: as I joked about above, we've already seen this model twice before in late season one episodes.
The model itself is identical to the Sanction in "Symboisis", but is coloured and lit very differently. They also shoot some brand new footage of it, including a really sweet moment where it turns towards the aft of the Enterprise, which might be the only time we see a ship pull of this manoeuvre in the entire run of TNG.
The Atlec ship previously appeared as the Merchantman in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, as the production team continue to raid this movie for all the wonderful studio miniatures. Honestly, I always thought that film was a bit of a disappointment as a Trek movie, but watching all its gifts come home to roost on TNG really changes my perspective. This model is going to appear twice more over the next two seasons of TNG, twice again in DS9, and has one final appearance in Voyager, and as we're now getting used to, the effects team will tinker with it a little bit every time.
Finally, the Straleb ship is newly built for this episode, based upon a sketch by Rick Sternbach - check it out!
The production history of this model is a mystery, although one knowledgeable Trek fan suggests it was probably built by ex-Industrial Light and Magic model maker Greg Jein, who set up his own production company on the back of his ILM work for “Encounter at Farpoint”. Of course, no studio miniature goes to waste on Trek and this will appear three more times TNG, once in the next season, and then twice more in season six. It's actually incredibly rare that we get so many different space ships in a single episode, and if the story is a bit rough around the edges, at least I can enjoy what's flying around in space this week.
Special thanks to Dukhat for the inference as to the mystery model maker.
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