My newest rant

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JM1776
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My newest rant

Post by JM1776 » Wed Feb 05, 2014 4:20 pm

“‘The Neutral Zone’ Shouldn’t Refer to the Space Between Their Ears”


For those steeped in classic Trek, certain characters sport a fame and appeal entirely out of proportion to their screen time. A prominent example: That Romulan squadron commander from "The Enterprise Incident." Granted, this is in some measure because the Romulans themselves are featured in only a pair of Original Series episodes, which of course makes them pretty memorable to just about everyone who found the wicked Empire wicked cool.

But there's more to it than that.

Contrast this officer with, for example, Commander Tomalak, one of the few recurring adversaries from Star Trek: The Next Generation. He appeared no less than four times, and in some of the series' most memorable stories. Yet the aforementioned, nameless Romulan commander is easily more renowned, and obsessed over, than he is.

Why?

The answer’s apparent to anyone with eyes, and/or a libido: For all Tomalak's impressive qualities (and he’s got a few), he ain’t all that easy on the eyes. I mean, come on: In this corner, wearing the green trunks, we have a homely, malevolent troll, at turns unctuous and openly hostile. On the other hand, fighting out of the red corner is a shapely dark-haired space elf sportin’ thigh-highs and a tough gal attitude, to boot—no pun intended. She was one of the first truly bad-ass babes on Star Trek, and even more than that, one of the very first women wielding military power in television history. And Hell, she was protecting her home turf. What’s not to love … or lust?

She possesses, in addition, one other quality—a reputation for competence that, insofar as the on-screen evidence indicates, is almost entirely undeserved.

This woman proves largely ineffectual in the only episode we see her. Her force outgunned Enterprise 3-to-1, yet Kirk and Spock snatch a shiny new cloaking device out from under her nose and not only get away, but take her with them when she’s stupid enough to throw herself in a transporter beam with the escaping Spock.

Yes, she's hot. No, she's not brilliant—not remotely. Much the opposite, from what we saw. If she hadn't been so busy first slipping into something more comfortable, then letting Spock do the same with her mind, she might not have been in the afterglow of multiple psi-gasms while Centurion Tiberius stole her ship’s slip … er, cloak. Despite the references to her in follow-up pro-fic novels by Diane Duane and others, it's far more likely she was executed upon her repatriation to Romulan space. They’re not the type of people to abide ineptitude for more than the few minutes it takes to convene an ad hoc court martial and draw a disruptor pistol.

Or are they?

As a matter of fact, none of the female Romulan commanders have fared very well over time:

• Commander Taris, in “Contagion,” doesn’t actually do much wrong … but she doesn’t really do anything right, either … and it takes our heroes help to get her ship running again
• Commander Sela is thwarted not once, but twice—on the first occasion (“Redemption, Part II”) by trying to outthink an android when all she had to do was avoid him, and in her next effort because she tries to execute one of the most ill-conceived plans in Trek history: capturing a planet of billions with 2,000 troops stuffed into a stolen cargo ship (“Unification II”)
• In “Face of the Enemy,” Commander Toreth is outmaneuvered by, of all people, Deanna Troi; need I say anything more?
• During Star Trek: Nemesis, Commander Donatra leads two state-of-the-art Romulan warbirds into battle … and is moments later coordinating repair crews and damage reports; nice

Why is it that male Romulan commanders can conceive brilliant and devious stratagems that challenge even James Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard, while the females are written, it seems, exclusively to look good? I mean, if you’re a straw woman, you don’t even get to have feet of clay.

At least Sela was a blonde.

Trek missed the boat, here: Female Romulan commanders should have been grand-mistresses of intrigue, veritable Byzantine Empresses, so to speak. Instead, they’re mere eye candy in a universe that had long allowed beauty and brains in the same package.

Evidently the smart ones are all cloaked.
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Re: My newest rant

Post by captainuniverse » Wed Feb 05, 2014 5:33 pm

I'd like to see the Romulan Commander who could thrump Luciano C. Mantovanni. I don't believe it could actually happen but I would like to see a Romulan try. \Y/
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Re: My newest rant

Post by JM1776 » Wed Feb 05, 2014 5:50 pm

Did you mean "trump," "thump," or some amalgam of the two?

No reaction to the essay?
"Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus are controlled by spacemen. They're moving fast and they're near the heart of the city."

"And after all this time, you'd think that I, I wouldn't feel the same ... but time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed."

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Re: My newest rant

Post by captainuniverse » Wed Feb 05, 2014 7:56 pm

Yes, I mean, trump. Lousy auto-correct...

And as strategy and intelligence, I believe it varies between the sexes. Or it's genetics. Though my answer be poor, I agree with your rant. Why can't the Romulans field someone as amazing and challenging a tactician and leader as Archer, Kirk, Picard, Sisko, or Janeway?

Okay, they do have their off days. I'm sure the captains created in Fan Fiction could outshine any of them if they're written pretty well.
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Re: My newest rant

Post by KahlessOfVulcan » Fri Feb 07, 2014 4:27 pm

Interesting. So do you think the problem comes from the way female Romulans are written, or just the way female antagonists in general are written? Are there non-Romulan female villains who do a lot better? I can think of Seska and the Duras sisters off the top of my head, and they weren't much smarter or more successful.
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Re: My newest rant

Post by JM1776 » Fri Feb 07, 2014 9:27 pm

Seska did extremely well for having no power base in the Delta Quadrant to begin with, I'd say. (Frankly, she was surrounded by idiots, in the Kazon.) As for the Duras sisters, they proved fairly formidable adversaries on more than one occasion. Their plans were never actually stupid, nor did they make boneheaded mistakes while executing them. The various Romulan commanders I mentioned make fundamental errors or attempt to execute ill-conceived stratagems—which is an entirely different order of ineptitude.

I'm actually surprised you'd make the assertion you did.
"Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus are controlled by spacemen. They're moving fast and they're near the heart of the city."

"And after all this time, you'd think that I, I wouldn't feel the same ... but time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed."

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Re: My newest rant

Post by KahlessOfVulcan » Sat Feb 08, 2014 7:16 pm

I wasn't really asserting anything, just thinking out loud. (\crdb/) But...hmm.

This is why Kahless should think before he types.

You're right about Seska. I had forgotten a lot of the things she did, and I think my main problem with her is that she's a Voyager character. For some reason - the acting, or the writing, or maybe both - everyone on that show comes across as stupid to me. But that's a whole different topic. Having refreshed my memory (thanks, Memory Alpha) I must agree that the Duras sisters weren't quite as inept as I remembered either. So, there goes that idea.

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Re: My newest rant

Post by JM1776 » Sat Feb 08, 2014 10:05 pm

I certainly think frustrations with Voyager, which had such potential and squandered much of it, left many people unable to rate it objectively. Goodness knows I've immolated Janeway time and again over the years. While I stand by almost all my assertions, I'd likely not make them so vehemently this time around. Frankly, there was much I enjoyed in the character, especially early on ... but I think Seven's replacement of Kes was soon followed by KJ's descent into multiple personality disorder. Perhaps she was never quite the same after the Doctor had to repair that brain injury in "Scorpion." I do remember finding her correction of DaVinci in that episode so offensive that I nearly threw something at the TV. As an Italian, I took it very personally, for some reason. (Of course, I don't buy for a minute that Flint was DaVinci, let alone Solomon, so ...)
"Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus are controlled by spacemen. They're moving fast and they're near the heart of the city."

"And after all this time, you'd think that I, I wouldn't feel the same ... but time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed."

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Re: My newest rant

Post by Captain Marshal » Sun Feb 09, 2014 3:24 pm

The Romulans are supposed to be Romans in the Star Trek universe. Which means Roman customs, culture (to an extent), military, and politics. This appeals to the Roman historian in me, which has always been fascinated by the Romulans for that sole reason.

I find the issues Joe mention to be actual problems. Romulan women are eye candy in Trek. Rather than the powerful and dangerous women comparable to the Byzantine Empresses, they lack...technique, style, power, authority, etc. This problem has on the whole, tempered my enthusiasm for the Romulans, and exasperates me whenever I watch an episode dealing with them. The historian in me cringes at Seska, Tal'Aura, Cretak. They are unambitious, weak, spineless, and apologists for the status quo. The Trekkie in me shudders at how the Romulan Empire has affected Trek history.
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Re: My newest rant

Post by captainuniverse » Sun Feb 09, 2014 8:52 pm

We need female Romulan commanders who are like some of the great women of history, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Caterina Sforza, etc... \Y/
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Re: My newest rant

Post by LStyer » Thu Mar 06, 2014 8:21 am

It's been too long since I've watched The Enterprise Incident to comment too heavily on the episode itself (though this is a good excuse to look that one up and give it a watch), but it's probably fair to say that visual distictiveness gives the Romulan Commander a leg up on pretty much any TNG era Romulan. I don't mean her attractiveness relative to Tomalak, I mean the fact that she doesn't have the exact same makeup and wig as a dozen or so other Romulans who appeared over the years.

While only two Romulan commanders appeared on TOS, the fact that one was male and one was female, and they didn't just stick the male actor's wig onto the female's head as TNG would have, each had a very distinctive appearance -- a TOS fan can easily call either of their images to mind without looking at a pic. Tomalak and nearly all the Romulans who appeared on TNG wore that same goofy wig and all had that fairly uniform forehead prosthetic that never made a bit of sense in the first place. Certainly I could tell various TNG Romulans apart if i had pics, but for the most part I don't know that I'd remember who was who without a refresher. The only TNG Romulan I can easily call to mind is Sela, and while she gets a boost from being played by a very recognizable actress, she also didn't have that prosthetic and the goofy wig was the only blond one I can recall.

TNG Klingons, even with prosthetics that covered more of their faces remained distinctive because the hair and makeup varied more from individual to individual. TV is a visual medium, so when characters aren't distinguished visually, they're not going to make as strong an impression.

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Re: My newest rant

Post by JM1776 » Thu Mar 06, 2014 2:19 pm

I can't tell if you're agreeing, disagreeing or simply appending additional points. :)
"Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus are controlled by spacemen. They're moving fast and they're near the heart of the city."

"And after all this time, you'd think that I, I wouldn't feel the same ... but time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed."

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Re: My newest rant

Post by LStyer » Thu Mar 06, 2014 2:38 pm

JM1776 wrote:I can't tell if you're agreeing, disagreeing or simply appending additional points. :)
Isn't that my specialty? I'd say that I'm both agreeing and disagreeing. I agree that the visual aspect of the character is an important part of her "outsized" popularity in comparison to Tomalak, but I think you're over-privileging relative attractiveness and under-privileging relative visual distinctiveness.

Also of note is the fact that for a couple decades the EI Commander was approximately 33% of the Romulans we had ever met. Tomalak was never that "special."

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Re: My newest rant

Post by JM1776 » Thu Mar 06, 2014 3:01 pm

LStyer wrote:...but I think you're over-privileging relative attractiveness and under-privileging relative visual distinctiveness.
I think you're splitting a fairly fine hair. I also pointed out the ... distinction ... with my green-corner/red corner contrast. :mrgreen: Image

Tell you what: Rather than posting a lengthy reply, I'll instead assert that we're saying essentially the same thing with slightly different emphases.
Also of note is the fact that for a couple decades the EI Commander was approximately 33% of the Romulans we had ever met. Tomalak was never that "special."
More like 12.5%, actually, at that time (in that seven others [by the end of that ep] had been on screen and had speaking roles) but I get your point. Tomalak, ironically enough, by his appearance, was still ... hmm ... 9% of them. Those are pretty close percentiles.

If you're going to use statistics, make sure your debate 'opponent' can't skewer you with them. :wink:

And Tomalak is extremely special in that he's the Romulan who's appeared most often, likely with the most screen time, which is a tremendously important distinction to obsessive Trekkies.
"Mechagodzilla and Titanosaurus are controlled by spacemen. They're moving fast and they're near the heart of the city."

"And after all this time, you'd think that I, I wouldn't feel the same ... but time melts into nothing, and nothing's changed."

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Re: My newest rant

Post by LStyer » Thu Mar 06, 2014 5:09 pm

JM1776 wrote:I'll instead assert that we're saying essentially the same thing with slightly different emphases.
Fair enough.
More like 12.5%, actually, at that time (in that seven others [by the end of that ep] had been on screen and had speaking roles) but I get your point.
"Met" might have been the wrong word for the point I was going for. I was thinking of her and the Commander and Centurion from "Balance of Terror". No one else in "BoT" made much of an impression of me, though I guess there was that one ambitious junior officer. I don't remember any other significant Romulans in "The Enterprise Incident", but like I said, I don't have a real strong memory of that episode (I don't count it as a favorite), so I could be way off there.
Tomalak, ironically enough, by his appearance, was still ... hmm ... 9% of them. Those are pretty close percentiles.
I'm not sure "by the time of his appearance" is analogous to a couple decades without any new Star Trek. There were new Romulans showing up for at least a few years after Tomalak's final appearance -- DS9 did, what, 4 more seasons after TNG, plus a few showed up in the TNG movies. I didn't watch enough Voyager to know if they were showing up there despite the fact that it would violate the premise of the series. After "The Enterprise Incident" there were no new Romulans until the movies at least, maybe until TNG. Even if I give you that the "EI" Commander was 12.5% of TOS Romulans two decades after her appearance, what percentage of TNG Romulans was Tomalak two decades down the road? That's a more apt comparison.
And Tomalak is extremely special in that he's the Romulan who's appeared most often, likely with the most screen time, which is a tremendously important distinction to obsessive Trekkies.
That carries significance, but that fact that all the other Romulans who appeared around him wore the same wig and that damned forehead has to play a role in his lack of popularity.

A couple other factors that have sort of occurred to me here.

1) Since the "EI" Commander is a TOS character and Tomalak is a TNG character, the issue might just be divergent fandoms.

2) I'm not sure the intial premise that "EI" Commander is way more popular than Tomalak is totally sound. I'm by far more of a TOS fan than a TNG fan, and "Tomalak" is the only Romulan name I recall off the top of my head. Next down is "Sela" and she has the advantage of being played by a returning main cast member and a blonde Moe Howard wig, and even then I have to think about her name.

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