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The Trouble with Troi

by Stacey Miller

“Pain and despair!”

It was one of the first lines from Counselor Deanna Troi in Star Trek: The Next Generation. I recently re-watched Encounter at Farpoint with a friend of mine who had never seen Star Trek before. I wanted to pick a different episode, but she insisted on starting at the beginning. I lost her at Troi. She was taking the show semi-seriously until the “pain and despair” line. It left a distinct impression, but unfortunately the wrong one. Counselor Troi was a good character who got a couple strong moments but a lot of her screen time was weak. As a result, many fans (and even first time viewers like my friend) dislike Troi.


A Few Shining Moments

I keep insisting to my friend that the show gets better as the seasons go on, and Troi does, too. I find Troi to be an intelligent woman throughout the series and she does get a couple chances to shine. When she wakes up as a Romulan in the episode Face of the Enemy, she keeps herself together, she’s assertive, and thinks on her feet. In Disaster, she stays strong and in charge when she takes command of the Enterprise. In Darmok, she helps interpret the language that the universal translator can’t translate. She’s decisive when helping her mother in the episode Dark Page. These episodes proved that Troi wasn’t just a pretty face in a skin-tight body suit, so then why does she seems so useless to so many viewers? Maybe it was the imbalance of these episodes to every other that featured Troi. On more than one occasion, she was attacked via her telepathic abilities, such as the mind rape in the episode Violations or when she became pregnant in The Child. In these instances, she is portrayed as a problem character — much like Wesley when he’s doing experiments with the warp core — except these occurrences aren’t Troi’s fault. There is nothing wrong the character of Troi. Where she runs into problems is in stories that focus on her character.


Troi’s Bad at Her Job

Luckily, not all stories involving Troi portray her as a victim. In some episodes, we see her doing her job. Unfortunately, she isn’t a very good counsellor (at least, she’s not written as one). Most of the other characters on the show get a chance to show that they’re good at their jobs, but we don’t see this much with Troi. Maybe this contributes to viewers perceiving her as a bad character. The few times we see Troi actually doing her job, she is not portrayed as a competent counselor.


The Loss

In The Loss, Troi loses her empathic abilities due to the space anomaly of the week. She behaves in a similar way to people who lose a physical or mental function abruptly (such as losing a leg) and I cannot fault her on that. She even acknowledges that she understands the psychology of what she’s going through, but that doesn’t change the difficulty of it for her. Professional therapists have lives and they have to deal with difficulties too. Most therapists don’t quit their jobs because of a major life change, but apparently Troi does. She seems completely lost without her abilities. She struggles to counsel her patient who has a pretty basic case of grief. This doesn’t make sense because it stands to reason that Troi underwent some kind of psychological training to become a counselor. She couldn’t have gotten her job on the Enterprise just because she’s empathic. So, even though her empathic abilities help her along and she is used to them and relies on them, she should still have her education to fall back on. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case.


Hollow Pursuits

Two things bother me about Hollow Pursuits:


  1. When Barclay finally goes to counseling, Troi lets him walk out after one minute into his session and doesn’t try to stop him. She should have sensed that Barclay was basically running away from her because he can’t deal with talking to anyone, which is why Geordi asked him to go to counseling in the first place.
  2. She goes straight to the bridge after Barclay’s session to talk to Geordi about her session with Barclay in front of other officers. Since Geordi is Barclay’s superior, I can understand progress updates, but not actual information about the session, and most definitely not in front of anyone else. This is a breach of confidentiality and counseling ethics! No wonder Barclay doesn’t talk to anyone about his problems! Not even the counsellor keeps her mouth shut.


Later in the episode, Riker, Troi, and Geordi all walk into the holodeck and catch Barclay mid-fantasy. Troi takes no issue with Barclay depicting his co-workers on the holodeck in “a healthy fantasy life,” as she states to Riker. That is, of course, until she sees herself depicted somewhat sexually, reciting cheesy poetic stuff about empathy. Then she gets mad. What I gathered from this scene is that Troi doesn’t think Barclay needs help if he’s creating a fantasy life about his co-workers that interferes with his daily duties — unless that fantasy life includes her. If she is in his fantasy world, then he needs help.

Troi is not seen counseling Barclay again, but it is implied that they are working together in the end of the episode when he deletes his holoprograms. On the other hand, we do see Geordi counsel Barclay in the way he needs it. All Barclay wanted was respect and acceptance. When Geordi treated Barclay with respect, he seemed much happier (and he even made a friend!). Troi as ship counsellor should have been able to provide those needs to Barclay.


Dr. Phil in Space

I understand that we can’t see every little appointment and occurrence on the ship, and especially not the sessions themselves. This would feel like inter-species Dr. Phil in space. However, the occasions where Troi does counsel onscreen are boring or just terrible (such as the ridiculous lack of respect for Barclay’s privacy). Add the poor counseling to the amount of times that something bad happens to Troi in a storyline, and you have a seemingly useless character. The times she has actually helped or solved a problem, she was not counseling and it’s rarely in the A-plot of the episode.


One Chance

The only A-plot she gets is in Face of the Enemy, where her intelligence shines, but she is still a victim of circumstance. She is forced to participate in a plot against her will, and the Enterprise has to save her. Despite this, I think this is the episode where Troi gets a chance to show that she’s pretty smart and well-trained. Unfortunately, Troi didn’t get very many chances to show that she is perfectly capable Starfleet officer or counselor. The stories that she was given throughout the series did not do those aspects of her character justice. She could have been remembered as a much stronger character if she had been given more episodes like Face of the Enemy.

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