Star Trek—as a franchise—is one of the few that has always dreamed of a wider world of infinite diversity and equal inclusivity even going so far as to coin a phrase for it: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.” In recent years the franchise has extended those dreams into reality through shows like Star Trek: Discovery and Lower Decks which embrace the LGBTQIA+ community through their onscreen portrayals of diverse, three-dimensional queer characters. With this new progressiveness there is a temptation—as there is with the idea of utopia—to rest upon our laurels. To pat our television production companies and content creators on the back and say, “well done.” And, while we should recognize this in advance, we cannot rest because the good changes we are seeing haven’t come far enough and now that progress could be at a standstill.
As an example, I would like to reference the queer powerhouse flagship that is the relationship between Rafaella Musiker and Seven of Nine in Star Trek: Picard. As a queer woman myself, I was beyond excited to see these two powerful, beautiful, genius women fall in love and coexist together in their own right and—at least it felt like—that was what we were being promised. Between seasons one and two of Picard, the promise of that relationship—introduced briefly in the season finale—was hyped up. But then season two premiered and they were broken up after having apparently dated off screen. We only get vague references to it and—not until the final episode of the season—do we finally get a kiss between Raffi and Seven. This too seemed to signal the beginning of a new, understanding relationship between the two of them. Believe me when I tell you that I was over the moon with joy so much so that I woke the neighbors in the apartment upstairs with my squeals of glee.
Then season three of Picard came around and we find out, without preamble or explanation, that Raffi and Seven were together off-screen again and have broken up—AGAIN. This in and of itself was disappointing, but with an entire season to address and explain what they are to one another, it had not at the beginning seemed to be a total loss. Then all ten episodes of Picard went forward and only once—in an exchange that sets up a joke by Worf—were Seven and Raffi ever even acknowledged as being anything more than acquaintances to one another. Now, I know that a storyteller has a story they want to tell and on television there is only so much time and money to tell it with. However, cutting the rightful conclusion to two beloved queer characters’ individual stories and relationship by not even addressing it in dialogue or through the words of the two characters themselves is a cop out.
At first, I didn’t see it that way. In an interview with Screenrant, season 3 showrunner of Star Trek: Picard Terry Matalas stated the following: “As far as other things that I wish we could have done better, I think I would say, looking at some of the criticisms across the board, I would say it’s a decisively unromantic season. There was no real room for romance.” I believed this explanation at first and then I went back and watched the episodes and I call (in my highest, Minnie mouse voice because apparently that is how I sound when I get overexcited)—bullcrap!
Turns out there was room for romance, it was just given to the young white male character (Jack Crusher) so he could be creep on Sidney La Forge—something that adds nothing to the overall story. There were other situations where romance was included though most of the instances like the scenes of emotional intimacy between Jean-Luc and Beverly and Troi and Riker were gratifying as a fan and sometimes necessary, other times they weren’t, like the instance with Laris, where she was introduced as being with Jean-Luc in a relationship for an unspecified amount of time and then never paid off.
Those moments would have had so much more meaning given to Seven and Raffi to pay off their relationship and defining what they are now to one another like just having the two of them embrace when they first see one another on the transporter platform. As a queer woman and fan, I can say that I feel like we earned and deserved that much. And this also addresses the overall problem that still exists widely in franchises like Star Trek and in television overall and that is this: queer characters aren’t enough.
I mean thank you for including us, but to be included to check off a diversity box isn’t enough to merit meaningful representation anymore. To truly represent queer people and support diversity you not only have to have queer characters, but you also have to tell queer stories otherwise what that says to the audience is that queer characters can be seen and included, but their stories are not important enough to be heard. The only way to address this issue is to include more LGBTQIA+ writers in the room where the story magic happens.
I hope that this is something that all future Star Trek creators will take into consideration and to strive towards. Don’t be cowards. Go boldly.