Star Trek often suffers when adding romantic plotlines, sometimes resulting in a rotating line up of “Love Interest of the Week” or “Villain Seducing Lead” if not pairing off characters who do not compliment each other. Then there are the milquetoasts – characters written too meek or too bland to stand on their own, characters who are more prop than actual character. While there are some romantic partners in Trek that verge towards being milquetoasts, some characters in particular are another level of milquetoast.
TOS – “The Apple” Yeoman Martha Landon
Throughout “The Apple” Yeoman Landon does very little to set herself apart or develop a real personality. She spends most of the episode kissing Chekov, trying to explain sex to the Feeders of Val, or worrying about the crewmembers who have died. The last one may be the most relatable and realistic of the three, but none reveal her personality or inform her character. The audience is left wondering why she was chosen to come on this mission: was she trained in some specific field they needed her for, or was she merely brought along as the token female on the away team? Her character also suffers because even though her superiors are the ones to bring up the question about where the children of the Feeders of Vaal are, she is the one who has to hint at what sex is. Chekov does provide some information as well, but most of the dialogue is from Landon. If she had done something outside of this, such as ask about Vaal or take samples of the flora to test with her tricorder, this could have let her character show through. She does defend herself very well when the Feeders of Vaal attack the away party, which could have been a great avenue for more character development, but it is never brought up after that scene.
TNG – “Sub Rosa” Ronin
Ronin is the most infamous love interest of Dr. Beverly Crusher for a myriad of reasons, but his lack of a real personality often gets overlooked, probably because there is so much to talk about his actions that his lack of personality is almost an afterthought. Ronin has attached himself to the women in Beverly’s family since the 1600s to sustain himself through their life forces. Ronin has moved with them from Scotland to America then to space where Beverly’s grandmother, Felisa, settled on a planet, Caldos, terraformed to look like historic Scotland. Following Felisa’s funeral, Beverly finds her diary that mentions Ronin several times. It is noticeable that Ronin’s personality is never described in detail in the diary, but how magical his personality was. She wrote about how his actions could be viewed selfishly as they served to flatter his ego, but that is as in depth as she goes. When Ronin seduces Beverly so that he can join with her to sustain his existence, he does not do this by asking about her life or trying to impress her, he merely provides romantic and sensual pleasure. Compare this to her relationship with Picard where they regularly met to have tea and discuss topics outside of Starfleet business. Picard even took an interest in the plays Beverly organized for the crew, attending them and helps Data rehearse. They formed a great emotional bond that Ronin never tried to emulate.
DS9 – “Shakaar”; “Crossfire”; “The Begotten” Shakaar Edon
Even with three appearances, Shakaar Edon barely established himself as a character and left very little impression on the audience. While he is said to have been an important leader of the Bajoran Resistance, he does very little similar to that within the series. He does protest Kai Winn taking back needed farming equipment, but once he is elected the new First Minister, he merely seems to serve as a moderating influence or a stopgap measure to keep Kai Winn away from too much power. Much like Ronin, Shakaar is seen being romantic and sensual with his partner, but also he seems to be trying to be supportive. In his final appearance, Shakaar is with Kira as she gives birth to Kirayoshi O’Brien, the son of Keiko and Miles whom she ended up being a surrogate for, due to injuries Keiko sustained on a mission. Shakaar is never seen on screen again. This could reflect real life relationships that end just due to the couple no longer being in love or drifting apart without a dramatic breakup, but the audience is left with so many questions and nothing about Shakaar’s appearances imply how he reacted to this.
Another one of Kira’s love interests, Vedak Bareil Antos, is sometimes considered milquetoast, yet he has more character growth than Shakaar. For example, Bareil and Kira have different interpretations of the words of the Prophets, Bareil often taking an unconventional view of the readings that goes against the status quo and possibly hurt his chances of becoming Kai. He comes across as an unrealized “Totally Radical” religious character, ready to shake up the establishment and push the Bajoran religion further than his peers. He is not the best-realized example of this, but he is less milquetoast than many others.
VOY – “Cathexis”; “Persistence of Vision” Lord Burleigh / “Fair Haven”; “Spirit Folk” Michael Sullivan
Throughout Voyager Janeway struggled to find romantic fulfillment. Not only was her fiance Mark back in the Alpha Quadrant, 70 years from where they were in the Delta Quadrant, but her allegiance to Starfleet regulations meant that she could not date her crewmembers, leaving her relationship with Chakotay as a deep friendship and nothing else. This meant her only option became holodeck relationships. In season one, she starts a holonovel that is Jane Eyre in most respects, especially the romantic lead: a Byronic mourning widower, Lord Burleigh. After the holonovel appears to be malfunctioning due to alien interference, Janeway never returns to it, possibly even having deleted it entirely due to her experiences where the holo-characters and objects appeared in the real world and a character threatened her with a knife. She then avoids forming a relationship in the holodeck until the elaborate idealized Irish village Fairhaven is created for the entire crew to enjoy. There Janeway develops feelings for Michael Sullivan, then modifies his data to make him her ideal partner. Some of the changes are minor physical adjustments, but then she makes him more educated and orders the program to “delete the wife.” She has made Michael Sullivan bland: the more rural Irish version of Lord Burleigh. Following these changes to his program, she questions the ethics of having a relationship with a hologram and seemed to question the changes she made to his subroutines. Janeway ends up reverting him to his original format and ends their relationship.
Romantic plotlines have never been the driving force of Trek, but some particular relationships in Trek history have been hindered by one partner being so bland and or meek they are a milquetoast. A few characters in particular stand out as prime examples of this trope. These milquetoasts make the relationships they feature in unfulfilling to their partner and the audience.
The last one is what I’ve often referred to as “Janeway’s Hologram of the Month Subscription.” Even if we factor in Mark (who we know nothing about) and that “it didn’t happen” moment with Chakotay, she had a ‘type’ it seemed and all her holodeck rolodex of men seemed to be made to fit.