Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Arguing about Star Trek

Tasha Yar, Ro Laren, and Kira Nerys are tough female Star Trek characters with bad histories. My friend Skiltao (check out his site), has submitted that they are the same character. I would--in the finest manner of nerds debating things on the internet--differ (Yes, you're missing a Prisoner blog for this. Take that as you will.)

At the age of fifteen, Natasha Yar (played by Denise Crosby) left the anarchic violence of her home world behind on board a Starfleet vessel. When we first meet her, she's chief of security on the Enterprise, a formidable fighter, and a courageous woman. More importantly, because of her background, she appreciates the compassionate, cooperative, rational world of The Federation and has little time to waste with idiots who cannot do the same. In fact, she dies because she refuses to dither around with the baiting, idiotic, mysterious asshole Armus while two of her ship mates might be dying.


Ro Laren (played by Michelle Forbes) is a Bajoran. Years ago, Cardassians conquered her people, driving many of them from their homes to become a disenfranchised diaspora. When she was a child, she was forced to watch Cardassians interrogate, beat, and kill her father. Ro Laren is angry and ashamed of her people for their status, and it drives her to do everything she can to solve problems on her own, ignoring the virtue of patience, the voices of experiences, and the help of others.

People make fun of Batman for the influence of his parents’ death on his mythos, but if Ro was a character in the DC Universe, she would be the over-the-top Batman, screaming about the death of her parents at every turn. In fact, I want a Dark Knight Returns movie written by Scott Kurtz with Michelle Forbes unapologetically playing the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman. Get this done internet. Well, hey, I’m always looking to commission artists to create the things I imagine, so maybe I’ll do that one day.

"I am the night, Captain Picard."

Eventually, Ro betrays Starfleet and joins the anti-Cardassian rebel group, The Maquis.

Kira Nerys (played by Nana Visitor), like Ro, is a Bajoran. Unlike Ro, she isn't one of the Bajoran Diaspora, but a native-born Bajoran who grew up directly under the brutality of Cardassian occupation. Kira fought against The Cardassians since she was twelve, operating somewhere between freedom fighter and terrorist. When The Cardassians left, she joined the Bajoran government, but remained vocal about its flaws. When The Federation came to assist, she was reluctant to have outsiders on her planet, but agreed that they were a necessary, if temporary, ally.

I can't deny that Kira is based on Ro (they wanted Michelle Forbes to be in Deep Space Nine, but she declined.) or take refuge in the fact that for every two episodes that either Yar or Ro were pictured in--even via clip-show or hologram--Kira was a main character in nine, giving her slightly more development.

*Alright, not technically ten years, but I don't invoke Grosse Point Blank lightly.

Yar and Ro both left their bad situations behind and joined Starfleet. Yar did it because it represented something better than the world she grew up in. She believes in The Federation because she sees the good that it can do. It gives her a picture of a brighter alternative and the potential of mankind. Instead of just curling up and hating the universe for not doing enough to make itself a better place, Yar engages it and improves upon it. Ro Laren wants flee her people and break the cycle of victimhood by being a dick and acting more "real" than everyone else in super-white suburbia that The Federation sometimes seems like.

My point is, if she hadn't gotten killed trying to save two shipmates, Tasha Yar would've snapped Ro in half like a wrinkle-nosed slim-jim(TM) thirty seconds after she came on board. If Ro Laren was Batman, then she's this one.

Ro Laren blames her people for being beaten by the Cardassians and blames The Federation for not doing more to help. She blames The Cardassians too, but until she joins The Maquis, Ro Laren doesn't give a single fuck about helping Bajor or the Bajorans, above gabbing to others about how they aren’t helping enough. She's a pissed off teenager looking for the opportunity to rebel because she believes it will make everyone sorry they see how obvious wrong they were for ignoring her all the time. Meanwhile, no one cares except for some self-recrimination over trusting her.

Pretty much this.

Kira Nerys fought to expel The Cardassians from her planet every day. She never lost faith in her people or in The Prophets. She scrapped and fought and even killed Bajoran collaborators because she felt it was the right thing to do. When The Cardassians left, she put down her weapons for the same reason. Kira Nerys isn't a warrior or a killer; she's a believer. She is a woman of principle with a foundation set deep into the soil of Bajor. Her integrity rivals that of icons like Picard or Spock, and even surpasses that of her own Emissary, Benjamin Sisko.

Regardless of what the card game says.

Kira was also quite passionate in her personal life; connecting with others around her rather quickly, depending on circumstances. While it's counter-intuitive to think of someone who isn't the life of the party like Jadzia Dax, especially someone so combative, as being very sociable, Kira was. Even if you don’t believe that, at the very least she had a healthy balance between her personal life and her work.

Natasha Yar, on the other hand, has a very hard time showing her emotions. She pushes herself to be a Starfleet ideal, but her personal life suffers. Even when she's seeking companionship under the effects of an intoxicating virus, given the entirety of the Enterprise-D crew to choose from, she picks the safest, least threatening person on board, one who (of course) politely and discreetly accedes to her request that they never speak of their encounter again.

Yes, the entire crew.


skiltao said...

I can't make a full defense of my Yarrokira "slander" :-D because that would/will involve watching more than 36 episodes. Tasha does feature rather prominently in the first few episodes of The Next Generation though, so I'll work from those (Yar) & from memory (Kira) & from internet (Ro).

Two weeks late, but: REBUTTAL GO!

When the water-virus intoxicates the Enterprise D's crew at large, Picard calls Tasha. Some guy (the first unoccupied intoxicated man she had run into) answers the intercom from Tasha's bed and, without turning the intercom off, Picard sends Data to fetch her. Overhearing that a superior lover is en route, Yar kicks her current lover out of bed - something we also see Kira's mirror universe twin (representing the suppressed aspects of Kira's personality) do.

Yes, Tasha finds civilized emotions confusing and difficult to express: like RoKira, she spent much of her life "living on nothing but adrenaline and hate. It's not much of a life and it eats away at you" (via Memory Alpha). In any crisis Tasha's first -and only- instinct is for unthinking violence. She doesn't think things through and when pressed she gets frustrated if violence can't work. Her chosen office is violent. Even her hobbies (martial arts and fictional sports) are violent. In "Code of Honor" she goes on about how glad she'll be to embarrass Yareena (Yar-ina, what Tasha wishes her feminine life could be) in a duel which, only five minutes later, Picard describes as an anarchic, pompous, strutting charade.

She is angry and ashamed of (and has abandoned) her own civilization and this drives her, like Ro. But unlike Ro she has enough experience and almost enough patience to hold back and let her friends or commanding officer solve things. Ro's arc on The Next Generation was as much about learning that she could rely on the Federation and her crewmates - ie, grow into Yar's ideals - as it was about setting up Deep Space Nine (and those two themes are not unrelated). Freezing Ro at Ensign makes her a close match for an inexperienced Ensign Yar and yes, if they met, Lt Yar would probably want to snap Ensign Yar in half.


skiltao said...


When we meet Kira on Deep Space Nine, she's as hot-headed as both Ro and Tasha and would snap either Ensign in half. They're all wound up with the same help-or-get-out-of-the-way attitude. I can't imagine Lt Yar being casual, let alone relaxing enough to join Riker's weekly poker game. Obviously Kira warms up more than the other two ever had the opportunity to do, but that develops on-screen from where YarRo left off, and we still see Kira frustrated by learning how to solve problems without violence.

Now, while Ro Laren's romantic arc is basically non-existent, Kira's is a fairly straightforward continuation of Tasha's. The Next Generation displays Tasha and Data as a matched pair (in terms of visuals and stage placement), and how Tasha breaks things off after their intimate encounter leaves our singular alien of mysterious origin to pursue, awkwardly and with glacial slowness, a one-sided relationship with the lady. (Or would have, had she not died.) That's the same boat Odo climbs into. Even the Data-Lore(-Borg) and Odo-Changeling(-Dominion) character arcs have parallels.

But back to the women: all three are rooted deep in the violence and helplessness they suffered on their homeworlds. As girls they lose parents to rebel forces (Tasha) or occupation forces (Ro) or both (Kira), and at ages 13-15 they escape victimhood by joining whatever military would end up controlling their television show's spacecraft. Their experience with these organizations teaches them integrity and compassion and noble ideals, which stands in tension with how all three hold responsible and despise some members of their own people for perpetrating, and sometimes just failing to challenge, the status quo.

The two most tangible differences between the the young (Yar), the mature (Kira) and the bridging (Ro) iterations of YarRoKira are where she was born and how close she is to returning to her people's homeworld: Natasha Yar died before the Enterprise D returned to help her people's world; Ro Laren was unable to act from the world she was born to; and Kira Nerys cut to the chase. Those are less features of the character than they are functions of where the show is set.

skiltao said...

Correction: dates given by Memory Alpha work out to Ro Laren entering Starfleet at age 18, but she ran away around age 7-10, so it averages out. :P

VanVelding said...

I'll respond to the rest later, but the relationship thing is an interesting connection I never saw before.

Ro was apparently subconsciously hot for Riker, so that breaks that whole deal, but it's still an interesting parallel about Star Trek writers making tough chick female leads interested in the members of the crew who look at humanity from the outside.

skiltao said...

Riker is a non-issue. He's introduced as a ladies man, and in the first episodes they play up how all women (including Yar and, eventually, one of the DS9 girls) are consciously hot for him. They hang a lampshade on it later on when he gets imprisoned by a pre-warp culture (kooky non-human psychiatric nurse wants to have his alien babies).

VanVelding said...

Aw, snap! It's genuinely classy how you don't mention which DS9 woman was hot for his transporter clone.

skiltao said...

Hah, thanks. Though not classy enough to stay away from Yar.

VanVelding said...

You can’t count The Intendant. She’s evil. Besides, the fact that that Yar only has a romance under the effects of the virus is a pretty clear indication of just what it takes to get her interested in someone. (I want to mention “Yesterday’s Enterprise” Yar, when she starts a romance in the middle of a full-scale, hopeless war, but I just invalidated my point by invalidating The Intendant.) Yar doesn’t let go and doesn’t open up. Bouncing back to Kira, she never dates Shakaar until years after The Occupation is over. Kira opens up, but her duty and her personal life seem are very different things (with the patented exception of Bajoran political/religious stuff).

Yar and Ro have left their civilizations behind, but you can tell from “Preemptive Strike” when Ro joins The Maquis, that she’s only left hers temporarily. Ro has some serious teenage rebellion going on while Yar’s planet has nothing redeemable about it at all. To paraphrase Philip J. Fry, even her sister kinda feels like a “B,” even before she turns out to be a jerk. Kira loves, and has always loved, her home and her people. The source of all of her hatred (save, perhaps Winn Adami) was the external Cardassians.

While Ro’s perception of Picard as a father figure might let her grow into becoming a new Yar, given her final decision I don’t see that happening. For Ro, there’s just too much accommodation and too much of a long game being played in The Federation. Yar trusts the system enough to hold back and let others lead, Ro--because of her past with ‘failed systems’ like the conquered Bajorans, the not-quite-space-Nazi Cardassians, and the enabling Federation--will never be there.

“Help or get out of the way,” is something that Yar lives and dies by. Well, “dies by,” at the very least. Ro uses The Federation; she doesn’t believe in their little mottos and morals. She fakes it until she can’t fake it anymore, never intending to actually ‘make it.’ That’s why she’s fresh out of a brig when we meet her and that’s why she’s a criminal/rebel when she leaves. Kira doesn’t even want help at first. Then, like Ro, she does just want to use them. I’ll leave out the later stuff as it’s the result of her being around so much longer.