Monday, May 11, 2015

FFS: Pulaski Hate is Unjustified

So you have to be an idiot to hate Doctor Pulaski. I mean, you have your own taste and feel free to hate any character you want, but if you're in the Official Doctor Pulaski Hate Crowd, you are an idiot who doesn't understand Star Trek or basic story structure.

So...this is a character arc.

A few concepts unite the Official Doctor Pulaski Hate Crowd:
-Pulaski is space-racist at Data.
-Pulaski is a clone of Doctor McCoy.
-Pulaski doesn't get along with Captain Picard.
-Pulaski is...mean?

Yeah, "curmudgeonly doctor who doesn't like technology and is space-racist"certainly describes both of them. No denying that. Pulaski doesn't whine as much as Doctor McCoy. She has an appreciation for Klingon culture that McCoy could never--and would never--have. In fact, her space-racism is probably a more direct result of her technophobia than any ethnocentric bullshit like McCoy's.

She's also an authority figure who can go toe-to-toe with Picard in a way McCoy never would with Kirk. McCoy is a competent doctor, and like any Chief Medical Officer, he is the only one who can challenge the captain's orders, but we never see him lead, push, or argue the way Pulaski does. She differs with Picard on a number of issues and they argue because of differences in style and perspective. That she always argues passionately for what she believes in does not make her a bad person; it makes her quite a bit like the captain.

If only someone whose profession and superpowers is reading people would have said that at some time.

A confident older woman who dares to oppose the wishes of the moral core of the series will probably be described as "mean," but that appellation tells you more about the people calling her that than the character herself.

The issue of Data is core to Pulaski's character. On-the-spectrum boy is probably right above Picard for fanlove, so anyone who doesn't validate him without question would be instantly reviled by fans. Look, Pulaski is space-racist/technophobic at Data. Hella. She calls him the wrong name and acts like it's not a big deal. She calls into question whether he's thinking or just simulating thought. 

Pictured above: Lieutenant Commander Data

For those of you who are new, in story telling there's the concept of a "character arc." In it, a character begins in one place, has an experience, and is changed--often for the better--by the end of the story.

Those oft-cited egregious examples of Pulaski's dickitude towards Data? They're the third and first episodes she is in. Before the season is over, she buys Data a going-away present, validates his feelings in a way no one in the series ever does again, and encourages him to kick the crap out of Sirna Kolrami at strategema. That's an example of a character arc, and good ones require characters have flaws in order to become better people. Pulaski has one of the precious few TNG story arcs and it's probably the best one.

I think I've made my point, but a little voice inside my head keeps telling me:

About those two examples. The central premise of many of Data's stories is how we define intelligence. What is the difference between a machine that connects related information to draw a conclusion and someone who is actually thinking? It's a legitimate, scientific question, and one that can be put to the test by challenging a real, apparently thinking machine like Data. 

What's more is that Pulaski isn't content to drink quietly in Ten-Forward and chide Geordi and Data behind their backs. She puts her own preconceptions to the test by engaging in the Holmes program with Data. She's confident, yeah, but since Data is the exception and not the rule to artificial intelligence, I think she has a right to be.

"Elementary, My Dear Data" would me a much better episode if the humanity she attributes to Moriarty is explicitly connected to a concession she offered Data and Geordi at the end. We don't have that and that would reflect well on Pulaski, but really if the worst thing you can say is that she is willing to challenge her prejudices and put them to the test, then I don't think that's much of an insult.

Oh, and this scene?

Data asks her to call him "Day-ta." She states her reason for not doing that. Data explains why it is important. She then accuses him of having emotions, the thing that Data is always looking for. She's being a total dick about it, but then after that she does what he asks and doesn't bitch about it.

Shit, if half the white people too afraid to roll the right "r"s in a latino person's name or who bitched about the taboo of saying the n-word were that accommodating, we'd be one step closer to a better world.


SkilTao said...

Did not know Pulaski hate was a thing. And yeah, character arcs aren't really TNG's thing.

VanVelding said...

Yeah, the comments in this half-hearted defense sum it up well, even going so far as to mention a novel written and published by adults where Data is mean to Pulaski as a "take that" to her character.