So my dad lives in Appalachia while I'm down here in del corazón de Tejas. He recently said something very sweet; he complained he hadn't talked to me in a long, long time. When I exclaimed, "But I just talked to you yesterday!" he replied in his heavily British-influenced accent, "Do you know how a long a day is?!??"
This darling comment made me feel so nostalgic for the days when I was small and my dad was literally my bestest friend in the whole wide universe. Back then, we watched Trek together. We watched lots and lots of Star Trek together. As a professor of literature, he was very good at picking apart the storytelling style of each episode, thus creating a highly educational foundation for me.
So on a whim, I've started re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. This was originally my favorite Trek series, until I was old enough to understand the sheer brilliance of Deep Space Nine. As a kid, I was a big fan of Captain Jean-Luc Picard because he was everything Captain James T. Kirk never was and never could be (no offense to Kirk fans). He was bald, like my father, prim and proper like my father, and even scholarly like my father, with a similar accent. 'Til today, Patrick Stewart's performance makes me think of my father.
I was also a huge fan of Data and still am, mainly because of the great storytelling potential his characterization unlocked. There was no way to go wrong with an exceedingly advanced android who was constantly evolving, and though not human by design, was in some ways more human than any of his crewmates - genius; pure and utterly genius!!!!
LaForge was a nerd in every sense of the word. He was a brilliant engineer and sweetly awkward around women. Wesley The-Nerd-Prince Crusher and Data were his best friends, which in itself was a dead giveaway. It was a perfectly logical combination; birds of a feather and all that.
The role of Chief Engineer was no small role, so I'm neither overlooking nor downplaying that. The fact that whether or not the Enterprise would be able to go anywhere rested on this man's shoulders was a big deal. If you watch the episodes again, you'll notice that Picard would issue an order intended to save the ship, but the folks actually carrying out the tasks and making miracles happen were the engineers, the helm, the medical staff, the scientists, etc. Some of the best episodes involve LaForge coming to the ship's rescue, so big ups to casting and writing on in that regard.
However, TNG also made LaForge too awkward/unlucky around women, causing him to strike out quite often. His subtle crush on Lt. Tasha Yar made me question his taste in women. I also remember an interview in which Burton excitedly talked about the time he finally got an episode with a potential love interest, because such episodes were usually given to Commander Riker. Burton stated he was glad to get to explore the sexuality of a Black man, because folks today often forget there was a time when Black men were treated rather asexually in media. It was, after all, one way to neutralize "the threat".
Then there were the unnecessary "LaForge must suffer" episodes. Think of them as the TNG version of the unnecessary DS9 "O'Brien must suffer" episodes (and what's with making the Chief Engineer suffer???) In these episodes, really messed up stuff would happen like Geordi being transformed completely into an alien with his mind barely intact, or getting news that his mom's ship's been lost, and watching him deal with the loss of a character the audience never really got to know in the first place. Which reminds me - we met Riker's dad (still alive) and clone. We met Picard's brother and in-laws. We met Troi's mother, the infamous Lwaxana. We met Worf's brother and son. We even met Data's whole family!!!!
So why wasn't LaForge's family better fleshed out?
LaForge is one of those great characters who will forever be stuck at the "potential" stage. There will always be the question of what might have been, had his characterization been taken a bit more seriously and handled properly. Nevertheless, it's great to go back and watch this brilliant, nerdy guy do what he did best.
|"My visor is made of fail."|
I meant to publish this post sooner, but I think it's appropriate that I post this on Father's Day. Over 1200 miles away, I'm here thinking of my dad, I'm watching these eps, and I'm thinking about how we need a Black male nerd series At the Bar. After all, the first Black male nerd I ever knew was my own dad.