Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Outrageous Okona

The crew meet a brazen irreverent rogue and Data tries to tell a joke in this week's Star Trek: TNG season 2 look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

2.4 The Outrageous Okona

The Enterprise is crawling through the Omega Sagitta system (for no apparent reason) when they come across a ship with one only lifeform on it. It’s Captain Okona (pronounced O’Connor. As in Des.), the captain of a small cargo ship and obvious Han Solo fan. His ship is damaged so he asks for help, and although he seems to be a devil-may-care rogue, they let him on board where he proceeds to flatter Wesley and immediately seduce a transporter operator. What a rake!

After Okona mocks Data’s inability to take a joke, Data spends more or less the rest of the episode in the holodeck learning to tell jokes and doing impressions of comedians who were presumably big news in 1980s America but who you’ll struggle to find a reference point for given some 25 years and 3000 miles extra distance. Whoopi Goldberg tries to help, but that mostly involves crapping on his every attempt to tell a joke.  I’m sure she used to have a sense of humour.

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While Data is shirking his duties to hang out in the Holodeck, the Enterprise is approached by two ships. Both captains (Debin and Kushell) are the leaders of their respective colonies, which co-exist under an uneasy alliance. Unfortunately, both want to recover Okona for non-specific crimes he’s committed against them, and it’s up to Picard to decide what to do. Aha, it’s an arbitration episode then!

Picard summons Okona and asks him to explain. He has nothing useful to say, so Picard asks Debin and Kushell, who freely explain: He’s stolen a beloved jewel from one, and impregnated the daughter of the other! Both are outraged and threaten to declare war if they don’t get Okona. Picard and Okona agree that the latter should probably just leave, and he admits that he fancies his chances alone, but a conversation with Wesley shortly after drives him to change his mind, re-complicating the situation (Come on, SHUT UP WESLEY!)

Picard summons everyone to a meeting and Okona announces his intention to marry the woman he impregnated. Suddenly, Kushell’s son (or was it Debin’s?) gets all defensive and admits he was the one who impregnated Debin’s daughter (or was it Kushell’s?). Okona admits helping them meet, in secret, and that he does have the jewel, which he was planning to deliver as a dowry of sorts. The two opposing families come together in peace and resume harmless bickering over where the couple will live.

Back in the holodeck, Data tries to do a set on stage only to discover that the audience laughs at anything he does, even when he’s halfway through a joke. Come on! Someone needs to fix the audience programming (although at least the Holodeck wasn’t trying to kill him this week.) After giving up, Data returns to the bridge as Okona leaves, and accidentally makes a joke. Then deliberately makes several bad ones (“Take my Worf, please!” is genuinely hilarious, though.) And the episode ends in my favourite manner: with the whimsical TNG theme.

TNG WTF:  I have no direct experience of Jerry Lewis or his work, so I’m not sure whether the impersonation of him in this episode is very accurate or completely terrible. But either way, it’s definitely going to leave you thinking “WTF did I just watch? Was that supposed to be comedy?”

TNG LOL: When Picard asks Troi to describe Okona after their first chat, she says “His emotions suggest he’s mischievous, irreverent, and somewhat brazen. The word that seems to best describe him is ‘rogue’.”. These things are instantly obvious to anyone, empathic or otherwise. Well done, Troi, you’re really earning that chair. Picard might as well have just said “Deanna, what can you tell me about this mischievous, irreverent rogue? Is he brazen?”

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Who’s that Face: The transporter operator Okona chats up is only Teri Hatcher, the original (cough) and best (double cough) Lois Lane from in the New Adventures of Superman. And latterly, Susan from Desperate Housewives.

Time Until Meeting: 28:40. Not technically a meeting, but viewscreen conference calls count (“Full Conference mode” as Picard puts it. As opposed to Partial Conference mode?)

Captain’s Log: Ooh, we’re motoring along now. This is an episode I had almost no memory of, although something must’ve been there because I guessed the ending far too early and accurately for it to have been speculation alone.

Aside from the criticism that the B-plot has nothing to do with the A-plot and only ties in very, very tenuously at the start and end, this episode is actually alright. It even has a twist which doesn’t involve the apparently friendly guy turning out to be evil. (Normally, when someone turns up on the Enterprise and seems friendly, they turn out to be concealing something a bit evil. And if they look a bit evil, they turn out to be very evil.) Okona seems a bit dodgy, with his bargain basement Han Solo wardrobe and attitude, but unexpectedly he turns out to be quite a nice guy after all. Misdirection!

And while Data’s subplot might not have anything to do with anything, the idea of Data trying to understand humour is a really compelling one, and it gives Brent Spiner and excuse to do his full range of overacting, which could fill an episode in itself. The moment where Data realises he’s not actually funny on stage is full of pathos, even though he’s being played emotionless. And at the end, he describes the ability to laugh and make other people laugh as a quality that’s “uniquely human”, which is as profound an observation as TNG has managed to make in 29 episodes.

The real problem, if there is one, is that Okona is an a massive Mary Sue in the true sense. The entire cast immediately likes him (except Worf), the story ends up revolving around nothing but him and his decisions, and in the end he’s even more selfless than anyone gives him credit for. Slap the author’s name on the character and it’d be almost textbook. Luckily, a lot of this is in service of well-executed misdirection, so it’s not grating, but this is the second time they’ve done a plot where a zany character turns up to shake up the crew (after Lwaxana Troi’s first appearance) so it’s already feeling a bit familiar…

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Watch or Skip? In terms of Trek lore it’s basically skippable, but it’s worth watching for the Data material alone.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Elementary Dear Data, here.

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