117 – The Outcast

Grade: B

The Outcast (1992) on IMDb


A race of androgynous aliens asks Captain Picard for help to find their missing shuttle. Picard orders Worf to send out a probe into a region of space where the shuttle was last seen. Suddenly, the probe stops transmitting, and it disappears. Commander Riker and the androgynous alien Soren are assigned to take a shuttle from the Enterprise into the same area.


This is one of the most memorable episodes of the entire Star Trek franchise. It would be hard to find a Trek fan who doesn’t immediately remember what happens in this episode, based only on the title or a short summary of it, at most. Sometimes, people remember episodes because the screenwriter has done a great job in creating a memorable story. But on the other hand, sometimes it’s the controversial subject matter that everyone remembers. In my opinion, The Outcast is an example of the latter.

I recently watched this again and this time, my opinion of it has changed. I actually respected the storyline more now than I did when I first saw it. Star Trek is often way ahead of its time, and this is certainly an example of that. We still have a long way to go in this world before we have equality and freedom for all, and this episode shows us the opposite extreme. It’s not to the point of ridicule, but just makes a statement of how we can improve the way we see others.

Just in case you need a refresher, this is the episode in which Riker falls in love with Soren, an alien who is neither female nor male. Sometime in the middle of the episode, Soren explains that she was born with desires to be female. At this point, Riker says he had a feeling that she was somehow different from the rest of her species. Personally, this is one of the criticisms I have of this episode. The director obviously tried hard to find actors who could play characters who were not overtly male nor female, but all of them seem to be female. They all look alike, they’re all roughly the same height and build, and none of them seem to be of a different race. So how could Riker have a feeling that Soren is different than all the rest of them? I think the only reason he has this feeling is because it’s in the script. It would be better if there were more visual clues so that we’re not asked to accept things simply because they’re in the script.

Here’s another example. Riker is neither an engineer nor a scientist. So why is he the one spending so much time with Soren on this shuttlecraft – both tracking the spatial anomaly and repairing the ship? Her presence on the ship is obvious. But his is very contrived. The only answer seems to be again, “it’s in the script.” Really, Data should have been tracking the anomaly, and one of LaForge’s engineers should have been repairing the ship. But that would have kept Riker from spending time with Soren, and that was imperative in this storyline. So instead, we get Riker on the shuttle with Soren so we can see them falling in love. But no explanation is ever given for why Riker of all people should be so heavily involved in this episode, and that’s a problem.

Speaking of Riker, we all know about his repeated conquests during this TV series. He has had a number of partners, and he seems to have no interest in them other than just the obvious. So what’s so different now with Soren that he feels the need to discuss it with Troi? I don’t get their relationship at all. For one thing, I don’t understand how Troi keeps putting up with his behavior, and I also don’t believe for a second that Riker would care what Troi thinks. He seems to be a very self-centered person in this regard. So his scene with Troi in this episode also seems very contrived. Again, he does this only because it’s in the script.

The ending also really bothered me. In the last episode, Worf suffered a spinal injury. It was severe enough that it was thought he’d be paralyzed for the rest of his life. Then he tries some new experimental therapy, he stumbles around for a bit, and the episode ends. Then in Outcast, which aired only two weeks later, he beams down to the J’Naii planet with Riker to kidnap Soren and return her to the Enterprise. So in this episode, they’ve managed to destroy the last storyline and add yet another plot contrivance. Riker has done some stupid things before, but Worf has never backed him up like this. Honestly, I don’t think Worf would have done this. And it certainly doesn’t make sense, given the severity of his injury just two weeks before. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it’s just silly.

One last complaint about this episode – Picard’s lecture about the Prime Directive. I really wish the writers would give that thing a rest. It seems every episode has to revolve around it somehow, and we get a different definition every time. It’s just getting really old and tiresome.

So in my opinion, this episode has some obvious flaws, and I really wish it could have been done better. I think the idea of an androgynous race definitely has some potential, and in this episode in particular, there were some great lines and arguments on the issue. This episode really does need to be on your watch list, and who knows, you may like it a whole lot more than I did. But I honestly wish they could have told their story without having to resort to so many plot contrivances that ruined it for me.

Of Note

One of the few episodes when Geordi LaForge has a beard. I don’t remember him ever having a beard before, but I think he has one later in the series. I wonder if this was his decision or the director’s to have his beard in this episode.