All You Need?
And the question for this week is: can two major characters on a genre show have a mature, passionate, intimate relationship which also works dramatically?
I was prepared to say no to this question. After all, my favorite screen-sizzle couple, Janeway and Chakotay, seem to have lost all their passion and maturity - not to mention all their drama - and while Sheridan and Delenn have a mature, intimate relationship, the passion's just not there. Mulder and Scully have passion, but I suspect that intimacy would give the show Moonlighting syndrome; take away the unresolved sexual tension and you take away the subtext which drives a lot of the episodes. Moreover, I'm not certain their maturity is the sort which makes relationships thrive. They're definitely grown up in terms of their ability to commit, but dealing with other people - friends, lovers, most of their co-workers - doesn't seem to be a forte for either one of them.
Maybe love should be irrelevant on science fiction shows; lord knows I don't want to watch Melrose Space, and the Baywatch-ization of the Trek franchise has seriously turned me off the shows. But romance in science fiction is more soap opera-ish than anyplace else on nighttime television. Real people do not get away with using "I was possessed by aliens" as an excuse for having sex in public, nor do they announce that they can read one another's minds unless they're in a really cliched love scene. Just once I'd like to see a science fiction couple who respect each other, trust each other, love each other, who work responsibly together and put duty above personal concerns, yet who also sizzle together, who like sex and aren't afraid to show it, who don't believe committment is tantamount to boredom. We have no role models to depict such a relationship, a love between true equals. But in future universes with transporters and replicators, we can hope.
For a brief while, I thought we might get that on Voyager. They had the elements - a captain and first officer from opposing ideologies, who joined forces to fight a common problem, who have consistently been able to put their conflicts behind them in the name of the crew. And they cared about each other, their relationship reminded me of Kirk and Spock...except that Kirk never looked at Spock's hair like he was thinking about running his fingers through it, and Spock never checked out Kirk's butt on the bridge. It wasn't simple sexual attraction, it was a complex relationship where the demands of duty were balanced against Voyager's unique situation of being lost in space and the emotional needs of the characters. Then the writers got chicken and threw them away, declaring that women captains don't have sex but men need to get laid or people don't take them seriously as commanders. So much for the 24th century.
Sheridan and Delenn had a wonderful courtship, dramatic and intense, so even though I didn't initially see much chemistry between the characters, I assumed that the slow growth of the relationship would make it that much more satisfying when they finally got together. I don't know why that didn't happen: in many ways, they're still my ideal television couple. Even though I didn't like him ordering her off the station and her having to sneak behind his back to stay. Even though this season we've seen way too much of Delenn in the role of First Lady rather than ambassador. Even though I'm at the point where I'd like to see them have a good, roaring fight - or three - about serious political or ideological matters, just so we know that they can do that and still sleep in the same bed. For maturity, Sheridan and Delenn win hands-down, but I still don't feel any excitement when I see them together onscreen.
Mulder and Scully are a rather different story, but ironically, they're more committed to duty than Janeway and Chakotay. Seriously - in four years, neither of these people has had a date, or gone out and gotten goofy with friends...do they have friends? They live for their work, and they work in rather a darker universe than the Trek or B5 crowds. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has something to hide. Seeing the two of them touch hands is sometimes the only light in the darkness. Let them fall in love, let them make one another the most important thing, and the structure of the series collapses. But throw them together without that love, and I'm not sure I'd care anymore about the horrific world they inhabit.
Ironically, the couple who give me hope right now is one I couldn't stand the sight of until three days ago. Dax and Worf have a relationship I generally despise. They both compromise themselves a great deal in the name of love. This week, they even compromised duty. That probably should bug me more than it did, but it's something we've seen Mulder do for Scully before, and we've heard Sheridan suggest that he might do for Delenn - not that she'd let him if she could help it. It's not necessarily admirable but it's very real. The chemistry's believable, and despite his Klingon ritual violent foreplay, Worf's a gigantic sap underneath. They're the least likely couple, and on the show least in need of a romance to drive the series, but against all expectations, they're working.
Love. Who needs it?
This is science fiction, Michelle, which on TV is basically for teenage boys. I know, it shouldn't be, but TV is run by callous thugs who pick a target and jam the appropriate message into their hormone-soaked eyeballs. And unlike the rest of TV, the audience for science fiction is believed to be overwhelmingly male.
My experience with Trek fandom is that it's not - male, that is. Thus, the audience wants something the producers don't know they want. Come on - can anyone seriously believe the producers of Deep Space Nine, let alone Voyager, have ever considered what their shows look like to women?
And it's women, not men, who want romance. Men want violence and, to a lesser extent, sexy babes.
So the Joe Bob Briggs of drive-in TV would rate the series not according to the maturity, passion and intimacy (which to guys are all the same word anyway) but according to Dukes (as in "put up your dukes") Dazzle and Dames:
Deep Space Nine:
Dukes: Every third episode is gritty and bloody. The others have all that science stuff in 'em.
Dazzle: Lotsa neat models; some nice effects, but we've seen transporters and phasers before.
Dames: Wait a minute - this Dax chick is really a GUY? An OLD guy? Who used to be SISKO'S FATHER FIGURE? Euuch!
Dukes: Yawn. Nobody ever throws a punch. Every time they shoot someone, he's immune to their weapons. Why do they even carry these phasers along?
Dazzle: Once in a while there's a cool alien, but mostly it's Neelix and Tuvok's ears.
Dames: The Klingon babe has a funny forehead, but she's got fire. Fire's good. Seven looks good, but she's too smart and logical. Captain Janeway isn't really a babe, per say - it's like, yeah, you know your mother's a woman, but Jeez, she's not, you know, REALLY a woman.
Dukes: Mixed. Lots of people get killed in all sorts of inventive ways. Plus, there's more blood and graphic violence than Silence of the Lambs! But there's no fighting. Whenever Mulder and Scully try to fight the bad guys, they lose, and violence NEVER settles anything. Is this really TV?
Dazzle: So-so. We don't get to SEE the neat stuff very often, and then it's usually a glimpse in the dark.
Dames: What dames? Scully's a dish, and so's Marita Covarrubias, but they're both stuffy career women. Yawn.
Dukes: The TNT trailer makes this look like a space war series. It ain't; the big payoffs are months apart. But when they do come, they're cool, with lots of explosions, death and debris.
Dazzle: If you like spaceships - wow. This Bab's for you. The aliens are kinda neat, too, even if Londo's hair is hard not to laugh at.
Dames: Not so good. I mean, what's this bone thing in Delenn's hair? At least she's not bald any more. But with Ivanova, Talia, Lyta, that Senator chick, this new Captain Lochley, and Delenn, this show still doesn't have ONE single babe who's clearly there just to stand around and look good.
So I have to come to this startling conclusion: scoring badly on Dames, Dukes and Dazzle, The X-Files is the show LEAST likely to appeal to the stereotypical least common denominator the networks are clearly aiming for.
Which makes it, in my book, the best science fiction show on television.
This column was originally written for AnotherUniverse.com.