Why Star Trek: Discovery must deal with the legacy of Janice Rand

With each new announcement surrounding Star Trek: Discovery, it’s become increasingly clear how intertwined it’s going to be with the original Star Trek. From the news that the show would be a prequel to Bryan Fuller’s suggestion that we might see some characters from the original series, it’s now been confirmed that we can expect to see both Sarek, Spock’s father, and Harry Mudd in the upcoming series.

It’s this announcement that Harry Mudd will be appearing in the series that’s most notable, of course, even moreso than the appearance of Sarek. Not because the character is particularly significant in his own right, per se – while certainly iconic and undeniably memorable, Harry Mudd only appeared in two episodes and doesn’t have a huge impact outside of those episodes. Rather, Mudd is significant in terms of what he represents – the vein of sexism and misogyny that ran through Star Trek during its first years.

For all that Star Trek is celebrated as a proponent of a utopian ideal, that’s not the most accurate way of looking at the series. Indeed, there are times when it quite blatantly isn’t what we remember it as, with many early episodes of Star Trek plagued by some pretty significant issues when it comes to depictions of women; Harry Mudd’s first appearance, Mudd’s Women, is an episode that sees the Enterprise crew engaged in human trafficking, with the female characters depicted as vain, vapid, and actually quite content with their status as mail order brides, given they’re so desperate for a husband.

Mudd’s Women isn’t something you can take in isolation, though, because it’s just one of several episodes in which female characters were treated poorly by the original Star Trek. Probably the most obvious example is The Enemy Within, an episode of Star Trek typically remembered for a transporter accident and an alien that’s blatantly a dog with a paper cone taped its head; few people remember the episode as one that normalizes rape and rape culture in a way unlike any other episode of Star Trek, with Kirk attempting to rape Yeoman Janice Rand, and Spock joking about how she probably wanted him to anyway.

Janice Rand is probably the most obvious victim of the strain of sexism and misogyny that ran through Star Trek’s early years – initially the programme’s female lead, Janice Rand was gradually phased out of the show across the first half of the season. She was on the receiving end of attempted rape, objectification, and frequently belittled and undercut by both other characters and the narrative itself.

Star Trek’s treatment of Janice Rand is fundamentally at odds with the utopian idealism that is so often sold as the franchise’s main virtue. For Star Trek: Discovery to now make attempts at returning to that 60s utopianism, it must by the same virtue address the legacy of Janice Rand within the narrative.

It may be the case that we’ve seen the first steps toward this already; with Sonequa Martin-Green cast as Star Trek’s first WOC lead, it’s evident that Discovery is going to at least make an attempt to pivot around a strong female lead.  Regardless, though – for the first Star Trek series in a post-Trump world, it’s necessary more than ever to make the utopianism Star Trek has always claimed to uphold a central part of the series. It’s time to make things right for Janice Rand; to not only move past but to actively disown the sexism of the 60s, and to set right what once went wrong.

Related:

Bryan Fuller’s exit from Star Trek represents a move away from auteur-led television

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