How Star Trek Redeems TOS’ Orion Slave Girl
Star Trek: Lower Decks introduced an Orion named D'Vana Tendi (Noel Wells), and the Starfleet Ensign instantly redeemed the Orion slave girls that have been a questionable part of the franchise since Star Trek: The Original Series. Created by Mike McMahan (Rick & Morty), Star Trek: Lower Decks is the first half-hour animated comedy set in the Star Trek universe. The show is centered on the junior officers of the unimportant 24th-century starship, the U.S.S. Cerritos but Lower Decks freely references the full scope of Star Trek, and that includes finally bringing in a female Orion character who isn't purely a sex object.Click the button below to start this article in quick view. Start now
The first Orion slave girl was seen in Star Trek's original pilot, "The Cage", which was later repurposed into the two-part season 1 episode, "The Menagerie". When he was imprisoned by the telepathic aliens of Talos IV, Captain Christopher Pike (Jeffrey Hunter) was shown his love interest, Vina (Susan Oliver), as an Orion slave girl. The green-skinned temptresses were described by Starfleet Commodore Jose Mendez (Malachi Throne) to be "like animals, vicious, seductive. They say no human male can resist them". The scantily-clad Orion slave girls can emit a pheromone that is irresistible to the males of most humanoid species, and they are literally the property of the criminal Orion Syndicate's slave traders.
The Orion Syndicate and the slave girls have popped up throughout the various Star Trek movies and TV series. In the Star Trek: Enterprise season 4 episode, "Bound", three Orion slave girls were presented as gifts to Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) as part of a plot to manipulate his crew. The Orion Syndicate was a recurring problem on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where they tried to kill Quark (Armin Shimerman), were infiltrated by Chief Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney), and they were a threat to the Trill family of Ezri Dax (Nicole DeBoer). It was also common for various Star Trek characters to fantasize about or brag about their sordid sexual interludes with Orion slave girls.
The Orion slave girls are an unfortunate relic of Star Trek's 1960s origins and ways of thinking, but, with Ensign Tendi, Star Trek: Lower Decks showcases an Orion female who isn't purely an object of male sexual gratification at last. Tendi is an enthusiastic recruit freshly arrived on the Cerritos in Lower Decks' series premiere, "Second Contact". The medical officer-in-training immediately rebukes the stereotype of Orion women; while she's young and untested, Tendi is obviously bright, capable, and she loves science and medicine. Tendi quickly becomes fast friends with her fellow Lower Deckers and she already bonded with Ensign Sam Rutherford (Eugene Corder0) in Engineering.
Even though she's Orion, there is absolutely no indication (so far) that Tendi was a slave girl and this addresses the fact that not every female of her species is sold into sex slavery by the Orion Syndicate. Tendi is never treated as a sex object, nor is it ever assumed that she is or was an Orion slave girl. Instead, Tendi is a nerd who is fascinated by her crewmates and the technical functions of the Cerritos. Best of all, Tendi is a Starfleet Officer dedicated to performing her duties to the best of her abilities, which is refreshing and a long-awaited way for Star Trek to present a female Orion character.
Tendi isn't actually the first Orion woman to be part of Starfleet; in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek 2009, there was an Orion cadet named Gaila (Rachel Nichols) at Starfleet Academy. However, Abrams' movie also leaned hard into sexualizing the movie's Orion female since Gaila's first appearance showed her in bed with James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) as one of his many conquests. Gaila was assigned to one of the Starfleet ships mobilized to defend Vulcan from Nero (Eric Bana) and her fate is unknown. But while Gaila was one small step for Orion women, Star Trek: Lower Decks' Ensign Tendi finally moves her species forward from the stereotype of the Orion slave girl into something more progressive and much better.
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