A few weeks ago a blogger who shall remain anonymous posted on Twitter some very hurtful comments about Doctor Katherine Pulaski, the season two Medical Officer on Star Trek: The Next Generation. We bantered a bit (and I won*) and I decided that there simply isn’t enough Pulaski love out in the universe. On the rare occasion that Pulaski is even mentioned she’s almost always mocked or hated upon or otherwise maligned. And because I’m a freak I sat down to watch every episode she appears in and took notes along the way.
Upon concluding season two I’d like to propose to those gathered before me that Doctor Katherine Pulaski is a Grade-A Bad-Ass Motherfucker.
Pulaski’s first appearance (“The Child,” ep. 1) sets up her basic personality. She’s an older, stubborn, McCoy-esque doctor who really doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Though she’s supposed to report immediately to the Captain upon arrival she places the needs of her patients (Troi, who is suddenly and bizarrely pregnant.) above matters of not-so-urgent protocol. (Personally that sort of behavior is what I look for in a doctor.) She takes her job as doctor very seriously and even is willing to pull rank on the Captain if it means keeping him from dying because his fake heart needs to be replaced. (“Samaritan Snare,” ep. 17)
This is also a woman who constantly demonstrates her ability to keep cool in the face of danger. Even when she’s aging prematurely and facing death (Can we talk about how anytime Star Trek puts aging makeup on a character they look hilarious?) her entire focus is on staying calm and she refuses to put the rest of the crew at risk by returning aboard. (“Unnatural Selection,” ep. 7) She’s so badass that even Worf respects her and honors her with the Klingon tea ceremony (which she fucking takes part in because she’s cool like that.) (“Up the Long Ladder,” ep. 18)
Besides being an excellent doctor (Source: Every episode in which she practices medicine.) and the owner of a pair of steel balls this woman is also tons of fun to be with. She likes to take risks and will go toe-to-toe with Worf in poker and is chill with Deanna Troi and has a pretty sharp wit. She’s on my list of people to hang out with in Ten-Forward.
And let’s not forget that Professor Motherfucking Moriarty totes has a crush on her. (“Elementary My Dear Data,” ep. 3)
There is the matter of Data. When I was re-watching season two I tried to pay particular attention to any interaction that Data and Pulaski had and my final conclusion is that people focus on their preliminary interactions and not how their relationship evolves. Yes, in the early episodes she’s an ass about Data. Pulaski is old-school and has a hard time seeing Data as anything more than a glorified computer but as she works with him we begin to see her attitude towards him become kinder. The episode that I really point to is “Peak Perfomance” (Second to last episode of the season.) when she pushes Data to play Sirna Kolrami in a game of Strategema. In this episode she talks and interacts with Data as if he’s any other member of the crew and when his loss wounds him she basically uses psychology on him, admitting that he is more than an adding machine.
Apparently people are put off by Pulaski’s no-nonsense attitude and the fact that she doesn’t have an issue speaking her mind. This is one that I have a very hard time seeing as I find Pulaski’s personality to be very similar to Bones and Captain Picard, both of whom are fan favorites. Is it possible that we’re uncomfortable with a woman, particularly an older woman, who is strong and loud and bends the rules?
Or is it that we don’t like to see anyone butting heads so fiercely with the beloved Captain Picard? I adore Picard to pieces but I have to admit feeling a certain sense of happiness in watching him talk with Pulaski. Like Troi, like Crusher, like Guianan, Pulaski helps to show us the conflict that Picard inhabits as he struggles to not let his “Captain”-y side dominate his humanity. Troi and Guinan do this through empathetic conversations with Picard and Crusher does this through moments of sweetness and love and Pulaski does this by being blunt with the captain. As much as I would have liked to have seen Pulaski come back so we could watch her evolving relationship with Data, I would really like to have seen her come back so we could watch her relationship with Picard evolve.
Whenever you hear people discussing Pulaski there’s always at least one voice grumbling about how they don’t like Pulaski because she’s a “replacement” for Crusher. Is that really Pulaski’s fault? I adore Doctor Crusher, I adore her beyond belief, but I also really like Pulaski. I’m able to identify much more with Pulaski and I find her humor more entertaining but that doesn’t mean I can’t love Crusher too. I mean, loving Pulaski doesn’t mean I’m betraying Crusher.
And in conclusion: This is a woman that Professor Moriarty fell in love with. That’s right, Doctor Pulaski is the a Grade-A Bad-Ass Motherfucker who doesn’t get nearly enough love or respect.
*The real reason why I’m not revealing the name of the blogger is because I don’t want anyone to ask her about whether or not I won because the truth is that there was no winner.
REMINDER: I’m giving away two copies of this print for free. Details are here.