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Why Riker Should Have Been Promoted On Star Trek

As far as first officers go, you'd have a hard time beating Will Riker (Jonathon Frakes). Sure, he struggled to find a permanent facial hair configuration, bouncing between "beard" and "no beard" across four Star Trek shows and the same amount of movies. And yes, Riker spent most of his free time seductively tromboning his way through the women and gender neutral entities of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, leading to what was presumably a list of HR complaints that you'd have to hit warp nine to plow through. 

But more than all of that, Riker was shown to boldly go above and beyond the call of duty, time and time again. He was even offered his own command a handful of times: by the end of season 3 of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Starfleet had dangled the USS Drake, Hood, and Melbourne in front of him. Riker turned all of these offers down, so that he could stay on the Enterprise ... but he shouldn't have. In fact, Starfleet should have made the decision for him, and dropped Riker's goofy dumper in a captain's chair long before he finally accepted a command post in Star Trek: Nemesis. 

And it's not because he was the best person, either. It's sort of because he was the worst.

Riker is the right man for the worst job

Like most good TNG discussions, this one revolves around the second season episode The Measure of a Man. The beats are simple: Data is in a pickle, courtesy of a Starfleet cyberneticist named Bruce Maddox, who wants to unlock the secrets of his android brain, grinningly commanding Data to submit to a hasty robo-vivisection. Data tries to leave Starfleet. His request is denied, since the higher ups see him as more of an "it" than a "him." A courtroom drama unfolds, with Riker selected to represent Starfleet's interests. Informed that the court will find in favor of Maddox if it so much as appears that Riker isn't showing up for work with a can-do attitude, Riker goes full bore. He has Data remove his own arm, bend a metal rod, then hits the android's off switch, to really hammer home the notion that this character, who Riker has referred to as a friend, ain't nothing but a slightly less creepy Furby.

Anyway, in the end, Data wins. That's not the point. The point is that Riker, when faced with the prospect of losing sway at work, abandoned his principles to the tune of possibly sending his pal to be lobotomized. Instead of using the opportunity to take a moral stand, he hemmed, hawed, and stayed up all night researching ways to convince his superiors that androids were fair game in the "war crimes" department. Yes, he's told that failure to comply will mean that the case is summarily found in favor of Maddox, but historically, Star Trek hasn't lauded people in positions of power who give up and side with evil when the going gets tough. Riker? He folded like origami.

And that's exactly what the Federation is all about.

Captain Riker would have knocked a lot of heads

From a pedestrian perspective, the Federation of Planets, and especially Starfleet, might come off okay. If nothing else, they're the most palatable option in a space-faring society where your other choices are giant-eared money perverts and pointy-eared, violence-prone warriors. Sure, there's always some admiral sneaking around, gunning for a spot on the wrong side of history, but that's probably just a few bad apples, right?

But it isn't. The more we learn about Starfleet, the more we realize that it's every bit as bad as the Romulan Empire, just with shinier looking matte paintings in the background. It's a theme that cuts through the entire franchise, from Discovery's exploitation and torture of the tardigrades, to their willingness to commit genocide against their enemies — first with the Borg virus developed for Hugh in Next Generation, and then with attempting a biological attack on the Changelings in Deep Space Nine. And if you don't jive with what they're getting up to? Well, that sounds like Maquis terrorist talk.

So finding an adaptable, loyal commanding officer, one who will readily obey orders even at the cost of his friend's life, because hey, bureaucracy is bureaucracy ... no, that's not an example of the worst humanity has to offer. That's Star Trek captain material. Riker should've been on a warp speed fast track to the big time. 

Maybe that's heavy handed. The real reason that Riker should have been promoted? The captain always has the biggest chair on the bridge, and it'd be a hoot watching him try to throw his leg over the back of it every time he wants to sit down.