Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Symbiosis"

**

Air date: 4/18/1988
Teleplay by Robert Lewin and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Story by Robert Lewin
Directed by Win Phelps

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise crew rescues the occupants of a disabled ship in a decaying orbit and Picard subsequently finds himself in the middle of a dispute between the representatives from two societies — the Brekka and the Ornara — who are involved in a business transaction regarding some valuable cargo. The Brekka's payment for the cargo went down with the ship, so the Ornara refuse delivery, and we have a problem.

The problem becomes a moral quagmire when the cargo is revealed to be medicine desperately needed by the Brekka, and the situation is further compounded when Crusher determines the medicine is actually an addictive narcotic the Brekka don't actually need in order to survive. The Ornara benefit greatly from the Brekka's dependency on the drug, which has permitted the Ornarans to advance their society while the Brekka have been treading water for the past 200 years. Crusher desperately wants to free the Brekka of their drug addiction, but Picard notes that this would be a blatant violation of the Prime Directive.

The Prime Directive can make for an interesting debate, and it's nice to see Crusher's distaste over the situation even as Picard defends it as a necessary tenet. But again, a key problem with "Symbiosis" is that it oversimplifies the story to a point that we're forced to wonder how, after 200 years, an entire society can uniformly be addicted to a drug with no knowledge that they're being exploited by their "symbiotic" partners in drug-dealing/addiction. They're hopelessly incompetent ship-runners, which makes you wonder how they even survive.

Simply put, "Symbiosis" — even though it tries to be about something real — is ultimately too heavy-handed and simplistic to work. There's a point in the story where one Ornaran actually makes an evil grin when Picard confronts her with the fact that he's on to their exploitative behavior. This betrays the story as unintended parody more than parable.

Previous episode: The Arsenal of Freedom
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10 comments on this review

Aïwe - Sat, Aug 30, 2008 - 4:41pm (USA Central)
I just watched the Symbiosis. It's the kind of prime directive episodes which just don't seem to be well thought through. I meen, if the prime directive would really claim all kind of information and trade with less developed civilizations wrong, then it would basically mean abandoning all kind of trade and exchange.

Not to mention Wesley Crusher beeing more annoying than ever when discussing drugs.

However, I think you mixed up the alians. The Brekkians were the bad guys and the Ornarans the unaware drug junkies.
Jay - Mon, Dec 26, 2011 - 2:24pm (USA Central)
In "Symbiosis", it makes no sense that the Ornarans would simply start pumping their newborn children with felicium before giving them a medical exam to determine if they really do have a plague. If the Brekkians were able to conclude that they had recovered from the plague when they did, why not the more advanced (by the script's own reckoning) Ornarans? The Ornarans as presented here seem far too stupid to be the race that provides all of the resources (other than the felicium) for both systems that dialogue claims they are. The disconnect is high fail.
Rikko - Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
Talk about trying too hard and fail miserably. With a plot full of logical holes, the overall 'message' of the ep is too obvious to be taken seriously. I think it'd have been more interesting if it was about Tasha experiencing a relapse or something, instead of dropping a single suggestive line about her past. But we all know now her character was actually on her way out of the series.
DPC - Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - 9:07pm (USA Central)
Nice Afterschool Special, there...

Yar's performance is great, but... until season 5, TNG would rarely be so one-dimensional and excessively preachy.

The baddies are indeed nasty pieces of work and I like the ideas, but the execution is simplistic.

Still, the use of solar flares to knock out electronic equipment is a nice bit of realism...

2 of 4
Corey - Tue, Mar 12, 2013 - 1:11pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jammer's rating (2 stars). I think the general story had promise, but too many logical plot holes to be a 4 star outing. The previous posters mentioned some of the more obvious problems, such as injecting newborns with felicium before determining do they have the disease.

Also, the Brekkan's total lack of preparedness in case the trade with Onarrans ever goes south (war, ship problems, etc.) where they can't even take care of themselves (foodstuffs, clothes, etc.). Remember we are talking about an entire PLANET. They must build their homes and recreation facilities, right? Surely there's a construction industry on Brekka! But the Brekkan woman clearly said "We have no other industries" - not even service industry? The episode over-simplified the issues. That may have been intentional by the writer, but it's detracting in this case.

I did enjoy the humor when the Enterprise tried to save the Onarran ship but was flabbergasted at the Onarran's incompetence (Picard's increduluous look when the Onarran captain said he had been captain for 7 years was a nice touch).
William B - Thu, Apr 11, 2013 - 7:42am (USA Central)
There are two outright terrible scenes in this episode which move into so-bad-it's-good territory:

1) the scene where the Brekka holds Riker hostage in stasis with his energy beam. The look on Frakes' face is one of the funniest things in the show's history. It's made even better by the utter lack of necessity for the sequence at all. Nothing necessitated a hostage situation in this episode; and even a hostage situation was required, giving the Brekkians & Ornarans poorly F/X'd electro-powers is totally unnecessary. I get that they were trying to be imaginative and use sci-fi tropes, but it just looks ridiculous. Riker's eyes! Hee.

2) The Tasha/Wesley scene discussing drugs is, of course, infamous and for good reason. I think both characters can be used well (Yesterday's Enterprise and The First Duty are both stunning episodes, for example), but Tasha and Wesley are the characters the show struggled the most with in season one, and they are both at their worst here -- Wesley's dopey inability to comprehend human behaviour because he's so gosh darn naive, Tasha's casual discussion of a lifetime of trauma delivered unconvincingly by Crosby. In addition to all the obvious reasons this sequence fails, it is deeply inappropriate in THIS episode for Wesley to start asking why anyone would become addicted to a chemical when the episode is about people being tricked into addiction under the premise that it is medicinal. Wesley does mention that he gets why the Brekkians started taking the drug, so he gets that what he's saying is irrelevant to this situation -- so, um, why say it? It's like hearing about someone being murdered, and then wondering allowed why anyone would commit suicide.

Anyway, these two scenes are unfortunately the most interesting thing about the episode. I don't mind the premise behind it -- the idea of using medicinal needs to addict people to a substance is relevant. (Addictive drugs are often presented as some kind of solution to some problem or another first and foremost.) And if the episode were not so insistent upon the drug behaviour, down to pothead-like behaviour of the Brekkians, it could also serve as a loose allegory for various systems of exploitation between two classes. Still, there's no real subtlety here and the episode falls apart.

What I do like is the Picard vs. Crusher conflict here -- Picard's duty is to abstract principles, Crusher's is to humanistic values of protecting people from pain. It's the first time these two are in opposition in any real way, and it's a good dynamic (though Stewart is the stronger actor and delivers his side with more conviction). The compromise Picard makes -- in which he removes his 'interference' entirely in order to prevent the Enterprise crew from *helping* the exploitation continue -- is a smart one as well as one that hints at the vagaries of the way the Prime Directive is interpreted (and the way people often just interpret it however they want -- but are still guided by it as a principle). On that level, the episode is far better than the other Prime Directive episodes this year (Justice, Angel One), though it's not hard to be....

Somewhere in the 1.5 - 2 star range.
Kyle M. - Tue, May 7, 2013 - 2:08am (USA Central)
My first post on this site! Anyway, It looks like I'm in the minority here. Overall I enjoyed the episode and though the two scenes mentioned above were cringe worthy, they were classic TNG cringe worthy in the best TNG way. I'm often distracted by the inappropriate to the situation looks on Rikers face but those eyes wide open in the hostage scene were at least comically entertaining.
Beyond all of that I really enjoyed the Picard/Crusher moral duel and the ultimate resolution that Picard decided on.

For me this wasn't a great episode but enjoyable for its attributes. 2.5 stars for me.
T'Paul - Thu, May 23, 2013 - 1:09pm (USA Central)
I agree, that although the drugs chat was a bit forced, it was a tidy example of discussion and application of the prime directive and a neat solution by Picard. Perhaps the story was a tad lacking but not truly awful... 2.5 at least.
Carl - Sat, Sep 21, 2013 - 6:34pm (USA Central)
I found this episode really fun and well-paced. I objected to the preachy, cloying morality tale aspect deeply (this is the one aspect of Star Trek that I truly despise) but by the time that element reared its head, I realised that the episode was nearly over and I'd enjoyed the rescue sequence and subsequent conflict so much that I hadn't noticed the time.

A couple of commentators have questioned the logic of the Ornarans giving the 'medicine' to newborn babies. I guess they are not aware that, for many drugs, babies of dependent mothers are born with the same dependency. Even if they weren't in this specific case then they would still likely become addicted due to breastfeeding. I'm assuming the Ornarans are mammals, here, of course.

Also I don't think the Ornarans are required to be stupid to not have 'figured out' that they don't have the plague. They are drug addicts and there would be no benefit to them (as far as they can see) in making this discovery. The drug makes them happy. They have a socially accepted reason for taking it. They can afford to keep buying it from the Brekkan - their resources could be better spent, no doubt, but that's not how they see it. The Brekkan, in contrast, perhaps had to recover from the addiction because devoting their resources to producing the drug for themselves really was crippling their society and so it had to be addressed.
Josh - Mon, Mar 24, 2014 - 4:12pm (USA Central)
One of the saddest things about this episode is seeing Merritt Buttrick (at age 28!), both with the memory of how he looked in STII/III and with his death from AIDS coming only a year later.

As ever, this is a well-meaning episode that doesn't really work, and feels a bit too much like a "very special episode of TNG" (albeit not as bad as "The Outcast").

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