Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Up the Long Ladder"

*1/2

Air date: 5/22/1989
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Sometimes you just have to bow to the absurd," says Picard. Not me. Not for this episode. Here lies a colossal mess of a show, mixing serious (albeit unrealized) science fiction with broad, less-than-funny comedy. The Enterprise comes to the rescue of two long-lost Earth colonies from a single ship that was launched in the early 22nd century. One colony lives on a planet as anachronistic farmers with no technology; the other lives on another planet completely reliant on technology, with cloning having replaced sexual reproduction (which they now find "repugnant").

Let's start with the need to make the primitive colony into broad Irish caricatures: What was the point? It's supposed to be funny, but it ends up providing nothing but annoying stereotypes. The community leader, Danilo O'Dell (Barrie Ingham), is purely a grotesquery of himself. His daughter, Brenna (Rosalyn Landor), is immediately a target and conquest for Riker, for reasons completely unknown to the plot and the characters. Why do they hook up? Okay, it provides a reason for Brenna to start taking off her clothes (which I suppose was fun for me at age 13 when this show originally aired), but that's about it. Some of the Worf Ultimate Straight Man humor works to a degree ("Then you would suffocate and die"), as well as his honor-bonding with Pulaski near the beginning.

At about the midway point the episode pulls a 180 by following the serious story of the modern colony and its cloning procedures. They need a new infusion of DNA to survive and want the Enterprise crew members to volunteer. This leads to some interesting ideas about the nature of individuality amid cloning, and one particularly attention-getting scene where Riker destroys two developing clones of himself and Pulaski that were obtained illegally; in the right writer's hands, this could've been a provocative rape-victim/abortion allegory. As it is, the whole storyline is underdeveloped.

The solution proposed at the end is hammered together as an exercise in convenient TNG ultra-simplicity. Because the hour is over, the problem must be solved using the available variables at hand, with no parts left over.

Previous episode: Samaritan Snare
Next episode: Manhunt

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19 comments on this review

William B - Tue, Apr 2, 2013 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
Contra Jammer, I don't think the solution to the episode is quite "because the hour is over, the problem must be solved using the available variables at hand, with no parts left over." I think the ending to this episode is the point of the episode -- this is an allegory about how humans need both the unsophisticated carnal side and the sterile sophisticated side in order to live. The whole of the episode was designed to set up that conclusion, wherein one people is stupid but bursting with life (about to be destroyed by a solar flare, perhaps a metaphor for excessive libido), and another one brilliant and orderly but essentially dead, are brought together.

That's not a bad idea for an allegory, but of course the execution is bad for all the reasons Jammer listed. It's going to be especially hard to sell the solution here as being equitable. There's no reason the farming community can't survive on its own on a planet that isn't about to be destroyed by a solar flare. Given the pro-choice message of the attention-getting kill-the-clones scene, there needs to be a lot more effort to sell us on the idea that people from both societies are genuinely willing to enter into polygamous sexual relationships which *no one* particularly seems to want.

Also particularly funny: Worf's fainting on the bridge as the teaser break! They really needed to stretch to come up with ways to make this episode seem exciting. The Worf/Pulaski material after his fainting *is* quite good, though. I'm going to miss Pulaski when s2 ends.

I'm tempted to give it 2 stars because I see what they were trying to go for, but 1.5 is probably fair given how much of a mess the final product becomes.
Rikko - Fri, Apr 5, 2013 - 7:23pm (USA Central)
@ William B: Jammer has a point, though. While I do think the episode was set up to arrive at the conclusion you're saying, it was the way they handled it that made it feel cheap and as far as they wanted to go because the hour was, indeed, over.

What a mess. Half funny, half serious, all S2 bad.
William B - Sat, Apr 6, 2013 - 1:14am (USA Central)
@Rikko, definitely. I tend to think that the episode is crappy reverse-engineering rather than crappy hasty last-minute engineering, if you catch my drift. The difference is probably slight, though.

The episode does feel very much to me like the episode is a first draft that needed a rewrite. Maybe there is no good second draft that could possibly come out of this first draft, though. Perhaps a portrayal of the techless farming community closer to DS9's "Paradise" might have worked.
William B - Mon, Apr 8, 2013 - 3:04pm (USA Central)
You know, I am tempted to take back my earlier comment. While I do think the intent of the episode was to suggest that humans need both the carnal side (represented by the farmer Irish stereotyptes) and the cerebral side (represented by the clones) to function, the basic premise still runs counter to this. The reason the farm community was going to be destroyed is because their Sun was going crazy; the reason the clone community was going to die out through replicative fading was because a bunch of the original settlers died, and if they didn't start cloning they would have died. As tech-savvy as the clone society were, if they had had their full complement with them when they first colonized, they would not have turned to cloning and making sex repugnant and taboo; and the sun problems have nothing to do with the Irish stereotype colonist's anachronistic behaviour.

Given that this rips out the only way the episode even *could* function, I think the episode is even worse. 1 star, ultimately -- and that is for the few moments that do work in the clone half. (I guess I could say generously that the clone half gets a low 2 stars for some interesting moments but unsatisfying resolution and follow-through, and the Irish stereotype material is somewhere around 0.5 stars, so that the average is 1.25 which gets rounded down.)
Rikko - Tue, Apr 9, 2013 - 12:41pm (USA Central)
William B: So, we come back closer to Jammer's original score, hah.

Talking about drafts, this script should've spent more time in the oven, for sure. I feel like they had two half-baked ideas, each one feasible to be expanded into their own standalone episodes: One pseudo-comedy ep about the "Irish" people, as bad as that'd have been; and another episode in full serious mode with the hyper-tech clone society. Maybe that last one had the chance to be about something interesting.

Alas, that never happened. What we got was a mix of two lacking premises with the subtlety of a moving train.
William B - Tue, Apr 9, 2013 - 4:18pm (USA Central)
@Rikko: I do think that the thematic reasons I listed were there in the design of the ep, so that these plot ideas were probably thought of together. But you're not wrong that they could have been split up. Actually, maybe the "Irish" stuff could have been pushed onto "Manhunt" -- that episode clearly had room to accommodate a second story, and was not in any danger of being very good anyway. That could leave this episode to a better examination of the cloned society or -- or I don't know, something better; and would have "Manhunt" be less padded and boring, if not actually any better.
Latex Zebra - Fri, Oct 4, 2013 - 5:57pm (USA Central)
I kind of like this one. It's not amazing. No more than 2 stars but it has its moments.
I like Picard finally cracking up in the cargo bay.
You'd have to.
Carl - Sun, Oct 13, 2013 - 11:43am (USA Central)
I really loved the Worf-Pulaski stuff at the beginning. Like the Picard-Wesley material in the early part of the previous episode, it really lifted an otherwise inconsistent episode for me. Like William B, I am sad that Pulaski will not remain on the show. She's one of my favourite characters so far (this is my first proper viewing of TNG).

Riker's volatile response to the cloning society's request was hardly becoming of an officer in his position. I also think Picard was presumptuous to claim that his attitude would be prevalent among the other crew-members as I for one would be happy to provide genetic material in such a situation (but I accept that it would be inappropriate for Picard to allow such a request to be made - if he had said 'I cannot allow you to take genetic material from my crew, starfleet regulations blah blah blah...' then I would have been happy).

The kill-the-clones scene horrified me, especially with the lack of any protest from Pulaski.

Paul M. - Thu, Jan 30, 2014 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
I adore the "Klingon Tea Ceremony" scene with Worf and Pulaski. I'm still sorry TPTB opted to bring back Crusher; Pulaski is such a great character, certainly one of TNG's liveliest.

Also, in the vein of "what Rick Berman did to Trek by firing Ron Jones", here's the link to the original (as I understand it, unaired) music for the above-mentioned tea scene -- www.youtube.com/watch?v=iipDf1XkWXs
Andy's Friend - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 5:56am (USA Central)
@Paul M: Thank you very much for that link. I always preferred Ron Jones' music in the early seasons, what a pity he was fired... As regards Pulaski... I hate to say it, because I like Crusher, but yes, I liked Pulaski more. And I like this episode a lot more than Jammer and some of the others did, I see. But then again, I've noticed that I am a lot more forgiving and a lot less pedantic, for lack of a better word, than most commenters here ;)
Paul M. - Fri, Jan 31, 2014 - 7:24am (USA Central)
@Andy's Friend: Pulaski is a joy to watch; a good character very well played by charismatic Diana Muldaur. Other TNG characters had a tendency to be infuriatingly prim and proper. Pulaski had a great non-PC vibe as in "I don't really care whether you like what I have to say or not, I'll just go ahead and say it". But beneath her curmudgeonly exterior was a personality that relished the different and unusual.

And yes, early TNG music was leagues ahead of the late-season sonic wallpaper Berman liked oh-so-much. I'm still shocked, SHOCKED I say, that he fired Ron Jones. His music was the highlight of almost every episode it was in -- Best of Both Worlds, Defector, Booby Trap, Q Who, Evolution, etc... Such a pity.
Tim - Wed, Feb 5, 2014 - 10:08pm (USA Central)
Behold, this St. Pattie's Day will mark the 25th anniversary of the writing of Up The Long Ladder, or as they called it in production, Send In The Clones!
The date on each page of the script is 3/17/89, and it's very rare that all dates in a script are the same.
Makes a wee bit more sense now, especially since the author was Irish or Scottish.
Jons - Tue, Feb 18, 2014 - 2:51pm (USA Central)
I could never understand why a SCI FI show would insist portraying "scientific" races as bad and scary, (listen to the ridiculous "ominous music" when they beam down to Mariposa and the shock stares when they mention the rather obvious presence of cloning...) while primitive "close to Earth (which apparently means being drunk all the time) are always nice, friendly and sympathetic... One would think that if you like ST you are not afraid of science and progress?
DavidK - Wed, Feb 19, 2014 - 5:38am (USA Central)
@Jons It's funny you mention that, I was recently talking to a friend about my frustration that sci-fi of all things tends to do this. His theory was that the majority of science-fiction stories are retellings of the Frankenstein story, that they're all about the dangers of the future and man playing with fire. I don't think "majority" is accurate but it's definitely a big theme through a lot of sci-fi.

It's probably just a reflection of our society too though, in that we tend to elevate and personify nature ("not what nature intended") versus a general theme that man cannot exceed nature and shouldn't try (transhumanism, genetic modification, that sort of thing). I tried to explain to a friend who "doesn't drink anything with chemicals in it" that water is a chemical; we went around in circles for 20 minutes.

I like that duality in fiction though, there's this sort of double-edged sword, we celebrate the potential of the future yet are wary at the same time (striking a balance is probably best).

Along those lines, I recommend Spike Jonze' latest movie "Her".
Plot setup (but not ending) spoilers: People focus on the "man falls in love with his operating system" element like it's a joke, but it ends up being a really nice and positive look at how love transcends the need for bodies. And I'd say it's quite a pro-science movie, if you know what I mean. There's never a sense of "how sad, why couldn't he find a real person", the movie barely even questions the worth of an AI (one or two characters aside).
Ryan of Nine - Sat, Mar 1, 2014 - 11:51pm (USA Central)
I'm terribly disappointed that the focus of this episode wasn't on the cloning. A rape-victim/abortion allegory could have made this one of the better episodes of early TNG. My head is spinning at the possibility.
Adara - Fri, Mar 21, 2014 - 1:43am (USA Central)
Speaking of rape, the Irish caricature woman was absolutely right that a small group of men had no business making decisions for a whole group of people, especially when those decisions are sexual. And for Picard to tell her she had a choice but still pressure her into going was way out of character. What if all the women don't want to be used as incubators? What if two people fall in love and want to be monogamous? What if some of the women feel no attraction to any of the men? Are they going to be forced into sex because it's their duty? The episode suggests the women don't have much of a choice. To me, that concept was far more disturbing than the clone killing scene.
Tom - Sat, Mar 29, 2014 - 6:25pm (USA Central)
This is an episode full of bad caricatures. They never went into a real discussion of the ethics of cloning or of what it means to own your genetic code. What if the clone guys had taken some of their stray hair or mucus as samples? That's a real scientific possibility and done by policemen to test people's DNA without their consent.

Also, what's the point of a wool sweater that only covers the breasts? Don't they know that body fat in this area already provides plenty of insulation?

The most problematic part of the episode is when three men, including Picard, bargain away women's sexual freedom in exchange for shelter. Isn't that basically prostitution? They barely acknowledge at the end that women might have the right to refuse having three husbands. How would Picard feel if he was forced to take on three wives or leave the Enterprise to be dropped off at the nearest planet? It's weird that a ship full of celibates is comfortable forcing women to take on three husbands. This is more Starfleet arrogance where they're obviously superior to these primitive people and would never themselves agree to play by the rules they're imposing on others. A disturbing anti-feminist and morally retrograde episode.
Jack - Mon, Apr 7, 2014 - 7:13pm (USA Central)
Who could Worf have caught Klingon measles from?

And if he has a Klingon disease that made him faint, why did Pulaski claim that "Klingons don't faint"? It's like saying that humans don't sneeze. The whole exchange seemed absurd.
Grumpy - Mon, Apr 7, 2014 - 10:05pm (USA Central)
Jack, the whole subplot is absurd. The whole episode is absurd. A good 70% of the 2nd season is absurd!

(But I never realized it was absurd for the reason you mention. Good catch!)

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