Star Trek: The Next Generation
"Up the Long Ladder"
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.