Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The High Ground"

***

Air date: 1/29/1990
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

While on a mission of mercy delivering medical supplies to a war-torn world, Crusher is taken hostage into underground tunnels by Finn (Richard Cox), the leader of a terrorist group that commits frequent violence against the planet's functioning government and its civilians. With the kidnapping, Finn hopes to get the attention of the Federation and shine a spotlight on his cause, which he feels has long been ignored. Finn's methods start with kidnapping Crusher, and then he raises the stakes with an attempt to destroy the Enterprise by using untraceable (and fatal to its users, when used repeatedly) transporter technology to get aboard the ship and plant a bomb. When that fails, Finn kidnaps Picard.

"The High Ground" takes a surprisingly candid and surprisingly balanced look at the issue of terrorism from multiple points of view. Finn, while clearly taking violence to extremes that prove counter-productive even to his own cause, is not a cardboard madman. He wants his grievances heard; violence is merely his currency. At the same time, the episode does not condone or make excuses for his actions.

The episode also takes a hard look at those who attempt to fight terrorism — what they do and why. One key point of view is from the head of the counterterrorism force, Alexana Devos (Kerrie Keane), who has had to deal with Finn's daily violence for years. She's become a hardliner, and her stance is understandable; she's trying to minimize violence in a war zone where civilians have become routine terrorist targets. But, for that matter, the civilians have also become routine targets for arrest for being sympathetic to the separatists; one shot shows a 12-year-old kid being hauled away as a suspected terrorist. This is a police-state society.

Caught in the middle is the Enterprise. Finn has an attention-getting speech about the Federation's willingness to supply the government with medical supplies while turning a blind eye to the separatists. Is he right? Not really, but it demonstrates how appearing to choose sides gets the Federation pulled into an otherwise obscure struggle that does not concern them.

This is one of those rare episodes of TNG where, by the end, essentially nothing has been solved. Sure, Crusher and Picard have been rescued, but the cycle of violence will continue, and the episode doesn't pretend that the situation can be fixed simply because the Enterprise was here or Picard came in and made a pithy speech.

Previous episode: The Hunted
Next episode: Deja Q

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23 comments on this review

Bad Horse - Fri, Mar 26, 2010 - 1:01pm (USA Central)
The High Ground - "This is one of those rare episodes of TNG where, by the end, essentially nothing has been solved. Sure, Crusher and Picard have been rescued, but the cycle of violence will continue, and the episode doesn't pretend that the situation can be fixed simply because the Enterprise was here or Picard came in and made a pithy speech."

I didn't get that. IIRC, the ending has Crusher saying "No more killing" and the last kid with a gun slowly lays it down, for no reason other than she said so. If there was anything after that suggesting that the violence would go on, I sure don't remember it. I just remember that pitiful oversimplification.
impr - Sun, Jul 8, 2012 - 6:55am (USA Central)
Really liked this one. Nicely handled, even to the charismatic but ruthless leader. Have to agree with the "nothing was solved" -summery. Even though the kid lowered his gun, what is that in the face of 70 years of conflict? I bet some kid in Israel/Palestine -conflict has lowered his gun as well. Saw it as a commentary on that and Riker's last words as a kind of wish for real world things to change somehow.
TMLS - Sun, Jul 8, 2012 - 3:09pm (USA Central)
Bit of trivia for you American types, this episode was banned in the UK during the first S3 broadcasts, due to the sensitive content (we had been bombed by the IRA in similar ways for years) and the "Irish Reunification" line.

It has been shown since the bombings stopped though.
Jay - Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
The Rutians could solve the conflict in five seconds by granting the independence the Ansata have wanted fro 70 years.. Their reasons not to were never given, so assumedly they can only be oppressive in nature.
Jay - Sun, Dec 16, 2012 - 5:13pm (USA Central)
And it was bizarre that Troi fretted about Geordi saying to transport the bomb at his signal...did she think he was going to ride the bomb into space?
William B - Mon, May 27, 2013 - 2:51pm (USA Central)
I agree with Jay that the lack of indication why the Rutians didn't just grant independence to the Ansata in the first place hurts the episode a little bit, if only because in order for the Rutians in general and Devos in particular should have a POV on why they have refused. It's not hard to imagine possible reasons -- not all Ansata actually want independence; the land is "owned" by all society and splitting it apart is difficult and there aren't sufficient resources; the reasons that apply in our world. There is a reason why Northern Ireland can't "just" split from the rest of the UK and why Palestine can't "just" declare its independence from Israel (or why the US couldn't "just" declare independence from England without a fight, for that matter). Still, it would be nice to have a character articulate why this fight exists at all. The other thing that might very well be happening is that the government, after terrorism has started, has entrenched in their position because it’s Wrong to negotiate with terrorists, which emphasizes how vicious the cycle of oppression/terrorism can become.

It's actually a little astonishing that this episode exists at all -- it's 1990, and Data says that the Irish Unification was achieved through terrorism. This is not "The Battle of Algiers," (the movie, not the...battle), but for a Star Trek episode it is fairly hard-hitting and generally doesn't pull punches about the brutality of either side, with a police state detaining anyone with some connection to terrorism and dehumanizing (...deperson-izing) the terrorists themselves on the one hand, and a terrorist outfit blowing up military targets and accidentally-or-not-accidentally blowing up schoolbuses of children and recruiting children into lives of violence from an early age. Both Finn and Devos are portrayed as right-and-wrong; justified to believe that they are in an unfair situation, mistaken to think that their situation gives them the rights to take the measures they are taking. Ultimately, the Enterprise sides with Devos, and her position is the stronger of the two: the police brutality does not seem to cross over into torture and the police are not killing. Riker is skeptical of Devos, but ultimately doesn’t rail against her.

Finn’s comparison of himself to George Washington, and Data’s speech to Picard on the role terrorism played in the Mexican independence and in the (!) Irish Reunification, show an attitude toward terrorism that would be difficult if not impossible to get on the air on a mainstream show today. The episode doesn’t justify or excuse or condone Finn’s actions, but neither does it pretend that terrorism (and guerrilla tactics similar to it) is something that has only sprung up suddenly and is not a part of human history. I am not convinced that Finn is wrong when he claims that the Federation chooses sides when it delivers medical supplies to the ruling party on the planet and not to the terrorist factions; trading is a choice, and trading with the dominant government is a choice to assign legitimacy to them, and violates the thread of non-interference. Insofar as this episode is partly a Northern Ireland metaphor (and can be applied, roughly, to aspects of the Israel/Palestine situation), the Federation’s role is akin to the United States and other superpowers outside the conflict, which can claim neutrality but whose weight can alter the balance of power even they only put their toes on the scale. Finn’s pointing out to Crusher that human history is full of violent revolt and that the current era of human peace is to some degree enjoyed because of those past conflicts is also a fantastic moment -- it doesn’t go into the depths or excesses (depending on your point of view) that Deep Space Nine would go to criticize the Federation POV as naïve, but it does suggest that on some level it is not possible for people from a culture which is no longer violent and in which freedom is not threatened (either by terrorism or by an oppressive government) to understand fully what they are fighting for, even if they can still hope to show a better way.

I do think that Crusher’s “no more killing!” and the child’s putting down the gun is cheesy as all heck and it was a little hard not to laugh at the execution of the moment. But I do think that, simplicity and execution problems aside, there had to be a moment like this at the episode’s end, to suggest Crusher’s humanism can provide at least in some instances an alternative to Finn’s violence and murder-suicide-for-the-cause bluster. I don’t think that the episode is saying that the problems will be over -- he’s one kid! -- but it does suggest the possibility that there can be some kind of reconciliation in the next generation (no pun intended). In some senses this is the reverse of “The Vengeance Factor,” where reconciliation requires the symbolic death of the last remnants of vengeance from the past as represented by Yuta; here reconciliation is not currently possible, but the possibility of a better future is represented by the child.

For me I think this is on the 3-3.5 star border, probably just tipping into 3.5 stars.
Adara - Mon, Jul 15, 2013 - 8:03pm (USA Central)
I would give this episode 3.5 stars. Cheesy ending aside, this episode is very balanced and thought provoking, and bold for 1990! I think of Isreal and Palestine when I watch this one, but it could be a metaphor for a lot of different things. Regardless of the conflict, Finn is right when he says the only difference between terrorists and generals is who is on the winning side. Barack Obama is murdering children in Pakistan daily with drone strikes, yet he has a nobel peace prize. Israel kills/tortures/detains Palestinians about 10x more than the other way around, and it doesn't even make the news. In response to a previous comment that they didn't torture detainees on the show, I think they just didn't show it because it's a family show. Lady Gestapo did say she could use more persuasive methods, and Finn's son died in detention. I think it was hinted at. The question remains, is terrorism an acceptable means to an end? To answer no, I think one must denounce every armed conflict in history, not just the losing ones. That includes fighting back, because every side thinks they're fighting back. I really can't answer if war is ever a valid means to achieve something, but I can say this much: As an American, I want my president to stop killing in my name, and as a Jew, I want Israel to do the same and grant the people of Palestine independence. Maybe in the year 2400 it could happen.
Nick P. - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 11:24am (USA Central)
I agree thatsome reason for not giving independence would have been nice, but probably not that important, there are a million reasons. We Americans LOVE giving independance, but in reality we really are not fans. Although not quite to the level of terrorism, anyone like me from Michigan can tell you the UP has a fairly strong separatist movement. Now if it ever got to the point of terrorism, who knows, because the problem is MOST in the UP do NOT support separation from the US. These issues are never that simple, and that is why I don't really care why the government of this planet didn't grant independance, they had a reason, enough for me. Look at the tibetans, it seems like an easy one for Liberals, but if you actually study the tibetan issue, it is WAY more complex than just giving some mountain guys some independance.
SkepticalMI - Tue, Jan 14, 2014 - 10:11pm (USA Central)
Huh. I must confess to being in error here. I was dreading this episode, as I do essentially any time Star Trek decides to jump into politics. But surprisingly, it still turned out to be a good show. And nowhere near as annoyingly preachy as I would have expected. This is especially true given how it was set up; we are quickly introduced to the soft spokenkind-hearted terrorist offering food and friendship to his prisoner, and then the harsh-spoken, no-nonsense police chief in her quasi-fascist uniform. The stage was set for a typical liberal terrorism apology.

And yet somewhere in there it changed. Did Dr. Crusher, the wide-eyed idealist bleeding heart start to argue in favor of this sweet gentleman of a terrorist? Yes, but only some. And Picard was having none of it. And she still seemed to hate him and consider his actions horrific. Did Riker start bad-mouthing the police chief's actions? Yes, but Riker's holier-than-thou approach turned out to bite him in the derriere, nearly destroying the Enterprise as a result. And while the police state certainly didn't look pleasant, the police chief was never portrayed as a one-dimensional villain who needed to be lectured by her moral superiors; and always had a legitiimate response.

That's not to stop them from throwing in a few eye-rolling lines. The old canard about George Washington being a terrorist in a different perspective was thrown in, as ridiculous as the statement might be. There's a difference between war, even a war for independence or civil war, and terrorism. Terrorism suscribes to the underpants gnome theory of war: 1) blow stuff up. 2) ??? 3) profit! There is no clear long term goal for terrorism besides fear. This isn't just about good guys and bad guys; Al Qaeda has engaged in both war and terrorism over the past decade or so. But they have to try to pretend they're equivalent, so whatever. And Data's questions was out of place and clearly intended to talk to the audience rather than just being part of the show. But really, only two cringeworthy scenes? I'll take it.

Because there was some subtlety there. For example, there was no preaching about whether or not one should negotiate with terrorists. Instead, they showed it. Whether intentional or not, it was Riker's willingness to negotiate that raised the stakes and gave the terrorists the idea to go after the Enterprise. Essentially, they showed the maxim that negotiating with terrorists only emboldens said terrorists. Given the intent was to provide a more balanced view, this is somewhat surprising. So instead of making a big deal about it, it was only shown and not stated out loud. Nice.

And regardless of the politics involved, it turned out to be a very engaging 45 minutes. It's nice to see Beverly get a show for herslf. We see her innocent "do no harm" persona that showed up in Symbiosis reinforced, and it's an aspect of her that gets repeated later. Unfortunately, her characterization was all over the place, seemingly wanting to destroy the terrorist one moment and wanting to kiss him the next. But since she was called out on it a few times, it seems like that was the intent. Not sure why; maybe to represent the balance the show tried to have... Also, Gates McFadden really can't act angry, at least not in this episode.

Great, now I'm complaining agin... Picard was great, as usual. The technology was a neat idea that added to the plot. The guest actors were pretty good. And the dialogue, the emotions, the atmosphere all portrayed the messed up situation that it really was. Like I said, I came in expecting the worst. And I came out being impressed. Well done.

Jay, it's rather premature to declare that the Rutians must be oppressing the other side since no reason was given. The episode was clearly intending to mirror the Irish situation. And the fact remained that not everyone in Northern Ireland, either then or now, wanted to secede. Declaring that one side is the oppressors with no evidence is probably just a projection.
Patrick D - Fri, Jan 24, 2014 - 9:36pm (USA Central)
Looking back, and re-watching TNG on Blu ray (btw: goddamn these episodes look GORGEOUS!), I'm presently watching "The High Ground" and its primary antagonist, Kyril Finn strikes me as the prototypical Deep Space Nine character. In fact, I'll go so far as to call Finn the *first* Deep Space Nine character; one who passionately dresses down Federation characters for perceived hypocrisies while justifying their own immoral behaviors. Seriously Finn sounds just like Kira, Quark, Garak, Dukat, Odo and a host of others throughout the seven years of DS9.
Patrick D - Sat, Jan 25, 2014 - 3:56pm (USA Central)
Addendum to previous post:

The difference in this episode is that the TNG Federation characters have some admonishments to dish out right back to their accusers ("Washington was a general not a terrorist), whereas the DS9 Federation characters usually had no real comeback (with the possible exception of Bashir) after being told how much the Federation and Starfleet suck.
Rikko - Sat, Feb 1, 2014 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
So so episode. I didn't buy the premise as much as Jammer did, although I must recognize that guest actor(the guy that kidnaps Crusher) was good.

What I dont see mentioned yet is something I thought was slightly hinted at, and that is that Beverly developed a minor case of Stockholm syndrome.

At the beginning of the episode she was hostile towards the guy, and by the end she almost defended his actions. Sure, she's a humanist and a bleeding-heart and they talked enough to make their points clear (and boy, did they talk). But I think it's also interesting to consider the Stockholm syndrome side.

If we look at the episode as a whole, I think it's against Terrorism in general(in despite of what Data said about Human History) because the way the planet is dealing with the issue is a lose-lose for both parties. On one side, we have a totalitarian police state, on the other hand people that was born with a gun in their hands.

Now, that ending was very simplistic, but hey! They needed some sort of upbeat and hopeful finale or this wouldn't be TNG (post S1 TNG, at least, I'm thinking about the episode "Conspirancy", which's disturbing as hell).
Rikko - Sat, Feb 1, 2014 - 5:59pm (USA Central)
I see William B point now, regarding this episode being Beverly Crusher's breakthrough. This is certainly a much better episode to show her personality than the one I mentioned ("Remember Me?").

But yeah, I liked the latter much more than the former :P
DLPB - Sun, Apr 20, 2014 - 12:24pm (USA Central)
Pretty good episode. But let me make one thing clear here: Palestine's issue is not the same as this. The fact is, Palestine bombs Israel because the Koran and Hadith teach that Jews are "not to be taken as friends" among other evil verses.

The left wing media continually ignore the truth that ISLAM is the issue in the middle east. Until we confront Islam, there will never be any peace in that region.
Andrew - Sat, Jun 28, 2014 - 9:14am (USA Central)
The execution and characterizations were pretty good but a lot of the initial premises were very strained-a two-continent planet (maybe) with the eastern one seemingly much more advanced but unwilling to grant independence and both seeming to have small populations (for there to be only an estimated 200 terrorists). It's also very inconsistent in how long the conflict had been violent-the episode suggests much of the 70 years since independence was not granted while the initial log entry suggests very recently (and it's a little hard to buy the Federation trading with a society that had had such intense conflict, especially if the non-independence was not justified, for decades/and not know of it).
Andrew - Sat, Jun 28, 2014 - 9:23am (USA Central)
Another thing, I think they really should have had more background on the situation because of Data's question of whether terrorism was acceptable if all peaceful measures had been tried or forbidden as some evidence suggests that terrorists usually do have peaceful methods but don't bother with them. It appears that the dominant society did allow sympathy strikes and protest marches to occur albeit with suspicion and some harassment of many of the participants.
Paul - Sat, Aug 16, 2014 - 10:14pm (USA Central)
A great episode because of its balance. The key question being - as put by data, when attempts at peace have failed, is violence an option? Is violence an acceptable form of protest? I wish Picard, our philosophical hero, could have given us more guidance other than 'it's something humanity struggles with'. The French resistance would certainly think violence is an option. What about insurgence in Iraq attacking American and British soldiers? Or the people living in Giza? What about Saudis (most of the he 9/11 hijackers were Saudis and, many would argue its a controlled state kept in power by western countries), what about the Rodney King riots protesting unfair treatment within a democracy?

Trek is great because it puts us in a future witch gives us a chance to see and examine a conflict dispassionately. To pull something out that may be close to our hearts and examine it, and maybe see it from a different perspective. My list of examples above will likely elicit a clear yes violence is acceptable or no it is not and I provide this spectrum because the comments suggest that more people want more facts on the root of why independents was denied - but I feel like that misses the point. If we had more facts we could more easily take sides, and the whole point of the episode is to examine the legitimacy of the use of violence. When is it ok to put down a sign and start making bombs, that question is for the viewer and more facts would absolve us of asking the question of ourselves. What would it take for you to be willing to use violence? To kill, and to die?

Also, I think the line that this has been going on for 70 years and the this provided an 'excuse' may have been lost on some viewers. It doesn't take long for a conflict to become ingrained. To use a current example, does it matter if Hamas fired rockets first or if Israel bombed first? In 70 years of conflict it doesn't really matter who did what first in a given spark of violence - it's a chicken and egg debate where both end up roasted on the farmers dinner table.

I feel (and I welcome comments) this is about asking ourselves about the limits of the use of violence and about showing the consequences of terrorist tactics-the police state, children being put in prison and dying at the hands of the state which may fuel more terrorism
Paul - Fri, Sep 5, 2014 - 9:42pm (USA Central)
p.s. For another view of terrorism, one that shows it as the actions of those analogous to the kkk and actions that have a 100% failure rate see the west wing - a special post 9/11 episode called isaac and ishmael.
NCC-1701-Z - Thu, Oct 9, 2014 - 8:25pm (USA Central)
I believe this is the first time we see Picard full-on tackle someone. Considering that TNG doesn't really go for TOS-style knock-down-drag-outs *that* often, it was quite a surprise the first time.
Grumpy - Thu, Oct 9, 2014 - 11:17pm (USA Central)
Good point, Z. As the story goes, by the 3rd season Stewart was begging for more sex & violence. Looking back, Picard hardly does anything physical in Seasons 1 & 2, apart from firing a phaser in "Conspiracy" and dodging holo-bullets in "Manhunt." Finally, after the Christmas break, he got his wish. More so two months later with "Captain's Holiday." And then... not much more: wrestling with his brother, a little space-racquetball, but few good opportunities to rip his shirt, Shatner-style.
Grumpy - Thu, Oct 9, 2014 - 11:20pm (USA Central)
P.S. Being Worf's bodyguard in "Sins of the Father" also characterizes the new emphasis on action during this period.
xaaos - Tue, Oct 14, 2014 - 7:22am (USA Central)
Another wooden perfomance for Dr. Crusher... By far the worst and most boring TNG character.
TS - Tue, Oct 14, 2014 - 8:32pm (USA Central)
"By far the worst and most boring TNG character."

Worse than Troi? I dunno. Little hard to understand the Crusher hate... certainly a better doc than Pulaski... but I guess when compared to the other ST docs, she usually fails to match their quality.

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