Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Who Watches the Watchers"


Air date: 10/16/1989
Written by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Directed by Robert Wiemer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

An anthropological research station overlooking a primitive society called the Mintakans suffers a catastrophic malfunction that allows the holographically shrouded station to become visible to its Mintakan subjects. A Mintakan named Liko (Ray Wise) witnesses the Enterprise's ensuing rescue mission and is critically injured in a fall. Rather than letting him die, Crusher beams him aboard, repairs his injuries, and erases his short-term memory. The memory wipe doesn't take, and Liko tells the story of what he witnessed aboard the Enterprise to his fellow Mintakans. He believes "the Picard" is a god who gave him back his life.

As an episode that dramatizes the purpose of the Prime Directive and the dangers of cultural contamination, "Who Watches the Watchers" is perhaps definitive. The question of whether you can study something without running the risk of affecting the results is answered here by a series of accidents that ultimately suggests an entire religion could eventually be formed around "the Picard" as based on Liko's experience.

But this episode is also definitive as an example of short-changing a concept by way of extreme microcosm. An entire planet's culture (and this has frequently been one of my complaints about Trek) is represented based solely on a dozen villagers who seem more like isolated nomads than part of a real, larger society. Meanwhile, characters in this story make sweeping assumptions that are almost absurd in their broadness. The idea that Liko's experience will "inevitably" lead to a religion worshipping Picard strikes me as an unlikely conclusion given what we know about the Mintakans. Surely there must be other societal factors in play in order for a religion to take hold and flourish. One man speaking secondhand nonsense cannot change the world.

For that matter, this episode's take on religion seems awfully simplistic. While it would be against the Prime Directive to allow Picard to be seen as a god, Picard has a speech here that seems to be against religion at all. The Mintakans left behind their supernatural beliefs generations ago, and Picard sees that as an achievement from the "dark ages" which he does not intend to allow they return to. Of course, there's no mention of the status of human religion. (I suppose the 20th century was still the "dark ages" because of all the silly human religious beliefs that persisted?)

In the latter acts, Picard tries to convince Nuria (Kathryn Leigh Scott) that he is not a god but simply part of a society that has more knowledge. This concept seems to arise from a what-if premise: What if you could show a person from 2,000 years ago what the world looks like today? The story does its best to create a sense of wonder in this, but never quite reaches takeoff velocity.

Previous episode: The Survivors
Next episode: The Bonding

Season Index

61 comments on this review

SirJonah - Sat, Oct 25, 2008 - 4:30am (USA Central)
"One man speaking secondhand nonsense cannot change the world."

In a completely rational, sane world without wishful or magical thinking that might be true... and there are always other societal factors at play, I agree. But just as Liko on Mintaka III revived belief in an "overseer", Saul of Tarsus (later Paul) on planet Earth did something similar... and I think that may possibly have been the writers' allegorical intent here. Saul never met Jesus of Nazareth in the flesh, so all of his information about his life and ministry was secondhand... but when he had that vision of the "messiah" on the road to Damascus (whatever the real nature or cause of it was), we are told that he was converted... and subsequently did more to spread the fledgling Christian religion beyond Palastine into the Roman world than did any of the disciples whom the Bible says new Christ personally.

So, according to the central text of the Christian religion anyway, one man speaking secondhand nonsense after a revelatory vision CAN change the world... apparently.

Great reviews, nonetheless!
Kiste - Thu, Jul 1, 2010 - 4:08pm (USA Central)
"One man speaking secondhand nonsense cannot change the world."

Saint Paul of Tarsus?
Elliott - Tue, Dec 28, 2010 - 9:42pm (USA Central)
The "What-if" premise in "Who Watches the Watchers" is about being able to show people that religious belief stems from a human psychological condition that is rooted in a world-view which lacks perspective; that in gaining perspective the tendency for a person or a people to adhere to those beliefs becomes less and less tenable.

Picard's speech is against religion, make no mistake. I find your tendency to be distrustful of anti-faith shows and praising of pro-faith shows displeasing. The strength of a story does not depend upon its philosophy.
David H - Mon, Jun 13, 2011 - 9:11pm (USA Central)
Elliott, you are absolutely right about the premise of "Who Watches the Watchers", and that is why it is my least favorite episode of an otherwise stellar season. I understand that any series will reflect the views of its creator, but I also find it ironic that the Trek universe that embraces tolerance and multiculturalism at every turn can also depict people of faith as less highly evolved. I also find it interesting to compare Picard's speech here with his answer to Data's question "What is death?"
Elliott - Sat, Aug 6, 2011 - 12:10am (USA Central)
RE: "Who watches..." again : Jammer "I suppose the 20th century was still the "dark ages" because of all the silly human religious beliefs that persisted?" Well, frankly, yes. If you can't tolerate this notion or at least some version of it, why in the world do you watch let alone review Star Trek episodes? The abandonment of religion is tied in with the other events which according to canon defined the future we see here. That Picard would have the same hope for a promising younger civilisation is totally reasonable. It seems that, because you are unwilling to grant this stance the validity it deserves, you turn your attention to a secondary aspect of the episode (namely this "wonder" idea) and criticise it for not being fully realised. But the real premise of the story is totally and wonderfully realised; you just don't like what it had to say.

@ David H. : Star Trek was never "multicultural" or "tolerant" as you imply--it was never some new-age hippy nonsense show-rather it made a point of distinguishing between doe-eyed idealism and the rational goal of bettering oneself-it was and for ever shall be a balance of forces represented most purely by the friendship between Spock and Kirk and which disseminates across most of the other series and movies. Regarding Data's question; the understanding that intelligent organisms must move away from religion and the denial of all things metaphysical are not one and the same. There can be (and perhaps must be) a higher plane which surpasses our ability to apprehend, but that does not imply such a plane is endowed with consciousness. In fact, Schopenhauer would argue that the point at which metaphysics reach their apex is a point of utter unconsciousness, ie death.
Paul - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 5:33am (USA Central)

For starters, let me tell you that I respect the passion and conviction you approach Star Trek with. From yor numerous comments it is obvious that its worldview (or is it Weltanschauung:) ) means much to you.

At the same time, I think you are spending way too much time on establishing ideological correctness and "truewayism" with regards to Trek. I get the feeling you watch it as prophetic ennobling vision of boundless human potential first, drama (art?, would that be pretentious?) a distant second.

Nothing wrong with that, of course.
Elliott - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 10:28am (USA Central)

Thank you for your lovely words. I find that you, like many, seem not to realise that first of all, coherence to premise is a fundamental factor in good drama--and I mean premise as defined by Lajos Egri as the core philosophical idea of a dramatic work (not an initial situation or "promo tagline" as many seem to define it).

Secondly, Star Trek in particular was designed with this in its hierarchy genetic code--the whole purpose of the thing was to espouse a philosophy founded upon a mythical journey. When that idea is removed, circumvented, denied or simply ignored, the drama becomes weak. Now, for many this was just a show about people travelling around in space (meaning either the show failed to prove its premise or even establish it or the episodic nature of TV meant that the thread of premise was ignorable). Both Voyager and DS9 in their own ways of course maintained something like a premise throughout their respective runs (although DS9's was reinvented twice, and was completely anti-trek), but TNG was a strange case. Overall, season 3 is the most philosophically consistent (and thereby strongest overall), but having peaked so early meant that by season 6 there was little left to prove or do, which led to a great deal of wandering in the final two seasons.

A drama must at all times strive to prove its premise; it must work constantly, and the machinations of that proof are the stuff of dialogue and plot. When this goal is ignored, it is precisely the artistic integrity of a work which suffers.
Paul - Fri, Sep 23, 2011 - 7:16pm (USA Central)

"...coherence to premise is a fundamental factor in good drama--and I mean premise (...) as the core philosophical idea of a dramatic work.

Agreed. That is one of the reasons why I could never fully support Voyager - its characterwork and plots are completely at odds with the established premise; the darn thing just won't let me get, what's the hip word nowadays, immersed in the setting.

But here's where I get off the train with regards to your definition of premise. Note that with Voyager I'm having problems with premise as conceived and followed through by *that* show. Voyager's premise, Voyager's (in)ability to live up to it.

On the other hand, you are critisizing DS9 for not being true to the premise of a completely *different* show, namely original Star Trek. Now, I'm not entirely certain even that's true, but for the sake of argument, let's say it is.

My question now is: why would DS9 have an obligation to TOS? That's what I was aiming at with my previous comment regarding your "Weltanchauung". Although it's absolutely your right to do so, I think you're imposing ideological boundaries on what a show can and can't do, what it can and can't *be*, establishing limits based not on internal dramatic considerations inherent to the show in question, but on external axioms or dogmas stipulated from above.
Sam - Thu, Dec 22, 2011 - 11:51am (USA Central)
Elliott wrote, "The abandonment of religion is tied in with the other events which according to canon defined the future we see here."

Actually, religion is treated unevenly in the Trek universe--sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. For instance, consider the TOS episode in which Kirk is defended in court against the death of a crewman ("Court Martial") and his lawyer speaks in praise of the Bible. Or, the episode in which the TOS crew battles "gods" and Kirk says we only need the one God. Or, perhaps the insistence by Kasidy Yates that her mother would prefer her to be married by a minister. Of course, then there is the ENTIRE series of DS9 with its treatment of faith.

Obviously, not all religion was abandoned by the 23rd and 24th centuries in the Star Trek Universe. Q.E.D.
Elliott - Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - 7:19pm (USA Central)
@ Sam :

I'll grant that Trek's treatment of economics is a bit botched with unnecessary references to "expense" and "gambling" but the religion issue throughout TNG's run was crystal clear.

In "Court Martial," Cogley brings up the bible as an example (one of many) of documents which define morality and list "human rights." It does in no way indicate a validation of Christianity as a religion and most definitely not evidence that it is practised in the 23rd century.

The second episode you mention is "Who Mourns for Adonais?" and the line is a bit perplexing given the episode's message seems rather clear that the worship of deities is counter to modern human culture. But, it is there, so I'll give you that one example.

The example from DS9 is something I and others have criticised as totally disrespectful of Trek reality. It's a slap in the face by René Echevarria of all people (the episode is "Penumbra"--a word which under a positive spin revels in DS9's signature "shades of grey" and spun under me is a poetic figurehead for "subversive uncertainty").

Religion was not purported to be abandoned by all people in the 23rd/24th centuries, but by humans and most of the Federation. Klingons, the Dominion (sort of), numerous Delta Quadrant species and of course Bajorans are quite undeniably religious. The issue isn't that religion shows up, it very well should being such an important part of human legacy and history. But the depiction in "Penumbra" is akin to doing a show set in 2012 with people worshiping Zeus or Bacab. It's historically inaccurate.
Elliott - Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - 8:56pm (USA Central)
@Paul :

My apologies for the tardiness of my reply :

1) Voyager ;
In a dramatic work, the premise can only be known by the end. Yes, the premise may be more or less stated in the beginning (this was done in BSG for a related example by way of Adama's 2nd speech to the fleet in the miniseries). Janeway said very clearly in the pilot that they would be "one crew: a Starfleet crew" which would continue to uphold the principles of the Federation and the goals of Starfleet whilst pursuing a course home. Now, many people wanted to see a conflict between the Maquis and Starfleet crews which led to a kind of warped or abandoned Trek philosophy which was radically different from TOS and TNG, but that was never the premise of the show. If it had been, it would be as guilty as DS9 of disrespecting the franchise. There were significant story-telling problems in Voyager, but it never violated its premise.

2) DS9's lack of respect for the franchise :

Let me use as a parallel case, the Prequel Trilogy from "Star Wars." While "fanboys' as their often derided will soak up and love absolutely anything which inhabits the Star Wars universe, most agree the films were regrettably awful. I have a few good things to say about them, but they are pale shadows of the originals. However, far worse than the fact that, on their own, they make pretty lousy movies, the philosophical inconsistencies ruin much of what was great about the Original Trilogy. That The Force became the product of sci-fi microörganisms, light sabres became stand-in plot devices and the entire mythology of Vader's character was proved to be false (that he was ever anything other than a terrible, selfish and murderous person is doubtful). Now, on the one hand, the prequel films catre to a different audience--they're rife with special effects and lots of fan-wanking that appeals to certain demographics. In terms of quality, the films did not have to exist in the same vein or appeal to the same audience as the original films did and do. Take, for example, the newest Indiana Jones film. It was horrendous, but because of the timeline and the way those films are structured, there is no way, no matter how awful, any new film can detract from the originals. In Star Wars' case, this is not so. It wasn't just that the films were poor, it is that the information they provided contradicted on a fundamental level the *premise* of Star Wars as a unified entity of art.

In that way, by calling itself Star Trek and inhabiting the Universe called "Star Trek," DS9 was responsible for adhering to the über-premise of Star Trek, as defined by the original creators, including Gene Roddenberry. That does not mean that "his word is law," and that there is little or no flexibility allowed in the writing, but veering so far away from the original premise was detrimental to the franchise.
Drachasor - Sun, Jul 8, 2012 - 4:05pm (USA Central)
To me this is one of the best episodes of TNG. Now, I might be biased because I'm an atheist, but I do think Picard's stance against religion in this context most definitely makes sense.

When you start trying to explain that which is hard to explain by invoking gods, you've entered a dangerous place in terms of trying to understand the universe. This sort of explanation is paper thin, because it doesn't really explain anything at all. Yet, as our history shows entire organizations and complicated dogmas can arise out of the most ridiculous declarations. So I think Picard is reasonably dismayed by this and understandably concerned how this might affect the Mintakan development. And let's not pretend that various religions on Earth has not repeatedly gotten into petty fights with people simply doing basic science that harmed no one. The danger is real enough.

I think we should also bear in mind that the Mintakans aren't given to flights of fancy the way humans are. So an eye-witness account of something might well carry more weight with them. For what it is worth.

Regarding the DS9 talk (and I don't think it is fair to judge this episode by a show that came quite a bit lateR), I feel that DS9 really let us down in how it portrayed religion. Here we had the objects of the religion as beings one could actually meet (with perhaps some difficulty). At first they seem unaware of Bajor. Throughout the show it is unclear if they want worship, how much they care about Bajor (see the Occupation), and whether they respond to prayer -- though they do respond to Sisko yelling at them, but that's a bit different. These issues aren't ever looked at carefully. Heck, as best I remember they don't even look at the issue of whether the prophets DESERVE worship (or if any kind of being ever deserves worship). "Who Mourns for Adonis?" at least did that. The treatment of religion in DS9 was distinctly lacking in thought.
Peremensoe - Wed, Jul 18, 2012 - 2:10am (USA Central)
"...a dozen villagers who seem more like isolated nomads than part of a real, larger society."

They're not nomads; they have obviously permanent structures. Nor do they seem particularly isolated; Troi and Riker's arrival is no great surprise, which means there must be travel and trade with other communities. No, the Mintakans have a perfectly solid society, just one that hasn't gotten past perhaps a Bronze Age-equivalent technology.
Ospero - Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - 5:28pm (USA Central)
@Peremensoe: Also, they explicitly state at the beginning that the duck blind is to observe an extended family unit. The microcosm might not really tie in with the fear of massive cultural contamination presented in the episode, but it is established right at the very beginning.
Patrick - Mon, Feb 18, 2013 - 8:23am (USA Central)
If this episode was rated on the curve of Star Trek Voyager or Star Trek Enterprise, I think it would have been rated at least 3 and a half stars.

It's take on the Prime Directive being considered definitive is well said--because it's a smart story that is beautifully told.

The scene where Nuria holds up her hand in anguish with Picard's blood to Liko is one of the best single shots of TNG.
Josh - Mon, Feb 18, 2013 - 3:15pm (USA Central)
Really? I always thought her anguish was overacted. The real strength of this episode are the earlier chase/action scenes which are tightly shot and interestingly scored. I do like this episode, of course, but its strength is certainly not in the acting by the guest stars.

I've said elsewhere that the star ratings need not mean very much, but two-and-a-half - on the same level as "The Ensigns of Command" - sounds about right.
William B - Wed, Apr 17, 2013 - 6:18am (USA Central)
This episode is primarily an episode-long elaboration on Arthur C. Clarke’s dictum that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. In this case, however, “magic” is specifically religion. To begin with, I am an agnostic who borders on atheism, but I generally do not oppose art or writing which argues for a religious perspective on principle; I like this episode a great deal, but not because I automatically approve of an anti-religious stance but because this episode argues its case well.

The Mintakans being identified as Vulcan-like species is a detail which is used primarily to establish that these are not unreasonable people (though this might have been a self-defeating decision, since we know that Vulcans were highly emotional before they devoted themselves completely to logic), and that it is not a matter of the people themselves being irrational but of the people attempting to make logical deductions from insufficient data. People (and Mintakans are meant to be stand-ins for people within our past) are pattern-seeking creatures, and it’s this pattern-seeking that allows for logical deduction (and induction) as well as our great advances. However, sometimes the patterns are false (the correlation between Riker and Troi rescuing the anthropologist and the thunderstorm is not causation) and the necessity of relying on the supernatural to explain certain events diminishes as knowledge about the natural world grows (i.e. Picard et al.’s life-saving abilities). The episode proceeds with everyone making generally well-reasoned arguments, if sometimes laced with a great deal of fear, and the structure of Picard et al. attempting various means to quell the consequences of “Gods” entering the Mintakan community’s consciousness and being confronted with the resiliency of the newfound belief makes for a good (if talky, which is not really a problem) series of debates.

It’s true that we are being shown only one small community, but I don’t think that this episode is really suggesting that this is a microcosm of the entire planet, or anything like that. Rather, this group is the group that was being observed, and the people that saw remarkable apparently supernatural happenings. As others have pointed out, Saul’s experience spread around the world given enough time, and it’s not impossible that something similar would happen here. Moreover, even if only a small community changes its worldview as a result of the interference, it is still a big deal and one which Picard understandably wants to correct if he can. The movement into fanaticism as a result of the possibility of an Overseer is obviously a jaundiced take on what religion does to people, but it does flow naturally from the Mintakans’ characters, wherein the belief that one’s fate is largely governed by one’s own actions and random chance is replaced by the belief that one’s own moral code becomes irrelevant in the face of attempting to adhere to the whims of an all-powerful being.

Picard’s dedication to the Prime Directive really shines through here, in ways that reflect both positively and negatively on him. The hint of a standard Picard/Crusher conflict comes up when he indicates that he would have preferred Crusher let Liko die, and his severity is nearly unsympathetic, but this is a man who puts his money where his mouth is, and is willing to risk death himself, particularly after he intuits (from his experience with Nuria) that only blood and death will establish that they are not Gods.

The episode’s real weakness, it seems to me, is that the ending, while somewhat sombre, doesn’t emphasize enough how much contamination has already been done. Picard bleeds, but he doesn’t die (or if he dies, he is revived immediately); it’s enough to communicate that he is not a god, but it doesn’t seem like his arm in a sling will really communicate his relative powerlessness the way it should. Additionally, these people have been shown a glimpse into the future—they know that there are alien life forms, that the technology exists to disappear into the air and to fly into the stars and to heal seemingly unhealable wounds. This doesn’t hurt the episode all that much, but the ending does feel fall a bit short of what came before and this keeps it firmly out of the 4 star range for me; I’d put it on the low end of 3.5 stars.
William B - Wed, Apr 17, 2013 - 8:41am (USA Central)
The other thing I want to add, in reference to the title: one big aspect of the Prime Directive is designed to limit Federation power, to curb imperialistic impulses. The Federation are much, much more powerful than many of the cultures in the galaxy, and any interference would end up being an attempt to remake these cultures into versions of the Federation, as is suggested by one of the anthropologists jumping on the idea that Picard could take the opportunity to give some guidelines. Non-interference except in extreme circumstances is the best way to avoid imposing their values and essentially frightening others into compliance.

This does make Picard's speech indicating that religion is something that all species shake off as they become more advanced, and also his statements that Nuria will certainly explore the stars eventually, a little ironic -- part of the reason Picard believes as strongly as he does in minimizing interference is because he assumes that all cultures will, if left to their own devices, evolve into the 'correct,' i.e. Federation-esque way. I'm not saying Picard is a hypocrite exactly; he certainly maintains respect for the Klingons, who are religious(-ish) and run counter to many Federation values. But it's an interesting (unexamined?) wrinkle in the episode.

This is of particular note in that it builds on the themes from "The Survivors" in the previous episode (in addition to many in other seasons) -- one could say that Kevin was following his own Prime Directive in refusing to use his power and maintaining his human identity as tightly as he can.
Elliott - Wed, Apr 17, 2013 - 11:53am (USA Central)
@William B:

May I just say, sir, how much of a pleasure it is to read your comments. Your criticisms, while never shallow and rarely betraying bias, demonstrate a firm grasp of the Trek genre as opposed to a more general literary criticism.

Regarding the ending of this episode, I found the final scenes a demonstration of how, even without or *especially* without religion, the inspiration to grow and discover the Universe is is present in the Mentaken's culture. The grand mystery of the unknown is not lost upon them (made manifest by their brief and legendary interaction with the Federation), but does not demand caving to the fearful instinct to deify said unknown.
William B - Wed, Apr 17, 2013 - 5:26pm (USA Central)
@Elliott: Thank you! The high level set by Jammer and many of the commenters (yourself included) are an inspiration to write well. My girlfriend is currently watching TNG for the first time, and it's providing an opportunity for revisiting the show for the first time in, I don't know, more than a decade (and it was a pretty formative show for me, and I'd rewatched those episodes ad nauseam back then), and it's a pleasure to think about these in a way I was a little too young to at the time.

" Regarding the ending of this episode, I found the final scenes a demonstration of how, even without or *especially* without religion, the inspiration to grow and discover the Universe is is present in the Mentaken's culture. The grand mystery of the unknown is not lost upon them (made manifest by their brief and legendary interaction with the Federation), but does not demand caving to the fearful instinct to deify said unknown. "

Ah! Thank you. There was something about the ending to this episode that seemed to elude me, and I think this might be it -- I was so focused on the narrow resolution to the is-Picard-a-God question, but the sense of wonder at the unknown/the future and the response to it without fear (something Jammer also mentions) is there. I do especially like how the way to avoid fearing Picard et al. is to see the limits of their power, and to bond over the knowledge of death (first the anthropologist/observer, and later Picard's injury) -- which also suggests that there are some mysteries of the universe left to explore even after they get to the stars.

I still think there's a slight sense that Picard, by encouraging their sense of wonder at the unknown, is still trying to steer them toward (basically) human evolution in contrast to the spirit of the PD, but it's possible that it simply can't be helped after the initial damage is done.
Alex - Thu, May 9, 2013 - 5:12am (USA Central)
Some great comments here. My own personal feeling is that this is one of the episodes most true to the ethos of TNG. Spirituality (the belief in something greater than yourself that you are a part of) and Religion (dogma, supreme beings, etc), are NOT the same thing.

TNG has no issues with spirituality, as Picard's answer to Data about death shows, but is against organised religion in all its forms.

DS9 and Battlestar Galactica for me almost ruined themselves with their poorly thought out religious nonsense.

I think the wonderful music from Ron Jones deserves special mention here. Watching on Blu-Ray just now the scene where Picard is in the observation lounge with Nuria looking down on the planet gives me goosebumps.
The Romulans - Sat, May 18, 2013 - 2:29am (USA Central)
I agree that Jammer seems to be a little harsh with his review here. I thought this one was quite good and nailed the Prime Directive concerns appropriately. Solid episode, an easy 3 stars.
Gary - Sun, Jun 2, 2013 - 3:53am (USA Central)
Does it bother anyone else that Liko is able to understand Picard at all in the sickbay, when no one is addressing him such that a universal translator would be in effect? Much as with the leaps to absolute certainty this episode makes, it feels like a convenient shortcut for the sake of allegory that doesn't make sense.
Alex - Wed, Jun 12, 2013 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
That's a good point Gary!

Also, even though I'm sure we will develop a universal translator one day, it still has to take what you say, convert it and then output the translation. Given some languages can phrase things in total reverse to others, it's not gonna work until after a full phrase has been spoken.

So even when we see advanced Star Trek races talking to each other, the depiction of the universal translator doesn't really stand up to scrutiny!
Rikko - Sat, Aug 31, 2013 - 1:44pm (USA Central)
Ugh! now I know how Trajan felt about "The Measure of a Man". An episode that's otherwise fine and praised by others is completely ruined by the fact that it goes against stuff you've been studying for a while now. And I don't mean the religious thing.

It's the anthropology aspect of it what drives me crazy.

First, did you guys noticed that we wouldn't have a problematic situation if that accident at the observation installation didn't happen? So, it seems to be ok to spy on other civilizations just because they are less technologically advanced. Great. They are studying them like they were a bunch of animals.

Second, that underlying concept of linear evolution. The Federation feels the need to study the Mintakans because they are thought to be representative of a former state of their own evolution history. Oh, really? Why does it have to be that way? The Mintakans aren’t a transparent window to the past like the federation thinks they are. This is an almost pure XIX century anthropology mindset (early XX being generous). Now, I’m aware this is something more or less present all the time in TNG, but it never took central stage until now. And sure, we’re talking about a show that’s more concerned with human drama and sci-fi than being anthropologically correct, but I can’t help myself here.

Now, even if I ignore that issue, this episode still doesn’t work to me. The guest actors are a bit stiff, and the events seemed to develop far too quickly to feel convincing. We move from first contact to religious fervor in 20 minutes. Plus, the only real good scene in my eyes is Picard saying that speech right at the end; but that’s a huge throwback to season 1 with episodes such as “Justice”.

Jammer rating seems about right to me.

Edit. - On religion: I don't see anything wrong with Picard's actions in the context of this episode alone. Maybe his line of thought is a bit anti-religion but he couldn't be more right about the importance of not being called a God.

Picard is a fine guy and he wouldn't abuse that sudden position of power, but any other guy has the potential to enslave the whole Mintakans civilization. What he did was the best course of action given the situation at hand.

Plus, he only has one episode to get it right, hah.
Moonie - Sun, Sep 29, 2013 - 9:21am (USA Central)
I TOTALLY disagree with Jammer about "one an speaking nonsense" not being sufficient as the foundation of a religion. Human history proves it is actually TOTALLY sufficient.

And I loved Picard's anti-religion speech. Yay for The Picard! :-)

This episode does a really good job of explaining and defining the prime directive and its importance!

"An entire planet's culture (and this has frequently been one of my complaints about Trek) is represented based solely on a dozen villagers who seem more like isolated nomads than part of a real, larger society."

is of course a common occurrence in Trek episodes. A budget issue? It's not limited to only this one.

I understand why this episode might hurt the feelings of religious people. Yes I figure we are still in the dark ages ;-)
Corey - Mon, Oct 14, 2013 - 2:09pm (USA Central)
Agree with Elliot's comments above. This episode is entirely in keeping with the Trek ethos.
Nissa - Thu, Jan 9, 2014 - 2:42am (USA Central)
I feel that today people are quick to speak in a bigoted manner against those who believe in God. In fact, the very two first comments on this page are clear examples of that. However, intelligence does not bar one from believing in God, nor vice versa. Nor is atheism a sure bet against ignorance or wild theories that spread. After all, communism is an athiestic political system, and it spread far and killed many.

Let us now all realize that when wild ideas spread, it is not due necessarily to religion in general. It can be the specific religion in question, but usually dumb ideas are simply the flaws of humanity itself, by being unnecessarily intolerant, controlling of others, or one society just plain wanting what someone else has.

As far as Trek goes, an above person commented that Trek is pretty schizophrenic on the matter, and this is quite true. Roddenberry himself was an atheist, though probably he preferred atheism as he didn't like the idea of a supreme being having something to say about his promiscuity and theft. Seriously, Roddenberry stole film from Paramount to sell, took credit for other people's work, and wrote words to the TOS theme song so he could steal half the royalties from Sandy Courage. Certainly such a man would be uncomfortable with a moralistic God.

So, basically put, atheism is no guarantee that morality will exist.

Jons - Fri, Feb 14, 2014 - 12:52pm (USA Central)
"While it would be against the Prime Directive to allow Picard to be seen as a god, Picard has a speech here that seems to be against religion at all."

Interesting, that was one of the only interesting things in the episode, and with which I agreed.

If you can't understand why people believing in unproved (and unprovable) fables that dictate their behavior and thought, conveniently exploited by a few leaders, is a problem for science and the advancement of civilisations, then maybe you should give it some more thought...
Tom - Sun, Mar 30, 2014 - 10:29pm (USA Central)
This show started all right, but I lost interest about half way through. First, why is the Federation studying this civilization through a window (ceiling cat style)? It's creepy and as Rikko says, probably not very helpful for learning about the history of the Federation. And I felt like the Enterprise kept digging itself into a hole. If they had just decided to leave the system after the first guy had seen "the Picard", that would probably have minimized contact.

But no, the Enterprise needed to go back and eradicate the great evil of religion, "undo the damage it caused". They're laying it thick here. Just because one guy believes in "The Picard" doesn't mean "the inquisition, chaos or holy wars" are coming. Religion is a lot more complex than that and who knows what will happen or would have happened over centuries? The episode is extremely simplistic in suggesting that religious belief will automatically send them back into the dark ages.

The big failure of this episode, is that they end up violating the Prime Directive big time by letting them see the ship and telling them about the stars, etc. But of course, they won't share any of their technology with them. The creepy Federation scientists will just keep on spying on them through their window.
Elliott - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 1:12am (USA Central)
True, religion is more complex than "inquisitions, chaos or holy wars," but complexity is not a justification for Picard and the Enterprise to knowingly propagate a mistruth to an innocent population.

The historical events which get twisted and stuffed into holy narratives are not to blame when religious entities use their power to corrupt and manipulate their flocks, but the point here is the Mentakans developed sufficiently as a culture to draw their conclusions rationally and thus, credulity was minimal. Picard never told Nuria that "there is no God", simply that what she and Liko, et al. thought they were seeing was based on a misconception brought about by the extreme gulf in technology between the Mentakans and the Federation. When Picard was finally able to contextualise their interactions (via analogy and the very human limits of death), it was the Mentakans' OWN reasoning which led to their dismissal of Picard-as-God.

The Federation ideal--that eventually, all cultures evolve into atheistic, non-capitalistic problem-solvers--is ethically no different from the ideal that Americans and the west in general have about democracy; eventually, all nations will embrace this enlightened way of thinking and, while we mustn't *force* other cultures to accept our values, we ought to encourage their natural growth in that direction. It is no more or less arrogant of the Federation to believe/behave this way than for the US to support the Ukraine's advance towards western ideals.

Now, perhaps it IS arrogant, but again, that does not make it wrong.
Paul M. - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 2:28pm (USA Central)
@Elliott: "It is no more or less arrogant of the Federation to believe/behave this way than for the US to support the Ukraine's advance towards western ideals.

Now, perhaps it IS arrogant, but again, that does not make it wrong."

Fortunately for the Federation, Picard's strategy for dealing with the Mintakans didn't involve staging a coup on their planet while hiding behind grand ideas.
Picard from USS Phoenix - Mon, Apr 28, 2014 - 3:00pm (USA Central)
"One man speaking secondhand nonsense cannot change the world."

What about Christ, Mahomet, Buddha etc.? Religions often times started as teaching of a one man, who have ridiculous, supernatural claims. Unfortunately people believe them- and that's how all those "inquisitions, chaos or holy wars," mentioned by Jean-Luc, started in the first place. Yes, this episode - like most of "Star Trek" - is promoting atheist point of view so naturally religious people can be offended by it. Too bad I say, because there is nothing untrue about Picard's view on religion. In fact, this episode quite convincingly describes how religions could come to be. And unlike "TNG The Devil's due" it take itself seriously and it's even more friendly towards religious people, since it doesn't suggests that religions are simply work of a con artist, instead it suggests that it is a simple matter of misunderstanding and people's ignorance and naivete. There is no ill will in "Who Watches the Watchers".

"The episode is extremely simplistic in suggesting that religious belief will automatically send them back into the dark ages."

Funny, that beginning of secularism and enlightenment movements which diminished role of Church and rejected religious dogma, was the beginning of unprecedented, technological and social progress...
Sean - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 2:13am (USA Central)
I have a hard time accepting the premise that religion wouldn't exist at all in the Star Trek future. If anything, religion is notorious for its lack of ability to change. Knowing that there are alien races out there wouldn't stop religion from existing. Being able to explore the galaxy wouldn't stop it. WW3 wouldn't stop it. A nuclear war might even make MORE people religious.

I just can't see a point where religion just sort of stops existing. All of it, worldwide. It doesn't make sense. Indeed, you'd probably see aliens adopting human religion and vice versa. It just doesn't go away as easily as Trek wants it to. It never historically has. No matter how non-religious the population tends to be, religion is still there and pops back up again and again.
Elliott - Thu, Jul 31, 2014 - 2:34am (USA Central)
@ Sean :

If you consider human psychological evolution to increase in speed as much as the technological evolution the Trek-verse asks you to believe, it's not so difficult to conceive. Think about how much weaker religion's hold on us is now compared to 400 years ago. With the disappearance of money and corporate political institutions, religion serves to purpose in the Federation. I'm certain that people are still spiritual (there is evidence of this), but organised religion is anathema to the kind of civilisation we see.
Falconus - Thu, Aug 21, 2014 - 8:58pm (USA Central)
What is this "organized religion" that is being demonized?

It's nothing more than two or more people agreeing on a particular metaphysical premise. There's nothing sinister about that, nor much of anything to distinguish it from the vague "spirituality" that you find acceptable.

Now I'm disappointed because I don't know if this actually worth watching, or if evangelical atheists are just praising it because they agree with the message.
Elliott - Fri, Aug 22, 2014 - 12:51am (USA Central)
@Falconus: ironic that you would choose the word "demonised" since the concept of the demon is a unique product of religion itself. Religion has a way of damning itself, and bureucracies have a way of magnifying inherent faults. Granting political, bureucractic power to formalised collective wishful thinking is sinister in my book.
bhbor - Wed, Sep 17, 2014 - 1:43pm (USA Central)
I was really surprised by the low rating on this episode since it is easily my favorite in TNG.

People have made fine points back and forth about the consistency of atheism within the Federation here, and I don't really have the time to dig into that at the moment except to say that Sisko's role as Emissary in DS9 never, in my opinion, converted him from an atheist Star-Fleet commander into a believer. It seems that he maintains that the Prophets are some kind of 4th dimensional worm-hole aliens, incredibly intelligent but ignorant in their own way about corporeal life and certainly never regards them as gods. It is very interesting to ponder how such incredibly powerful entities could be so flawed in regard to their understanding of our universe. In this stage, Sisko's role is to define and defend "humanity" ie-corporeal beings by engaging in debate rhetoric was one of the most fascinating aspects of this show.

In regard to "Who Watches the Watchers", I found Patrick Stewart's interaction with the proto-Vulcan leader absolutely spellbinding. The musical score was perfect when Picard asked her to 'touch his face...flesh and blood', it gives me goosebumps every time I watch it. Picard's eventual answer to the question, "I wonder if we will ever travel the stars?" ... "of that I have no doubt" carries with it such a profound spirituality in itself, which I feel most true scientists today hold dear. Science is bad mouthed as a kind of religion in itself, but true explorers willingly except their own ignorance about the complexities of the universe through the profoundly limited lens of human perception, and carry on a question for knowledge despite the enormity of life's complexities.

Within this, religion was, and always has been a poor explanation for the wonders of life.
Josh - Wed, Jan 28, 2015 - 1:59pm (USA Central)
Changing gears from religion, I saw some of this episode while eating lunch today, specifically the portion from when Picard brings Nuria on board the Enterprise. The dramatic license during the scene in sickbay bothered me. I realize the point was to illustrate to Nuria that even "the Picard" cannot save everyone from dying (like the poor researcher in the scene), but you have to wonder about the lack of action from Crusher for someone who was, apparently, critically ill.

The woman is in fairly obvious distress (why?), so Crusher orders some sort of drug, which she oddly administers through her sternum. Now it's hard to assess given the black box of 24th century medicine, but no arrest code? No CPR? Intubation? It all looked very 19th century ("I think we're going to lose her"), as the staff hovered over the no-hope patient without actually, well, doing anything.

It's a fairly enormous contrast from how things work now, but then that's typical for TV and Star Trek in particular. Sick/dying people are always awake, distressed, or else able to carry on a conversation in a halting voice. Are there no ICUs in the 24th century?
John Logan - Mon, Apr 27, 2015 - 7:27am (USA Central)
@Picard from USS Phoenix: That is a simply unfactual remark. The first universities were started by the Catholic Church in the eleventh century. The new world was discovered by a Catholic. Ancient writings from, Josephus to Tacitus were preserved by the church, and many church fathers studied Aristotle. Even most of the first hospitals were founded by the Catholic Church. Look at Albertus Magnus, Augustin-Louis Cauchy, Pierre Duhem, Jean-Baptiste Dumas, Roger Boscovich, Blaise Pascal, André-Marie Ampère, Gregor Mendel, Charles-Augustin de Coulomb, Pierre de Fermat, Antoine Laurent Lavoisier, Marin Mersenne, Alessandro Volta, Amedeo Avogadro, John Desmond Bernal and Henri Becquerel. The current wars in the Ukraine, and World Wars I and II, as well as the Cold War show that secularism did not cause violence to go away.
Eddington - Sun, May 3, 2015 - 4:13pm (USA Central)
@John Logan:

A few things you have to realize in this kind of forum: the "science versus religion" paradigm is best understood when considered as the recent, western phenomenon that it is: secular humanism versus biblical literalism. You provide a nice collection of names and facts that should demonstrate the Cathlic Church's contribution to the natural (i.e. "pure") sciences, but I don't think that is really where the problem comes from. Indeed, the Catholic Church is hated by the evangelicals mainly because of her outright rejection of biblical literalism. So that makes her a target of both sides.

Also Islam truly is an organized religion which is anti science: Allah being pure will, his creation is an act purely of his will and not also of reason, so the universe is not reasonable or knowable by intellect but only if Allah wills that you know. But this subtlety is lost on those who have no interest in, or hate for, religion as such.

By the way I think you forgot to mention the Catholic priest who invented the Big Bang theory (although he called it "the primordial atom").

Where the Cathlic Church is harpooned over the natural sciences is squarely on it's flip-flop from Golden Boy Galileo to Social Parriah Galileo.

Outside of the technological developments from medieval monasteries, the Catholic Church has had very little interest in the applied sciences (i.e. technology), and I would guess this is because applied science doesn't give you that insight into the mind of God the like the pure sciences do.

It is also paramount to remember that when people shout "science!" they often times mean pure science, technology, and the speculations of popular scientists all at once, with an ignorance that a distinction exists.

Thanks for defending the faith and our Holy Mother and Teacher, the Roman Catholic Church, and for defending the truth of her constant, scientific search for knowledge and understanding of this universe.

Picard was right, by the way, in that he is not a god, and that the universe is knowable by reason, and not magic!
John Logan - Mon, May 18, 2015 - 8:33am (USA Central)
@Eddington Thank you for your balanced response. It is true Fundamentalists Protestants take the bible completely literally, and many Muslims reject science all together. This is ironic as in the nineteenth century rationalists tried to pain Catholicism as anti-science while portraying Islam and Protestantism as pro science. Also it is ironic that like with many issue Protestants are either extremely liberal or super conservative. They are either from the seventeenth century Puritan women don`t work tradition, or the enlighment inspired, modernist, the virgin birth was a metaphor abortion should be allowed for any reason till the baby is independent tradition. Either they bless gay marriages, or they would like them killed.

You are somewhat right about aplied science, but the church doesn`t object to it either. The church was fine with the advancement of medical care as it could help the innocent. Just as long as it is not used to change sexual ethics. Man am I happy that the federal appeals courts in Illinois and Washington ruled that Catholic hospitals and pharmacies do not have to provide the morning after pill. Hey Smile from Boston Legal your anti-Catholic episode was once again outdated by real life court cases. But I am getting extremely off track here.

Thank you. Yes Thomas Of Aquinas got it right on the reason part.

Also talking about generalising both science and religion, this episode can in no way paralell Christianity. Jesus was not an outsider to his believers, had no technological advantage over them, and although Paul was an important preacher the gospels were not written by him, and unlike Protestants both Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxes did not overplay his importance.
Luke - Sun, May 24, 2015 - 5:22pm (USA Central)
I'm probably going to open up a whole can of worms (if it hasn't been opened already in these comments), but I really do not like this episode.

I don't think I could say why any better than another reviewer already has, so I'm going to quote it, with slight additions of my own. If you're interested, it's from this site.... rightfans.blogspot.com

"In this episode, we've got Riker and Troi serving as the mouthpieces for a philosophical treatise that begins and ends (apparently) with polygamy and pure egalitarianism (taking the form of tribal/communal life) and the supposedly logical Mintakans behaving completely and totally without logic. In their dialogue, we heard the away team go to great pains to present the Mintakans as deeply logical (and of course, what's more logical than open relationships and polygamy...or so you'd believe if you'd listen to Troi). But at the same time, as soon as the Mintakans are confronted with something they don't understand, they go ballistic and prepare for the human sacrifices, inquisitions and holy wars!

The writers cannot have it both ways and maintain intellectual honesty. Because if we're to believe the events of this episode follow logically from its premise, then the writers must be arguing that religion is the source of all logical failings and conflict...and that, my friends, could not possibly be a more dangerous or historically inaccurate message. History is filled with irrational conflicts over everything from sex to limited resources to conflicting religious ideals...but the mere PRESENCE of a belief in a higher being has never once (you heard me!) been the true source of any conflict. How do I know that? Because atheists have never run a country...apart, perhaps, from Soviet Russia and now Communist China...and um...those countries don't exactly have a sterling record of peaceful, purely logical co-relations with their neighbors. Like it or not, my agnostic or atheist readers...every government's peculiar form of authority and morality is informed by an ethical standard that is owed, at least in part, to one religion or another - or it is informed by the needs of the empowered few (dictatorships, cabals, etc)...and none of those governments made war with their enemies simply because the other guy believed in God or not. Why should we assume, then, that the Mintakans are both logical...and somehow prone to a belief in the supernatural that would lead them to commit heinous crimes? Why should simply believing in a higher power lead IMMEDIATELY to ritual sacrifice? Where is the logic in that?

Incidentally, while I'm tearing this show apart, what is logical about polygamy? The heroic Enterprise crew hears about this culture and they all smile and nod at how impressive it is. Do you know who, here on Earth, likes polygamy? Misogynists. That's right...polygamy has never once been employed in our entire history as a means to greater freedom for one gender...and almost always, it creates significantly lesser sexual and emotional freedoms for women. Of course, the Mintakans' brand of polygamy is female dominated (Trek writers love doing that, because if they did it the other way, people would see how wrong it was immediately)...but one gender having the sexual power over another is always wrong...no matter who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed. And this is a flimsy cover for an obviously bad idea. Women don't like polygamy! There may be a few out there who think open relationships and multiple partners are great, but they are dwarfed by the men who are impressed with it. And that's as easy to understand as anything you'll see on this blog. Women are biologically programmed to dream for the security, emotional bonding and child-rearing assistance of ONE man...one committed partner. As one philosopher put it, "Men dream of waking up with a different beautiful woman every day...women dream of waking up with the same man." You can't fight reality, no matter how badly you might want to...a female-dominated polygamy simply doesn't work, long term.

Not that a male dominated polygamy is good either...in both arrangements, it's the women who suffer. In one, women are viewed as prized possessions...social standing is gained by the men who can attain many wives, each of whom is there to service some specific need of his. In the other arrangement, women carry the biologically unnatural function of caring for multiple men...men who would become a drain on her resources and her emotional energy. All of which is to say...there is nothing logical or desirable about a society that practices polygamy. Don't believe me? You go ask the victims of Mormon ideology.

Compound this episode's lousy moral foundation with some seriously bad acting on the part of Kathryn Leigh Scott (Nuria) and Ray Wise (Liko) and even the regulars...including (gasp!) Patrick Stewart (who's over-dramatic bellowing about how he will not allow a culture to fall into the dark ages of superstition is as bad a moment as he ever gives us), and you have a recipe for a big steaming pile of shit.

Atheism is no more logical than mysticism...they're all "isms" and that implies they all are irrational beliefs in things that cannot be proven. There is no evidence that the appearance of belief in one God was the way into darkness for prehistoric man and no evidence that atheism is bringing enlightenment to us now. In fact, I would argue that belief in God has inspired our greatest achievements...INCLUDING our thirst for freedom and the Western belief that all life is sacred."

Add to all of that the fact that this is yet ANOTHER example of how the application of the Prime Directive is morally questionable yet never questioned. So, apparently isn't better if Liko dies than risk the initial contamination, huh Picard?

What can I say in this episode's defense? Well, the music was nice.

John Logan - Mon, May 25, 2015 - 2:52am (USA Central)
@Luke I completely agree. It is a little known fact that the Romans and the Greeks were just as fine with infantcide as many Liberals are with abortion, and like with abortion this mainly targeted girls. This was banned by the Catholic Church, along with polygamy, gladiator games, human sacrifice, forced marriages, and so on. In fact under the Romans you could force slaves to have sex with you but the church also banned that. Under the Romans women could not independently own property, yet the church also changed that. In fact witchhunts were long seen as Pagan nonsense by the Catholic Church being forbidden by Pope Gregory VII and Pope Alexander IV.
Elliott - Mon, May 25, 2015 - 9:58am (USA Central)

I'm afraid it's glaringly obvious that your umbrage with this episode is an unwillingness to take at face value the destructiveness of the religious mind. Now that is your right and I'm not here to debate it with you, but you have devalued every nuance and beautiful turn of storytelling in this episode on the grounds that its message upset you, which is unfair. I find CS Lewis' conclusions to be woefully thin and borderline banal, but I don't hold that against the loveliness of his poetry or strength of his narrative.
Luke - Mon, May 25, 2015 - 11:20am (USA Central)

Well, given that I am religious and have been my entire life and yet haven't turned to human sacrifices or holy wars, I'd say, yes, I am unwilling to take the "destructiveness of the religious mind" at face value.

This episode seems hell-bent determined to say that even the mere trace of belief in the supernatural will automatically lead to disaster. I simply do not, cannot, accept that. Has religion been used by evil people. Of course it has. Does that mean that every religious person is evil. Of course not. The vast, overwhelming, majority of theists are not, and have never been, in the business of doing what the Mintakans do in this episode. All it takes for these supposedly rational and logical people to go crazy is the slightest trace of belief. One guy shows up, says he saw a god, and immediately it's "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!" and "let's start fearing the weather!"

To me, that is what is banal - the unwillingness to even attempt to see the other side of the argument. As John Logan pointed out, religion has benefited humanity is numerous ways. Taking Christianity alone - it was Christians who originally built the modern university system, developed the concept of international law and ended the slave trade. To focus on only the good and ignore the bad about religion is only to create a straw-man. And let's be honest, there are bad aspects - the Inquisition was horrible, jihad is horrible, certain aspects of the Crusades were horrible, witch-hunts were horrible. But to do the reverse is also to create a straw-man.

If you, or anybody else out there reading this, is an atheist, I say - more power to you. It's your life; live it as you see fit, as long as you're not hurting anybody. But, I hate straw-man arguments and that's what this episode ultimately is. And it surprises me because Trek has had a history of more honest discussions about faith and non-faith - just look at episodes from "The Original Series" like "Balance of Terror," "Who Mourns for Adonis?" and "Bread and Circuses."
Robert - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 8:24am (USA Central)
"Does that mean that every religious person is evil. Of course not."

The idea that every religious person is not evil is irrelevant. This episode does not and can not argue that, and neither does Elliott.

Even if "This episode seems hell-bent determined to say that even the mere trace of belief in the supernatural will automatically lead to disaster" is true (which I do not think it is) such a premise does not immediately lead to "all religious people are evil".

I think what the episode is trying to say, and it's something I believe in... is that human beings think a higher power wants something FROM THEM will almost always lead to bad things. There really is no example (that I can think of) of human beings trying to please a higher power that hasn't gone horribly wrong at some point. Pick a religion where human beings have tried to please a higher power and you'll see examples of really bad things that come from it. Because somebody who believes/pretends to speak for the higher power will undoubtedly get stuff really, really freaking wrong and then lots of zealots will follow.

I personally am not against religion/religious beliefs/spirituality/etc. I don't even begrudge people the option to consider leading a life they believe would please a divine entity (I personally think the idea that you know what could please a God is ludicrous, but you're entitled). The second you attempt to try to convince large groups of OTHER PEOPLE that the things YOU THINK would please an divine entity would do so you are committing evil (IMHO)... with rare exceptions.

And as to the open relationships/polygamy think... I'm pretty sure Riker/Troi were joking around. I didn't particularly feel that they were being entirely serious in that scene... but I haven't watched it in awhile.

And as to their being rational meaning that they don't believe in God anymore... I don't think that's exactly what the episode means either. Rational beings don't believe that God controls the weather for crop season or that they send floods. You can be rational and believe in God, but science explains floods and weather patterns. They choose to not replace their believe in Greek-like Gods with a belief in a less intervention happy God, but the truth is that a lot of religion on this planet has been caused by people trying to explain things that their science was not advanced enough to explain.

The universe is a miraculous/wonderful place and it's beauty may be due to a creator... I can think of a dozen different ways that such a thing could be possible. But the last time the Mintakans believed in God they believed in the kind that could send lightning and floods if they were mad at you. It's not beneficial for anyone to believe in such nonsense.
Robert - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 8:36am (USA Central)
@John Logan - The church doing some good things is not quite the same as the church being a force FOR GOOD. The fact is that if you look back at the Inquisition, Witch Hunts, Crusades and other such nonsense I can find you something bad that the church has done for every thing you find it's done good.

And I actually think that the church is one of the top 3 destructive forces in America today. And as to your disgusting comment comparing infanticide to abortion... it is a FACT that being opposed to abortion and also opposed to birth control is sadistic. People in the church and on the right that want to keep mindless sheep going to the polls would like very, very much to keep people getting abortions so they have something to whine about.

And it's also awesome that most of those assholes want poor people to have to give birth to babies they don't want because they had pregnancies they didn't want because they weren't allowed to have birth control and then cut welfare because who cares about the baby once it's born. Raging about poor people being wellfare queens also gets the sheeple to the polls. It's as disgusting as your comment.

Anyone who can convince themselves that abstinence only education coupled with no contraceptives, no abortion and no welfare is a good thing has their head so far up their ass that they have no business pretending they even understand the WORD logic.
Luke - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 9:48am (USA Central)
"Pick a religion where human beings have tried to please a higher power and you'll see examples of really bad things that come from it. Because somebody who believes/pretends to speak for the higher power will undoubtedly get stuff really, really freaking wrong and then lots of zealots will follow."

But you could make that same argument for numerous human institutions, not just religion. Take the state, for instance - for any good that the institution of the state does for humanity, I can point to a corresponding evil (state-sponsored terrorism, genocide, war, violations of civil liberties, environmental disasters, etc.). Or take the environmentalist movement - it's done good by bringing important issues to public attention, but it's also spawned its own brand of zealots (like people saying we have to let people starve or forcibly sterilize whole populations in order to curb over-population).

The point I'm trying to make, which I don't see the episode making, is that you have to take the good with the bad. Or, don't throw the baby out with the bath water, I guess. Has religion caused evil? Yes, undoubtedly. Is that reason to view it as nothing more than (in Picard's own words) "superstition and ignorance and fear"? No.

I just don't see how belief in the supernatural will lead to a Dark Age. And, just to be clear, you're not saying that, but I do think this episode is. I especially have a hard time accepting that when some of humanity's greatest scientific minds (Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Roger Bacon and Mendel just to name a few) were all practicing theists.
Robert - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 10:20am (USA Central)
I think the worrisome bit was just that the Mintakans were turning away from science explanations of things back towards religious/supernatural ones. Too many people (even today) reject science because of things in a book they believe in.

Those minds you mentioned (and Einstein is included as well) were occasionally persecuted when their theories contradicted a fictional book.

I'm not against the concept of belief in God (I'm personally not an atheist... although I don't really have a word to describe my own faith). I'm against ignorance and bigotry caused by religious zealot-ism.

Your point stands that any organization headed by man can be as evil as the man leading it is well taken though. Belief in religion should not cause a second dark age... rejection of science will.

It's a fine line that religion walks with science. I personally believe they could work together (and in my head the things I believe live happily with science). I just think that the issue in this episode was more than religion vs rationality... it was that a people who'd given up on the "magic" side of religious beliefs were confronted with technology that reignited a belief in "magic". If God exists it does not (in my belief) possess magic. It may possess something I'd interpret as magic, but that doesn't make it so.

And yes, movements (like environmentalism) can, like everything, be taken to the extreme. But I tend to feel that extreme ideas in secular movements are more isolated than extreme ideas in religious movements. Consider the amount of people in America that think the Earth is close to 10k years old vs the percentage of environmentalists that think we should force sterilize people.

For an example of a pro-faith story I like, I'll toss in Voyager's "Sacred Ground". There is nothing in the episode that cannot be explained by science... but Janeway learned that she can't always explain everything when she needs it explained and that it's ok to take a leap of faith sometimes. The episode is almost a non-religious religious experience.

I have faith in things... I may even have faith in something that is God-like. I may even talk to it for my own purposes sometimes. But I refuse to allow it to make me ignorant. Still, it has it's uses sometimes.
Robert - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 10:25am (USA Central)
Einsteins views on God are particularly fascinating if you've never read them.

He was against the kind of religious beliefs that are the form of superstition. I think those are the kinds of religious beliefs this episode casts down.

If you don't believe in the kind of "magic" that might cause God to send earthquakes because California has too many gay people... I don't think this episode condemns your breed of religion. You can feel free to disagree of course, but that's my feeling on it.
Luke - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 11:48am (USA Central)
One of the reasons I like DS9 so much is its layered approach to religion. It unhesitatingly shows the bad religion can cause, but it also doesn't shy away from the good. Kira is religious person who sees her religion as a comfort. Odo, while he does have some rather fascistic tendencies, is ultimately a moral and good person who is adamantly an atheist. Worf has his faith while O'Brien and Jadiza don't. Sisko goes on a seven year spiritual journey from a tolerant skeptic to a firm believer in the Prophets. Bariel is a compassionate man who is isn't above being personally ambitious with his faith. Wynn is a corrupt politician who uses the faith of others in her pursuit of power. Dukat is an evil bastard who uses religion for his own aggrandizement and as just another way to control people. The Bajoran religion helped that people get through the horrors of the Cardassian Occupation while it also led to a deadly cult with the followers of the Pah-Wraiths. Even Quark is shown to be religious in a way, though he probably gives it very little thought beyond a general belief in the afterlife.

I just wish this episode had some inkling of this. Instead, I can't help but view it as biased against religion in general. But, that's just my opinion.

As for a pro-faith episode that I really like, it would be VOY: Mortal Coil. Neelix has a near-death experience and doesn't experience the afterlife. He then begins to seriously question his faith. It shows that religion can have positive influences even in the absence of evidence for it. It provided Neelix with a lifetime of comfort and Chakotay pleads with him not to throw away that lifetime of faith because of one incident. It's probably one of my favorites from Voyager, which is saying something since it is, after all, a Neelix episode.
Robert - Tue, May 26, 2015 - 12:09pm (USA Central)
I like Mortal Coil too. A lot.

I guess that was my point though. I see THIS episode not really as one that has much to say about religion... but more about the prime directive and superstition/magic. Obviously two people can see the same thing differently... but I generally think when Trek does faith it's actually more pro-faith than against.
John Logan - Wed, May 27, 2015 - 12:39pm (USA Central)
Robert@ Crusades? Really? The Crusades were just and justified as the American invasion of Germany. Muslims had been waging war against Christians, Budhists, Hindus, Persians, etc. for centuries, they traded millions of Christian slaves, they enslaved millions of black people, slaughtered the Maronites, supressed the Copts, they later even conquered India, how was it weong of Catholicism to fight back? Inquisitions? After World War II Nazism was also outlawed, and Islam had been waging war in Spain for centuries. They had inflicted equal horrors on Christians. The Inquisition required them to accept the Original religion of Spain or leave. That is what happens when an invading force is defeated.

Witchhunts were largely a Protestant thing. They never occured in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, or Belgium. The Council of Frankfurt, the Council of Panderbon, Pope Gregory VII, Pope Alexander IV, and Augustine had all condemned witchhunts as Pagan nonsense.

I don`t, I value all human life. I oppose killing babies whether they are born or unborn. It is sadistic to conceive a life and then murder it.

I am in favour of welffare for poor mothers. I disagree with the right on this, and so do most bishops. The Catholic Church fouded many of the first orphanages for this reason, and actually supports pregnancy crisis centers.

I am in favour of welffare. I do believe chastity is the best way to avoid getting pregnant in the first place as it is full proof. It is how our grandparents and ancestors in general did it. I exist because of this, and so does my father. People used to cherish their bodies amd value sexuality.
Robert - Wed, May 27, 2015 - 2:43pm (USA Central)
@John Logan - "I don`t, I value all human life. I oppose killing babies whether they are born or unborn. It is sadistic to conceive a life and then murder it."

Unless your views are very different than the average pro-lifer, you don't know what the word sadistic means. "deriving pleasure or sexual gratification from extreme cruelty". Leaving off the sexual gratification bit (since that's OBVIOUSLY not the kind of sadistic we're talking about) murdering a living breathing infant is THOUSANDS of times more sadistic than killing a fetus the size of a lime.

It's fine if you think both are bad, but equating them is like saying punching you in the face is equivalent to stabbing you with a machete. Especially since pro-lifers tend to be against the morning after pill, and there you're killing a few cells. It's not the same as a baby.

I'm not trying to talking you out of your pro-life position. I'm trying to talk you out of a poor comparison. At least you aren't for making poor people have babies and then leaving them poor and hungry.

And while I respect your position on chastity and have no problem with it, teaching abstinence only without any other sex ed is a lot like doing a trapeze act without a net. It works great when it works great and when it doesn't you smack into the floor.

I have no problem with teaching abstinence. It's the only 100% fool proof birth control. I have an issue with abstinence ONLY.
Robert - Wed, May 27, 2015 - 2:52pm (USA Central)
@John Logan - Is it possible you are not American. The religious, largely Christian, right is so vile in American that I wonder if perhaps you just don't have to put up with them wherever you are. :)

It's hard to take pro-life seriously from people who are anti-welfare (as you admit much of the right is), who's gay and trans conversion policies drive youngsters to suicide, to be anti-contraception in a world where handing out contraception in third world countries would stop the spread of AIDS, people who accost (often violently) women seeking abortions (even if it's often simply to D&C an already miscarried and wanted pregnancy... doesn't matter... they don't know who they are screaming at and why she's there), etc.

I simply find the religious right where I'm from to be hypocrites and generally not Christ like. Christ would not consider these people Christians.

That said, I am aware that there are many Catholics and Catholic organizations that do a lot of good. But most people wouldn't put up with that success/failure ratio of good/evil from anyone other than their church.
John Logan - Thu, May 28, 2015 - 5:04am (USA Central)
Robert@ Yes I am against leaving them poor and hungry. I think Ireland did an excellent job banning nearly all abortions yet truelly caring for all children. Yes I know there was child abuse in a lot of assylums that was horrible, but generally family was valued a lot more. The church also strongly supported social services. Social care also improved a lot in South America where the economy is strangely enough growing fast.

True I don`t have anything against teaching birth control, I just think religious schools shouldn`t have to teach it as it violates religious freedom.

I live in the Netherlands, I consider myself of the tradition of the Catholic Centre Party, which is far more socialist and caring for the poor.

I am not sure if contraceptives would really solve Aids. Many goverments and charities hand them out in Africa. Many of the down sides of birth control are, they are not full proof but many people act under the assumption they are, they make it easier to have sex at a young age thinking you will face no consequences, easier to tell girls to either have sex with you, or you will dumb them, easier to commit polygamy, and so on. It makes promiscous and abusive behaviour easier. Contraceptives aren`t used nearly as much in South America, or the Philpines were Aids is rather rare. or Poland, or Ireland.

Well a lot of the thinks you mentioned sound more like Protestant fundamentalists. Catholics don`t harras people who want to hand out condoms in Africa, they simply teach the value of chastity, discouraging adultery, polygamy, spousal abuse and so on. This is how the church has Always fought evil, it banned polygamy, and forced marriages, and established the value of chastity.

Catholics are against bullying gays, they simply oppose gay marriage and adoption, and think homosexuals are called to chastity.
Robert - Thu, May 28, 2015 - 7:05am (USA Central)
I wish the things you've said about Catholics were true about the Catholics here. I would like to apologize to judging you harshly as a member of the religious right. While it sounds like we disagree on many things the Catholic religious right in the Netherlands sounds much less harmful than what we have here.

And for the record I like the new pope MUCH MUCH better than the last one. So I do feel like some things are heading the right direction.

"True I don`t have anything against teaching birth control, I just think religious schools shouldn`t have to teach it as it violates religious freedom."

I will totally agree with you here. In America we have the religious right trying to force things like this and creationism upon public schools. I agree with you, if you want your kid to learn those things instead of birth control/evolution you should send them to Catholic school. Leave the public schools alone (separation of church and state and all that).

I will also admit that it's possible many of the ills are not strictly done by "Catholics" but when the nut jobs in your country fly the banner of "Christianity" it behooves Catholics to find a way to stand apart from that banner if it doesn't represent them. All too often Catholic politicians just accept the religious right, warts and all, under their banner. It muddies the waters.

As I said though... I think my problem may be more with American Christians who are anything but Christlike. I may not agree with your views on many things, but I researched your party and, unlike the Christians here, while I can't claim to speak for him... I don't think Christ would have a problem with much of that.
John Logan - Thu, May 28, 2015 - 10:58am (USA Central)
Robert@ Thank you, apology accepted, but please don`t negatively compare Pope Benedict XVI to Pope Francis. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the rights of immigrans, condemned Consumerism, spoke of ways to fight for poverty, and he strongly supported fighting Aids by ending poverty, and teaching faithfullness. Pope Francis also condemns the use of birth control, and gay marriage and adoption, and is strongly against abortion. He opposed gay marriage and the free distribution of birth control in Argentina, and urged all bishops there to excomunicate prochoice politicians. He equated abortion with murder countless times, and excomunicated an expriest who supported gay marriage.

THANK YOU. We should just have public and religious schools.

Well the issue if that the left sees third trimester abortions on demand, as a grey area, with Obama opposing a law protecting born babies, from being murdered after being born. It is sort of like Franco, the alternative were the Communists.
Robert - Thu, May 28, 2015 - 11:19am (USA Central)
"Well the issue if that the left sees third trimester abortions on demand, as a grey area."

I think that's more of an extreme position on the left than the opposite is on the right (and I'm not aware of the born baby law you speak of). A lot on the right try to ban post 20 weeks (or sooner) when the reality is that a lot of horrible conditions don't come out until post 20 weeks. Many people don't get an amnio until after their nuchal translucency test (at 11-14 weeks) comes back with worrisome results and then you need to schedule, obtain and wait for the results of the amnio. The majority of post 20 week abortions are people who really wanted their babies... not people who didn't.

Third trimester begins at 28 weeks and the baby (if a healthy normal baby) actually has a pretty good shot of surviving outside the body with medical intervention at that point. I hope the number of pols that consider a no exceptions third trimester abortion to be a gray area are smaller than the number of pols that are slowly starting to pull away from rape/incest exceptions at the very least.
Elliott - Fri, May 29, 2015 - 12:58pm (USA Central)
John Logan is correct that Francis is no more progressive in policy than his predecessor on social issues. To be fair, if he himself wished to change or amend the Canon, I think the next big news story would be about how he was poisoned in his sleep.

What Francis has effectively done is to refocus the institution's energies and re-prioritise its agenda. That way, Catholics who stay in the Church out of faith but feel at odds with many of its teachings have a righteous cause to feel good about (social justice). What is often ignored is that (as this episode eludes to), those same people are perfectly capable of actively promoting social justice AND disjoining themselves from an institution whose social values are borderline mediæval by excommunicating.

Regarding abortion debates, I require a simple mandate from pro-lifers : Demonstrate that your fervent stance on the issue is genuine respect for human life by protesting with equal vigour every war, execution, preventable disease death, starving child (food stamps anyone?), and gun legalisation. Then I am willing to engage your position thoughtfully. Until then, I'm afraid it's all a lot of talk which disguising the real motivator which is sex-shaming and gender control.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2015, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer