Star Trek: The Next Generation
"The Masterpiece Society"
Air date: 2/10/1992
Teleplay by Adam Belanoff and Michael Piller
Story by James Kahn and Adam Belanoff
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
The Enterprise makes contact with a human colony that has been willingly isolated for 200 years but may face destruction in six days because of the gravitational forces that will be caused by a passing stellar fragment. The colonists live in a biosphere and have been engineered to be the "perfect" culmination of generations of eugenics. They do not take lightly to talking to outsiders, lest they disturb the delicate balance of their hermetically sealed mini-society.
"The Masterpiece Society" is essentially a Prime Directive episode, with the twist here being that the Prime Directive does not apply because the colonists are humans. The story takes quite a while to get going, and the plot aspects involving the attempt to deflect the stellar fragment away from the colony employ off-the-shelf TNG technobabble and problem-solving procedurals. But there are some decent arguments here. Geordi, for example, disagrees with the very notion of this colony. (He would've been terminated as a defective zygote the moment his blindness was discovered.) This episode tackles questions about the consequences of culture contamination in a way that is uniquely Star Trek. I was most persuaded by the character of Hannah (Dey Young), who sees the opportunities that lie on the other side of the bubble, and wants out.
But as an hour of TV, this is just way too dry. The "relationship" between Troi and colony leader Aaron (John Snyder) and the consequences that ensue are especially unpersuasive, with overwrought love-at-first-sight dialogue that has no emotional credibility. The colony itself comes off as a sterile soundstage. Meanwhile, an undeveloped character played by Ron Canada is basically unnecessary, serving as a mouthpiece of obstinacy without much of a reasoned perspective.
And while Picard (and the story at large, which remains ambivalent) says his place is not to judge this colony's way of life, I will observe that it's frustrating and mystifying to watch people argue in favor of a philosophy that basically stifles free will while making societal evolution impossible — even as it argues that it's doing the opposite. (Hannah at least is willing to stand up and declare her freedom.) But forget about arguing over an idealized philosophy: These people would all have been dead had the Enterprise not intervened, and yet at the end Picard is still wringing his hands over bringing in an imbalance that could destroy what this place originally stood for. Well, I don't think much of what it stood for; this society of unremitting self-important blandness could use some imbalance.