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.

Previous episode: Violations
Next episode: Conundrum

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44 comments on this review

Sat, Apr 2, 2011, 4:53pm (UTC -5)
I liked this one. The situation of the colony was a little extreme, but when you think about what is being done with genetics today, it doesn't seem that much of a stretch for the 24th century. And the philosophical issue of 'tampering' with who we are is certainly worth adressing BEFORE we actually reach that level of technology (if anyone hasn't read Brave New World I strongly recommend it).

As for the love-at-first-sight dialogue between Aaron and Troi, well he WAS genetically engineered after all. I would assume that everyone on this planet is a perfect flirt - to quote Q, "h
Sat, Apr 2, 2011, 4:54pm (UTC -5)
Frak. I pressed enter by accident. The Q quote I was about to add was "How boooorring!"
Sat, Apr 2, 2011, 5:07pm (UTC -5)
I haven't watched this episode in forever, but I'm currently reading an interesting book on the philosophy of Trek (Deep Space and Sacred Time: Star Trek in the American Mythos) that I picked up at my library.

I just finished a chapter on the false utopias encountered in Star Trek, and this was one of the episodes they used to illustrate the difference between TOS and TNG. In TOS, Kirk repeatedly comes across a 'perfect' society and overthrows it, claiming the prime directive doesn't apply to a backward society.

In the TNG era, the idea of enforcing your ideals on another culture has fallen out of favor. Whenever Picard encounters such a 'paradise', he gives them a good talking to, and maybe they'll change on their own. It satisfies our current cultural ideals, but it takes more skill to make that an interesting script.
Nick Poliskey
Fri, Apr 15, 2011, 8:43am (UTC -5)
Although this was another in the long line of "season stupid" episodes, I thought the premise here was one fo the better of the series. I think had the acting been better, this could have been a classic sci-fi (ala the city on the edge of foerver). As a previous poster mentioned, with genetic engineering already extant we are rapidly heading towards a world where Geordi would indeed be destroyed as a Zygote.

One fascinating aspect of this episode and others like it, to me anyways, is peoples automotic response. I would be not to far off to say that Star Trek fans are liekly majority Liberal. Yet the reponse fans have to these kinds of episodes is a very conservative response. Geordi is making at heart a pro-life argument here.

If you had to say the idea of a genetically engineered "masterpiece society" was going to come from a George Bush type person or a Barack Obama type person, the truth is, the right wing HATES these kinds of ideas. this is a very left thing. And my big secret is that I kind of admire the concept, and found myself sympathizing with the colony leaders. I know post-WWII morals must hate everything that sniffs of eugenics, but I don't think trying eliminate the worst ailments, and producing a rich society that with no crime, and other postives, is somehow worse to the crap we allow in the modern world. Yeah, I am not with Picard and crew on this one.
Fri, Apr 15, 2011, 10:35am (UTC -5)
I liked this episode quite a bit actually. It's a quite reasonable take on this sort of scenario that avoids Kirk-style ethnocentrism and talks about the reasonable objections and observations that people in this situation might have. Yeah, it's a bit slow, and this story reinterpreted through VOY or ENT would have included a tedious phaser fight or some other action element and been no better for it. It's biggest failing is, I think, a failure to take chances.

Treks stance against eugenics has always been sort of cheap and cowardly, painting every application of the technology in a poor light. How much more interesting would it have been to have the dome people be truly advanced, with mental capabilities far superior to conventional humans? Imagine members had wanted to join the Federation, but were not allowed because they were too smart (see DS9) or where members of the Enterprise crew want to join the colony because they believe it is a breakthrough in human evolution? The story doesn't go far enough to place the characters in interesting places (mentally). It kind of assumes that the dome people are misguided and the Federation is the culturally evolved one, which is too bad.
Sun, Sep 25, 2011, 8:02pm (UTC -5)
I found this episode just as tedious and as it's sibling episode, Season 3's "The Ensigns Of Command". I'm not sure who annoyed me more Goshevan from the latter episode, who was a hard headed stubborn leader, or Aaron, the level headed stubborn leader (who for some reason struck me as looking like he was made of wax).

Also, interesting that two of the most excrutiating guest characters Trek has ever had, Martin here and Ch'Pok in DS9's "Rules Of Engagement" were both played by Ron Canada.
Captain Tripps
Sun, Oct 9, 2011, 8:32pm (UTC -5)
Well Trek is at least consistent when it comes to eugenics and the attitudes of the in universe humans, which probably has more than a little to do with canon history, mainly the Eugenics Wars.

Also with regard to DS9 they weren't forbidden to join Starfeet because they were "too" smart, but because the Federation did not support eugenics or genetic manipulation, nor did it want to reward those who broke the law, fearing it would encourage others to do the same just to keep up. Which again, harkens back to the experiences earth had with augments.
Tue, Jan 17, 2012, 6:04pm (UTC -5)
This episode was pretty likeable in my opinion, at least deserving of 3 stars.

I was immediately reminded of Huxley's "A brave new world" when I saw it.
Geography Nick
Thu, Jan 26, 2012, 11:57pm (UTC -5)
Nice review, Jamahl - thank you. What hasn't been pointed out yet is the potentially simple observation that Picard seems to jettison his otherwise unwavering - at times spectacular - commitment to the prime directive. I don't buy the reasoning that because they're human they somehow get a break. What seems to be at odds here is species vs. way-of-life. The implication that "seeking out new life," and respecting what you find, does not include civilizations derived from earth is at odds with what I understand as the spirit of the prime directive. This episode is rather profound, therefore, in that it challenges us to sharpen our perception of how the prime directive cuts the line between nature (new life) and culture (new civilization).
Nick P.
Fri, Jan 27, 2012, 9:06am (UTC -5)
Great Point Geography Nick (like the name).

That episode would have been very different had it been a group of Bajorans who were using Eugenics to advance themselves. And I am guessing since Bajorans are the classic "oppressed minority", Picard would have been far more favourable to their society.

Yes, this episode was handled very timidly, and could have been a great one.
Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 4:59pm (UTC -5)
It looks like the consensus from fans is that this is a very solid episode, I'm glad to see since I dont see why you think the episode is dry Jammer. But from all the comments most people think it was solid, imaginative and substantive.
Sun, Jun 16, 2013, 12:14am (UTC -5)
I'll take Gattaca over this fecal flake specked waste of film stock.
Sun, Jun 16, 2013, 12:29am (UTC -5)
I mean video.
Fri, Jul 12, 2013, 8:04pm (UTC -5)
I'd just like to point out that if two dozen people leaving a society is enough to break it, then the roots of that society were rotten from the start. It was going to break eventually.

And given that those two dozen colonists are genetically engineered, I'm not sure that their future in the Federation will be a particularly bright one.
Wed, Jul 17, 2013, 1:42pm (UTC -5)
@ ncfan

Indeed so. Interestingly, the events of the S5 DS9 episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" would seem to suggest that the scientists in the S2 TNG episode "Unnatural Selection" were engaged in wholly criminal activity. If we're to believe DS9, Picard should have taken the entire staff of the Darwin facility into custody immediately.
Fri, Jul 19, 2013, 7:44am (UTC -5)
No colony of post-warp people--human, Bajoran, or otherwise--would fall under the PD in any case. They have left the phase the PD is meant to protect, moved out into the galaxy on their own terms.
Tue, Jul 23, 2013, 7:39pm (UTC -5)
Waaaaah! We saved a populace from certain dooms.' 'Waaaaah if we hadn't come here they would have been completely wiped out' 'Now instead of annihilation, 23 people are happy because they have an opportunity to broaden their horizons ,' 'Waaaah, even though the rest of them are alive, they now have holes in the fabric of their society.' 'Waaaah, prime directive' (Riker was right by the way, the prime directive didn't apply here. Sometimes Picard is so cool, sometimes you just want to tell him' Shut up Picard!'
Anyway, this episode was a mish mesh of old themes and stories from past TNG episodes. The only enjoyable part of it was hearing Troi admit over and over again 'I am a useless counsellor. I am a useless counsellor. I am a useless counsellor ...' And what was with her telling the guy,'Don't say that' She's half Betazoid, it didn't matter whether he said it out loud. She already knew how he felt.
William B
Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 8:13am (UTC -5)
On the one hand, there are things I like about this episode. I like that Picard ultimately *does* regret hurting the community; this is a guy who really does believe that people have the right to build societies however they like, even if he disagrees with those results. I like too that the episode also suggests the appeal of a less structured, more spontaneous life, away from a genetically engineered society, is so clear that at least some people will be swayed by it even without anyone working hard to convince them; only Geordi makes an actual pitch for the strength of his own society to Hannah, whereas Troi and Picard try hard to stop themselves from imposing. I like, too, that conflicts within the episode are relatively quiet; despite his obstinacy, the Ron Canada character never tries holding people at gunpoint or something, which is how this story easily could have gone. And in fact, the character we are most likely to be sympathetic to -- Hannah -- is the one who does the most morally objectionable thing in favour of her cause, in claiming that there is a leak. As was pointed out earlier, the false utopia here contrasts a great deal to how TOS (or early TNG) would handle the same subject matter. This society is inert, but it is pleasant and it is not presented as an automatically oppressive culture, allowing for some moral ambiguity. The episode makes good use of Geordi, too.

All that said, it is true that the hand-wringing in the episode becomes excessive; at a certain point, claiming that the Enterprise did as much damage to their society as a stellar core fragment is a bit eye-roll-worthy. The episode feels padded out, as if there are not enough conflicts to sustain a whole hour; I feel like this would be more natural as a Twilight Zone half-hour episode. Many scenes eventually involve the same dialogue being repeated again and again. A fuller sense of what this society entails and what they might have that the Enterprise lacks, or vice versa, would have made the impact of the tragedy and/or triumph of Hannah and a few others leaving the colony that much stronger. And the fact that the society is not strong enough to survive the departure of two dozen people needs more vetting within the episode; at least someone should have pointed out that this society is pretty weak if it can't handle those departures at all. And yes, the Troi/Aaron romance was underwhelming. Ultimately, I admired some of what the episode did enough to bring it to 2.5 stars.
William B
Wed, Jul 24, 2013, 3:54pm (UTC -5)
I gotta say, after a relatively strong opening -- "Redemption II" and "Ensign Ro" are pretty good, and "Darmok" is *excellent* -- the next ten episodes, up to the end of the first half of the season, was a pretty poor run -- probably the worst since season one. "Unification I" and "Hero Worship" were good; nothing else in this run really was. No episodes in this run are *terrible* to me, but...they all feel like misses, some of them close to working but ultimately falling short. "The Game" and "Disaster" manage to make decently watchable and interesting shows out of premises that are fundamentally flawed, and things like "The Masterpiece Society" and "Silicon Avatar" take potentially interesting premises and just don't push them far enough. Season 2 was on average about as mediocre as this run, but that's because season 2 had lots of strong and lots of weak episodes; there is a pervasive blandness to the run from "Silicon Avatar" to "The Masterpiece Society" which is a lot less fun than the roller coaster ride season two provided, IMO. I feel kind of depressed about this show now; which, well, I am glad that the second half of season five is very good.
Sun, Feb 9, 2014, 12:28pm (UTC -5)
I agree that the relationship between Aaron and Troi is absolute drek, however I do find Hannah's part of the episode compelling. The scene where she fakes the crack and talks about being preordained the big fish in science, and then suddenly finds herself in a very large pond is well done. The technical part of the story with the core fragment is mediocre at best. I also agree that all of the hand-ringing by Picard and others seems forced in order to clumsily bolster the colonies side of the argument, because as NCFan said, any society that requires coercion to exist is not one worthy of respect. Considering all of this, I think the 2 star rating is deserved.
Mon, Jun 9, 2014, 9:09pm (UTC -5)
There is a real problem with Picard's regret at the end, regardless of whether or not the Prime Directive holds. Not to get too political, but Trek's utopia usually relies on classical liberalism, which is conveniently held up by wishful thinking that everyone will automatically approve of the new society. Yet Picard's regret at hurting the society moves beyond liberalism to leftism, where the state or the idea dominates over the individual. This sort of thinking inevitably leads to totalitarianism (as the leaders suggested forcing the 23 rebels to stay and likely would have to crush their rebellion in other ways). This is what Picard is supporting by putting the desires of the leaders of the society above the needs of the individual. This is not at all the same man who walked away when Roga Danar and crew were pointing guns at their world's leaders. To doom the people that want to leave to stay and submit to the Great Society is hardly a very enlightened view.

Or to put it another way, Spock's maxim of "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" is quite admirable when he voluntarily sacrifices himself. It is a brutal necessity when Troi must be willing to order a soldier to die in order to save the rest. But it is despicable when a tyrant uses that maxim to suppress and destroy individual rights for the common good. Picard is coming dangerously close to supporting the last option.

Other than that, it was a very interesting episode. It was interesting seeing how everyone came down on their support or disagreement with the society. Obviously LaForge was opposed. But Worf and Riker were also opposed, and they are the usual "barbaric" ones. Troi and Picard are the most supportive, and they tend to be the "enlightened" ones. And yet, the episode seemed to be opposed to the society, with Hannah being the most sympathetic character. So why is that? Well, Picard may have been just been being too cute by half in trying to balance his role as a statesman. And it'd be easy to say Troi was just thinking with her hormones, and thus her support was without thinking. But that'd be too easy...

What makes Troi tick? She's a very underdeveloped character, but never seemed to get an episode to challenge her inner ideals (See Ethics as an example of a character-defining episode for another undeveloped character in Beverly). Troi is just the nice one, the statesman, the peacemaker. But what does she believe?

I keep going back to a line by Riker in The Loss. He called her aristocratic. And maybe that is what she is. And it seems to fit here. She likes order, with everything in its proper place and naturally with her proper place being above others. It makes sense with her upbringing. She does appear to be a member of the nobility, even if her mother overstates it. And even though she assures herself that she is different from her mother, her mother's self assuredness that the universe revolves around her had to have rubbed off of her to some extent. And look at other pieces of evidence:

- She's a therapist. Her entire job is focused around finding troubled people and putting them back to normal. Taking disorder and fixing it. Putting herself in charge of other people's lives.
- She is terrified when she loses her empathic powers. She is now the abnormal one. And she takes it pretty hard. And part of the reason she takes it so hard is because she is now just like everyone else and can't use her special powers to her advantage. She loses her high ranking place.
- She is rather self centered in Night Terrors. Everyone else is dying from lack of dreaming, and she's sitting around complaining about a few little nightmares.
- She eventually takes the bridge officer test after Disaster. It was terrifying to her that the natural order might put her in command (as it did in Disaster) and that she wasn't ready for it. Clearly something had to change.
- She can be very authoritative when she feels she has the right to be. See Suddenly Human, where she as the therapist becomes the expert on the annoying kid. Her solution is to force Picard to bond with him, even though Picard is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and others could conceivably play the parent surrogate role. It didn't matter, this was her area of expertise, so she can push people around to fix this one problem.

I may be stretching it a bit, and I am certainly magnifying a negative aspect of her character beyond its intention. And it's not necessarily all bad. But I do agree with Riker, there is a little aristocratic streak in her (now that I think about it, the weird accent doesn't help matters any). So given that, it makes sense that this ordered society would appeal to her. After all, that's exactly what aristocrats want; an ordered society. And with the obvious nobleman expressing interest in her and her obvious attraction to him, it makes sense that she would lose her objectivity here. It really does seem to fit. So while her quick romance was boring to watch, I think it is a bit understandable. And I think her character here is still realistic for her.
William B
Tue, Jun 10, 2014, 7:48pm (UTC -5)
@SkepticalMI, I enjoy reading your thoughts on these episodes, and I especially like what you've written about Troi. Definitely, she is one of the show's underdeveloped characters, but I have some fondness for her, partly because of these very negative qualities.

The linking of Troi with the aristocracy also gives a bit of added heft to "Face of the Enemy." One of the strengths of that episode, and one reason that it functions a *little* like "Ethics" does for Crusher, is that Troi is essentially placed in a position where she uses her ability to read and to manipulate people, long honed to help people solve their problems, as a way of dealing with Toreth. One of the ironies of that episode, too, is that in order to play the part of the Tal Shiar operative, she has to *become* a Tal Shiar-like spy and manipulator, all in order to undermine the ultra-authoritarian Romulan regime represented by the Tal Shiar. By playing into the concept of the entitled, higher-caste Tal Shiar operative, and by playing into Toreth's class resentments, Troi is able to project an image of entitlement which allows her to pass off any errors she makes in her performance as being the result of her contempt for the lower echelons of Romulan society. Part of what makes that episode gripping for me is that Major Rakal is someone with whom Troi might share a little bit, even though she also sympathizes (more strongly) with Toreth.
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 3:10am (UTC -5)
Putting the typically unlikely whirlwind romance aside, my problem with this episode is the alleged fragility of the society. We're continually reminded everyone is wired to perfection, yet if a couple dozen people leave, everything is supposed to collapse? It doesn't make any sense. (And hello, this is Trek. Anyone remember Khan and The Space Seed? Genetic engineering led to supermen.)

Funny story: We were just watching this and my wife said what about the Prime Directive? And I said I don't think it applies to humans, which my wife disputed. And then Riker and Picard had a very similar conversation moments later.
Wed, Oct 1, 2014, 10:34pm (UTC -5)
Only 2 stars? I would have given it 3. It's a competently written drama with an okay premise, but some great ethical dilemmas. Yeah the 'romance' was a bit lukewarm (not to mention that they became "in love" awfully fast), and Ron Canada's character was unnecessarily stodgy and single-minded. But Geordi's dialogue with Hannah, and her reasoning on why she needs to leave - it's pretty well done.

The society itself is puzzling, with questionable internal stability. I also think it wasn't visibly rigid enough - I would have expected a bit more uniformity of dress, with colours of cloth to differentiate professions. (Plus, there is a somewhat implied caste system at work, if some people are bred to be the top dogs, and others are bred for less high-profile jobs. But I guess there was enough holes in this utopia to see it as a dystopia anyway.

Too bad the Enterprise crew can never examine their claims of being "evolved" human beings more closely (Q comes close to do this from the get-go in "Encounter at Farpoint", but Q had to be the bad guy, so he's wrong no matter what). This is TNG, and Roddenberry's utopia has no problems because its blinders block any peripheral vision from coming through.

Wed, Oct 29, 2014, 9:14am (UTC -5)
I was particularly struck by the lack of urgency everyone (from the Colony... from the Enterprise... literally everyone) felt while faced with the planet's complete doom and destruction. 2 stars is about right.
Tue, Jan 6, 2015, 11:46am (UTC -5)
I like this episode for the thought provoking issues it raises. I want to point out that this story is different from Doctor Bashir, I Presume in that the DS9 story was about genetic manipulation- manually adding DNA or technically manipulating DNA in some way to bring about desired traits. This was outlawed by the Federation.

Masterpiece Society is about selective breeding, which is basically just putting two people together to procreate to encourage desired traits. Selective breeding hasn't been outlawed by the Federation (I think). In this episode, the leader says that "through controlled procreation they can create people without flaws". So while I think the colony is doomed, I don't think it is as ethically egregious as taking your kid in for a for a procedure to manipulate his DNA so he can be smarter.

What I find interesting is that Hannah was bred to be one of the best scientific minds of her generation but great scientists are curious and are always searching for more. So the very traits that they bred in her is the reason why she left.
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 5:34pm (UTC -5)
This episode sure had a distinct season 1 feel. I hope that season 5 soon gets better...

What really bothered me about this story was how the whole biodome society is drawn as a strawman. Everything is done to drive the point home that genetic engineering is bad, bad, bad. Not even the people in the colony themselves seem to like it there, apart from that one ridiculous guy who kept grumbling about the intentions of the founders. Even their leader would rather start a relationship with a genetically impure outsider. And Picard and Geordie took every opportunity to talk down on the colony's social order (Yes, Geordie, we all understood the irony that the solution to saving the colony was inspired by VISOR technology. You really didn't have to say it out loud).

I wouldn't want to live in the colony, and I couldn't, since I too have had a severe health condition since birth. But the concept of seeing stability and even stagnation as a social ideal is not that far-fetched. Many cultures in human history have been built around the idea that an ideal society should be balanced out, with everybody assigned their proper place, and no need for any change. Within the Star Trek universe, we have cultures like the Vulcans and the Klingons who, in spite of being space faring races, have remained stagnant and mostly dismissive of any outside influence for centuries. So I find it odd that "the founders"' ideas are presented as utterly absurd. And anyway, this is Star Trek, so shouldn't the crew of the Enterprise be a little more interested in seeking out new life and new civilizations? This is a society built on values which are fundamentally different from those of the Federation, so why don't they at least try to get to know and understand them a bit? Troi is actually the only person on the ship who seems genuinely interested in the colony's culture, which might be due to her own aristocratic background (mind you, aristocracy is also dependent on selective breeding).

The problem is really that we don't get to learn much about the society from the inside. So they have boring piano recitals and their scientific knowledge is far behind that of the Federation (which is no surprise, given that for the last 200 years their scientist could not study anything outside of the walls of the biodome), but wouldn't it be interesting to see some areas in which they are superior to the Federation? You know, something that makes us interested in the survival of the colony as a society?

Given these points, I particularly liked the scene where Aaron gives his "six months" proposition. I fully understand that Hannah and her 23 friends want to get the hell out of this shithole, but apparently this will cause existential problems for the colony's genetic stability (which sounds really stupid - how small is their gene pool? - but let's take Aaron's word for it). Also, these people have had no contact with anything outside their walls for the past 200 years. So Aaron's suggestion to wait six months so they can all figure out how to deal with this new situation is actually quite sensible. I mean, what will happen to the people who leave the colony for the Enterprise? Shouldn't the Federation have some sort of specialists to integrate them into its society, and help them cope with the culture shock? From what we've seen in previous episodes (looking at you, "The Neutral Zone" and "First Contact"), they'll probably be left to their own devices in some guest quarters and then dropped off at the nearest starbase, never to be heard from again, where they would eventually succumb to depression because their skills, which had been regarded as perfect in their colony, are so far behind Federation standards that they'll hardly be qualified to clean space toilets.

The prime directive is probably my favorite Star Trek concept, but it's rarely handled very well. The problem is that usually the actual effects of interference on another culture are not shown, because the ship immediately flies off to its next adventure. One episode where this was done extremely well was Enterprise's "Cogenitor", where Trip and Archer have to learn the hard way that first contact missions can have serious repercussions on the affected parties.
Mon, Feb 9, 2015, 5:36pm (UTC -5)
Another thing: My compliments to the visuals team in this episode. The establishing shot of the Enterprise next to the stellar core fragment and the outside shot of the biodome looked great and high above the standard for TV at the time.
Wed, Apr 22, 2015, 12:58pm (UTC -5)
I'd give this one a solid 3 stars. I've always liked the kind of science fiction that deals with an "engineered to be perfect" society, and I especially like it when these kinds of societies fall apart, are shown to be evil (think "Logan's Run") or are otherwise subverted even at the cost of violating the Prime Directive (like Star Trek TOS "The Return of the Archons". "Gattaca" is a sort of slightly newer analog to this episode, and it's a superb film. This episode falls short of "Gattaca," of course, but then you can't compare an hour of TV to a big budget film. As a Star Trek episode, this one is quite good. I liked the Hannah character in particular and the way that her seeing both society's advancements and Geordi's disability caused her thinking to evolve. I also liked the matte painting of the colony's exterior. That the view through the glass of the biosphere actually looked like the planet they were on was a nice touch, given the constraints of special effects.

I found the colonists genetically pre-determined roles to be an interesting (and frightening) idea, along the lines of "Brave New World." I must question why such a society would even need a leader,however. Everyone's role is clearly defined and the closed colony never faces any significant challenges or threats (until the solar core fragment nears, of course) -- so what purpose does Aaron serve? Where work roles are so clearly defined and the culture is stable, Ursula LeGuin's "The Dispossessed" paints a picture of peaceful and productive anarchy.
Tue, Jul 7, 2015, 1:35pm (UTC -5)
I give this one 3 stars. I actually thought the Troi-Aaron romance( Especially when you contrast it with Riker-Soren) one of the more believable whirlwind STNG romances. I especially like how Troi fights it, and I thought Aaron did seem to be a born diplomat. It has a good premise and I like how the friendly the dome dwellers are, their curiousity and humanity isn't shaken by the roles they are bred to play.
I don't think losing 23 members would doom the colony...what if the Stellar core fragment killed that just that many?
Mon, Aug 10, 2015, 11:35pm (UTC -5)
I'll admit that "The Masterpiece Society" has never been one of my favorites of TNG, to say the least. In fact, I've always considered it among my least favorites. That, quite simply, is because I found it boring, boring, BORING! Now, having rewatched it for the first time in I don't know how long, I have to say that I actively dislike it, and not just because it's boring (though it most certainly is still that!).

Dear God, this almost felt as bad as some of the dreck of Season One. Where do I even begin?

Let's start with the Troi-Conor romance, shall we? Trek has always had massive trouble with romance and relationships, but this has got to be the worst example of Trekkian romance, period! Am I honestly supposed to believe that these two people are completely in love? They've known each other for a grand total of a week, most of which they've spent apart! And even if we roll with the idea that Troi is head-over-heels in love with Conor, I have to ask a very simple question - Why? What the hell does Troi see in this guy? He's about as vanilla as.... well, actually, he's not as vanilla as anything; he's the quintessential definition of vanilla. The guy is so bland that he makes Orlando Bloom look like an emotional powerhouse. And, look, I'm sorry but Troi has never struck me as the kind of woman that falls for dull, unappealing, nondescript men.

Then there's Martin, Ron Canada's character. Talk about a complete and total waste of a great actor! Jammer says that the character is "basically unnecessary," but I'll disagree with that. There was a point to this character. That point was to, once again, straw-man conservatives as - well, as Jammer puts it - "mouthpiece(s) of obstinacy without much of a reasoned perspective." I mean, good God, they even have him directly say "this is in direct violation of the intentions of our founders." Why didn't they just have him say "this is wrong because these people might be Democrats and I'm a Republican" for crying out loud! Then, to make matters worse, the writers' straw-man doesn't even make sense by it's own logic because they have the "conservative" as the mouthpiece for the collectivistic society. Um, what?!! If I think about this aspect of the episode anymore my brain might implode.

Next, there's the horrible philosophy "The Masterpiece Society" seems to be pushing. Are we honestly supposed to think it's okay for this colony to completely destroy individual rights in favor of the collective good of the whole? Well, I guess so because.... look at all the nice shrubbery they have as a result! This so-called masterpiece society is despicable! Everyone has their lives planned out for them, there is no individuality and everyone is expected to care about the group at the expense of themselves. Is this reminding anybody of anything here? Isn't there another Star Trek race that does this exact same thing? Don't they do that for the exact same reason these people to it - to obtain perfection? Does anybody know who I'm talking about? Oh, yeah - THE GOD-DAMN BORG!!!! Aren't these the very reasons why we're supposed to abhor the Borg?! At least Genome Colony isn't forcibly assimilating people into it's little collective, but every other aspect of the Borg Collective is on display here and the episode expects us to just cheerfully except it because no culture is better than another. My brain is getting closer to the implosion point!

And, of course, there's the final scene with Picard and Riker discussing the Prime Directive. This scene encapsulates perfectly why the Prime Directive, or at least its application, is garbage. In the end you may have proved just as dangerous to that colony as any core fragment could ever have been? Really, Picard, really?! Quick history lesson for you here, Jean-Luc - that core fragment was going to KILL them. You, on the other hand, inadvertently brought about a slight cultural change. Are you honestly, HONESTLY!, saying that being FUCKING DEAD! is preferable to facing the unknown? Well then, you better put a phaser to your head and pull the trigger before you continue on your mission of seeking out the unknown. That unknown might change your culture, after all! But what's even worse is this line from Picard from earlier in the episode - "They've managed to turn a dubious scientific endeavour into dogma." Pal, that's exactly what you've done with the Prime Directive! You've taken something that was dubious to begin with and elevated it to such a level of dogma that you're actually willing to say that death is preferable to it's violation. The Prime Directive should be something that makes you stop and think about your actions before actually taking action, not something that is to be unquestionably obeyed.

Here's something to mull over. From "For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky"....

SPOCK: Captain, informing these people they're on a ship may be in violation of the Prime Directive of Starfleet Command.
KIRK: No. The people of Yonada may be changed by the knowledge, but it's better than exterminating them.
SPOCK: Logical, Captain.

And yet, here's Picard arguing the exact opposite. "Shut up, Wesley"? How about "SHUT UP, PICARD!"?

The blandness, the ridiculous romance, the continued belittling of non-liberal viewpoints, the immorality and the Prime Directive rubbish all add up to a 0 out of 10 score for this episode. However, there is one good thing that saves it from that scrapheap. And that is LaForge and Worf having an unapologetic distaste for the ideals of the colony.

Diamond Dave
Fri, Sep 25, 2015, 2:19pm (UTC -5)
An unusual episode in that the peril element is wrapped up early to continue discussing more philosophical points. My take is that it is also one of those rare stories that actually presents no good outcomes - you can argue the relative merits of intervention or non-intervention, granting asylum or not, but at the end of the day whatever course is taken the colony will suffer change that could lead to its destruction. Perhaps the outcome is the least worst. But it's not an unambiguously 'good' choice.

Unfortunately, the way this is all presented is particularly dry and unengaging, and offers no real advance on eugenics discussions. And the Troi relationship fails to convince. 2.5 stars.
Sun, Sep 25, 2016, 11:50am (UTC -5)
I had fun imagining the Troi hand-wringing scenes replaced with Riker in that role. "Captain, I have to confess, um, I think I've made a terrible mistake!" Man, that would be a great scene.

(A little bit of this mismatch is characterization, but it's mostly just a dumb sexual double-standard. I think Starfleet's "real" attitude about relationships with the locals is more closely aligned with how we see Riker getting treated.)
Sun, Sep 25, 2016, 11:53am (UTC -5)
Forgot to say: big props to this episode for acknowledging that the whole galaxy doesn't run on Enterprise Standard Time. A refreshing bit of realism.
Joey Lock
Fri, Sep 30, 2016, 8:49pm (UTC -5)
I've always liked this episode because of the idea of a closed society of people who believe they're superior end up needing to be saved by "inferior" people. It's a great analogy that just because you enjoy poetry, have a grand education or are generally smart doesn't mean you're superior.

Also the whole Troi situation in this episode was a little irritating, they made Troi act like a blushing school girl whose fallen head over hills within the first minute of meeting this guy then everytime he's mentioned she smiles like when shes speaking to Picard about him, it's like shes thinking with her heart (Or her ovaries) instead of her brain when judging from past episodes shes usually more analytical than this.
Wed, Jun 7, 2017, 9:11pm (UTC -5)
As subtle as a sledgehammer. The episode goes out of its way to portray the genetically modified people's philosophy and culture as backward and bigoted—not once... but a few times. It even has Geordi more or less proclaim it, in case you missed what the writers were getting at. What did I find most amusing about this episode?

1. That Trek is pro abortion "pro choice".
2. That the argument this episode gives for genetically selected people being a bad thing is that healthy embryos which have defects are terminated - and who has the right to decide that?

So, straight away, 1 is in massive conflict with 2. Not to mention, 2 is being done for good reasons here (blindness is far more benign than, say, Downs Syndrome). 1 is usually done for selfish reasons - i.e. "I don't want a kid".

But that's not all. If we take the stance that all aborted life is wrong, because that life could have grown to do wonderful things, I hope you all stop masturbating or using any contraception whatsoever. I had a nice wank the other day - and I lost thousands (millions?) of healthy sperm that could have been the next best right wing reviewer, putting the world to rights! That poor sucker will never happen now. WHAT A MONSTER I AM!

Look, the whole logic of this episode is shoddy, because it's doing a one way street rolling of the dice set up—a hit job. AS USUAL. I agree to abortion up to a few weeks (I do mean a few), unlike most righties, but I also believe that when a baby is highly likely to be born with a disability, that should have a special consideration and be at the parents discretion in terms of how to proceed. And that I would extend for much longer than a few weeks. The unborn child is not thinking "Oh, can't wait to become a teacher". It isn't thinking anything at all.

The truth is, this episode, like most of these useless arguments, rely on emotion rather than actual science or what's in the best interest of those involved.
Wed, Jun 7, 2017, 9:13pm (UTC -5)
Loading of the dice*
Peter G.
Wed, Jun 7, 2017, 10:25pm (UTC -5)

Despite the hyperbole I think you make an excellent point about this episode's message being potentially contradictory with other in-universe morals we've been shown.

There is one mitigating factor in favor of the episode, which is that what the colony has done seems dangerously close to what led to the eugenics wars on Earth. While at first glance there are no supermen shown here, at the same time they can't possibly have achieved what they did merely by selecting the preferential fetuses in utero and aborting the others. It smacks of genetically modifying absolutely everyone to eliminate imperfection, and the only reason there are no Khans here is because they didn't design anyone to be like that. But they could have! And the Federation interdiction against genetic engineering isn't just to prevent Khans, but also various other ills including (*SPOILER* as we later hear in "Dr. Bashir, I Presume") a race to modify one's embryo just so that it can compete with everyone else.

So on the one hand I can see the argument that selectively aborting for 'excellence', while perhaps distasteful to many of us, is in principle identical to any type of abortion whatsoever once permitted. From that standpoint, assuming abortion is indeed a thing in the Federation (is it? I don't even know!) then this is a contradiction. However, if, as I suspect, the colony is entirely engineered, then there is a good case against them even though the episode skirts around that fact and doesn't deal with it in an upfront way.

Overall I think the episode's message is confused, and wants to be about 'natural life' whereas in fact its subject matter should have been a lot more specific and given us something better than a straw man argument.
Thu, Jun 8, 2017, 2:12pm (UTC -5)
Are we sure that Star Trek is pro-legal abortion (I'm not going to use pro-life or pro-choice here because I think they are sort of stupid in some ways)? Geordi clearly finds it a bit distasteful that he'd have been aborted when he has what it is clearly a "cureable" illness... but that said, I always thought LeVar said this with a chip on his shoulder about it.

In the early days at least, it was quite evident that using the VISOR was painful and that few people in the Federation use it and that it's not really a true "cure" for blindness. I wonder if perhaps people still did abort blind babies based on the way that LeVar acts that scene.

That said... aborting babies with physical defects is a different ball game altogether (as DLPB says) than aborting an unwanted baby. As DS9 shows us... unwanted pregnancies still happen. But as a few episodes with clones have shown, you can grow a baby in a maturation chamber I think? I think I'd be against legal abortion if you could transport your fetus through no damage to mom into a maturation chamber and put it up for adoption.

That said, I don't think the episode really goes THERE as much as it goes to the other place (what constitutes babies that are too "defective" to have).
Peter G.
Thu, Jun 8, 2017, 2:21pm (UTC -5)
@ Robert,

"That said... aborting babies with physical defects is a different ball game altogether (as DLPB says) than aborting an unwanted baby."

Is it different? Think carefully about how you might define "unwanted" in this context. The people in this society find a baby 'unwanted' when it doesn't conform to the perfection of genome they're interested in. They very likely consider an imperfection in this sense to be a "defect", so what's the real difference then? Maybe you could try to distinguish between someone who doesn't want *any kind of baby* and someone who doesn't want *specific kinds* of baby, but in the end that ends up being a subjective distinction. Certainly in terms of law you couldn't distinguish between selective abortion and elective abortion, and since eugenics is illegal in the Federation it makes me wonder how they would govern such things. Do they allow 'breeding' of human genes but not direct gene engineering? If so that would seem to me to be a distinction that wouldn't really solve the problem of trying to eliminate 'inferiors' from the gene pool, which is exactly what this colony did.
Sat, Jul 15, 2017, 11:14am (UTC -5)
"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."

And why not? He regrets that the only way to save them was to irreversibly change them. It's a good look at basically the Heisenberg Effect - it's difficult to passively observe, even more difficult to passively assist - inevitably you alter that which you observe or rescue. He wish there were a way to save them without foisting a change upon them. Picard is pretty forward-thinking here because even though he/they/we personally may think it was a good change, he recognizes that it should have been (in an ideal world) their choice and not his.
Mon, Aug 14, 2017, 1:41pm (UTC -5)
@ Peter G.

"Certainly in terms of law you couldn't distinguish between selective abortion and elective abortion, and since eugenics is illegal in the Federation it makes me wonder how they would govern such things."

I suspect much like they do now. My wife is a carrier for something that can cause severe birth defects, but usually does not affect girls (being X linked... girls with a defective X are usually fine if they have a normal X).

We wanted to take a maternal blood test to check the baby's sex (science is cool) and then decide if we were going to go the additional step of having an invasive amnio. Surprise! Anti-legal abortion advocates pushed legislation that says we cannot have the blood test because they don't want people have sex selective abortions (this was revoked in mid-2014... too late for me, but you can have it done now). I have 2 little girls and did no further tests (we decided not to have the amnio) but it was a much tougher choice than it needed to be.

We are going to have to, as a society, decide if we want to continue to prevent people from accessing information about their own bodies because of what they might do with it. There are fetal blood cells present in the mother's body. This is a fact. In how many years will I be able to use them to see if my baby has blonde hair.
Peter G.
Mon, Aug 14, 2017, 1:52pm (UTC -5)
@ Robert,

There are certainly many cases to be made not only for abortion in the context you describe (I'm happy it turned out ok) but in others. In context of your scenario I see selective abortion as being rather similar to genetic engineering, since in both cases the idea is to prevent births that don't conform to some standard. The standard can be quite rational and humane, but nevertheless while your standard may be reasonable the question remains that if you should be allowed to make the choice based on this standard then why shouldn't others be allowed to make it based on a standard of their choice? You may think that a birth defect would give the new human an undesirable life, but what if someone else thinks that being born with an IQ under, say, 90, would lead to an undesirable life? How do you tell them your standard is correct and theirs is wrong? What if someone believes that being born female at all is an undesirable life? And then of course someone may feel that any life is undesirable and abort in all cases. There is an entire spectrum of reasons people might have for 'selectively' thinking a birth shouldn't happen, and so again my point is that at the end of the day selective abortion would become identical to elective abortion since the standard for selection would be completely arbitrary.

I guess we could envision strict government regulation based on...genetic data? Like a fetus with gene X can be aborted but not gene Y, and this rule would be enforced with no exceptions? But then elective abortion is eliminated altogether. So in the end when individuals want the freedom to choose whether to abort you end up with an inability to prevent eugenics, and when individuals want there to be a ban on unlimited eugenics then would end up losing elective abortion. So I think you're stuck with getting both or neither, which why I'm left wondering what the heck the Federation does to prevent eugenics in the breeding sense. It's not as bad as genetic engineering...but it still feels pretty bad to me.
Wed, Aug 16, 2017, 8:33am (UTC -5)
"So I think you're stuck with getting both or neither, which why I'm left wondering what the heck the Federation does to prevent eugenics in the breeding sense. It's not as bad as genetic engineering...but it still feels pretty bad to me. "

We are in agreement. The point of my story was that the only way to actually get one and not the other is to hide information from the patient. They let people take the test I mentioned under specific circumstances, but not others. Our case wasn't covered (for a variety of reasons not worth going into).

Other people think that people should be allowed to take the test, but only to identify birth defects. The doctor shouldn't tell you the sex. I feel very uncomfortable with the idea that doctors can withhold results of your own blood tests from you, but there we have it.

But you are 100% right. In old D&D like video games where stats were randomized if you wanted to have different stats you could use an editor or re-roll. Re-rolling likely didn't get you the stats you were looking for EXACTLY, but if you were willing to re-roll enough times you could certainly get closer. Selective abortion, could, in theory be used to re-roll your baby if you were heartless enough.

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