Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Homeward"

*1/2

Air date: 1/17/1994
Teleplay by Naren Shankar
Story by Spike Steingasser
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Worf's foster brother, Nikolai Rozhenko (Paul Sorvino), is a cultural observer stationed on the planet of the Boraalans, which is in the process of undergoing sudden atmospheric dissipation. This will result in the immediate deaths of the world's pre-industrial population, but Picard can't evacuate any of the Boraalans because that would violate the Prime Directive. But Nikolai, who has "gone native" and is determined to save a fraction of the Boraalan society, secretly transports a village of people into the holodeck while they're sleeping, with the plan of keeping them there until the Enterprise can find another planet for them to live on. If they can pull off this plan, the Boraalans would be none the wiser.

"Homeward" is a frankly tiresome examination of the Prime Directive that makes all parties involved look like pawns in a philosophical construct rather than human beings exercising choices over other human beings. By the end, we have a muddle of themes and inconsistent points of view rather than any sort of useful examination of the Prime Directive's virtues. When Picard has to sit idly while watching an entire society be destroyed, you can't help but wonder where the nobility is in this sort of non-interference. I also find Picard's reaction to Nikolai's solution, once he's found out, to be overstated. Picard is strongly disapproving of what Nikolai has done, and then has to be dragged practically kicking and screaming into being a part of the solution once it's been laid out. I couldn't help but think: Hey, you're the captain. You could always beam them into space if you feel that strongly about leaving them to the fate of the Prime Directive. Same net effect.

Worf is assigned to help Nikolai guide the Boraalans through the tunnels in the holodeck simulation so they can experience the illusion of journeying to their new home. This is all the better to encourage banal dialogue of sibling disagreements allegedly going back decades but mostly feeling completely invented for right now, considering we've never heard of Nikolai before. The opposing forces of Worf's rigid responsibility versus Nikolai's chaotic spontaneity makes for some dull scenes.

And I've had enough of vague primitive village societies seen through the boring lens of supposed anthropological study. These villagers (which include such spinoff Trek guest stars as Penny Johnson and Brian Markinson) are phoned in as story subjects. Meanwhile, we have all the predictable mechanics involving the holodeck, which, of course, is malfunctioning (introducing a needless problem in need of a solution), so all the malfunctions are explained to the villagers as "omens" and so forth. It's just tedious.

Inevitably, one of the villagers gets out of the holodeck, compounding the problem. At this point I was wondering, why isn't the damn door locked? Why doesn't someone just knock the guy out with a hypospray so he thinks it was all a dream? (For that matter, why not just put the whole village to sleep for the duration of the journey instead of using the holodeck at all?) Instead, people tell him exactly where he is and explain everything and make things worse. Then Crusher says she can't wipe the guy's memory. (Glad we're considering extreme options after having not thought of simple ones first.) Ultimately, the guy kills himself rather than go back to his villagers with knowledge about space and starships and stuff. Picard regretfully muses how he'd hoped maybe this guy could bridge the gap between the Federation and the Boraalans. And I'm thinking: Huh? A few days ago you wanted to wash your hands of this holodeck plan, and now you're willing to contaminate the entire village for an experimental first contact?

And so on. "Homeward" is an unfocused, ponderous, implausible, too-clever-by-half exercise in Prime Directive holodeck tedium, with a needless layer of season seven Family Tree Theater thrown in for no good reason. I wasn't a big fan of "Who Watches the Watchers," but it's a much better examination of the Prime Directive than this.

Previous episode: The Pegasus
Next episode: Sub Rosa

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24 comments on this review

Paul - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 12:35am (USA Central)
Pretty much agree. The real issue here is that the "journey" for the Boraalans is totally ham-fisted. As you noted, putting them to sleep would have been much smarter.

Also, why would the Federation station a cultural observer by himself on a planet like this? Without any company, isn't it pretty likely that someone like Nikolai would go native?

Oh, and Jammer -- Worf did mention the Nikolai backstory in "Heart of Glory".
tim - Thu, Nov 15, 2012 - 1:01pm (USA Central)
Quite liked this one, especially the slightly depressing ending, thought it was a bit different to the norm.
g - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 1:35pm (USA Central)
I'm with tim--I enjoyed this mostly. Probably give it 2-3.

I loved Worf's brother. Paul Sorvino was such a surprise to find on Star Trek, I thought he was hilarious, and I enjoyed Worf's irritation with him.

Totally agree with you on Picard's idiocy in this one, though. We have seen Picard "get around" the PD so many times in the past this is just silly.

I was very sad when the kid committed suicide--made me consider how I would behave if it turned out my life was happening on a holodeck run by an advanced species. Really, think about it--kinda scary! Would I commit suicide though? Hmm.
Jeremy Short - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 6:27pm (USA Central)
As holodeck malfunctions go, the ones on this episode at least seem reasonable. The idea that the holodeck isn't supposed to run 24/7 without being turned off every now and then makes sense.
Grumpy - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 1:01pm (USA Central)
"...human beings exercising choices over other human beings..."

...Or whatever they are.
Landon - Sat, Nov 17, 2012 - 10:22pm (USA Central)
I agree with the majority of you on here, sorry Jammer....I've always liked this episode. Jammer, you say tedious but, while nothing special, I found it kind of fresh, at least slightly. The whole idea of transporting and tricking these ppl in this way made me rte-reflect on my fascination with just how the holodeck works distance-wise and how it tricks youe senses, even with MANY other ppl in there with you...you could literally build an entire world in there, in a single room...plus I love History and study of primitive cultures and all, nowhere near who watches the watchers though, 3 stars...

4 stars for pegasus and parallels {did that ispire the series Sliders?, as Cause and Effect did Ground hog Day?}, 3 for inheritance, 2 for sub rosa for it unique quality and big, different sets, it never had the ambition to be anything classic though
Jay - Sun, Nov 18, 2012 - 6:05pm (USA Central)
Before the catastrophe that stripped the atmosphere off, did the episode ever say how it was that the entirety of a planet's population was just one village?
Paul - Mon, Nov 19, 2012 - 2:18pm (USA Central)
@Jay: I think the implication is that the village is the only part of the planet's population that CAN be saved -- and it just so happens that that village is where Nikolai has (ahem) gotten to know the locals.
Nick P. - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 9:04am (USA Central)
I agree with you Jammer. I think this episode really ended any fascination I had for trek to EVER do a "tribal villagers on a planet" theme again. All the series did it. And they were pretty much all uniformely bad. This is one of the worst of the worst.

I think part of my issue with this episode is that it illuminates why I am not a true "star trek liberal". I think Star Trek is noble in many ways, but I think it sometimes strays into the naive liberal philosohpy of "just don't like bad things." Right, so you don't want to violate the prime directive, so you will let them die? OK, so you don't want them to know they are on a starship so you create crappy caves on a holodeck. You don't want them to be aware of glithces, so you re-inforce their backwards religious beliefs?? It is just not wanting bad things to happen. Jammer makes a good point about Picard would be better off just transporting them into space.

Nick P. - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 9:05am (USA Central)
O, BTW, the last point I was going to make was that isn't this the exact same plot from "insurrection"? Just in reverse?
Paul - Tue, Nov 20, 2012 - 9:17am (USA Central)
@Nick P:

"Just don't like bad things"? WTF? How is that a naive liberal philosophy?
John (the younger) - Wed, Nov 21, 2012 - 1:42am (USA Central)
Terrible.
Ernesto - Wed, Feb 20, 2013 - 4:20pm (USA Central)
I think this is an enjoyable and interesting episode. However, very badly done. I like the idea of using holodeck to trick the people in order to preserve their culture. I think it fails in the way Picard and others are represented. They act childlish and stupid. Picard is far worse than the arrogant and dogmatic character in season 1, which I think made the episode less in tune with the evolution of the show. The dilemma is never presented and discussed because all act with a closed mind. I was expecting Crusher to present a strong case in favor of intervention. The way characters change mood during the episode is also absurd. All in all, it is not that bad, but it could have been far better.
navamske - Wed, Mar 13, 2013 - 10:23pm (USA Central)
The incident where the annoying primitive guy escapes the holodeck is ideal for a Crusher memory-wipe. Oh, but there's something about the Boraalan physiology that makes wiping his memory not an option! In the words of Dana Carvey, "How conveeeenient."

I honestly don't think Primitive Guy would have been able to cope intellectually with the new information. Think about it. It's not just "BTW, you're really on a spaceship." This guy doesn't even know that space travel is possible or that other planets with their respective populations -- species other than his own -- exist. That's basically screwing with a guy's entire belief system.

Also conveeeenient: (1) The Boraalans look just like humans, except for the Silly Putty on their noses -- imagine how Annoying Primitive Guy would have reacted to, say, a Cardassian or a Talaxian. (2) Humans and Boraalans are biologically compatible, to the degree that Paul Sorvino and Kasidy Yates can conceive a child together. And on that subject, how can you have an honest, meaningful relationship with someone if you have to withhold pretty important information, such as "I come from a different planet from you and I'm of a different species"? And what if the child takes after its father and is born without Silly Putty on its nose? How would Paulie have explained that one?
Jack - Wed, May 1, 2013 - 4:54pm (USA Central)
The holodeck simulation is coming apart at the seams, but Geordi can muster up a storm on demand. And then conveniently they arrive at the planet right then, at the same time of day(light) the simulation had..
Lewis - Sat, May 4, 2013 - 2:02am (USA Central)
@Jack

Uh.... Do you think, for example, that on Earth it is daytime simultaneously everywhere on the planet?

Jack - Sat, Jun 29, 2013 - 1:34pm (USA Central)
@ Lewis...they didn't just dump them anywhere on the planet.

they seemed to be copying the layout of the eventual particular settlement they were heading for, rock for rock, in the holodeck, and that settlement they arrived at on the planet was precisely at the time of day where the holodeck left off...convenient.
Kevin - Fri, Jul 26, 2013 - 11:10pm (USA Central)
The final insult is when at the end Picard says, "Our plan for them worked out well." Excuse me, Captain? "OUR" plan? Your plan was to let them all die and let the Prime Directive soothe your conscience. Nikolai did all the hard work planning this out. But sure, now that it's all worked out, now you're sad that even one of them didn't make it.

I'd give an extra two stars to this episode if Q had shown up at that moment and smacked Picard across the face with all of that.
William B - Mon, Oct 21, 2013 - 8:55am (USA Central)
Yeah. I think that some ideas in this episode are interesting, and one thing I like about this premise, as opposed to "Pen Pals'," is that it creates a scenario in which any choice made is going to be brutal. There is no way to just save the planet -- the atmospheric dissipation (somewhat improbably, but whatever) is going to destroy it in no time, and the vast majority of the planet's population will *certainly* die. The Prime Directive as an abstraction is not a good reason to not interfere. (Especially *the episode after* "The Pegasus" in which following authority mindlessly is bad.) However, if we actually had Picard and the crew sit down and discuss this, and it were written well and in character, I think they would eventually recognize that even if they decide to save some of the people from the planet, doing so means choosing which people to save, from a whole planetary population. How could they possibly make that choice? And, in doing so, how could they possibly feel confident to swoop out, knowing that the number of people they could evacuate, which is at most a few villages, say, would surely be a tiny gene pool, extremely precarious? One could say, and I'd agree, that ultimately saving a few from death and total extinction is better than letting them all die, but there are actual difficult questions here which no one is interested in asking, with Nikolai's knee-jerk I'll-do-what-I-want attitude running up against Picard's, and Worf's, mindless authoritarian rule-driven mindset.

Picard does indeed look very bad here, as traditional authoritarian figurehead, but there are real problems with Nikolai's plan which no one bothers to call him on. HIS village deserves to live when all the other ones don't, I see? Why? Oh, right, because he secretly joined the village and married and got a woman pregnant. I'm sure that won't cause any medical problems during childbirth, or that no one will see the baby as a freak for having, I guess, an extremely unnaturally mild nose ridge, as a human/Boraalan hybrid; are there no other differences between humans and Boraalans that would become obvious over time?

The personal element of the Worf-Nikolai conflict leads to dull scenes, and mostly comes out of the blue. Still, Sorvino and to a lesser extent Dorn do what they can with the material, and there is the slightest hint of some Worf-character work in having him be required to think creatively. Nikolai and Worf do come to some kind of mutual understanding, Nikolai accepting responsibility and Worf accepting the value of interpersonal connections over abstractions, or whatever. It's not all that well executed, and is pretty unnecessary, but Worf does need to work on his imagination and this episode pushes him enough in that direction that it's not wholly worthless. On the balance, I agree with Jammer's 1.5 star rating.
Chris Harrison - Wed, Dec 4, 2013 - 9:13am (USA Central)
You might be forgiven for coming away from this episode thinking: maybe Nikolai is right, maybe this was the right decision, in this case no cultural damage was done and adherence to the Prime Directive would have needlessly sacrificed these people.

But the more you think about, the more unforeseen consequences there will be for these people over the next hundreds or thousands of years.

For example, evolution by natural selection may not be discovered because all their hominid fossils would have been left behind on the old planet. What would that do for their culture? It could be absolutely devastating in the long run.
mephyve - Wed, Jan 29, 2014 - 6:03pm (USA Central)
Could have been good. Too many stupid mistakes. The one that irked me the most was Worf, chief of security on the federation's flagship, let's a guy wander through the holodeck by himself, knowing that the holodeck was having problems. My other beefs with the show were mostly due to the strict interpretation of the Prime Directive. This was just bad writing.
As to the PD, come on people, the planet is doomed, this way of life is doomed. Surely it would be better to save this handful of people than to just sit there and watch them die. Beam them up, give them some counselling, they'll adjust to the new life. Big deal if everything they believed in was shattered by the rescue. At least they'd be alive. If the earth was about to blow up and some alien race came to the rescue, I'd go with them.
Moonie - Sat, Feb 8, 2014 - 3:57pm (USA Central)
I thought this was a pretty ok episode. I'm not a fan of the prime directive though.
Smith - Wed, Feb 26, 2014 - 8:15am (USA Central)
Ok episode with great premise. Transporting a race from a dying planet inside of a holodeck to preserve the prime directive? Terrific idea... Jeri Taylor unfortunately shot this down repeatedly until the writers offered to add the corny Worf/Brother relationship (well acted but poorly conceptualized).

Some of the prime directive banter was not top notch, but this was an interesting dilemma that could have been framed better. The Prime Directive IS important. Outside interference can regress growth and cause dependence. If the villagers knew about the Enterprise, they may not have struggled to plant crops/set down roots in their new planet, but waited for the Enterprise to resupply them. A LOT of people die all the time in the Trek Universe, so it is tough to feel that Starfleet has to try to save them all.

But if a culture will die anyways perhaps there should be an exception. The only remaining issue is if these people were going to evolve to be evil...then in this case you would want them to die...but that could happen to any race or colony.
DLPB - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
If mankind ever reached a point where it would willingly let an entire race die rather than lift a finger to help, it would be the complete opposite of enlightened.

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