Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation



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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33 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)
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)

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.
langtonian - Sun, Aug 3, 2014 - 12:04pm (USA Central)
This could have been much better but, even if Picard had decided in the end that he had to let the Boraalans die, there ought to have been some kind of wrestling with conscience before reaching that decision. The worst bit for me was them all standing on the bridge to "honour those lives which we cannot save". Given that Picard has shown no previous sign of any concern about those lives, this scene just makes him look like a pious hypocrite who is more concerned with dogma than he is with those lives he is claiming to honour. It's as if a whole seven years of character development has never happened.
SkepticalMI - Tue, Aug 26, 2014 - 5:59pm (USA Central)
Worf's brother is ok, but other than that this was a painful episode. I had the same thought that Kevin had a year ago. After Picard gave his little speech, I would have loved it if Q appeared and reminded Picard about that whole "superior morality" thing from True Q. This is about the most disgusted I have been with Picard's actions since season 1.

If the Prime Directive exists because you don't want to harm a society's development, then so be it. Whether or not I agree with that idea, at least it's a consistent philosophy. But I'm pretty sure planetary extinction rates as a greater harm than any meddling might do. So to stand there and say it's honorable to sit back and watch a intelligent species undergo extinction is just bizarre. So if a society doesn't have exactly enough technology, it's not worth saving? We've seen Picard et al do everything they can to save more technologically advanced species, so why are they more special than this primitive one?

If tomorrow we discovered that the Sun is dying, and we blasted a message into space begging any aliens to help us, would we be ok if an alien race looked at it and ignored it? Or if you think that we're technologically advanced enough to merit help under the Prime Directive, what if it happened 100 years ago?

What if instead of the crystalline entity being destroyed, it had made contact with Picard, and declared that from now on it would only eat planets with primitive societies on them. Would Picard have happily let it go to produce dozens of genocides just because the Prime Directive said so?

But besides the ethical issue, there are a lot of things to swallow here. So we are to believe Nikolai can hack into the computers and use the transporters without anyone noticing? So we are to believe that no one will notice his son doesn't look like the rest of the aliens? So this village of what looks like 20 people is enough to produce a stable gene pool? (I would have assumed Nikolai would want the aliens saved permanently). So after telling us the importance of maintaining these history scrolls for generations, they just up and give it to Worf? So none of the aliens feel the transporter beam?

And the subplot of the kid leaving the holodeck was just boring. We've seen similar things before, in Who Watches, First Contact, Pen Pals, and so forth. Did we need to see another person frightened of all the amazing technology? I found it hard to feel his suicide as a tragedy (wait, he was just randomly carrying a suicide pill with him?) when I didn't care about it in the first place.

And I guess that's the key takeaway here. Perhaps I'd be more forgiving of the episode if I cared for its central idea, or if I cared about the characters, but I didn't. The aliens were bland, the main characters were weak, and the idea frustrating. So good riddance to the whole thing.
Y'know Somebody - Fri, Aug 29, 2014 - 7:01pm (USA Central)
@Chris Harrison

"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. "

You're right! They should have let them be absolutely devastated in the short run instead.

We should probably have a law like that, too. Whenever something bad might happen to someone eventually, we just summarily execute them! We can spare them hurt feelings in the long run!
Josh - Wed, Oct 15, 2014 - 3:21pm (USA Central)
I don't disagree much with the review or most of the comments above. It is a bit funny to see Penny Johnson here pre-Kasidy Yates and Brian Markinson before his appearances on Voyager and, of course, as Dr Geiger in DS9's "In the Cards". I'd say "Soulless Minions of Orthodoxy" well describes the decisions of Picard and other Prime Directive dogma adherents.

Having said all that, I did like Paul Sorvino as Nikolai. It's too bad we didn't see him previously.

(I have to say that Nikolai's lavender turtleneck and fuzzy purple tailed jacket make for pretty bizarre fashion, even for this show.)
jack faith - Tue, Jan 6, 2015 - 3:51pm (USA Central)
the hug at the end between Worf and his brother - that's an all-time TNG moment.
STeve - Mon, Feb 9, 2015 - 2:37am (USA Central)
Man, there's going to be some serious inbreeding to get that population up to a viable level again. Say hello to genetic diseases.

Oh, and Picard acted like a douche. Yeah let's just sit and let an entire world die because to interfere would be damaging to their society (like Armageddon isn't)
Chris L - Fri, May 22, 2015 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
I TOTALLY agree Steve!

WTH is the point of a Prime Directive that allows entire species to die off?

Stupid in the extreme!

I didn't mind the episode as entertainment, but I really got hung up about the PD in this case and I'm irritated through the entire show because of the nonsensical nature of it's interpretation.

Like Jammer said originally... Beam the entire lot into space...
Peter - Mon, Jul 13, 2015 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
This episode reminded me of why, as much as I like Picard, I like Kirk better. Faced with a decision between passively allowing an entire humanoid species to die by following the prime directive, or violating it one more time, Kirk would have moved to violate it without hesitation -- and with an impassioned and dramatic speech to boot.

Anyone watching this who has half a heart can't help thinking the prime directive is hogwash in situations like this. It's one thing to refrain from handing out phasers to random primitives, and quite another to stand by and let every last soul on a planet perish when you can easily do something to help. I'm surprised more of the crew did not immediately side with Nikolai.

The idea of atmospheric disturbances affecting the holodeck for most of the episode (even long after the Enterprise has left Borall's orbit) is just silly. They could have accomplished the same type of suspense in another way.

Still, I mostly liked this episode. I'd give it 2.5 stars.
Troy - Thu, Aug 6, 2015 - 9:12am (USA Central)
As I rewatch the episodes on Blu-Ray I tend to figure the episodes I really want to rewatch should at least merit a 3, so this one squeaks into 3 stars for me. It obviously isn't perfect. It is common in Star Trek to introduce a family member never heard of before and then make them a main plot point. Spock's brother in the movies for example. Still it does get old, especially in season 7.
The prime directive really doesn't apply here since it will result in the extinction of a race and culture still under study. One could argue the violation occured when Nikolai married one of his subjects. So rescuing a family member from certain death along with a small group should be acceptable.
I think a missed opportunity would be Nikolai mentioning Picard rescuing Wesley in the episode "Justice". It is much easier to live with the Prime Directive when you don't have any personal entanglements.
As for the beef of the episode using the holodeck as a ruse to make them think they are on a journey was a great premise. I love the "sign of LaForge"

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