Star Trek: The Next Generation
Air date: 4/18/1988
Teleplay by Robert Lewin and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Story by Robert Lewin
Directed by Win Phelps
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
The Enterprise crew rescues the occupants of a disabled ship in a decaying orbit and Picard subsequently finds himself in the middle of a dispute between the representatives from two societies — the Brekka and the Ornara — who are involved in a business transaction regarding some valuable cargo. The Brekka's payment for the cargo went down with the ship, so the Ornara refuse delivery, and we have a problem.
The problem becomes a moral quagmire when the cargo is revealed to be medicine desperately needed by the Brekka, and the situation is further compounded when Crusher determines the medicine is actually an addictive narcotic the Brekka don't actually need in order to survive. The Ornara benefit greatly from the Brekka's dependency on the drug, which has permitted the Ornarans to advance their society while the Brekka have been treading water for the past 200 years. Crusher desperately wants to free the Brekka of their drug addiction, but Picard notes that this would be a blatant violation of the Prime Directive.
The Prime Directive can make for an interesting debate, and it's nice to see Crusher's distaste over the situation even as Picard defends it as a necessary tenet. But again, a key problem with "Symbiosis" is that it oversimplifies the story to a point that we're forced to wonder how, after 200 years, an entire society can uniformly be addicted to a drug with no knowledge that they're being exploited by their "symbiotic" partners in drug-dealing/addiction. They're hopelessly incompetent ship-runners, which makes you wonder how they even survive.
Simply put, "Symbiosis" — even though it tries to be about something real — is ultimately too heavy-handed and simplistic to work. There's a point in the story where one Ornaran actually makes an evil grin when Picard confronts her with the fact that he's on to their exploitative behavior. This betrays the story as unintended parody more than parable.
Previous episode: The Arsenal of Freedom
Next episode: Skin of Evil
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66 comments on this post
Sat, Aug 30, 2008, 4:41pm (UTC -5)
Not to mention Wesley Crusher beeing more annoying than ever when discussing drugs.
However, I think you mixed up the alians. The Brekkians were the bad guys and the Ornarans the unaware drug junkies.
Mon, Dec 26, 2011, 2:24pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 25, 2012, 7:01pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 13, 2012, 9:07pm (UTC -5)
Yar's performance is great, but... until season 5, TNG would rarely be so one-dimensional and excessively preachy.
The baddies are indeed nasty pieces of work and I like the ideas, but the execution is simplistic.
Still, the use of solar flares to knock out electronic equipment is a nice bit of realism...
2 of 4
Tue, Mar 12, 2013, 1:11pm (UTC -5)
Also, the Brekkan's total lack of preparedness in case the trade with Onarrans ever goes south (war, ship problems, etc.) where they can't even take care of themselves (foodstuffs, clothes, etc.). Remember we are talking about an entire PLANET. They must build their homes and recreation facilities, right? Surely there's a construction industry on Brekka! But the Brekkan woman clearly said "We have no other industries" - not even service industry? The episode over-simplified the issues. That may have been intentional by the writer, but it's detracting in this case.
I did enjoy the humor when the Enterprise tried to save the Onarran ship but was flabbergasted at the Onarran's incompetence (Picard's increduluous look when the Onarran captain said he had been captain for 7 years was a nice touch).
Thu, Apr 11, 2013, 7:42am (UTC -5)
1) the scene where the Brekka holds Riker hostage in stasis with his energy beam. The look on Frakes' face is one of the funniest things in the show's history. It's made even better by the utter lack of necessity for the sequence at all. Nothing necessitated a hostage situation in this episode; and even a hostage situation was required, giving the Brekkians & Ornarans poorly F/X'd electro-powers is totally unnecessary. I get that they were trying to be imaginative and use sci-fi tropes, but it just looks ridiculous. Riker's eyes! Hee.
2) The Tasha/Wesley scene discussing drugs is, of course, infamous and for good reason. I think both characters can be used well (Yesterday's Enterprise and The First Duty are both stunning episodes, for example), but Tasha and Wesley are the characters the show struggled the most with in season one, and they are both at their worst here -- Wesley's dopey inability to comprehend human behaviour because he's so gosh darn naive, Tasha's casual discussion of a lifetime of trauma delivered unconvincingly by Crosby. In addition to all the obvious reasons this sequence fails, it is deeply inappropriate in THIS episode for Wesley to start asking why anyone would become addicted to a chemical when the episode is about people being tricked into addiction under the premise that it is medicinal. Wesley does mention that he gets why the Brekkians started taking the drug, so he gets that what he's saying is irrelevant to this situation -- so, um, why say it? It's like hearing about someone being murdered, and then wondering allowed why anyone would commit suicide.
Anyway, these two scenes are unfortunately the most interesting thing about the episode. I don't mind the premise behind it -- the idea of using medicinal needs to addict people to a substance is relevant. (Addictive drugs are often presented as some kind of solution to some problem or another first and foremost.) And if the episode were not so insistent upon the drug behaviour, down to pothead-like behaviour of the Brekkians, it could also serve as a loose allegory for various systems of exploitation between two classes. Still, there's no real subtlety here and the episode falls apart.
What I do like is the Picard vs. Crusher conflict here -- Picard's duty is to abstract principles, Crusher's is to humanistic values of protecting people from pain. It's the first time these two are in opposition in any real way, and it's a good dynamic (though Stewart is the stronger actor and delivers his side with more conviction). The compromise Picard makes -- in which he removes his 'interference' entirely in order to prevent the Enterprise crew from *helping* the exploitation continue -- is a smart one as well as one that hints at the vagaries of the way the Prime Directive is interpreted (and the way people often just interpret it however they want -- but are still guided by it as a principle). On that level, the episode is far better than the other Prime Directive episodes this year (Justice, Angel One), though it's not hard to be....
Somewhere in the 1.5 - 2 star range.
Tue, May 7, 2013, 2:08am (UTC -5)
Beyond all of that I really enjoyed the Picard/Crusher moral duel and the ultimate resolution that Picard decided on.
For me this wasn't a great episode but enjoyable for its attributes. 2.5 stars for me.
Thu, May 23, 2013, 1:09pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Sep 21, 2013, 6:34pm (UTC -5)
A couple of commentators have questioned the logic of the Ornarans giving the 'medicine' to newborn babies. I guess they are not aware that, for many drugs, babies of dependent mothers are born with the same dependency. Even if they weren't in this specific case then they would still likely become addicted due to breastfeeding. I'm assuming the Ornarans are mammals, here, of course.
Also I don't think the Ornarans are required to be stupid to not have 'figured out' that they don't have the plague. They are drug addicts and there would be no benefit to them (as far as they can see) in making this discovery. The drug makes them happy. They have a socially accepted reason for taking it. They can afford to keep buying it from the Brekkan - their resources could be better spent, no doubt, but that's not how they see it. The Brekkan, in contrast, perhaps had to recover from the addiction because devoting their resources to producing the drug for themselves really was crippling their society and so it had to be addressed.
Mon, Mar 24, 2014, 4:12pm (UTC -5)
As ever, this is a well-meaning episode that doesn't really work, and feels a bit too much like a "very special episode of TNG" (albeit not as bad as "The Outcast").
Sun, May 11, 2014, 4:16pm (UTC -5)
In re-watching old trek episodes, one of my favorite things is seeing who the guest stars will be. I was too young to recognize a lot of them the first time through, and, of course, we didn't have imdb to quickly find out exactly who everyone was.
In any case, it was great seeing both of the "sons" from Wrath of Khan in this episode.
Mon, Jun 30, 2014, 10:34pm (UTC -5)
The problem with "The Outcast" is that the moral question which the story allegorises is blatantly hypocritical out of universe (the producers refused to add a gay or transgender character). I don't see that being the case here -- I agree there are some execution issues (the evil grins and lack of subtle characterisation in general), but there isn't anything wrong with the premise at all. It's obviously an allegory for the Drug Industry, pumping up the effects of real "medical" drugs which inhibit symptoms while creating dependency (we've all heard about the refusal of the FDA to approve new drugs which actually might cure diseases, rather than perpetually treat them and continue to collect payment for the manufacturers). We tend to draw a very distinct line between addictive narcotics which provide euphoric highs at cost to one's health and livelihood, and prescription drugs which minimise preventable maladies for a similar cost. One is the individual's fault, the other a necessary evil in society. By conflating the two ideas, this episode correctly blurs that line.
Picard's speech at the end should have been required reading at the Academy. Just fantastic.
I'd probably give it 3 stars. The later half of S1 is better than I remembered. I'm actually enjoying much of it.
Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 5:04pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Nov 24, 2014, 9:19pm (UTC -5)
This one is hamfisted, yeah, but I think it pretty much works on all of its cylinders. There's nice tension at the beginning and the slowburn of the true nature of the plague was surprisingly compelling (I still recalled the twist from decades ago, but still enjoyed the plot workings). Picard has a nice speech and I think his "solution" is a reasonable and cathartic one.
I'm going 3 stars with this. Pretty decent.
It's actually the fifth "winner" episode in a row (2-1/2 stars or higher - hey the bar is pretty low after all) and the seventh out of the last eight that wasn't embarrassing. Elliott, you're right that the second half of S1 is much stronger than the first. The first 13 episodes contain about 7 or 8 bottom-of-the-barrel shows, but the last 12 (starting from "10011001") are a lot more solid (with a few exceptions). I don't know much about how much in advance shows are written before they're produced, but it looks a lot like the producers saw how terrible the show was and were actively smoothing out the air bubbles.
Wed, Jul 22, 2015, 5:25pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Aug 2, 2015, 3:07am (UTC -5)
Something tells me this hypocrisy will be long buried by the 24th century, however drugs - including alcohol - are viewed by then.
Fri, Aug 21, 2015, 1:46pm (UTC -5)
In does suffer from having the rescue drag on too long, and then seemingly interminable "our medicine" "no, our medicine" arguments, and of course the extraordinary Wesley/Yar drugs discussion scene that seems like it's jumped in from a school educational film. But that doesn't detract too far - 2.5 stars.
Fri, Aug 28, 2015, 1:33pm (UTC -5)
For starters, it's not as if the Ornarans are a completely isolated society - they have space travel, and they clearly know that other species exist besides themselves and the Brekkians. Maybe their quality of life is below the level of most Federation worlds, but why does that preclude Starfleet from offering them a cure from drug addiction? That's like saying it's wrong for groups like Doctors Without Borders to go to an impoverished society to provide medical care that the residents couldn't otherwise get because it "interferes" with their civilization's development.
And even if you assume that the Ornarans would be better off in the long run if they devised a cure themselves, why does the Prime Directive prevent Picard or anyone else from at least *telling* them that the Brekkians are scamming them? The Brekkians are essentially committing a crime here. If the Brekkians were planning to nuke an Ornaran city, would it be "interference" to warn the Ornarans to evacuate?
Tue, Sep 22, 2015, 8:32pm (UTC -5)
Also I don't think the Ornarans are required to be stupid to not have 'figured out' that they don't have the plague. They are drug addicts and there would be no benefit to them (as far as they can see) in making this discovery. The drug makes them happy. They have a socially accepted reason for taking it. They can afford to keep buying it from the Brekkan - their resources could be better spent, no doubt, but that's not how they see it. The Brekkan, in contrast, perhaps had to recover from the addiction because devoting their resources to producing the drug for themselves really was crippling their society and so it had to be addressed. "
Some of this might be logical, but it's all negated because it can all be applied to the Brekkians too, yet they still overcame the addiction.
Mon, Feb 1, 2016, 7:49pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Mar 31, 2016, 2:10pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Oct 6, 2016, 7:26pm (UTC -5)
The prime directive does NOT work this way.
-one shall not contact civilizations pre-warp
(exeption, if they actively use impulsedrive to contact other worlds and succeeded in doing so)
-every civilization has the right to make it's own laws, order, and rule over it's own property how it sees fit.
*when it is a warp-capable civilization, it IS allowed to criticize other cultures and laws, and stimulate chance from whiithin. However one may not supply outside weapons or technology to force this chance.
Exception General : the prime directive excist to PRESERVE the development of races and cultures, logically it IS allowed to take actions that help towards this goal, it never is ment to taken so litterly it actually contradicts it's own prime reason for existance.
In this regard it was totally legal to inform the junkies of their addiction, as it would not be information above their own technological level of understanding, and beneficial to their own development.
it would also be allowed to offer them the means to break the addiction.
However it would be THEIR chooice if they believe this, and if they want any help.
if they not want any or not believe the intell, than you would be bound by the prime directive to do nothing more.
If enterprise really wanted to play the hardline prime directive (not as inteneded) they should have beamed the two dealers, the two addicts and the drugs back into the sun, as without them interfearing, none of it all would have made it to planet crack.
In a further reasoning.. enterprise did allow for the drug to be delivered by resqueing those people and their cargo, if they really would not want to interfere they would have beamed them all back into the sun to be killed and destroyed, just how they found them.
Now as for the morale-story :
the people aboard the ship acted as idiots, every vieuwer noted those two were crack adics 5 seconds into the story, it took far to long for the crew to notice, it is not believable the elite of the 2200 space navy is that dumb, blind and guilllable.
ilikewise the "let them rot and just lets just move away to a better neighbourhood far away from the junkies" attitude does not set a good morale play from that end of the equation.
overal felt more like a very dumb and scientifficicly unsound "drugs are bad mkay" add..
Tue, Apr 11, 2017, 3:25pm (UTC -5)
Thought it was an interesting episode that Picard's character came through well. It was good to see how the disagreement between him and Crusher played out and the end action of not helping the Onarans with their coil provided another take on the PD which worked out well.
I'd rate it 2.5/4 stars - an interesting premise with decent examination of the PD although oversimplified.
Sun, May 7, 2017, 6:13am (UTC -5)
Sure, the episode isn't perfect and it's a bit overdone in places but the final resolution works really well. By not helping and causing short-term suffering they will create a positive over the long term is an interesting end to the story which works much better than any alternative (e.g. telling the Onarans the truth or letting the trade continue). The use of the engine parts was unpredictable and provided a nice solution to the problem.
For all of its faults, the overall story works well and we get to see a genuine and well played out stand off between Crusher and Picard. Personally I'd give it 3/4.
I'd happily take this over any of the inane Q episodes or slow and boring Klingon episodes.
Mon, Jul 17, 2017, 1:19am (UTC -5)
But "We can't intervene to stop you - but we won't intervene to help you either" was a good way to handle it.
TB's first 2 paragraphs summed it up very well.
Tue, Jul 18, 2017, 5:20pm (UTC -5)
I remain confused also by how the two cultures are portrayed. The Ornorans have spacefaring technology but are dumb as Pacleds about maintaining their ships. They also wear clothes that look rustic and threadbare. What's the message: Are they stupid? Drugged to the point of incompetence? Impoverished by the predatory Brekkans? None of these options make a lot of sense. Meanwhile the Brekkans are wearing the latest in metallic fashions - presumably manufactured in Ornoran factories. And for all their apparent riches and leisure time, they've been content to remain technologically behind the Ornorans they look down on - and are okay with completely dependent on them and their crumbling ships?
I am going to stop thinking too much - and just get back to enjoying the bizarre face of Electric Riker. I could look at that all day.
Wed, Oct 4, 2017, 1:37pm (UTC -5)
One thing that bugged me about this episode, more than anything else was:
Picard was initially willing to just hand over some ship coils to help them repair their ship. So this shows that he is willing to trade resources as long as it's not advanced tech and it doesn't screw up the status quo of their society.
So then why did Picard not ask the Onarans what the payment was supposed to be for the cargo? If it was something that could have been easily replicated on the Enterprise then Picard could have payed the tab for this shipment, resolving the dispute, and restoring the status quo.
The enterprise can replicate a lot of materials and resources that would be considered valuable on other worlds. That's one of the reasons why Federation technology is kept under lock and key. Even if it turns out they couldn't replicate whatever the payment was supposed to be, why not ask at least? It could have easily been covered with some throw away dialogue.
*Sigh* In the end they had a satisfactory solution. But up until that point I couldn't stop thinking about this one issue.
Wed, Dec 27, 2017, 4:20pm (UTC -5)
However, the more you think about the episode (and read the reviews noting plot holes on here), the more it just falls apart.
I think "Symbiosis" is best watched under the influence of a few bong hits (which I did not do) or some general post-Christmas, brain-tired malaise, which I did do.
As for Merritt Buttrick, that was very sad. In hindsight, you could see the effects of HIV on him already. I didn't pick up on it at the time. Like someone else said, if he had just a few more years in him, he might have made it to the era of effective antivirals. Poor guy may not have even been aware of his medical condition at the time.
Fri, Mar 30, 2018, 2:41am (UTC -5)
Wesley looks her dead in the eye and replies, “We always floss. We’re Starfleet.”
Powerful stuff. Giving me shivers even now.
Tue, May 8, 2018, 8:54pm (UTC -5)
This is yet another episode where the Prime Directive makes no sense. If you can't warp to the other side of the galaxy, you are just a backwoods rube of a civilization. The city where I grew up, didn't have public transportation to the Southside, so I never went there. Was I less of a person because I didn't have a vehicle capable of making it to the Southside of town? I would be denied the use of city resources because I wasn't worldly enough to reach the South or points beyond? I would be denied legal advice or new technology because I wasn't smart enough or rich enough to build or buy a vehicle capable of reaching the outer rim area of my city?
These two worlds seemed to have a high level of technology, other than the fact the knew nothing about how to repair their ships or owning space capable ships at all. For that they are treated like 5th graders who can't be told about the ways of the universe. I'm sure they would have an incentive to develop warp capability if they knew about places like Risa, or Dabbo girls on DS9.
The Prime Directive is far too rigid . I can see if a civilization still lives in caves, or don't even have the internet. But to not clue them in that they are being played and taken advantage of just because they don't know how to build or add a turbocharger on their ships, is very cruel.
Sun, May 13, 2018, 12:37pm (UTC -5)
The Public Service Announcement about Drugs. Are. Bad. to Wesley was AWFUL. What ridiculous lame writing. Do they really need to beat viewers over the head with a sledgehammer with that point?
Nice concept, but terrible writing, terrible acting, and it became all SO BORING!
Sat, May 19, 2018, 6:22pm (UTC -5)
Wed, May 23, 2018, 6:45pm (UTC -5)
Poor, Picard. Lol. He couldn't get over the stupidity of the caotain. The way he delivered the line, "yes. I Think that's best," was gold.
Thu, May 24, 2018, 3:21pm (UTC -5)
It is with regard to Tasha that I want to speak up for this episode because for the first act she is suddenly competent, rather than being a helpless bridge bunny, and that was long overdue. Still too little, too late.
Wed, Jan 30, 2019, 8:25pm (UTC -5)
It's a good test case if you want to talk about the death of the author, at least!
I hope The Orville decides to remake this episode. One of their mistakes is redoing good Star Trek episodes that are hard to improve on, instead of bad ones that could easily be upgraded.
Fri, Mar 1, 2019, 4:21am (UTC -5)
Fri, Mar 1, 2019, 1:51pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Mar 17, 2019, 10:08am (UTC -5)
The episode also ends on a great scene, Picard and the crew randomly picking a segment of the universe to boldly explore. These bookends really convey a sense of science and exploration as a giddy, fun impulse.
Another thing: I believe no episode in TNG is more packed with extras and darting about background characters. The bridge and Enterprise is far more busy than usual in this episode, crewman and women always zipping about in droves. I like this, as it really conveys the idea that this is a huge vessel.
I've noticed that the comments on this site, particularly for TOS and s1 of TNG, get less harsh as time goes on; people seem to become more forgiving and/or begin to find several dated aspects to be kind of charming and retro. The new HD transfers of TOS and TNG may also be an influence; this episode, with the twin planets, and sunlight glinting off the Enterprise's hull, looks great.
Beyond this, I thought the core storyline of this episode was good, at least in theory. The idea of a simbiotic/parasitic relationship between a planet of addicts and drug dealers is a great concept, and still relevant (such parasitic relationships apply to goods/products/trade-deals far outside the realm of narcotics). But as Jammer mentions, several sanctimonious, on-the-nose speeches tarnish the episode badly.
In a comment above, Elliot praises Picard's elevator speech. It always rubbed me the wrong way. It's wonderfully acted and staged, and I tend to defend the Prime Directive's non-interference policies in some other episodes, but here it's surely wrong (?). You have a planet of drug dealers essentially going into a community, lying to a group of people, getting them addicted, and then exploiting them for profit. Surely one has a moral duty to stop this, and explain to the victims what's going on. To me it just seems like one of Trek's more stark and clear dilemmas, and something that demands swift action.
On the flip side, what I always like about these early PD episodes (there've been at least 3 so far in season 1), is how Picard "always finds a way". He kowtows to the PD, but manages to find a loophole in which (what I believe to be) the moral is never-less arrived upon. It's a kind of intellectual game of chess, and Picard shines as a character when he's asked to navigate these dilemmas.
Sat, May 18, 2019, 9:22am (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 2, 2019, 10:59pm (UTC -5)
The episode isn't so much about drug addiction as it is about the Prime Directive and making hard choices - not doing the easy thing or seeking instant gratification.
The scene where Yar explains drug addiction to a clueless Wes was awful.
More fuel added to the Picard/Crusher mutual attraction thing, though knowing this is going nowhere, it just makes me sigh.
Sun, Aug 4, 2019, 4:05am (UTC -5)
None of the premise or explanation of this episode is rational or believable:
- A planet which has figured out space travel hasn't figured out how to examine and understand chemical compounds and has no conception of what drugs are?
- An entire planet is addicted to a drug and nobody on it has even been separated from the drug long enough to realize that withdrawals pass? Nobody on this planet ever gets lost in the wilderness, doesn't have the funds to acquire the drug, or any of many other scenarios where they'd inevitably get over the withdrawal period? How do newborns come to be addicted to the drug? Nobody ever just wilfully refuses to take it either out of protest or with a goal to suicide, or some other motivation?
- Picard and his crew violate the "prime direction" worse than speaking simple truth to these people all the time. And Picard violated the prime directive worse than telling the 'drug addicts' the truth when he saved them from their decaying ship - that interventionist action ensured that the entire planet would continue to be drugged, while if Picard hadn't done that they would have been forced to go through withdrawal with no alternative. Picard obviously violated the "prime directive" to save Wesley Crusher... but he wouldn't save an entire planet filled with teenagers of Wesley Crusher's age, and of children and babies younger than him?
- Picard gives utmost hypocritical speeches on the prime directive and how critical it is in an episode where he violates it multiple times, including wilfully and knowingly by giving the inhabitants of the drug-using planet the coils they need to fix their cargo ships. Picard later reverses that decision, but not for the sake of the prime directive, but because he wanted to cut their supply of the drug - and he openly acknowledges that he's flip-flopping and being selective in where he applies the prime directive by responding to the drug seller's "that's absurd!" comment by saying, "you did not think so when it worked in your favour". There is just 1 minutes and 50 seconds between Picard selectively applying the prime directive as a tool for ulterior motives and openly acknowledging that he's doing so, and him giving Dr Crusher a lecture on the prime directive's importance in the elevator. This is stupid.
- The planet that makes and sells the drugs to the other is 100% filled with evil persons who eagerly exploit the other planet's people and feel no compassion or sense of humanity towards them? Not one of the people on that planet cared to send a message to tell the other planet that they're just addicted? An entire planet's population has no compassion, doesn't regard other people are equal to themselves? How could that planet then care for each other? They couldn't, they would inevitably rationalize betrayal of each other just as they do the people on the other planet.
These are just some select major issues with the episode, while I think I could point out a dozen more. This whole episode's premise and execution was completely stupid, and it shouldn't have been done. The episode also is entirely ignorant of the topic of drug use and portrays out-dated (were they ever in-date?) tropes of people who use drugs, and is like watching a very old film that features extreme racial prejudices that were normal at the time, but which reeks of ignorance when watched today.
I would not be surprised to find out that this episode was sponsored by the US government or some other third party - though, the DEA seems a very likely possibility.
Mon, Sep 30, 2019, 4:07am (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 12, 2019, 1:50pm (UTC -5)
The Prime Directive, earlier in the season (I am thinking of "Justice" in particular) seemed to be used as a way of hamstringing the crew, for the sake of contriving drama (really? Not allowing Wesley to be executed, when the Edo basically told the Enterprise it could beam away with Wesley in tow and the world would go on, was interference with a developing world's beliefs? It was, as Picard said in a later episode, imposing a set of commandments on the Edo? Please). Here the Prime Directive was used with a nod toward reality and sanity. The Ornarans asked for help to install the coil. The show never told us what the exact contours of the Prime Directive were, but providing the installation help didn't seem an infraction. Later discovery of additional facts caused Picard to realize that "non-interference" as a principle was best-served by doing nothing and letting the parties stew in their own juices. The execution may have been wanting, but the premise here was sound enough
Sat, Oct 12, 2019, 5:41pm (UTC -5)
The Prime Directive had never, prior to this episode’s airdate, NEVER been described in the show in the amount of detail necessary to make your arguments valid, or invalid. As of the airing of this episode, to the extent the PD has been defined at all, it has been defined for expository purposes, I.e., by Kirk in Bread and Circuses.
Who Watchers the Watchers and the episode First Contact finally gave us more detail. But those episodes of course cam after the this one.
Also, in reality, a corollary to “Just Say No” was that, if you did not say no, too bad f o you, you are weak and you should be incarcerated. This episode did not blindly parrot Nancy Reagan; taken as a whole the episode was somewhat sympathetic to the Ornarans, definitely vis a vis the Brekkians. The episode, to me, was more of an indictment of the untrammeled capitalist mentality that allowed the symbiotic relationship to flourish In the first place.
I realIze my comments go against Official Interpretive Orthodoxy.
So maybe I should be stoned
No pun intended
Sat, Mar 28, 2020, 7:46pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Jul 18, 2017, 5:20pm (UTC -5)
"So: The Ornorans loaded their wobbly freighter with goods to barter for the drug, and flew to Brekka . There, Brekkans loaded the drug onto the freighter but somehow forgot to offload the Ornaran goods. Then the Brekkans climbed aboard the deathtrap ship themselves for a ride to Ornora. We're not given even a throwaway line to explain any of this."
"I remain confused also by how the two cultures are portrayed. The Ornorans have spacefaring technology but are dumb as Pacleds about maintaining their ships. They also wear clothes that look rustic and threadbare. What's the message: Are they stupid? Drugged to the point of incompetence? Impoverished by the predatory Brekkans? None of these options make a lot of sense. Meanwhile the Brekkans are wearing the latest in metallic fashions - presumably manufactured in Ornoran factories. And for all their apparent riches and leisure time, they've been content to remain technologically behind the Ornorans they look down on - and are okay with completely dependent on them and their crumbling ships?"
Amen to that! I didn't even think of the logistics of this particular journey and why the Brekkians were even on the Ornaran ship in the first place. I was also confused about why the Ornarans were so incoherent and incompetent in the beginning, and never really thought it might be because they were high. If that was the case though, how would they have the wherewithal to sustain a manufacturing base, not to mention space travel? None of that was paid off in the episode.
What really got me is that the Brekkians have no industry other than felicium production; the Ornarans provide everything they need. Ok, whatever. It would make more sense if they were transporting just the raw plant and not the finished product, since the Ornarans have all the industrial capabilities, but then they couldn't take the drug on the ship. Anyway, I guess they're trying to convey that the Ornarans have to give the Brekkians every last little bit of their industrial production to pay for the felicium, leaving them nothing but threadbare clothes and broken-down ships. Except they only had one functional ship left. Are we to believe that the Ornarans were able to transport ALL the Brekkian's goods in that one ratty ship that only ever made three or four journeys per year? This really is sloppy.
It might work if they didn't dumb down the Ornarans so much. Make this just one run out of dozens per year with different ships. It can still be critical to a large percentage of the population. Or maybe a previous shipment was lost, tainted, or whatever. The Ornarans should be more like the Malon from Voyager. Sour, dirty, doing what they have to do, but still basically competent, if not single-minded and ruthless. I guess that wouldn't play into the "drugs are bad" message.
Wed, Apr 29, 2020, 2:35pm (UTC -5)
If Picard and crew helped the Ornarans to (relatively) quickly overcome their addiction, it would have doomed the Brekkians as a whole; surely not all Brekkians would have deserved such a fate. What makes Picard's decision smart here in my view is that it does not turn the situation on its head, but lets both races know that present arrangements cannot continue in the long-term: the Ornarans can no longer maintain their vessels, thus the drug trade WILL eventually stop - but it gives a chance for both races to prepare and, hopefully, arrive at a better solution.
Fri, Jul 3, 2020, 7:36pm (UTC -5)
I’m assuming the powers that be, at least where I lived, never explained the “positivess” that drug use had because it would seem like promoting it or something. I don’t know though, because you would see someone smoking weed or something without the extreme consequences of worst case heroine abuse or whatever, and it’s a pretty quick leap that you were being lied to, so I question this rationale.
Anyway, they could have played this scene better. It would go a long ways if Wesley had just nodded in befuddledment, rather than the aw-shucks thing they went with.
Sun, Oct 18, 2020, 9:53pm (UTC -5)
I felt Picard's frustration after dealing with these two planets' problems. There was no real win here, plus he and Crusher ebded at loggerheads. It's going to be difficult for both worlds going forward, although the solution with the coils was novel. At the end, Picard's weary realization that he didn't care where they went, as long as he could put this one behind them, was palpable. Stewart's line reading was great. His voice actually cracked a little as he repeated, "I don't care." Good stuff.
Back to the opening scene. Was this the first instance where we see a Picard face palm? Those never get old.
Sun, Feb 21, 2021, 6:09am (UTC -5)
This was not as well plyed as "Dear Doctor". The story was not so clear until the surprising resolution. Until then I was as upset as Dr. Crusher. First then I realised the connection. I would say the plot was one of the better and the acting standard TNG.
Mon, Feb 22, 2021, 7:00pm (UTC -5)
It's cool to beam drug dealers and addicts onto the ship but preventing an entire population being unwittingly held hostage by drug dependence in the guise of a plague is peachy-fine?
I get where it makes sense with regards to populations who lack the technological advancement to discern the Federation from gods but the way the Prime Directive is invoked almost always elicits an eyeroll from me because it's clear that it only matters to the writers when the plot demands.
Tue, Feb 23, 2021, 10:48am (UTC -5)
Yep, it's the plot driven inconsistency that bothers me the most.
There is an interesting moral dilemma it this episode, but the setup is too implausible.
1) The drug addicted planet isn't plausible because the populace seems to have devolved to the point that they have the intelligence of Pakleds. I suppose this was done to explain why they were incapable of figuring out what was really going on with the "medicine" but it makes their society seem unrealistic.
2) The drug dealing planet isn't plausible either, because if they are smart enough to run this scam for this long they are smart enough to realize that they can't depend on their customers for transportation.
3) The scale is way off. An entire planet is being supported by what can be carried on three cargo ships?
With a little tweaking (ahem) the plot could have worked.
What if the drug addicted planet knew the "medicine" was nothing more than dope, and just didn't care? Or, at least, weren't willing to go through the pain of withdrawals. Change from two dimensional drug pushers to three dimensional characters who are dealers but who also have some shreds of guilt over being enablers; deep down they are still doing what they do for selfish reasons, but they rationalize it as doing it to "help" their poor neighbors.
Picard's dilemma would still be the same: do the right thing for planet B and there will be unknown and potentially disastrous consequences for planet A. Except now you don't have an easy situation where it feels like the villains are simply getting their just deserts and the addicts aren't simply blameless victims.
As it ends now it feels like a cheat. Picard will be able to stick to the letter of the PD, and still give Crusher what she wants; the drug addicted planet will overcome its addiction. The good guys win! The problem is that it's going to cause the exact same problems that Picard was worried about: there will undoubtable be dire consequences for the drug dealing planet; their entire way of life will be destroyed. (Question: Was the entire populace in on the conspiracy?) Heck, there could even be war between the two planets. Who cares? Picard just orders the Enterprise to haul ass out of there and doesn't look back.
If that is an acceptable outcome, then why did Picard "interfere" in the first place by saving the crew of the cargo ship? The only difference is a matter of scale.
Wouldn't a better ending be one in which the Federation agrees to help both planets? Help planet B kick its habit, and agree to send economic advisors and trade negotiators to planet A to help them overcome the upheaval to their economy? At best, you save a lot of lives and gain two new allies. At worst, you have a situation that is still better than the one Picard ultimately left them with.
Wed, Feb 24, 2021, 4:52pm (UTC -5)
Honestly, there's just something about the Prime Directive that sort of romanticizes the idea of a society pulling itself up by its bootstraps while ignoring the very real suffering that must take place.
Imagine a Federation type organization was monitoring earth during WW2 or the Bubonic plague. Untold suffering allowed to go on for centuries without intervention because of this absurd idea that a civilization cannot take a shortcut.
Better to let children suffer from parasites that eat out the back of their eyeballs than to maybe disrupt a society built around backwards beliefs and woefully inept medical capabilities.
Mon, Mar 15, 2021, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
The Prime Directive is problematic as ever, but at least it had the unusual angle of two other parties.
But, what if Beverly or Picard just told the Brekka they were just druggies? It wouldn’t matter, they would be “yeah fine whatever.” It’s naive to think they don’t know. They may even be perfectly happy with the situation.
And technically, Bevs doesn’t 100% know that they don’t legit medically need the drug.
Still, all in all, it was a pretty good episode for season one. That a hand full of people represent a planet was always a limitation of the show simply because that’s all you can do on a weekly show with 20+ episodes a year.
Fri, Mar 19, 2021, 7:50am (UTC -5)
He was very keen for Q to “interfere“ to prevent Starfleet and Earth being assimilated by the Borg - but when begged by Dr. Crusher to give the Ornarans something that could break them of their addiction, he preaches the Prime Directive, which he construes as forbidding interference, at her.
Apparently the PD does not apply when a member of Starfleet is in danger of getting the chop for committing a crime on an alien planet - far from letting the Edosians execute Wesley, Picard‘s adherence to the rule of non-interference that he praises so highly in Symbiosis is allowed to be put on one side. The PD is clearly absolutely binding for Picard - except when it’s not convenient. Millions of strangers can suffer for his inviolable moral principle, the PD - but stuff the PD if it endangers people he cares about. Then it magically (that being the apposite word) ceases to be inviolable. And, as magically, becomes inviolable again when he wants it to be. Bare-faced callousness, though ugly, is at least preferable to callousness masquerading as moral high-mindedness and principle.
His hypocrisy would be nowhere near as offensive if he did not set himself up as morally superior to us 20th-century barbarians. The self-righteous self-congratulation of characters in TNG is one of its more unattractive features. If the members of Starfleet are such moral paragons, why do they lack the wisdom to reject our hypocrisies, instead of copying them ? Picard 0 - Dr. Crusher 1
It’s no wonder he was in a hurry to leave that system - he probably had an uneasy conscience.
To Picard’s credit, he does lose some of his tendency to self-righteous posturing in the course of the series.
I think Jammer was right - 2 seems a fair mark for the episode.
Mon, Mar 29, 2021, 2:59pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Jun 19, 2021, 3:00am (UTC -5)
You know, I used to think the upcoming Skin Of Evil was the worst episode, but now I’ll reserve judgment - it will have to go a long way to beat Symbiosis.
0.5 stars, if that.
Sat, Jun 19, 2021, 3:14am (UTC -5)
I agree, 100%
@Prince of Space
Uh? I just watched this on Netflix and there was no reference to flossing. If there had been, I’d have at least got a good laugh.
Yes, the look on “electrified Riker’s” face was indeed “so bad it’s almost good “!
Sat, Sep 18, 2021, 10:07am (UTC -5)
Like... what? Why?
So the Onarrans loaded the payment onto the ship... flew to Brekkia... picked up the drugs... AND two Brekkians for some reason... and then flew back to Onarra with both the drugs and the payment on board... for what reason exactly?
I can't come up with any reasonable explanation for why that scenario played out the way it did.
It's not that big of a deal, clearly - I mean I never even picked up on it until someone else pointed it out - but it's the sort of thing that, once you realize it, it's just mind boggling.
Other than that this episode is alright, definitely one of the better S1 outings. I appreciate how delightfully evil the Brekkians are portrayed, and how much they seem to enjoy being bastards - especially the woman, she's just so smarmy.
2.5/4, maybe even 3.
Sat, Sep 18, 2021, 10:32am (UTC -5)
Yes, Tasha's conversation with The Boy is heavy handed and wooden, and yes, Wesley's "aw-shucks-gee-wiz" naïveté frankly, well, sickens me, BUT...
That doesn't make anything Tasha says untrue, and honestly the point she makes is fairly progressive for 1988. Her point is, "drugs are bad because it's easy to get stuck in a cycle of addiction and dependence," which, after eight years of Nancy telling the whole nation to "Just Say No" comes across as a much more nuanced approach to discussing addiction than the writers might have otherwise taken.
I mean it's taken us as a society the last thirty years to just begin to come to that understanding and base treatment around rehabilitation rather than punishment. So, I think the episode deserves credit for that.
The moral of this story is less "don't do drugs" and more "it's morally reprehensible to exploit other people's ignorance for your own gain." That's hardly a hot take of course, but, it's less "after school special" than it could have been.
Wed, Dec 22, 2021, 8:20am (UTC -5)
PICARD: Do you think we are in danger from this plague?
CRUSHER: Again, I need more time.
Okay, so you don't know yet whether their disease is contagious, and yet you didn't quarantine them or take any steps to prevent the spread of this disease? HELLO!
I actually agree with the principle of the Prime Directive. Unfortunately, it's very hard to dramatize and isn't applied consistently throughout the series. Isn't the simple act of saving the four people on the freighter interference in itself? One interpretation of the Prime Directive would be that Picard shouldn't have answered the distress call in the first place, in which case we would have no episode.
I'm also confused as to why Picard originally plans to give them the coils, only to later change his mind. Does that violate the PD or not? He seems awfully confident that not giving them the coils will eventually free them of the drug, but if the Brekkians are smart at all (which, admittedly, they may not be), they would offer to fix the Ornarans' ships in order to preserve their business. The felicium must flow!
Wed, Dec 22, 2021, 1:18pm (UTC -5)
When it comes to spacefaring races, it appears the PD is less rigid than with prewarp cultures. It is permissible to render emergency or other aid (helping a crippled ship with repairs, rendering emergency aid etc...) provided doing so does no explicitly influence for fundamentally change their culture.
So fixing their ship was fine as long as it was just the equivalent of a roadside tire change - not fine when Picard realized it would be fundamentally altering the course of their culture by perpetuating this drug addiction that otherwise was going to end once supply of the drug was cut off.
To use another example, helping defend Gowron's flagship from pirates would probably have been fine, but not against other Klingons in a civil war like in Redemption.
It's admittedly really murky but there is some kind of logic to it if you look hard enough and ignore some episodes.
Wed, Dec 22, 2021, 1:27pm (UTC -5)
Jason outlined quite nicely how that works.
Wed, Apr 13, 2022, 1:05pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Apr 18, 2022, 7:31am (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 23, 2022, 10:56pm (UTC -5)
Picard: "it's not my decision."
"We need some now! NOW.! I don't care if it's your decision. Get us some! Our people need it! And if you don't give it to us you will be a party to the murder, not only of us, but also of an entire civilization!!"
That escalated quickly! Lmao
Fri, Mar 3, 2023, 10:34am (UTC -5)
You're teasing, right? Or you somehow forgot that this show was made 14 years before Enterprise?
Whoever explained the huge plot hole about the Brekkians AND the Ornarans AND the drugs AND the payment all on the same ship at the same time, bravo! I never thought of that and you're right, it's a mess. Added to the mess that was the rest of the episode.
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