Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Pen Pals"

3 stars

Air date: 5/1/1989
Teleplay by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Story by Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In what's another somewhat low-key but palatable episode, Data makes radio contact with a young alien girl named Sarjenka (Nikki Cox) on a nearby planet, and they become "pen pals" for eight weeks. Data then learns the girl's planet is facing an ecological catastrophe that will destroy their entire civilization, and now the senior staff must decide whether to break (or at least bend) the Prime Directive to save them.

The subplot involves Wesley being put in charge of a mineral survey team. Considering he isn't even commissioned by Starfleet, I can see his trepidation about not being respected by those on his team. For that matter, I wouldn't necessarily blame those skeptical of his abilities since he hasn't had any training. But I suppose part of being brilliant means you don't necessarily need all the certifications. Riker's advice to Wesley about leadership and authority is surprisingly credible — even useful — despite the fact it sounds like the sort of advice dispensed at corporate seminars.

The central point of interest to me is the fact that it's Data — the emotionless android — who makes the initial case for Sarjenka's people's survival, and that he formulates his argument based on logic but also — make no mistake — based on his own personal feelings. The story paints an intriguing paradox: Data might not have any explicit emotions, but he does have a sense of compassion for Sarjenka. Just what does this paradox mean? How much humanity does Data possess? (It would seem a great deal.)

In true TNG fashion, there's a scene where the senior staff debates the Prime Directive, and this scene is played not as drama or high emotion, but as reasoned, intellectual debate based on opinion. Picard ultimately decides to save the society but erase Sarjenka's memories of Data — a solution that poses an interesting question (is it right to deny Sarjenka the knowledge of the truth?), but at the same time feels like too neat (and tech-contrived) a way out of the dilemma.

Previous episode: The Icarus Factor
Next episode: Q Who

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77 comments on this review

Immanuel
Sat, Sep 15, 2007, 4:34pm (UTC -5)
"Pen Pals"

One thing I really like about this episode, is that Sarjenka and her homeworld actually look pretty...alien. I tend to roll my eyes at the blues skies, white clouds and Earth-like plant life found on far too many Trekkian worlds. This is definitely one of the better season two episodes, and I agree with your rating.
David
Thu, Oct 7, 2010, 10:24pm (UTC -5)
One quick thought on "Pen Pals," which is one of my favorite episodes. The scene in which the senior staff debate what to do about Data's friend on the surface, and how to apply the prime directive, is what Star Trek is all about, and it's the kind of debate that Star Trek does better than any other TV series. Those are the moments that make me proud to be a Trek fan.
Brandon
Tue, Jul 10, 2012, 3:25pm (UTC -5)
The senior staff debate is also the sort of thing that has given Trek crew its reputation as a collection of "preachy, pretentious, self-righteous jerks". Nobody with any kind of compassion would even stop to have that debate, especially if memory alteration was at their disposal. There's not even an argument here - how is any properly predictable outcome better than letting the people die? JUST HELP THEM, for crying out loud.

When Picard first mumbled back in 1988, "We cannot turn our backs", millions of TV viewers leap out of their chairs, scream "Wellll, glad you finally found your humanity, you hypocrite - I arrived at that conclusion after the first act" and turned their televisions off.
William
Wed, Aug 29, 2012, 7:18pm (UTC -5)
I liked this episode -- I guess for the reason some people don't. I liked the PD debate, and I found the Sarjenka/Data friendship heartwarming.
Rikko
Sun, Mar 17, 2013, 11:16pm (UTC -5)
I was a bit put off by Sarjenka's vivid orange color, but other than that Data-Atomic Tomato Girl's relationship was the crux of Pen Pals.

Wesley was still "S1 Annoying Wesley" at this point, so I didn't particularly like him.

It was fine for me, but nothing special.
Lewis
Wed, May 1, 2013, 4:01pm (UTC -5)
Wasn't Data's original communications with the planet itself a violation of the PD?
Sintek
Tue, May 14, 2013, 5:15am (UTC -5)
Data was wildly out of character the whole episode. I think there's a throwaway line that Data knows what he is doing is wrong, yet still he plows on for no reason other than the plot demands it. Even the setup is lazy: Data is actively looking for RF signals in space, detects an artificial one, and works to clean it up so he can reply.
Peremensoe
Tue, Jun 11, 2013, 10:20pm (UTC -5)
If, as Troi argues, the Enterprise's presence and ability to help is as much a part of the 'cosmic plan' as the planet's crisis... then why can't Sarjenka's first contact be part of it too? That happened because of *who she was*. And then Pulaski lied to her, drugged her, and zapped her brain to steal it from her.

Patrick
Fri, Jun 28, 2013, 1:11am (UTC -5)
David's response is a bit adolescent and unenlightened. Picard's monologue was important, and has a lot of resonance especially in the United States, where we have one to many times interfered with other countries and it has turned out HORRIBLY.
M.P.
Wed, Aug 7, 2013, 11:46pm (UTC -5)
This episode in itself does not really earn much respect in my opinion. (When watching I skip over all of Wesley's scenes.) What it represents in the Star Trek universe, however does.

Anyone who understands the expanded Trek universe knows that the Federation has allowed hundreds of species to die. There are great arguments on both sides of this debate, so I will give my personal opinion.

I believe (and this has nothing to do with the current debate on abortion) that any species in this universe deserves the chance to exist. I believe in modern times that an individual who knows of a crime and does nothing to prevent/help solve it is just as guilty as the perpetrator.

What I am saying is that I find it reprehensible that the "morally superior" Federation knowingly allows entire species to become exist when they had the chance to save them in a non-interventionist way. Should they be scorned if a species dies and they could do nothing? No, of course not. But to know that millions if not billions of people are suffering and dying and do nothing is tantamount to destroying them themselves.

The argument that "another Dominion" might be created doesn't hold water; as these cultures will be centuries if not millenia behind the Federation. In all likelyhood they will be saving potential future members.

That's my $0.02.
SkepticalMI
Mon, Sep 23, 2013, 10:59pm (UTC -5)
Kudos to the writers for not making any of the science team Wesley deals with gratuitously antagonistic. I was fully expecting it from the moment this subplot appeared; it's such an obvious cliche yet one that is absolutely omnipresent (it happened in Arsenal of Freedom, for example). I kept waiting and waiting for the cocky blue shirt to get upset and to argue and intimidate Wesley so that he could eventually stand up to him... but it never happened! Instead, he gave his professional opinion calmly and in a friendly matter, and when Wesley eventually overruled him he had no problem with it. Very pleasant surprise there.

Of course, Wesley second guessing himself, getting advice, then changing his mind, and having that decision be the key to the whole problem is a cliche in itself too... But it was a 15 minute B plot which was, on the whole, fairly intelligently written. I'll grant them one plot shortcut.

I was pleasantly surprised by this episode as a whole. It's low key and talky, and Data is wildly out of character, but was a decent observation of the Prime Directive as well as a case of Duty vs Conscience. Good acting all around, particularly Patrick Stewart (I quite enjoyed his scenes with Riker and pointing out how deep they were getting in all of this).

As for the Living Room Debate (great idea to locate it there, by the way), it was reasonably well done, regardless of whether I agree with it or not. Two parts did bug me though:

- Riker's obsession with fate. Huh? That seems out of line with the secularist world of Star Trek. Where did that come from? I suppose they're trying to mirror possible debate topics that would come up in the real world, but it did seem out of place. And, of course, it was shot down easily enough, as well it should be.

- I get the point, but I think it is very wildly out of Picard's character to make a decision and then reverse it after hearing the voice of a scared little girl. If it was an adult male calmly requesting help, would Picard have ignored it? So the Prime Directive is absolute unless a cute voice tugs at your heartstrings? Puhleeze.

In fact, it's a particular pet peeve of mine. And unfortunately it's one that finds its way into way too many of our debates today, which is the appeal to raw emotion. It's cheap, it's unfair (especially if sidelined in public with it), and it should have no place for impersonal decisions like government or business or whatever.

To avoid any contentious examples, I'll head straight to Godwin. The US and her allies were unified politically, socially, economically, and militarily in a goal that had a unavoidable side effect of making cute innocent little 4-year old German and Japanese girls cry because their daddies would never come home. It happened, and it was our fault. But we did it anyway. And that was to prevent little British girls from crying and little French girls from crying and little Chinese girls from crying and little Jewish girls from dying.

If Eisenhower had heard a little German girl over the radio pleading for her daddy's life, would it have tugged on his heartstrings? I hope so, because I would like to believe he was a good man. Would he have cancelled D-Day? Undoubtedly not, because that is the epitomy of intellectual cowardice.

Huge, sweeping political statements like the Prime Directive have bad consequences. But going against the PD has bad consequences as well. And making your choice based on an emotional appeal from one side (when the other side is conveniently not present) is incredibly stupid. And it's incredibly un-Picard like.

(None of that is relevant to whether or not the PD as stated in this episode is a just law or not. Just that it should be honored or not based on its merits, not based on how cute the alien is).
MyComputerMan (John)
Thu, Mar 27, 2014, 11:25am (UTC -5)
I liked this episode very much, and wondered what happend when Sarjenka woke up with the singing stone in her hand. So I wrote a sequel script, got an agent, submitted it to Paramount, and, well they didn't buy it, but it is a pretty good read. I leave it for all the universe to enjoy on this fan site: trekfanfiction.net/the-next-generation/john-comeauxgmail-com/faith-a-television-screenplay-for-sttng/
Tom
Fri, Mar 28, 2014, 2:29am (UTC -5)
Another Prime Directive debate. I find the ethics of the Prime Directive highly debatable, but at the same time they're realistic. The Enterprise can't save everyone in the galaxy. They have, arguably, something better to do, though at times it seems like they're just cruising around the galaxy going from perilous situation to perilous situation. Still, this highlights the privileged situation of the crew of the Enterprise. At the end, Picard hints that he saved the entire planet for the sake of Data's emotional well-being: "One of my officers, one my friends was troubled". I find it a bit troubling that the emotional health of one member of the crew is considered more important than the fate of an entire species.

I think that there's also an ethical debate to be had about wiping people's memories without their consent.

For me, this episode highlights the fact that the crew of the Enterprise are highly privileged citizens of the galaxy and that they don't view themselves as equals to other species.
Jack O
Wed, Aug 6, 2014, 5:34am (UTC -5)
So, 3 Starfleet officers, graduated from Starfleet Academay, accept being bossed by a teen whose mom is a friend of the Captain? Very unlikely.
Brennan
Thu, Sep 4, 2014, 9:06pm (UTC -5)
I understand the grounds of the Prime Directive. If a species, who is completely unaware of life outside their galaxy, suddenly is saved by a different, more advanced species, it could completely throw off the geopolitical structure of a society. I think this is outlined really well in "First Contact" because it shows a society, that is intelligent but believes they are the center of the universe, starts having citizens break down in the most fundamental ways (crisis of faith, anti-progression, etc.) A species might even 'worship' said saviors because of the technology they couldn't understand saving their lives.

I think the Prime Directive is more about that we don't have all the details of a society, and we don't know what will happen if they realize they are just a piece of a vast universe full of aliens more and less advanced than them.

To me that is what this episode represents. The fact that in a time of dire need, when every hour counts, and you don't have all the details, do you risk the chance of completely throwing apart a society or accidentally empowering it to save it? Some would argue yes, but think of it in the most basic sense: Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, would the death a species just be the ultimate form of natural selection? The inability to adapt in a very violent universe wipes a species out before a million other things do? Who knows, because we can't see the future and we have to assume Star Trek doesn't believe it does either. "The Ensigns of Command" is a good episode to display that - the original survivors of the downed ship had to adapt to the radiation, adapt to the environment and get water, supplies, and other necessities, and in the end they had to adapt to leaving all of that in order to survive; Albeit in this situation with the help of the federation, but the existence of the federation was not unknown to the survivors.
Grumpy
Thu, Sep 4, 2014, 11:00pm (UTC -5)
Brennan, you equivocated in a very interesting way. You started talking about cultural contamination but shifted to evolution and extinction. That's okay; the episode mixes them, too. But they are very different considerations, which your comment (and not the years-long "Dear Doctor" debate) revealed to me for the first time.

Last year, Lewis asked, "Wasn't Data's original communications with the planet itself a violation of the PD?" No, not unless he revealed himself as an otherwordly alien. If he responded simply as someone from "far away," that's no different than other undercover contacts we see with pre-warp cultures. The PD doesn't forbid all contact, just disclosing the existence of space travelers (per "Bread and Circuses") or interfering with natural development (as in "Patterns of Force," where the contamination had nothing to do with John Gill exposing himself as an alien).

Ah, but what is natural development? Does it include extinction? Think of saving Bre'el IV in "Deja Q": we didn't hear Riker pontificate about hubris then. Does it matter if those asking for help are warp-capable or UFP allies? Not if "fate" wants them dead. But our heroes defy fate all the time. They saved Bre'el IV like they saved countless others. And in "Pen Pals," they saved Drema II without interfering with the native culture. The PD was appeased.

Suppose an anthropologist studying a remote Amazon tribe saw they were dying of a disease she could cure (say, by treating the water supply) with the tribe none the wiser. Should she? If she let fate take its course, few would applaud her restraint, her ethical commitment to observe but not interfere. Contra Picard, such an ethic is not meant to protect the observer; it is, quite obviously, to protect the observed. If the rule permits their destruction, it protects nothing.

Didn't mean to ramble and sorry if this adds little to well-trod PD ground.
Shannon
Sun, Feb 1, 2015, 1:49pm (UTC -5)
The senior staff debate is what Star Trek is all about, and probably something Roddenberry opposed because he thought "conflict" would be a thing of the past by the 24th century, which is absurd. This debate showed that conflict can still exist, but it can be resolved through reasoned arguments, and that once the captain makes his/her decision, the debate is over... David, your comment is irrational, and demonstrates an ignorant attitude about the Prime Directive. History has proven that despite our best intentions, interfering in another society tends to have disastrous consequences (the old cliche "the road to hell is paved with good intentions"). During the debate I found myself on the fence, not sure which way to go, which shows how brilliant the writing was. It's not our place to interfere with the laws of nature, but then again, could we just sit back and watch an entire species get wiped out if we have the ability to prevent it? Tought one, but ultimately Picard made the right decision in my opinion... Great episode!
Grumpy
Sun, Feb 1, 2015, 5:46pm (UTC -5)
@Shannon
By definition, to say Roddenberry opposed "what Star Trek is all about" is a contradiction. It was his baby, after all. We don't know if he endorsed the debate scene or not, but I suspect it was an allowable conflict.

The dramatic conflict excluded by the "Roddenberry box" would've been the common grist for any other TV show. However, he decreed his 24th century characters to be beyond prejudice, ego, or immaturity (...and grieving or smiling). That doesn't rule out reasoned disagreements. The debate in "Pen Pals" is exemplary because it perfectly fits within Roddenberry's box.

Of course, there's plenty of room in that box for characters to be smug, conceited, and arrogant about how evolved they are, and that's on display in the scene, too.
Nic
Tue, Mar 17, 2015, 8:31pm (UTC -5)
In this episode, Riker says "These planets live fast and die hard." The episode aired less than a year after the movie Die Hard was released. Coincidence? I think not!
Kahryl
Tue, Apr 21, 2015, 10:03pm (UTC -5)
That senior staff debate made them all look like spoony morons swayed by the worst excuses for poetic one-liners. Not a moment of clarity or logical thinking from any of them.

The Wesley subplot on the other hand was very well done and showed a side of the Enterprise we rarely see.
Pam
Tue, May 12, 2015, 7:00am (UTC -5)
Even though it had its moments, I found myself rather unimpressed as a whole with this episode. It didn't start well, with Riker stating that he'd like to give Wesley some command experience (eye roll), then it moved on to Data rather inexplicably pulling a console apart, at his own behest. (And considering that Data happens to be third in command of the ENTIRE SHIP, how is it that Worf is looming over him in a most disapproving manner, even grilling him as to what he is doing? At least in the last episode, he ended his command to "BE GONE!" With a "...sir.")

As others have stated, the hand-wringing over whether or not they should help, since they have the technology to do so AND cover their tracks at the same time ready to hand (or nearly so) just seemed like time-filler to me. And seriously, I'd have thought Troi would be better with kids, being an empath and all.

To be fair, I did enjoy the acting in this episode, especially from Stewart, Spiner, and Frakes. Even though Data was out of character in regards to his new "friend," I felt perhaps it was intended to signify his continued growth beyond being just a machine. I would probably give this 2 1/2 stars, mainly for the little asides between Picard and Riker, and also for watching Data's struggle between helping his friend and following orders, which is very human, indeed.
Diamond Dave
Thu, Aug 27, 2015, 7:12am (UTC -5)
This episode does indeed give an interesting spin on two issues - the philosophical imperative of the Prime Directive, and the nature of command and authority.

I agree with others that Data's behaviour seems odd from the start - if his curiosity is overriding his programming it would suggest he's pretty human already... But this behaviour is required in story terms to effectively present Picard with a fait accompli - everyone recognises it's the wrong choice, if the morally right one. Telling O'Brien that "this never happened" suggests to me that the command staff are indeed up to their necks, and then over their heads.

But the fact there is no consequence to their actions acts to deflate the conclusion - although I can't help feeling that Data, by leaving the stone, pretty much spits in the face of his superiors.

The Wesley B-story is handled well, and by not making his team the usual reject everything protagonists it reaches a much more grounded resolution. 2.5 stars.
Mike
Sun, Sep 20, 2015, 12:14am (UTC -5)
I think, unfortunately, the debate is not very often what Star Trek is about. Normally Star Trek is about one character preaching to another, instead of weighing two strong arguments. All of the greatest episodes (Measure of a Man, Pen Pals, Tin Man, Survivors) have unresolved dilemmas.

Even though this episode has a banal B-plot and naive season 2 dialog, I'd still recommend this just before the likes of Lower Decks, Drumhead or First Duty. You don't need Star Trek to write Lower Decks. To write Pen Pals, you must first invent Star Trek.
Jay
Sat, Sep 26, 2015, 11:34am (UTC -5)
It seemed that there had been no contact whatsoever with this civilization...they seemed pre-warp. So how was it that the universal translator could instantly translate Sarjenka's 4 word "is anybody out there" distress call with absolutely no context? It should have sounded like gibberish.
grumpy_otter
Mon, Oct 19, 2015, 5:30pm (UTC -5)
I hate the prime directive. There is no fate or cosmic plan or anything like that. To suggest that cultures have the right to their own destinies (including destruction) is just ridiculous. People are not little toys to watch as they go about their days or deaths. (I use the word "people" to refer to all sapient beings.) People have the goal of connecting with others; if they don't they can say "go away."

To even suggest for one moment that a species be allowed to become extinct for a reason that could easily be prevented is the worst sort of psychopathic bull -- no matter how much it is dressed up in lofty ideals. Especially when they have been explicitly asked to help, as in this episode.

The best ideals of any people should include the desire to help others. Now, everyone above has made good points about the possible consequences of interference, and certainly the crew shouldn't bounce about the universe willy nilly interfering for the hell of it, but there are some circumstances where there should not even be a discussion, as in the case of Sarjenka's planet.

I just think the whole prime directive idea was arbitrary to create a point for discussion--but it feels so artificial I don't care for it. The PD could just have easily have been "If we have the power to help, we will help." And then subsection A would have covered how to inquire if help was desired.

But it just occurred to me, arbitrary as the PD is, it was designed to create discussion, and looky here. Good one, Gene. :-)

phaedon
Wed, Apr 13, 2016, 5:37pm (UTC -5)
"What I am saying is that I find it reprehensible that the "morally superior" Federation knowingly allows entire species to become exist when they had the chance to save them in a non-interventionist way. Should they be scorned if a species dies and they could do nothing? No, of course not. But to know that millions if not billions of people are suffering and dying and do nothing is tantamount to destroying them themselves."

This is a naive utilitarian argument. Species live in ecosystems, and alongside other species. A decision to "save a species" could have detrimental effects on an ecosystem that is attempting to correct itself; it could preclude the evolution of ten other species of greater value. All of these presumes perfect execution by Starfleet Command, which of course is far from a given. This is a more sophisticated utilitarian argument, showing that is just as easily argued that "you better stay out of it."

Ultimately, to intervene, or choose not to intervene but possess the power to do so, is to play God. What nobody points out here is that Data ultimately makes the most human decision, and everybody else, with the exception of the doctor, uses "reason" to conclude that they should stay out of it.

This is a really important episode both for Data and Wesley. Without any direct conversations, Data is teaching Wesley how to act like an officer. But it's also an important episode for Picard. He steps into his role as a leader in this episode, you can see it in his eyes in his eyes, when Data confronts him and as he sips his tea. It's also conveyed in the following scene.

Commander William T. Riker: One of the reasons you've been given command is so you can make a few right decisions, which will lead to a pattern of success and help build self-confidence. If you don't trust your own judgment, you don't belong in the command chair.
Wesley Crusher: But what if I'm wrong?
Commander: Then you're wrong. It's arrogant to think that you'll never make a mistake.
Wesley: But what if it's something really important, I mean, not just a mineral survey? What if somebody dies because I made a mistake?
Commander: In your position, it's important to ask yourself one question: what would Picard do?
Wesley: He'd listen to everyone's opinion and then make his own decision. But he's Captain Picard.
Riker: Well, it doesn't matter. Once Picard makes his decision, does anyone question it?
Wesley: No way.
Riker: And why not?
Wesley: I'm not sure.
[Riker is ordered to the Captain over comm]
Riker: When you figure it out, you'll understand command.

I really enjoy TNG. It's easy to judge it in hindsight, now that we know it for what it is. Pity we spend time talking about universal translators.

d
Fri, Apr 22, 2016, 5:06pm (UTC -5)
I think....you have all apparently lost sight of the fact that this was a TV show. Written by human beings, whose main objective was to entertain college kids for forty minutes a week, and to make as much money as possible.
nothingoriginal55
Tue, May 3, 2016, 5:13pm (UTC -5)
Anything negative I say about this episode would be nitpicking, it was enjoyable. My gripe is actually with Picard. When did he suddenly go horse crazy? Also I cringe at the blunder blindly forward line.,,but thats all i got...i should hate the Wesley plot, but I don't.
The Man
Sun, Jul 17, 2016, 8:25pm (UTC -5)
I totally disagree @Brandon. It's funny that you refer to the senior staff as "preachy, pretentious, and self-righteous jerks" because in the real world of the United States had done the same thing people such as yourself would have ripped the US for getting involved in something that didn't concern them, needlessly risking American lives, wasting money and time, they're backwards let them help themselves and so forth, especially if it is a country that they decided that they did not like. Arbitrarily saving lives?
The Man
Sun, Jul 17, 2016, 8:30pm (UTC -5)
Actually Patrick your response is childish and selfish and uninformed and actually proves what I said in my previous post about people blaming the US and that being a perfect parallels to the Enterprise
The Man
Sun, Jul 17, 2016, 8:35pm (UTC -5)
Actually @Shannon your comment was irrational and again proves my point. You complain about the United States getting involved in situations and disasterous results what about good results? A somewhat comparable situation would be WWII. People such as yourself would be criticizing the United States for entering into it even through it saved a culture of people from being wiped out brutally as well as saved countries from being conquered and enslaved. That is more comparable to this episode not the usual anti-United States rhetoric.
Trekker
Tue, Sep 6, 2016, 11:56pm (UTC -5)
Tin Man-

I agree that intervention is necessary sometimes, but it is haphazard.

World War II is the best example of US intervention for a positive cause, but recent history has shown that intervention may not always lead to positive outcomes.

I won't even go into the quagmire issues of Iraq, which is well documented by groups of both sides of Liberal and Conservative factions as a mistake (Blame Obama or Bush more, it's still the same war).

I think a perfect counter example to World War II is the Bosnian War of the late 1990's. The US prevented a genocide by Milosevic of ethnic groups, including the eastern European Muslims. We did a good thing and people thought, we just stopped Muslim Holocaust in 1995.

However, what the US and the world had not known at the time was that Pakistan's military and intelligence had been supporting Eastern European Muslims with arms and intelligence assets for geopolitical positioning. At the same time, extremist factions and terrorist groups had gained sympathizers within Pakistani government (let's be honest, Bin Laden couldn't have lived close to a decade in a well armed compound without some support within Pakistan), these terror groups in turned gained supporters and strategic assets from this victory.

IF we knew what we do now 20 years after the Bosnian war, ask yourselves should we have intervened and stopped the genocide there, or allow Milosevic to remain and continue his reign to create a buffer zone between the West and the Middle East.

I am not saying it was wrong to stop mass murder, but we know that inaction could save lives as well down the road, so it's really hard to tell if intervention is right or wrong without the effects being known.

Michael Z Freeman
Sat, Oct 15, 2016, 6:57pm (UTC -5)
Started off hating this episode because of wiping the poor girl's memory, but the comment by phaedon made a good point about the period this episode came out - first broadcast May 1989 according to Memory Alpha. The Berlin Wall had come down and been opened by November 1989 to give some historical context. So along with that and the other comments here I see this episode in quite a different light now.
Tara
Sat, Feb 18, 2017, 4:09pm (UTC -5)
I am shocked.

Shocked by the teaser, in which Deanna Troi was allowed to have a. friendly conversation with a colleague, like a normal person deserving of one minute of character development. The conversation was unique in that it didn't involve the engrossing topic of boyfriends (unlike The Price, the Icurus Factir, the Scottish Ghostie).!!

Okay, we didn't actually learn anything new about her, but it was a refreshing treat. (Except that it made the generally crappy portrayal of the Troi character stand out in sharper relief. )

I do not think Troi got another normal conversation during the entire run of the show.... The possible exceptions being when she was a Romulan or possessed by an alien.
Grumpy
Sun, Feb 19, 2017, 1:12pm (UTC -5)
Tara: "I do not think Troi got another normal conversation during the entire run of the show."

Troi's chocolate sundae bit in "The Game" always seemed a little odd, and now you've explained why.
DragonHead
Thu, Mar 30, 2017, 12:28am (UTC -5)
some incredibly wishy washy historical comments here
borusa
Wed, May 3, 2017, 4:26pm (UTC -5)
I love the comment about Riker's corporate seminar style with Wesley.
Somehow I doubt that the rebellious ensign would just back down when Wes gets all assertive.
I think Data should probably have been put on latrine duty for carrying on an illicit correspondence with some alien kid for eight weeks before finally confessing to the captain.
None of the pompous prime directive drivel made any internally consistent logical sense.
Surely the logic of non interference prevents a less advanced culture from benefiting from assistance from a more advanced culture-what has pre warp got to do with anything at all?
Answer: nothing-it is just non interference-non-assistance-apathy and arrogance which pretty much sums up the Federation of TNG.

I am too primely directed to interfere with the star rating.
TB
Mon, May 8, 2017, 6:20am (UTC -5)
Although a nice episode, it just doesn't make sense for Data's character to not tell the rest of the crew he had made contact with another being.
Sam
Thu, May 11, 2017, 6:25pm (UTC -5)
I liked the PD debate. I think it's interesting that so many people here hate the PD - and I can understand why. And yet it's exactly those opinions which make me think the PD might actually make sense.
The only things I didn't really like about the episode is Data's bizarre behavior (though it makes some narrative sense) and, worse, that he didn't get a good tongue lashing from Picard. I spent the last 10 minutes of the episode hoping it'd have one of those rare, dynamite TNG endings where (usually) Picard tells the person off and they roll credits...
Rahul
Tue, May 16, 2017, 2:46pm (UTC -5)
This episode didn't do it for me. Thought it was very slow, somewhat boring and scattered (especially for the 1st half hour).
Never a fan of a character acting totally out of the norm - especially considering it's an android. What got into Data such that he had to eventually apologize etc.?
The Wesley B-plot was ok - it does seem odd that he'd be put in charge of leading a team at this stage. Thought it was odd that the blue-shirt who initially was doubtful of his decision him just obeyed his command when he gave it. That seems highly unrealistic.
Of course the episode is about the Prime Directive - thought it was well acted with the senior officers but Picard just changing his decision based on hearing a helpless little girl's voice is unprofessional.
If they know up front they can cleanse a memory, why not immediately make a plan for saving whoever and then erasing the memory?
The sappy part about the child and Data would have been a nice touch except that it is Data who is acting out of character as an android.
Overall, really slow-paced initially and one can easily lose interest. Was surprised that all of a sudden it seemed 8 weeks had passed since Data heard the first message.For me, this episode gets 2 stars out of 4. The only really worthy part is the analysis of the PD.
The Dreamer
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 7:11pm (UTC -5)
"thought it was well acted with the senior officers but Picard just changing his decision based on hearing a helpless little girl's voice is unprofessional"
@Rahul

It is noteworthy that in this social media age with a plethora of visuals and audios readily accessible, people have a tendency to react more strongly to information. (Fairly or unfairly). So when they heard the plea, they acted emotionally. Thus the story.
Rahul
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 8:58pm (UTC -5)
@The Dreamer

Definitely true these days that people react more strongly to information given how richly it can be disseminated via social media. Of course, back in this episode, the information is rather 1-dimensional.

Nevertheless, it is the PD we're talking about so seeing Picard's do a 180 with his stance seemed to come out of nowhere. I thought if he stuck to his guns, Data might do something further out of character.
Matt
Mon, Nov 20, 2017, 3:34pm (UTC -5)
Not one of my favorites. The Prime Directive debate wasn't much different than previous ones. The alien girl was the only one of her species they encountered, and it was just too cheesy for me. I agree with others that Data just seemed goofy in this one.

I did like the sub plot with Wesley learning how to be in command. It is very relatable to anyone in the corporate world. This part raises the episode to 2 stars from me.

The visuals of the planet look great on Blu-Ray.
Startrekwatcher
Mon, Dec 4, 2017, 9:14pm (UTC -5)
3 stars. I’ve always liked this one

I thought it had some good ideas. One being the Wee-takes-charge plot was quite nice and his team was well cast. I liked the professionalism exhibited

I also enjoyed the Sarjenka story. It was sweet and also had an excellent debate over non-interference. Picard obviouskynultimateky did the right thing and I thought Sarjenka’s house with its funky door and the two visuals of the planet erupting and later the one with the volcanic activity calmed nice
Trent
Mon, Dec 4, 2017, 9:30pm (UTC -5)
Like Dear Doctor, Pen Pals has a certain elegiac quality to it. There is a seriousness and gravity here, a gentleness in the way the story unfolds, a softer musical score, and the sense that very grave things are slowly falling into place. From an aesthetic standpoint, both are very strong and similar episodes.

Yes, there are minor problems in Pen Pals (Picard's rapid change of heart, the "cosmic fate" silliness, and Data's rule-breaking behavior), but they are minor.

Regarding the Prime Directive itself, I think it's a wise law. Life is intimately interconnected, and so saving one species may negatively impact another. And so the Prime Directive protects the Federation from making value judgements and from absolving themselves of the trolley problem. Of course everything we do is a value judgement, and so there will undoubtedly be situations in which the Prime Directive is far too absolute. Star Trek would thus be wise to introduce a kind of Prime Directive committee; a team of scientists, lawyers and philosophers who attempt to identify rare situations in which the law should be violated.

And to those above using WW2 as "proof that Prime Directives are nonsense", surely the historical truth is the opposite. WW2 was not a need for altruistic intervention, rather, it was the product of constant imperialistic interventions (by the UK, US and France across Europe, Africa and South East Asia) and anti classist movements (the western nations favored fascism to worker, labor and communist movements), which instigated Imperialistic blowback, blowback they sanctimoniously tried to fix.

Also, above someone mentions preferring this to Lower Decks. That's a great observation; Pen Pals really does unfold like a precursor to Lower Decks, and it was nice to see Wesley and the command staff interacting in a way that didn't ooze contempt. BTW, this is the first episode in which Picard drinks Earl Grey.
Nick
Wed, Dec 20, 2017, 4:08pm (UTC -5)
This is a nice, touching episode, which also handily shows Prime Directive as the complete nonsense it is. The "playing God" argument is absurd. You would be equally "playing God" if you were passing by a lake and had to rescue a drowning child. But you don't know the consequences! What if the child grown up to become a mass murderer or a genocidal dictator? What if he grows up and takes a place at the university that would otherwise go to the poor talented kid, depriving him of the chance to become the greatest genius in the history of Mankind? Anyone who would seriously consider such arguments before jumping in to save the child is a psychopath, and so is anyone who would hesitate before saving a whole sentient species because of some "Prime Directive".
Chrome
Wed, Dec 20, 2017, 4:26pm (UTC -5)
"You would be equally "playing God" if you were passing by a lake and had to rescue a drowning child. But you don't know the consequences! What if the child grown up to become a mass murderer or a genocidal dictator?"

Actually, there are some legitimate concerns with your hypothetical. What if you attempted to save the child, but the waves took you off guard, pushing you into him and drowning him sooner? What if the child was just playing a game, and you attempted to rescue him and he got scared, swam away from you and hit a rock, getting a concussion? What if you attempted to rescue him and he pulled you down more than you expected and you both died?

Now multiply these scenarios by about a million, considering the different consequences an interaction with a spaceship could have with a planet, and you'll start to understand the reasoning behind the Prime Directive.
Nick
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 8:37am (UTC -5)
You cannot predict the consequences of your actions with absolute certainty in any situation. Equally, you cannot predict the consequences of your inaction. The difference between these two, and your bias towards inaction, is purely psychological, if we are talking about an abstract case without any specifics.

However in these particular examples (both the drowning child one and the dying planet one) we can actually use our intelligence to predict the outcome with some degree of certainty. There is pretty much nothing vague about them. If we refuse to act in such circumstances, then logically we should refuse to act at all, opting for a life of total inaction.

Nobody is disputing the value of having certain protocols for the first contact situations to prevent things like cultural contamination where it can reasonably be avoided. However, the application of Prime Directive as shown in the series makes me actually think that it was Humanity who were the most prominent victims of cultural contamination in Star Trek universe: their culture was contaminated with clearly inhuman (Vulkan) ideas, and now they are struggling to reconcile their natural Human drive to explore and to change the world for the better with alien Vulkan ideals of detachment and inaction/observation.
Chrome
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 9:00am (UTC -5)
I don’t think you’re looking at the big picture, as in what happens down the road if these people start to worship Starfleet like in “Who Watches the Watchers”? Also, if they save this planet, they’re sort of obligated to save *every* planet in peril, aren’t they? Does Starfleet have the resources to do that? If not, should they play favorites? What are the criteria?

The fact of the matter is, we know from the weekly space disaster of the week that the Trek universe is a dangerous one. The PD likely ensures Starfleet has the capacity to maintain itself. That may sound “detached” but Starfleet may not really have a viable choice in the matter.

Nick
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 11:28am (UTC -5)
Even if they form a literal Starfleet-worshipping cult, how does it matter? Saving them from certain death still take precedence by far.

If they save this planet thay are obligated to save every planet in peril. If they don't save this planet if possible, they are still obligated to save every planet in peril if possible, they are simply failing to live up to that obligation to a greater degree than if they saved it.

And yes, everyone understands that they do not have the capability to save them all, just like you or me do not have the capability to save every suffering person on Earth. Being unable to do something is not an ethical failure. However when you or me or Starfleet have an opportunity to save someone at little or no cost to ourselves, it is our obligation to do so. Just like you are not morally required to travel to Africa and work to save Ebola victims (failing to do your best to maximize the total well-being is, strictly speaking, a moral failure, but since it's clearly beyond what most people are capable of, we accept that only exceptional people can fully live up to that standard), but you are morally required to help a person you happen to find having a heart attack on the street.
Chrome
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 1:38pm (UTC -5)
“However when you or me or Starfleet have an opportunity to save someone at little or no cost to ourselves, it is our obligation to do so.”

We’re not in a position to judge whether helping a non-warp species is of little cost to Starfleet. In fact, this episode and other PD episodes show or imply there is a huge cost.

Besides, the Enterprise *does* perform rescue missions; missions involving people they can help without risking damaging their society or entrenching themselves. That is Starfleet’s practical limit.
Nick
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
This is an irrelevant technicality. If they are physically unable to help someone for one reason or another, then it's not a question of ethics at all. We are talking about the situations where they are fully capable of helping, but don't. There are episodes dealing with such a situation. "Dear Doctor (Mengele)" immediately comes to mind, even though it's pre-PD, but the principle is the same.
Chrome
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 3:26pm (UTC -5)
It’s not a technicality, it’s information you’re missing to make a good argument. Again, you don’t know what Starfleet’s resources are and we both agree they need to draw the line somewhere. There’s other civilian groups out there, Starfleet doesn’t need to do everything.
Peter G.
Sat, Dec 23, 2017, 10:43pm (UTC -5)
While I find the concept of the Federation having to ration out its capabilities an interesting one from a logistics standpoint, I think it skirts the issue of the PD. If it was merely a question of being fair and not giving uneven help then there's no issue at all; that improves with technology. The real core of the PD is that we *must not* interfere with other species. Part of this stems from Cold War rationalization of 'helping' third world countries when in fact the inherent conflict of interest in setting up facilities on various planets is unavoidable. The original analogy was with both the U.S. and the USSR allegedly making moves to protect or help weaker nations when in fact the real result was de facto colonization or invasion. We could argue until the cows come home about 'well that was then, and now we're better' but one of the lessons TOS tried to teach us is that part of improving as a species is to *recognize our weaknesses*, not to pretend that they're going away. Non-interference is likely very important for the protection of new species, but it's equally if not more important for the protection of the Federation itself so that it doesn't degenerate. Preventing oneself from being in the position of having conflicts of interest and abuse of power is the most important part of ethics. When the power is at your fingertips no matter how vigilant you are you'll slit up or be compromised eventually. Don't be in that situation.

Another major factor in the PD that has nothing to do with practicality is that, yes, some primitive species might well become Federation worshippers. But having annoying zealots on backwards planets isn't the worst problem: the problem is that when such a people know that there's that kind of power out there they'll want it for themselves; they might come to worship that power and to want it for its own sake. And by the 24th century humanity had learned that power and technology are dangerous if you're not ready for them. The know-how isn't enough if you're not advanced enough on the moral scale. Meeting an advanced culture prematurely could put a primitive people in the position of going for the power before they're ready for it and destroying themselves.

In terms of helping and saving primitive peoples, it's not good to focus on the rare case where it seems 'obvious' that there's no downside. The whole point is that we shouldn't be in the position to be deciding on a case-by-case basis whether it seems good or not to completely overwhelm the natural evolution of a species. In the odd case where there's a 100% chance they'd all die then it does seem sad to let them die. On the other hand in the vast majority of cases it will be some situation like they have a plague, or there's some natural disaster, or some other normal event and by saving them we deprive them of the chance to save themselves. Maybe some races don't and some do, but if the Federation is going to bail every race out of every problem that *could* destroy them you'll soon find that there are a great many thins that could destroy a race. We've had plenty of chances on Earth so far by 2017, and very nearly did so a few times. Should aliens have swooped down and taken over the joint to prevent us? Cause they'd have to come down and stay here as our rulers to prevent it possibly happening again.

Long story short, it's not just about a one-off "save them" scenario where you go away and ignore them after that. Many things happen to each race that they have to solve themselves or survive without the Federation holding their hand. Otherwise you'd basically have this paternalistic Federation hegemony de facto ruling all planets and not permitting them to make their own mistakes and live their own lives. I continue to believe that the PD is a wise, but difficult, directive. It shouldn't feel easy to maintain it; it should feel bad sometimes. That's sort of the point: discipline to stick by a moral principle won't always feel good but you can't let your comfort level dictate what's right.
Yair
Sun, Dec 24, 2017, 1:48am (UTC -5)
I've always had a somewhat cynical appreciation of PD: despite the rhetoric, the goal is protection of the Federation as much as protecting less advanced species.

First, more than a few very advanced species exist. It's pretty useful when Q comes along to say 'we don't interfere in "lesser" species affairs - don't interfere in ours'. Perhaps it's understood that in extreme cases captains will violate PD - no need to actually employ PD all the time to be able to employ this rhetoric.

Second, Starship captains have amazing power - had Picard or Kirk wanted to destroy a less advanced civilization, essentially nothing could stop them save for a mutiny, and they are clever enough to do it surreptitiously enough to avoid a mutiny. We can actually point out to more than a few actual cases where they both acted dubiously. Furthermore, Starfleet would have very little ability to know what happened; which may be one reason they never get called for their actions.

There are many possible cases of harm to the Federation here: From a bad reputation, to being invested in proxy wars, to causing an actual war, to the occasional revenge episode. And a surprising number of 'primitive' civilizations are actually advanced or have advanced.. things protecting them. Given the enormous potential for harm to all concerned and very limited controls actually existing, an hard and fast rule is practically the only way to have *some* control here.

It's also possible that PD only applies to Starfleet, while other Federation bodies are able to have a more nuanced approach - being able to get more information about a planet than a short visit can provide.
Nick
Sun, Dec 24, 2017, 4:31am (UTC -5)
" Preventing oneself from being in the position of having conflicts of interest and abuse of power is the most important part of ethics. "

Well, no. The most important parts of ethics are 1) axiology - the study of values which ought to be the ultimate reason for all our actions and 2) normative ethics, which develop specific principles according to which we can evaluate our actions, that is, to determine if an action contributes to the maximization of intrinsic value or is detrimental to it. Only from here we can proceed to applied ethics, that is, the application of normative ethics to specific cases like abortion, gun rights, or interference with pre-Warp cultures. The Prime Directive belongs to the realm of applied ethics, but I struggle to see what kind of normative ethical theory is supposed to be behind it, and what value it is supposed to maximize.

In this discussion there does seem to be a weird Kantian implication involved from time to time. Kant's Categorical Imperative is "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Kant then famously proceeded to argue that if an axe-wielding murderer asks you if you have seen his fleeing victim, you are not allowed to lie, because lying as a universal principle would be bad. Seems like the Federation has adopted a similar approach.

I, on the contrary, think that such a situation requires one to use one's intelligence, attempt to predict the possible outcome to the best extent of one's abilities, and then act in one way or another. A general PD-like rule is useful to fall back on in unclear situations, but making exceptions where a situation clearly calls for it is also a moral responsibility.

Also, if Humanity in Star Trek are so afraid of unintended consequences of their actions, of being morally compromised by making a wrong decision, and or taking risks and taking responsibility in general, then maybe instead of interstellar exploration they should take up gardening.
Peter Swinkels
Sun, Mar 18, 2018, 5:05pm (UTC -5)
Okay, I will not get into the debate about whether what Data did was right or wrong or about the Prime Directive. Observation: a relatively intact child’s bedroom standing in the middle of nowhere? No one else or any other building. Yes, we only got a limited view... And the girl travelled through that hellscape outside her home just for her transmitter, alone? Okay...

Decent episode, a few issues could have been handled better.
Peter H
Fri, Apr 20, 2018, 11:56am (UTC -5)
This is the first episode that I can think of in the series run that has invoked the Prime Directive in a way that really engaged me. Since re-watching the show previous uses have left me baffled (most notably in Justice, where good sense was abandoned to satisfy, what at the time, was a rather fuzzy Federation ideal).

Tellingly the emotional argument overcame the intellectual one in this episode; Picard hearing Sarjenka's cries for help is what ultimately sways him. As an audience member I was similarly convinced. I don't see anything intrinsically wrong with this, particularly in a show that so explicitly seeks to examine the human condition.

At this point I'm not wholly convinced about the ethics of the Prime Directive. I understand what it's for and what it seeks to prevent, but I'm still not sure that such rigid adherence to it in the face of great suffering is at all moral. This of course will be debated in further episodes, and I look forward to its examination from other angles, particularly in cases where breaking it have negative consequences.
Prince of Space
Wed, May 16, 2018, 2:23am (UTC -5)
Wow... there are some really long-winded blowhards that like to see themselves type. haha

I ain’t naming any names, but all of you with an iota of observational skills know the culprits. ;-)

Speaking of that... I should end this comment before I become one myself.
mephyve
Fri, May 25, 2018, 1:10am (UTC -5)
A good story that made me sick to my stomach. The android behaved humanely throughout. The humans were, as the captain pointed out, in over their heads.
Surely the prime directive wasn't meant to make men into monsters. Dolphins have been known to rescue people in trouble. People should never have legislation that requires them to turn a blind eye to another living being that is in trouble, when they have the means to save them. When man decided to traverse galaxies, they automatically assumed the responsibility to serve and protect.
I understand not interfering in war. I understand not sharing technological advances. But if you can cure a deadly disease, it's inhumane not to treat it. There's no reason to explain the science behind it.
Chrome
Fri, May 25, 2018, 7:59am (UTC -5)
“When man decided to traverse galaxies, they automatically assumed the responsibility to serve and protect.“

I mean that’s a sweet gesture and all, but it’s kind of like saying when you buy a car you assume the responsibility to feed and clothe all the homeless you see while driving.
JerJer
Tue, May 29, 2018, 9:40am (UTC -5)
With Wesley and the random blue shirt, we know later in the bedroom which one will be wearing the dog collar and which one will be holding the leash. Woof!
mephyve
Sat, Jun 9, 2018, 5:29pm (UTC -5)
@Chrome Even if you don't have a car, if you have the means to help the homeless it would be rather selfish not to. There are infomercials asking us to help homeless dogs. Surely we should at least have the heart to help the underpriviledged.
Besides, isn't poverty wiped out on earth in the Trekverse? Seems like a worthwhile goal.
Chrome
Sat, Jun 9, 2018, 6:53pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

It’s not like Starfleet ignores the pleas of others. Indeed, once Sarjenka started asking for help, they did in fact help her. The problem is Starfleet can’t always help people without unintentionally destroying their culture. The PD is a way of balancing the interests of helping others and letting them learn to help themselves without being impinged on by outsiders.
mephyve
Wed, Jun 13, 2018, 11:40am (UTC -5)
@Chrome The planet was about to go boom. The culture was about to cease to exist. These people had no way of helping themselves. The Enterprise had the ways and the means to save them but the 'humans' were willing to let the PD stand in the way. If not for Data, this planet would have joined Krypton in oblivion.
Chrome
Wed, Jun 13, 2018, 12:13pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

You're speaking to the "playing God" part of the argument now. It's certainly sad that these people would be destroyed by a natural disaster. But surely there are hundreds of civilizations in similar predicaments that the Federation could save and obviously it doesn't have the ability to save all of them. How does it pick and choose which races should be saved? How far does the Federation need to go to make sure that species remains safe in the future? These questions are all addressed fairly well in this episode. I think if you really thought this through, you'd see the benefit of making rules about interfering with the course of nature, especially when dealing with nature that's the scale of the entire universe.
Peter G.
Wed, Jun 13, 2018, 12:33pm (UTC -5)
It's not just a question about being unable to save them all. If that's all the issue was it would be no issue at all: save as many as you can. The lack of being perfect should not require you to do nothing since it would be unfair or something to help who you can.

The real argument is that keeping a primitive people safe means taking over their lives, one way or another. It sounds like a no-brainer when it comes to a planet-crushing catastrophe, since what could they have ever done anyhow to 'develop themselves' in light of being summarily wiped out? But that's only a fringe case in the larger question of what steps the Federation is willing to take to *make* a primitive people stay safe. What about wars that could wipe out the populace? Should the Federation march in, disarm them all, and outlaw war? What about nuclear weapons? Should the Federation ban lesser cultures from developing those altogether? And what about warp drive and the rest of it? That's definitely potentially dangerous tech since an advance like that could give a nation-state and edge over their enemies to destroy them.

So it goes far beyond the question of whether to save helpless primitives from a volcano. If your mandate is to intervene for the sake of keeping everyone safe then you end up running their lives for them, telling them what to do and what not to do, and ensuring through your own might that they don't do anything that could allow them or their environment to wipe them out. It basically amounts to the Federation becoming a benevolent empire that enforces its will on those weaker than it "for their own good". Aside from the moral implications of this approach in and of itself, there is also the matter of the Federation charter and what the founding races agreed to in the first place. I doubt they would have signed on to an alliance with Earth where the ground rules were that the weaker parties were going to be subjugated to the stronger ones. The founding spirit of the Federation has as much to do with it as the abstract moral issue of whether interference is appropriate or not.
mephyve
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 11:44am (UTC -5)
@Chrome In my original post I stated, "Surely the prime directive wasn't meant to make men into monsters.' I don't have a problem with the Prime Directive, I have a problem with people who use the prime directive as a crutch to justify helping someone who is in immediate jeopardy. A scared child is communicating her fears to Data. When Data realizes how serious the situation is, his logic says help her. He goes to Picard who holds a meeting.
Everybody in the room except the doctor and Data are more worried about the prime directive than they are about actually helping the people. Here's the facts, 1. The crew is actively studying the geological problem. (Wasn't the study about seeing if they could interfere with the course of nature in the future? If not, it was pointless.) 2. They know a race is about to be wiped out. 3. (Here's the kicker) They can help the people without the people even knowing they exist. But they would use the prime directive to justify letting the people go boom? That sounds ridiculous to me.
Peter G.
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 11:47am (UTC -5)
@ mephyve,

"Everybody in the room except the doctor and Data are more worried about the prime directive than they are about actually helping the people."

It's called the PRIME directive for a reason. By definition it's meant to take precedence over other considerations.
Chrome
Thu, Jun 14, 2018, 12:50pm (UTC -5)
Yes, they call it “General Order 1” in earlier TOS episodes. Non-interference is a Starfleet priority. It’s obviously a very complex order that requires tough decisions sometimes. But as Peter G. described at length above, there’s good reason to it.
mephyve
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 3:02pm (UTC -5)
@PeterG & Chrome
"There are times sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders." Jean Luc Picard
Chrome
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 3:15pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

What are you even on about? Picard made an exception to the PD in this episode. Did you watch the whole thing?
mephyve
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 4:27pm (UTC -5)
Chrome Of course I watched it. Picard made an exception after the little girl gave him an excuse. If Picard did not hear her say, "Data where are you" , the Enterprise would have left them to die.
Chrome
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 5:33pm (UTC -5)
@mephyve

Picard didn't even know about Sarjenka's race let alone the danger to her until Data got himself involved. How was he even supposed to help them before he even knew about them?
Peter G.
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 7:30pm (UTC -5)
@ Chrome,

Actually I think mephyve has a point on this. If Picard had known about the people but not heard the actual plea for help it seems to me he would have obeyed the PD. I'm not even 100% sure he disobeyed it or made an exception because Federation law might be a bit more tricky when dealing with a pre-warp civilization that nevertheless knows about the Federation. A formal request for assistance made by a less advanced people that have relations with the Federation isn't the same as swooping in and rescuing unsuspecting peoples.

I think what made Picard fold here is that Data's communications with Sarjenka probably qualified in some sense as formal relations and so her plea for help had to be treated as equivalent to a request by that government for assistance. Data certainly breached the PD by communicating with her, but once that was done I think it opened the door for Picard to interpret the PD as no longer applying. The crucial thing here may be not that Picard agreed to save them, but that he didn't court martial Data. The leniency towards Data would be the operative act of compassion here since he didn't exactly intend to break the PD, it just sort of happened.

@ mephyve,

It's true that rules are not made to be blindly followed, and we all know how many times Kirk ignored the PD when it was clearly disastrous. But I think by Picard's time it had evolved somewhat and a lot more trust was placed in the system that it was for the greater good. So while the maxim is valid not to cease thinking for yourself, at the same time if the PD is agreed upon as being universally important and necessary then a good officer could indeed obey it at all times without fear of becoming a stormtrooper or something. Disobeying orders is when the orders would cause you to do something immoral. In principle I think the idea is that obeying the PD is never immoral, given the giant stakes involved.
Chrome
Fri, Jun 15, 2018, 8:51pm (UTC -5)
No, this is one of the instances Picard takes heat for later in “The Drumhead”. You can hate the PD all you want, but you can’t say Picard isn’t willing to bend the rules of the PD when he thinks that’s the right thing to do.
Jeffrey Jakucyk
Wed, Sep 19, 2018, 5:57pm (UTC -5)
I like the quiet and easy pacing of this episode. It takes place over the course of at least two months, if not a bit longer, though that could've been made a bit clearer. Anyway, I think the Prime Directive debate is important from a narrative point of view, but there should already be established precedent and extensive documentation of how to handle such situations. The Prime Directive has existed for roughly 200 years by the time of TNG, but they're debating it as if it was brand new and wasn't the subject of intensive coursework at Starfleet Academy and innumerable debates and incidents throughout Starfleet's history. Again, I realize it wouldn't work as well narratively, but as soon as Data explained what he did, they should have immediately looked up the most similar incidents in The Big Book of Prime Directive Precedents, and/or immediately contacted Starfleet Command for an interpretation on the situation.

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