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.
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