Drugs in space! What could possibly go wrong...
The Enterprise-D is doing a spot of sungazing when it receives a distress call from Kirk's son... no, wait, it's a different character who looks just like him. He needs help, but the solar flares are disrupting the Enterprise's systems while the freighter captain is behaving like a complete loon. They manage to beam across four survivors and a mysterious cargo that I'm sure isn't very important given all the attention given to it. Two of those rescued are from one planet, Ornara, while the other two are from another, Brekka - but both have cool bioelectrical powers that they use to brawl in the cargo bay. It seems that the Ornarans are suffering from a terrible plague that looks suspiciously like heroin withdrawal, and the Brekkians have a medicine that alleviates the symptoms and looks just like red lentils. Whatever could be going on!
The Ornarans become so desperate for their 'medicine' that T'Jon, threatens to kill the Enterprise’s first officer with his electric eel powers. Fortunately, Picard will not be coerced - especially not if it's just for Riker life - so the gambit fails. Then, when the Brekkians generously offer to give up the highly expensive 'medicine' to the Ornarans, Picard twigs that this little narcotics racket is no accident, and the Brekkians are well aware that the plague is long gone. Picard then finds a convenient loophole in the Prime Directive that lets him completely destroy the Brekkian drug racket: refuse to repair the Ornaran frieghters so they can't collect the drugs in the future. Because of course, there are no other space-faring cultures who could deliver cargo, so this plan will definitely work...
"And that's the trap," Wesley says in the middle of a dreadful piece of 1980s 'Just Say No' moralising. I distinctly remember watching this episode with my late father, who quipped immediately afterwards "and I know the trap this show has fallen into." Yes indeed. The Wire this most certainly is not, and this screenplay shows all the subtlety of an 80s After School Special. But even though I dislike this episode intensely, my eldest son rather enjoyed it, as did my wife, which is a reminder that one person's red lentils is another person's felicium. Yes, 'felicium', from the Latin 'felicitas' meaning 'happiness'. Who doesn't like a bit of Latin with their heavy-handed drug allegories!
It's another of those episodes where the Prime Directive is supposed to be the load-bearing concept, and as is so often the case with this set up, the story pits Picard against Doctor Crusher. Honestly, the good Doctor has so little respect for the Prime Directive you do sometimes wonder how she didn't get booted out of the Academy!
Picard's pontifications in the turbolift are not part of the screenplay at all, and seem to have been added in the last minute rewrites. He says:
Beverly, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less-developed civilization, no matter how well-intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.
I balk at the term 'less-developed', which involves all sorts of weird assumptions, but substitute 'less-powerful' and the general point stands. The presumption that one culture should force its opinions, morals, or even scientific assumptions onto others is always asking for trouble. Knowledge, whether technical or ethical, attains its truth through its practice. Any attempt to shortcut this, to presume 'we know best' risks causing immense trouble. If our values and assumptions ever attain to a degree of truth, they can persuade others on their own merits. And if they do not, we have no legitimate business forcing them onto others.
The most fun aspect of this clunker of an episode is that it features a rematch between Merritt Butrick and Judson Scott, who previously appeared on opposing sides in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Butrick, of course, played Kirk's son, Dr David Marcus, and was dramatically knifed by a Klingon one movie later, while Scott played Joachim, Khan's deputy. The scenes in this episode work reasonably well, and Scott in particular is just delightfully hateful as the felicium-pusher Sobi, whose name sounds rather too much like a type of noodle for my taste.
Alas, Butrick died a year after this episode was filmed, but Scott pops up again in Voyager as a Romulan Commander.
The other Onaran, Romas, is played by Richard Lineback, who pops up again in DS9 as a Trill minister, and then again on the final Trek show of the original production lineage as one of those alien races that are so super-important to the history of the Federation that we hadn’t ever encountered them before.
The exchange between Wesley and Yar on the bridge is infamously awful, of course, but have you ever seen the Denise Crosby Easter egg in this episode? This was the final episode Crosby shot (since it was filmed after the one in which she gets killed), so the production team had her wave goodbye as the doors to the cargo bay close.
It's fourth wall breaking of the most egregious kind, but you really have to be looking for it to notice it.
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
I'm genuinely impressed with the redress of the Talarian freighter that appeared just two weeks ago. All they've done is attach a set of additional tubes to the aft, put a tower and dome onto the bow, painted it a different colour, and shot it from a more dramatic angle. But it looks like a totally new ship! Nicely done studio miniatures team.
Finally, let's all have a giggle at what the special effects team decided to do for Picard's line, "Mask out the photosphere."
Because even in the 24th century, computers just can’t put a black circle in the right place first time.
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The Easter egg really took this episode to the next level but I would have enjoyed it without anyway. Wesley is so lame during the drugs talk and usually I like wesley!
The Reefer Madness of Next Generation!
Denise waving goodbye is such fun.