what would captain picard do – part 2

So I’m still not bored of this thing. I could do another introduction but, honestly, it’s fairly self-explanatory. This is me, continuing to talk about Star Trek: TNG episodes. And rating them by how bobbins they are. Be warned. We’re in for a bobbiny ride.

Justice

Oh man.

It probably says something that this episode achieved the second highest ratings of any other episode of the first series, though probably not something good. This is the one where the crew goes for shore leave on the sex-positive but extraordinarily heteronomative and curiously ethically homogeneous planet of Rubicon 3.

The planet is populated by a race of half-naked blonde hippies called the Edo who run everywhere (this isn’t an observation, this is their description of themselves: “we run everywhere”) . For some reason, the crew of the Enterprise are weirdly up for this, despite the fact that it’s absurd and a completely unknown alien world. This episode is also the first instance of that surprisingly common TNG trope: planet largely populated by hot blondes who want to do Riker.

The core plot of the episode is that the Edo operate a bizarre but game theoretically justifiable system of justice in which their laws are draconian but enforced largely at random. That is, you can be executed for basically anything but most crimes go unpunished. This obviously-designed-to-facilitate-a-Star-Trek-episode social system leads to Wesley being sentenced to death for tripping over a fence into some flowers.

Not only is it a bobbins premise but it’s also framed in an especially bobbins way. We cut from a scene of Riker and Tasha talking to the chief Edo about their legal system, in which she explains that forbidden areas are marked off with white fences, to a scene of Wesley happily playing with the not quite inappropriately sexualised Edo children that massively foregrounds the white fences, which then culminates in Wesley running towards and falling over a white fence while trying to catch a ball in response while an adorable and slightly over sexualised Edo child cries “Wesley, no, it’s forbidden to disturb new plants.” Bobbins.

Anyway, it turns out that Wesley happened to be in “punishment zone” – one of the randomly selected areas of the planet where its strict and terrifying laws are enforced, and he must therefore be executed in accordance with the planets laws. Which brings us to yet another TNG trope: the episode where the entire plot hinges on the prime directive being poorly explained and badly thought through.

Basically everyone, including the Edo, thinks it is a bad idea to execute Wesley (audience mileage may vary). The Edo even explicitly point out that Picard has the power to rescue Wesley and they can’t stop him and they don’t mind if he does and they’d actually probably slightly prefer it. Picard, however, insists that the prime direct prevents him from taking this completely sensible and obvious course of action.

As a reminder: this is the entire basis of the plot. It might, therefore, be fun to run down a list of things that the prime directive does not stop the Enterprise crew from doing in this episode:

  1. Making contact with and arranging shore leave on a newly discovered, pre-warp planet.
  2. Explicitly telling the people from this newly discovered, pre-warp plant that you are space travellers representing the United Federation of Planets.
  3. Having actual sex with the natives. I mean, obviously Picard doesn’t. He’s too busy sitting on the Enterprise looking grumpy. But everybody else is specifically there to bone down on the Edo. Even if you assume really effective space contraception, I don’t understand how this is in any way compatible with a policy of non-interference. Remember that next season, we’ll discover that Data violated the prime directive just by talking to a little girl.
  4. Openly discussing the trans-dimensional space thing that the Enterprise has encountered even after they discover that the Edo consider it to be a god.
  5. Teleporting a woman from this planet that has yet to discover warp technology onto the Enterprise in order that they can explicitly show her the machine she believes to be a god, just so that they can identify that it is, in fact, the machine the Edo believe is a god.

Roughly speaking that is the problem with and plot of every prime directive episode of TNG. All of the narrative tension hinges on the fact that the crew of the Enterprise are morally prevented from taking an action by an ethical system to which they adhere. But because that ethical system is never made explicit, it is never clear why it prevents them from taking the action that would allow them to resolve the plot trivially but does not prevent them from making the plot more complicated and exciting.

Perhaps the prime directive is: you shall interact with all pre-warp species in such a manner as to maximise the entertainment of a hypothetical audience watching recreations of your adventures four hundred years in the past.

I think what particularly annoys me about this is that I actually really like the prime directive as a concept.  In the original series, Kirk would cheerfully kick over entire civilisations just because he didn’t like the cut of their collective jib. The Apple really stands out in this regard – Kirk destroys a benevolent computer that provides for the needs of a group of happy and contented humanoids for no reason other than man was “meant to march for the beat of drums.” By contrast, it’s actually really interesting that Picard is consistently characterised as genuinely believing in the prime directive, even when it’s inconvenient. When set against the ‘might makes right’ mentality embodied by Kirk or the ‘ends justifies the means’ ethics of modern grimdark protagonists, having a hero (in a space adventure TV series) whose driving ethical principle is “I don’t understand most things and if I interfere in something without understanding it I will probably make it worse” is surprisingly mature and refreshing.

Unfortunately it usually winds up like this episode. The least interfering thing Picard could possibly have done for the Edo  (apart from not teleporting his crew down to their planet to bang them) would be to just rescue Wesley and get the hell out of there. The point of the prime directive, as I understand it, is to prevent less advanced cultures to being exposed to ideas and technologies that they’re not ready for but the Edo are clearly comfortable with the idea that a more powerful being can impose its will on a less powerful being.

And, yes, technically the Federation doesn’t do that but doing it in this case would be more in-keeping with the Edo’s ethos than going through the whole rigmarole of respecting their judicial system.  Especially, since what Picard seems to be trying to achieve is to persuade the Edo to overturn their own judicial system which is surely far worse than their simply having to conclude that it could not be applied in this context due to the inference of a third party.

Five massive bobbins.

five-bobbins

The Battle

This is a really tough one because on the one hand it introduces a lot of quite cool and iconic TNG tropes. On the other hand, it also introduces a lot of nonsense.

n this episode, we learn about the Picard Manoeuvre (and, also, incidentally learn that Picard was apparently a bad ass about ten years ago – once, again, Picard is the hero of a space adventure series). We also start a long and noble of tradition of things and people abducting Picard so they can dick with his head. I suppose technically the energy being from Lonely Among Us Picard Death 1 (I am keeping a tally, because he dies a lot) might have been the first—although, actually, thinking about it even harder the honour might just go to Q in the first fucking episode.

So. Yes. The Battle can be summed up as a “Picard used to be cool / Picard is a liability” episode. It turns out that literally a decade ago, at a place called Maxia, Picard destroyed a Ferengi vessel back when the Ferengi were still supposed to be mysterious and scary. The plot here hinges on a Ferengi saying to Picard “hey Picard, I think you’re really great because of that time you blew up one of one of our warships, here I salvaged the vessel you were captaining at the time you blew up one of our warships and I’m giving it to you as a present, even though my species is famously mercantile, and even though it makes no sense for any member of any space faring species, except possibly the klingons, to be celebrating or, in any way, rewarding, a person whose only distinguishing feature from their perspective is having blown up one of their warships, I mean after all, it’s not like you killed my son and now I’ve sworn vengeance and have dedicated my life to destroying you or anything, that would absurd” and Picard saying “okay.”

So Picard starts having weird trauma, flashbacky, mindcontrolly things to do with his old ship (The Stargazer). The crew eventually works out that he’s behaving strangely and, um, fix it. This is a a 100% improvement over the time they allowed him to teleport himself into deep space so I’m kind of assuming they had some serious personnel reviews since then.

This is a straightforwardly average-bobbins Star Trek episode. Three bobbins.

3-bobbins

Hide and Q

So this episode scores immediate points for featuring Q. But then immediately loses them for featuring such irritating themes as Humans Are Special, Humans Are Special And The Crew Of The Enterprise Are Even More Special, Power Is Bad and Nothing Should Ever Change.

Basically Q offers Riker the power of the Q Continuum. Riker is briefly tempted but then says no.

The pacing of this episode is really weird. The first three quarters is Q dancing around his intention to give Riker Q powers. And in the last quarter Riker refuses to use Q powers, goes ludicrously over the top with Q powers, and then rejects Q powers faster than you can say Captain’s Log Supplemental. The sort of not-exactly turning points for Riker (from rejecting the power, then accepting it, then rejecting it again) come when he first lets a small child die because using the Q powers would be bad, m’kay, and then randomly dicks, or offers to dick, with all his crewmates lives because using Q powers at random and without really thinking it through is totally awesome, mkay.

Much like with the prime directive, I feel the show is missing out on the possibility of a middle ground. Maybe I’m being naive but I don’t think your only options for space travel are “arbitrarily re-write any cultures you find unfamiliar” or “allow any and all injustices and tragedies”. Similarly, if you’re granted godlike power, I don’t think your only options are “let children die for no reason” or “randomly age your friends by a decade”. And, yes, some slopes are slippery and, yes, power corrupts. But there’s something slightly weird about a show whose central moral premise is that nobody should ever do anything about anything.

This episode also includes Tasha Yar crying for no reason. Three bobbins. It would be four but Q.

3-bobbins

Haven

I feel this episode scores points for starring Majel Barrett. In person, I mean, rather than just as the voice of a computer.

Otherwise, though, this is just a frickin’ weird episode. It turns out Troi is in an arranged marriage of the “you must abandon your career and go live with your husband immediately” variety and nobody in the post-sexist society of the 24th century seems to have a problem with this. Even though Troi is pretty clearly not up for it.

It also, however, an arranged married of the “you must abandon your career and go live with your husband immediately” variety that is only triggered because the Enterprise appears to go near a particular planet largely by accident. Which suggests that Betazoid culture is simultaneously extremely traditional and hidebound and extremely apathetic.

I was, at least, relieved to realise that Troi’s betrothed seemed like a genuinely decent person who, amongst other things, seemed totally happy not to have an arranged marriage if Troi didn’t want to (weirdly, he seems to be the only person in the entire show who suggests that either of them might have a choice about whether this thing happens or not) rather than being comically evil or, worse, some kind of bride abducting stereotype from the culture of your choice.

It’s also the first instance of a recurring trope that runs along the lines of: something skeevy and a bit rapey happens to Troi, Riker gets super jealous, but fails in any way to consider how Troi feels or is affected by the situation. Then he goes back to ignoring her.

The whole thing gets resolved because it turns out that Troi’s fiancé is in wuv with a mysterious blonde woman (it’s always blonde women) who he’s been seeing in his dreams because something something destiny something something my people have a terrible plague oh look you’re a doctor something something.

Peculiarly, although this episode is called Haven, it has basically nothing to do with the planet Haven, about which they orbit. All the people of Haven really do is get upset at the thought of a ship of plague carriers landing on their planet.

I fear this is four bobbins, despite Majel Barrett.

four-bobbins

Tune in at some point for more maybe.

watching

11 Responses to what would captain picard do – part 2

  1. Lennan Adams says:

    “it’s always blonde women”

    Well, obviously… *flips hair*

  2. Beej Jansen says:

    I wasn’t going to comment cos….but it’s Star Trek and I’m a nerdy trekkie. Plus, Bobbins have been our system of attributing worth for…ever. I can remember all these Eps. and have to say your Bobbins are spot on. In ST original Kirk (yuk) was always having his top torn by blonde, occasionally green, aliens. In TNG it’s the equally unappealing (to me) Riker. Data was far more me and if I were ‘Beverley’ I would have pushed Wesley out of an airlock years ago!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Everybody loves Data 🙂 To be honest, I think Wesley got kind of a bad rap. Maybe it was just because I was prepared to hate him but I didn’t find him nearly as annoying this time round. Same for Troi.

  3. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Omg *laughs forever* *gets thinky* *has more bobbins love* *laughs some more* Wow, I really love you. Have I mentioned this before? 😀

    Also, you know, (here’s the thinky part) in Justice, and all the other prime directive episodes, it strikes me that the the erratic & sort of . . . irrational, and contradictory application of the prime directive (which I also think is a really cool concept) is pretty realistic. It actually feels pretty consistent with privilege to me. Interpreting and applying even our own most “sacred” values according to what is most convenient in any given moment and being in denial of actually doing that. Upholding with one hand what we’re contradicting with the other. I feel like I kind of see that all the time. So, y’know, definitely bobbins, but maybe realistically bobbins? Kinda? Or maybe *I’m* bobbins 🙂

    Also this: “there’s something slightly weird about a show whose central moral premise is that nobody should ever do anything about anything.” This made me laugh, but it’s true. Sometimes though it kinda *does* feel like there’s some sort of real life moral premise that says that nobody should ever do anything about anything but simultaneously everybody should do everything about everything. Or is that just me? 😛

    Anyway, I love this stuff. Carry on <3 <3 <3

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think the thing with the Prime Directive is that it’s not the characters interpreting the Prime Directive in the way that’s most convenient for them, it’s the writers interpreting it in the way that’s most convenient for the plot. And I suppose part of the problem with anything like this is that real people often behave in ways that would make no sense in stories and so while it could be seen as realistic that Picard and the crew interpret the Prime Directive in garbled and often contradictory ways it seems mighty convenient that they always do it in the way that is most likely to provide 47 minutes worth of plot for a TV show.

      There’s actually quite an interesting ‘interpreting the prime directive episode’ next on the recap list.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Hah, well yes, true 🙂 I should have known you’d be a few steps thinkier about this than I was! <3

        *goes on to next recap*

  4. neverwhere says:

    So many bobbins!

    Q is the saviour of so many things in Star Trek, god I love him. And Trek, of course. But especially Q.

  5. Nikki says:

    Lovely. So fun to revisit all these eps–even the sucky ones–and read your commentary.
    If you make it to the second season, please review The Measure of a Man. And if you make it to the third season, please review The Most Toys. Yeah, I’m a Data bitch. Thank you.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Aww, thank you. Our watching has outstripped my recapping so we’ve definitely seen The Measure of a Man. It’s definitely one of my favourite episodes too because I am also very into Data 🙂

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