TNG: S1E22: “Symbiosis”

In which Picard offers to violate the Prime Directive, Wesley gets a Big Boy talk from Tasha, and Crusher has no faith in Picard.

Picard is issuing a shipwide public announcement basically outlining the current mission, which is to study a star at close range while it does dangerous things. Even with deflectors running at full, the magnetic effects are expected to interfere with electronics. I point this out because in TOS, Kirk’s Enterprise had something called duotronic circuitry, while the M-5 computer had multitronic circuitry, and the Enterprise D has something called isolinear circuitry, while Data has a positronic brain. The fact that Picard calls out electronics suggests that all of these things may be refinements of the broad category of ‘electronics’ rather than fundamental shifts in the technology itself. Just a little tidbit I found interesting. Also, the ship is going on yellow alert, which stands for “be ready for something terrible to happen, but it hasn’t yet.” You and I are ready for something terrible to happen because if it were a normal boring duty shift on the Enterprise there wouldn’t be an episode.

Black hole sun, won't you come, won't you come...

Black hole sun, won’t you come, won’t you come…

Although we’ve seen it before, it seems important to point out that the Viewscreen is not actually a window, but a sophisticated computer monitor that seems capable of transmitting both analog signal and digitally altered signal. The star comes on screen and is too bright for the bridge crew, so Picard orders the photosphere masked out. Also because they can do things like video conferencing and magnification, but we already knew that.

They’re pretty far out when the deflectors begin interacting with bursts of X-rays and consoles all over the ship start… overloading isn’t quite the right word. I’d go with ‘pulsing with an eldritch blue light,’ actually. Still, most of the ship is functioning well enough for the Enterprise to receive a distress call  from a ship falling into the nearby fourth planet. Fotrunately, at maximum warp (9000C) they can probably be there in less than about .078 seconds, assuming the fourth planet is at about Mars orbit. It would take them longer to spin up the warp drive then they’d actually spend at FTL So for all preactical purposes they can get there as fast as they want. Definitely longer to maneuver in at sublight then to cross the actual distance. Of course, the real time-waster is Picard not locking on and yanking them out of decaying orbit or just beaming them out. It’s Yar who thinks of this, but in keeping with her being kind of useless, the tractor beam isn’t working because of the solar flares.

The captain of the freighter sounds kind of high as Picard is talking him through what’s wrong with their ship and how to fix it with the spare part they’re going to beam him. This entire sequence is like an extended tech support call with someone who thinks ‘the internet’ is a blue triangle and doesn’t know where the ‘any’ key is. Only instead of not being able to look at cat pictures, they’re going to die. Especially since the freighter captain beams over a cargo container instead of themselves, and die moments thereafter.

"I love you, bro."

“I love you, bro.”

It’s also worth nothing that nobody was manning the transporter room – Yar and Riker take command down there, and they have to clear the cargo before beaming in the other four. When they arrive, they are, at least, acting rationally, in that they continue to behave as if the cargo is more important than their lives. On inspecting that the cargo is intact, it becomes clear that there are two factions here – some dirty, scruffy, badly-clothed wrinkly-nosed aliens, and some tall, coiffed     aliens in sparkly suits with cutaways with differently wrinkled noses. And the Felicium, whatever it is, is in dispute since the goods were lost. Plus they can energy discharge each other from their hands, so that’s fun.

Riker and Yar discuss the implications of that, at least from a tactical standpoint, while the sun continues to batter the shields. Apparently, two centuries ago at least one of their societies was on the verge of developing space travel, which of course implies they haven’t had it until now. Lucky thing that Kirk told us about Hodgkin’s law of Parallel Planetary Evolution, huh? Otherwise I’d be stuck railing about how biology doesn’t work that way in clear defiance of all the humanoid aliens that about in Star Trek. Good old Hodgkin, eh?

Picard offers to repair the ships of the poor aliens, such as remain, since they can fabricate the malfunctioning devices rather easily. And it turns out that the cargo, Felicium, is a medicine that treats a deadly plague, which is only found  on remote areas of the other planet, and is complex and difficult to refine. Also, the two dirt farming aliens are carrying the plague, so Picard sends them immediately to sick bay as soon as it’s pointed out that the solar flare might have messed with the transporter medical scan. Crusher notices that the Onarans (the poor ones) show all the symptoms of a disease but no cause. To be fair, the transporter could have filtered it out but had the logs disrupted. You would, however, suspect that the logging function would not break before the actual active scan does.

The Onarans beg Picard to get them some of the medicine. They look pretty terrible now. They have sunken eyes, the shakes, sallow skin, sweating. While the crux of this episode is now completely obvious to me (or at least, I remember it) what’s bothering me is that nobody has asked what the cargo was, and what the Brekkians would want. To prevent a planetary-scale death toll, I’m sure Picard could authorize payment on behalf of the Federation as part of a humanitarian outreach/cultural imperialistic takeover, depending on whether we’re in TNG-era or DS9 era.

It’s Election day when I’m writing this and I’m in a cynical mood. 

It looks like a birth control wheel as designed by a Cenobite.

It looks like a birth control wheel as designed by a Cenobite.

Oh good, we’re still in TNG, where the cynic has no place. Picard even still has his heart set on convincing the Brekkians to just hand over the treatment. They do agree to handing over two doses, one for each of the freighter haulers. The doser is highly efficient, and 4.5 billion doses fit in a couple of barrels. Of course, each dose only lasts 72 hours, and it looks like there are only five or six dosers, if there’s one per barrel. Maybe The Onarans have saved them like cereal box tops with every shipment?

Crusher is suspicious, and apparently the Brekkians have no other industries on their entire planet, relying instead on 72-hourly shipments of the drug. I mean, of the medicine. Did I say drug? What an interesting slip of the tongue. I mean, they’re synonyms, but with wildly different connotations in the colloquial.

I have to wonder how much experience Crusher actually has with real junkies. The Federation doesn’t really seem like the type of society where there’s much of an illicit drug trade. Apparently, in ancient history, the Brekkians were a highly advanced spacefaring species but when they were struck by a plague, the Brekkian medicine cured it. Sadly it also addicted the Onarans. Crusher is desperate to be allowed to give the Onarans methodone, and Picard has the unenviable task of schooling her in the Prime Directive. The problem is a reasonably complex one for television – On the one hand, billions of people facing an addiction to a narcotic that may well continue into perpetuity. On the other, a society where nobody has useful skills and everyone depends on the addicted. It is emphatically not in the Federation’s mandate to interfere and choose one society over the other.

Of course, that said, if the entire addict population is forced to go cold turkey all at once, then assuming they don’t all die from the withdrawal symptoms (which doesn’t seem likely, otherwise the pushers would be more willing to negotiate easement) they will no longer be dependent on the drug. And it seems pretty likely that they will be royally cheesed off. Also, Wes is so adorable. Asking how people can willingly allow themselves dependent on a chemical, and totally glossing over, in the After School Special moment, how the Onarans honestly believe they are plague-ridden. Yar gets the job of explaining the prevalence of drug-addiction in low socio-economic classes, because she grew up on a failed colony hellhole. Which, to be fair, I guess answers my question about where Crusher would have seen strong symptoms of heavy drug addiction.

The More You Know!

Oh yeah, they all have electricity hands, so one of the aliens holds Riker hostage for the medicine. Picard faces him down, and Riker collapses into a chair. Insert joke about sitting down normally for once in his life. Moments later, the Brekkians have a change of heart and decide to give the drug, on credit, to the Onarans, to maintain the trade imbalance. This proves to Picard and Crusher that the Brekkians knew all along, and that their refining process increases the narcotic power of the drug. Well, since Picard now can’t withhold the treatment, what he can do is stop interfering with the two societies at all, by not fixing their drive coils. Again, without the ships, the drug supply will stop and the cycle of exploitation will be broken.

I like being right. Picard withholds the drive coils, forcing the Onarans either to remember how to repair their ships, which they won’t be able to do in the 72 hours of ‘remission’ they have, or to stop being addicts. Also, the Brekkians are already committed to beaming down to Onara rather than have Picard give them a death stare all the way back home. They’re not going to be the best-liked people on the planet once everyone figures it out. Picard doesn’t care where they’re going, so Geordi sets in the course. I hate to put anything heavy on him, because I really like Geordi as a character, but the next episode is “Skin of Evil”…

One thought on “TNG: S1E22: “Symbiosis”

  1. Pingback: Worlds in a Blender | DS9: S1E05: “Captive Pursuit”

Did we miss something awesome?