TNG: S2E18: “Up the Long Ladder”

In which a little more of the timeline is revealed, an ethical conunrum is raised, and a match is made among the stars. 

Creepy almost inaudible music, Riker on shift on the bridge, and Worf looks like he’s going to throw up. Picard calls Riker into the ready room to play him a distress beacon that he figures out quicker than a Starfleet research team. I am consistently surprised by how much smarter Riker is than I remember him to be. It was picked up a month ago, and it is of Terran origin, but a code centuries old and from somewhere Starfleet has no records of. It was apparently used by the “European Hegemony,” which was a loose alliance formed in the 2100s. 2123-2190, in fact. And since it was, according to Picard (who prides himself on his historical knowledge)’ one of the first stirrings of world government,’ it seems like the European Union wasn’t really a thing in the Star Trek timeline.

Wikipedia gives two important dates for the founding of the EU – the 1958 Treaty of Rome and the 1993 Treaty of Maastricht. Depending on where Picard’s bar is set to register a confederated government as a ‘first stirring of world government’ it seems apparent that the Star Trek timeline deviates from ours prior to 1993 at the latest, and possibly even earlier than 1958. One date, in particular, sticks out as potentially relevant, if we’re going back that far. Otherwise, it might be Chekov’s fault.

"...Here is my handle, here is my spout."

“…Here is my handle, here is my spout.”

Regardless, with a bit of detective work, they determine that nothing should be out this far with that code, and go to try to find what it is only to find Worf collapsed at his station. Apparently, he had circulatory failure due to low glucose levels. Of course, Klingons Do Not Faint ™. Instead, Worf has been stricken with Klingon Chicken Pox, which he likely didn’t get as a child because he was adopted by humans. One wonders how he got it now. Pulaski does lie for him, though, and tell Picard that he was fasting.

Data figures out that the Mariposa was the ship from its lading manifest, which included a spinning wheel and some other supplies that one might use for a simple colony existence. Data speculates that because the ship was launched during the Earth’s recovery from World War III, it might have been a projection of a philosophy of a simpler life, called Neotranscendentalism.’

Worf thanks Pulaski for protecting his reputation by performing a Klingon Tea Ceremony with him. The tea is deadly poison for humans and extremely toxic to Klingons. As with all Klingon rituals we’ve seen so far, it is a test of bravery. “It is also a reminder that death is an experience best shared, like the tea.” Worf gets some great lines in this show, that’s all I’m saying. Pulaski goes to inject herself with an antidote so she can drink the tea as well, and flirt with Worf some more.

Chickens are enough of a pain in the butt when they're in a neighbor's backyard. imagine being aboard the equivalent of the USS Arizona and your bunkmate is keeping sheep.

Chickens are enough of a pain in the butt when they’re in a neighbor’s backyard. imagine being aboard the equivalent of the USS Arizona and your bunkmate is keeping sheep.

Back to shipboard operations, the fifth planet in the system is habitable, but the star is experiencing severe solar flares, and there are human life readings in subterranean caves. No indication of communication technology despite all the computers on the Mariposa, so Picard sends Riker down to the caverns to make contact. 200 colonists. Riker keeps trying to advise Picard of a problem, and Picard, in a rather stunning display of poor managerial skills, doesn’t listen. One can suppose that the solar flares are dangerous enough to the Enterprise that they have to leave as soon as possible. However, I’m pretty sure Picard isn’t going to like what he glossed over.

Riker is going to be extremely smug when he and Picard have a chat about it later. This seems like a great opportunity to bring up how they clean the carpets on the Enterprise, since it’s all but guaranteed that one of the pigs is going to make a mess in the hallway. The sophisticated solution would be for the Enterprise to be able to lock on to anything that isn’t carpet and beam it away, into the hypothetical store of matter from which everything replicated gets assembled. Less sophisticated would be those sci-fi metal detectors you see in every other series that the maintenance workers carry around and we never quite know what they do. Less sophisticated still would be assigning a crewman who’d been slacking in their duties to scrape it off the floor with a dustpan, but that doesn’t seem in keeping with the bright shiny future.

The colonists are… extremely Irish, and their leader tries to set up his daughter with the obviously wealthy (to own or command such a fine ship) Picard. They’re extremely anachronistic, even for the time when they departed Earth. So much so that they start a fire in the cargo hold to cook with. Fortunately, the Enterprise has an automated fire suppression system which works by using force fields to suffocate the blaze. It’s a really nice touch, since it would be a pain to haul around enough actual matter (be it water or oxygen-displacing gasses) to put out a fire conventionally.

Meet Brenna, Riker's future ex-wife.

Meet Brenna, Riker’s future ex-girlfriend.

I don’t recall the crew being this bad at instructing guests on the use of the replicators in “The Neutral Zone.”

To his credit, Picard is rolling with the absurdity a lot better than I predicted, and Riker, extremely predictably, stays to help Brenna out of her clothes with her chores. In fact, in answer to my previous question, he does state that the ship will clean itself, although he doesn’t state how. I’m sticking with the transporters. Riker’s ‘move’ is to stare at Brenna until she shows him her ankles. I truly, genuinely wish i was joking.

The leader of the colony, O’Dell, asks Picard about the other colony, the one which had all the computers aboard the Mariposa, so off they go to check that out. O’Dell tries to set up a still, but since they can’t heat it, they have to try getting real alcohol from the replicator. It is apparently an option, but the whisky from the replicators is not nearly good enough. Klingon whisky is, though.

The other colony is capable of receiving communications, and is in fact relieved that the Earth didn’t suffer some sort of catastrophe, but Troi indicates they’re hiding something. This is useful information, since nothing in their demeanor so far indicates a problem. Until they beam down, and everyone seems to be suspiciously similar to each other. You can see Riker’s eyes light up when he sees a set of triplets. Somehow, he’s less excited when Pulaski outs the colony as full of clones. An interesting lower bar for debauchery, I feel.

Back in the day, only five of the original colonists survived so they started cloning themselves and instituted laws and cultural taboos, backed by designer medication, to suppress sexual urges that might lead to webbed feet. However, the classic problem with cloning remains in effect: making a copy of a copy of a copy inevitably leads to errors, and nobody thought of freezing a sample of existing genetic material and making all future copies from that culture. The colonists are asking for tissue samples to revitalize their colony, a proposition to which Riker is vehemently and even violently opposed.

His philosophical objections seem to be rooted in the innate value in the uniqueness of the ‘William T Riker’ identity. ironic, considering his forced participation in attempting to make an army of Soong-type androids (although he didn’t use as the core of his argument the utility of said army, which dovetails rather nicely with this stance), and the eventual discovery of his duplicate in “Second Chances” which we haven’t gotten to yet. In fact, nobody on the senior staff is willing to donate genetic cultures and Picard suspects that this will be the prevailing opinion aboard the ship. I’ll admit to a certain feeling of ickyness myself, but I can’t come up with a rational reason for refusing. They will of course repair the colony’s equipment, and hopefully be on the lookout for any clandestine attempts to gather tissue samples.

"Don't phase me, bro."

“Don’t phase me, bro.”

The future is a bright and wonderful place, but it seems that devious thinking is not a habit. It should have been predictable that, when facing the eventual extinction of their colony, the Mariposans might attempt to save themselves by force. But even Riker, the 24th century’s most devious crewmember, doesn’t see this coming and oh my goodness those are some big biopsy needles.

Geordi’s VISOR can apparently pick up the physiological signs of lying, at least for humans, which has got to be an advantage when they play their staff game of poker. Also, apparently a tricorder can tell if a human is missing epithelial cells from the lining of the stomach. That’s… pretty specific. When he discovers that they’ve been cloned, Riker, Pulaski, and Geordi beam down to vaporize their nascent clones.

Have I mentioned yet that I really enjoy this episode? It poses a really interesting ethical conundrum, the kind that you can only really get with science fiction. It challenges the viewer to think, rather than to merely judge. Is the crew right to refuse to help a dying colony? Are the Mariposan colonists justified in trying to save their culture? Does Riker have the right to vaporize his clone? I almost wish this wasn’t going to get neatly resolved at the end so as to leave us with lingering questions and nagging doubts, but there is an obvious solution: everyone donates tissue and the colony no longer needs to rely on suppressing natural human behaviors. Regular supply runs ensure the colony grows, and Federation support ensures that the children are raised properly. Then again, this does completely obliterate the colonial culture, so maybe it’s not the perfect solution after all. This is a better episode so far than I thought.

Of course, there’s the other colony of primitives, who will likely continue their primitive ways. They keep breeding, and the Mariposan colony keeps taking tissue samples and cloning brand new population off of the raw stock. Now it’s just a matter of getting the two colonial leaders to see the advantages. They each have to give up something: the clones by having to succumb to sexual reproduction, and the primitives by giving up monogamous marriage for a few generations. It’s going to be an interesting fifty years for the two colonies.

Did we miss something awesome?