TNG: S4E15: “First Contact”

In which I get bitter, the episode hits close to home, and you know exactly who this is about. 

Not to be confused with Star Trek: The Next Generation by Herman Mellville.

This little troglarth went to market, this little troglarth stayed home...

This little troglarth went to market, this little troglarth stayed home…

We open with some aliens rushing a patient to a hospital and loading all kinds of alien medicine up on him, only to find that this patients organs are all messed up and it has these disgusting little stubby digits. And while this is kind of a fantastic way to open an episode, it calls to attention that whoever did Riker’s cosmetic surgery just decided that he was never going to let any of the locals see him without shoes or gloves.

Riker is going by Rivas Jakara, and the medical personnel are all acting like they don’t know he’s an alien to keep him calm, but Riker’s story is that he has had cosmetic surgery to correct genetic defects. They also have his phaser and nobody knows where his communicator is. The good news is the hospital administrator is not going to go off half-cocked, and is doing his due dilligence.

The next scene shows us why we’re here – this planet is getting ready to do a warp field proof-of-concept and break the light barrier. As times to make the presence of an interstellar civilization known go, the development of Warp technology are one of the two points that make the most sense. At that point, it will be impossible to keep the secret anyway. The other point I would suggest is if a species starts to broadcast ‘please come meet us’ messages to the stars. By the time a species is ready to consider that other intelligent life exists and want to meet that life (and take the risk that it may be hostile) you should not turn them down. What I am of course saying is it would be nice if the Vulcans found us before World War III happens.

Sadly, there’s all sorts of politics going on. The Chancellor has instituted sweeping social reforms which the people have accepted because they were beneficial (so you can tell it’s fiction, ha ha sob) but his advisors are counseling a retreat from this progressive agenda. It’s like scene four and this episode is already hitting too close to home. Happily, the chancellor wants to make warp travel his one last progressive push.

You can tell the Federation doesn't often get to welcome a species to the interstellar community because THIS IS A TERRIBLE WAY TO DO THAT.

You can tell the Federation doesn’t often get to welcome a species to the interstellar community because THIS IS A TERRIBLE WAY TO DO THAT.

Later, in her computer lab, Picard and Troi appear before the lead warp scientist, Marasta, and don’t even have the common courtesy to offer her a pair of pants that haven’t been soiled in sheer existential terror. Actually, they do have some fairly good reasons for beaming into her office, but it really feels like there would have been a way to soften that a bit from teleporting into a secured base.

Part of the process is to put specialists on the surface for years. Riker has been coordinating with these specialists, which explains why he was there. It doesn’t explain why Crusher was permitted to do such a shoddy job of disguising him.

Also problem: The Malkorians believe that they are the pinnacle of all forms of life and that their planet is the center of the universe. It is said in such a way that if I mentioned Earth has the same beliefs, you’d know exactly which groups would be the hardest hit and the most upset. And the Minister of Security is one of them, and would use the existence of Riker to further his own dire agendas.

The hospital administrator is an ethical man,a nd is still considering Riker a patient, even though his lies have all turned out to be… well, lies. Perhaps ‘cautious’ might be a more accurate statement. Picard gives the planetary chancellor a tour, and deals graciously with the pants-wetting terror the man is obviously feeling. He offers the man alcohol. Presumably the specialists on the surface have confirmed that ethanol is not a deadly poison to these people, because it turns out they have something similar. Picard is doing his best to explain his position to the chancellor, and doing a pretty good job of it. The chancellor seems to be ready to embrace the bright shiny future.

She's going to be very disappointed to remember that Riker doesn't have tentacles.

She’s going to be very disappointed to remember that Riker doesn’t have tentacles.

Also, the doctor who’s watching over and working on Riker is one of the open-minded. Very open minded, in fact. More open-minded than Riker, even. I wonder if the Federation has a concept of species-wide age-of-consent laws, or if any consenting member of a warp-capable civilization is fair game. She offers to help Riker escape if he’ll have sex with her. She is also fascinated by his fingers. Next scene, she’s helping him escape, so…


She doesn’t help him very successfully, though, and he gets the snot beat out of him and severe enough kidney damage to have to go back into surgery and the security services summoned. As it turns out, the security minister is aware of this going into the meeting, and it comes out. Now that Riker is an open secret among the members of government, he becomes a political pawn that the security minister insists on using.

Credit where it's due - the man is a true believer.

Credit where it’s due – the man is a true believer.

Picard manages to explain his point of view to the chancellor and it actually serves to reassure him, that Picard is not so far advanced that he can’t make mistakes. Sadly, the ethical doctor has been replaced by an extra who clearly got cast because he looks like Corproal Flagg, the insane CIA man from M*A*S*H. You only cast that face when you want a character to be unethical in a covert ops kind of way. The internal security minister has him revive Riker using dangerous drugs and starts interrogating the poor insensate first officer. When I say ‘interrogate,’ of course, what I clearly mean is ‘kill himself while framing Riker for it in order to poison relations with a civilization that proves their religion is wrong.’

Of course, there’s a serious question as to how he thinks that’s going to work out when Riker shouldn’t have had access to the phaser since he can now barely move. Happily, Crusher arrives on the scene and may be able to save everyone, since the security minister clearly didn’t put the thing all the way up to kill. And the forensics bear this out. Clearly, he feels so strongly about this that the chancellor has to accept that his people aren’t yet ready to embrace the Federation. Instead, they’ll divery the resources from the warp program into a generational effort to make his people less moronic and xenophobic. At least, at the end of this encounter, the door has not been closed completely.

That said, Maresta requests to be allowed to remain, and maybe someday. Maybe someday.


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