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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Symbiosis

March 15, 2013

Originally aired April 18, 1988. Stardate not given. The Enterprise is studying a star in the Delos system, and get a distress call from a freighter that’s having problems and is falling into a planet’s atmosphere. After the credits, they talk to the freighter. The captain of the freighter seems clueless about what’s going on. None of the people on the ship know anything about maintaining it. The only option is to beam the freighter’s crew over, but the crew sends over a set of barrels first.

After a commercial break, they manage to beam over four of the crew., moments before the freighter burns up. Two of the four survivors are extremely worried about the cargo. They’re taken to the cargo bay to see it, where the other two talk about how the cargo is still theirs. The first two are angry, saying they paid for it, but the second pair says the goods are lost. A man from each side struggles, with bioelectric blasts as they grab at each other. Yar breaks them up with a phaser blast, then has a couple of guards escort the four to the Observation Lounge. She and Riker wonder about the electrical shocks they possess. Yar actually comes across well here. While Riker considers the more scientific angle, she considers the security angle, and the problems with defending against the abilities if she has to.

Picard, Riker and Data go to talk to the people. T’Jon and Romas, the Ornarons, are scruffy, and look like farmers. The Brekkians, Sobi and Langor (the lone female in the group) look more high-class. T’Jon asks if they can fix their two other ships, which don’t work properly. We learn the cargo is medicine. A lethal plague is ravaging Brekka, and the medicine is needed to save them. Sobi and Langor argue that the medicine is extremely difficult to manufacture, and represents a huge investment, so they can’t hand it over without payment. Picard asks if T’Jon and Romas have the plague. Of course they do. And they may have brought it over to the ship.

After another break, we head to the Sick bay. The Brekkians are perfectly healthy. In private, Crusher tells Picard that she can’t find any sign of what’s making T’Jon and Romas sick. They ask him for the medicine, and say they can’t hold out much longer. Picard goes to talk to Sobi and Langor about getting T’Jon and Romas a dose. They agree. In the cargo bay, Crusher asks about the medicine, and learns that it’s extremely potent, with an absurdly small dosage to treat the plague. She also mentions how odd the disease is – virulent, persistent, but she can’t isolate it. They also mention Brekka has no other industry beyond manufacturing the medicine. The two societies have a symbiotic relationship – one provides medicine for the other, who provides all the necessities of living. Crusher watches T&R administer the medicine, and it’s clearly a narcotic effect. It’s a whole planet of drug addicts.

After another break, we get the story. A few thousand years ago, Brekka and Ornara took different paths. Ornara became more technologically advanced, until 200 years ago, a plague spread through the world. It was discovered that felicium, which grew in a small area on Brekka, could treat it. Crusher says the plague was cured 200 years ago, and there’s no longer any need for the drug. Crusher asks what Picard plans to do. He plans to do nothing, because of the Prime Directive. He takes Riker and Crusher to the guest quarters, while Wesley asks Data about drug abuse. Yar delivers an anvilicious speech about how drugs are bad, mm’kay. A stupid “Just say no” spiel that the audience didn’t really need. The co-executive producer, Maurice Hurley, shoe-horned the speech in, over the objections of everyone, especially the cast, who tried to tell him it was awful. And it was. It was stupid and awful and stupid. To paraphrase Zoidberg, the speech is bad and Hurley should feel bad.

Anyway, in the guest quarters, where they talk to the leader of Ornara, who begs them to bring the felicium. T’Jon grabs Riker and threatens to kill him if they’re not given the felicium. Picard calmly refuses, and T’Jon backs down. Sobi and Langor ask to speak to Picard, and tell him they’re going to hand over the felicium. Picard brought Crusher along, and they talk about how the Brekkians know the Ornarans no longer have the plague, and don’t want to risk them getting over their addiction. Turns out the Brekkians were infected as well, but broke their addiction. Sobi and Langor asks if they’re going to tell the Ornarans, but Picard says he can’t, and that he’ll let them have the felicium. Crusher pleads with him to deny it.

In the cargo bay, he gives the Ornarans the felicium, but refuses the spare parts to fix their ships. Non-interference, don’t you know. After saying goodbye, Picard and Crusher have a conversation in the turbolift about his decision. He talks about the importance of the Prime Directive, and delivers a compelling defence of it. He tells Geordi to take them out of orbit. He doesn’t care where. Geordi decides on the Opperline system, since they’ve never been there. A great line, I think.

This is not a bad episode. By the standards of the first season, it’s actually pretty good. Merritt Butrick provides a solid performance as T’Jon, seeming desperate while retaining a certain dignity. Romas overplays it a bit. Kimberly Farr is also good as Langor, all charm and sleaze, while Sobi has no personality at all. McFadden’s good as Crusher. She grows increasingly suspicious throughout the episode, and when she figures out what’s going on – around the same time the audience does, which is nice, since TNG usually allowed the audience to figure things out long before the crew did – her emotional appeals to Picard sound sincere. And Picard’s decisions are the right ones to make, without shying away from how difficult they are. He follows the Prime Directive, but tries to follow it in such a way that it helps the Ornarans, even as they think he’s condemning them. It’s interesting, and a lot more subtle than Prime Directive episodes usually are.

The rescue of the freighter is also amusing. It’s filler, but it’s a lot of fun, with T’Jon utterly clueless about the whole thing. He’s so baffled, and you actually almost start to feel sorry for him. He’s like a confused puppy.

However, there’s also the “Just say no” bit between Yar and Wesley. Man, that was bad. Seriously, even for 1988, that would’ve made people roll their eyeballs at how cheesy it was.

Overall, I’d give this episode 2/5. There’s some good stuff here, but it’s good only in comparison to other parts of the season. Taken as a part of the series as a whole, it just doesn’t hold up to even the middling episodes of later seasons.

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