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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Pen Pals

October 4, 2013

Originally aired May 1, 1989. Stardate 42695.3. The Enterprise is entering some system, the first manned ship to do so. There’s all sorts of geological instability among the planets in the system. Meanwhile, Picard and Troi head down to the Holodeck, where Picard is going go horseback riding. They talk about horses, and it’s a great discussion. Really interesting. Right before Picard can get on the horse, Riker calls him to the Bridge to look at a dead planet.

After the credits, Riker calls a meeting to get advice on whether Wesley should lead a team to study the planets. Wesley’s excited by the responsibility. Data is doing some sensor modifications for a personal project, and then Wesley asks Riker and Troi for advice on his team. Wesley recruits the first member of his team. Then Data finds a signal. A little girl asking if there’s anyone out there. He responds, “Yes.”

Break. Wesley’s really nervous about going in to see his team, but Pulaski gives him a pep talk. Wesley’s getting a little pushback from his team, and caves. Data goes to the Holodeck to talk to Picard, who’s riding a horse. Data tells him that he replied to a simple transmission a few weeks ago. Picard is troubled. Data speaks to the girl often. And the planet she’s on is dying. But it would mean violating the Prime Directive. Picard tells him to call a meeting, and to stop communicating with the girl.

Break. Wesley goes to talk to Riker about backing down on the scan. Riker gives him a pep talk. Wesley feels better, and goes to order the scan run. In Riker’s quarters, the senior staff is discussing Data’s situation. The debate is really cool. Picard makes a particularly strong defence of the Prime Directive. Picard orders Data to cut off the link, but before he can, the girl asks where he is. Picard says it’s become a plea for help.

Break. Wesley’s team has found the cause of the instability. Data’s unable to communicate with his friend. A plan is developed to save the planet, but Data wants permission to beam down to help the girl. Picard reluctantly gives permission. Riker beams him down, with O’Brien being cool about it all. The surface of the planet is in very bad shape. Lots of volcanoes. He finds the little girl, and beams back up with her.

Break. Data goes to the Bridge with the girl, who refuses to go anywhere without Data. The plan to save the planet is put into effect. It works very quickly. That done, Data brings her to Sickbay. Picard tells Pulaski to wipe the girl’s memories of Data and the ship.

This is a nice, sweet episode. There are two plots, and both are actually done well. I’ll start with the B-plot – Wesley leading a team researching what’s going on. It’s very well-done. It shows his uncertainty, his lack of confidence in himself, his discomfort at giving orders to people older and more experienced than he is. But through the advice he’s given by Riker, he grows as a person, gaining the confidence to stand up for himself and give orders that he feels are right. It’s good, and instead of treating Wesley like a Wunderkind, it actually treats him like a young man being given authority for the first time.

The A-plot is also good. In particular, the meeting in Picard’s quarters is great, with an absolutely fantastic discussion of the Prime Directive, why it exists and how it works. It’s easily the strongest scene of the episode, with all the characters expressing their views in a way that makes sense. It’s the only scene Geordi appears in, and he makes a fairly impassioned argument for helping out. (In particular, when Riker says they need to consider the possibility that the aliens are fated to die: “Consider it considered and rejected!”) Pulaski and Troi also argue for getting involved, while Worf and Riker argue against it. Interestingly, Pulaski actually defends Data’s emotions on the matter – a far cry from her earlier claims about him simply being a machine. I guess he’s grown on her. It makes her a lot more sympathetic, too.

This is a good Data episode, too. He gets good characterization here. He shows a definite humanity in fighting to save the girl. The one problem is that we don’t get to see much interaction between him and the girl. The build-up of the threat of her planet dying took up a lot of time, which I think crowded out some of the more personal elements a bit.

On a side note, the girl, Sarjenka, eventually returns in some of the Star Trek novels, specifically some of the Corps of Engineers novels.

Overall, I’d give this 3/5. It’s a very good episode, but it needed a little more personal focus on Data and the girl.

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