1/20/13

Star Trek: Asterisk "Symbiosis"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S01E22
Air Date: April 18, 1988
Written by: Robert Lewin, Richard Manning and Hans Beimler
Directed by: Win Phelps

Premise
We run into some drug pushers and drug users and end up not helping them because Prime Directive.

Review
So the Enterprise is investigating some unusual solar flares and magnetic activity in the Delos system and while they're there, they receive a distress signal from a freighter. They go to help them out and find that the crew of the freighter have no idea what they're doing, but they're falling into a planet's atmosphere, so we gotta save them. Tasha does a neat trick where she links the Enterprise transporters to their transporters and attempts to beam them over, but instead of people, she gets their cargo. The weather started getting rough, the tiny freighter was tossed, and Riker said - forget about doing it neatly, just lock on to any life form and beam them aboard. In the process, Tasha lost two people, but the other four that beamed up were more worried about their cargo than their lost men.


Turns out there's some dispute about who owns the cargo. The Ornarans say they have paid for it, so it's theirs. The Brekkians say that they haven't received payment so the cargo still belongs to them. This argument turns into a physical fight where both groups use their natural electrically charged limbs against each other. This is the kind of weapon that, as Tasha Yar put it, is difficult to confiscate.
Either that or we accidentally started watching "Earnest Goes to Jail".
The two groups are broken up and hold a meeting in the observation lounge in which they reveal that the cargo is medicine for a plague for which there is no cure, but which the medicine can alleviate for a while. When Picard learns that the Ornarians have the plague, he's worried they might have brought it on board, so he puts the ship on medical alert, but we'll find that he really has nothing to worry about. The Ornarians seem to get worse, their symptoms are heightened, but Beverly can find no cause for this. So she makes the case that they should be allowed some medicine for their immediate need.

So Picard plays the diplomat once more and approaches the Brekkians. They try to make it clear that they're running a business and they can't just give away their product, but they do allow these two Ornarians to have their dose if it means making their stay on the Enterprise smoother. So, they prepare the dose, the Ornarians take it in view of Beverly, and Beverly instantly recognizes their reaction to it as a reaction to a narcotic. The Ornarians, ever last one of them on the planet and these two on the Enterprise, are all drug addicts and the Brekkians are pushers.
"Ya'll don't know the streets like we do."
A deeper look into their history reveals that there was a plague a long time ago that both species had and both were cured of it. But the Brekkians kept their plague a secret and kept on selling the drug to the Ornarians in more potent doses. The drug trade became their only industry and the Ornarians gave them everything they needed just so they could receive their next hit. Unfortunately for the Ornarians, the Prime Directive forbids Starfleet officers from interfering with a culture on this level. Luckily, the Brekkians agree to hand over the cargo on credit. But there's still the matter of getting home and making more.

Well, the Ornarians only have two more space ships left. And Picard had previously agreed to help fix them. But now, at the end of things, Picard has had a change of heart. He tells the Ornarians that he will not help them fix their ships. This way, without the Ornarians even knowing that their medicine is a narcotic, the drug trade will stop, they'll go through terrible withdrawal for a while, but they will survive. And the Brekkians will have to learn to make stuff for themselves and not depend on the Ornarians. So, in one swift stroke, Picard has followed the Prime Directive and saved an alien culture all at the same time.
Diplomacy level: 9000.
After the aliens have beamed down to their planet without the tools necessary to fix their ships, Picard gets in the turbolift with Beverly and they discuss what just happened. Beverly says she could have made their withdrawal easier. But Picard wonders if that would actually have helped. And so we end the episode on a question; wondering the particulars of the Prime Directive. And they all lived happily ever after and learned a valuable lesson about cocaine.

Overall Thoughts
There's just one part of this episode that bugs me. When they learn that the medicine is a drug, Wesley says he doesn't understand why anyone would chose to become chemically dependent on anything and Tasha tries to explain the nature of drug use by referring to her rape-gang background. Wesley continues to play dumb, but this is the same guy who, in "The Naked Now" felt "strange, but also good!" I can understand if Wesley is just too naive to understand why drugs feel good, but he's experienced the same kind of effect first hand. He should at least be able to refer to this incident to remind himself how good it can feel.  Anyway, besides that it was a pretty interesting story. There was actually a lot working together in this episode that uniquely lent to how it all came together in the end. At first you think it's just Starfleet helping a planet continue with their industry, but when it becomes something so much bigger, Picard handles it expertly. Events play out as though the Enterprise had not even come, which follows the Prime Directive, except for the fact that lives were saved, which follows the moral right. Thumbs up all around.