Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Episode 41 (Pen Pals)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

The Enterprise is exploring a solar system that was originally charted by unmanned probes. There seems to be a lot of geological instability on one of the planets, which is a drastic change from the information that they have. Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher is given his first command, which is to do a survey of the planet. Trouble arises when Data picks up a signal from the planet, which turns out to be a girl calling out for help.

It’s not as simple as simply helping the girl. For starters, fixing geological instability isn’t that easy. Secondly, there’s the Prime Directive, which prohibits interfering with an alien culture. The first problem is solved when Wesley orders a test that uncovers what the problem is. As for the second problem, it’s a slippery slope.

Yes, the Enterprise could fix the problem without anyone on the planet being the wiser. Yes, it’s just a natural phenomenon. Yes, millions would be saved. However, what if they were trying to stop a war? What if they were trying to stop an oppressive dictator? The senior staff debates the problem, but they end up going in circles. When Captain Picard hears the girl’s voice, he realizes that he can’t just leave her.

The Prime Directive isn’t just some rule that Starfleet officers can use to hide behind when it’s convenient. What if this race turns out to be the next Romulan Empire? On the other hand, is it fair to simply leave her to die? Data ends up beaming down to the planet to lead the girl to safety, but ends up beaming back to the Enterprise with her. Picard agrees to save the planet. Before they leave, they have to wipe the girl’s memory.

When I first saw the episode, it was interesting. Now that I’ve seen it again recently, I’m a little confused. The main issue is whether it’s right to go in and save a planet. We can all think that we’d do it, but there are real issues here. The only thing that confused me was having Data beam down. I didn’t think it was really necessary other than to put a face on the problem. The relationship between Data and the girl could have been kept to voice communication. (Also, since the planet is never revisited, we’ll never know if the girl’s memory was actually wiped.)

One good point was that Wesley was given an actual dilemma. Instead of getting to be the boy genius again, he has to ask for advice from Commander Riker and Counselor Troi on the nature of command. He has to give orders to people that are older and more experienced than him. What gives him the right? He can ask for advice, but he has to really figure it out for himself.

I’d give the episode three stars. I wouldn’t really recommend buying the VHS tape. If it comes on TV or if you get the season set, then watch it. Otherwise, don’t worry about it.

IMDb page

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