Old Fashioned Exploration
takes the crew of the Enterprise right on up to the edge of a nothingness singularity, and wouldn’t you know it? It gets them good. At this point the viewer may be screaming, don’t poke the snake! Why would you do that?
Well, let me explain. The Federation is a curious bunch of people. I mean… they have curiosity. That’s why they’re out there exploring the unknown.
It’s so important to them that they have a whole, rigorously thought out process of satisfying that curiosity, the scientific method. They’re there to observe and learn.
The problem is that they’re filled with another emotion that undermines curiosity:
Of course not all of them are filled with it. Picard after all seems pretty calm once the ship has been enveloped. Interested, more than afraid. Riker is more in between, curious but nervous. But Worf has some serious hibijibies.
This whole thing reminds him of a ship devouring menace from Klingon legend.
The fear is coming from deep inside him, and it makes him aggressive. He wants to attack with photon torpedoes when the second probe they send towards the nothingness disappears.
I suspect that this is such an important part of the entire story that key to understanding the story is getting up in there and pulling apart Worf’s fear and that means
Getting to the Bottom of the Riker/Worf Team Up.
I mean their workout session in the holodeck.
It’s an odd bit of the story, and it felt a little bit like the franchise was trying to recast Riker as more of a warrior.
Worf uses the holodeck to hone his fighting skills, and usually his exercises are more strenuous, which means he wants incredibly honed fighting skills. Anyone so concerned with handling life or death situations is afraid of being killed.
Worf is afraid of death.
Riker is too, but less than Worf. The rest of the crew is less fearful than Riker. Since Riker and Worf share fear, Riker connects Worf to the rest of the crew. That’s why they team up.
Still this doesn’t mean the rest of crew doesn’t fear death. They all do, but Riker and Worf show us that fear through their desire to fight death.
Stand Down Lieutenant
The workout unleashes nasty emotions in Worf, but those feelings are tempered by the Federation’s outlook on proper conduct. This forms a sense of morality that helps Worf, Riker, and the rest of the crew overcome their fear and benefit from their curiosity.
Thus on the holodeck when Worf’s fear leads to berserker rage and on the Yamato when it leads to a wild panic, Riker’s authority keeps Worf from giving into the emotions.
We see other aspects of this outlook on proper conduct in the
Dr. P versus Data
dialogue. Pushy, pushy Dr. P comes on the bridge and orders Data to zoom up on different parts of the nothing, and then totally third persons him. While calling him “it.”
Now if John Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation has taught me anything, it’s that calling a genderless person “it” is OK, but Data’s totally gendered up. Just ask the security chief.
Oh, wait. Never mind.
Anyway, the proper conduct I meant to address is the drive to observe and change. Dr. P sees Data as a machine, and doesn’t feel that he’s a person. But observation has shown that he is one, and she must accept it. So she’s trying to overcome her feelings.
We see still more aspects of this outlook in Picard’s
- Open communication – Picard creates an atmosphere in which his officers can share their thoughts with the captain. This means the crew feels comfortable presenting ideas, which in turn is how the crew finds its solutions. Data’s idea for dropping a homing beacon came out this way. As did Dr. P’s idea that they were rats in a maze.
- Unique talents – Picard is aware of each of his crewmember’s talents, and asks them to utilize them frequently. He asks Deanna to check for emotions, Data to check memory, and he sends Riker and Worf to handle potentially dangerous operations.
- Constantly seeks opinions and advice – Before each decision, he asked for opinions.
His entire decision making process is governed by openness and inclusion, which keeps the crew invested in the structure that helps fight fear so they can explore.
is the entity behind all their trouble, and I think what made him interested in the Enterprise is this balance between fear and curiosity. Everything he does is a test of how they will respond to fear of death.
- A Romulan warbird – he tests how the crew will handle a hostile attack
- USS Yamato – he tests how the crew will handle an empty ship (because it’s so similar to them that it’s like looking inside themselves and finding nothing? The void that awaits us all…)
- Starfield – he tests whether or not Picard’s fear will overcome him by giving him the opportunity to run while two of his people are trapped on the Yamato
- Starfields – he tests how they will react to being repeatedly frustrated in their escape.
- Threat of Death – he says he will kill half the crew. I doubt he ever planned to actually do that. It was just a part of the test.
Of course, Picard responds to number five by relying on his Starfleet training and the moral outlook on proper conduct. He’s going to blow this mint up.
Rather than allow his crew to be harmed, he asserts the free will that all people possess, and that’s the solution.
They must accept death in order to live.
The starfield openings are basically yonic symbols, which means the Enterprise is stuck in the womb. Inside, they’re in infinity. Walk through one door and right back into the bridge. Fly in one direction and endlessly return.
But in order to get out, they must accept death. They must be willing to die, just as a living person upon entering the world must eventually cease to exist. At birth, we lose our claim on forever.
So Picard’s actions prove that their moral conduct, their balance between fear and curiosity, is the correct course because through it his crew is reborn.
What about the Jokes?
You may be wondering. I was surprised by them too. It was an almost entirely humorless episode until Nagilum showed up, and the next thing you know, we’ve got jokes.
- Geordi’s “Damn ugly nothing” comment.
- The exchange between Data and Nagilum that starts with Nagilum saying, “Data.” And Data just says his name right back. That was hilarious. I loved it.
- When told to demonstrate human procreation, Dr. P says not likely.
- Dr. P saying, Why do I get the feeling this was not the time to join this ship.
- The way in which Riker cancelled the auto destruct.
Since the episode was so back heavy on jokes it really struck me as odd. Why did we suddenly stop taking this seriously?
Morals, Messages, and Meanings
- Start by admitting what you don’t know – it is the beginning of knowledge
- Open dialogue is key to problem solving
- Free speech allows command to benefit from every idea
- Observe, draw conclusions, and try to change
- Accept death
- Moral conduct is key to overcoming our fears
Does it hold up?
Great episode. Rich with material and ideas.
I give it an A.
The best Season Two episode yet.
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