15. Pen Pals


Considering the Forces that Break Things Apart

The Enterprise goes to the Selcundi Drema Sector to try and figure out why the planets there keep breaking apart. Worf asks if it could be intelligent life. Riker laughs and says that’s the dumbest thing he’s ever heard. Then he sits down because this is going to be a long opening.

Picard and Deanna are having one of those great character moments where we learn a lot about them, but we have to stop ourselves from thinking about why they are where they are having the conversation they’re having.

Picard is decked out in horse riding attire, and Deanna is escorting him to the holodeck. He’s going horseback riding, and he launches into an explanation of what makes it great.

The relationship between humans and horses is deep, a long tradition of helping each other meet mutual needs. Horses fill empty spaces in humans.

Deanna says, I totally get what you’re saying. You’re talking about empathy, and I’m an empath. The trouble is I’m too empathetic, so I’ll get too wrapped up in the passions of an animal. So it seems empathy needs distance.

Picard is about to mount the horse when in a flourish of well-executed storytelling, Riker calls him to the bridge. Duty keeps him from enjoying the empathy he was so looking forward to.

Picard loses Deanna and the NSFW attire and reports to the bridge where Riker shows him a planet on fire. He says the last probe through here said it had a thriving eco system.

Considering the Self and Others

A meeting of the senior staff adjourns in the observation lounge to talk about this pressing problem. I mean Wesley’s education. Riker wants to put him in charge of the geological survey of these shaky planets. That’s right folks, it’s table time:

Dr. P Wesley is young and this is a big job with a lot of responsibilities. We’re not talking about his education, but rushing his career as a starfleet officer. I agree he’ll learn whether he fails or not, but we should focus on guiding him through adolescence into adulthood.
Deanna You can’t guide people into adulthood because each person’s experience is different. Whatever happens he’ll learn, and we should focus on building his self-confidence, which is part of Starfleet education.
Geordi He’d need a team to do this job, and I don’t know if he’s ready for command.
Riker He won’t feel real success until he faces a real chance of failure. Sooner or later he’ll have to feel the burden of command.
Picard We shouldn’t put too much weight on a young back. Tempering is taken to extremes. Someday he’ll be a man who needs an edge that won’t dull at first resistance.
Me Come on, Captain. Is he a horse, a sword, or a man?

Riker gets fed up with all the talking and makes the decision he was always going to make. He calls Wesley in and tells him. He’s stoked. Picard tries to scare him, and then gives him some leadership advice. Yep, list time:

How to learn to be a leader:

  1. Be serious
  2. Don’t worry about team judging you
  3. Think of team as a resource and use their talents
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and never feign knowledge out of pride

Meanwhile, Data is being much more outwardly-looking. He’s redesigning sensors to pick up different frequencies, including low tech communications signals. It seems he’s looking for someone to fill some empty spaces in him.

This annoys Worf because Data is making a mess on the bridge. Now in Worf’s defense you really shouldn’t leave a mess in common areas, but in Data’s defense, watch your pucking step Worf! What kind of warrior isn’t aware of his footing at all times? Remember who you’re talking to! Third in command! If you ever “Be gone!” him again, I’ll shove a painstick… Sorry.

Wesley finds Deanna escorting Riker to holodeck or something, and in a moment of poorly-executed storytelling they make some bad jokes. Wesley reveals his true fear: he’s afraid he can’t lead older and more experienced people.

He’s searching himself for the strength.

He starts assembling his team, including one Ensign Davies who is positive, free and easy with advice, and totally willing to take over if Wesley needs someone to save him. Dick.

Data is now all alone in his quarters searching the galaxy for someone to empathize with. He finds a signal, a young girl. She says, “Is anyone out there.” Data answers, Yes.

Fighting for Self and Others

Dr. P finds Wesley pacing in the corridor and tells him to go meet his team with confidence because he has authority now and he’ll have it unless he does something to lose it. Even if that happens, everything will be just fine. He has his -ness.

Six weeks later they’ve discovered every planet in the system has geological instability, and on Drema IV Wesley wants his team to run an icospectrogram. But his team’s like, naw. Too much trouble. Wesley gives in, but not really. He’s just searching for his -ness.

Data searches for information on the volcanic activity on Drema IV. What he finds worries him. He goes to holodeck three to talk to Picard, but not before showing plenty of empathy towards the white horse Picard is riding.

Data explains, eight weeks ago I answered a low tech call from a girl asking if anyone was out there.

Here in an amazing bit of acting by Patrick Stewart, Picard pauses for a moment, sits on his horse, and absorbs what his officer just said. Then he dismounts and says, “There’s a lot of loneliness inherent in that whisper from the darkness.”

Picard is awesome.

Data explains: he’s been talking to a girl named Sarjenka. She’s from Derma IV, and her people aren’t aware of interstellar life. Oops. A total P.D. faux pas, but Data has been vague about who he is and stuff.

She hasn’t been vague, and her talk about the trouble her family has been having with quakes and volcanos has Data more than a little concerned. He’s got to help her. He wants to stop the quakes.

Picard says helping her would violate the prime directive. Data asks him for another idea. Picard says, we don’t even know if we can stop the quakes. Sigh. Call all the senior staff to my quarters.

Fighting for Self and Others Part II: Working the System

Riker’s in Ten Forward canoodling with, I don’t know, someone. Wesley comes in for advice. He tells Riker about the icospectragram, and Riker asks, Were you right?

Wesley says, Yes! Maybe. I might’ve been wrong.

Riker says this isn’t about the difference between you and Davies. It’s about you needing self-confidence. Just imagine you’re Picard and have confidence. That’s what I do. That’s why I didn’t take command of the Ares. Wesley’s inspired. He’s going to make Davies do it.

He marches straight to the geology lab and says, Davies do it. Davies is like, OK. No, even nicer than that. He’s like, sure thing!

The senior staff meets in Picard’s quarters and conspire like a bunch of rich white guys in a Boston pub. Picard asks what the options are. Roll out the table.

Worf There are no options. The PD is an absolute.
Dr. P That kind of rigidity is callous and cowardly. Our emotions are involved, and we should use them to guide us.
Riker We’re not gods. If there is a cosmic plan, it’s hubris to interfere. We should think Sarjenka’s people are fated to die.
Geordi I reject that. It could be part of that plan for us to interfere. What if they asked for our help?
Deanna If there’s a cosmic plan we’re a part of it. We’re a part of that fate.
Data The Dremans are not a subject for philosophical debate. They’re people about to die. Sarjenka’s call could be viewed as a request for help.
Picard Sophistry. This decision could change the future. What if this were a disease? What if it were war? The PD protects us by preventing our emotions from overwhelming our judgement.

Data realizes things aren’t going his way, so when Picard tells him to sever all contact, Data plays her message for everyone to hear. Just as he planned, it engages Picard’s emotions, and his judgement is overwhelmed.

Picard says, Fine. I’ll accept your sophistry. Your whisper from the dark has now become a plea. We cannot turn our backs.

In for a Penny in for a Pound

They hit Drema IV orbit, and the geological survey team’s got an idea. Remember that icospectragram thingy? Well according to Ensign Davies, it reveals the answer. The planet has dilithium crystals and sunlight and vibrations and, you know, stuff. Anyway, they can fix it.

How’s that self-confidence now, Wesley? You found your Wesley-ness didn’t you? Oh wait, that part of the plot is now officially over.

They get to work, and Riker tells Picard Data has found the safest place on the planet for the people suffering from the quakes and volcanos. Picard says, Tell Data he has permission to contact them and tell them where to go. I mean the safe place to go.

Data tries and can’t get ahold of her because of atmospheric interference. So he asks permission to beam down. Fine! Picard says.

Riker takes Data to the transporter room and orders Chief O’Brien to take a nap. He does. Data beams down. Riker is called away because the plot requires Data to bring Sarjenka back and Riker would never let him do that.

But he’s just got to. The situation planetside is too severe for Data to get Sarjenka to her family so she becomes the first Dreman to make it to the stars.

Maybe. I mean the technology for her door is pretty cool. Way better than anything we’ve got now, and we’ve made it to the stars. Maybe she’s just the first to go there with an alien person.

I kind of took the pop out of that act conclusion. Let me try again.

Data violates the Prime Directive again by taking Sarjenka up to the stars.

Together or Apart?

Data and Serjenka get shipboard, and now he’s got to get to the bridge. She insists on going with him. Chief O’Brein says, “You’re going to take that?”

He’s talking about Sarjenka.

O’Brein! You were always my favorite replacement for Tasha Yar. You let me down. You’re better than that. On second thought, maybe you’re not.

Data shows up on the bridge, and Picard’s angrier that he brought a child on the bridge than that he just won’t stop violating the Prime Directive. Picard says, You better have a good explanation. Data says, I do. She was scared and did not wish to be alone.

Data is awesome too.

Picard demands she be taken from the bridge and Data get to work saving her planet. Deanna tries to take her to sickbay, but just ends up showing us she’s terrible with children. The child in turn shows us the makeup on her hands is terrible.

In the end Sarjenka stays. The plan works. The planet is safe.

Now they have to deal with the repercussions because they had to break a lot of laws to make this happen. Or they had to break the same law a lot of different times. There’s going to be trouble. Unless they can figure out a way to work the system and cheat the narrative.

I know let’s violate Sarjenka’s rights as a person by violating her body with a forced operation that’ll surgically rip out all of her memories. Way to go guys, just when it started to look like you were the good guys, but in the end, she’s just a horse to the crew of the Enterprise.

I can’t believe they injured her to avoid the consequences of a law that has nothing to do with her. If this Macbook wasn’t so expensive, I’d punch it right now.

Bam magic surgery. Data takes her back to her house and leaves her there with a stupid singing rock that frankly is going to creep her out in the morning.

Nobody’s awesome anymore.

Riker asks Wesley for a wrap up chat, but Wesley’s like no thanks. I’m pretty confident now. Does that mean it’ll be easier later? Riker says, No.

Data thanks Picard. Picard says Data reminded everyone that there are obligations beyond duty. He talked about Data’s friendship with Sarjenka and some other condescending bullmint about Data learning more about being human.

I thought they were better than this.

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

  1. There are obligations that go beyond duty
  2. Helping others is more important than rules
  3. Believe in yourself

Does it hold up?

No. Just no. Ok?

I mean here’s an episode I remember well, which probably means it plays often in syndication. That in turn probably means it’s well loved. I used to like it, but now it just makes me angry.

From a storytelling point of view, the memory thing is a cop out. They avoid all the ramifications of the difficult decisions they faced and wrapped up the show quickly and quietly and put a nice bow on it.

But that ultimately made all the rest seem false and their attitudes towards less technologically advanced species superior.

Poor kid. She wanted to be an astronaut.

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