I suspect I know where everyone’s going to go with this one. I know because it’s a common theme in Star Trek and here it’s pretty much screaming here; you’ve to earn what you get.
But before I join you there, I thought I’d tell you something else this episode made me think because it illustrates how rewatching an episode I haven’t seen since I was young made me see it differently today.
I know I told you I live in Japan, but I don’t think I told you that I live in Iwate.
We were the part of Japan worst hit by the 2011 earthquake and tsunamis. I live inland, so I wasn’t affected directly by the tsunamis, but in my town we were without power for three days. Then there were food shortages and gas shortages. It was nothing compared to what the people living on the coast experienced, but nonetheless it was an uncomfortable time.
I was surprised by how well people bore it, and the press commented on this. They attributed people’s reaction to a concept in Japanese culture called gaman. It’s an idea that we should endure with dignity the difficult things we cannot change.
However, I see this as one side of a coin, and the other other side is much more negative. I believe that gaman can lead to a lack of innovation and discovery. After all, innovation and discovery come from a drive to improve our situations.
When Radue told Wesley, “Sometimes something happens that you just must accept,” I thought of gaman. Sure what he’s saying can be true under certain, extreme circumstances, but you can see how a person who has never struggled might not be able to distinguish something they can’t change from something they can.
When Picard told Data, “Things are only impossible until they’re not,” I thought of my own apprehensions toward this concept.
That’s when it occurred to me that this episode is talking about the two sides of that coin. The main critique is not the Aldean’s lack of struggle, but their inability to change, which is caused by a good trait gone bad. It is a trait that has prevented the people of Aldea from changing when they needed to.
In fact, it led to immorality.
Immoral because instead of trying to change a bad situation, they only thought of how to maintain it, and when all ethical options were exhausted, they chose unethical ones (stealing children, abusing power, taking away the choices of others).
All because they never even considered struggling for massive change an option.
So what’s inside that door? I mean the door Wesley asked Leda about when they were working with the custodian? The door they all walk into in the end? It’s the other side of that coin. It’s the discovery and innovation that comes from not accepting difficult situations with quiet dignity.
Genetics as Control
That felt a bit like I climbed up on a soapbox, but since I’m up here enjoying the view, let me keep on haranguing.
The Aldeans use a probe to scan the kids and find their innate abilities. They take these kids in order to make them realize these abilities.
The idea that you must do what you have a talent for infuriates me. It’s the same as saying we cannot choose our own course in life. We cannot overcome our programming (one of my requirements for sentience). We do not have free will.
I may be the worst sculptor in the world, but darn it, I’m going to sculpt. If it means I have to struggle then so be it.
That’s something that makes the Federation better than Aldea. When little Harry Bernard gets back on the Enterprise, his father tells him he can be anything he wants, but he still has to study calculus. It’s like saying you’re going to learn everything that’s possible, and then you’re going to choose a course. If it follows your programming, so be it. If it means you have to struggle, that’s OK too. But I’m giving you options, not taking them away.
While my blood pressure returns to normal, I’ll tell you a little anecdote about this episode. I watched this episode with my wife, and as so often happens we made comments the whole time. So imagine this:
INT – FAMILY CREW QUARTERS – SPACE
Six year old ALEXANDRA is playing on the floor under TOYA’s watchful gaze.
An Aldean transporter beam steals Alexandra away.
TOYA screams out for her daughter as she disappears.
INT – RADUE’S OFFICE – DAY
Alexandra finds herself with five other kids from the Enterprise. She’s the smallest and most vulnerable, wearing her PJs and holding a tribble.
Radue and Rashella glare down at them.
Alexandra steps forward, reaches up, and offers to shake hands with her captors.
(with Alexandra’s voice)
I’m glad I’m here. I don’t like my mother. She’s the worst!
INT – ENTERPRISE DEBRIEFING ROOM – SPACE
The parents of the five missing children clutch around the conference table. Captain Picard stands at the front of the room. He’s just finished talking.
Toya bolts to her feet.
I demand to know what’s being done to bring our children back!
(still with Alexandra’s voice)
All Adult Like
I mean Picard, not Wesley. I was impressed with how he read the situation and manipulated it. He understood how important it was to keep them talking, so instead of just blowing up as he clearly wanted to, he repressed his emotions. He used diplomacy to get his way although he did so deceptively. But I guess that’s how the powerless fight the powerful.
Interesting he didn’t convince them. He deceived them, got control of their computer, and then imposed their will. In the first occurrence in Star Trek history (?), the alien gave the Kirk speech.
All about the Tech
How good are they at the arts? I mean really? To me it seems like their technology does all the work.
Random SF Reference
Powerful technology in the hands of people who know what it can do but not how it does it. People who cannot repair or maintain it. People who lean toward immorality. Sounds like the Guo’uld.
Morals, messages, and meanings
- Sometimes you have to accept things that happen
- Things are only impossible until they’re not
- Watch both hands – Both the Aldeans and the Enterprise crew used misdirection. The Aldeans scanned the children while pretending to be negotiating with Riker, Deanna, and Dr. Crusher. Then Picard sent Data and Riker to the custodian while he pretended to negotiate.
- Might doesn’t make right
- Stay involved – Just like the Enterprise crew in 11001001, the Aldean’s left the technological know how to someone else, and paid a price.
- Remind loved ones you care – Who knows when they’ll be beamed away. The mandatory lesson to be learned when children go missing.
- Don’t favor art over science
- You have to earn what you get – is this protestant work ethic?
- Power corrupts
Does it hold up?
It’s not that bad.
The message is interesting, and I enjoyed thinking about it.
A few little things annoyed me. Data, Deanna, and Yar were used badly. Data doesn’t know the captain is lying? Do you really want to say that artists are infertile? Are we really supposed to believe that in all the galaxy humans love their offspring more than other species? Or is that a Deanna/Mommy issue?
I really liked the passive resistance campaign launched by the kids, but I didn’t like Wesley forcing Alexandra not to eat.
From a production standpoint, there were some creepy closeups and cheesy hero shots, but the intention was clear (create drama when Wesley was being scanned; impress upon the audience the courage that would be necessary for children to defy their captors the way Wesley did).
Also is this the first time we started an episode without a captain’s log?
Overall, an enjoyable episode.
(Oh and by the way, I’m not really a sculptor.)
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