18. Up the Long Ladder

This episode is a parable about the importance of diversity, and it’s divided into four parts.

Part One

is a suspenseful vignette that shows how people from different cultures can accept, help, and learn from each other.

Worf catches rop’ngor, a kid’s disease, and is ashamed. Dr. P doesn’t get it, but she accepts his feelings and cares enough to help him save face. In return, he performs the Klingon tea ceremony for her. She participates, but in order to do so must inoculate herself against the tea, which is poisonous to humans. Then she listens to Klingon poetry.

So we see the federation as represented by Worf and Dr. P as a group in which different people with unique needs can accept, support, and learn from one another even though it is difficult at times.

Part Two

is a comedy about how isolationism can make a people backward and absurd. The Enterprise brings aboard the Brigloidi, a group of colonists who struck out from Earth because they wanted to live alone and without technology, but they’re in heaps of trouble now. Just look at them, they’re so backwards they’re comical. More than that, they were using an old code to call for help, and it’s only through the strength of the much more diverse Federation that help got there in time.

Part Three

is a drama about how isolationism can take a people to the brink of extinction and even worse how it can make them evil. The Brigloidi tell Picard about another colony, which the crew then finds. This colony is in trouble as well.

They’ve been procreating through cloning, and it’s not going so well anymore because without a fresh injection of new DNA, cloning can only work so long. When the people of this colony, Mariposan, ask for help, they can’t even see past the way they’ve always done things. They don’t ask for new colonists or a trip back to Earth. They ask for new DNA, which means they ask the Enterprise to prop up their way of life even though it’s proven itself unsustainable.

They’re so set on keeping things unchanged they’re willing to do bad things. They forcibly take Riker and Dr. P’s DNA in order to make some new clones (and boy can they clone fast).

Part Four

is the dovetailing of the drama and comedy as both stories are brought to conclusion. The Enterprise crew undid the nastiness with the clones, and now the Mariposians have no choice but to accept change. The Brigloidi need a home and also face change.

They are the opposite of each other: one’s low tech, and the other’s high tech. One’s interested in sex. The other finds it repugnant. Still, the two cultures must open up to each other to solve their problems.

Through accepting diversity, they’re made stronger.

Morals, Messages, and Meaning

  1. Accepting difference makes a group stronger.
  2. People who are different can help and learn from each other.
  3. If you have to do something bad to head off change, you should just change instead.

Does it hold up?

No.

Just two quick notes on the storytelling: 1) the teaser sequence ends with (gasp) Worf fainting, but it turns out to be nothing. So the suspense it creates for the cliffhanger isn’t satisfying, and the viewer quickly stops trusting this episode.

2) There’s some pretty cheesey music and camera work. An example of the music I’m thinking about is when Danilo drinks the Chech’tluth Worf gave him and crosses his eyes and comments on the strength of the drink. It’s supposed to make us laugh.

An example of the camera work I’m thinking of comes when Danilo tells Picard there’s another colony. There’s a quick movement to show Picard’s surprise. It’s supposed to make us feel suspense.

If a storytellers have to resort to such techniques to elicit emotions, the end result will lack subtlety and won’t earn those emotions through story.

Storytelling aside, Up the Long Ladder reminds me a lot of Angel One. It started with good intentions, but kind of went the other way. Angel One wanted to examine gender inequality, but became sexist. Up the Long Ladder wanted to endorse diversity, but became discriminatory.

Let’s just start with the stereotypes. The stereotypes of Irish as dirty, drunken, lazy, and inbred are so bad the episode seems like it was written in the 19th century.

The stereotypes of women as embodied by Brenna Odell is that they’re pushy and nagging, but respond quickly to insults (Riker’s neg that her father wanted to get rid of her so he could enjoy quiet, helped him bed her) and needs to be loved by a man. Oh and all they care about is money and being taken care of (just as Brenna reveals when she accepts Picard’s plan).

(Plus Brenna asks Riker if he likes women, and Riker says, “Of course.” Implying there is no choice. All men MUST like women. So differences in sexual preference aren’t acknowledged.)

The episode also makes it seem like people who choose not to use technology are absurd.

In addition to stereotypes, it’s all kinds of judgey about cloning. It makes the case that people who choose to propagate through cloning are bad. I don’t know if replicative fading is real or not, but it sounds a little sus. One might not like cloning, but one shouldn’t judge others who choose to do so.

You might be thinking that cloning is just in the realm of science fiction, but I’ve no doubt it’s indicative of biased thinking about things we don’t agree with. There’s something in everyone’s everyday life that equates to cloning here, and we should all be searching for what that is.

Anyway, all this reinforces the idea that all cultures different from the Federation are inferior to it. So why would anyone want to be different? it doesn’t promote diversity. It promotes sameness.

Cloneicide

The biggest problem I have with this episode is Riker’s murder of his clone. But let’s back up to his anti-clone sentiments. Wilson Granger asks Picard et al for some DNA to replenish their dwindling stock, and Riker says, no pucking way.

“One William Riker is… unique, perhaps even special. But a hundred of him, a thousand of him… diminishes me in ways I can’t even imagine.”

I can’t imagine them either. Here’s why: a clone is not the original. A person is more than their body. The DNA sets the stage, but it’s life and all it’s experience that make us who we are. The moment a person is cloned that clone becomes someone unique and special.

That clones existence adds to the substance of the universe.

They treat Wilson Granger with respect. They acknowledge his personhood. If the original Walter Granger showed up and tried to kill him, the crew of the Enterprise would protect him.

Now, Wilson and the Mariposians commit an act of evil when they steal DNA from Riker and Dr. P, and it’s evil for all kinds of reasons that boil down to taking their choices away.

But they have no right to murder the developing person made from that DNA.

He makes a pro choice argument: “I have the right to exercise control over my own body.”

He does, and I agree. But here’s the thing: it’s no where near the same thing as a woman choosing an abortion. The clone he killed was no longer in his body. That tiny bit of his body that was wrongly taken is growing into a person. I seriously doubt he has the right to kill his clone or Dr. P’s.

At the very least, it is morally dubious.

Wilson calls Riker a murder, and then nothing happens. Picard doesn’t even question Riker’s actions. The biggest failure of Up the Long Ladder is that this cloneicide is not even examined. That lack of discussion makes it the most unStar Trek like episode I’ve seen.

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