21. Symbiosis

In one word

Unnecessary. Captain Picard’s captain’s log like speech to his crew to start the episode. As members of Starfleet, one hopes they know what’s going on and why.

Curiosity. It’s how the episode begins and ends. There’s wonder and fear as they study the star, and then in the end Geordi chooses to send the ship to the Opperline System. What has happened in between doesn’t matter because they upheld their own values and can continue on as they were.

Stupid. Riker’s idea to beam over to the crashing ship, so they could repair it. Good thing Yar was there to stop him.

Pacing. I’m trying to figure out why the initial sequence lacked tension when it was trying so hard to create it. I don’t want to blame it on the acting. It could be the pacing. The crew tries different things (tractor beam for example) to save the Sanction, but it all happens so fast the viewer doesn’t get a chance to worry about it.

I’ll try the tractorbeam. Didn’t work. I’ll try the transporters. Didn’t work. Move to your transporter room. Cargo. One more time. Done.

Familiar. Sobi looks so familiar but I can’t place him. I know I could Google it, but I’m trying to do this without influence from more knowledgeable sources. Too bad about those pants. In all of his scenes I was trying not to notice that he dresses left.

Hacker. Data’s hacking research could’ve made the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo proud. He went from knowing nothing about the Brekkians and Oranarans to giving Riker and Dr. C a history lesson about them. I’m assuming he got his info from the computers that Picard told him to hack into in the first act. Dr. C comes back with a history lesson of her own: all about the disease. I wonder where she got all that.

Awesome. Picard’s foresight in not allowing the people he was only just realizing to be drug addicts onto the bridge.

Blase. Riker’s reaction to being an electrified hostage.





I used to do a little but a little wouldn’t do it, so a little got more and more

The little convo between Yar and Wesley was heavy handed and the acting is bad (Damn it, I did it again), but there is one line that stuck in my craw.

“I guess I just don’t understand.”

That’s the line. Not me.

I’ll explain why, but first let me summarize. Wes says:

  1. why would someone start taking drugs since everyone knows they lead to dependency.
  2. Yeah maybe you don’t want to be dependent, but you’ve got to expect that.
  3. Plus it’s not an escape because it’s artificial.

Now I hope you remember the discussion in 11001001 because I said emotions felt on the holodeck were real, that an artificial situation can elicit real emotions.

So applying that to drug use, I’m going to say that the emotions created by drugs are real too, but for different reasons. The holodeck creates a situation in which the person can react with emotions created with self generated chemicals, but drugs introduce chemical changes in your brain that make you feel emotions. Both have arguments in their favors for realness, so I’m going to say they’re as real as each other.

Next if we think about this idea of escape needing to be real, we can give Wes the old pointy finger, and explain that the escape he is referring to is the escape from unpleasant realities through distraction.

It’s not supposed to be real. It’s escapism. You know what else is escape? Daydreams, fantasy, alcohol, and Sci-Fi TV shows.

The fact that it isn’t real isn’t the problem.

Since it doesn’t matter if the emotions are real or not and since it doesn’t matter that they are actually real, it doesn’t matter that Wes said 3), so …

That leaves us with only his first question: Why would anyone want to become dependent?

Let’s see what Yar said.

  1. No one wants to be dependent. It’s the unintended consequence.
  2. Poverty and violence make people feel bad.
  3. Drugs make them feel good.
  4. It makes you feel like you have control.
  5. It feels real until it’s out of your body.
  6. Then you feel worse than before and you start taking drugs to feel not bad.
  7. Then the next dosage is all that matters.

First let’s just toss 5) out because it is real until it’s out of your body.

This is a great explanation. Beneath the surface, she is saying that people without choices take drugs to feel better about their lack of choices. Unfortunately, there is a deleterious effect on the body which diminishes the returns on those emotions.

Bam. That’s why you shouldn’t do drugs; It makes you sick.


Bam. What starts as a means to an end becomes an end in and of itself.

Bam. That’s why people do drugs; They don’t have choices in their lives.

OK maybe bam number three might be a bit simplified, but that’s all Yar mentioned and since the entire episode is about choices it’s apropos.

This is all good stuff. What does Wesley say? “I guess I just don’t understand.”

Now he’s a bright guy, so I’m going to assume he did understand the words coming out of Yar’s mouth. He’s bright enough that I might go a step farther and say he can imagine all the stuff she’s saying. So what’s left to understand?

The more I thought about this phrase, the more I realized that it is not at all literal. He understands completely. What he’s actually saying is much more arrogant.

He’s saying I cannot retort what you’ve said, but I still feel that people who find themselves in such a state are lesser beings.

And! Isolate that “just.” The just in that sentence means “nothing is going to make feel otherwise.”

The end result is that drug users are lesser beings and no extenuating circumstances will change that. Ever, ever, ever, ever, ever!

Fuck you Wesley! You arrogant snob. Elitist. Who never felt any real pain in your life! Except maybe when your dad died. Now I feel kind of bad for writing that.

Truthfully, I can’t blame him. He didn’t seem to believe a word he was saying. I don’t know if it was bad acting, but rewatch that and look only at his eyes.

 The Moral Argument

I tried to map out this moral issue that lies at the heart of the episode. It looked something like this.

Picard(Moral Relativism)

  • don’t tell Ornarans they don’t need the drug
  • doing so would impose a new way of life on them that is not organic to their cultures.
  • current tech problems may lead to organic changes, so won’t provide help to sustain system
BrekkiansOur economy

  • mutually beneficial
  • no other industry
  • our world depends on the sells
  • to keep economy from tanking don’t tell them don’t need it
OrnaransOur well-being

  • It doesn’t matter if we’re entitled to it, we need it to live.
  • If you keep it from us you’re party to murder
Dr. C(Compassion)

  • Tell the Ornarans they don’t need the medicines
  • help them overcome their addiction
  • make their lives better

 Pragmatic Picard

I’m still thinking about Picard as a pragmatist, and I want to say that we see his pragmatism on display. He talks about how important the prime directive is, and how important the philosophy behind it is. But it feels like he sees the situation as a puzzle to be solved.

He’s trying to bend his ethics to figure out how he can accomplish what he wants because he knows the right thing to do is to help the Ornarans.

So like a lawyer, he uses a technicality. He refuses to help them repair their ships.

The reason I can’t just see it as pragmatism is that I can also see how this is upholding the prime directive.

The cultures are on the verge of change that is real and organic. Living in their current economic system has resulted in technological degradation. The consequence of which is they will no longer be able to trade. Once they can’t trade, the Ornarans will learn everything they need to know about their medicines. It’s the natural result of the decisions they’ve already made.

Thus I can see the case being made that giving them the technology is interfering by sustaining the system.

But still it all feels so pragmatic. In the end, Picard is like, surprise! I’ve figured out a way to help you without violating the prime directive.

So I’m not sure…

He’s a slippery one, this Jean-Luc.

Morals, messages, and meanings

  1. Give choices – this is the essence of this story, and in fact the prime directive. If a more technologically advanced group tells you what to do, you’re basically left without choices. Instead, that group should step back and let the less technologically advanced people make their own decisions.
  2. Diversify – an economy that does only one thing ultimately becomes evil because it will do wrong to sustain itself. Plus it just darn dangerous. What if your medicine cures all the disease? What are you going to do then? Build ships at least. Learn a little science. What are you doing with all that money anyway
  3. Drugs are stupid
  4. It’s hard for a privileged person to imagine the life of underprivileged

Does it hold up?

Yes. I enjoyed this episode. The moral dilemma is interesting, and the relationship between Dr. C and Picard is good. I especially liked their playing different sides of the same coin.

The storytelling is not bad. There are those pacing issues in the beginning, but it seems like act one problems are common in these season 1 episodes and tension a hard commodity to come by.

I think if we looked only at the acting we might not like it much, but Patrick Stewart is very good.

In the end a good episode.


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