How long has it been since we broke the Prime Directive. Like REALLY broke the Prime Directive. Well get ready. The Enterprise is studying a system of planets, every one of which is literally falling apart. One planet turns out to be inhabited and Data has been communicating with a child on that planet. How will the Enterprise save her and her planet. Or should they? Find out when we put Pen Pals in the Mission Log.
Tags: Hannah Louise Shearer, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Nikki Cox, Pen Pals, Prime Directive, The Next Generation, The Next Generation Season 2, TNG, Winrich Kolbe
I think the Prime Directive is not “just a stand in for a code of honor,” but rather it takes a principle and applies it to a larger scope than what one would usually apply it to so that the discussion can happen in a more logical frame of reference.
That principle has been stated different ways at different times but we’re all familar with them in one or the other. It’s “People need to be allowed to learn on their own in their own way without interference to grow” combined with “Think before you act or else you may find yourself in hot water.” We’re familar with all sorts of examples of these things such as you don’t want to help a chick out of an egg because if you do it more likely to die since you’re removing it’s protection before its strong enough to be without protection. Or the idea that a person cannot have freedom forced upon them. and then the second part is “don’t count your eggs before they hatch.” It’s a principle that we need to be reminded of because we humans have a tendency to act in the way that we intuit is best and never really think about what it is we’re doing.
I remember really liking this episode. Let’s see if podcast can change my mind… that is, if it should.
I like Prime Directive stories and I feel this is one that is handled well. You guys liked the ‘Just Say No to Drugs’ ep from season one, which is my all-time least fav Star Trek episode — of ANY series or film. I just thought it spun out of control with preachiness, whereas Pen Pals presents the arguments in an organic way… even with some humor. “Where do you think we are now?” Motions up to their eyeballs.
Many times in the podcast you commented that they would be keeping this incident secret from Starfleet…wipe the records and all… I actually saw it completely differently… I figured they would give all the info to Starfleet… except the part where Data beamed down and had direct contact with a member from a pre-warp society — hence wanting to protect O’Brian from that activity.
But even if they didn’t, I don’t think it would be hard for them to justify the missing torpedoes, etc… they came across numerous (uninhabited) planets going through this same process that they didn’t fully understand (until Wesley ordered the thingamabob test), so they could just say they were conducting experiments — it was a science mission, after all.
Anyway, that’s my two cents. I remember liking this episode a lot when I first saw it. I didn’t hate it this time around, but well, it’s not fantastic.
I concur. Data beaming down to the planet seems to be going one step further into the grey area, and a step that (seemed to be) fairly easily covered over.
Dreman doors recognize the hand gesture and know which side of the door you’re on. Occamus Razorus!
There is distinct pattern where Data does things and is commended or excused, but if Worf does a similar or lesser thing and catches hell for it.
BTW: They absolutely log this episode because Picard’s many PD violations are mentioned later. They do take steps to avoid anyone but senior staff taking specific action to violate it, but it is all logged. They even re-reference Pulaski’s memory eraser technique from this episode with Dr. Crusher (who screws it up).
Obviously because Data is a lovable child and Worf is… Worf.
I personally didn’t like this episode for several reasons.
1. I didn’t like the way the Prime Directive was interpreted, I always thought that it was about interference with a culture’s development, not this “fate” argument they have. (and I’m actually shocked neither of you brought up the religious argument)
2. I hated that Picard changed his mind only after hearing a little girls voice. It reminds me of those times that people obsess over a missing child because they are cute, white, and upper middle class. I wonder if Picard would have approved fixing the planet if Data would have contacted a old guy with a gravely voice?
Ha! Good questions! The Prime Directive is intended to protect developing cultures from contamination by Federation tech and ideals. I don’t think it would apply to a culture that’s about to be extinct.
And that’s a very good point.
The PD may have been nebulously defined in Kirk’s day, and that’s why captains were given interpretational leeway with it. In other words, Kirk interfered like crazy when he deemed it beneficial to any given society, because he believed in the spirit of the thing, rather than the letter. But 80 years later, you’d think all of Starfleet’s experiences would have honed it
There is a saying, “The Devil can quote scripture, too, when it serves his purposes.” And citing the PD to defend a culture’s “right” to go extinct without interference is a clear example of this.
This is not quite right. The PD judged by Kirk’s usage is problematic due to Kirk is one of the people who came up with it and is more likely to go against it when he finds it in the wrong, because it is both in his character to go against authority when it doesn’t benefit him and modify his position as time goes on…and further being that this is part of his own thing that he pushed Starfleet would likely give him more leewat on it. Other captains likely took it more seriously as don’t violate this or you’ll be in serious trouble…
I want to argue with point #2 but…. I can’t. 🙁
Troy – which religious argument do you have in mind? There are certainly episodes coming up that are much more specific about religion and superstition that we’ll dig into deeply. This one seemed straight-up a conversation about moral obligation in an otherwise very tricky situation.
I was thinking how they kept talking about if it was this planets fate to be destroyed, and then they started talking about a “cosmic order” which just sounds like someone wanting to talk about God without using the term.
When Picard ordered Data to stop communicating with Sarjenka, I always was under the impression that he was just ignoring her calls, but had not specifically deleted her frequency. Technically he was still following orders.
Watching this episode again really hammered home how odd Data’s behaviour was. He is untidy with his tools on the Bridge, he answers the girl’s hail impulsively without (apparently) considering the consequences, and he is both disobedient of Picard’s orders and then manipulative of the situation following the P.D. meeting. I almost got the impression that it was a Wesley story, just transposed onto Data. Anyone else feel this?
Then the question would become how very different Picard’s reaction would be if Wesley had been the one to discover (and respond to) the message. Very short episode. “Mr. Crusher, shut it off. We’re leaving.” Roll credits.
Well as was pointed out in the review, Picard is in a very good mood this week so perhaps he would have allowed the boy some latitude 😉
In the broader scheme of things though, Data’s behaviour this week is very un-Data-ish all over the place. That’s why I was honestly expecting one of the Trivia items to be how this episode was cobbled together out of two separate pitches, but there ya go, I guess!
I agree. Data has always been characterized as if his time on the Enterprise is his first in depth interaction w humanity. False. He was rescued by the USS Tripoli, went through the Academy, USS Trieste, and so on..he knows right from wrong and can use contractions…he is a LCDR in Starfleet..he knew what he was doing…
Did anyone notice how Wesley Riker’d his chair in Ten Forward before they had their talk? I had a good chuckle at that.
Yes!! I totally caught that!
YES!! That’s right, I was going to mention that here but forgot about it. That whole scene I was just thinking how impressive it was that Wheaton didn’t crack a smile about it or anything.
I hope that I’m not the only one who noticed that the standard Starfleet response to a volcano about to destroy a primitive culture is to NOT INTERVENE AT ALL, and that the Enterprise D crew purposefully violated the Prime Directive and intended to cover up some of what they did while acknowledging how deep they are getting for doing so.
But Starfleet in the Abramsverse has no problem with the Enterprise intervening on purpose while Quintospock lectures Pinekirk about violating the Prime Directive without realizing that he’s already violating the Prime Directive by stopping the Volcano in the first place.
I am impressed you chose one of the few images of her that is cropped to just her shoulders.
This story holds up because it is a key PRIME DIRECTIVE episode. I really enjoyed it. Again, I think Data’s naïve nature was always too much considering he was a LCDR in Starfleet. If they had casted him as an ensign in the beginning I would have been much more accepting of these bonehead decisions..but it did show his “humanity” . I think the TNG movies were wayyyyy too rushed into. If they had waited a few years, perhaps we could have had an Insurrection storyline that went back to this world to see how they had developed. Comparable to “Space Seed”. The intro world in Star Trek “Into Darkness” was a mini 5 minute Prime Directive intro to the new millenials and Gen X’ers who may not understand it. I think as a rule the Prime Directive is sound. DO NOT INTERFERE w pre warp capable societies or those that do not know of extraplanetary lifeforms. It’s too much to deal and w/o such a rule Starfleet and the Federation would be stretched so thin intervening whenever possible. When I think of Earth and the USA interfering I think we should observe some of the same guidelines. The problem is w liberal travel policies and jet travel, too many of all countries can travel to others it’s not the same exactly….Greed also, has “US” and other countries intruding too much…oh well, bummer….I need to google if in fact there was ever an episode of any Trek, called “Prime Directive”. It was sad how burnt up Sarjenka was and I think of war torn countries now and refugees. Sad. Sad Sad.
Did Data disobey Picard? Technically not, but he definitely pushed it to the limit. But then it occurred to me that, though he wasn’t fully emotional at this stage of his existence, it’s possible that he has a burgeoning emotional matrix, like a toddler, who tend to be astute enough to follow the letter of the command but still push the envelope. You tell a toddler not to eat all of the cookies in the jar, they’ll leave one in there. Tell them to stop pulling their sister’s hair, they’ll take hold of it but not pull. Tell Data to isolate and delete the frequency, and he’ll do it – eventually.
This episode reminded me of a lot of other shows:
A) I loved the Picard-Troi-Wesley walk and talk, it was very Sorkin (though this took place before WW).
B) When Wesley was trying to figure out where power comes from, I wish Varys from Game of Thrones was there to give him the power is an allusion speech. A rich man, a holy man, and a king stand before a common soldier- each says kill the other two- who does the soldier listen to? I love that riddle/speech.
C) In the 11th Doctor’s second episode (the one with the space whale), the Doctor is outlining his nonintervention rules to Amy but then goes to help a child. Amy then says “You “never interfere in the affairs of other peoples or planets,” unless there’s children crying.” That sentiment felt very true to this episode.
This might be my favorite handling so far of the prime directive. I feel like I really understood it but I also think there was enough wiggle room to bipass the rules in favor of what felt right. It’s good to have a code, especially one that will save us from the whims of emotion. Yet, there is something primal that stirs within us when it comes to a frightened child- the need to protect. I like that emotion ruled this day.
I think this was a great episode. I loved the dialogue that didn’t mess around. I loved the intense powwows. I loved the character study of Data and Wesley. Just great all around.