Oct 10 2011 1:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Samaritan Snare”

“Samaritan Snare”
Written by Robert L. McCullough
Directed by Les Landau
Season 2, Episode 17
Production episode 40272-143
Original air date: May 15, 1989
Stardate: 42779.1

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is en route to a scientific mission exploring a pulsar. Wes is heading off in a shuttle to Starbase 515 to take another shot at the Academy entrance exam. Pulaski, meanwhile, insists that Picard go to the starbase as well to perform an unspecified medical procedure—one that Picard absolutely refuses to have performed on the Enterprise. So he reluctantly decides to accompany Wes on the shuttle ride, though his reluctance is as nothing compared to that of Wes, who is dreading a six-hour shuttle ride with a captain who, on top of everything else, is in a really really bad mood after the verbal spanking Pulaski gave him.

After the shuttle departs, the Enterprise gets a distress call. A Pakled ship called the Mondor is, according to its captain, “broken.” The Pakleds seem to be a bit slow and repetitive. La Forge agrees to beam over and help fix their guidance system — this despite Worf objecting. To add insult to injury, Troi comes on the bridge and tells Riker that he really really really shouldn’t have let La Forge beam over: they’re not weak, they don’t feel helpless, and they don’t want just assistance.

Back on the shuttle, Picard reveals to Wes that he has an artificial heart, and it needs to be replaced, as the heart in his chest is faulty. Wes asks why he’d continue to live with a defective fake heart, which Picard pointedly doesn’t answer. He’s similarly evasive when Wes asks if he ever wanted to have kids.

Eventually, they have lunch, and Picard opens up a bit and tells the story of how he got the artificial heart. He was a young, arrogant Starfleet officer who got into it with three Nausicaans, resulting in being impaled through the back.

La Forge’s repairs take a lot longer than expected, but when he finally finishes them, the Pakled captain grabs his phaser and stuns him, then they raise shields. They want La Forge to create weapons. Data discovers through an intense scan that the repairs they needed were faked so they could get their hands on La Forge.

Riker demands that they return La Forge—the Pakleds’ response is to fire another shot at him, prompting Riker to yell a very ineffective “Stop it!” at the Pakleds. They appear to be scavengers, and the more advanced technology they get their hands on, the more they want. Riker decides to try a ruse, so he, Worf, and Data drop the world’s most unsubtle hints (doing everything but wink exaggeratedly) and making the Pakleds think that La Forge is a weapons expert. Now they want La Forge to give them weapons.

He gives them photon torpedoes — sort of. Riker has Ensign Gomez (remember her?) fire the “crimson forcefield” (really the Bussard collectors spouting harmless hydrogen).

And it’s a good thing, because Picard’s operation has gone sour. The surgeon can’t handle what needs to be done, and it turns out that the nearest specialist who can do it is Pulaski. Oh, the irony!

Once the “crimson forcefield” “neutralizes” the “photon torpedoes” (you should all be using air-quotes for this), the Pakleds realize that the episode’s almost over, so they have to lower shields so La Forge can be rescued. The Enterprise hauls ass to the starbase so Pulaski can save Picard’s bacon. The captain is less than happy about this, since when he was put under, everything was fine, and he has no idea that his life was in danger.

Picard comes back home to the ship, misquoting Mark Twain’s famous line, and the Enterprise flies off to finally check out that pulsar.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: The episode has buttloads of technobabble both engineering from La Forge on the Pakled ship — though the Pakled technobabble is much more fun (“It’s broken!”) — and medical from the doctors at Starbase 515.

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi immediately figures out that the Pakleds are lying, which makes you wonder why Riker didn’t consult her in the first place — y’know, the way Picard does.

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf immediately asks whether or not it’s a good idea to send La Forge over to the Pakled ship, concerns that prove to be 100% justified. Riker doesn’t listen to him, either, so maybe it doesn’t matter that Troi didn’t show up until after La Forge beamed over, since Riker doesn’t actually seem to pay attention to his subordinates.

If I only had a brain…: Data has what may be the stupidest line ever uttered in the history of Star Trek: “Our Betazoid counselor is often aware of things beyond our perceptive abilities,” a line made all the more stupid by him saying it to Riker, who knows Troi better than anyone on board.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Wes assures Picard that where women is concerned, he’s “totally in control,” a statement given with all the assurances of a teenager who knows considerably less than he thinks he does, and which totally also belies the events of “The Dauphin.”

I’m a doctor, not an escalator: Pulaski insists that Picard get the cardiac procedure, and Picard’s resistance to her shows that he still finds her annoying. But then, so do I.

The boy!?: Wes takes the Starfleet entrance exams for the second time, and we don’t see them this time. Because his character remains in the opening credits of the show, his exam results are high enough that he will be allowed to continue to study on the Enterprise, which makes nothing like sense.

Welcome aboard: Lycia Naff returns for her second and final engagement as Sonya Gomez, while Christopher Collins also returns — having played a dumb Klingon in “A Matter of Honor” he now plays a more obviously dumb Pakled in this episode. Leslie Morris actually has pretty good comic timing as the engineer, Reginod, and Tzi Ma has a cameo as a doctor. But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is the great Daniel Benzali in an uncharacteristically low-key role as Picard’s first surgeon.

I believe I said that: “You are armed to the teeth.”

“Teeth are for chewing.”

La Forge using a metaphor that goes right over the Pakleds’ head.

Trivial matters: Picard’s youthful confrontation with Nausicaans will be dramatized in “Tapestry” in the sixth season, which will also give a very interesting reason why he laughed after being stabbed.

For reasons passing understanding, the Jarada are mentioned twice, and in the same breath as the Romulans and Klingons, even though we’ve seen neither hide nor hair of them since “The Big Goodbye.”

Any similarity to Riker’s ruse and the Corbomite maneuver is purely coincidental—except, y’know, it totally isn’t.

While talking with Picard, Wes asks if the incident in his youth happened “before the Klingons joined the Federation.” This is odd, as the Klingons were never stated as having joined the Federation before or since—allies, yes, but not Federation members.

Picard’s misquote of Mark Twain (“Any rumors of my brush with death are greatly exaggerated”) is especially amusing given that he’ll get to meet Samuel Clemens in “Time’s Arrow Part 2.”

We won’t see the Pakleds again on screen, except as background extras on Deep Space Nine, though they’d be mentioned a few more times.

Greg Cox did a Pakled-focused novella for Seven Deadly Sins, an anthology that has seven tales with a species representing a deadly sin. You will all be stunned — stunned — to learn that the Pakleds represented sloth.

Make it so: “We look for things to make us go.” Let’s get the good stuff out of the way. The Picard-Wes shuttle ride is great great stuff. The conversation modulates nicely from spectacularly awkward to relaxed and entertaining. Sir Patrick Stewart does a wonderful job telling the story of his misspent youth.

Sadly, that’s all this episode has going for it. The Pakleds are a really poor alien species who work neither as a threat nor as comic relief. The script is full of some dialogue howlers, with characters talking in the klutziest of klutzy exposition.

It’s perhaps a good thing that Riker didn’t take command of the Aries or the Drake, since he makes a total pig’s ear out of this paticular command situation. He ignores Worf’s sage advice, he lets his chief engineer into the hands of aliens he knows nothing about, and ­­­then doesn’t consult the ship’s counselor before doing so, either. His yelling of “Stop it!” after the Pakleds shoot La Forge for the second time is perhaps his most embarrassing moment on screen (well, okay, second most). The “crimson forcefield” ruse is set up with all the subtlety of high schoolers putting on a badly written theatrical production, and the false jeopardy of Picard’s heart failure is as lame as lame can be.

And then in the end, the Pakleds give up—because the script says they do, I guess, because there’s seriously no reason for it given on screen. In fact, their behavior up to that point indicates that the “crimson forcefield” nonsense would just prompt them to shoot La Forge again and make more demands to be made strong.


Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido also contributed to the Seven Deadly Sins anthology, doing the wrath story, which focused on the Klingons. His most recent novels are Guilt in Innocence, part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept, and the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his podcasts, Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.

Benji Cat
2. benjicat
This review needs things... things to make it go.
Daniel Goss
3. Beren
Can you fix my comment? It is broken.
Margot Virzana
4. LuvURphleb
The jarada were also mentioned in the star trek numbered novel IMBALANCE by an author i cannot remember. Well since the novel focuses entirely on the jarada it more than mentions them. Dont know much else. Have yet to finish the book. Books are for paper weights. Paper is for.... Dont think pakleds have a use for paper or books.
5. Pendard
You pretty much hit the nail on the head. It's good to see Picard and Wes get some bonding time but it doesn't really go anywhere and we don't see any change in their relationship that results from it, until Wes mentions it to Picard in "Final Mission."

I think the Pakleds seem borderline offensive. They look and act a little too much like people with Down syndrome, if you ask me.

As for Riker's disasterous command decisions, there is definitely a pattern on this series of Riker nearly incompetent at some times, and a strategic genius at others, depending on what the story calls for. This is the guy who waged an effective one-ship campaign against the Borg where half of Starfleet failed, and let the Enterprise get taken over by a handful of Ferengi in "Rascals."
6. Seryddwr
I always thought the 'ruse' was badly written. The 'hints' the crew give Geordi are so arbitrary - why would the countdown start from twenty-four, and how did Georgi manage to interpret that numeral as meaning the beginning of the countdown?

I would write more, but I can't. I am far from home.
7. trekgeezer
The pakleds were mentioned by Lore in the episode "Brothers"

He told Data he was picked up floating in space by a Pakled freighter after Wes beamed him off the Enterprise in "Datalore"
8. critter42
I always felt uncomfortable watching the Pakled parts of this episode. It was almost like the writers and actors were making fun of the mentally challenged. While the Picard/Crusher scenes were good, they do not provide near enough soap to wash off the dirt the rest of this episode wallows in.
9. zenspinner
Maybe it was bad, but we all remember it, don't we? Like "LaForge and the Pakled on the Mondor." I know I coaxed my son to eat when he was little by saying "This food is strong. It will make us go." And finally now that he's twelve, he's seen the episode and gets the joke. I think that something we use, remember and pass down can't be entirely bad, can it? But I am often wrong, and do not go.
10. Christopher L. Bennett
I agree with most of what's been said. The only effective part is the revelation of the Nausicaan incident. And I also felt that the portrayal of the Pakleds seemed to be condescending to or making fun of people with mental disabilities. For a franchise that's supposed to celebrate inclusion and tolerance, modern Trek hasn't been very good at extending that attitude toward the mentally or developmentally disabled (see also: B-4).

Even aside from that, heroes are defined by the caliber of their enemies, so pitting the crew against dimwitted aliens didn't come off too well. Okay, I get it that the idea was that their slowness was deceptive, that they were actually more cunning and capable than they appeared. But that was undermined by how easily they fell for the "crimson forcefield" ruse, and it just further reinforces the portrayal of the Enterprise crew as being prejudiced and quick to judge.

And am I the only one who thinks that "Samaritan Snare" is one of the worst-sounding titles in the history of Star Trek?
rob mcCathy
11. roblewmac
I forgot the alliens entirely. I remembered this as Star trek doing Mash's fave plot "two people with nothing in common become friends"
jon meltzer
12. jmeltzer
I read somewhere (on that universal source of wisdom, the Internet) that the Higher Network Powers told the Trek producers not to use the Pakleds again. Is there any truth to that?
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
jmeltzer: No idea. They were mentioned several times, as I said in the rewatch (and as trekgeezer also mentioned), and appeared as background aliens here and there, but there was never another Pakled with a speaking part again on screen. Dunno if that was fiat from on high or just this episode leaving a bad taste.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
14. Lurking Canadian
@6: I could never understand how Geordie got the message from the broad hints of the bridge crew, either. He seems to hear an awful lot more information than is present.

But I don't think the lowering of the shields was voluntary on the Pakleds' part. Doesn't Geordie do that, and pretend it is the effect of the crimson force field?

No matter its flaws, this episode is forgiven for the way Picard delivers the line, "I told him what I thought of him, his friends and his homeworld, and I may have made some comment about his rather dubious parentage, and we were off." (This may not be quite right.)
Captain Hammer
15. Randalator
Interestingly, there is a German fan-dub for certain TNG episodes which is both intentionally and hilariously bad.

All the characters are given new personalities according to their on-screen mannersims (like Picard always being foul-mouthed and a hairs breath from punching everybody in the face or Worf being whiny and calling everybody "meany"); Riker's two catchphrases? "Watt? Raffich ned." ('Wha? I dongeddid.') and "Ich will jetz au ma Käptn sein!" ('I wanna be cap'n now!'). Usually followed by Picard being even more pissed of than before. Not too far from the truth as it seems...
Nate Shouse
16. MnemonicNate
Yeah, unfortunately this is a rather forgettable episode. But I'm curious: had it already been established that multiple stun hits from a phaser could cause serious physical damage? It seems like this might be an arbitrary rule, since both Quinn (Conspiracy) and Roga Danar (The Hunted) took multiple stun hits with little to no consequence (though both had a leg up on Geordi, granted). Good review, krad.
Keith DeCandido
17. krad
How much medical attention a phaser stun hit requires tends to be plot-dependent..... :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
18. anony
Having considered the Dauphin events for a while, Wesley is certain he's learned enough to be totally in control. Is he right? Only time will tell.
19. Nausicaan
two phaser hits...He may need medical attention! Ya think?
Justin Devlin
21. EnsignJayburd
You forgot the howler of the entire episode:

Pakled Captain: We want what we want.

Geordi: Believe me Commander, they're nothing if not persistent.

Pakled Captain: We want to be nothing if not persistent.
22. Ser Tom
While TNG usually did a good job of including other crew members besides the marquee cast, as in "Pen Pals", this ep. fails on this point also. Other than being a title character, what reason was there for sending the Chief Engineer to make what should have been routine repairs that any competent engineering team could have handled?

As for the multiple stuns causing physiological damage, makes sense but it also sounds oddly similar to the effect of multiple bursts from the zat pistols from Stargate SG-1.
23. Electone
Well, I enjoyed the episode more than most commenters here. If there was one aspect of the show that irritated me, and I'm surprised no one has mentioned it, it was Picard. At this point in the show, Picard had started to mellow a bit. He was basically a jerk early in the first season and although he hadn't completely shed this stigma, his rather egotistical attitude towards Pulaski and his need to maintain a certain image in front of the crew, was a little out of character in my opinion. At the same time, he is completely wonderful when telling his academy stories to Wes. Bad writing? Perhaps. I just don't buy Picard not wanting a skilled doctor like Pulaski to perform what was in his description, a "routine procedure" and his pathetic attitude when he wakes up on the operating table. If I was Pulaski, I would have thrown my surgical gloves in his face and left.
24. DPC
Just wanted to say, I've been reading your reviews and enjoying them all - thank you MUCH!
25. Babushka
Sometimes I enjoy reading these reviews. And although I am a noob here and to Star Trek, and I do understand that there are some serious devotees to the Franchise....I do not understand the acerbic cynicism. Or should I say sarcasm? I dunno. Reading some of the these TNG reviews is hurtful.
For instance, it is clearly suggested that the Pakleds quite possibly are not verbally advanced (or some such theory) but still quite intelligent. So, how are they offensive or even mocking mentally retarded people? There are some very dim people who sound normal but in fact cannot put 2 + 2 together.
I do agree that Picard's attitude in this episode was more offensive than usual. Why the sneering?
Anyways, if you (in general) do not enjoy TNG why write these jaded articles? It takes the fun out of it sometimes. I did, however, enjoy most of the DS9 reviews. But that is because I couldn't stop watching the soap (I mean, space) opera despite my dislike.

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