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