Tue
Apr 10 2012 3:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “First Contact”

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact“First Contact”
Written by Marc Scott Zicree and Dennis Russell Bailey & David Bischoff and Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 4, Episode 15
Production episode 40274-189
Original air date: February 18, 1991
Stardate: unknown

Captain’s Log: A patient is brought into the crisis room of a hospital on an alien world. The aliens are humanoid, but with forehead ridges, and no fingers, just mitten-like hands with single thumbs. The patient’s interior organs seem to be all out of place, and when they remove his gloves and shoes, they discover digits on his extremities. “What are you?” one of the doctors asks his unconscious form.

Only then do we get a look at the patient’s face: It’s Riker, with a prosthetic forehead.

When Riker wakes up, he identifies himself to the doctors as Rivas Jakara from the Marta Community on the southern continent. He got caught up in the riots and was injured and knocked unconscious. He has no family, and he explains his physiological abnormalities as genetic anomalies shared by his father.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

Doctor Berel, the chief of staff, queries him a bit more, asking about the device found on his person (his phaser), which Riker identifies as a toy bought as a present for a neighbor’s child. Riker also asks if they found a piece of jewelry, a metal pin (his combadge), but they didn’t find that, just the “toy.”

Outside, the doctors confer. They don’t entirely buy the genetic anomaly story. Nilrem wants to alert security, but Berel doesn’t want anyone called until they check “Jakara’s” story out more thoroughly. Meanwhile, he’s to be isolated and placed under 29-hour-a-day guard.

Elsewhere, a scientist named Mirasta Yale is trying to convince Chancellor Durken to give her approval to build a warp engine. The security minister, Krola, expresses a concern that all these new ideas and new technology are frightening to the people. Durken, however, approves the program — but then he promises Krola that after that, they will slow down, so everyone can catch their breath.

Mirasta returns to her lab, where she is frightened by two people suddenly appearing. They introduce themselves as Jean-Luc Picard and Deanna Troi. They explain where they come from, and that Federation policy is to initiate first contact with planets that are on the verge of faster-than-light travel. Mirasta was chosen for initial contact due to her prominence in the scientific community. At first she thinks it’s a practical joke, but eventually she agrees to go with Picard and Troi. (She agrees remarkably quickly to be kidnapped by aliens...)

They take her to Ten-Forward and she stares down at Malcor III, and it’s the fulfillment of her wildest dreams, going back to her youth going to the planetarium. Mirasta asks why they chose her, and Picard explains that they monitor the world, both from a distance and up close via covert teams of specialists that observe in disguise.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

Unfortunately, they’ve had to step up their timetable. Riker was on Malcor to coordinate the preparation for first contact when he disappeared. Mirasta promises to do what she can to help locate him, but she warns that Malcorian culture has long been one that believes the Malcorians to be the center of the universe and the supreme life form. Many will reject what the Federation brings them, most of all Krola. She also insists that Picard not mention Riker or the rest of the undercover team to Durken.

Back at the hospital, whatever hopes Berel had that this would remain quiet are dashed, as the entire facility is now talking about the strange being in the isolation ward thanks to Nilrem. Berel has checked out “Jakara’s” story and none of it tracks. His address is an eating establishment, and nobody in Marta has heard of him. Berel asks if Jakara is an alien. Riker sorta-kinda denies it (he never actually says he isn’t an alien), and Berel cautions him that if he doesn’t tell the truth, the rumors will persist and it won’t go well for him.

Mirasta brings Picard to meet with Durken, who is rather shocked to meet his first alien. Picard brings him on board the Enterprise. After giving him a tour, they talk in private in the captain’s ready room. Picard opens the wine that his brother Robert gave him, and they toast to their new friendship.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

Picard makes it clear that how they proceed is entirely up to the Malcorians. If they ask the Enterprise to leave and never return, the Enterprise will leave and never return.

Back on the planet, Riker tries to escape, but is caught in fairly short order, and Nilrem and hospital security beat the crap out of him, aggravating his injuries. That’s enough for Berel, who orders planetary security to be called.

Durken meets with Krola, Mirasta, and two other advisors. Krola is very much against any further contact with the alien conquerors, and accuses Durken of surrendering to them. Krola also reveals that they have captured a spy, at which point Mirasta tells Durken about Riker and the covert team (which Krola accuses of exerting influence on their children to further their agenda, while Mirasta insists they were simply gathering information). Durken is furious that Mirasta kept that from him.

Krola and Mirasta go to the hospital. Krola orders Berel to revive Riker, but Berel is convinced that that would kill him and refuses. Krola then says that he’ll replace Berel with someone who will follow orders.

Picard meets with Durken, who confronts the captain about Riker. Picard explains that doing surveillance is standard after disastrous first contact with the Klingons led to decades of war. Picard admits that hiding the surveillance team from Durken was a mistake, which Durken is pleased about — specifically that Picard is just as capable of mistakes as anyone.

Durken does not let Riker go, yet. Picard beams back.

At the hospital, Berel has been ousted as head of the hospital, replaced with Nilrem, who revives Riker. Krola then interrogates a woozy Riker. He has learned the truth of the phaser, that it’s a weapon rather than a toy, and places it in Riker’s hands, forcing him to fire on Krola — who’s willing to die to preserve his way of life.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

Mirasta meets with Durken, who makes it clear how badly Mirasta screwed up. Mirasta insists that Riker be released, as he is likely to die under Krola’s ministrations.

Crusher beams down with Worf and a medical team into the hospital room. She beams Riker and Krola (who are both unconscious, the former from his wounds, the latter from the phaser blast) back to the ship and saves both their lives. Riker was near death, but Krola was never in any real danger (the phaser was on stun). Crusher establishes that Krola’s left hand was on the weapon; but Riker was in no shape to be struggling for it, so Krola had to be firing on his own — trying to martyr himself.

Durken tells Picard that Malcor III is not ready for contact with the Federation. Mirasta, however, requests that she go with the Enterprise. She will not be able to bear the restrictions Durken will place on her. Picard sends Durken back to a Malcor III that will remain the center of their universe for a little while longer.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is by Picard’s side during the first meeting with Mirasta, a fitting role for the counselor.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: A nurse named Lanel agrees to help Riker escape, but only if he’ll make love to her, as she’s always dreamed of having sex with an alien. Riker is reluctant, which would be a lot more convincing if a) it wasn’t Riker (remember “Angel One”?) and b) Lanel wasn’t played by Bebe Neuwirth (two words, both of them “hubba”). Apparently Riker acquiesced, since Lanel does help him (after a discreet cutaway) — for all the good it did him, as he was caught in about six-and-a-half seconds.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

I Believe I Said That: “This morning I was the leader of the universe as I know it. This afternoon, I’m only a voice in a chorus.”

Chancellor Durken realizing the enormity of what has happened to his world.

Welcome Aboard: Some truly outstanding guest stars in this one. Carolyn Seymour — who plays two different Romulan ship captains in “Contagion” and “Face of the Enemy” and a holographic matron in two episodes of Voyager — is excellent as Mirasta, whose enthusiasm for space travel is infectious. Michael Ensign plays the first of four roles on modern Trek (one role each on Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise after this), and does the best he can with Krola. Bebe Neuwirth is amusing as the alien groupie nurse (for all that her scene is ridiculous), and Steven Anderson (Nilrem), Sachi Parker (Tava), and especially George Hearn (Berel) do quite well as the doctors.

But the episode belongs to George Coe, always a superb actor, who does a brilliant job with the complexities of Chancellor Durken.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

Trivial Matters: For the third of four times, Picard brings a woman from a pre-warp culture to the ship and impresses her by letting her look out a window. The others were in “Justice” and “Who Watches the Watchers?” and it will happen again in the very similarly named Star Trek: First Contact. (And my apologies — I had forgotten about this one when discussing this phenomenon in the entries for the previous two episodes.)

The disastrous first contact with the Klingons mentioned by Picard to Durken was dramatized in the Enterprise pilot episode “Broken Bow.”

When Robert Picard gave his younger brother a bottle of Château Picard at the end of “Family,” he told him not to drink it alone — so it’s fitting that he opens it to share with Durken here.

Trek will again dip into the crew-as-seen-through-the-eyes-of-an-alien-culture well on Voyager’s “Distant Origin,” also co-written by Joe Menosky.

Make it so: “It’s far more likely that I’m a weather balloon than an alien.” Where last time we had an episode I liked less upon rewatching, I find myself liking this one more this go-round than I did the first time.

Having said that, it’s still not an episode I think very highly of, mainly because the “alien” culture of the Malcorians so totally isn’t. It’s basically 20th-century Earth. The similarities are beyond ridiculous: Durken talks about having dinner every night with his nuclear family (something he considers important to do every night despite how busy he is as chancellor), Berel cites an oath he took as a doctor to do no harm, most of the medical jargon is the same, there are stories of UFOs that turn out to be weather balloons, and so on and so forth.

Riker’s capture and subsequent inability to be found also strains credulity. He lost his combadge when he was injured — but why do they rely on an external device? Why not a subcutaneous transceiver of some kind? (We’ve seen that technology before.) And why does he have a Malcorian backstory that’s so easily penetrated by hospital staff? If the first-contact team really was filled with specialists who know their stuff, why couldn’t they create a better backstory? Or at least know which hospital was closest to where Riker was hurt so they could find him sooner?

Plus we again have the characters falling into the habit (seen mostly in the first season) of discussing their culture as if reading from a textbook, in particular Krola when he bitches to Durken about how he’s too progressive, and Durken when he talks to Picard at the very end. Krola in general is horribly written, a straw bad guy for everyone to hate to represent the more conservative elements of Malcorian society. The script doesn’t trust us to make decisions for ourselves, so the progressive character is likeable and pleasant (if impulsive), and the conservative one is a flaming jackass. How much more nuanced the story could be if the security minister had the same passion for traditionalism that Mirasta had for space exploration.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: First Contact

Having said all that, it’s nice to see the Federation’s first contact procedures, and it’s especially nice to see how flawed they are. The crew screws up here, more than once, and even cop to it. Having POV characters other than that of our heroes is a welcome change of pace. And I appreciate that the good guys don’t actually win in the end.

Best of all, though, is that we get George Coe’s Chancellor Durken. Coe’s long been a favorite of mine (in particular, I have fond memories of him as one of the recurring judges on L.A. Law, he had a magnificent supporting role on two episodes of The West Wing as a senator, and he’s currently the voice of Woodhouse on F/X’s Archer), and he brings depth and complexity to the role of Durken. He does a fine job of trying to accomplish the compromises necessary to be the leader of a nation, and find the balance between what’s right for his people and what his people want (not always the same thing).

It’s a deeply flawed episode, but it’s one that has some good ideas and strong thoughts in it as well.

 

Warp factor rating: 5


Keith R.A. DeCandido is pleased to announce that his thriller -30-, in collaboration with Steven Savile, is now available for all non-Nook eBook platforms, as are the other three novellas in the “Viral” series. Do check them out, along with Keith’s other fiction like SCPD: The Case of the Claw, Dragon Precinct and Unicorn Precinct (the third book, Goblin Precinct is due out next month), and Guilt in Innocence. You can order those books, as well as go to Keith’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and various and sundry podcasts at his web site.

27 comments
Luis Milan
1. LuisMilan
Nilrem... merliN. Is that a coincidence, or an in-joke?
Neil Sood
2. RanchoUnicorno
Do we have any backstory on the Riker rape scene? Was there any intention on the part of the writers to raise concern with what happened there, or was it simply intended to be a Riker joke? Granted, I found it funny, but the missus sometimes accuses me of being less mature than our 5yo.
Michael Burstein
3. mabfan
Keith, I still think I would have given this a higher rating than you have. But no matter.

Yes, it's true that the planet is very close to being 20th-century Earth, but for me that's the point! By making Malcor III so close to Earth in culture, it allows the show to portray the first contact reversal even more fittingly. I don't think we would have symapthized with the Malcorians so much had their society not been one close to ours. (I love the line where Mirasta Yale says that she hates the thought of what impression Picard has of their world from their entertainment broadcasts.)

As you point out, the cast is great in their roles. Ensign in particular has done a lot of Trek and always does it well. I never thought of how stereotypical Krola is as a character, but whenever I watch I believe that he believes in his opinions 100%. Maybe I'm seeing nuances you're not.

As for Bebe Newirth's character, I think it provides a nice dose of humor and is another good parallel to some of the, um, odder elements in our own world. And I try not to think about what happened during the cut, although I suspect Riker did what Ivanova did in a similar situation on Babylon 5, and pretended that aliens did it differently.

I'm fascinated by the fact that in this season, we've just had a block of episodes in a row that I enjoy rewatching whenever they come my way. In my opinion, it shows that they hit their stride here for a while.

If only they hadn't reused the title "First Contact," though. :-)

-- Michael A. Burstein
Paul Weimer
4. PrinceJvstin
I always took that "cutaway" as a cutaway from, well, Riker engaging in, um, alien relations.
Christopher L. Bennett
5. Christopher L. Bennett
I loved the idea of telling the whole story from the viewpoint of the Malcorians, with the Enterprise crew as the mysterious aliens. That was nifty -- and I agree with Michael A. Burstein that it was part of the reason it made sense to make them like 20th-century Earth (or rather American) society. Those of us who are dedicated SF readers/writers may be able to identify with a more exotic alien viewpoint, but to get the average TV viewer to see things through the Malcorians' point of view, they couldn't be too different.

As for why Riker was so poorly prepared (i.e. without a subcutaneous transponder), the impression I had was that his was meant to be only a brief visit, so he didn't take the extensive precautions that the formal contact team would have. Which would've gone fine if not for the unexpected incident that put him in the hospital.

I agree that George Coe was excellent here. In addition to the credits listed, he also played Network 23 president Ben Cheviot in the cult classic Max Headroom, which was the one role I knew him from when he showed up here. (That show featured other future Trek guests Matt Frewer, W. Morgan Sheppard, and Concetta Tomei in regular or semi-regular roles, plus Sherman Howard, Rosalind Chao, and Andreas Katsulas in recurring roles, and one-time guests like Joseph Ruskin, John Winston, Robert O’Reilly, Lycia Naff, John Fleck, James Greene, Gregory Itzin, and Jenette Goldstein.)

Also worth noting is George Hearn, the original star of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd on Broadway. A few years later we'd get the second Sweeney, Len Cariou, on Voyager as (a simulacrum of) Janeway's father.

The one thing I hate about this is the Lanel subplot. If it had been, say, Deanna who'd been held prisoner in an alien hospital and a male staffer who'd said "I'll save you, but only if you have sex with me," it would be correctly perceived as a sexual assault and a gross violation. It's an insensitive double standard to see it as a joke when a man is the one being sexually harassed or violated. In real life, men sometimes do get sexually harassed and violated and raped, and it's no joke to them. It's as humiliating and invasive as it is for women. I don't care if Riker's a womanizer or Lanel is hot (I've never found Bebe Neuwirth that attractive, but to each his own) -- if he's in a vulnerable position, even in danger of his life, and someone is using that to blackmail him into sex, he's not going to react to that the way he'd react to a woman hitting on him in Ten Forward. It's a nonconsensual situation, and that changes everything.

I'm also not crazy about TNG's tendency to do Prime Directive stories that stack the deck -- that deliberately make the alien cultures too rigid or xenophobic to handle contact and thus reinforce the characters' preconceptions about the Prime Directive. It's circular reasoning. I would've liked to see more stories that forced the characters to question their assumptions, to realize that maybe there are cases where not contacting a pre-warp society does more harm than good, or to discover that a pre-warp society wasn't as fragile and inflexible as they assume. (I've written stories to that effect for Pocket Books, including "As Others See Us" in the Constellations anthology.) It's more interesting to force your characters to question their preconceptions than it is to shape the universe so that it reassures them they were right all along.


"The disastrous first contact with the Klingons mentioned by Picard to Durken was dramatized in the Enterprise pilot episode “Broken Bow.”"

I'm not convinced of that. In "Broken Bow," Archer managed to avoid a "disastrous" outcome and reach something of a tenuous rapprochement with the Klingons. And there's no evidence that anything that happened in "Broken Bow" directly precipitated war, since relations with the Klingons during ENT were uneasy but rarely overtly hostile, and since TUC suggests that open hostility with the Klingons only dates back to around 2218 (75 years before the film). And if you think about it, Picard only said that a first contact with the Klingons went disastrously. He never said it was humanity's first contact with the Klingons. For all we know, he was talking about the Vulcans' first contact with the Klingons, or the Bolians' or the Saurians'.
j p
6. sps49
Poor Riker. "Oh, well, if you are going to make me, alien space hottie, then OK".

Woodhouse sounds nothing like Coe's live action characters. And boo on you for reminding me that I have to wait for more new Archer episodes. Although it was funny to have Jon voicing Callie's Dick on Ugly Americans last week.

ETA: I obviously disagree a bit with Mr. Bennett's near-simultaneous post above, but our specific difference was discussed TO DEATH on the Wheel of Time reread regarding Tylin and Mat, and I don't want to go over that again.
Christopher L. Bennett
7. StrongDreams
I understand krad's objections, but I don't share the objection. Star Trek has a venerable history of doing "alternate history" stories but set on other worlds. "What if we never solved the race problem?" "What if children had no parents and never grew up?" "What if the Roman Empire never fell?" and so on. Here we have "What if Earth (or the US) was contacted by aliens?" Before the audience can sympathize with the alien leader saying "this will drastically change our culture and we might not be ready for it" they have to see and understand the culture, and when you only have 42 minutes, shortcuts are inevitable.
Justin Devlin
8. EnsignJayburd
@5. Christopher, I agree about the Lanel/Riker sex thing. It does nothing to further the plot, it is a feeble attempt at a salacious joke and, ultimately insults its audience.

That said, I agree that George Coe was terriffic, and Carolyn Seymour never disappoints in her Trek roles.

This episode was very Season 1-esque in that it was a great idea for a story, but hamhanded in its execution. The aliens should have been more alien. And Riker (or perhaps an entire away team) should have been in more danger. Another thing that might have been interesting is if the Federation further screws up by failling to notice something very, very bad about the Malcorians that would make First Contact indadvisable, but that knowledge has come too late. Like maybe the planet's peaceful existence comes at too high a cost. Something that would be a bridge too far for the Federation to make formal First Contact.
Christopher L. Bennett
9. Christopher L. Bennett
@8: That would be a completely different story, and it wouldn't work in a story like this where the natives of the planet are the viewpoint characters through whose eyes we see the strange alien visitors from the Federation.

And Riker was in plenty of danger. "We'll have to do us an old-fashioned alien autopsy!"
Christopher L. Bennett
10. Devin Clancy
@Christopher The Klingon first contact reference almost has to be with someone like the Vulcans because Vulcans seemed to already have a prime directive of sorts in place when they first interacted with Earth. Their procedures were pretty similar to what we see here.

That also adds nice subtext, because Picard is not necessarily taking a human-centric viewpoint when he talks about "our" history.
Christopher L. Bennett
11. Mike Kelm
I like the idea of a First Contact episode gone wrong, as opposed to say, a covert surveillance operation which requires the captain to be a god. It gives a reason for Picard to act open while at the same time trying to justify doing something pretty underhanded (spying by Riker and presumably other Federation personnel)- its a nice little nuance. I love the the Chancellor's line about having his entire view of himself shaken- I think any of us would be lucky to be that level headed in the situation.

One thing that is interesting to me is that I don't know if Mirasta would be quite so impressed with the view of her planet from the ship- simply put she probalby would have seen it already. Even at pre-warp flight, the planet presumably has sub-warp spacecraft, orbital stations, maybe even space elevators. As the leading warp engineer, and ship designer on the planet, she presumably would have seen the view already. Instead I think she would have been much more impressed being in the engine room, seeing the pinnacle of M-A drive technology and being wowed at how it works.

I also like that the Chancellor decides not to welcome the Federation with open arms. It's not the typical ending to me and further develops nuance- the idea that even though we are presented with the Federation as utopian society that it still isn't what everyone wants. I think in the first couple of seasons with Gene Rodenberry still at the helm they would have gone the other way, and not sent Picard packing.
Christopher L. Bennett
12. Clomer
First post here (I've been following the blog since its inception, but just lurking).

I think it's unfair to criticize the episode for the Malcorians being too much like our own society. Indeed, I think that's the entire point of the episode. It takes a direct look at the question "What would happen if an alien civilization, even a benign friendly one, made contact with us?" If you make the Malcorians too, well, alien, the episode loses that message entirely. Take that away, and the episode becomes just another run-of-the-mill average TNG episode worthy of the 5 you gave it. But because of the compelling look it gives into our own society, this episode is, to me, worthy of a 7 at least.
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
Clomer: Fair enough. I guess I prefer my analogies to be more subtle. :) Which, I know, is often asking too much of commerical television, but I live the life of a cockeyed optimist.

Also, as I've said many times, the warp factor rating is the least important part of a rewatch entry.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
14. Lisamarie
Again, Christopher, you have encapsulated my views on part of this episode perfectly:

"I don't care if Riker's a womanizer or Lanel is hot (I've never found
Bebe Neuwirth that attractive, but to each his own) -- if he's in a
vulnerable position, even in danger of his life, and someone is using
that to blackmail him into sex, he's not going to react to that the way
he'd react to a woman hitting on him in Ten Forward. It's a
nonconsensual situation, and that changes everything." - This, SO MUCH. Since it was a relatively minor part of the episode, I tried not to let it affect my overall rating of it, but I think it is a very insidious bit of thought. It basically plays on the various gender stereotypes that all men want sex, and want women to be offering it all the time. But, at least I would hope, one would never try to justify a gender flipped version by saying, "Well, he was really hot", or "She likes to sleep around, anyway". Kind of like the episode where the Trois were beamed aboard the Ferengi ship naked and Lawaxana had to 'flirt' with him - I know it was being played for laughs, but watching it made me feel very uncomfortable. I have never even been a victim of sexual assault, but it was kind of trigger-y.

As for the rest of the episode, I enjoyed it very much. I liked the opening scene with the 'alternate' POV. I agree with those above who have pointed out that part of the reason the episode works is because the culture is more or less like us, although I actually thought they were a little TOO backward. If they are on the verge of warp travel, that would imply other space travel technologies and astronomy, right? So it seems kind of odd to me that they were so aghast at the idea of aliens, that their world isn't the center of the universe, etc. Sure, actually SEEING one might be a shock, but it seemed a little excessive.

That being said I'm not sure how I would react to learning that there were alien operatives on my planet for years either - even if they had a benign purpose, it's kind of sneaky and begs a few other questions. I think it would be reasonable to feel threatened by that, especially as they don't know about the Federation as much as we do.

Also, I think it's kind of lame that, once contact is made, they wouldn't even share their technology if they DID join the Federation. That's like us refusing to help out a developing country so we don't 'contaminate' their culture.
Joseph Newton
15. crzydroid
I haven't seen too much of Enterprise (don't spoil anything for me, I want to try and watch them on startrek.com if I ever get the time!) but in "Broken Bow", it seems that the first contact with the Klingons was made in that episode and in that way because of alien interference from the future. Unless they establish it as a pre-destination paradox, I feel like we are looking at an alternate past and alternate Klingon first contact with that episode in series (which was part of my problem with Enterprise when the pilot first aired; they have a time travel and alternate universe story in the FIRST EPISODE!!!)

But I also like the idea that it might have been another cultures first contact.

Or it could've been another good ol' Star Trek retcon. Like the other retcon in "Broken Bow"-- "phase pistols", which to me would imply phased energy rectification, even though Worf says in "A Matter of Time" that they didn't have phasers in the 22nd century, and even on Pike's Enterprise (as seen on "The Menagerie" and not necessarily "The Cage") they were still using lasers.
Christopher L. Bennett
16. Christopher L. Bennett
@15: Time travel doesn't always create "changed" timelines. Sometimes, as in "Assignment: Earth" and The Voyage Home, the time travel is a causal loop -- the intervention from the future is part of what shapes the past all along. That was the intent in ENT -- that it was the origin of the Trek universe we knew, not some other, changed one. Remember, the producers didn't want the time-travel element at all; they wanted to tell the real story of how Star Trek began. The time travel was foisted on them by the network (or was it the studio?). So they had to include it, but they weren't about to let it alter their intention to show the beginnings of the familiar Trek universe.

And retconning out the "lasers" from "The Cage" was something Roddenberry himself would've gladly done. The whole reason he changed it to "phasers" in the second pilot was because he decided that calling the weapons "lasers" had been a mistake, that real lasers couldn't do what the fictional weapons were shown to do. Given the chance to do a story set before "The Cage," he would've gone ahead and used phasers and pretended the "laser" line never existed (just like, when he made TMP, he asked viewers to pretend that the Klingons had always had ridges and to ignore how they'd looked in TOS).

The thing about fiction is that, since it's all just pretend anyway, you can change bits of it and pretend they were always the way they are now. There's no need to come up with convoluted time-travel explanations for why niggling details have been altered. It's just poetic license, refinements in a work in progress -- or, in the case of a collaborative work, differences in interpretation between different creators.
Christopher L. Bennett
17. NullNix
One thing that definitely spoils this episode and that nobody should ever do: watch it right after an episode of Yes, Minister. All the politicans in this episode seem so terrifyingly politically naive: e.g. technology frightening the public is brought up as an axiomatically bad thing with nobody, even the straw bad guy, wondering how a frightened public might be *useful*... Margaret Thatcher could have chewed them up and spat out their bones on prime-time TV and then got re-elected on the back of it without even breaking a sweat. Maybe the 'social reforms' included conditioning for aspiring politicians to ensure that they would under no circumstances want the top job? That would have the right effect, and might be a good idea in any case!

But then, except for the Klingon arc and with a few notable exceptions late in DS9, Star Trek has never been that good at high politics: its episodic structure militates against it.
Christopher L. Bennett
18. Sparkforce
The one thing about this episode that drives me absolutely nuts is that Riker doesn't have his com-badge, so he has no universal translator. Yet he can still understand them and they can understand him. It's an issue that pops up in a lot of episodes and it drives me nuts. Even some small explanation (even if it was marginally ridiculous like Riker managed to learn their language really fast or he had a subcutaneous translator implanted in him) would be better than simply ignoring it.
Christopher L. Bennett
19. Dschultz
Since Mirasta left Malcor III with the Enterprise, why did we never see her again in any other episodes? She would have been a fantastic addition to the Enterprise crew!

Also, wouldn't it have been better if the Federation waited until the Malcorans finished work on their warp drive, then made first contact with them in space, meeting as equals? This would be much less of a shock for the Malcorans since they presumably would have launched their first starship in order to seek out the unknown, and much less creepy than the "we've been watching you and visiting your planet without your knowledge for quite some time now..."
Christopher L. Bennett
20. Dennis Bailey
The vast majority of the credit for whatever this episode is - and it seems to be a fairly popular one, over time - has to go to Ron Moore, Joe Menosky, and quite likely mainly Michael Piller. Dave Bischoff and I were given this assignment after a previous writer had done a story treatment, and we got as far as two story treatments and first draft.

I wish the Lanel/Neuwirth character and scene had been mine. I really do. They weren't in my draft. LOL

That said, this was an odd episode in several respects in the way it developed. On the one hand, Michael Piller felt really strongly that it would bring something kind of new to the show - "we've never shown how the Federation contacts a new planet, and it's pretty important," is more or less what he said at our pitch meeting - and on the other hand there was always an intentionally light, tongue-in-cheek quality to the story which explains the close similarities to 20th century America. The drafts Dave and I traded back and forth online had subject headings like "This Island Malcor" and "The Day Malcor Stood Still."
Christopher L. Bennett
21. Dennis Bailey
One other thing:

"The disastrous first contact with the Klingons mentioned by Picard to Durken was dramatized in the Enterprise pilot episode “Broken Bow.”"

I've enjoyed watching the controversy about that one ever since Enterprise premiered. "Broken Bow" was as consistent with our ideas about "disastrous first contact with the Klingons" as anything could be, because...here's a Big Secret about Trek continuity...there was never any actual back story there. Throwing the Klingon reference into "First Contact" just seemed like a fun little dot-connecting moment. To the best of my knowledge no one ever gave the specifics of it any thought during the writing of the script's many drafts.

If you'd asked me prior to "Broken Bow" how I'd imagined the Klingon first contact it wouldn't have had a thing to do directly with warfare or anyone shooting at anybody, but something very much like Robert Sheckley's story "All The Things You Are."
Christopher L. Bennett
22. Risingson
I liked this episode because of its fun parts, but yes, it is flawed. The beginning, that is nearly a satire of "ER" and the clumpsy sexual ellipsis were cumpy but fun; the bad guy here is more a bureaucrat than a conservative, someone who finds anyone that affects the statu quo as a threat, and I think that the actor does marvels with this; and finally everything is too rushed, though the message of the episode was right: Picard and the Federation make mistakes.

But what I will remember is the bureaucrat. There was a near "Marathon Man"moment there in the Riker interrogation that was genuinely disturbing.
Aaron Moss
23. bruceiv
A couple things that kind of threw me out of the episode:

1) Picard, on first meeting Mirasta, says something to the effect of "As you can see, we're biologically different from you. Would you like me to prove it?" She replies "I'd like that" Creepy alien proposition much?

2) So, they have warp drive, but they don't have telescopes to notice the kilometer long starship in orbit?
Christopher L. Bennett
24. Greenygal
@23: When Picard and Troi show up, Mirasta thinks they're playing a practical joke on her. Picard responds: "It's certainly no joke. As you can see, we are physically quite different from Malcorians. And with your permission, I'm prepared to prove it to you."

While the wording could be a little clearer, in context he's pretty obviously saying "I'm prepared to prove that this isn't a joke or a trick and that we really are space-faring aliens," and that's what she's saying yes to.
Christopher L. Bennett
25. Ellis K.
OK, this isn't the first time, and it won't be the last, but our humble rewatcher has a deeply flawed approach to his warp factor ratings: he's watching Star Trek with his head and not with his heart, and for all of it's intelligence, Star Trek is a television show of the heart, and always has been. Like many others, this is an episode of the heart. If you're going to spend your time quibbling about an alien planet's resemblance to earth (which would cause you to dismiss about half of the original series, by the way), then you are going to miss excellent and deeply felt story lines--the security minister's dark forebodings, the Chancellor's balanced understandings, and most importantly, the sheer wonder of the science minister as she is granted permission by Picard to remain aboard the Enterprise. This story has a LOT to say about OUR lives in THIS society. It ends up showing the security minister with something approaching understanding and tolerance--and that's an eye-opener. But the entire show, the flaws of which are quite minor, is worth the ending: the opportunity for us to put ourselves in the science minister's shoes and imagine what it would be like to be granted quarters on the Enterprise. That's a moment that gave me chills, and you are going to miss out on those chills if you are silly and cranky enough to have a problem with the Chancellor going home to have dinner with his wife and kids. It's a show of the heart, dude, not a physics equation. Lighten up.
Christopher L. Bennett
26. Dennis Bailey
Mirasta's leaving her homeworld aboard the Enterprise was intended by the producers to leave open the possibility of using her as a recurring character (Wil Wheaton had decided to leave the series at this point). For one reason or another they went on to create Ensign Ro instead.
Christopher L. Bennett
27. Jedd
I would have ended this one differently. As Picard and Durken are about to talk in private for a few minutes before the Malcorians beam down to the surface, Picard tells Worf to give Krola (now back on his feet again) a tour of the ship's security and defensive systems. It doesn't take long for Worf and Krola to become best friends as they share tales of exploits and heroism and tactics. Now Krola is the one who wants the Enterprise to stay, but Durken, in his wisdom, understands his people are not ready and this is not the time to establish relations.

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