Feb 15 2013 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Homeward”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward“Homeward”
Written by Spike Steingasser and Naren Shankar
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 7, Episode 13
Production episode 40276-265
Original air date: January 17, 1994
Stardate: 47423.9

Captain’s Log: Worf’s foster brother, Dr. Nikolai Rozhenko, is a cultural observer on Boraal II, which is suffering from atmospheric dissipation. According to Data, the atmosphere will be gone in 38 hours, which is a problem for the culture that Rozhenko is observing, as this will kill them.

Rozhenko isn’t responding to hails, and while there’s no life-sign readings in the observation post, Worf does detect a deflector grid in a cavern. Picard sends Worf down alone to minimize possible Prime Directive violations, which requires him to be surgically altered to look Boraalan. Since the planet only has 38 hours, this seems to waste time they don’t have, but what the hey.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

After Crusher alters his cranium and nose, Worf beams to the cavern. He is surprised to find Boraalans in the cavern—as well as Nikolai, who introduces Worf as his brother, saying that he’s come to help them. Nikolai describes Worf as a seer who can predict the atmospheric storms, and then says that he needs to help his brother get provisions and such for them. That’s his cover for beaming back to the ship to report to Picard. (Though, again with less than two days before the atmosphere’s gone, they take the time to go to sickbay to have their Boraalan prosthetics surgically removed.) He wants to set up an atmospheric deflector that will save at least this one village, so some segment of Boraalan culture will remain intact.

Picard refuses, despite compelling arguments from both Rozhenko and Crusher about not letting people just die like that when they have the power to save them. Picard won’t even give Rozhenko permission to beam back down. The atmosphere destroys itself, and the Enterprise watches as an entire population dies, then heads out of orbit. As they leave, a huge power drain registers, which Worf traces to Holodeck 5, where Rozhenko has re-created the cavern on Boraal—and also covertly beamed the villagers to the holodeck, using the sensor hiccups from the atmospheric disturbances as cover.

His plan is to tell the Boraalans that they’re going on a journey, they’ll use the holodeck to change the scenery gradually until it matches that of another Class-M planet that they can then be relocated to. Picard reluctantly agrees, but only because he doesn’t have a choice. They have a ticking clock, though, as Boraal’s atmospheric disturbances have done damage to the holodeck systems that can’t be fixed without taking the holodecks all offline. The simulation will break down eventually.

Rozhenkio and Worf get new Boraalan facelifts, and go into the holodeck to prepare for the “journey,” and also provide food. When bits of the holodeck grid show through a pool of water, Worf thinks on his feet and claims that it’s a sign that their journey will be a safe one.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

Crusher and Data find two possibilities—the better one is too close to Cardassian space, so they go with Door #2, Vacca VI in the Cabral Sector.

On the holodeck, Worf talks with Vorin, who keeps the chronicle of the village. They compare methods of chronicling history—Worf defaults to Klingon methods of telling stories and making up songs—and one of the elders of the village tries to set Worf up with his daughter.

Vorin has dropped one of the scrolls, and goes back to get it. He finds it where the holodeck is futzing out and he reveals a door. Because Worf isn’t bright enough to post guards at the door and because apparently the Enterprise ’s internal sensors no longer function, Vorin walks out onto the decks of the Enterprise and makes it all the way to Ten-Forward. Riker and Troi are there and they take him to sickbay. Crusher can’t wipe his memory, so Picard tells him the truth. Vorin is devastated and can’t handle the notion of leaving his homeworld.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

Rozhenko is appalled that Picard told Vorin the truth, and that they will allow him to return to the holodeck if he chooses—Worf pointedly uses this as an example of his brother’s inability to think things through. Later, a woman named Dobara tells Worf about how Rozhenko saved their village—and also that she’s pregnant with Rozhenko’s child.

They’ve given Vorin quarters, and Picard goes to talk to him. He wants to go home, but he can’t keep this a secret, nor can he tell the other Boraalans. Picard also offers to let him stay with the Federation. But Vorin can’t resolve the dilemma, and he commits suicide.

Worf and Rozhenko arguing about Dobara is interrupted by the holodeck malfunctioning even more. Worf tells La Forge to double down on it and create some storms, and then has them beamed down to the surface of Vacca VI. Rozhenko intends to stay and raise his child and keep the new chronicle.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Atmospheric dissipation is one of those things that just, y’know, happens. When it does, it’s quick and without warning.

There is no Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf and Rozhenko fall into old arguments pretty quickly. Worf was the dutiful son (of course), while his older brother was the wild one who kept their parents up night worrying about what stupid-ass thing he’s done now.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data and Crusher have a conversation that raises the difficulties in what they’re doing, and the possible consequences that we’ll never see because it’ll all happen after this episode is over.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Because the holodeck’s usual absolute perfection wouldn’t be convenient for this particular plot, they suffer malfunctions that only can be fixed with a hard reboot.

In the Driver’s Seat: Ensign Gates is back, but she once again has no dialogue that isn’t spoken off-screen.

I Believe I Said That: “I refuse to be bound by an abstraction.”

Rozhenko getting at the heart of the matter.

Welcome Aboard: For the second week in a row, we get a well-regarded character actor, this time Paul Sorvino as Rozhenko. Canadian actor Brian Markinson makes his first of three Trek appearances as Vorin; he’ll be back as the bizarre Elias Giger in Deep Space Nine ’s “In the Cards” and in the dual role of Sulan and Peter Durst in “Cathexis” and “Faces” on Voyager.

And this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is actually within the Trek family, as it were: I’d totally forgotten that Penny Johnson-Jerald (here still credited as Penny Johnson) played Dobara. She’ll have the recurring role of Kasidy Yates on DS9 (and can currently be seen on Castle, where Michael Dorn has a recurring role as a shrink).

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

Trivial Matters: This episode finally gives a name and face to Worf’s foster brother, and biological son of Sergey and Helena Rozhenko, that was mentioned way back in “Heart of Glory.”

In Worf’s First Adventure, a novel written before this episode aired and taking place during Worf’s first year at the Academy, Peter David gave Worf’s brother the name of Simon. Editions that were printed after “Homeward” aired changed the character’s name to Nikolai.

The notion of moving people to a different planet while making them think they were on the same one via a holodeck simulation would be used again in the movie Star Trek Insurrection.

Make it So: “I find no honor in this whatsoever, Captain.” I despise this episode with the fiery passion of a thousand white-hot suns because it turns our theoretical heroes into murderers.

I’m not really sure how we got from the philosophical discussion of the Prime Directive in “Pen Pals,” where it was explicitly stated as being incredibly complicated and difficult to parse (Worf’s assertion that it was an absolute was refuted in pretty short order), to “Who Watches the Watchers?” where Picard twisted himself into a pretzel against all reason and logic to avoid a contamination that had already happened, thus making the Prime Directive idiotic, to this absolute total nonsense.

I lost considerable respect for Jean-Luc Picard as a character in this episode, as he spews tons of self-righteous twaddle in defense of making sure people die the way they were “supposed” to. The Picard of this episode is compassionless, heartless, and despicable. The point of the Prime Directive is to avoid imperialism, basically—to keep from contaminating two cultures (the ones being interfered with and the ones interfering). But the equivalency between that level of protection (and self-protection) and letting an entire culture die for no good reason that this episode postulates is appalling.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Homeward

There is something seriously wrong with your Star Trek episode when your theoretical heroes are trying to kill people (well, okay, let them die, but it amounts to the same thing) and your antagonist whom the script desperately wants to paint as the bad guy is the person who’s actually saving lives.

The episode has some really good acting talent behind it, from the always-great Paul Sorvino, to the underrated Brian Markinson (a particular favorite of mine, currently being seen on Continuum and who was delightfully skeevy as Chief Jacobs on DaVinci’s Inquest and DaVinci’s City Hall), to a quietly passionate turn by Penny Johnson Jerald, to a strong performance by Michael Dorn, who once again manages to show subtle emotions through the latex (though he gets to wear totally different latex this time, woo hoo). And it’s nice to finally meet Worf’s foster brother after all this time.

But ultimately, this morally bankrupt piece of crap is an embarrassment to Star Trek as a franchise.


Warp factor rating: 1

Keith R.A. DeCandido will be atFarpoint 2013 this weekend, along with actors John Billingsley, Lee Arenberg, Felicia Day, Giancarlo Esposito, Bonita Friedericy, and Rob Paulsen, as well as fellow Trek scribes David Mack, Robert Greenberger, Michael Jan Friedman, Aaron Rosenberg, Glenn Hauman, Allyn Gibson, and Howard Weinstein. His schedule is here.

1. terrypshortstack
I hated this one too, although part of me is glad that SOMEONE finally put down how unfortunate the Prime Directive actually is.

It's a horrible directive.

And is the band they ended up saving genetically diverse enough to maintain a population that survives? We only ever see a few dozen at most. Perhaps there were more they saved that were always "just off camera."

But yes, this is one of the most troubling Trek episodes ever, and I'm including most of the morally-grey 4th through 7th seasons of DS9.
Chin Bawambi
2. bawambi
Finally caught up to all my re-reads and this POS is the episode up next?Blegh! I've really tried to give this a go several times mainly because Paul Sorvino is in it but even he and Dorn can't save this. This season had so many about faces with the moral codes that it almost destroys the canon that came before it. Even with that it could still have been watchable but for the awful holodeck failing subplot - seriously with this many failures how would the makers stay in business I would have sent back the holodecks years ago and demanded a full refund.
Thomas Thatcher
3. StrongDreams
Indeed. The Prime Directive made sense when it was about "don't turn the natives into gangsters or Nazis" and even made a fair amount of sense when it was about "don't accidentally let the natives think you are a god" (although, given the wide variety of beliefs in gods and ancient aliens on 21st century earth, it seems unlikely that accidentally letting one village think you are a god will change the course of an entire planet).

But when the PD is about "let the primatives die rather than undetectably relocating them" it's pretty stupid.
Rich Bennett
4. Neuralnet
maybe the only trek episode where I really didnt like Picard. I couldnt help thinking that Worf's brother's plan with the holodeck/planet switch was pretty good and could've been the plan in the first place rather than let them all die.

Hard to add anything else. About the only thing not already raised is I was shocked that they didn't put the kid under some kind of surveillance. You don't just let some kid from a pre-industrial society wander by himself even in his own modern quarters. Think how much damage someone from the midevil days could do just wandering around your house.
Christopher Hatton
6. Xopher
Unbelievably stupid episode in so very many ways.
7. Sean O'Hara
Here's what I don't get about this episode: The Prime Directive is Starfleet General Order #1 -- but Nicholai isn't in Starfleet, so why do Worf and Picard act so outraged that he'd violate a rule he's not bound to?
Chris Hawks
8. SaltManZ
All I can hear in my head now is Kirk yelling, "Let them die!"
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
9. Lisamarie
Oh krad, thank you thank you thank you. We watched this episode sometime back in December I think, and the next day I was STILL fuming about it on the bus ride to work - I thought about writing my big mental rant down so I could save it for the rewatch but I never did. I told my husband I almost have to pretend this episode doesn't exist because it just made me hate Picard and want to slap him as he spouted his self righteous drivel.

I'm sure you and others will be able to express themselves much more eloquently but - while I understand the reasons for the Prime Directive in the sense that it prevents interference with other cultures that could be taken advantage or forcing one set of ideals onto all cultures (although, frankly, some cultures - fictional and real-world - suck and could stand some 'contamination', tolerance be damned) - I want NO part of a morality that just has you sit around and do nothing while other people die because you either don't want to 'contaminate' their culture (which is dumb because it's going to dissapear entirely), or, worse, you are being totally condescending and think they can't handle it or are enforcing some kind of survival of the fittest on them. I thought Worf's brother rocked. (And yes, I know Vorin couldn't handle it but that doesn't mean everybody would react the same way, and it's totally arrogant to assume that and not give them the chance to handle it anyway. I'm sure there are legitamate reasons to avoid contact that really would cause significant upheaval but considering that in this situation they were all going to die...who the hell are you to say they should die?)

And to be honest I never bought the whole 'we can't contaminate other cultures' entirely anyway. That's how the world works. I do understand that you don't want a culture to just be wiped away or homogenized, but it's hard for me to argue that you should keep knowledge from people - cultures should be allowed to evolve and learn from other cultures (to an extent, I get why you wouldn't want to show up under most circumstances with your spaceships to a culture that hasn't even grasped the idea of outer space yet).

Just....arrrgh. This episode infuriated me and I'm glad I'm not the only one :)
10. Kimikimi
But the prime directive is only supposed to keep a culture from being contaminated, so that they can go on developing in the path they were meant to take. Letting the whole culture die is never part of the thing, this episode really is stupid, and I bet Roddenberry would be appalled.
11. FredG
If somehow given the chance, would Picard save the people of Kataan (Inner Light), or watch them die?
rob mcCathy
12. roblewmac
1. bothersome question are Starfleet and the fedration the same thing? If i'm flying around in my space ship and make a first contact is that unlawful? Becuase if everybody lived by the rules people do on the enterpriese I don't think i'd last too long.
2 If you're really serious about "don't effect allien cultures" A well armed multi-ton space craft may not be the best way to travel.
13. Lsana

The characters on DS9 did a number of morally questionable things, but in general, they awknowledged that what they did was morally questionable. When Sisko and Garek set up their little conspiracy and murdered the Romulan Senator, there was no implication that we were supposed to see them as being noble and upholding the finest values of the Federation. They usually suggested that what are heroes were doing was the lesser of two evils but didn't forget that even the lesser one is still an evil.

That's what really grates about this episode: not just the fact that our "heroes" would do something so awful, but that we're apparently supposed to agree that Picard was obviously in the right and Nikolai obviously in the wrong.
Heather Dunham
14. tankgirl73
Here's another problem with this particular application of the Prime Directive: it's kinda discriminatory. By which I mean, if a planet/culture is advanced enough to know about 'aliens' and be able to contact them, then they can ask the Federation for help. There are many instances of the Enterprise going to assist a planet that was not a member of the Federation.

But a culture that is not at that 'advanced' level cannot be helped - even if they were to ask for it, which they can't. (Although, cf Data and little wassername 'is anybody out there' and they helped that planet in the end...)

So... advanced cultures get help, primitive cultures don't.

Easily translates into: advanced cultures DESERVE help, deserve every last possible shred of effort to help them survive. Primitive cultures... they don't deserve help. They're not worthy of it yet. If this calamity had just happened to hit them say, a thousand years or so from now, then they'd be worthy. But not today.

That's just yucky.

What bothered me the most about this episode, though, was not this application of the PD. It's a legitimate debate to be held. But I do not for one instant believe that PICARD, of all people, would be the one arguing in its favour. Especially not after the episode with... Sarjenka? Is that right?
15. RobinM
I enjoy seeing Worf's human brother but the story itself drives me crazy. Nicolai may have gone about it an underhanded fashion but he found a way to help some dying people even though they didn't ask for it. Is the magic trick to ask for help? Picards reaction makes no sense when compared to Pen Pals. Also now that you've got these people to there new planet is Worf just to supposed to sail off into the sunset and Never talk to his brother again? The Roshenko's are going to ignore their oldest son and grandchild now that he is "stranded" among primitive people.
Christopher Bennett
16. ChristopherLBennett
As others have said, this episode's (and TNG's general) interpretation of the Prime Directive is a complete misunderstanding of what it's supposed to be about. When Nikolai says, "And isn't that what the Prime Directive was truly intended to do, to allow cultures to survive and grow naturally?" and Deanna says, "Not entirely; the Prime Directive was designed to ensure non-interference," the episode gets it backward -- Nikolai is absolutely right, and Deanna's response is legalistic, irresponsible twaddle. It's fetishizing the rigid letter of the law and overlooking its underlying purpose. Noninterference is not an end in itself, it's a means to an end, the end of allowing other cultures to retain their right to self-determination. We choose not to interfere because we're humble enough to know we're not smarter and wiser than they are, and don't trust ourselves not to interfere harmfully or take advantage of our greater power.

Yet the 24th-century version, particularly here, inverts that entirely. Here, the idea isn't that we can't be trusted to wield a gentle enough hand or resist the temptation to meddle in a culture that's perfectly capable of making its own choices; instead, it's that they are too primitive and fragile to survive exposure to our superior knowledge, so it's up to us to pass judgment and determine their fate. Which is the very kind of arrogance and condescension that the Prime Directive is supposed to guard against. The portrayal of Vorin as being so mentally rigid and frangible that knowledge beyond the familiar drove him to suicide is preposterous, a straw man concocted to justify the episode's preconceptions. In real life, individuals and cultures are more adaptable than that. If you look at the history of cross-cultural contacts and interactions among humans, you find that when cultures, even less technologically advanced or worldly cultures, are exposed to new knowledge or ideas, it doesn't cause their existing worldviews to collapse like a house of cards; rather, they smoothly incorporate whatever new ideas fit with what they already believe, reinterpret others to make them compatible with what they already believe, and pretty much ignore whatever ideas are irreconcilable with what they already believe. Worldviews are far more robust and flexible than what was shown here.

The other thing that's totally ridiculous here is the way Worf's prosthetics are handled. It wasn't just a matter of sticking some appliances on Worf's face; his brow ridges are substantially smaller in his Boraalan disguise, so that means a considerable amount of his own bone structure had to be cut out! That's major surgery! And yet it's casual enough that Worf can get it completely undone in a matter of minutes when he comes aboard for the briefing, and then get it put back again a few hours later? It's insane! At least they should've kept him in his Boraalan guise once he came back to the ship. Or given the Boraalans a design that was more compatible with Klingon bone structure.

It's a shame there's so much about this episode that's horribly wrong and ill-conceived, because there are things about it that are cool. Paul Sorvino is always good, and he makes an excellent Nikolai. And the way he arranges the Boraalans' relocation is pretty clever. I wonder if the Preservers used the same approach with Miramanee's ancestors.
17. Sanagi
Come to think of it, I usually describe Insurrection as a bad version of "Who Watches the Watchers," but maybe I should see the glass half-full and call it a less bad version of "Homeward."
adam miller
18. adamjmil
So we get two warp 10s with Parallels and The Pegasus, followed by this garbage and then....wait for it....Sub Rosa.

Ladies and gentlemen, your wildly inconsistent TNG Season 7!
Thomas Thatcher
19. StrongDreams
Isn't it also a little squicky for the anthropologist to marry one of his research subjects? So much for scientific objectivity...
Christopher Bennett
20. ChristopherLBennett
@19: I'm not sure objectivity (in the sense of detachment) is even possible in immersion anthropology. The whole point, after all, is to learn to identify with the culture you're studying, to set aside your worldview and assumptions and learn to experience theirs firsthand. You're supposed to become part of their social structure and participate in it. Although I guess taking it as far as Nikolai did would be considered "going native" and losing sight of the research goals.
21. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan
I remember seeing this episode back in the day and I liked it.

I thought you were much too critical of the staff on the Enterprise. I thought the realised the situation was hopeless and there was no way the entire planet of people could be saved (billions and billions of people transported onto a ship? c'mon!)

I think Picard really did empathise with them but knew that you have to know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em...
22. Greenygal
At no point in "Homeward" does anyone, including Nikolai, discuss saving the entire planetary population. The question is whether they will save at least one village, and the arguments against doing so are not logistical; it's that the Prime Directive says it's wrong to save anybody, full stop.

And while I have a lot of time for the basic concept of the Prime Directive, there is no possible moral justification for "The principle of non-interference demands that we let a natural disaster kill everybody." This episode is appalling.
23. John R. Ellis
The stupidest decision they ever made was the day someone decided "Hey! I know! The Prime Directive is actually just a way the Federation keeps track of who's broken the galactic speed limit! Otherwise, the species in question is screwed!"

24. John R. Ellis
It's especially fascinating to compare and contrast this episode to Up the Long Ladder, where the entire Enterprise crew smirks and eyerolls as they force two alien cultures to interbreed. despite one of them being adamant that they're definitely of asexual in their orientation now, so this -really- won't work and...

Man, I'll just chuck this back on the pile of episodes I ignore.

At least the stories like "Doctor Crusher falls in love with an alien incubus" are entertaining! This was bad -and- insulting.
Amir Noam
25. Amir
"don't accidentally let the natives think you are a god"
Ah, but an even more fundamental principle than the Prime Directive states: "When someone asks you if you're a god, you say: YES".
Christopher Bennett
26. ChristopherLBennett
@24: Err, the cultures in "Up the Long Ladder" weren't alien, they were Earth colonies. And the Mariposans weren't asexual, they were a clone society who were dying out because relying on cloning was damaging their genetic viability.
27. Earl Rogers
"Er, they weren't alien"

I know. But they no longer subscribed to the same culture or values that the Federation did. Or even (supposedly) the same mental and emotional enlightenment the Enterprise crew just wouldn't shut up about in the earlier years of the revived franchise.

"And the Mariposans weren't asexual"

Um, yes, they were. I'm talking about orientation here. They made it quite clear they did -not- feel sexual attraction of the sort the Space Irish folk or the Enterprise Crew did, and the "Well, they just need to try it out" smacked WAY too much of the whole "Gay people/Bisexual People/Asexual People/Trans" etc "Just need to try it heterosexuality out" and they'll magically convert. NOT. THAT. SIMPLE.
28. John R. Ellis
Gah. Posted while my brother's name was on the browser. Sorry. That was me.
Michael Burstein
29. mabfan
One of the unfortunate aspects of this episode is that there are parts of it that are actually likeable, which makes the whole absolute misinterpretation of the Prime Directive that much worse.

Whenever I watch the episode, I always write an extra ending in my mind, in which it turns out that the entire Enterprise crew was being controlled by someone like the Organians, and the whole thing was a test to see what Nikolai would do. When the episode ends, the crew is appalled at what they've done, and it takes weeks for Troi to fix everyone.

-- Michael A. Burstein
Christopher Bennett
30. ChristopherLBennett
@27: The point is that the Prime Directive is not assumed to apply to human populations. The crew wasn't subject to the same legal restrictions in dealing with the Bringloidi and Mariposans that they would've been in dealing with an alien culture. I'm not saying that's morally right, but it's the way the law is defined in-universe. The events of "Up the Long Ladder" were not perceived by the characters as a case where the Prime Directive applied, so there's no factual inconsistency in how the episodes were written, even if one believes there's a moral inconsistency in the characters' choices.
31. Randy McDonald
Earl Rogers:

I wouldn't say that Mariposan asexuality is something innate, but rather, something culturally determined.

"PULASKI How did you suppress the natural sexual drive? Drugs? Punitive laws?

GRANGER In the beginning we used a little of both. Now three hundred years later the entire concept of sexual reproduction is a little repugnant to us."

It sounds much more like a matter of Mariposan sexual orientation being something actively suppressed by an authoritarian culture than Mariposans being asexual.
32. Greenygal
Yeah, I agree that the Mariposans were not naturally asexual, largely because I find it very very very difficult to believe that you can remove sexual desire from an entire human community purely through social conditioning. (And at one point their representive says that they've denied their carnal feelings for hundreds of years, which is not at all the same as not having those feelings.) It seems pretty clear, though, that the Mariposans have been told all their lives that sex is icky and forbidden and they shouldn't do it, and suddenly reversing course to say that sex is awesome and they should all go right out and have sex with, yeah, that's going to go well.
33. RaySea
One episode I looked back on in comparison to this one was Deja'Q. There we have a moon ready to drop on a helpless planet, and the Enterprise is working tirelessly to save it. Now, they were depending on Starfleet to save them: it wasn't by their own means at all. You could easily (but despicably) argue that if they couldn’t save themselves, the "natural course of evolution" was their annihilation. The only difference I see is that they were (presumably) a post-warp society, which seems a pretty cold way to decide who is or isn't worth saving.
34. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan
I think all of you, including Keith, are reading this episode wrongly.

I think the writers' intent was to show that being extremely rigid and doing everything "by the book" all of the time is not a good way to live your life, and tried to use the example of a dying planet to show it.

Have you ever known or worked with someone who was like that? People like that drive me nuts.

As my dad says, "Sometimes you have to throw the book out the window."
Christopher Bennett
35. ChristopherLBennett
@34: I'm afraid that doesn't wash, because the position the episode took is that the Enterprise crew was right to be that rigid -- that the Boraalans were so primitive and fragile that knowledge of space and aliens would drive them to suicide, so the strict, no-exceptions version of the Prime Directive was supposedly vindicated. Nikolai's attempt to save some of them was portrayed as a dangerous and reckless idea that had negative consequences.
36. nandros
Well technically only a group of villagers is not viable enough to produce a stable population (incest and all that ...) at least on earth, hence deciding that it's a game over would be logical albeit a brutal conclusion since moving and entire race is not really going to work in a 38h window and who would then choose who is coming a board and who isn't ?

In other words this episode took a complitely wrong approach to handle a dilemma that situation in this episode would cause.
37. Ashcom
It's a strange episode, because from the word go you find yourself agreeing entirely with Nikolai and disagreeing entirely with Picard. It's not the first time the crew of the Enterprise have dogmatically followed a line that was clearly quite dumb, but it is the most radical.

Moreover, you have to think that a society as enlightened as The Federation would have considered what would happen in a situation where non-intervention would result in the extinction of an entire race, and that the answer they came up with couldn't possibly have been "let them die."

Having said that, on the plus side, as evidenced here, it is certainly an episode which generates debate over what the Prime Directive is, and what it should be. And the acting does come very close to selling it. But in the end, there are just too many dumb elements.

One other thing kept nagging at me while watching though. Paul Sorvino, when this episode was filmed, must have been in his fifties. And he very much looks it. Which brings up the question, how old is Worf?
38. Lsana
@John R. Ellis,

I yield to no one in my hatred of "Up the Long Ladder," but Christopher Bennet is right that the Prime Directive didn't apply there because both societies were (a) well aware of the existence of extra-planetary cultures, and (b) had specifically asked Picard for help. I may be able to get into quite the rant about the means in which he provided that help, but it wasn't a Prime Directive violation.

The main similarity I see between that episode and this one is that I have to pretend it doesn't exist if I'm to maintain any respect for the alleged protagonists.
Alan Courchene
39. Majicou
@37: According to official chronologies, Worf turned 30 in "Parallels." Michael Dorn was 41 when this episode aired. Must be that crazy Klingon aging (see Alexander.)
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
40. Lisamarie
@33 RaySea - exactly!

@36 nadros - it is a dillema to be sure, but I don't like the argument that becuase you can't save everybody, you should save nobody. It's kind of lazy, really - yes, it would be very grueling emotionally to determine who can be saved and to know that there are some who will not be saved, but that doesn't mean they should just wash their hands of it and let them all die.
41. Ashcom
Another point not brought up so far is what happens when the baby is born? Nikolai may have had his appearance surgically altered, but his genetics remain the same. There's a decent chance that the baby is going to be born human.
42. Crusader75
@SaltManZ: I had a spoken word album as a kid of Roddenberry discussing Star Trek. One of the segments was an interview with Shatner where they discussed the Prime Directive. Roddenberry asked Shatner what he thought Kirk would say about helping benighted 20th century humanity. Shatner responded, "Let them suffer! I MEAN it!"
Mike Kelmachter
43. MikeKelm
Okay- here's a non prime directive question... How is it that the civilian anthropologist with no known computer skills is able to take over the transporter system and simultaneously beam a couple hundred people and all their possessions into the holodeck which he simultaneously programmed to be identical to the cave they were all in? And nobody seems to care??? Once again the writers have allowed our vaunted security chief to let the Emterprise get hijacked... How many times has at least some portion of ships control been wrested out of the hands of the crew and into someone else's? Data hijacking the ship I understand, but Moriarty, Worfs brother, the bynars, the alien life form going to new vertion city... All of them took over at least some aspect of ships controls.... It's just a bad writing crutch....
Christopher Bennett
44. ChristopherLBennett
@42: But that's so we have the chance to learn from our mistakes and solve our own problems, which is the only way we could ever really mature as a civilization. That's completely different from letting a species die out entirely.
adam miller
45. adamjmil
#37 and @39, I don't see why Worf's brother couldn't be much older than him. Worf was adopted by accident, and his parents are clearly rather elderly.

That being said, there's probably a book or something that has them growing up together.
Christopher Bennett
46. ChristopherLBennett
@45: In and of itself, your proposal makes perfect sense, but there's a line in "Heart of Glory" that implies they were of similar age: "When my foster brother and I were of age, we entered the Starfleet Academy. He hated it and returned to Gault. I stayed." Of course, that could be interpreted to mean that they entered the Academy at different times, but that's not what it sounds like. (And the Peter David YA Academy book mentioned in Keith's review has Worf and his brother entering the Academy at the same time.)
Rowan Blaze
47. rowanblaze
This episode and the other TNGs covering the Prime Directive are a perfect example of a brain bug. TNG had a large enough budget that they didn't have to borrow sets and costumes from the Universal backlot or wherever to "recreate" ancient Rome, 1930s Chicago or Nazi Germany. So the purpose of the Prime Directive: "Avoid contamination of the native culture," as shown in set-piece episodes of TOS (plus gems like "A Private Little War"), gets lost when the job of the Enterprise-D seems to be to run around and save planets from natural disasters. So the crew goes from fretting over whether to save Sarjenka's Planet to trying to minimize the contamination of an accidental violation in "Who Watches the Watchers," to this disaster—in so many ways—of an episode where the Captain of the Federation flagship sits idly by while an entire planet dies.

It gets worse on Enterprise. In the morally ambiguous "Dear Doctor" they debate the merits of letting one humanoid species go extinct—despite a specific plea for help—whom the Enterptise crew suspects of oppressing another humanoid species. Unsurprisingly, they decide to let the oppressors die.

The pseudo-science of TNG seemed to be getting worse as the series went on as well. From the dissipation of the planetary atmosphere, to Nikolai's effortless, clandestine transfer of the villagers to the holodeck, to the plot-convenient holodeck malfunctions, the "science and technology" aspects of the show take a serious beating.
Christopher Bennett
48. ChristopherLBennett
@47: You're misremembering "Dear Doctor." It had nothing whatsoever to do with oppression; rather, it was about evolution. Phlox concluded that what was happening to the Valakians was not a disease, but an evolutionary process -- that the species was nearing the end of its natural lifespan, and that a new species, the Menk, was evolving to take its place, more or less. The idea that a species would have a built-in evolutionary expiration date is certainly questionable, but no more so than most biological science in the Trek universe, right down to the very existence of humanoid aliens and interspecies hybrids. Phlox's position was analogous to that of doctors and hospice workers who believe that the natural impending death of an individual is something to be accepted and eased rather than fought against artificially. He just applied it on a species level instead.

And his argument wasn't about whether the Menk as individuals were being oppressed, but whether, over the millennia ahead, their species would have the opportunity to achieve its full evolutionary potential. He asked Archer whether humans would ever have been able to flourish if some alien race had given the Neanderthals an artificial boost. A lot of people interpret that to mean that he favored the Menk over the Valakians, but all he really said was that they had no right to take either species' side and should just step back and allow nature to make the choice.
Chin Bawambi
49. bawambi
I have much less aggro about this episode after finally picking up Scalzi's Redshirts this weekend ;). Episode was still quite awful though. It's like the writers decided all of a sudden that the canon regarding StarTrek morals and ethics needed to actually conform to some kind of reality without fixing any of the questionable physics or holes in plotlines.
50. MarkMercer
While first watching this, and every time I've even thought of this ep, I am enraged by Picard's arrogance, and that of his entire crew.

WWJTKD? Kirk would have moved planets to save people. And if he were indisposed, such as having lost his memory inside an obelisk in a storm, Spock, McCoy, and Scotty would have pushed the old girl for more than she had left, busted warp engines and officers at each others throats, to save a primitive people so that their planet and their culture could survive.

That said planet appeared to be settled by humans from Earth, transplanted by the Preservers, in no way made Miramanee's people any less covered by General Order 1. Their culture was progressing and surviving according to its natural path, saved by the Preservers before Europeans destroyed most of it, and generations later, Kirk and crew continued that preservation.

I had enough of a problem with Picard being an academic indecisive wimp who'd occasionally abandon his ship to beam himself into dispersal inside some indeterminate space intelligence. But this episode made me nearly hate him and how the 24th Century Federation had perverted its core values.

In some ways this may have been foreshadowing and subtext for Generations, where the only way Picard could figure out how to defeat a madman who would wipe out a pre-warp civilization was to go find the Captain who would never hesitate to do whatever was called for to save life, including new life and new civilizations. It also presages the corruption we saw in DS9 and Insurrection.
Rowan Blaze
51. rowanblaze
@48 From the Memory-Alpha plot summary of "Dear Doctor": "Sato is upset and thinks that the Valakians are oppressing the Menk and treating them like "pets," but Phlox says that she is making assumptions based on human history: from Phlox's perspective, the Valakians and Menk have found a way to live in harmony, when on most planets with more than one sentient race, they fight each other until only one survives." Archer is also inclined to help the Valakians, at least at first. I remember thinking even at the time, the approach to the as-yet-unarticulated PD was trite. We, the Audience, are supposed to think Archer and Phloz are right partly because of the second class status of the Menk.

But think about if the situation had been reversed, and it was the second class Menk that were endangered. I'd bet the writers would have had the opposite outcome, because the Menk deserved the chance to evolve. Or what if the Valakians were in immediate "personal" danger like the Boraalans of this TNG episode, but the Menk might still evolve? No matter whether or not they stepped in and gave the Valakians the cure Phlox had already developed, Archer still played God with that planet. Doing nothing was also a decision.

Since apparently some Homo sapiens intermingled with Homo neanderthalensis (who may have only been a subspecies anyway), Phlox' argument about hypothetical aliens giving them a boost is facile. Besides, at the time both humans and Neanderthals comingled (if you don't count the modern descendents) they were in the stone age. The Neanderthals weren't capable of calling an alien starship for help. And we haven't even started discussing how it would be if aliens had protected the dinosaurs, preventing the rise of the mammals.

Noninterference looks like an excellent rule on paper, and under limited circumstances it is. I'm not sure at what point it came to apply not just to cultural contamination, but evolutionary processes as well; perhaps because they needed a plot point in TWoK. We see over and over again how clinging to it forces the characters into morally repugnant situations. And don't give me any line about the limited human perspective; frankly, it's all we have. And Humans are nothing if not meddlesome.
Christopher Bennett
52. ChristopherLBennett
@51: I'm not saying the decision can't be debated. I'm just saying that any such debate should be based on the actual facts of the episode, not a muddy misremembering of it.
53. Ashcom
@45 (& 46) - Also, there are are a number of references to Nikolai and Worf being taken camping in the Urals by their father, and Nikolai being scared of the call of the wolves. This suggests that they were both still children/youths at the time. If I recall correctly, Worf was taken to Earth when he was 7 years old. These camping trips presumably took place some time after this. So I would suggest that even if Nikolai is older than Worf, it could be by no more than about 7 or 8 years at most.
54. CounsellorDeannaTroi#1Fan

But wasn't Nikolai pretty much vindicated at the end of the show? Despite breaking the rules and having the people transported onto the ship against Jean-Luc's wishes, he was able to get some of them onto another planet and they didn't all commit suicide, so maybe there is still some hope for them.
Joseph Newton
55. crzydroid
What I remembered from this episode was that the idea of gradually changing the terrain on the holodeck was pretty neat. But pretty much nothing else.

Another problem with this isolationist interpretation of the prime directive is that it ignores that interaction among cultures can be part of a society's "natural evolution." Look at the ancient cultures on Earther being influenced by sea-faring empires, which brought trade and knowledge. I get that you don't want to dump your technology on a society that's not ready for it, or even reveal your existence if it will totally blow their minds, fine. But to let the society die because intermigling is absolutely forbidden? In "Pen Pals" someone (Troi?) put forth the suggestion that THEY are part of the planets evolution and history, because hey, there they are. The others shot it down, but I agree with that idea. I sometimes see people talk about a concept of humans vs. nature, as though humans were no longer part of nature. What we do and how our actions affect things are most definitely part of the world around us. We should therefore be careful with our actions, but it doesn't mean we should live in an isolationist bubble. Guess what? Maybe part of the culture's evolution is, "And then we interacted with this other culture, and it affected us thusly."
Christopher Bennett
56. ChristopherLBennett
@55: Exactly. The greatest cultural progress and dynamism on Earth has been in regions where different cultures interacted and exchanged ideas. Exposure to outside ideas is not "contamination," but healthy interaction. As long as no one forces their beliefs and customs on anyone else, it's not damaging but enriching.

And that's what the Prime Directive is supposed to be about. It's not about believing the primitives are too fragile and stupid to survive exposure to new knowledge and have to be shielded from it even if it kills them. It's about recognizing that we (i.e. humans/the Federation) are fallible, that we could be tempted to assume that we know better than they do and entitled to use our superior power to impose our will upon them. It's not an absolute ban on any interaction at all, it's a warning to keep a close eye on ourselves, our choices, and our motives, so that if we do choose to interact, we take care to do so cautiously and with as much respect for the other culture's autonomy as possible.
57. tortillarat
I don't have the huge problems with this episode that everyone else seems to.

Sure, Picard's position here is too rigid, but it's not like the ship is either equipped or large enough to move an entire population. That the holodeck has problems handling one village of people is proof enough of this - and when Voyager rations holodeck time or shuts it down to save energy, holodeck problems in this instance are certainly plausible.

It's hard to fault Starfleet too; often the Enterprise just happens to be the only ship in the sector (a plot device seemingly used in every series and film, sans Voyager where it's a given), so bringing in a large troop transport isn't an option. Nor is a giant holoship to prevent cultural contamination; that doesn't occur until Insurrection. Further, it's not like Rozhenko, who wasn't even responding to hails anymore, was providing enough information for Starfleet to definitively assess the situation.

So yes, Picard and Worf come across as heartless here, and their positions are written to be too over the top, but I say it makes sense. Nor do I think atmospheric dissipation is totally out of whack either. Trek is filled with strange phenomenon, and technobabble-device-number-2348273489 always miraculously saves the day. We live in a world with anthropogenic climate change; if relatively small amounts of certain gases can change our climate then why wouldn't some other chemical or energy reaction cause a dissipation on the Baraalans' world?

I also thought the Boraalan who wanders off and ends up killing himself made sense. You're just living your life, recording the history of your people, and suddenly you discover that your beliefs are basically wrong, your entire world is destroyed, and you're unwittingly being transported through space in a holodeck projecting a fictional reality. He's allowed to go back to his people, but what would be the point? What future would he have there, now knowing about all of this and deciding whether to tell the others (and be seen as a lunatic) or keep it a secret (seriously demoralizing)? I think it ties in nicely with Picard's point of view and blunts the impression of heartlessness earlier in the episode.

If there's one major issue I take with this one, it's that Troi isn't involved. As an empath she would have to feel something as the atmosphere dissipates, and her point of view would make a compelling argument that could have swayed Picard or others on his "side." If nothing else, the effects of what she senses could have made a dramatic B-story.

Clearly I'm in the minority thinking this one's decent, but come on, the Sign of LaForge? I thought forcing Worf to use his limited imagination in that instance was quite amusing.
Christopher Bennett
58. ChristopherLBennett
@57: Maybe the way Vorin reacts is the way some people might react, but it's dishonest to hold up one man's inability to adapt as proof that the entire society would be destroyed. People react in all sorts of different ways. We have plenty of historical examples of societies being exposed to new knowledge and not being destroyed by it. Often they thrive as a result of embracing the new knowledge. Europe certainly did when it was exposed to the more advanced knowledge of Asia and the Mideast, such as printing, the compass, and gunpowder, and used it to become the most prosperous and powerful civilization on Earth.

The thing is, the pretense that outside knowledge is intrinsically destructive is a way to let the West off the hook. Yes, it's true that European/American colonialism wiped out a lot of less technologically advanced cultures, but the fact is, that's because the colonizers actively tried to wipe them out, whether by literal mass murder or by trying to convert them to Western beliefs and values and eradicate their own cultural heritage and traditions. But if we pretend that those cultures were just intrinsically fragile, that it was the contact itself that automatically wiped them out, it spares us the guilt of being responsible for wiping them out on purpose. "Sorry, it was an accident!"

And that's missing the whole point of the Prime Directive as it was meant to be applied in TOS. It was meant to be a safeguard against colonialist thinking, against the belief that our greater advancement makes us wiser and righter and entitled to convert others to our beliefs and ways. That's what really endangers cultures -- not contact in and of itself, but paternalistic imposition, the Civilising Mission, the White Man's Burden. So the Prime Directive is about making us recognize that other cultures are entitled to make their own decisions and we're not entitled to play god and take those decisions away from them.

But the "Homeward" version of the PD is as paternalistic as it gets. It's totally White Man's Burden, but in the other direction -- instead of "they're too primitive to make the right choices so we'll teach them what to think and how to act," it's "they're too primitive to understand our superior knowledge so we'll just let them die rather than forcing them to suffer that ordeal." It's still about assuming we're superior and entitled to choose for them. So it's a complete inversion of what the PD is supposed to teach us.
alastair chadwin
59. a-j

Hear hear!
60. tortillarat
I really don't see it that way.

The Enterprise has 3 choices:
1) Do nothing.
2) Beam as many to the holodeck as possible, trying to prevent contact while saving lives.
3) Beam as many on board as possible, putting them in cargo bays and guest quarters or wherever.

Option 1 destroys the culture and the lives. Not a great proposition, but one I believe is somewhat defensible given the circumstances and resources the Enterprise has on hand.

Option 2's what they, or rather Rozhenko, did. Alternatively, they could've beamed people into cargo bays dressed up to look like a cave, then staged an "earthquake" at which point they're beamed into a real cave on a new planet. The holodeck barely made it, and potential holding areas on the ship weren't ready. Still, I personally think this is the best option.

Option 3 is Welcome-to-the-Federation-Day and oh, by the way, your planet's gone and most of your people are dead, but enjoy the replicators. This saves the lives but not the culture. It could become a security risk if people don't react well to it. It forces a fundamental rethinking of life on the part of the Baraalans. Further, actively engaging them in this way sets a precedent that can be used on other worlds in the name of "saving lives" - oh, you're too close to a war zone so let's move you, the Federation needs this planet for the mineral resources we use in a life-saving medicine so now you need to move, etc.

I think it's totally plausible that during the near-century between the events of TOS and TNG, the Prime Directive and/or consequences of its violation were modified as a result of events we don't see on screen. I didn't say that Vorin's suicide is proof their society would be destroyed, but it does show the pitfalls of Option 3.

Not at all do I see the episode as an issue of a superior vs. a weaker culture. The fact of the matter is you simply don't know how they'll react. You don't know how they'll handle the stress or their emotions. Just because something worked for Europeans doesn't mean it would for the Baraalans, and the Europeans didn't get transplanted somewhere else because Europe was completely destroyed. It's still there. Nor did encountering that type of technology force a rethinking of how they live their lives.

Introducing Baraalans to the Federation would itself be a statement that the Federation is superior: "Your planet was dying so we saved you. Now you can live like us instead."
Joseph Newton
61. crzydroid
I don't think that option 3 would necessarily destroy the culture, and they certainly wouldn't be obligated to live like the Federation. Indeed, the Prime Directive would probably forbid that sharing of technology (if they weren't ready to join). They would be greatly unsettled, sure, but they would probably adapt to it. They could live on a planet somewhere and maintain their level of technology and culture, or have a higher level of technology and still retain their culture.
Christopher Bennett
62. ChristopherLBennett
@60: "Option 3 is Welcome-to-the-Federation-Day and oh, by the way, your planet's gone and most of your people are dead, but enjoy the replicators. This saves the lives but not the culture. It could become a security risk if people don't react well to it. It forces a fundamental rethinking of life on the part of the Baraalans."

But see, there you're just uncritically accepting the same assumption that TNG made, that exposure to new knowledge would destroy a culture. I studied world history and cross-cultural interactions in college, and that's why I know that assumption is wrong. It's a myth Westerners tell themselves to paper over our culpability for either deliberately trying to destroy native cultures around the world or inadvertently killing them off with smallpox and the like. History shows that when that doesn't happen, cultures can be quite robust when exposed to new knowledge and changed circumstances, assimilating new knowledge or adapting to new environments without abandoning their basic beliefs and customs. Hell, even when it does happen, traditional cultures survive better than we tend to assume. The populations that Europeans and later the United States tried to forcibly convert and assimilate ended up holding onto their traditions and identity all the more fiercely in response, even if they had to do so in secret.

So no, it wouldn't destroy their culture. That is completely and utterly wrong, and that's exactly why the episode is wrong. Saving them would be the only thing that would preserve their culture. Yes, that culture would have to adapt to new circumstances, but that is what cultures do. They are not fixed and unchanging things that remain constant for millennia; that's one of the most pervasive fallacies of anthropology. Cultures change with each new generation. They improve and refine their ways of doing things. They adapt to changing circumstances like droughts and plagues and wars and new inventions and new neighbors or even just simple population growth. Their young rebel against their elders and seek new solutions. The form a culture takes at the time you first contact it isn't the way it's always been since time immemorial, it's just the way it happens to be at that particular period. It could've been extremely different a generation before. But it still has elements of tradition and belief that give it continuity and identity even as it grows and adapts. Cultures help people cope with change, by giving them a framework to filter it through and a foundation to hold onto. Change is a part of life, everywhere, always. Culture would be useless if it couldn't cope with change. That's part of what it's for.

Did the Jews lose their culture when they were driven from their homeland? Certainly not. Did the Cherokee, Choctaw, and others forget their heritage after the Trail of Tears? Hell, no. Displaced peoples don't lose their cultures; they hold onto them all the more forcefully. Sure, the displacement can be traumatic, can leave scars, but the cultures survive and help the displaced people cope and move forward. And it's a damn sight better than being extinct.
63. tortillarat
I still don't buy the argument and still find Option 2 the best. The human experience is not necessarily the same as it was or will be with alien species, which is something the Federation (and the human species in particular) often gets criticized for in the show.

One of the things I'm thinking of is religion. Often religion is a (or sometimes the) major part of a given culture; if this is called into question then can't the culture be said to have been destroyed? In the modern Western world we see gradually declining adherence to religion, particularly among younger generations. The "culture wars" in the United States partially stem from this. The idealized suburban family with a picket fence is neither reality nor desirable among many people today; I would say that American culture is undergoing a fundamental change.

Further, I would say introducing certain technology can have a negative influence. Our best and newest technology tends to either come from or be picked up quickly by the military. We had an arms race with the USSR. We try to prevent nuclear proliferation and certainly wouldn't want al-Qaeda to get a nuclear bomb. Our own geopolitics are unstable enough with the technology we already have; to see North Korea with a starship would be quite troubling, albeit unlikely. South Korea has special schools for people who've escaped the North, as many of them have extreme difficulty adjusting even though they're already aware of things like TV and radio.

As places like China and South Korea have rapidly become major world economies, their own cultures have changed. Suicide rates among elderly South Koreans have skyrocketed as the social contract where the young care for the old has broken down. Once family structures, diets, languages, and belief systems (among other things) have changed, is that the same culture? I'd say no.

So yes, Judaism has proven especially resilient. Christianity, though it's undergone its share of change, continues to provide a cultural foundation. The Bajorans serve as this type of example in Trek, complete with more 'liberal' elements like Kira and more 'orthodox' elements like Kai Winn's order. But with the rapid changes in places like Asia, or the high rates of poverty and alcoholism combined with little to no adherence to traditional beliefs on some Native American reservations, I see places where the culture has changed or essentially died, and I still say to introduce the Baraalans to the Federation could - not would, but could - drastically affect them as well.

This debate reminds me of a quote from DS9's Michael Eddington: You know, in some ways, you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious, you assimilate people - and they don't even know it.
64. Greenygal
I think option 2 is probably best at this stage of the Boraalans' technical development as well, assuming it's survivable. (There are legitimate concerns about the size of their gene pool, for example.) What I don't think is that option 3 is in any way, shape, or form worse than LETTING THEM ALL DIE. If Picard had gone for option 2 at the outset, this episode would not be earning anything like so much outrage--but he didn't, and it is. In fact, what Nikolai initially proposes is a version of option 2 that wouldn't even require the Enterprise to take the Boraalans anywhere, and Picard flatly refuses, not because of any technical or logistical concerns, but because the Prime Directive says that would be bad.

I also don't get why you're assuming they would have to live like the Federation. The Federation leaves them to go on living as they have been in this very episode; why would they have done differently in a situation where the Boraalans were actually able to say what they wanted? (Assuming that is what they wanted, but if the Boraalans are making a choice then it's not about the Federation forcing their values on them, is it?)
Christopher Bennett
65. ChristopherLBennett
@63: "One of the things I'm thinking of is religion. Often religion is a (or sometimes the) major part of a given culture; if this is called into question then can't the culture be said to have been destroyed?"

Good grief, no! People assume that, but what I learned in my history studies in college is that religious beliefs are far more robust than that. When missionaries come in and "convert" the natives, usually what the natives do is just incorporate elements of the new religion into their existing patterns of belief, drawing analogies between the old and new -- as with Caribbean religions like vodoun and Santeria which are essentially traditional African faiths with Christian saints folded in as incarnations of their previous deities. Religious change is a syncretic process, an evolution, not the simple erasure/overwriting of belief that people assume it is.

As I said, change is not destruction. Change is the natural state of any active, healthy culture. Religions change and evolve in response to new circumstances just like every other aspect of culture. Go back in time 500 or 1000 years and you'll find a Christianity that's very, very different from the modern version.

"Further, I would say introducing certain technology can have a negative influence."

It can, but it can also have a positive influence. Western Europe was not destroyed when it was introduced to the more advanced technology of the East like the stirrup, the moldboard plow, the printing press, the magnetic compass, the lateen sail, and gunpowder; on the contrary, it thrived and expanded, going from one of the most backward civilizations on the planet to the most powerful civilization in history in less than half a millennium. One could certainly say that Europe's technological advancement had a negative impact on other cultures, but not so much on Europe itself.

"Once family structures, diets, languages, and belief systems (among other things) have changed, is that the same culture? I'd say no."

And I'd disagree emphatically. I've already said how completely wrong and counterfactual it is to define any culture as fixed and unchanging. I mean, look at a person. Is everything about you -- your physical appearance and health, where you live, where you work, who your friends are, what you own, what music you like, what attitudes you have -- exactly the same as it was 10 or 15 years ago? Probably not. But does that mean you're not the same person? Of course not. You're a person who's grown and adapted, but that's what people do. That's their nature. And exactly the same is true of cultures. They aren't rigid constructs, but living, growing entities, processes that evolve over time and adjust to the change that's a natural part of existence. Our culture today is very different than it was a hundred or two hundred years ago, but it still builds on what came before, so it's still the same continuous culture.
66. tortillarat
I think I get what you're saying in the sense it's the "same" culture at a different point in time. I don't think of it that way, but I can see where you're coming from.

I still insist, however, that introducing the Federation to the Boraalans is a bad idea. I belive doing so opens the door to interference in any culture because that culture would never be "destroyed." The medieval-esque people of planet such-and-such are in the midst of a deadly plague, so let's cure it to save lives and introduce ourselves. A war on planet other-and-wherever is being fought with nuclear weapons, so let's beam them up before they can use them and introduce save lives. The Romulans want to annex x-number-of-sectors in Klingon space, so we should covertly kill the people advocating for war to prevent the war and save lives.

Any number of situations can be justified in the name of saving lives, and this is part of why the Prime Directive exists. Just because something worked out fine in one instance does not automatically mean it works everywhere. And sure, Europe advanced quickly, but you admit that may have had a negative impact elsewhere - colonial imperalism and the effects we still live with today come to my mind. One could also argue Europe didn't fare all that well, with technology allowing for the rise of people like Hitler and Stalin and for allowing their reigns to last longer than they otherwise would have.

Maybe in this case the Boraalans would be positively affected. Maybe they'd be negatively affected. Maybe they'd choose to settle somewhere and continue as they did before with ultimately no effect at all. We don't know, and regardless of how they react or what they choose, we'd be acting on what we think is best for them by forcing them to make that choice, and I just think that's wrong.
Christopher Bennett
67. ChristopherLBennett
@66: Of course I'm not saying you should feel free to interfere at a whim or force a decision on people. The whole reason the Prime Directive exists is as a counter to that Civilising-Mission mentality. As I've said, history shows that the most damage is done to a culture when you actively try to make them change their ways to what you think they should be. But if you make contact less aggressively and respect their right to make the choice about how far the contact should go and how they react to it, then it's much less damaging.

Really, it's the same as any relationship. Trying to control your partner in a relationship, to make them do what you want and change them into what you want them to be, is abusive and unhealthy. But that doesn't mean the only alternative is never to let them know you exist. You can have a healthy relationship with someone if you respect their autonomy, their right to be who they want to be and make decisions for themselves. You can offer them your help and your ideas and your knowledge, but you have to respect their right to say no if that's their choice.

The mistake made by TNG toward the Prime Directive is that it insisted on defining the native populations as inferiors rather than equals, and thus assumed that the only options were zero contact or imposition. You're making the same assumption, and that's blinding you just as it blinded the writers of TNG. The whole point of the PD is to remind us that whatever their technological level, they're not inferior or weak or helpless. They're just as capable of making responsible decisions about themselves as we are about ourselves. The reason we keep our hands off is not because they have inferior knowledge, but because we have inferior knowledge about their culture and thus are not qualified to make their decisions for them. The point is to respect their right and ability to make decisions about their own culture. The PD advises us to avoid contact because we can't trust ourselves not to mistake our superior technology for superior wisdom and authority. But that's just a safeguard. There are going to be cases where contact happens anyway, where there's no choice. Which doesn't mean that all bets are off and we can go all White Man's Burden on them; it means that we proceed with the contact carefully, at all times striving to remember that they understand their own culture better than we do and are thus more qualified to make decisions about how the contact should proceed.

In other words, the spirit of the Prime Directive is more important than its letter. Deanna was totally wrong in this episode; the Prime Directive is not about avoiding contact altogether. The true meaning of the Prime Directive is about respecting other cultures' right to choose. Avoiding contact is simply a means toward that end. But in circumstances where that means ceases to apply, the end remains in effect. You just need to pursue it by other means. You can still respect their right to choose, their superior understanding of their own society, in a context where interaction does occur. You just have to be more careful. As with any relationship, you just have to listen to them and respect their viewpoints rather than assuming yours are always right.
68. SnookyTLC
This episode infuriated me. I have never been angry at Picard until this one. He had the audacity to refer to the moving of the people as "our plan" later in the episode, after being a snot about it earlier on. And the solution was obvious, and clearly a good one. We even have precedent of advanced species moving other cultures in danger of extinction, in the TOS episode with the Native Americans.

Picard being all butt-hurt about the storyteller dying. Well, gee, he would have died anyway, as Crusher points out. Then Picard's lame "he wouldn't have died alone" gibberish. Dead is DEAD, Picard. And you were gung-ho over sending all of them to their deaths.

It's like some shapeshifter took over his body or something.

Even the minor decisions were awful. The tribe only has a few precious historical scrolls left, so Worf takes one as a souvenir?! Or for some light bedtime reading? WTF, seriously!

How about an amendment to the Prime Directive, in such cases. They have the tech to move these tribes if their homeworld is threatened before they achieve star travel. So put in a few sentences about helping move them if that's the case. And a bit of knock-out gas or induced comas or suspended animation (we know they have that tech) would have solved a lot of issues with how to move them unawares.
Christopher Bennett
69. ChristopherLBennett
@68: Except that's more of the same condescending mentality that the Prime Directive was originally meant to caution against -- the arrogant, imperialist notion that just because we're technologically superior or more scientifically knowledgeable than another culture, that gives us the right to treat them like children and force our will upon them. If it's their future at stake, it should be their decision what to do about it. If there's a way to avert the threat without them knowing about it, then okay, maybe that's cool, as long as you don't get too protective and leave them weak and complacent. But a decision like relocating them is one that they have a right to be consulted about and to participate in.
70. Ernie Muppari


You've articulated my thoughts on so many poor 'Trek episodes way better than I could.

The weird thing is that many of these episodes would only need a few minor tweaks (usually just lowering the stakes for the uncontacted people down to anything less than *complete* annihilation) to make them actually compelling and complex. What if the dilemma here was whether Nikolai's *unilateral* decision to play out a religious epic in order to "protect" the Boraalans from cultural contamination was okay or not? Just ditch the part where our heroes are upset that a few innocent people *didn't* die, and you're left with something that could be an interesting companion piece to "Who Watches the Watchers".
71. JohnC
@50 - interesting points, except that your reverence for Kirk as someone who would save a life regardless of the consequences does not jibe with his actions in what is generally regarded as the greatest episode of the original series. It sounds like you've had some great debates about Kirk vs. Picard - the great thing about the Star Trek universe is that none of our heroes is infallible, and they all make mistakes - sometimes with horrifying consequences. I'm too lazy to go back and look at who wrote the episode and what others they may have written - but clearly they hit the wrong note as to Picard's character in this one. The Captain we know would not have handled things this way. Two lines jumped out at me - first, Worf disowning his brother because he doesn't follow orders - when so many episodes have turned on people doing the right thing, rather than the legal thing, to good ends. Second, when Vorin wanders into the Enterprise and encounters the gang, Troi soothes him "no one is going to hurt you." Oh - by the way, we tried to let you die, but our plans were foiled.
72. Anthony Pirtle
I completely disagree that the script "desperately wants to paint" Worf's brother as "the bad guy." I also disagree that killing someone and not saving them just because you can is the same thing. Starfleet can't save every primitive culture out there in the vast Milky Way galaxy from natural disasters, from each other, and from themselves. So who do they choose to save, and who do they choose to let die, and what gives them the right to make that choice, and how will they decide, and what effect will it have on the people they're trying to help? The Prime Directive isn't just about protecting primitive cultures from negative outside influences. It's about non-interference. It's kind of like when a nature photographer doesn't step in to stop a baby elephant dying of thirst during a drought, but simply records it.
73. The Real Scott M
People have convered everything else, but here's what I was thinking throughout the episode:

It would take hours to reboot the holodeck, which is a problem because apparently in the 24th century they don't possess the technology to sedate a group of people in a confined space.
74. Random22
WWJTKD? Well I have a direct quote from "For The World Is Hollow And I have Touched The Sky" in which Kirk has to deal with a primitive civilization facing destruction, and when Spock brings up the Prime Directive says:
"The people of Yonada may be changed by the knowledge, but it's better than exterminating them."

Game, Set, and Kirk.
75. Dirty
Excellent episode. Acting was nuanced and excellent and the story was extremely entertaining.

This episode accomplished exactly what it was supposed too--show us the harshness that the prime directive can lead too. I'm not sure what all the whining is about here.

One interesting thing is that Star Trek Into Darkness really shows the differences between Kirk and Picard. Picard values the Prime Directive enoughto let a whole civilization die while Kirk absolutely refuses to do so and loses his command as a result.

Always one of my favorite episodes.
Christopher Bennett
76. ChristopherLBennett
@75: It's not "whining," it's pointing out that the episode misunderstands the original intention of the Prime Directive. It's not about assuming we (the Federation) have the right to unilaterally dictate the fate of another civilization. It's supposed to be the exact opposite of that: a reminder that we do not have the wisdom to decide other civilizations' fate for them, that they are the ones with the right to make their own choices. It's supposed to be a counter to White Man's Burden-style paternalism, meant to keep us humble and remind us that we're fallible and that other civilizations are perfectly intelligent and capable enough to shape their own fate. "Homeward"'s attitude is immensely paternalistic: We're the superior race and they're a bunch of fragile children too stupid to handle modern knowledge, so that gives us the right to decide unilaterally to let them die. It's a deeply ugly corruption of the PD, totally missing the point, and if that's how Starfleet sees the PD's meaning in the 24th century, then Starfleet has lost its way.
77. Tulpa
This is actually one of my favorite episodes due to the interplay between Worf and his brother AND the moral debates. One of the most irritating things about TNG was that the main characters were, in most episodes, always right about morality and quite loudly sure of it. It was nice to have a break from that for one episode, where Worf and Picard have to think twice about whether their unswerving commitment to duty and honor and following rules is really a good thing.

Specific problems I have with Krad's review:

1. Failing to save a life is absolutely not the same as killing. There's a gigantic moral chasm between the two.

2. The plot was not at all trying to make us hate Worf's brother for what he did. He's given plenty of lines to justify himself and is portrayed in an extremely sympathetic light. Worf is critical of him of course but Worf is always used as the brutally honest voice of duty and strictly following rules. The Boraalans give voice to the viewpoint that he is a great leader, and in the end Worf acknowledges that what he did ultimately was a good thing. Even Picard acknowledges that "the plan worked well".

There is nothing in the episode, other than Picard's monologue and Worf's accusations at the beginning, that tries to get the audience to believe that the Boraalans should have been allowed to die.

3. The Prime Directive has been all over the place in Trek history. During the first season of TNG they didn't even give a moment's thoughts to transporting down to a planet to hang out with a pre-warp civilization. In the case of "Justice" they probably even left some half-human "reminders" behind. Then suddenly it became verboten to allow pre-warp civilizations to be aware of the existence of other worlds and "aliens", regardless of their level of scientific knowledge or cultural readiness to accept aliens. In the "Redemption" episodes, it's implied that the PD even bars interfering with warp-capable species' internal affairs, in this case the Klingon Civil War.

Of course, they didn't really stick to these changes either when the plot required an exception to be made. So I'm not going to get bent out of shape about a contradiction of previous PD statements.

4. As Data mentioned in his powwow with Crusher, they were altering the potential development of an entire sector with their choice of worlds, not just the Boraalans. What if there was a sentient species on another planet in a nearby system to the Boraalans' new planet, and 300 years later the Boraalans develop warp capabilities and conquered them? If the Prime Directive is an absolute bar on interference with species' development that does present a problem.
Christopher Bennett
78. ChristopherLBennett
@77: Our objections to the way "Pen Pals" and "Homeward" (particularly "Homeward" aren't about anything as superficial as a continuity error. As I've explained in depth, they're about the profound moral corruption of the TNG approach, taking a directive that was invented as a caution against paternalism and turning it into the most paternalistic policy imaginable. If the Federation starts out with a policy saying "Don't assume you're entitled to make decisions on behalf of less advanced species, because they're more qualified to judge their own fate than you are" and then turns it into "Always make decisions on behalf of less advanced species, because they're too primitive and stupid to judge their own fate," then something has gone horribly, dangerously wrong.
79. whatever
I think what causes this episode to be so outrageously infuriating, is how undecided it seems to be about its stance towards this, um, "moral conflict".
This Picard, and generally this crew, certainly aren't the same people from most other episodes, especially those involving the PD - however, to write this off as a simple case of "depending on the writer", is easier said that done, because other instances of character inconsistency such as between that episode where Wesley finally leaves the show and Insurrection, can easily be interpreted as character development.
What happened between "Pen Pals" and this? Have the writers just forgotten about the nuanced discussion there, that should be informing the attitdes and decisions made here... or have they, in Pen Pals, ultimately come to the conclusion that unless someone actually calls them for help, they're not gonna intervene? In the latter cass, this would be them sort of desentisized and just stoically accepting their duty with a "we won't go over this AGAIN" attitude... until maybe, partially at the end of this episode and partially in the aftermath, realizing they'd been wrong and, same as above, deciding to redeem themselves in Insurrection?
That episode where Picard, completely self-aware, was foaminga at Matt Frewer for refusing to help him save a planet, should that experience of having been on the other side have informed his attitude in Homeward, or was he supposed to be kind of a hypocrite, or did he decide that either cause Frewer was a fake or because this wasn't travel, that that case was irrelevant in relation to this one? It feels more like a couple of hack writers having forgotten half of the show, but it's just not quite that certain.

Picard, was he supposed to be right while Nikolai Worfovich was in the wrong? It might seem that way since the guy is on his defensive all the time, has to beg the crew to support him since he doesn't have any power there, is chastised all the time, and at the end is sort of "forgiven" after everything turned out fine without appearing to hold a judgmental grudge on any of those pricks... but then again, he's given upright and reasonable dialogue and even gets to call Picard's opinion "empty dogma". So then was this episode maybe supposed to be one where the heroes were in the wrong for a change, just like in First Contact they weren't the protagonists? But if they were supposed to be in the wrong, was this wrongness supposed to be a consistent representation of the usual PD, or a display of hypocrisy/inconsistency?
Or was it maybe supposed to siply show an argument between two sides neither of which was completely right or wrong?

It's this kind of indecisive hovering between which side the episode is supporting, if any, and how aware it is of its main characters lack of consistency, whether it's just a "big lipped alligator moment" for the crew while their minds were kinda switched off after a stressful crisis, or if it was a routine for them, or a milestone in their evolving view on the PD (maybe their "lowest point") that makes it such a fucking chore.

However, all those doubts and possibilities aside, I think the view that the writers simply dropped the ball, and clumsily wrote fake, derailed versions of the beloved characters while stupidly thinking they were doing it correctly, and is generally just so fucking stupid it doesn't even know where it stands on the issue, is definitely the more likely one.

It's just so... clumsy, so... obnoxious, so milquetoast, you just wanna punch *it* in the stupid face!

I think SFDebris line from Farpoint deescibes this spot-on: sometimes you wanna cheer for the characters, and sometimes slap them across the case. This is just typical TNG inconsistency - ignore this turd, nothing to see here, or get angry about. Stuff just happens sometimes, in a TV show like this!

PS: Just my banal, widely shared view on the PD - I think it's there to prevent three things: clumsily intruding into something like an intercultural conflict and fucking everything up due to limited understanding of the situation, creaing long-term damage by depriving the culture of the chance to solve the problem themselves, and avoiding changing the course of that culture's history into a potentially negative direction - i.e. having the next Hitler emerge somewhere is not as bad as YOU being RESPONIBLE for that!
Any motivation beyond that is complete hogwash - a religious belief in fate or cosmic plans, or liberal horseshite about "no we're the privileged West, we must not be imperialist and feel suprerior; those who disagree are scum!", or all kinds of other delusions.
Even with those three, the idea that they make up this "totally primal prime directive" without any kind of qualifiers, exceptions or "amandments", is already worryingly dogmatic.

What about cases where the political situation is much more clear cut (oppressors clearly distinguished from the victims, and you know enough about their culture to know that they aren't sadomasochists and happy with stuff like that)? When does the importance of a culture having to "have it done itself" give way to a quick solution os serious problems in the present? And in what way do the chances of something bad happening actually INCREASE through inverention? When does the impulse of trying not to get your hands dirty in 40 years stup trumping the evil of neglected help?

The Pime Directive ought to be lengthy document with a whole bunch of annotations and clauses, not this boneheaded, set-in-stone principle. Our only mistake was in assuming that surely, all those clauses such as "if a whole planet dies, D does not apply" MUST be there, they're just not brought up in these particular episodes - until the horrible realization followed, that no, there are no clauses, it literally is as primitive, simplistic, boneheaded and dogmatic as our worst fears were afraid of.
Oh well... the writers dropped the ball on this one! And that's really all there is to it :)
Christopher Bennett
80. ChristopherLBennett
@79: "Just my banal, widely shared view on the PD - I think it's there to prevent three things: clumsily intruding into something like an intercultural conflict and fucking everything up due to limited understanding of the situation, creaing long-term damage by depriving the culture of the chance to solve the problem themselves, and avoiding changing the course of that culture's history into a potentially negative direction - i.e. having the next Hitler emerge somewhere is not as bad as YOU being RESPONIBLE for that!
Any motivation beyond that is complete hogwash - a religious belief in fate or cosmic plans, or liberal horseshite about "no we're the privileged West, we must not be imperialist and feel suprerior; those who disagree are scum!", or all kinds of other delusions."
I was with you up until that last sentence. You're right about the rest, but the whole reason for not assuming superiority is so that we don't think we're entitled to do those things. As you say, it's about having the humility to recognize that others are more entitled to make their own decisions than we are to make decisions for them.

It's much easier to have a meaningful conversation if people just talk about the ideas qua ideas rather than trying to force them into some sort of imaginary political duality. It's that conceit that everything has to be lumped into "left" or "right" that makes us not want to listen to each other or give each other's ideas a fair shake. It just gets in the way of constructive dialogue. Labels obscure truth rather than defining it.

As for the hypothetical you pose subsequently, the most important thing is that you let the culture have a say in the decision. If they ask for help, if they want the kind of help you're offering, and if you give them a say in how it's administered so you don't make mistakes of comprehension based on your own preconceptions, then sure, it can be very valuable. The problem is when you assume you're entitled to make the decision without consulting them, regardless of whether that decision is to enforce intervention or to enforce isolation.

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