Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Symbiosis”

Written by Robert Lewin and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Directed by Win Phelps
Season 1, Episode 21
Production episode 40271-123
Original air date: April 18, 1988
Stardate: none given

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is studying solar flares in the Delos system, which are playing merry hell with ship’s systems. They also pick up a distress call from the Ornaran freighter Sanction. Its orbit around the fourth planet is deteriorating, and they need help. Picard orders the Enterprise to assist, which proves problematic, as the Ornarans don’t seem to know how to operate their own ship.

After a rather hilarious sequence of events that reminds me a great deal of the last phone call I had to make to tech support, they manage to rescue four of the people on the freighter, as well as their cargo. In fact, the Ornarans send their cargo over first, which confuses Picard, as he can’t imagine why they’d send cargo instead of people who are about to die. This shows a staggering lack of imagination, as I can think of a dozen reasons off the top of my head why the cargo would be more important—if, say, it was medicine or valuable parts for a life-support system or any number of other things.

The arrivals include two Ornarans and two Brekkians—two other Ornarans didn’t make it. The Ornarans—T’Jon and Romas—are less concerned with their two dead comrades than they are with the safety of their cargo. It’s called felicium, and the Brekkians—Sobi and Langor—point out that they never received the goods in exchange for the felicium and refuse to release the cargo to T’Jon and Romas.

Felicium, it turns out, is medicine, the only treatment for a plague that all Ornarans suffer. The Brekkians are healthy; the Ornarans have all the symptoms of a disease, but Crusher can’t find a cure.

Their symptoms are worsening, and Picard asks if they can at least provide two doses for T’Jon and Romas for their immediate needs, which Sobi and Langor reluctantly agree to.

As soon as the Ornarans take the medicine, they feel much better—Crusher (and the viewers) instantly recognize this as a couple of druggies taking a hit.

Felicium was a medicine once, but it’s also an addictive narcotic. It cured the plague two centuries ago, but the Ornarans are completely hooked. So, in a sense, are the Brekkians, as their world has no other industry save for the harvesting, refining, and distilling of felicium.

Sobi and Langor

Langor and Sobi decide—oh so generously—to give them the felicium and let them pay when they can. The other shoe drops—the Brekkians know damn well what’s going on, and their refining has just made the narcotic more potent. Picard won’t tell the Ornarans the truth—but he also won’t provide them with the parts they need to fix their two remaining freighters, which are in almost as bad shape as the one that blew up. Which means that eventually the felicium trade will stop due to the lack of transport. Why no, we're not at all evil!

The Ornarans and Brekkians both beam down to Ornara with the felicium, both pissed at Picard for completely different reasons.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: “The level of tension on the ship is mounting.” Yeah, they’re moving closer to a flaming ball of hydrogen that’s causing the ship to malfunction, can’t imagine why there’d be tension.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Wes at one point says the EM readings are off the scale—which is a neat trick, since the readings are digital. “Off the scale” only applies if you’re using an analog gauge, like something with a needle. It’s not possible for a digital reading to be “off the scale.” (Sorry, pet peeve.)

The boy!?: Yar gives Wes a depressingly clichéd “just say no” speech that I’m sure had Nancy Reagan dancing a jig when it aired, explaining how drug addiction works and Wes talks about how he doesn’t understand it and Yar says she hopes he never does and the entire viewership goes screaming to the restroom to throw up.

T'Jon and Romas

No, really, man, we NEED our fix!

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data tries to pull a Spock and provide a precise number of felicium doses in the cargo, but Picard cuts him off before he can finish.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Interestingly, most of the scanning work in the opening is done by Worf rather than Data.

Welcome Aboard. It’s a Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan reunion, as Merritt Butrick and Judson Scott, who played David Marcus and Joachim, respectively, in that movie, return as T’Jon and Sobi, with Richard Lineback and Kimberly Farr rounding out the quartet as Romas and Langor. Butrick and Farr are the most effective—the former anguished and desperate, the latter with a steely charm and sleaze that works nicely. Lineback is a bit too histrionic, while Scott is completely wooden.

I Believe I Said That: “It’s all, y’know, dead, I guess. It’s all—shut down?”

T’Jon, giving a damage report.

T'Jon attacks Riker

Doesn't Riker look like T'Jon is goosing him here?

Trivial Matters: Guest star Butrick would die of AIDS less than a year after this episode aired, and you can kinda tell watching the episode, as he’s lost a ton of weight in the four years since Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.

LeVar Burton used behind-the-scenes footage from this episode for an episode of his kids’ show Reading Rainbow.

And, for a wholly irrelevant bit of trivia, this episode aired on my nineteenth birthday.

Make It So: “What is the matter with these people?” The most unsubtle “message” episode of Star Trek since “Let That be Your Last Battlefield,” this episode is middling at best. The best part of the episode is actually the opening rescue sequence, which is pure padding, but also hilariously funny, as the Enterprise tries to rescue the hippy dippy freighter crew.

The episode might be more tolerable if it didn’t grind to a halt so Yar could deliver the drugs-are-bad-mkay? speech to Wes, and if the moral wasn’t later delivered with a sledgehammer by an unusually histrionic Gates McFadden.

Having said that, this is one of the better uses of the Prime Directive on Trek, getting right what, say, “A Private Little War” got wrong. Picard’s decisions, while frustrating and annoying (especially to Crusher), are very much the right ones, but the episode doesn’t softpedal how incredibly annoying and maddening those right decisions are.

Oh, and the Ornarans and Brekkians have bioelectric superpowers that add precisely nothing to the plot. Seriously, remove that, and the episode doesn’t change at all, save for Riker and Yar’s incredibly uninteresting discussion of how to defend against a weapon you can’t confiscate.


Warp factor rating: 4.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has never taken drugs. You wouldn’t believe that to look at him, I know. He’s written a ton of fiction, including dozens of Star Trek novels, comics, short stories, and novellas, plus the new novels Unicorn Precinct, SCPD: The Case of the Claw, and the upcoming Guilt in Innocence, Innocence in Guilt, part of the Scattered Earth shared-world science fiction series. Go to Keith’s web site, which is a gateway to his blog, Facebook, and Twitter.


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