Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 21: Symbiosis

Didn’t know there were Jedi in this episode, did ya?

Plot Synopsis:  After the Enterprise rescues a freighter crew and the ship’s important cargo, Captain Picard faces a difficult dilemma: uphold the Prime Directive, or save an entire civilization from exploitation?

Plot A and B Analysis:  The teaser here does provide a nice hook for the episode. The crew is on a science-based mission to study a star that is going through magnetic field changes which cause it to be pretty unstable. As they get closer they hear a distress call from a freighter that is in danger of falling into the atmosphere of a nearby planet. Nobody on the freighter seems to know what they’re doing though, and then they beam over their cargo before their own crew! We soon find out that the cargo is medicine to treat a planet-wide plague…the problem is the payment for the medicine went down with the freighter, so the Brekkians don’t want to give it to them. Plot A revolves around the medicinal dilemma, there is no plot B. The civilizations of the two planets (Ornara and Brekka) have a symbiotic relationship, where one world’s entire industry is to manufacture a product that the other world needs and pays for. However there is a twist here, and it’s upon this twist that the dramatic tension of the episode hinges. The episode deals with ethical and philosophical issues but it never feels boring, and resolves in a way that can provoke discussion among those who watch it.

Favorite Scenes:  The scene where the Enterprise attempts to help the freighter and discovers the utter incompetence of the crew is pretty funny. The dialogue is good and Picard’s reactions just get funnier as the scene progresses. My other favorite scene takes place in a turbolift in the denouement where Picard talks about the Prime Directive with Dr. Crusher. It’s maybe the best short description of the importance of it, as it’s one of the founding principles of Star Trek. The mini-discussion also gives the audience a chance to vicariously vent their frustration (ok, most of Gates’ performance gives you the chance to do that) and be involved in the rationale behind Picard’s decision. I agree with it one hundred percent:

Picard:  Beverly, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less-developed civilization, no matter how well-intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.

You know that's gonna sting

You know that’s gonna sting

Use of Cast/Characters:  The character and wisdom of Captain Picard is on display in this episode. He has to walk a tightrope here in navigating what the Ornarans and Brekkians want, what the Prime Directive demands, and even with someone who holds Riker’s life hostage and he does it all very well. He holds the line and comes up with an elegant solution, and his ability to do all of these things are some of the reasons I admire him. Tasha is used fairly well here, she is professional and decisive, taking control of the fight that breaks out in the cargo hold. Doctor Crusher plays a fairly significant role in this episode:  she is there primarily to represent the audience’s outrage once we discover what the “medicine” really is, and she does a good job of it. Riker, Data, Troi, Geordi and Wes all have about the same screen time and usefulness, which is marginal. Worf has the least of all, poor guy. Merritt Butrick and Richard Lineback, who play the Ornarans, are just terrific. They play every scene just about perfectly, you really feel for them. Judson Scott and Kimberly Farr, the Brekkians, do a good job as well, but I think if they were a little colder in their performances it would have paid off more at the end.

Blu Ray Version:  The star here looks cool, better than it’s ever looked. If you own season 2 on Bluray there is an episode of reading Rainbow that takes place during the filming of this episode and includes some nice behind-the-scenes stuff.

Nitpicks:  Okay, 30 seconds into the episode and we get a sustained close-up shot of the black cards on the back of the bridge…wow. Also, does the captain really need to give an order to maintain a yellow alert?? Later on Riker recovers pretty fast for someone who was almost killed, I thought.

Overall Impression:  I think this is one of those episodes that you have to be an adult to appreciate. I don’t know if it has the pull to work successfully with most teens, but there is some definite maturity in this episode. In fact this may be the most mature this season gets in terms of thematic issues. I think it’d be fun as a writer to plot something like this out, you can write stuff like this in science fiction that I don’t know would be possible in any other genre. I enjoy it more now than I did when I was kid, whereas most season one stuff I either enjoy less (e.g. Datalore) or end up pardoning because of childhood nostalgia (e.g. Skin of Evil). Drug addiction is one of the themes here, and sometimes it can be a little heavy handed–such as the scene between Tasha and Wes–but the mentality of the Brekkians, who are essentially drug dealers, is not off the mark. A nice touch is that, if you think about it, at the end both races are left with the same result as if the Enterprise hadn’t been there to rescue the freighter in the first place. The implicit message here is the Prime Directive works, things will work themselves out between these two planets just as well as if we’d gone in and self-righteously butted in. I rate this episode 3 out of 5 stars.

If you poor suckers only knew...

If you poor suckers only knew…

Behind the Scenes/Trivia:  This is why I ordered these episodes according to the air date, not the production date. This episode is the 21st episode aired but the 22nd episode made. This episode was actually made after the one in which Tasha Yar dies! Watch carefully in the 42nd minute when Picard and Crusher are leaving the cargo hold. Watch the background and you’ll see Denise Crosby leaning over to wave goodbye. She leaves the show next episode, but because they shot that one first this is actually the last one she acted in. She is waving goodbye to us. If Merritt and Judson look familiar, they also appeared in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan. This is also one of only five episodes that doesn’t give us a stardate.

There is also a special treat for this review. Levar Burton hosted Reading Rainbow during the entire time he did TNG, and in one episode he hosted the show from the perspective of him shooting TNG, and they were shooting this very episode. Here is the entire episode, which should start at 8:48 when the TNG part begins. It also has references to When the Bough Breaks, 11001001, how they achieve the transporter effect and it even has a few bloopers. You’re welcome! Nothing more to see here folks, just doing my job…

Missable/Unmissable?  This really is one of the better episodes in season one. I’d recommend seeing it, but it’s not required viewing. We have now reached the end of the first season’s “sweet spot.”

Previous:  The Arsenal of Freedom                            Season One Menu                                   Next:  Skin of Evil

4 thoughts on “Review of Episode 21: Symbiosis

  1. Hello, I log on to your blog on a regular basis. Your writing style is awesome, keep
    doing what you’re doing!

  2. The behind the scenes was a treat. Thanks for sharing. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to seeing Lavar Burton with eyes, though.

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