Plot Synopsis: The Enterprise must undo the damage when a primitive civilization discovers a Federation observation team and concludes that the Starfleet personnel are gods.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here works perfectly well. The Enterprise is traveling to Mintaka III to resupply the outpost and repair the reactor of a three-man anthropology team studying the primitive humanoids there from the safety of a holographic shield blending into the environment. En route there’s an explosion, and communication is cut off. Plot A is about the Mintakans and the Enterprise crew, there is no plot B. Things go haywire pretty quickly, the “duck blind” is exposed, a researcher falls out, and one of those bloody savages touches the thing, shocks himself, then falls. Doctor Crusher races down, beams him up to the Enterprise, patches him up and tries to erase his memory like the alien in a previous episode, but it doesn’t work. Thus we have a plot! Riker and Troi return to the planet to retrieve the missing anthropologist and set in motion a series of events that eventually pull Picard himself into a confrontation with the primitive people that he has to sort out–possibly at the cost of his life. The plot here is very well paced; it keeps your interest from the teaser to the credits, and is a joy to watch. This is one of those episodes that just feels realistic to me, like I can actually see something like this happening. The ending is a bit overly-dramatic perhaps, but otherwise this is a strong episode.
Favorite Scenes: When an anthropologist encourages him to help the Mintakans develop a religion based around him, Patrick Stewart turns a run-of-the-mill scene in the observation lounge into an excellent example of how he can arrest your attention–fine acting. The entire extended scene with Nuria on the Enterprise is probably my favorite though. It’s wonderful, with Picard trying to convince her he isn’t a god, and especially how he fails until nature intervenes.
Use of Cast/Characters: Wil Wheaton had this episode off. Picard is front and center in this episode. He does a great job of showcasing his impeccable moral character, and resolves the plot without any real help from anyone. This is a bit out of character for how TNG generally works, but it allows Patrick to give a wonderfully controlled performance that further legitimizes Picard’s captaincy. Riker and Troi have about the same to do, and they do a good job, but Riker does little as first officer here. Troi doesn’t do much as a counselor either, but she is used! Doctor Crusher loses yet another patient and she still isn’t the Crusher we know, it’s as if she is using Pulaski’s lines in this episode. Data, Geordi and Worf do virtually nothing, they each have barely a handful of lines combined. There are some good guest stars here. Kathryn Leigh Scott portrays Nuria, the leader of the Mintakans, and she is really enjoyable to watch, particularly on board the Enterprise. Ray Wise plays Liko and does about as good a job, a character who is simply out of his depth and trying to make sense of events he doesn’t understand.
Blu Ray Version: The new version of the planet here is outright gorgeous! The clarity is astounding, including the pores on the actor’s faces, the texture of the fabric people wear, even the mascara on the ‘primitive’ Mintakans–it’s all plain as day now. Pause it at 1:46, and to the left of Deanna you’ll see a script binder sitting next to her! Amazing the things we miss.
Nitpicks: Picard says it’s unsurprising how peaceful the Mintakans are right now in their Bronze Age of development, because they’re similar to Vulcans. But weren’t the Vulcan’s savages who engaged in horrible wars that wiped out whole nations back then? That’s why the Vulcans eschewed emotion to focus solely on logic, as I recall. Take a look at Liko’s bow at the end of the episode–doesn’t it look like a fiberglass compound bow? A little advanced for the primitive Mintakans.
Overall Impression: If anything, this episode is better than I remembered it. It holds up wonderfully well from the time I was 14 until now. From the teaser onward the plot seems somehow inevitable, as though there was no other way for things to unfold than the way they did, which to my mind is a sign of good writing. Everyone gives good performances and I just like the idea of dealing with a race that would view humanity in the 24th century as god-like. I think it must happen quite a bit, and this season continues to show us there is a lot more to the Star Trek universe than space combat. I also really liked the idea of subcutaneous communicators, it would have been cool if they followed up with that more. This episode is just a pleasure to me, and while I am not a fan of Star Trek equating the concept of God with that of ignorance and superstition, I don’t really have anything bad to say about it. Who Watches the Watchers may not be among the very best of Trek, but it’s mighty good. I rate this episode 4 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This is the third time Picard breaks the prime directive, although an argument could be made that it was already broken. This episode was shot out in Vasquez Rocks which is in Los Angeles county, and it had been used for several episodes of the original series as well. It was over 100 degrees and because of all the snakes and scorpions in the vicinity, things like deodorant or perfume could not be used–yikes. The Mintakan tapestry given to Picard at the end of the episode will be worn over Picard’s chair in his quarters for the remainder of the series, watch for it. Those of you who have seen the TNG movies may recall a very similar “duck blind” type approach being used in Star Trek: Insurrection as well. Pamela Segall, who played the girl Oji in this episode will go on to play the voice of Bobby Hill on King of the Hill. Ray Wise is well known to any Twin Peaks fans as he played Leland Palmer on that show, and also played Nash in the original RoboCop.
Missable/Unmissable? There have been three good episodes in a row now. It’s highly recommended and is certainly better than the next one, which snaps the streak briefly.