In which Picard faces an ethical dilemma and Riker is electrocuted by a desperate junkie.
I think I will have to concur with some of the previous reviewers in saying that like many other episodes in this first season, in this episode there were a lot of interesting bits but the plot resembled Swiss cheese.
One of the things I admire about Star Trek is the writers' use of hypothetical other worldly problems to explore present day problems and issues. This episode was about drug addiction (or if you are feeling brave - capitalism) and how some people live lives of luxury and indolence while others work hard to provide the necessities of life for them. In this case a whole planet's population (Brekka) profited from the addiction of another planet's population (Ornara). The Ornarans created everything that was needed to live while the Brekkians only had one industry - felicium, the narcotic which the Ornarans believed was a treatment for the plague.
While this was an interesting idea which clearly showed the Brekkians as lying, amoral drug pushers (down to the eighties outfits) I did have some issues with this plot. First, it only showed the Ornarans as exploited dupes who appeared to be too stoned to fix their own technology. You would think that an Ornaran doctor would have figured the whole thing out years ago. It is unlikely that the symptoms of the plague would match withdrawal symptoms. I know that one of the messages was that the drug addiction had kept the Onarans from advancing technologically but if they were that messed up, how did they manage to meet all the needs of the Brekkians? The two crew members from the freighter were another loose end. It was never explained why their loss was just ignored. And then there was the whole electrical charge super power which could have been used more fully instead of just providing a comical picture of Riker. It sometimes seems that the writers were in a room and just throwing around ideas but didn't take the time to fully think them through or connect the dots.
What I did like about this episode was the opportunity for some character development. The 'Prime Directive' is almost a character in itself in the Star Trek 'verse and this was one of the better, as in more complex and difficult, examples of the ethical dilemmas it can create. I enjoyed watching Picard and Crusher hash out their relative positions and each person's stand made sense. Crusher as the doctor was sworn to relieve pain and suffering but Picard in his own way was trying to 'do no harm'. While I bristle a bit at the term "less-developed", the 'Prime Directive' is a commentary on colonial thinking and it might be useful for some present day powers to take it on as their own. Picard obviously struggled with the suffering in front of him but stood fast to his beliefs. He also felt it was important to explain his actions to Crusher, whose opinion he values. She also felt that she had a right and a duty to disagree with him.
My other favourite part of this episode was the discussion between Wesley and Yar. Wesley as the naive teenager can ask questions that others can't, and Yar did a nice job of explaining why people might become addicted to substances. I liked that she answered his questions honestly and with compassion.
Bits and Pieces
If your medicine only worked for 72 hours, don't you think you might stockpile some?
Langor had one of the smarmiest smiles I've ever seen.
What do the rest of the Brekkians do? They can't all just be working on felicium.
The other nice moments in this episode were the exchange between Riker and Yar and the ending where the Captain gives La Forge the helm and they get back to what they are supposed to be doing - exploring new worlds.
T’John: “It’s all you know... dead.”
Yar: “Behave yourselves, gentleman.”
Picard: “We’re losing our professional detachment, Doctor?”
Crusher: “T’John and Romas are feeling fine, in fact too fine. Felicium is a narcotic.”
Picard: “Then T’John and Romas and everyone on their world...”
Crusher: “Is a drug addict.”
Wesley: “I guess I just don’t understand.”
Yar: “Wesley, I hope you never do.”
Picard: “I will not be coerced.”
Crusher: “Jean-Luc, this is not a symbiotic relationship. This is exploitation, pure and simple.”