Star Trek The Next Generation: Up the Long Ladder

"Send in the clones."

This episode is a perfect example of good intentions and interesting ideas deep-sixed by absolutely terrible writing. What's sad is that it was written by Melinda Snodgrass, who just gave us one of the best episodes of the entire series.

Essentially, it was about two colonial factions of the same lost 22nd century ship: the Bringloidi, stereotypical lusty alcoholic Irish peasants with chickens and goats and Lucky Charms accents, and the Mariposans, a high tech society consisting of the snotty, celebate clones of only five people. These two completely different groups were separated a couple of hundred years ago and formed their own colonies, and when both colonies were in danger, the Enterprise brought them together to solve each other's problems. I think.

Snodgrass is quoted as saying that she was trying to say something positive about immigration and prejudice against immigrants and I get that, but it just went in the wrong direction. I dare say there are Irish people who aren't obsessed with sex and alcohol. The footwashing thing was so strange, too. If I were stationing a couple of hundred people in a cargo hold along with their chickens, goats and pigs, literally the first thing I would show them is the nearest bathroom.

Brenna Odell was an absolutely painful female stereotype, too. Shouting at her father with her hands on her hips, obviously husband-hungry, picking up Riker's quarters before having sex with him, it was just too much. And Riker did his best impression of a womanizing Captain Kirk. It was like Riker as a character backslid an entire season.

For me, the most interesting part of the story that I wished they had spent some time exploring was how to solve the replicative failure problem with the Mariposan clones. While he was in his sex- and genetics-obsessed years, Robert A. Heinlein could have written a whole book about something like that. Instead, they came up with a simple answer: "You need breeding stock." So obvious, but it was like the Bringloidi didn't exist while the Enterprise crew were dealing with the Mariposans. You'd think someone would have said, "Oh, yes, we actually found the other half of your original expedition and they're camped out in Cargo Bay Seven. They need a planet to live on, you need humans who can breed, what do you think?"

Instead, the Mariposans, driven by a need to survive, stole epith-whatever cells from Riker and Pulaski and started to make full-grown clones. I bet they deliberately decided not to make the clones babies, since Riker vaporizing them with his phaser felt like a deliberate pro-choice statement to me. Riker was all "you're not messing with my genetic material" and yet, he had a one-night stand with Brenna Odell. Is there male contraception on the Enterprise? The 24th century version of condoms? Could Brenna have just gotten a head start on her three husbands?

The Bringloidi were a primitive society by choice, descended from Utopians, which I suppose made them a bit more sophisticated than a primitive society that was just, well, primitive. But this multiple marriage with high tech society clones just didn't seem like something they would jump right into. Why would they?

The script could have explored any aspect of all of this confusion in depth, but instead we got a B plot. Worf collapsed after contracting the Klingon version of the measles, and Pulaski lied to Picard about it in order to make Worf appear more manly. Worf, who showed no signs later in the episode that he was ill in any way, bonded with Pulaski by sharing the Klingon poisonous tea ceremony with her. (Yes, let's completely ridicule the Irish and rip off the Japanese in the same episode, why don't we?) I wish I liked Pulaski, because her choice to take an antidote and drink the tea was a nice character moment for her.

Bits and pieces:

-- Stardate 42823.2. The Ficus sector, Bringloid V, and Mariposa. Mariposa means 'butterfly,' some obvious symbolism for the clones as short-lived.

-- The lyric "Up the Long Ladder" ends with "and down the short rope." The internet confused me about this one but it seems to be from a song about Irish rebellion and getting hanged. Which applies how?

-- The European Hegemony was a chaotic post World War III government that lasted from 2123-2190.

-- The use of twins and triplets on Mariposa reminded me of the original series episode "I, Mudd." The displaced people in the wrong time period reminded me of last season's finale, "The Neutral Zone."

-- It's interesting that Riker is so obviously upset about the existence of a clone of himself, since there is a return to this plot idea later in the series.

-- Did we know before that Geordi's visor can function as a lie detector?


Worf: "I am fine."
Pulaski: "You're not fine. You fainted."
Worf: "I did not faint. Klingons do not faint."

Worf: "It is a test of bravery, of one's ability to look at the face of mortality. It is also a reminder that death is an experience best shared, like the tea."
Pulaski: "Worf, you're a romantic."
Worf: "It is among the Klingons that love poetry achieves its fullest flower."

Picard: "Sometimes, Number One, you just have to bow to the absurd."

One out of four drops of the creature, or possibly poisoned Klingon tea,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


Juliette said...

Pretty sure my entire Irish family - both deeply divided slides of it, British and Irish, Protestant and Catholic - would all agree we should just pretend this episode doesn't exist!

drnanamom said...

Great review and spot on. When Star Trek goes wrong it does it all the way. Interesting that Firefly did something reminescent of the whole Irish thing but it didn't offend me in the same way.

magritte said...

@Billie, if you're interested in the replicative failure problem in cloning, you might like Kate Wilhelm's "Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang". As to this episode, your review is on point. I hate it when they create drama by having the Enterprise crew flatly refuse to help people in a desperate situation when an obvious solution is at hand, forcing them to take drastic action.

And while cloning crew of the Enterprise is not a long-term solution as Pulaski rightly points out, I thought Riker's reaction seemed over the top. This "I won't be a unique individual idea" is just wrongheaded; we are more than our DNA. Maybe this is more obvious to me than most people because I have identical twin sisters, but I find it quite grating.