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Star Trek The Next Generation: The Masterpiece Society

Hannah Bates: “Would you ever choose to live aboard a ship in a bottle, Captain?”

Does interfering in the lives/societies of others ever do any good?

That seems to be the central question of this episode as it is in many STTNG episodes. I do really enjoy the ethical dilemmas that are often central in Star Trek stories. The idea of genetic manipulation to improve the human race has been a theme of the 20th century and continues to be one to the present, where we are discovering new and more powerful ways to manipulate our genetic code every day. What I found annoying about this episode was that the morality of such manipulation was not really addressed. Picard and others said a few words about how it might take the fun out of life but did not really address the most important question which is, should we be messing with such things in the first place? Eugenics has a dark and nasty history. Communities of those who live with disabilities try to encourage us to value their existence at the same time as people argue that we should wipe out any form of physical or mental challenge. This was somewhat addressed by the focus on LaForge and his visor but I missed a sense of outrage at the insult that such a society meant to someone like LaForge.

The moral questioning at the end also annoyed me. Yes, they may have irreparably damaged the masterpiece society but the other alternative was death to everyone. Was that really a plausible alternative? I have trouble accepting the guilt that Picard and Conor expressed. We have had people attempt to create engineered societies on Earth. If a forest fire was going to ravage their homes would it be best to sit back and let them burn so that they could die happy with what they had created? From Martin's reaction it would appear that the founders would have preferred that result. The founders had decided the future of the generations that followed them. Their children would have no choice about whether they lived in that bubble or not. This society seemed very much like a cult. Those who sought asylum should have been granted it immediately. If someone wants to leave a cult you don't ask them to wait six months and think about it, you don't hum and haw about the viability of the cult if you remove them. You get them out as fast as you can.

While I'm complaining, I want to add the relationship between Troi and Conor. Troi's fascination with the colony did speak to the draw of a planned society. Life can be easier if everything is planned for you, taking away choice and struggle. The romance between Conor and Troi didn't work for me. I know this is television but you don't love someone in five days (while mostly you don't), that is lust, people. I did enjoy Troi's admission of guilt to the captain. He listened seriously but was obviously thinking that's not so bad. After serving with Riker for as long as he has, an inappropriate kiss does seem rather mild. At least her guilt seemed appropriate for the situation and her character.

Bits and Pieces

It was cool to hear how LaForge's visor works.

A stellar core fragment from a neutron star has a lot of mass. Hope we don't see one of those any time soon.

It was interesting that breeding someone to be perfect for one job might leave them with flaws. Martin was blunt and Hannah was willing to make everyone leave the society so that she could leave.

I liked that they included the environment in their bioengineering. On Earth we are all intertwined with our environments as much as the masterpiece society but don't often acknowledge it.


Picard: “They’ve managed to turn dubious scientific endeavor into dogma.”

Picard: “I wouldn’t want to live my life with my future written, my boundaries already set.”

LaForge: “Who gave them the right to decide whether or not I should be here? Whether or not I have something to contribute?”

LaForge: “Oh, that’s perfect, if the answer to all this exists in a visor created for a blind man who in your society would never have existed.”

Picard: “Genetic manipulation or not, nobody’s perfect.”

The acting and writing were fine, but it failed in politics and morality. Two out of five genetically engineered cults.


  1. I feel the need to play the devil's advocate here a bit. Aren't all societies cults to a degree? There are all kinds of ways in which we're indoctrinated to accept social rules. Also, cults in the conventional sense are created by predatory recruiting from a larger society. None of these people have been forced to cut themselves off from their families and friends, nor are they threatened with physical or psychological harm if they fail to conform. We don't know how the society will react to a problem it's never faced before, but from what we do know, I don't see anything that would allow these people to make a successful refugee claim. In Canada for example, asylum is granted to people who either are not able to return to their countries because of a well-founded fear of persecution, and in need of protection from torture, endangerment to their lives, or cruel and unusual punishment. I can't see that applying here.

    And while the history of eugenics is certainly troubling, I don't know if our disapproval of a society allows us to take an action that threatens the survival of hundreds of people. I don't think it's a decision that should be taken lightly. It's not nearly as clear-cut as a case like in The Outcast where the individual's leaving the society posed no threat to its survival, and the individual was clearly facing persecution.

  2. Definitely not utopia.

    My problem with this episode…The writers neglect to explore the lives of people with lesser careers. How about those people genetically engineered to be custodians, trash collectors’, dish washers, etc.

    Let’s explore two brothers, one is genetically engineered to be a doctor the other a sewer worker. The sewer worker is never given the opportunity to excel in school, go to college, and become a doctor like his brother.

  3. This is such a deep and far-reaching subject that not even the often sublime TNG can't always cover it well. This is a decent episode, but I don't find it great, and mostly for the reasons you state, drnanamom.

    Eugenics does have a very dark history, plagued with racism and other issues. Having an entire society like this feels wrong to me, and I feel Anonymous hits part of my issue on the head with the idea that if people are bred for specific jobs, that could be horrifying if they put hard limits on things. If your job doesn't need you to be intelligent for one example, does that mean you will bred to have a cap on your intellect? This is scary stuff.


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