Star Trek The Next Generation: Homeward

Worf's brother Nikolai is working as an anthropologist on a doomed planet, and asks for help to save some of the doomed population.

"I find no honor in this whatsoever, Captain."

So this episode is all about the Prime Directive. How you feel about it therefore depends to a large extent on how you feel about the Prime Directive.

I hate the Prime Directive. It's a ridiculous idea designed purely to drive storytelling and create conflict.

This isn't how international diplomatic relations work in the real world. You meet a new culture, you share ideas. You share your achievements with them, they share theirs with you. Of course, historically the whole process has usually been more violent than that, but the only reason to keep technology back from someone is so you can conquer them with your superior weapons. At which  point, inevitably, your enemies at home give them said weapons anyway.

It's also incredibly arrogant. What on earth is the "natural evolution of a species" supposed to be, anyway? Apart from a very small number of extremely isolated tribes in mountain and jungle regions, the history of humanity is cultures meeting and blending (usually violently at first, but sometimes through migration and trade) and sharing each other's art, language, culture and yes, technology. That's how it is that the English language is in the same family as Hindi – because people spread out from an origin point in between the two.

So for a Prime Directive hater like me, this episode is not great. Picard and his whole crew happily sit and watch people die, when they could have saved at least a few (not, to be fair, the whole planet) because in their arrogance, they think it's better for these people to die. This episode is a perfect example of why the Prime Directive is nonsense.

Of course, there is another way to view things. The Prime Directive does make sense from a military point of view – why provide potential future enemies with technology they don't have? And there are, of course, a few episodes in the franchise where someone shares technology and it goes horribly wrong, to justify it, and it's true that introducing a new element into a culture can indeed go horribly wrong. And Nikolai has completely compromised his integrity as an anthropologist by knocking up one of his subjects, which is affecting his judgment. So for some, this episode is a welcome contemplation of some of those issues.

And there are some things for everyone to enjoy. It's really nice to see an episode about Worf's human family, who are sometimes underserved compared to the Klingon side, and Nikolai's relationship with Penny Johnson Jerald's Dobara, while clearly extremely unethical, does give him a very personal stake in the situation. All in all, it's not a terrible episode – it's just odd and very annoying if you think the Prime Directive doesn't make much sense and is colonialist rubbish.

Bits and pieces

 - This episode includes the first appearance of Penny Johnson Jerald in the Star Trek franchise – she later became a recurring character on Deep Space Nine, as Sisko's love interest Kassidy Yates, and she's now a regular on Star Trek spiritual successor The Orville.

 - Whatever the episode's problems, I liked Paul Sorvino's performance as Nikolai. He was very likeable, but you could understand how he and Worf clashed as children.

Quotes

Picard: Your career is finished.
Nikolai: I know. I would do it all again. This really sums up the ridiculousness of the situation – even without knowing the group includes Nikolai's partner and unborn child, the suggestion that he should care more about his career than people's lives is really chilling.

Nikolai: I wasn't going to let those people die just because your captain started quoting Federation dogma.

Final analysis: If you think the Prime Directive is a good idea, it's probably two tragically doomed planets out of four. If you think it's a load of rubbish, minus five scenes in which our heroes cold-bloodedly watch people they could have helped die because they consider themselves superior out of four.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

2 comments:

percysowner said...

I hate the Prime Directive in TNG, not so much in TOS. In TOS it was more a sense of "yeah, we're glad you have found God and come to (insert religion here),but no, you don't go and convert the heathens. You also don't tell them what type of political system is best AND don't give them weapons that they can't develop with their current technology. I don't remember Kirk et al. being willing to abandon entire civilizations to die, just to keep to the Prime Directive. Heck Kirk ignored the Prime Directive several times and Star Fleet said Tsk, Tsk and that was that.

On TNG, the Prime Directive became a much more cruel rule, allowing, in fact requiring, that "lesser"civilizations die to preserve the "purity" of the PD. Yeah, I hate this episode's "moral". Pen Pals is another PD episode that I hate, although in that one they manage to skirt the issue.

In Babylon 5, the episode 'Acts of Sacrifice' really pokes the Prime Directive in the eye, creating the Luminati, a race that is outspoken about how "lesser" races can basically go and die because they are not as "good" as the Luminati.

Billie Doux said...

Juliette, I so agree.

This infuriating episode would have worked so much better if they were dealing with an *exception* to the Prime Directive -- as in, when a freaking planet is being destroyed, you try to save as many people as you can! The whole thing with housing them on the holodeck, trying to find a planet for them, dealing with Vorin, the guy who wandered into the corridor, was interesting and could have been the focus of the story.