Written by Robert Lewin, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Hannah Louise Shearer, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Win Phelps
Star Trek has a deep history of using the same actors in various parts. William Campbell was used twice in the original series, Armin Shimerman was used as a Ferengi in The Next Generation and then developed the character Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Robert Duncan McNeill, Ethan Phillips, and Tim Russ all most known for their parts on Star Trek: Voyager all previously appeared on the series. It also happened with Diana Muldaur twice in the original series and then in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In this episode we are treated to guest appearances by two actors who were seen in the movie Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The late Merritt Butrick – who portrayed Captain Kirk’s long lost son, Dr. David Marcus in the movie – portrays T’Jon, an Ornaran ship’s captain. This is one of his last performances before his death from AIDS in March of 1989. Judson Scott – who portrayed Khan’s right-hand man in the same movie – takes on the part of Sobi, a Brekkian merchant. It is an interesting coincidence.
It is also notable that although this episode was filmed after Skin of Evil, in which Tasha Yar is killed, it was actually aired the week prior to the airing of that episode. Hence, we have Tasha still present on the bridge.
On a mission to observe a particular strong solar storm, the Enterprise picks up a distress signal. As it attempts to rescue the people aboard the stricken ship before it breaks apart, the crew instead beam over their cargo. The Enterprise manages to secure four of the six people on board the freighter.
An argument immediately breaks out as they squabble over this precious cargo. It seems that there is some sort of plague on Ornara and that the cure for the plague can only be found in this medicine, Felicium, which can only be grown on Brekka. However, the payment for the drug broke up with the freighter and this is where the arguments come in.
This is apparently a symbiotic relationship as the entire Brekkian culture and economy centers around manufacturing Felicium. All else they need is given to them by the Ornarans in trade for it. As Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) investigates the possibility of the Enterprise now being infected by the plague, she discovers the real plague of Ornara.
This whole episode is about drug addiction and exploitation. For the Brekkians have been keeping the Ornarans addicted to drugs for more than 200 years under the guise of saving them. Felicium is not more than a narcotic which keeps the Ornarans addicted and enslaved to the Brekkians. They supply the Brekkians all the “necessities of life” in return for the supply of drugs. At one time the Ornarans were more technologically advanced than the Brekkians which is why they had the freighter. However, after 200 years of addiction, they have stagnated.
The subtle message of this episode is good. Where it fails is the all too pointless dialogue between Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) and Tasha Yar where she explains the evils of drug use to the teenager. This comes of sounding way too much like too many high school health classes I have been in. It is a scene that should have been cut.
Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) really struggles with solving this situation in everyone’s best interest and at the same time maintaining Starfleet’s Prime Directive of non-interference with other cultures. He cannot tell the Ornarans the truth of the situation. If he gives them the drugs, as the Brekkians finally indicate they want to do, he is allowing the situation to continue.
The subtleties to this episode are what make it so good. Even the clothing worn by the two cultures depicts the differences in their planet’s society. The Ornarans have a much poorer look than the Brekkians. The speech and mannerisms of the different sides all depict their different social statuses. Credit goes to the actors for that who have managed to convey this so well. That the story reveals itself slowly through the episode rather than immediately is also a credit to the writer, Robert Lewin.
Star Trek: The Next Generation finally seems to be finding its footing here, telling a good story with great performances.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Skin of Evil
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – We’ll Always Have Paris