Written by Robert McCullough and Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Les Landau
This is a meaningful episode on two accounts. On one hand, we have a situation where we learn how wrong it is to make a judgment about someone based on appearances and demeanor. On the other, we learn a great deal about Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart).
Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) must journey to Starbase 515 to take Starfleet exams determining if his experiences and study aboard the Enterprise are progressing. Dr. Pulaski (Diana Muldaur) cryptically orders Captain Picard to make the trip with Wesley. All we can glean in the beginning is that he has a serious medical condition that needs attention. She is capable of handling it aboard the Enterprise, but Picard won’t hear of it.
This is a wonderful bit of character development on the part of Picard. We see the Captain unwilling to let his guard down and have his crew see him as weak or fragile in any way. The journey also gives time to cultivate the Picard/Wesley relationship. Forced to endure a great deal of time together on the shuttle, their conversations build as they discuss a variety of topics. Wesley learns Picard is not faultless as he hears the story of why Picard is on this trip with him. Many years ago, Picard picked a fight with a Nausicaan, and the result is an artificial heart in Picard’s body that was later found to be defective. So much for quality control in the 24th Century.
Patrick Stewart and Wil Wheaton are excellent together here. There really seems to be a relationship and bonding going on between the two actors. Watching Picard try to dodge conversation with Wesley at first by reading a book, then letting his guard down and getting to know the young man is perfection. There is not too much time spent on the fact that Picard feels awkward, but rather the situation changes at a nice pace. The two actors have the timing and demeanor down perfect as the young man is seeing a side of someone he admires greatly for the first time.
Meanwhile, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is holding down the fort on the old spaceship. They receive a distress call and respond to it, encounter a disabled ship of a mysterious race known as the Pakleds. They appear to be very slow and unintelligent. Their dialogue consists of “We look for things… We look for things that makes us go…” Their speech is so simplistic and plodding, Riker makes an assessment of the species and sees no danger. Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) volunteers to beam over to the Pakled ship and make repairs as necessary.
Why the Chief Engineer must beam over rather than sending over any old technician is a blatant plot device, but that’s the story. Riker and Geordi ignore warnings by Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis), basing his safety on their assessments of the Pakleds as a non-threatening race. As he is making repairs, the Pakleds realize his value and decide to keep him. They might not be able to develop their own technology, but they have become master scavengers. It turns out that their ship has shield systems similar to that of the Romulans. Once raised, Riker has no way of bringing Geordi back to the ship.
The leader of the Pakleds knows what Riker thinks of him and taunts him with it. He also demands that Riker give him information from the computer in return for the safe return of Geordi.
While all this is going on, Wesley and Picard arrived at Starbase 515. Picard’s condition worsens, and the doctor performing the operation sends for the Enterprise notifying them that Picard is near death.
The pressure is on Riker to solve the Geordi situation and deliver Dr. Pulaski to Starbase 151 in time to use her superb surgical skills to save Picard.
Except for the putting Picard in near-death peril, I liked this episode a great deal. It was primarily character driven and the conversations between Wesley and Picard were not gratuitous, nor did they sound forced. It was nice to see Picard confess that he wasn’t the seemingly perfect Captain his entire life. It is a good lesson for Wesley to hear about people making mistakes, even if it appears in later episodes that it didn’t quite sink in.
Riker’s situation with the Pakleds is also interesting because of how much he assumes about them based on their demeanor. We do tend to do that to people on this planet – make assumptions about personalities, intelligence, and capabilities based on speech patterns or the way a person carries themselves. It’s nice to see him make a mistake and I have to wonder what Picard thought of it when he heard all about it later on.
There was no good reason to put Picard in the near-death peril, however, unless it was to showcase Dr. Pulaski’s medical talent. It just wasn’t necessary and could have been left out, having Picard just go to Starbase 151 and have the operation, then return with Wesley to the Enterprise.
Another small nitpick is when Picard is relating the story to Wesley of how he got his artificial heart, he states that the incident happened at a time before the Klingons joined the Federation. In the movie Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country, there are already negotiations being made about this situation. It seems hard to believe that it might take 30-40 years for that to happen.
While not a great episode, this one is pretty good. It’s got an interesting moral presented in an interesting way. Captain Picard gets to become more human, rather than staying larger-than-life. Even Wesley is written good here.
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Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Up The Long Ladder