Written by Dennis Bailey, David Bischoff, Joe Menosky, Ronald D. Moore, Michael Piller, Marc Scott Zicree, and David Carren.
Directed by Cliff Bole
Not to be confused with the movie by the same name, First Contact deals with what happens when something goes terribly wrong during the observation of a pre-warp civilization by Federation officers.
The Prime Directive is an outline of what to do when encountering new cultures. In the case of a society that has not yet achieved the ability to travel at warp speed in space, it states that it must be allowed to attain that ability on its own, with no interference from outsiders. Only after it has achieved warp capability can it be approached for possible inclusion in the United Federation of Planets.
In this case, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is a Federation observer undercover in the Malcorian society which is on the verge of having warp capabilities. A terrible accident occurs, and Riker – known as Rivas Jakara to the Malcorians – is critically injured.
Many different forces come into play. The Malcorians immediately know something is up despite the alterations to Riker’s appearance. There are other physical differences that are detected upon examination by a Malcorian physician. Their society is terribly frightened by the possibility of an alien invasion. Rumors immediately begin to spread that an alien has been found.
Meanwhile, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) decide to make contact with a scientist involved in the warp program, thinking she will be the best person to aid them in securing Riker’s release. Mirasta (portrayed by Carolyn Seymour), although startled by their appearance in her office, is really not surprised to learn that her planet is not alone in the universe and advises them on how to proceed.
Picard and Troi then make contact with the Prime Minister of the Malcorians, Durken (portrayed by George Coe). He is also very open to the idea of not being alone in the universe. However, unbeknownst to him, one of his ultra-conservative ministers has already learned of Riker’s presence in a Malcorian hospital and intends to be a martyr to preserve Malcorian isolationism.
This episode seems almost like our Roswell incident from a very different perspective. In this case, the Federation are the aliens who are discovered on the planet and inevitably create a situation that will haunt the planet for years to come.
This is a terrific episode that works on many levels. The political differences in Malcorian society mirror our own in many ways. Watching the reactions of the hospital staff to Riker’s appearance is terrific – although I think our society would be calling Inside Edition to come over and tape him a lot quicker.
There is a lot of humor in Riker’s situation, even as life-threatening as it is. When he attempts to escape, he is aided by a Malcorian whose motivation is that she wants to have sex with an alien. Bebe Neuwirth is excellent in this brief cameo.
The only real problem I have with the episode is that it seems to too closely mirror some of the political and social problems we face as a society. It almost seems too convenient at times, making the coincidences a little less believable. This is not, however, a huge problem with the episode as the excellent writing more than makes up for it.
One of the problems often when alien cultures are featured on Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes is that the writers often become so focused on those societies and forget how the regular cast should interact with them. This is not the case here at all. There is a good balance between the featured regular castmembers and the guest cast.
Jonathan Frakes is excellent as Riker. When answering the inquiries about the physical differences, he is quick-thinking, but not so much so that it feels rehearsed. There is just enough time that he seems to think through the answers before giving them. The timing is perfect.
Patrick Stewart is excellent as Picard. Knowing he is breaking Federation protocols, he is anxious to rescue his injured friend but controls himself sufficiently to attempt to secure his release in the best way possible. Still, there is a concern and anxiety in his eyes, even as he is talking to the Malcorian Prime Minister and conveniently ignores the fact that the Federation has had people undercover observing them already for many years. He is doing what Mr. Spock would call “an omission”, not a lie.
The guest cast is wonderful, particularly Carolyn Seymour. She gives Mirasta the perfect edge as Science Minister – more open to new ideas and looking to the future rather than the past. Her understanding of her society is complete, and she often shows just how much the ignorance of her people annoys her.
Although Star Trek: Deep Space Nine will later do the Roswell incident from its own perspective, this episode mirrors insights into our own culture about what happens when peaceful aliens land and we are not ready for it. It’s definitely worth watching.
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Clues
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Galaxy’s Child
I think this is a good assessment of a good episode… and Bebe Neuwirth is very good!