Season Five - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Masterpiece Society

Written by Adam Belanoff, Michael Piller, and James Kahn
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

The Enterprise is charting the course of a stellar core fragment when it happens upon a human colony on what was thought to be a deserted planet. The colony Moab IV almost certainly would be destroyed by seismic activity from the passing stellar core fragment.

The colonists are the descendants of a genetically engineered society that immigrated from Earth 200 years before. They wish to remain in seclusion, to keep the colony in balance and genetically “pure”, but a small away team is permitted to land after the danger is spelled out to them.

The leader of the colony, Aaron Conor (portrayed by John Snyder) is at first reluctant to allow the outsiders but soon embrace their presence, much to the chagrin of Marcus Benbeck (portrayed by Ron Canada), who is in charge of interpreting the laws their ancestors put forth for them. Benbeck would sooner see the colony wiped out rather than allow the “balance” to be usurped.

Soon that is what has happened, even with Aaron himself. He finds himself attracted to the Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis), and the affection is returned. Conor has also allowed one of his scientists, Hannah Bates (portrayed by Dey Young) to board the Enterprise and work with the Chief Engineer, Geordi LaForge (LeVar Burton) on a possible solution to the problem without having to evacuate the planet.

Hannah faces the realization that Geordi would not have been permitted to be born in her world. Due to his genetic blindness, he would have been destroyed as a zygote. Yet, it is the technology in Geordi’s VISOR – which allows him to see far beyond what normal humans see – which is the key to saving the colony. The irony is not lost on either of them, and Hannah questions whether she wishes to remain on Moab IV any longer – and she is not alone.

The episode manages to make the case against trying to genetically engineer society by demonstrating how – in Geordi’s words – “necessity is really the mother of invention”. If there was not a need for the technology in his VISOR, it would not have been invented and would not be there to be used for another purpose (never mind all the times alien life-forms have used it to infiltrate the Enterprise, but that’s another review). I’ve seen that often enough where technology being researched for one particular reason ends up having beneficial effects in completely unexpected places. Would messing around with the genetic randomness of society actually end up making humans less innovative?

It’s an interesting question that’s handled well by the regular cast. Particularly notable here is Marina Sirtis. For a change, Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) is not the one trying to score with the beautiful women the minute they are allowed on the planet. Because I know that Counselor Troi does not enter into relationships lightly, it makes her feelings and her conflict all the more believable. Sirtis plays the conflict well, admitting her attraction to Aaron Conor, and knowing at the same time when it’s time to stop and pull back. Her heartfelt confession to Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) in the turbo lift is a great piece of work that really demonstrates the talent of this actress. To me, her character was always under-written and this is one of her great chances to shine.

LeVar Burton is the other regular cast member featured prominently, and he gives an admirable performance. At times, his jibes at Hannah have a bitter edge, as he got the message early on that he would not be accepted on Moab IV, but he also conveys that he knows he can make this a growth experience for Hannah and instead of letting their time together descend into bitterness, he rises to the occasion. Burton conveys a wide range of emotions using vocal tones and mannerisms, demonstrating his truly wonderful talent.

The biggest problem with this episode is the guest cast. Their performances were truly uninspiring. I could cut Dey Young a little slack since her character had a lot of techno-babble to deal with, and that is something that is hard to convey believably except in the case of regular cast members. I have the feeling, though, that they were cast more for having “the right look” than their talent, and it unfortunately showed. A better casting decision would have made this episode much better.

Not a preachy episode, but one that raises ethical questions, this is more the thinking man’s Trek. There are no effects to dazzle or action, and very little suspense. The main concern is whether Moab IV will be saved or have to be evacuated. Unfortunately, the characters of the colonists are people I didn’t care about so there were no real feelings of suspense.

There’s nothing here to stop someone who isn’t into Star Trek from enjoying The Masterpiece Society, but there are much better episodes with which to develop a liking for the series. It’s an average episode that is nothing spectacular but is watchable.

Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation- Violations

Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Conundrum

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