Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Who Watches theWatchers?"

You had to figure it was only a matter of time before TNG carried on the dubious tradition of presenting religious belief as nothing but fearful superstition. You may recall in my review for the first season episode “Justice” I had considered it originally to be harsh about religion. Rewatching it again for that review caused me to change my mind. So we managed to firmly enter the third season before religion takes a hit. What took so long?

The Enterprise is sent to repair a hidden observation point on the pre warp planet Mintaka III. The observation team’s reactor is about to cease functioning, exposing their position to the Iron Age level inhabitants. The reactor actually explodes when two Mintakans happen to pass. They get a good glimpse of the people and technology before one is injured while exploring.

Crusher has him beamed to sickbay under the assumption the prime directive has already been violated by the observation point’s exposure. Crusher heals the man’s wounds and erases the memories of his time on the ship. Because of his unique physiology, the memory wipe does not take. When he goes back to the planet, he tells everyone he was miraculously healed in the name of the great god Picard.

Considering Picard’s overblown ego, you would think he would be at least somewhat flattered.

The Mintakans capture one of the observation team. they cannot decide whether he is an emissary or enemy of The Picard. Either way, the people are beginning to leave in fear of the Picard’s wrath. Piccard is advised to play this angle up in order to save the captured observer, but he refuses by saying the Mintakans had put aside their superstitions Millennia. He will not put them back on that road.

But what he does do is even worse. He beams aboard one of the Miintakans to show her around the ship and prove he is a mere mortal. Picard completely ignores the idea far advanced technology would seem like magic to a primitive even if she was a skeptical thinker. That isexactly what happens. It is only when she watches one of the observers die in sickbay she realizes Picard does not have the power to raise the dead. He is fortunate she did not think he let the observer die in all his godlike wisdom.

While all this is going on, the situation is falling apart planet side. They have noticed the woman is gone and assume--correctly, I might add--Picard kidnapped her. A storm approaches, too, which they take as a sign of his anger. They decide to sacrifice the captured Troi as an appeasement offer. Many TNG fans agree that would probably be a good thing.

Picard appears just in time with the missing woman. He tries to convince everyone he is not a god, but can only do so by getting shot with an arrow. Because he did not stop it from stabbing him, everyone is now convinced he is a mere man. And probably dumb.
I do not dislike this episode, but I think the logic behind Picard’s solution to the dilemma is misguided to the point of incredulity. The Mintakans are supposedly far advanced in their rational beliefs. He considers this a good thing. He refuses to play along with his alleged god persona even though it is a quick and definite solution.

But how exactly was it less risky to tell the Mintakans the truth? They are thousands of years away from interstellar travel themselves. The fact he appeared to them is going to become a legend by that time. Even rational, learned historians have disagreements on how things happened in ancient history. The Mintakans are not far removed from the caves. A religion is bound to be created around Picard anyway.

Even if the plan works perfectly for Picard, what has he done other than contaminate the Mintakans worse than they would have been had they believed he was a god right off the bat? They are impressionable sorts who fully engage in whatever new beliefs they adapt. It only took hours before they went from rationalists to practicing human sacrifice to a god. Now they are going to be in a hurry to make it to the stars. He has likely hyper accelerated their advancement well beyond normal with all the trappings of technology getting away from people who cannot handle it. In other words, he has shown the Mintaans what they can do one day, but has not taught them to question whether they should.

Disagree if you wish, but there would have been far less damage considering the status of Mintakan society if Picard had played along as a god. He would have resolved the situation quickly. Presumably, they would have cast off the religion after some time as a natural progression. They are never going to cast off the idea of scientific advancement above all else. I see much more suffering--eugenics, emotionless logic, science without conscience--in the latter than the former. All because of the belief religion in all forms is bad..

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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