Friday, May 25, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Homeward

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Homeward"
Airdate: January 17, 1994
164 of 176 produced
164 of 176 aired


Introduction

The Enterprise is sent to Boraal, where Worf's adoptive brother Nikolai is assigned to a cultural observation post. The planet's atmosphere is degrading irreversibly. They are to take Dr. Rozhenko home, but the Prime Directive bars the Enterprise from helping the Boralans, who are only at a pre-industrial level of technology. Dr. Rozhenko begs the Captain to help at least some of them escape, but Picard is adamant. After the apparent final loss of the Boraalans, an odd power surge leads the crew to the holodeck, where Nikolai has recreated a small part of the Boraalan homeworld and beamed a small village aboard. Now, Captain Picard must make decisions on behalf of an entire species that his training and conscience tell him are far beyond him.
I can't believe you made me bleach my teeth for this!





Writing


Kevin: I love the idea of the episode. It dives into the nitty gritty of the Prime Directive in a way previous episodes haven't, and it manages to make a solid case for both sides in fairly non-preachy ways. Nikolai's position is certainly emotionally appealing, and when it comes to an entire species, relying on an edict whose motive was to prevent paternalistic interference does seem a little callous. This isn't about the relative moral positions of a tribal versus a warp society. This is life or death, and Picard did act to save the Dremans from a similar fate in Pen Pals. Of course there, the Dremans were returned to their pre-cataclysm state with them being none the wiser. That's impossible here. What elevates the episode in this regard for me is the conversation between Data and Crusher in the lab while looking for a new homeworld. Picking a fertile world in a dangerous place or an arid one in a safe region is a huge decision. What are the ethics of Beverly Crusher, MD setting a course for an entire sentient species? Picard's moral hand-wringing is far more convincing than in Symbiosis because the problem is more interesting and more complex than a drug parable. I wish they had asked more questions. When this species reaches its Industrial age, and over time finds no record of itself before its Middle Ages, what happens to their culture? Or when they discover their DNA has nothing in common with every other form of life on their supposed homeworld? Do all of these questions fall before the reality of saving as many lives?

Matthew: I too liked the ethical issues, but I don't think they were as well developed as in "Pen Pals" or "First Contact." I found it very odd that Picard was so willing to spill the beans to both the Mintakans as well as the Malcorians, but somehow this was absolutely out of the question for the Boraalans. Picard made a big stink about Nikolai's actions, but then sort of blithely went along with them. Was there any punishment levied by the Federation? Apparently not. So the Prime Directive ends up being a rule that applies only to the military, and spottily at that.

Kevin: The highlight of the episode, and the hook that keeps it from becoming overly preachy is the focus on what happened when Vorin wanders into Ten Forward. Mirasta Yale did a cartwheel and booked passage, but Vorin, contemplating the loss of his cultural identity committed suicide. Picard's grief at the position he is indirectly responsible for putting Vorin in is palpable and moving, and even there, they manage a nice, nuanced, unpreachy, and best of all, unresolved exploration of the central moral question. Crusher, as a doctor, thinks any chance at life is better than no chance. Picard wonders if dying alone burdened with what he knew was worse than dying on his homeworld.

Matthew: I appreciate the emotion of the scene. But I question the professionalism of the Enterprise staff. Did Counselor Troi not sense suicidal feelings? Why not just monitor the guy? It's not as though he would have been able to tell a camera from a teapot. Why not put him on another holodeck with familiar surroundings?

Kevin: The weak point of the episode for me comes from the subplot with Worf and Nikolai. The story of long-feuding brothers felt a little tacked on. I like the continuity nod, but overall it didn't have too much to do with the actual plot other than to provide a new thing to fight about. Also, the bit about him impregnating Boraalan Kassidy Yates (I know that's not her name. I'm too lazy to look it up). Unless Boraalans know really quickly, did he impregnate her before the disaster? There's a juicy subplot we could have explored. For all his high-minded assault of the PD in the face of the disaster, he had already casually flaunted it. Also, what the hell happens when that man dies or his son is born. Those Boraalan facial features are somatic, not genetic. There are going to be some tough questions in the Boraalan equivalent of nine months.

Matthew: I actually ended up liking the brotherhood aspect of the story, despite it indeed feeling like a retcon that was tacked on. I found myself involved in their emotional struggle, and I thought their fights were written well. I liked the science plot of the atmosphere dissipating - it's actually real planetary science and it is thought that Mars suffered from a similar fate. I had some other logic issues with the story. Things are hitting the fan, the atmosphere is leaving quickly - and Picard has Worf go get plastic surgery. The surgery itself was odd - it sure seemed like they removed an awful lot from Worf (including his teeth) - how did they put it all back? The thing that bothered me the most was all the hullabaloo they made over the village chronicle. They had only saved six generations worth, it was the cornerstone of their culture, and so on. So what happens at the end? Worf wants to keep it for some reason, and Nikolai, who just broke the Prime Directive to preserve this culture, says "sure, why not?" It would be like a group of aliens saving Moses from a plague, and then making off with the Ten Commandments. What the hell?


Acting


Kevin: My complaints about the plotting aside, Paul Sorvino did a pretty good job as Nikolai. The fighting felt authentic, as did his attack of the Prime Directive. I genuinely bought his concern for the Boraalan people. Overall a good job that could have been better served by a tighter script.

Matthew: I agree, and I thought Dorn brought a lot to the conflict as well. He went beyond the basic Worf-hates-those-who-shirk-duty thing and added a shade of regret for the past, sibling annoyance, and genuine caring that really made things feel real.

Kevin: The acting highlight of the episode is definitely Brian Markinson as Vorin. His character in the village was readily established and his reactions to the Enterprise were great. I liked that he acted the character that he was overwhelmed by the decision he was faced with, not the information he was presented with. It didn't read that his crisis was having his own world views challenged but that he couldn't bear a life alone or destroying his people's identity. That's a daunting decision for anyone regardless of their technological development. If nothing else, I really felt and shared Picard's grief at the loss of this man and that's a credit to the actor.

Matthew: Markinson was definitely good. I was a little less thrilled with Penny Johnson as Dobara. She affected this weird "I'm playing an alien for the first time" accent, and it made the whole thing feel artifical. Markinson was much more naturalistic.

Production Values


Kevin: The caves were pretty decent, and the intermittent holodeck effects were well inserted. The outdoor sets were a nice and different part of southern California. The effects of the Boraalan atmospheric dissipation were okay, but not more than that.

Matthew: I really liked the dissipation effect. The opticals of the holodeck malfunctions were cool - better versions of those done in "Elementary Dear Data." The caves had a lot of nice texture, like roots and nooks and crannies.

Kevin: The Boraalan costumes were great. They felt like medeival peasant wear without reading like a Ren Faire. I was not as big a fan of the nose appliances. I almost think it would have been more fun to make them plain humans and give Michael Dorn a break from all the make-up altogether.

Conclusion


Kevin: This is between a 3 and a 4 for me, and I am going to go with the three. The exploration of the Prime Directive is pretty thorough and interesting, but the character drama is a little rote and flat. Maybe instead of taking the Boraalans aboard, Nikolai could have refused to leave unless Picard takes some Boraalans with them. Then the character conflict is better tied to the Prime Directive one, and it might have given some juicier scenes to the brothers to act.

Matthew: I would have given this a 3, since I view it as a sort of shallow look at issues that have gone before, with a decent character story. But the dum-dums really brought me down on this. The treatment of Vorin was shockingly cavalier, especially for a crew experienced with anachronistic first contact situations. But Worf stealing the sacred text of a near-dead culture for no apparent reason? Sorry folks, that's worth a point in my book. It's just too dumb. I call this a 2, for a total of 5.

3 comments:

  1. So the genital physiology is so similar that Kassidy Yates didn't notice the difference? Or he had that surgically altered too?

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  2. Lighting was dim in medieval times...

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  3. This episode pisses me off mainly because it creates a problem out of something that didnt have to be one if, and I am going to put it bluntly, Picard had not been such an asshole about Nikolai wanting to save the Boralaans. Im fact, I found him very unpleasant in both the way he talked to Nikolai, treating him like he was about to commit the most heinous crime, as well as in his callus indifference to these people DYING in front of his eyes while he was holding on to principles and directive he himself, in the past, had bent and went around when it served him (think Rasmussen, PenPals). That bridge scene where they watch the atmosphere of this world just disintegrate and then go on with business as usual was appalling. Like they just witnessed people likely die a horrible death while they watched and then he goes back to his Ready Room for the next agenda item. That just did not feel right and was out of character, for not just him but the show.

    In the past, Picard would at least have wrestled with such a dilemma. Here, he was just very resolute and expedient about it.

    You know I have a huge problem with the Prime Directive in general and notions of "how things should be" as I dont believe there is anything out there that dictates, in some mysterious or real way, how things should be. There is no pre-determination, there is no "meant to be", there is no one way history can play itself out. So episodes that treat such things as a given really irk me.

    When Nikolai explains changing the Holodeck to simulate the journey until they have arrived at their new place and Picard says "but what if it doesn't work. What if they become aware that something strange is going on" I was yelling at the screen "THEN THEY WILL FIND OUT SOMETHING STRANGE IS GOING ON AND GET OVER IT." Geez. I mean who cares? The fabric of the universe will not break and disintegrate ending life as we know it because a bunch of cave dwellers were saved from a dying planet and had to be moved to another one.

    The outrage this episode tried to evoke was not believable. It was fabricated and as such I mostly sit through it wondering wtf these people are pissin and moanin about. It didnt have to be this difficult if Picard had helped these people not die. And i still dont get why not letting people is considered the moral thing to do or a violation of the Prime Directive. How is not helping them any different than if the US were to refuse help give an african country malaria medication on grounds that they are not developed enough or "are meant" to develop it on their own? It is absurd.

    When Worf said to Nikolai in the elevator that he had disgraced himself and disowned him, I laughed becasue it was happening over nothing. Nikolai hadnt burnt down Worf's house or slept with his wife or committed treason, he prevented the senselessness death of people. Get over it and drop the hyperbole mincrobrain.

    On a side note: I dont likw how Season 7 beings in story lines and people we had absolutely no indication about these past previous 6 seasons, like Data's "mother", Ricker's past mutiny business, Troi's older sister who drowned, and now Nikolai, Worf's brother. Clearly the writers made all these up just now since they were never mentioned before and it bugs me.

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