Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Up The Long Ladder

Airdate: May 22, 1989
42 of 176 produced
42 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is assigned to investigate a strange repeating signal from a distant sector of space. When it is revealed that the signal is typical of space vessels from the European Hegemony of Earth's 22nd century, and records show no vessels aimed at the Ficus sector, the mystery deepens. Who or what is behind the signal, and what condition will they be found in?

Brenna O'Dell tests Commander Riker (and the male audience) for homosexuality...


Matthew: This was kind of a tale of two episodes - lost colony episode, and cloning/abortion allegory. Unfortunately, neither get developed to the degree they should have.As far as the lost colony story goes, I appreciated the continuity fill-ins we got. We learn about the European Hegemony (a name which is entertaining, but I doubt would be taken up by an organization unless it followed a large global war and described some sort of fascist entity - but hey, maybe that's what happened), the Neo-Transcendentalists and Liam Dieghan, and get mentions of DY-500 colony ships launching from Baikonur Cosmodrome. It's all really cool stuff. And the way the story evolves is interesting - the colony splits between the more techno-savvy and neo-transcendentalist groups. This seems totally realistic - the Biosphere 2 crew of just eight people fractured into two near-murderous factions, after all. Of course, we have to wonder how one colony vessel made two stops, but whatever. Maybe they had landing craft. The problem - for some reason the tech-savvy group is a racially diverse mix of intelligent-sounding people. The other group? A big boisterous clan of dumb, hairy, drunken Irish bumpkins. This kind of development screams of "writers in committee thinking something is funnier than it can possibly be done in real life" syndrome (also known as WICTSIFTICPBDIRL).

Kevin: Looking at the back end of season 2, you can, sadly, really see the effects of the writer's strike. We get the boringly undeveloped "Samaritan Snare" last week, and this one suffers the opposite effect, too much going on at once. It really felt to me like without the writers available, they took three partially fleshed out ideas and Frankenstein-ed them into an episode. The result is an uneven episode that veers between farce and hard science fiction quickly enough to give you whiplash. What they needed to do was split what is clearly two episodes' worth of story into two episodes. The story of the colony ship splintering could have been interesting, or charting cultural development in isolation over time could have been fun. I would have even tolerated a Prime Directive discussion. They'll actually do that in Enterprise's "Terra Nova," where T'Pol argues that though human, time and cultural drift have turned the Novans into a new people whose culture must be treated with the same deference, and distance, as an alien one. That could have been a fun twist on the Bringloidi, actually. Two hundred years is enough time to forget history, especially in a society that eschews modern technology. The colony ship could pass into legend, and the Enterprise's appearance could cause cultural chaos and a conflict the bright lines of the PD don't solve. Instead we get cheap stereotypes. And..oh God...I just realized this review will get published on St. Patrick's Day. I swear we didn't plan that, and I am deeply ashamed of myself.

Matthew: The whole cloning/rape/abortion angle should have seen another ten minutes of development. The whole comparison is just too rich and interesting to leave alone... but somehow the writers found a way to do it here. Riker says that having duplicates "diminishes him in ways he can't possibly imagine." Why? In what ways? (We would of course revisit this in "Second Chances"...) Wouldn't any of the rest of the crew be OK with donating genetic material? Picard dismisses the notion of a differing sentiment out of hand. Really? Does having a duplicate diminish you, while murdering a duplicate in cold blood does not? Does the "Assault" angle make it OK to terminate a nascent life form? Outside of the ethical angles, there is a load of sci-fi to tackle, too. More information about the Mariposan society would have been nice to have. How did they suppress sexuality? Are there outlaws in this regard? Do people resist being pigeonholed to one role for their whole life and work? (This gets a revisit in "The Masterpiece Society"... see a pattern here?) There was just so much here to explore, and it all dies on the vine.

Kevin: Part of my problem is that if they needed cells for cloning, why not use any other cells that slough off the body? They shook hands, use the skin cells they leave behind or something. You could wait until the Enterprise had left to even begin work. But, yeah, they dodged on what could have been a really fun debate. The contemporary arguments surrounding abortion in cases of rape focuses on the ideas of bodily integrity, but tied into those arguments is the fact that pregnancy and parenthood are body and life-altering events. Here, neither of those are true. Pulaski and Riker suffered no lasting physical harm, and will be in no way responsible for caring for these people. Their bodily integrity was violated in obtaining the cells, certainly, but does growing the cells into people further violate their bodily integrity in the same way as forcing a woman to be pregnant? Even if it doesn't, does letting them get exactly what they want from their assault encourage further assault, making it a crime without consequence? Especially given the oblique reference to legal abortion in the Federation from "The Child," there could have been an awesome discussion of Federation ethics.

Matthew: It also seemed like there might be an interesting statement to make about feminism, about women not just being breeding stock... but it got sidestepped with a joke about Brenna O'Dell being interested in a man's pocketbook. Oh, well. I guess fierce independence goes out the door when a man brings home the bacon.

Kevin: Lastly, what the hell was with the Worf-measles plot? It did lead to a lovely little scene with Pulaski, but it doesn't get any follow up of any kind. It was filler of the worst kind, and more evidence of the fact they are stitching episodes together out of scraps at this point.


Matthew: I didn't find any of the guest cast to be terribly convincing. That's not to say they didn't give it a game attempt, but they didn't transcend limited writing. I never really believed that Walter Grainger was anguished over his culture's destruction. I never believed that Danilo O'Dell was a credible leader, or that he  knew thing one about Neo-Transcendentalist philosophy. Rosalyn Landor did the best as Brenna, but even she was sabotaged by some off writing.

Kevin: Well, her midriff should certainly have been nominated for a guest acting Emmy. I agree. Everyone tried, but the actors were hamstrung by some undercooked dialogue.

Matthew: I think it's fair to say that the main cast also failed to transcend the material. They're all fine and dandy, sure, but Stewart sort of summed it up in Picard's line: sometimes, you just have to bow to the absurd! Nothing really sticks, here. Frakes got in some outrage as a violated clonee. I wish Mulduar could have played against that and disagreed with his brazen murder of the clones. Another failure of writing, I suppose. Dorn got some decent comedy lines as Worf.

Kevin: I thought the tea ceremony was a credit to both actors. They had good rapport, which was nice given how few scenes they actually get together. 

Production Values

Matthew: The visual of hay and barnyard animals on the Enterprise was... a little weird. I really had to wonder why O'Brien beamed up hay along with the colonists and animals - you never see him picking up piles of dirt with the transporter, do you? The odd mish-mash of stuff they had in the cargo bay was fun. I also enjoyed the replicator scene with the frothy Klingon Drink, too. The Bringloidi costumes did the job, but didn't seem very far removed from any "peasant" production items that might exist in a studio's storehouse. Well, except for Brenna's pull-away knit frocks. Boi-oi-oing!

Kevin: Someone should go on Etsy and see if there's a pattern for that knit long-sleeved midriff-baring number with all the cables in it.

Matthew: The Mariposa sets and costumes were VERY 80s. I liked the cloning chamber. But everything else looked pretty typical of a cheesy 80s sci-fi show or B-movie. They did a lot of nice twin work, though. I could not detect any optical split screen effects at all, which has me believing that whenever two or more lookalikes were on screen, they were all on camera.

Kevin: I was annoyed that Mariposa was clearly a ringed gas giant. There is no rocky surface on which to build things. That kind of crap annoys the hell out of me.

Matthew: I think it's kind of a crime that we didn't get to see a model, (although we at least got a small Okudagram), of the DY-500 class vessel. A logo for the EH would have been nice to see, too.


Matthew: It's a study in contrasts to compare this episode to the preceding one, "Samaritan Snare." I hated that episode, but felt I had to give it a 2 because the shuttlecraft scenes redeemed it. This episode never fails to entertain me, but I feel I have to give it a 2 because of how half-baked its twin premises are. Had either one been just a shade less dumb and a shade more developed, this would be a 3. Had the cloning debate been given the focus it should have had, it might be an even higher rating. But there's no denying that this episode doesn't sit with the greats in terms or allegory or moral sci-fi. It's just sort of a mish-mash. So it's a sad but appropriate 2.

Kevin: I agree with the 2 for a total of 4. This episode clearly shows the strain of the writers' strike and it's sad. There are some ideas that at least get better developed in later episodes, so the writers at least knew what they had and went back to explore it. I'll say this for the episode, though, it wins "Best Racially Offensive Episode," as it is definitely more amusing than "Code of Honor."


Addendum by Kevin: This paragraph was added subsequent to the post being published. I'm the Arbiter of Succession and it's in my authority to do these kinds of things. Honor requires I not try to make it look like this was here the whole time. I forgot to introduce our awesome co-podcasters for this episode. Kelly and Beth joined us for this one, and, as always, they are awesome. Enjoy the podcast, everyone.


  1. By the way, Happy St. Patrick's Day, all you drunken Irish bumpkins.

  2. No mention of the guest commentators? Boo...

  3. So in the podcast you make the comment about Klingons having a ceremony for everything except waste extraction. I was amused because Jewish actually have a prayer for pretty much everyting including when we go to the Bathroom.

  4. There are two cats actually. They wanted to add their commentary to the podcast, and realistically, there's no way to stop them. :)

  5. Also, I amended the review to include a shout-out. :)

  6. ((Aside from there being two cats, it was also close to their feeding time, and they were making that known.))