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TNG 3-04

TNG 3x04
"Who Watches the Watchers"

Original airdate: 10/16/1989
Rewatch date: 10/1/2011


An accident at a science station accidentally contaminates a primitive alien culture. When one of the aliens is treated on the Enterprise, it threatens to spark a new religion with Picard as a deity.

Spoiler-free notes:

I'm glad they refer back to the events of "Pen Pals," at least as a way to acknowledge that this situation is a little different.

The issue of communication is notably absent from this episode. The universal translator is usually just assumed to be working at all times with all races, but how does it work when dealing with a primitive species like the Mintakans, who don't possess their own translators? How, for instance, do the Mintakans automatically understand everything humans are saying?

I don't know why Riker waits so long to have the Enterprise beam Palmer back. As soon as he has incapacitated the old guy, he takes Palmer upstairs and could have easily transported then and there, before stumbling outside so that anybody could see them. There are also plenty of other opportunities during the chase that follows.

It seems to me that, if you're going to follow the Prime Directive down to the letter of the law, the only solution to the contamination is to kill the Mintakans who have been affected. It's better to have a small group go missing than to have the entire civilization messed up by a wild new belief system. Sure, it's cold and brutal, but the needs of the many and all that. I'm glad that's not the solution Picard chooses, however, because TNG should never go that dark.

This episode is another meditation on Clarke's Third Law.

Even though nobody is straight-up violating the Prime Directive in this episode, as in previous ones, there would still be a lot of uncomfortable questions to answer afterwards, not the least of which is what impact the whole affair has had on the future of the Mintakans.



Spoiler section:

The "duck blind" idea is central to the plot of Star Trek: Insurrection, a story that seems to take many cues from this episode, though it obviously goes in a completely different direction.





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