Symbiosis (TNG Rewatch, Season 1 Episode 22)

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

Picard mediates a dispute over a shipment of medicine. This disjointed episode has a actiony/sciencey opening, a worthwhile medical/cultural mystery in the middle, and a morality play with a moderately Trekworthy finale. I have no memory of seeing any part of this episode. While I enjoyed seeing a new-to-me episode, I winced a lot, too. The fuzzy approach to the Prime Directive marks it as a first-season episode, and Tasha’s “don’t do drugs” speech to Wesley marks it as a product of the 1980s. Good performances from familiar-to-me guest stars Judson Scott (Khan’s first officer Joachim) and Merritt Butrick (David Marcus) from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The teaser opens by the book, with exposition provided by a ship-wide address that actually includes the words “As you may know…” We watch the captain Give Orders as the crew efficiently Does Space Things in the vicinity of stock footage of solar flares, and then things Go Wrong.

It’s pretty impressive that Data can instantly interface with a totally alien computer system and remotely diagnose a freighter’s technical problem, and that the Enterprise stores just happens to “contain a coil of the proper type” (according to LaForge) to repair the alien ship, and that Yar on the spot gets the idea to “link the two transporters in series” to successfully overcome the interference. All this in the midst of dangerously disruptive EM activity the likes of which Riker says he has never seen before.

Enjoying Star Trek does require us to accept some pretty fantastical things, such as transporter beams and tractor beams and Troi’s empathetic powers, each of which only works when it’s convenient for the plot.

The warp-speed efficiency of the Enterprise crew sets up an intriguing contrast with the incompetence and indifference of the freighter captain.

The opening scene establishes that the Enterprise is in the Delos system to study the “violent, gigantic flares” produced by its star, but there are apparently no plans to check how this apparently unprecedented stellar activity might have affected the two inhabited planets.

After Picard seeks background information on the history of the Ornarans and the Brekkans, Data, Riker and Crusher show up with that information in a later scene, after somehow learning it off-camera. Or rather, they have learned just enough to ramp up the plot a notch, after which Data’s exposition subroutine is all ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, not unlike the tractor beams and Troi’s empathetic powers.

When Worf first reports he has intercepted the freighter’s distress call, Picard says, “Let me hear it.” Yet we’ve seen even back in the TOS era ships routinely use visual communications. It’s a nice pacing gimmick when a Trek first contact unfolds first through an audio message, then a distorted and patchy video image, and then the real face-to-face meeting in the transporter room. But the script gives Picard no in-world reason to ask to “hear” the distress call. Perhaps Worf could just have said, “Audio only.”

Given that the opening scenes take great pains to establish that the Delos star is spewing out unusual Space Stuff that makes the Enterprise panels Glow Blue at inconvenient times, and given that the inhabitants of both planets have the ability to electro-zap people with their bare hands, it seems reasonable to assume the behavior of the sun has something to do with the electro-zapping power — but the script doesn’t even make it a red herring.

I felt bad for Jonathan Frakes, who had to freeze in an “I’m a space guy being electro-zapped because TV” grimace while Picard has a little diplomatic face-off with the electro-zapper.