Who Watches the Watchers (ST:TNG Season Three Episode 4) Rationalist, talky mythbusting

Rewatching ST:TNG after a 20-year break.

After a primitive, rationalist society mistakes Federation technology for supernatural power, Picard must do whatever it takes to undo the resulting cultural contamination. Fortunately for Picard, that involves lots of talking.

A grim scene in sickbay memorably demonstrates that humans in the 24th century can sometimes delay but cannot defeat death. A cleverly subversive climax has Picard calmly determined to deliver the Mintakans from the burden of their newfound faith.

The original Star Trek occasionally touched on religion: belief in the “Son” is spreading on a parallel Earth where Rome never fell; Kirk tells the god Apollo, “we find the one [God] sufficient”; and Kirk in Star Trek V points to his heart and says (of God) “Maybe he’s right here.”

But the problem, according to “Who Watches the Watchers,” is not just that the Mintakans have mistaken Picard for a divine being, but the very idea that a secular and rational primitive society suddenly has cause to embrace their old, rejected myths.

The Mintakan who is most responsible for evangelizing this new belief pivots too quickly from witnessing unexplainable events, to concluding that “The Picard” would want his followers to commit acts of violence. The episode mocks a parody of faith, rather than offering a thoughtful critique.

I’d have preferred more time developing the Mintakan evangelist’s motives, as well as a sympathetic elder, and less time devoted to the cringeworthy chase sequence where Riker throws an injured anthropologist over his shoulder and lurchingly eludes a bronze-age hunter armed with a huge bow.

A brief scene where Riker and Troi discuss Mintakan ways also nicely develops their character. Picard is firm but patient in his scenes with the Mintakan leader. The episode develops Picard’s character and Starfleet’s devotion to the Prime Directive.