Homeward (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 7, Episode 13) Worf’s foster brother interferes with a primitive, dying culture

Rewatching ST:TNG

The Enterprise-D answers a distress call from Worf’s foster brother, a civilian observing a primitive civilization on a planet with an atmosphere that’s spontaneously dissipating because reasons. The dissipation is also creating a plot contrivance field that periodically jams key systems so that we can watch characters react to dramatic in-person discoveries of details we would otherwise learn through a scanner readout on the bridge.

When the planet surface became uninhabitable, brother Nikolai moved a village of Boraalans into a cave (again with the caves!), and set up a technobabble field to protect them from the bad Space Thing outside. Clever, no? The hitch is that, according to the federation’s non-interference policy, he shouldn’t have done anything but observe.

Picard has faced similar moral dilemmas before, notably in Pen Pals, but this story tries to focus on the relationship between Worf and his brother, who was once referenced in dialogue many years ago. It’s rather hard to care about this brotherly squabble when the script relegates to the B plot the moral calculus of the sublimely humanist Picard, who must, for the sake of this story, voice hardline, fundamentalist support of Federation ideology.

Kudos to the script writers for coming up with a new and useful way to work the holodeck into the story: simulating the environment the refugees are used to, as the Enterprise (reluctantly) ferries them (unknowingly) to their new home. The plot contrivance particle field ensures that the holodeck will malfunction and it’s usual facepalm-inducing way, but the way Worf, his brother, and LaForge work together to solve various problems passes the time agreeably.

The number of events that happen in the nick of time, the lazy reliance on the plot contrivance particle field and the apparent total breakdown of shipboard security that might prevent a civilian from hijacking the transporter, or a refugee from wandering off the holodeck and stumbling into Ten Forward, are collectively worth another facepalm or two.

In an episode that goes out of its way to highlight the smug morality of the Federation, by centering the effect of its ideology on the indigenous civilization of a strange new world, it’s hardly surprising when the post-colonial tropes keep coming and we learn Rozenko has gone native and started a family with a Boraalan.

It’s rather a bit silly that, although we’re told the atmospheric dissipation process is unpredictable, Rozenko times his call for help so that the Enterprise comes right when the crisis means they must act immediately, yet there’s still time for Worf to get surgically altered to look like a native, and then switch back so we can see him and his brother in their natural states for a brief scene on the Enterprise-D, before both undergo some off-camera surgical process once again for the climax.

Enough other episodes have featured our regular characters altering their appearance, so we are not expected to think of it as experimental or unusual; and in truth, when I first saw this episode 30 years ago, the issue never bothered me. And I’ll confess, I mostly listened to this episode while I was driving, and I did not call up the video in order to check how extensive the surgical alterations were. (But considering we are told Worf is going to be an uncle, the biological differences must not have been all that significant.)