The Prime Directive. Also known as Starfleet General Order 1, this directive is one of Starfleet’s most important and constantly tested principals. It states that all starfleet personnel shall refrain from interfering in the natural, unassisted, development of societies, even if such interference was well-intentioned. Many episodes of Star Trek deal with this directive and many Starfleet Captains have chosen to disregard it, resulting in less than ideal results. This episode explores this directive in detail. Originally Airing on May 1st, 1989, this is Pen Pals.
Captains Log Stardate 42695.3: Pen Pals
Data befriends a child from a pre-warp civilization who is in danger of destruction. Now the crew must determine if they should follow the Prime Directive and allow her people to die or break their primary rule of exploration and possibly help shape the destiny of a people. Meanwhile Wesley Crusher is given a command of his own team in order to gain knowledge for his journey toward joining Starfleet Academy.
There are two stories here, one involving Wesley and the other involving Data. We will start with the ‘A’ Story.
‘A’ Story: Data’s Friend
Data receives a signal from one of the planets and it turns out to be a young girl named Sarjenka from a prewarp society. He reports his findings to Picard after eight weeks of communicating with the girl and tells him that his new Pen Pal is in trouble and may be threatened by the very geological disruptions that Wesley’s team is investigating.
Picard asks Data to call a meeting with the Senior Staff to discuss the merits of either following the Prime Directive and allowing Sarjenka and her people to die or disregarding it and saving them. This brings up many moral questions as to how their choices will or will not affect the people of this girls planet. Ultimately they decide that they can not turn their backs on her people when Data activates the comm channel and they hear Sarjenka’s voice pleading for help.
With Wesley’s team’s discovery (see ‘b’ story below), Data attempts to contact Sarjenka to lead her and her people to safety. He can not get in touch and asks permission to beam down to assist her. Reluctantly Picard agrees and Data beams down to her home. While there, he finds that the girl is under a direct threat from the geological disruptions and they meet.
Sarjenka explains that her family has already left and she returned for her transmitter, prompting him to beam them both aboard the Enterprise. He takes her to the bridge and Picard is not happy with the situation.
Launching Wesley’s probe, they solve the tectonic disruptions making it safe for Sarjenka and her people. Picard order’s Pulaski to erase the girls memories of the encounter so that they minimize the outcome of their interference with Sarjenka’s people.
They complete the procedure and, after returning her to her planet, Data leaves a memento with Sarjenka as she sleeps. Afterward, Data apologises to Picard for his indiscretion. Picard declines the apology, explaining that Data’s actions reminded them that everything is not black and white.
‘B’ Story: Wesley’s Command
Upon discovering a once stable planet with geological disruptions, Riker consults with the Bridge Officers to determine if Wesley Crusher is ready to command a mission of his own. They decide in favor for it and assign Wesley the mission to determine how the once thriving planet is now coming apart. Wesley assembles his team and, although intimidated by his own youth, he prepares for the mission ahead.
Wesley nearly immediately encounters issues with giving command. He doubts his abilities and asks Riker for assistance. Riker tells him that failure must always be an option and, even if he is wrong, he must always think, ‘what if I am right and what happens if I am’. Wesley makes his command decision and because of this they discover the problem with the planet. Using a specialized probe, they may be able to save the people Data has been in contact with.
Is this a ‘Good’ Episode:
This is one that really gets back to the character building this series thrives on. This is both a Wesley and Data episode, allowing them both to grow in different ways.
Wesley gets a chance to discover who he is as a leader while Data touches more on his humanity and compassion as he continues his journey toward being more human. Wesley starts to understand the burden of command and, in turn, seems to be coming to terms with the death of his father, Jack Crusher. Although not mentioned in this episode, his legacy is a shadow over Wesley that does not want to go away.
Data gets a chance to make a friend and, in doing so, ends up violating the Prime Directive. His choice to save the girl rather than let her die is a testament to his progress in his journey to be a human. A cold, calculating machine would have likely made another choice in the circumstance.
Once again, we find an episode where the threat is not a physical one to the crew themselves, but one a threat to their very moral compass. It is episodes like this that remind us how human this crew really is.
Gleanings and Cool Bits:
This is one of the first steps of Wesley Crusher to becoming an Ensign aboard the Enterprise. His journey is one that allows the audience to see what someone needs to go through to be a member of starfleet. While this is an unorthodox way of doing it, it is still a fun and fulfilling journey.
Sadly we never see or hear from Sarjenka or her people again.
This episode marks the first time Picard actually gets to drink Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.
We also learn of one of Picard’s favorite pastimes, Horseback Riding. This is the first time we see him indulging in it on the holodeck.
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Late To The Game 7/7/2019 (Originally published 4/2/2018)
Special Thanks to Memory Alpha as they are one of the best sources for details on Star Trek information available. Although I have a pretty deep knowledge on the subject, they have proven invaluable as a regular resource.
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