Unusually, this Star Trek story takes place over a span
of about eight weeks, or more, and takes an appropriate range
of season two's stardates to match. Funky. But that perhaps
gives us scope for greater scrutiny. With all that extra time
to think things through, we won't be able to excuse blunders
as easily in the name of the heat of the moment.
Nicely, the ship seems to behave a bit more like a real spaceship
would in this tale, exploring a sector in more detail than normal,
and putting science first.
Leisurely senior conferences seem to be the order of the day
this time around, with one big one for each of the two main
plots of the story. Each features excessive amounts of dialogue,
as any viewpoint that seems possible with each subject finds
voice amongst one crewmember or another, whether or not it is
relevant or interesting to the audience.
Wesley's leadership plot is up first. Perhaps foreknowledge
of Wes's arc for the rest of the series really makes one wonder
why Riker pushes to have Wes take charge in the first place.
Wes has yet to actually join Starfleet Academy, much less Starfleet
itself. Isn't it a bit premature to be grooming him for a
top spot in the organization? All the talk of why it's good for
a person in general or a proper Starfleet member specifically
doesn't explain why more qualified and specialized personnel
(who you would expect to be on the Enterprise) aren't being
equally considered. Mind you, the leadership issues here are
a very worthy part of the human condition to explore in this
episode. It just feels like too much of a forced fit with Wes
at this time, and it doesn't yield many great scenes anyway.
The second plot has Data secretly communicating with a young girl
of an alien species, which triggers Prime Directive issues once
more. Yet again, we get a full cast conference discussing the
issue, which somehow escalates into a full scale trial of the
Prime Directive itself. That in itself might not be a bad idea,
but this is far from a great discussion of the subject, with
most of the crew simply rambling through different opinions,
and the conference itself losing direction.
Deanna Troi has a good line at one point, basically echoing
a retort that had formed in my mind about two beats earlier.
No discussion about how things are naturally *supposed* to work out
should ignore the fact that the characters observing this
pattern are naturally a part of it. This is the
integrated "Fourth Density" side of
looking at things that mankind is evolving towards.
Trying to remain separate is the old way that we're about
Doctor Pulaski, a typically underrated character, stands alongside
most Starfleet Doctors in ranking aid first and Prime Directive
issues second. Nice. But predictable.
It's the "what if" questions that are used to punch holes
in Pulaski's view that defocus the quality of the
discussion for me. What if the suffering were caused by a virus?
What if it was a war? Those questions are only useful if you
are considering chucking the Directive for good, and this isn't
the venue for that. It IS a geological threat, and we CAN stick
with that to figure out what we're going to do today
(especially if we've already chucked our most convenient
label for ethics and started thinking on our feet again).
And that makes you wonder why they do as much as they do,
basically a bit of terraforming,
on a POPULATED planet,
with their only contact being a small child.
Me, I'd investigate the possibility of contact with the
society's leaders first, and negotiate with them whether or not
they want terraforming help, and hear their input on the matter.
It boggles the mind that this step was so overlooked.
We also have the cowardly cop-out of erasing the memory of
Data's friend. A huge rubbish.
"Pen Pals" definitely showcases one of the weirdest Prime Directive
sidesteps we've ever seen on the series. Although the eventual
actions by the crew aren't too far from what we might want if
there was no Prime Directive on the show, the episode doesn't
begin to do an adequate job of dealing with the Prime Directive
before it takes its action, and sets a bizarre precedent in
the Star Trek canon.