Star Trek: The Next Generation: Symbiosis   Rewatch 
June 15, 2020 9:00 AM - Season 1, Episode 22 - Subscribe

When aliens suffering from chemical dependency beg for help, Picard just says no.

You like to fly, kid? Memory Alpha's got something that'll REALLY make you fly:

• This marks Denise Crosby's last appearance as a full cast member. Although Natasha Yar appears in the following episode, "Skin of Evil", this episode was filmed following that. In the scene with Crusher and Picard leaving the cargo bay at the end of the episode, Crosby can be seen waving goodbye in the extreme background.

• Gates McFadden talked about this episode, as a socially relevant TNG installment, in the documentary 50 Years of Star Trek.

• Merritt Butrick and Judson Scott, who had appeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (as David Marcus and Joachim respectively), portray T'Jon and Sobi, respectively. However, this is Butrick's final Star Trek role before his death from AIDS in 1989. Judson Scott later appeared in VOY: "Message in a Bottle" as the Romulan Commander Rekar.

• This is one of only five TNG episodes (and the only season one episode) that doesn't have a stardate. The others are "First Contact", "Tapestry", "Liaisons", and "Sub Rosa".

• "Symbiosis" featured a reviled "just say no" discussion on drugs between Wesley and Tasha.

• Director Win Phelps remembers, "There were many continuity problems. Down on the set, we began to notice discrepancies. Some sequences just didn't really work. The actors would say "My motivation is totally wrong here", because a previous scene would be contradictory. They were trying to act scenes that they had never read before, or where substantially different from what they had read. That didn't happen every scene, but it did happen."

Richard Lineback (Romas) later appeared as Selin Peers in DS9: "Dax" and as Kessick in ENT: "The Xindi".

• Margan actor Kenneth Tigar later played Dammar [two M's – ed.] in VOY: "Displaced" [FF previously – ed.].


"Freighter, we're going to lock on the tractor beam and pull you out of orbit."
"Hey, that… that's great."
- Picard and T'Jon, as the Sanction begins to burn up in the atmosphere


"Wesley, on my home world, there was so much poverty and violence that for some people, the only escape was through drugs."
"How can a chemical substance provide an escape?"
"It doesn't. But it makes you think it does."
- Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher, discussing drug addiction


"Beverly, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy… and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."
"It's hard to be philosophical when faced with suffering."
"Believe me Beverly, there was only one decision."
"I just hope it was the right one."
"And we may never know."
- Captain Picard and Doctor Crusher


Poster's Log:
Is the felicium just…lentils?

The fun stunt casting here is the two Wrath of Khan alumni side-by-side. Kinda wish Judson Scott got a little more to do, but both he and Butrick were even more compelling here than in TWOK.

I imagine most MetaFilter readers don't need me to tell them about the actual goals and outcomes of the "War on Drugs." But I also imagine that those who were not in school in the '80s and '90s could hardly imagine how pervasive the "Just Say No" campaign was. One anecdote that comes to mind is that several arcade games (one was definitely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the one that got ported to the NES as TMNT 2) got a splash-screen with some sort of federal-looking seal on it and the text "Only Losers Use Drugs," which of course inspired us sarcastic youths to retort "Only Users Lose Drugs." We were badasses of the arcade, clearly.

So anyone who knew this episode solely by reputation may well have expected it to be preachier than it is. Had it been—had it approached, say, that one episode of Diff'rent Strokes when Nancy Reagan showed up to tell The Kids all about the quick and easy "Just Say No" approach—I might have actually refused to rewatch this, and the post would've been shorter. (Sorry!) The preachiness is pretty much confined to the Yar-Wesley exchange—which, while cringey, is not nearly as anvilicious as most of the other Just Say No shit of that time, and is actually plausible if you can divorce the context of the episode from these two characters' histories and personalities.

Having seen it only twice before this rewatch, I did remember finding this to be among the most boring TNGs, certainly of season 1, which proved accurate. The story almost doesn't seem certain what it wants to be about: the complex and concrete topic of drug addiction or the mysterious and vague topic of the Prime Directive. (It's never made clear whether the Ornarans or Brekkians developed warp drive, so there's probably little point in discussing whether or not Picard violates the PD merely by responding to the distress call.)

It DOES seem to me that Picard's decision at the end might be the best one IF your only measure is how well he addresses the Ornarans' plight while still adhering to the PD. From a more humanistic perspective (er…sapientistic?), I have this feeling that the script missed, or deliberately omitted, something. Moreover, the script vacillates between treating the Ornarans with respect and having them talk like characters from a stoner comedy.

Not to mention the very strange bookends. Let's spend ten minutes talking about a solar flare (and was that entire sequence JUST included to introduce some short-term obstacles to the rescue?), then delve into an addiction morality play with a damn chilling resolution, then some tonal whiplash as we end on a lighthearted and weirdly shoehorned-in reference to the fact that we're supposed to be explorers (as this franchise occasionally has to remind itself ^-^ ). I half expected this to be the closing exchange:

LA FORGE
The Opperline system.

RIKER
An interesting choice. Why?

LA FORGE
Well, I'm ADDICTED to exploration, commander!
(everybody laughs, freeze-frame, perhaps a "boing" sound in the closing music tag)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Turns out the Enterprise-D has a Vulcan engineer! Maybe she'll be the fifteenth Chief Engineer of the season in a few episodes!

Looks like I was wrong about TNG-style forehead aliens not appearing this early in the show. And along those lines, I don't know if the makeup and costuming folks were instructed to make the Brekkians look like televangelists (though it'd make sense), but if they were, mission accomplished.

"Greatest Generation" episode link.

Big one next time: "Skin of Evil"!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
One anecdote that comes to mind is that several arcade games (one was definitely Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the one that got ported to the NES as TMNT 2) got a splash-screen with some sort of federal-looking seal on it and the text "Only Losers Use Drugs," which of course inspired us sarcastic youths to retort "Only Users Lose Drugs." We were badasses of the arcade, clearly.

Funny you mention that because the man whose name was on those messages, William S. Sessions, died this past weekend.
posted by Servo5678 at 9:46 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I actually rewatched this one twice recently, but for the exact opposite reason that I did the same for "Heart of Glory": this is a pretty bad episode, both on the face of it and because of most of the people in this episode carrying the Idiot Ball [TVTropes] for pretty much the entire time. Let's run down the list of Idiot Ball jugglers:

- The entire population of Ornara, aka JunkieWorld, some four billion and umpteen skadillion of them, for not realizing that they were addicted. Look, I've mentioned before that I'm in recovery for alcoholism, and while I emphatically don't speak for all addicts, I've met enough to know that many if not most of us know, and knew for some time, perfectly well that we have a problem. (Step 1 of the twelve steps of AA is "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable." Admitted, not realized.) We may deny the nature and severity of the problem, or fall back on that old chestnut--"I'll get clean and/or sober tomorrow"--but it's really not a secret even to ourselves; I remember getting mad at a South Park episode that really got alcoholism and AA wrong (you may be able to guess which one), as I sat in a bar getting drunk while I watched it. I'm pretty sure that Lou Reed wrote "Heroin" while he was hooked on it; Robert Downey, Jr. played an addict in Less than Zero years before his own drug problems became apparent; etc.--that's what alcoholics and addicts mean when they refer to the insanity of addiction, that peculiar doublethink that they engage in. Even though T'Jon and Romas are obviously getting a huge rush off of felicium, aka space heroin, they aren't making the connection (although Beverly Crusher is, and her expression while they're feeling the rush is sublimely hilarious). You could say that there's something about the Ornarans or the drug that keeps them from making that realization, but if that's your explanation, that they're intrinsically different from humans in that way, why do an anti-drug episode at all?

- The Brekkians, aka the space pushers, for not getting control of the distribution of their product. Sobi and Langor have the smooth, polished appearance and manner of ruthless drug peddlers (both illegal and legal), but it never occurred to them or any of their people that, with the Ornarans obviously too far along their path of addiction to really keep their shit together enough to keep their ships in operating condition, maybe they should take over the freighters. This seems to be driven by where the showrunners wanted the plot to go (i.e. to end with the likelihood that the Ornarans would be forced to kick the habit), but it doesn't make a lot of sense.

- Jean-Luc Picard, for coming a little late to the hardshell Church of the Prime Directive; if Ornara is JunkieWorld, and Brekka is PusherWorld, then the people on the freighter were the most important people on two planets, and Picard interfered hugely by saving their lives. I'm pretty sure that the PD doesn't say "yeah, you can pull people out of failing ships, but only if you have no reason ahead of time to think that they might be important", or whatever; "A Sound of Thunder" and whatnot. (The PD also applies differently to species that are capable of initiating First Contact; this may be why the warp drive threshold may have been added later.)

- Tasha, for getting the nature of drug addiction hilariously wrong when she tells Wesley it's about escaping poverty and violence. How do I put this? [cut to montage of celebrities and rock stars snorting, shooting up, toking, and drinking to the sound of "Heroin", end with RDJ's mug shot.] Also, of course, the E-D has the holodeck; arguably, the best anti-drug episode that TNG will ever do is "Hollow Pursuits." (DS9 will have"The Wire", but also "It's Only a Paper Moon", which in part is a holoaddiction episode.) Also, too, Tasha: remember you're talking to the kid who got space-drunk and almost crashed the ship.

- The showrunners, for slapping this mess together. This one is really my excuse to talk about Gene Roddenberry and how and why he might have presented this ep in the light of his own chronic (and, according to more than one person, eventually leading to his death) substance abuse. I don't think that it was entirely an accident that the show, contrary to numerous very public examples to the contrary, portrayed addiction as a) something that happened mostly to poor and desperate people, b) something that they wouldn't realize themselves, and c) something that the authorities weren't supposed to interfere in.

So, yeah, not a fan of this one, sorrynotsorry. Getting Joachim and David Marcus for this ep was kind of a waste, especially since Merritt Butrick would not have long to live. And, agreed that the bookends to the episode were jarring in their tone, compared to the bulk of it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:23 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


This one is just laughably bad television. Like it's bad trek- but it's just bad period. Which of course means the podcast is just amazing. There's just so much to tear into I won't even start. Ironically prob one of the best episodes to watch on weed.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:27 AM on June 15 [2 favorites]


While the whole 'underground mole people do the hard work while the elites frolic in the sunlight' trope has been a staple of sci-fi books/shows, it doesn't work if the groups are distanced by planets. The idea that the Brekkians have no industry but felicium production can only work metaphorically. How are the Ornarans possibly supplying all other industries to Brekkia via their measly Rent-A-Wreck freighter 'fleet'? Someone on Brekkia has to be producing/supplying food & water and other essential services to the population.
posted by oh yeah! at 10:35 AM on June 15 [4 favorites]


This seems to be driven by where the showrunners wanted the plot to go (i.e. to end with the likelihood that the Ornarans would be forced to kick the habit), but it doesn't make a lot of sense.
[...]
The idea that the Brekkians have no industry but felicium production can only work metaphorically.


I think y'all hit on the thing I mentioned that the script was missing w/r/t the hypothetically more humanistic resolution to the story. There's a tidiness to all of this. It's not the last time TNG will do that, and it's certainly not unique to TNG in the annals of all sci-fi, but here it contributes to the falsity (and probably the boredom).

Also, too, Tasha: remember you're talking to the kid who got space-drunk and almost crashed the ship.

I wouldn't be surprised if Tasha has reasons of her own for not mentioning that particular episode…of their lives. Actually, really, EVERYone on the ship probably has reasons (except maybe for Riker and Sarah MacDougal), which works out well in that the audience also doesn't really want to be reminded.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:21 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Halloween Jack, why did you watch this TWICE when it seems like you really didn't enjoy it the first time?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:51 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


My brother wanted me to post something for him:

Symbiosis is a poor episode, sure. And maybe JLP does come to the PD a little late. But the episode still has the first real JLP "speech" when he's in the turbolift with Crusher. Does he have a cool speech in an earlier episode? I can't think of one.

In answer to his question, I think there's one in the one where Wes is on the verge of execution for breaking some glass, but other than that? And thinking about it, that one really isn't as good as this one. Patrick really pulls off the speech well in this one.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:53 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Halloween Jack, why did you watch this TWICE when it seems like you really didn't enjoy it the first time?

The ones that are harder to rewatch are the ones without any interest whatsoever; often they're just redos of earlier episodes or episodes of other shows in the franchise without their really breaking new ground. Mediocrity isn't very compelling. An ep can even be good (as "The Arsenal of Freedom" was, I think) without requiring a lot of analysis; that ep had a fairly simple story idea that it executed quite well. This one was bad in a non-trivial way that was puzzling until it occurred to me that the latter-day assessments of Roddenberry talked quite a bit about his substance abuse. Then, it became worth tracing through the individual elements and how they carefully laid out a portrait of substance abuse that was inaccurate in a way that only made sense if you took into account that extra bit of inside baseball.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:41 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Director Win Phelps remembers, "There were many continuity problems. Down on the set, we began to notice discrepancies. Some sequences just didn't really work. The actors would say "My motivation is totally wrong here", because a previous scene would be contradictory. They were trying to act scenes that they had never read before, or where substantially different from what they had read. That didn't happen every scene, but it did happen."

Ah. There were a couple instances where it seemed like they ADRed Gates McFadden with some additional exposition. And theres a bit near the beginning where Riker and Yar are walking and talking up the corridor after beaming in their guests where their dialogue makes it seem like they might be high.
posted by rodlymight at 7:25 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Trying to say something nice… Well, this episode gave us space overalls.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:05 AM on June 16


"Space overalls" made me think that Romas' outfit would be suitable for a children's show host, which led me down kind of a dark path thinking about T'Jon and Romas starting a kid's show, and what their version of the "just say no" talk would be.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:02 PM on June 16 [1 favorite]


• This marks Denise Crosby's last appearance as a full cast member.
:|
On one hand, the show has not given her all the best material, and _9_ primary characters is a lot to share the screen.

On the other hand, having watched her performances recently the original casting as Troi makes a lot of sense. It might have suited her a better in the end.

I can't help but feel it's significant that the majority of main characters who have been written out of Star Trek have been women.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:58 AM on June 18 [5 favorites]


I can't help but feel it's significant that the majority of main characters who have been written out of Star Trek have been women.

That's a very good point, and something that I might want to expand on in the next episode's post.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:40 AM on June 18


« Older Book: The Quincunx...   |  Insecure: Lowkey Lost... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments