Star Trek: The Next Generation: Up the Long Ladder   Rewatch 
August 31, 2020 5:17 AM - Season 2, Episode 18 - Subscribe

Worf teaches Pulaski a thing or two about romance, just in time for Picard to do the same for a society of clones. Even Riker gets a little refresher course.

You put Metafilter and Memory Alpha together, and you let nature take its course:

• Melinda Snodgrass remarked, "It was intended to be a commentary about immigration, because I hate the current American policy. I wanted it to be something that says sometimes those outsiders you think are so smelly and wrong-colored, can bring enormous benefits to your society because they bring life and energy. That's what I was going for. Now my boss, at the time, was Maury Hurley, who is a major Irishman and leads the Saint Patrick's Day parade. When I was describing to him what I wanted to do, I was trying to come up with an analogy, and I said it was like a little village of Irish tinkerers, and he loved it so much he made me make them Irish tinkerers. I said okay, and that's how it came about." Snodgrass admitted that rewrites and budget restrictions resulted in the intended commentary being lost.

• "Brionglóid" is the Irish word for "dream."

• "Up the Long Ladder" was criticized from two directions. Snodgrass recalled, "I got enormous flack from the right to life coalition because they destroyed the clones. They thought I was condoning abortion. In fact, I did put a line in Riker's mouth that was very pro-choice and the right to life coalition went crazy. He says 'I told you that you can't clone me and you did it against my will, and I have the right to have control over my own body.' That's my feeling and it was my soapbox, and it was one I got to get on. I was supported by Maurice all the way."

• The episode was also criticized by Irish-Americans for presenting an overly-stereotyped view of their culture.

Ronald D. Moore called it "embarrassing" and in 2012 further called it "terrible beyond terrible."

• Barrie Ingham (Danilo Odell) was among the actors originally considered for the role of Jean-Luc Picard. He was one of the very small number of actors to have appeared in both the Star Trek and Doctor Who franchises.

"I am fine."
"You're not fine, you fainted."
"I did not faint. Klingons do not faint."
- Dr. Pulaski and Worf

"Sometimes, Number One, you just have to…bow to the absurd."
- Picard laughing, to Riker

"Do you not like girls?"
"Of course I do. Oh, is there a certain technique to this foot washing?"
"You generally start at the top and work your way down."
"I think I could get used to that."
- Brenna Odell and Riker

Poster's Log:
The tail end of season 2 contains two of the most generally reviled TNG episodes, and presumably the lowest points of this season by general agreement: this one and "Shades of Gray." This one is not quite as objectively bad as the latter. The tea ceremony scene is one of Worf's best so far, and possibly Pulaski's best for the whole season. I do question whether it's cool for Worf to get her so obviously hot and bothered if he's presumably not going to seal the deal on account of his well-documented concern about Klingon lovemaking injuring Human females. Physician, heal thyself, maybe. But in all seriousness, it's a nice scene that shows more than it tells about the mentalities of these two cultures.

In fact, this is the start of a trilogy of quite horny episodes, and it's maybe* the weakest of the three; perhaps a better title would have been "More Naked, More Now."
(* = If my hesitation seems surprising, it's because I disliked the next episode more than I expected to. More to come.)

About the two lost-colony societies being such a perfect fit for each other, well, you could call it narrative convenience, or you could call it just a straightforward and cute sci-fi premise. A similar conflict between The Stuffies and The Scruffies will occur in at least one future episode and, IIRC, be realized rather more completely and compellingly than here. Sadly, "Up the Long Ladder" is similarly outperformed by a season ONE Stuffies-Vs-Scruffies episode, "Symbiosis."

About the Irish Drunkard gags…I guess the best that can be said is, it could have been worse. I appreciate what they were trying to do, e.g. with Picard "bowing to the absurd," the role of the redhead in the plot, Snodgrass's boldness w/r/t her intended political messages, and so on. And the writers restrained themselves from including brawling and jig-dancing. But just…c'mon, man, it's not 1930 anymore, not even in 1989.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The automated fire suppression system described but not seen in this episode is detailed in one of the most beloved books in my bookcase, the TNG Technical Manual.

"Greatest Gen" episode.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Me, last episode: "I wish they would stop mucking around with these A/B plots and just fully commit to the insanity."

*monkey's paw curls*
posted by phooky at 6:30 AM on August 31, 2020 [17 favorites]

So, I disliked this episode a lot less than I thought I would--although, I should note, that that's not nearly the same thing as saying that I liked it--in part because of something that I made up early in my undergraduate college years, which is to say the early eighties, called the HFI Threshold, which is the point at which, during some really frustrating exercise or period, you throw up your hands and say, "Hey, fuck it." I reached this in the VOY episode "The 37's" (superfluous apostrophe theirs, not mine), which starts out with the premise that the ship just happens to accidentally run across a truck--a 1936 Ford pickup, specifically--in the approximately two trillion cubic light-years of the Delta Quadrant, not even there due to the same starship-stealing entity that brought the crew there, and that the truck belonged to the same group of alien abductees that included Amelia Earhart. That's arguably more absurd than the culture of an isolated anti-technological society evolving over the course of a few centuries to bear an uncanny resemblance to the most risibly bog-trotting Oirish stereotypes, complete with their nominal leader doing his best cross-eyed Red Skelton impression when he takes a sip of Klingon booze, but they're both over the HFI event horizon from my perspective. I think that this crystallized when I saw Jean-Luc Picard--in interpersonal terms, captain of the USS Keep a Tight Asshole--visibly cracking up at the scene on the cargo deck. Also adding to the general absurdity was Brenna's midriff-baring cable knit sweater. (Melinda Snodgrass may have been eager to pawn off some of the more ridonkulous aspects of this episode off onto "Maury" Hurley, but I'll just note the similarities between Brenna and Phillipa Louvois from "The Measure of a Man"--red-haired, assertive and authoritative, horny on main (in fact, compare the two actresses side by side and tell me that Brenna couldn't be Phillipa's daughter)--and leave it at that.)

I mean, the ep could have been more substantive; even if the stuffies-vs-scruffies thing has been done to death, I could imagine having an ep that had them actually working with each other and vs. their own ingrained traditions and tendencies, spending a bit more time on that part (instead of an almost-perfunctory last-reel "we'll bang OK" thing) and a bit less time on Paddy O'Furniture routines. I found the portrayal of the desperate but still uptight Mariposans much funnier, in a more subtle way, than the Bringloidians, in part because their whole aesthetic was so late-eighties-chic; when the crew beamed down, I was immediately reminded of the scene in Breaking Bad, when Walt and Skyler attend the birthday party of Walt's former associate who is now filthy rich; they're the only two people at the party who aren't wearing some shade of beige. The ep wouldn't have to be super-serious; DS9 did its own versions of some of the same concepts, with the really scruffy refugees in "Sanctuary" and the anti-tech colonists in "Paradise", but both of those ended up being pretty grim in their own ways. I think that there has to be some happy medium between "Sisko goes in the Box" and "something that makes 'Fair Haven' and 'Spirit Folk' look like Angela's Ashes."

The tea ceremony was nice.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:22 AM on August 31, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'll comment on the clones and Riker's line, "I told you that you can't clone me and you did it against my will, and I have the right to have control over my own body."

Snodgrass wants to make a point about choice and that's fine as far as it goes. But I have always felt like in order to make that point, they were missing the forest for the trees. They were rightfully upset they had been cloned against their will, but their righteous outrage didn't have much room for them being physically abducted so that their genetic material could be taken. Once the clones were destroyed, it was, Let us help! This is just a replay of "When the Bough Breaks".
posted by Fukiyama at 8:41 AM on August 31, 2020 [2 favorites]

The termination of the clones reads to me as rather homicidal, especially as they're portrayed as fully formed adults. Killing a living person because they make you less special seems awfully petty for our supposedly super enlightened 24th century people. We even have the example of Will turning out to be mostly cool with having a duplicate later on, he didn't demand Thomas RIker's immediate execution at all. Likewise, killing your own clone is regarded as murder in DS9's "A Man Alone". In Nemesis, Picard respects Shinzon's personhood even if the reverse isn't true. Inconsistency with things that aren't written yet is by no means a flaw in this episode in itself, but (IMO) those future events are more consistent with the Trek ethos in general.

The Star Trek CCG, meanwhile:

There were hints of clone machines in the original manual, and they're explicitly called out on Doppleganger as seen in an earlier episode.

As happens so often in STCCG, there are years to mend broken links between cards: 1996's Doppleganger has its logic completed by 2001's Clone Machine, which in turn had its text fully resolved by 2003's Aid Clone Colony. The 2003 All Good Things set which included the Mariposa card, indeed, consisted of 40 cards which existed to mend broken links and make the First Edition game a finished project.

I like that the clone machine card tries to represent all the different clonings in Trek up to the point at which it was printed. In practice, it's probably most useful for Dominion players, allowing you to replace Weyoun with Weyoun if you like.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:30 PM on August 31, 2020 [4 favorites]

Riker is so virulently anti-cloning that it feels like there’s some missing bit of Federation history there. Or maybe that was just the zeitgeist at the time? I mean I respect his bodily autonomy but Picard was so sure that everyone else on the Enterprise would feel the same, you’d think there’d be a few people at least who were like “Yeah sure, why not?”

It’s funny that I remembered the clones and their attack (and the needle scene in particular) when it comes in so close to the end of the episode and had forgotten the cargo bay of Irish caricatures almost entirely.
posted by rodlymight at 6:59 PM on August 31, 2020

Riker is so virulently anti-cloning that it feels like there’s some missing bit of Federation history there.

Characters get duplicated in various ways on Star Trek semi-regularly. Androids, shapeshifters, etc. The way characters react to this is generally not in the 'Original Character Do Not Cl*ne!' way Riker does here. But they do (and, I think, more defensibly) object to being duplicated in the holodeck for...entertainment...purposes. One could read it as being something like that.

It feels like clonophobia subplot, like the rest of this particular script, suffered a bit from the writer's strike. It could be the premise of a more interesting Measure of a Man, it kinda was.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:52 PM on August 31, 2020

Maybe it's a knock-on effect from the general prohibition on genetic engineering?
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:00 PM on August 31, 2020

It could be! On the other hand no one was authorized to exterminate Dr Bashir on a personal whim.

We have "The Wounded" and "The Masterpiece Society" coming up for more genetic engineering shenanigans. And there's another episode where a significant character is cloned, it'll be fun to compare.
posted by StarkRoads at 10:22 PM on August 31, 2020

The weirdest thing about being anti-clone in the Star Trek universe is that there isn't any meaningful distinction I can see between the cloning process and, say, disassembling your entire body and then assembling a new body at a destination of your choosing via the transporter system.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:06 PM on August 31, 2020 [1 favorite]

Or, for that matter, between using the transporter to magically de-age yourself and using a clone to ward off the effects of aging, injury, or disease by using it for spare parts (sometimes justified ethically by positing a clone that is deliberately made brain-dead, or even one that's gonna die really soon anyway).
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:45 AM on September 1, 2020

I got enormous flack from the right to life coalition because they destroyed the clones. They thought I was condoning abortion. In fact, I did put a line in Riker's mouth that was very pro-choice and the right to life coalition went crazy.

Conversely, although I doubt it was intentional: I was just watching this episode a couple of days ago and I realized that the “Cloning me doesn't affect my body or life in any way but it harms me by making me less unique!” argument they make appears to be a simulacrum of what would have been one of the contemporary arguments against gay marriage in the United States, that the existence of gay relationships for which the town clerk's office issued marriage license paperwork would sap the purity and essence of our precious hetero marriage.
posted by XMLicious at 11:09 AM on January 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

If the clones had been willing to entertain either sex (which they feel is backwards, but hey, maybe take one for the team) or in-vitro fertilization of ova, Riker and other Enterprise personnel would have donated sperm. It would have been a simpler solution than Picard opting to slam two societies separated by beliefs, behavior, and 300 years back together.

And the clones eventually did agree to sex. It would have been much less disruptive to just invite any takers from the enterprise down for shore leave and a five-way with the doublemint quadruplets on planet grey carpeted dental office waiting room.

And oh man can we talk about the incredible inappropriateness of the XO space-sexing a refugee fleeing death who is from a developing agrarian society? I know everyone is a consenting adult in TNG but the non-professionalism and the power dynamic of that felt icky.

Or Pulaski saying that the half measure of letting the clones clone a few Enterprise crew would only give them another 15 generations? That's 300-plus years! Would that all problems could be kicked that far down the road.
posted by zippy at 2:58 AM on November 12, 2021

Also why did the original five colony survivors go exclusively with the clone route and not have sex with one another to establish more genetic variability? I get that 300 years later all the clones know is cloning but was there some reason the surviving colonists, having decided that they would do whatever it took to make their colony work, never did the simplest and most obvious thing that the clones now have to do, which is partner up as many ways as possible?
posted by zippy at 3:14 AM on November 12, 2021 [1 favorite]

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