Star Trek: The Next Generation: Homeward   Rewatch 
October 29, 2021 3:17 AM - Season 7, Episode 13 - Subscribe

After confronting his foster brother about violating the Prime Directive, Worf finds that his reassuring words ring a little holo.

Memory Alpha is the life of Trek FanFare. Without that past, our future means nothing:

• This is the first time on the series that Michael Dorn (Worf) appears without Klingon make-up. However, it is not until DS9's "Far Beyond the Stars" that he wears no prosthetics at all, in his role as Willie Hawkins.

• Although the existence of Worf's adoptive brother was first established in "Heart of Glory" [FF previously --ed.], his name was never given until "Homeward."

• The idea of using a holodeck to transplant an alien race without their knowledge would later be used in Star Trek: Insurrection, when the Son'a work with the Federation to remove the Ba'ku from their homeworld. During early development of the film, Michael Piller and Rick Berman referred to this plot point as a "Sorvino Switch" after "Homeward" guest star Paul Sorvino.

• The stardate for this episode would have it taking place before the previous episode "The Pegasus", that episode taking place on Stardate 47457.1.

• Trek novelist Keith R.A. DeCandido, in a review for, gave this episode a rating of "Warp Factor 1" which is considered a poor rating. He explained his low rating: "I lost considerable respect for Jean-Luc Picard as a character in this episode, as he spews tons of self-righteous twaddle in defense of making sure people die the way they were 'supposed' to. The Picard of this episode is compassionless, heartless, and despicable. The point of the Prime Directive is to avoid imperialism, basically—to keep from contaminating two cultures (the ones being interfered with and the ones interfering). But the equivalency between that level of protection (and self-protection) and letting an entire culture die for no good reason that this episode postulates is appalling. There is something seriously wrong with your Star Trek episode when your theoretical heroes are trying to kill people (well, okay, let them die, but it amounts to the same thing) and your antagonist whom the script desperately wants to paint as the bad guy is the person who’s actually saving lives."

• Zack Handlen, a reviewer for the A.V. Club, had a much more positive outlook on the episode: "Maybe that’s also why Picard and the others spend so much time talking about the Prime Directive, and reminding each other of the importance of noninterference at the drop of a hat. They’re faced with situations which test their resolve on a regular basis, and these are really tough tests. We’re talking living, breathing sentient beings, and playing god, and not being able to see the consequences of your actions in the long term. That’s the really scary part right there, and the reason why staying aloof, even when it seems impossible, makes the most sense in the long run."

• Penny Johnson later went on to play the regular role of Kasidy Yates in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

• Brian Markinson also appears in DS9 as Elias Giger in "In the Cards" and on Star Trek: Voyager as both Pete Durst and Sulan in "Faces".

"This is one of those times when we must face the ramifications of the Prime Directive and honor those lives which we cannot save."
"I find no honor in this whatsoever, captain."
- Jean-Luc Picard and Nikolai Rozhenko

"It is the sign of La Forge."
- Worf, in the role of a Boraalan seer, explaining a holodeck malfunction as an omen

"If I had been more like you… We wouldn't have had so many problems."
"No. If you had been more like me, these people would not be here now. You gave them a chance at a new life."
- Nikolai Rozhenko and Worf

Poster's Log:
For this episode to have done full justice to the moral conundrum it introduces, it would've had to be very different, and probably a 2-parter. Handlen's remarks above about taking the long view make sense, I think, for most applications of the Prime Directive. But there has to come a point where an entire planet's agonizing death by asphyxiation maybe kinda sorta outweighs potential larger catastrophes. Bernd at Ex Astris Scientia points out, rightly I think, that a pre-warp culture is probably better off being unexpectedly and probably-disastrously introduced to spacefaring society than being annihilated. It's all crystallized in the moment when Picard gives his little speech as the atmosphere dissipates; if this is the end result of the Prime Directive, then how, by the episode's own logic, are Picard and those like him not total monsters?

What the episode doesn't directly address is the possibility that a prewarp society abruptly introduced to warp-level tech might as a result become (somehow) a regional menace to multiple neighboring societies, leading to vastly more bloodshed—that this may even have happened early in the Federation's history, causing them to become as gun-shy about interference as Khan made them about genetic engineering—and thus possibly tilting these scales closer to "let them asphyxiate," but (A) I don't remember any chain of events so disastrous in prior Trek lore*, (B) even if that's all true, it's a big moral leap from that to Picard's position here, which is kind of like forcing genetically-engineered babies to be aborted because a Khan happened one time—sorry Bashir!, and (C) in this completely conjectural situation, isn't the responsible thing to monitor/shepherd the civilization's use of this advanced knowledge, to forestall any Space Nazi shenanigans?

(* = Now THIS would be a good story for an episode, or multi-episode-arc, of Strange New Worlds.)

Anyway, it's likely that all of the above is once again me thinking it through more than they did, but I have the luxury of days/decades to do so, of course. I prefer to interpret the core conflict of this episode as "head-non-canon," and attribute it to a writer's room that got so caught up in building a truly nifty holodeck story and truly meaty character conflict that they allowed themselves to think of the Boraalans in purely abstract terms, and forgot to/ran outta time to stop and think about what Picard's position here says about him, the Federation, and to an extent the whole dang franchise. Less charitably, you almost wonder if making Picard/the UFP a pretty despicable villain here amounts to a bit of lashing out on the part of somebody behind the scenes.

In addition, the Greatest Gen guys note some of the dropped balls of the story: how many chronicles are there? Did they photocopy them? Are Boraalans immune to genetic defects from inbreeding?

In light of all that, it's strange that I like this episode, but I always have. The holodeck scheme is fascinating, we see some new stuff from Worf, Brian "Dr. Giger" Markinson turns in a compelling performance despite a small role, and Paul Sorvino brings it as a likeable, uncompromising leader.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
I might have liked the episode just as much if Picard had endorsed Nikolai's plan yet simultaneously grumbled about the Prime Directive throughout—it's not like Nikolai couldn't handle Picard AND Worf constantly haranguing him—and then assigned a second Boraalan-disguised observer at the end to make sure Nikolai doesn't set himself up as a god or a fuhrer or whatever because he toootally could. "It was tribute, just like in the old country, except they were doing it here on Vacca VI."

Monday's ep is one of TNG's more infamous: "Sub Rosa"!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (9 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
[Interior; an empty opera house. The audience slowly files in. The orchestra enters and takes their seats. A conductor appears, to much applause. The lights dim; a hush falls. A stirring overture begins to play. The stage is gently illuminated; the set represents a ruined, airless world at dawn. Suddenly, a rotating platform rises from below the stage, bringing an performer into view. It is a soprano, dressed in a glittering costume representing a federation starship.]

Apart from the problems described above, I'm skeptical of all these "research stations" the Federation appears to plop down next to every pre-warp civilization. I can think of a few reasons to keep tabs on such civilzations: to note when they achieve interstellar capabilities, or to ward off galactic grifters or other external threats. But you can do that, pretty much by definition, from orbit. If you want to be hands off and not feel morally responsible if a civilization is destroyed through no fault of your own, maybe build that argument by giving them space and not spying on them constantly.

Which brings me to my real concern: how are there not effective protocols in place to keep these researchers from abusing their power? Because that's exactly what's going on here: Nikolai was using his position to blend in with the inhabitants and have sex with them. It's not sweet that he's going to have a baby, it's monstrous, and it throws all his other actions into question. Would he have bothered to save these people if one of them wasn't carrying his child?
posted by phooky at 7:11 AM on October 29, 2021 [2 favorites]


Oops, sorry. I’m early. I’ll see myself out.
posted by Servo5678 at 7:14 AM on October 29, 2021 [6 favorites]

It was tribute, just like in the old country, except they were doing it here

ISWYDT. And although Sorvino was great, every now and then, when he'd glower, I'd think, he's probably going to send Henry and Tommy over to lean on some people and tell them how things are gonna be, badda-bing, badda-bang.

But the real problem was that pesky Prime Directive, usually evoked to provide some sort of tension in the episode without, as you point out, some solid (or even semi-solid) Eugenics Wars-type justification. (I've seen the matter crop up in beta canon; ENT rather notoriously came down on the "let 'em die" side, but Archer almost deliberately left himself an exit with the "if only we had a directive of some kind" bit, and the nonexistent last few seasons could have dealt with that rather handily.) I think that the way it usually seems to be interpreted is generally for the benefit of the society itself; that it should have the freedom to develop as it will, before it develops FTL travel and the question of whether or not it might be altered/contaminated/corrupted by contact with another civilization becomes moot. (This idea of cultural hegemony--that a particular civilization might be co-opted by another, not by force but by simple contact--probably was best expressed by James Tiptree Jr.'s story "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill's Side"; in terms of the Federation doing so, inadvertently or otherwise, we have Kruge's evocation of life under the Federation ("Oh, yes. New cities and homes in the country. Your woman at your side. Children playing at your feet, and overhead, fluttering in the breeze, the flag of the Federation! Charming."), and later Eddington's comparison of the Federation to the Borg ("You know, in some ways you're even worse than the Borg. At least they tell you about their plans for assimilation. You're more insidious. You assimilate people and they don't even know it.").)

But, again, kind of a moot point if the civilization in question is dead. The ep tries to stack the argument by having Vorin commit suicide, but I felt like that was a cheap manipulative move; I would think that the chronicler would want to embrace the new and amazing story, even if they wanted to keep it secret for a while.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:05 AM on October 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Nikolai Rozhenko didn't impress Wesley when he was new, but as he mentioned Nik does help with Pegasus Search. A tiny bit later he got a mission that's practically made for him, Homeward. And he passes Primitive Culture. I rate him Not That Bad.

Speaking of personnel with missions basically made for them, it's Beverly Crusher! The last of our Premiere main cast members. She solves Evalute Terraforming on her lonesome, and her three skills include the main 'medicine related' ones: Biology and Exobiology. Nice to get them all in one place. The First Contact version is pretty much a direct upgrade, but that's not her fault. Before Wesley took over, she was reviewed by Habib. I rate her Pretty Good.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:11 AM on October 29, 2021

"It was tribute, just like in the old country, except they were doing it here on Vacca VI."

The recap shouldn't be more clever or thoughtful than the episode.
posted by skewed at 8:11 AM on October 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Never liked this one. It's convulted. It's uneven. And I find the Nikolai character unlikeable. Paul Sorvino did a fine job. But Nikolai was basically a self-righteouse conman who never got any comeuppance. Even if he was right to save those people in the end, Picard needed to say something with authority. "Nikolai, good work. I wish you and these people well. But... don't come back, or you'll be brought up on charges."
posted by Stuka at 8:51 AM on October 29, 2021

Monday's ep is one of TNG's more infamous: "Sub Rosa"!

Don't remind me. :)
posted by hanov3r at 8:53 AM on October 29, 2021

Worf finds that his reassuring words ring a little holo

A+, 10/10

Monday's ep is one of TNG's more infamous: "Sub Rosa"!

I know, I can't wait! It's been years since I saw it and it's taken on a life of its own on tumblr in its legendary awfulness.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 10:35 AM on October 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Nikolai - "I would like to stop this race from being entirely destroyed."

Worf - "Absolutely not! We mustn't interfere in any way."

Nikolai - "Also, I've been having sex with one of them and now she's pregnant with a half-human half-Boraalan child."

Worf - "Oh, you scamp."
posted by RobotHero at 2:42 PM on December 16, 2021

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