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Symbiosis

Review

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 4
Disc No : 1.5 Episode : 21
First Aired : 18 Apr 1988 Stardate : Unknown
Director : Win Phelps Year : 2364
Writers : Robert Lewin Season : 1
Guest Cast :
Judson Scott as Sobi
Kimberly Farr as Langor
Merritt Butrick as T'Jon
Richard Lineback as Romas
Moral :
Drugs : Just say no, kids!
YATI : As Picard leaves the cargo bay for his talk with Beverly, Yar gives him a big wave. Why? (Actually, it's because this is the last episode Denise Crosby filmed, but there's no on-camera reason for it.)
Great Moment : I love the ending, with Picards disgusted 'I don't care where we go, just get us away from here' attitude.
Body Count : Two of the freighter's crew are killed when it explodes.
Factoid : Merritt Butrick who plays T'Jon in this episode also played Kirk's son David in ST II and ST III.

Plotline

The Enterprise-D is investigating unusual solar activity on the star Delos when a distress signal is received from a transport vessel, the Sanction, orbiting a moon in the system. When they arrive to help, they find that the crew of the vessel have no idea what is wrong, apparently lacking any knowledge of even the most basic functions of their vessel. With the Sanction burning up in the planet's atmosphere, Picard abandons hope of saving the ship and has yar try to beam the crew off - but she finds that the ship's cargo is transported over instead. Routing it to a cargo bay, Yar manages to beam four of the Sanction's complement off before the ship explodes. T'Jon reveals that the remaining freighter ships are all breaking down because of engine problems, a fault which is minor but unfixable because of the deteriorating level of technical ability on his planet. Picard offers to supply the spare parts needed to keep the freighter fleet running.

The four, Ornarans T'Jon and Romas and Brekkians Sobi and Langor, are all instantly intent on seeing the cargo. A dispute rapidly breaks out; the Ornarans claim that they have paid for the cargo and it is theirs, whilst the Brekkians claim that since the payment was destroyed in the Sanction then technically it has not been received and the cargo remains theirs. A fight breaks out, with both sides using some form of natural electrical discharge against one another until Yar intercedes with her phaser. The cargo is revealed to be Felicium, a medicine which treats a deadly disease that afflicts everybody on Ornara. The Felicium can be produced only from a plant that grows on Brekka; the production of the drug is the only industry on the planet, with all other needs being supplied by the Ornarans in return for the constant supply of medicine.

Doctor Crusher is unable to find any signs of the illness in either T'Jon or Romas, but their condition steadily seems to worsen and Picard entreats the Brekkians to supply them with enough for their own immediate use. Langor and Sobi agree to the request, and Beverly supervises administering the dose. She is more than amazed by the instant relief of their symptoms... going to Picard, she reveals that with no sign of an actual illness, she can only conclude that Felicium itself is a powerful narcotic; the "illness" is actually withdrawal symptoms, and everybody on Ornara is actually an unknowing drug addict.

Data and Riker research the ship's records and manage to piece together the story; there was indeed a plague two centuries earlier which was cured with Felicium. However nobody realised that the population had become addicted to the cure; they just assumed that the withdrawal symptoms were a sign of an ongoing illness which needed repeated treatments.

A message from an Ornaran leader prompts T'Jon to attack Riker, threatening to kill him if the medicine is not released to his people. Picard refuses firmly, and T'Jon reluctantly releases the First officer. The Brekkians subsequently agree to release the Felicium, saying that further payment can be arranged after it is distributed. Picard is disgusted, realising from their change of heart that they must know the truth about the Felicium - if they deny this shipment then everybody on Ornara will go through withdrawal... and then realise the truth as they recover afterwards. Since this is the last thing the Brekkians want, then it is in their interests to keep the supply going.

Unfortunately, the Prime Directive prevents Picard from interfering in the situation, even to the extent of telling the Ornarans the truth. Despite Beverly's distress he agrees to release the Felicium to the Ornarans.

However, Picard has one last card to play. He refuses to supply the engine parts to the Ornarans, an act which will instantly cripple their fleet and mean no more deliveries of Felicium. All four of the aliens are astonished, but Picard blankly refuses their pleas and sends them on their way. When Beverly points out that she could probably produce medicines to easy the withdrawal pains which will occur soon on Ornara, Picard points out that if the philosophy of the Prime Directive is to mean anything, the Ornarans must be left to work through their problems on their own. Arriving at the bridge, he sadly orders the ship into warp - any heading, just so long as he can leave the system behind them.

Analysis

Yes, okay, it's basically a "say no to drugs, kids!" public service message - right down to having Yar basically give the audience a big "Drugs are BAD, and here's why!" speech in the middle of it. But still, I really like this one. It's a fascinating idea, that a whole planet full of people could become drug addicts whilst another become suppliers. And I love the way it plays out, with Picard putting it together piece by piece.

There is much you could carp about. Surely it can't be practical that an entire planet of people could get regular doses of Felicium for such a long period of time. This would mean that over two hundred years not one single person was ever isolated, cut off from contact by accident or circumstance. If even one such person was trapped in a mine or down a well or whatever for a few days, they would go through withdrawal and yet survive - something that would surely attract considerable comment and analysis.

The peculiar electrical abilities also seem a bit stuck-in-for-no-reason. The story does nothing with them that it couldn't have done without them - the initial fight between the Ornarans and Brekkians would have been just as effective as a fistfight, and Riker could have been held hostage just as easily with a knife or gun. While I am always in favour of making alien species more alien, this just seemed tacked on somehow.

But, despite its flaws... somehow for me the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 13,035 Last updated : 12 Mar 2013