In sickbay Worf claims to be fine, but Doctor Pulaski diagnoses Rop'ngor, a disease that is the Klingon equivalent of measles. Worf is horribly ashamed to have a childhood ailment as an adult, and Pulaski agrees to cover up his condition with a lie about the cause.
Data, meanwhile, has been doing some checking. He suggests that although the spotty records of the 22nd century show no deep space mission to the Ficus sector, there may still be other surviving records such as a cargo manifest. They find that the ship is the SS Mariposa, which set out in 2123 with two sets of cargo. The first is a list of high tech parts typical for a deep space colony, but the second set consists of various primitive items and farm animals! Data suggests that the colony may have had some Neo-Transcendentalists, a movement of the time which believed in a primitive way of life.
The Enterprise tracks the distress call to the Bringloid system and discovers that the star is undergoing major solar flares, threatening life on the planet. Riker beams down to prepare the two hundred colonists for evacuation. The Bringloidi beam aboard, and Picard is amused to find that he is confronted with a rather rural group of primitive farmers, complete with their equipment - including farm animals which they insist on bringing with them. Space is found for the Bringloidi in a cargo bay and they begin to settle in. The colony leader, Danilo Odell, seems content to be transported elsewhere, and is delighted to find that the ship's replicators can provide alcohol on command - much to the anger of his beautiful daughter Brenna, who fears the men will do no work if they have access to unlimited quantities of drink. Danilo mentions "the other colony" in passing, and Picard realizes the reason for the high technology items on the Mariposa - there was a second, high tech colony.
The Enterprise heads off to the nearest class M planet, half a light year away, and locates the second colony. Riker takes the time to show Brenna around the Enterprise whilst she seems concerned with finding a place to "wash her feet". On arriving at his quarters the penny finally drops for Riker when she informs him that the usual way for a Bringloidi woman to wash her feet is to have a man help her by "starting at the top and working his way down."
Arriving at the second colony the Enterprise finds a surprise in store - the entire population consists of thousands of clones of only five different people, two women and three men. The Mariposa was damaged on landing, killing most of the colonists and forcing the few remaining to reproduce via cloning. Over time this became the norm, with sexual contact and normal reproduction has come to be seen as something disgusting. Pulaski realizes that the colony must be suffering from "replicative fading" - they are making copies of copies of copies, with damage to the genome accumulating at each step. After all this time the colonists health is suffering badly. The colony leader, Wilson, asks for a donation of fresh DNA from the crew, but nobody is willing to provide it and in any case it would only be a stopgap solution. The disappointed colonists resort to knocking Riker and Pulaski out when they are alone and stealing DNA from them. When the pair realize what has happened they go to the cloning facility and find clones of themselves already growing. Riker uses his phaser to destroy both specimens, much to Wilson's disgust.
Picard proposes a solution to the problem. The Mariposan colony desperately needs a huge new influx of DNA, whilst the Bringloidi desperately need a new planet to live on. Both problems can be solved if the Bringloidi settle on Mariposa. Wilson is appalled at the prospect, but Pulaski bluntly points out that if he refuses his entire colony will be gone within a few decades and the Federation will simply move in and take over. The Bringloidi are somewhat reluctant themselves, but Danilo becomes rather more supportive when Pulaski points out that polygamy and polyandry would be necessary features of the new society to promote genetic diversity. Brenna also doesn't seem entirely displeased at the idea of having two or three husbands, and the two sides agree to merge.
The controversial aspect is the depiction of the Bringloidi. You could hardly create a more stereotypical cliche of the Irish if you tried... showing this to a modern day Irish person would, I imagine, be rather like showing a black person a show with a bunch of white people in blackface running around saying "Yes Massa!" and such. I can't say it offended me as such - it's hard to be offended on behalf of somebody else - but I have to say, I was more than a little open mouthed at how they treated this aspect of the show. That said, I can't help but like Branna... she's a great character, and yeah, I know she's Riker's bit of nookie for the episode, but look at how that's played. She is the interested party, she is the one who makes the running. Riker is oblivious to the whole thing until she basically jumps on him. She is the one who beds him, not vice versa, and that's a refreshing change. Nor is she some starry eyed lovesick thing that he takes advantage of; she knows just what they're doing, and when the opportunity to have three husbands arrives later on, she drops Riker like a hot rock and immediately heads for the most important and powerful man she can find. You go, girl!
The other controversial aspect of the episode is the clones of Riker and Pulaski, of course. There are a lot of aspects to this. First off, we've been told over and over again that Starfleet personnel follow local laws when they are on an alien planet. (Except, of course, when they consider those laws unjust, in which case they freely ignore them. See TNG "Justice".) We don't know what the laws of Mariposa are with regards to developing clones, so we can't call what happened a murder. It might qualify as one, but then again it might not. Even if it did... well the local authorities drug, kidnap, and assault Riker and Pulaski! Surely that's against the law on Mariposa too. Can the authorities reasonably break their own laws and then use those same laws as a source of outrage when Starfleet responds? Legally, I think you could at least argue some justification for what Riker did.
Morally it's a different issue. Yes, Starfleet officers follow local laws with respect to what they cannot do... but at the same time, they are expected to follow their own moral codes. Just because Riker may be in the clear legally, killing a person would still be a pretty contemptible thing for him to do. After all, suppose there was some planet where killing random people was legal... if Riker beamed down, pulled his phaser and started shooting, there's no way we could say that it was an acceptable thing to do, right?
So is killing an unborn clone murder, in the sense of Riker and Federation morality? Again, we can't really know. You could argue that Riker wouldn't have done it if it wasn't moral, but it's a pretty unsatisfactory statement - essentially we're saying that what Riker did is justified because Riker did it, a circular argument.
In the end, all we can say for sure is that what Riker did is justified or not according to our beliefs, rather than his. Personally, I think it was regrettable but justified. The clones didn't seem to me to be aware viable beings, and as such destroying - killing, if you prefer the word - them was the lesser evil than allowing the Mariposans to mature them along with all that would bring. I do think, however, that the episode could have benefitted from a little recognition of the moral issues involved, rather than treating it as if it was no big deal and a foregone conclusion that it was the right thing to do.
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