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The High Ground

Series : The Next Generation Rating : 4
Disc No : 3.3 Episode : 59
First Aired : 29 Jan 1990 Stardate : 43510.7
Director : Gabrielle Beaumont Year : 2366
Writers : Melinda M. Snodgrass Season : 3
Guest Cast :
Christopher Pettitet as Ansata Boy
Fred G. Smith as Policeman
Kerrie Keane as Alexana Devos
Marc Buckland as Katik Shaw
Richard Cox as Kyril Finn
Moral :
Ambiguity : Terrorist or freedom fighter - who is to say?
Guest Reviews :
Rating : 3.5000 for 2 reviewsView existing reviewsAdd your own review
YATI : This episode shows Riker to be a hypocrite. All through the show he has moaned and grumbled every time Picard wanted to go on an away mission, saying that the Captain's place is on the ship. Well, with Picard gone Riker is in command and what does he do - immediately leads a dangerous away mission into the heart of the terrorist stronghold.
Great Moment : The creators do a good job of making Flinn an interesting and even sympathetic character, despite being morally reprehensible.
Body Count : One guard shot and possibly killed in the teaser. Three dead and four wounded on the Enterprise during the terrorist attack, and one terrorist killed in the attack on the Ansata base.
Factoid : This story was originally supposed to parallel the US war of independence, but the creators decided to change it into Northern Ireland instead.
Quote : "Don't you know? A dead martyr's worth ten posturing leaders." - Flinn to Crusher.

"In a world where children blow up children, everyone's a threat." - Devos to Riker


Plotline

The Enterprise-D is visiting Rutia IV to deliver some medical supplies. Data, Worf, Crusher are relaxing at a cafe on the surface when a bomb explodes nearby. Worf wants to leave but Crusher insists on remaining to treat the wounded. Suddenly a terrorist appears in a flash of light, shooting a police officer and grabbing Crusher before vanishing again.

Back on the ship Data reports that he can find no trace of the missing Doctor on the sensors. Worf reports his impression that the entire attack was specifically directed at abducting Crusher. When Riker wonders why this might be since the Federation is not involved in the conflict, Worf points out that as a result of the abduction, it is now.

Crusher is confined in a terrorist base where she meets their leader, Kyril Finn. He tries to talk to her and offers her food, but she remains silent and uncooperative.

On the Enterprise Picard speculates that the Ansata terrorists may be holding Crusher as a bargaining chip of some sort. He explains that he and Riker are going to meet the head of Rutian security, Alexana Devos, to get more information on the situation. Wesley wants to go along but Picard asks him to remain on the ship and work on analyzing whatever method of transport the terrorists are using.

Unfortunately Devos can offer little help; the terrorists are not known for taking hostages and she has no idea what they might want. She is pessimistic about the situation; the terrorists are using some new transporter technology that seems impossible to track or block. She agrees to give them access to what research they have on the technology, and wonders if they might not have better luck fighting the terrorists with some advanced Federation weapons. Picard flatly refuses on the grounds that it would violate the Prime Directive, something she reluctantly accepts. Picard beams back up, leaving Riker to talk further.

At the terrorist base Finn comes to see Crusher again, removing her bonds and confessing that it is bothering him that she won't eat. She begins to eat, and finally starts to talk to Finn by asking him why he kidnapped her. Finn says that the terrorists need a doctor, one better than the Rutians have, and that as the Chief Medical officer on the Federation flagship he knew she would be better. He asks why Starfleet is helping the Rutians, which Crusher denies. Finn takes her to a room filled with sick terrorists and asks her to treat them.

Back at Rutian security Riker is reading a long list of suspects. Devos tells him that most are probably innocent - she estimates that the organization has around 200 members, with about 5,000 more that supply weapons, information, cause riots, etc. She tells him a little of the history; the government denied the Ansata independence about 70 years ago, which created an armed conflict. She claims that this now serves more as an excuse than anything. When Riker questions how bad it can be she tells him about a recent event in which a school shuttle bus was bombed, killing 60 children. Although the Ansata claimed that it was a mistake, their real target was a police transport that would still have killed dozens. On that day she vowed to put an end to terrorism.

Crusher works with an Ansata boy to treat the sick, but she rapidly realises there is little she can do but try and make them comfortable. She wonders at the cause, and Finn explains that the transporter they are using, which he calls an "inverter", has been a great boon to their movement, but that it also causes them to become sick and die. He seems somewhat indifferent to the idea, stating that one dead martyr is worth ten posturing leaders.

Data and Wesley work on the transporter problem, and Wesley remembers something called "the Elway Theorem", a form of dimensional shifting which is potentially traceable. Data reports that the technology would cause genetic damage to the user, prompting Picard to comment that it sounds like the terrorists may have need of a Doctor.

As Devos interrogates suspects Riker ponders on what the conflict is doing to this society. She points out that her methods are a good deal less harsh than her predecessor; under him suspects were known to be taken into custody and simply vanish, never to be heard from again. She points out that the bomb which killed the school children was planted by a child, and comments that on a planet where children blow up children, everybody is a threat.

At the base, Finn and Crusher argue about his goals and methods. Finn considers himself comparable to any other person who fights for their independence, citing Earth's George Washington. She points out the Washington was a military general not a terrorist, which he claims is purely a matter of subjective interpretation. He asks how many innocent lives were lost obtaining peace within the Federation, and accuses her of hypocrisy for enjoying the peace they obtained with violence and bloodshed whilst condemning him for doing the same thing. He argues that he is willing to die for the freedom of his people, and that in the finest tradition of the Federation he is also willing to kill for it, too.

Riker observes more interrogations and finally becomes fed up with it. He grabs a suspect and issues a forceful message; the Federation is willing to negotiate over the terms of Dr. Crusher's release. Despite a protest from Devos he states that he is willing to deal and has the man released with the message. Devos agrees, stating angrily that all she wants is to see an end to the violence so she can go home and live in peace herself.

On the Enterprise Data is working tot rack the dimensional shifts, but reports that it will take several more jumps before he is able to track the device down - he is uncertain of exactly how many. He asks Picard about the track record of terrorism, commenting on the successes it has achieved and wondering if that makes it justified. Picard can offer him no easy answers.

Riker's message arrives with Finn, alongside news of the round up of suspects. Angry, Finn assumes that the Federation pressured the Rutian government into a crackdown, taking sides against him. He tells Crusher she will not be released until she finds a cure, and when she tells him her son is waiting for her on the Enterprise he shows regret, stating that he is going to destroy the ship.

Ansata terrorists transport onto the Enterprise, shooting their way into engineering and planting a bomb on the warp core before transporting away. Geordi is able to detach the device and it is beamed off the ship just before it explodes. Finn and another terrorist transport onto the bridge, exchanging fire with Worf and grabbing Picard before transporting away.

At the terrorist base Picard and Crusher are reunited, both of them now prisoners of the terrorists.

Riker and Devos beam up to the Enterprise, finding several dead and wounded in the aftermath of the attack, including Worf who was amongst the injured. Geordi states that it was a close run thing; another instant and the whole ship would have been destroyed. Riker cannot understand why the ship would be attacked when all he did was ask to talk. Devos pointedly states that now he has his answer. However, Wesley can offer some good news - it should only take one more use of the dimensional shift to track down the location of the device.

Picard updates Crusher on what has happened, praising Wesley for his work on tracking the dimension shift technology. The argue a little about how the situation has been handled, and Crusher admits some sympathy for the terrorist movement - prompting Picard to point out that she is arguing for the people who very nearly killed her son. When Finn returns Picard tells him he has made a big mistake if he thinks Starfleet will sit by after an attack on the flagship; Finn claims Starfleet is already involved since they give medical supplies to the government, and that he wants to force them to take an active part in the conflict. He believes that sooner or later the Federation will get sick of their involvement and pressure the Rutians into a compromise, where everybody will get to save face - but he will win.

Finn transports back to the Enterprise to deliver his terms to Troi; an embargo and trade sanctions on Rutia, with a blockade of the planet enforced by Starfleet. He transports out again within seconds; this provides Wesley and Data with the information needed to locate the dimensional shifter, in a cavern 30 metres underground with no access to the surface. They agree a plan; disable the power system down there and the place will be plunged into darkness, and they can use the distraction to rescue their people.

Finn talks with Crusher, stating that he may have to kill Picard before too long. She pleads with him to reconsider, telling him how terrified she is; he replies only that fear makes for a pretty good weapon. Crusher says that the real danger here is a that a person so committed to violence and hatred might actually win real power. Finn sighs and offers her a notebook he has been doodling in, saying that she need not fear him; she find it covered in drawings of herself, realizing that Finn is strongly attracted to her.

A combined Federation/Rutian team beams down to the base, knocking out two terrorists and taking up positions ready to attack. As they move into position Picard asks Crusher if she has managed to win Finn's confidence, and is heartened to see the pictures he has drawn, thinking it could give them an advantage. At that moment the lights go out as the team attack. The terrorists are quickly overwhelmed, but Finn runs in to shoot Picard. He hesitates, possibly about to fire, possibly not - but before we can find out Devos shoots him in the back, killing him. Riker points out that she didn't need to kill him, she could have just stunned him instead, but she points out that as a prisoner he would be a focal point for more violence as his followers tried to break him out. This way he is a martyr, but the death toll may drop at least for a short while - an imperfect solution for an imperfect world.

Suddenly an Ansata child appears, holding a weapon on Devos. Crusher approaches the child, who has been working with her to help the sick, and begs him not to kill anybody. he finally decides to lower the weapon and is captured. Devos morosely observes that it didn't take long for another to appear in Finn's place, but Riker points out that the boy did not fire when he could have, and that perhaps that is a sign that things can change.

Back on the Enterprise Wesley and Crusher are reunited and the ship leaves the planet.

Analysis

One of the few times TNG really got into a truly hot and heavy subject, this is a well done effort that's a pretty good mix of action and a little philosophising. It sets up a powerful sitution; we don't know a lot about the Ansata, so it's hard to judge whether their desire for independence is a serious one or not - with only a couple of hundred members and a few thousand supporters there doesn't seem to any great groundswell of support for them, but they certainly do seem committed to the cause. Finn makes a fairly decent case for his cause, though it's hard to argue that his tactics are justified. What I like about it is that it shows how both sides can be pushed into doing things they shouldn't, either just steadily ramping up their efforts to try for an advantage or because of a misunderstanding or mistake, like Finn assuming Riker's presence at the interrogations meant that Starfleet was pushing for harsher action against the Ansata.

In the end, though, the episode really has nowhere to go once it's laid that out. Yes, terrorism is bad, yes, conflicts that include terrorism are bad. But then everything gets pretty much wrapped up or discarded at the end. Picard makes the point early on that having a lot of power can be of no use when faced with terrorism; yet the ultimate solution is that they use their great technological power to overcome the terrorists. So is that the message here, that we can beat the terrorists if we just try hard enough? It seems to be, but I suspect that's not what they had in mind. Then again, once Finn is dead Devos comments that the conflict will go on, and more will inevitably take his place; so is that the message, that such conflicts have no possible ending or resolution? Again, not really what they seemed to have in mind. Then at the end the kid puts his gun down and Riker says that could be the beginning of peace, when the terrorists stop fighting. Well okay, it's a nice "fluffy bunny" moment, but there's no real reason why the kid put his gun down beyond that Crusher worked with him earlier and he liked her. Somehow I don't think "end terrorism - hug a terrorist" is the message here either. In fact the only message that seems to be on offer is "terrorism is bad", which... well, didn't we all know that already?

Apparently the original plot was to be a representation of the American revolution, with Romulan rebels being put down by Picard, only for Picard to eventually realize that he was the bad guy in all this. A lot of the writers really didn't like the changes and were unimpressed with how it ended up - Ronald D. Moore even called it "an abomination." Personally I rather liked it, though I can see why people didn't.

Okay, personal opinion time. I might get letters over this (nah, I used to get letters about DITL but nowdays not really), but I'm going to talk about perspectives here. This episode was famously "banned" when it came out in the UK. I put banned in quotes because there wasn't any kind of concerted attempt to stop people seeing it as such, it was just that at the time Trek had always been shown on the "government owned but generally independent" BBC, and the BBC declined to show this episode. Nobody tried to say that others couldn't show it, but at the time we didn't have the plethora of channels that we do now, so not showing it pretty much meant that few people would see it.

The reason was Data's reference to the "Irish reunification" as an example of a successful terrorism campaign. Now I'm British, and at the time the IRA was shooting people and setting bombs off in Northern Ireland pretty regularly, and doing so in the mainland on occasion. And at the time, the IRA was largely funded with American money, and enjoyed some measure of popular support in the US. In that context, having an American show make that announcement, whilst not exactly a huge deal, was considered a bit uncalled for. Personally it didn't bother me; I laughed when I heard it and thought "that'll be the day" - and looking back, I can't help but feel justified in thinking so. Still, part and parcel of sci fi is to take a look at present day situations and predict what will happen. Whilst I may or may not think the predictions are good ones, I certainly have no issue myself with them doing so.

Still, I have to wonder. The American attitude to that conflict came from a perspective where such things happened only to other people. Today... given recent history, I wonder how Americans would feel if an episode of Doctor Who came out where he made casual mention that Al Qaeda had defeated America and destroyed Israel in 2035. Would it be banned? No, I'm sure it wouldn't be. Would it be controversial? Controversial enough that a broadcaster might choose to edit it, or not show the episode? I wonder how it would have played if they had aired it a few weeks after 9/11...

In the end, I can't say I condemn this episode; I rather like it.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 2,585 Last updated : 12 Mar 2013