Justice, Boobs and Awkwardness (S01: E07)

I’m examining the impact Star Trek: The Next Generation had on my formation. The introduction to this series can be seen here.


When the Enterprise stumbles on a beautiful planet with friendly, sensuous inhabitants, they send down an away team to explore shore leave potential. But when Wesley accidentally breaks a minor rule, a Draconian justice system is revealed.

My impression is that this is an episode many fans would consider one of the most embarassing. There’s sex jokes, and awkwardness, and the dreaded Wesley is pivotal to the plot. There’s also an entire planetful of thin, blond, white but tan, able-bodied, cisgendered, heteronormative hedonists. It’s a stereotypical southern California paradise morphed into a sci-fi trope, and that’s just not “cool”.

But for lasting impression on me, this is a major episode. And there’s multiple reasons why.

First, questioning sexual practices: I had no idea at 13 that the sexual mores of the culture I was in weren’t the only possible constellation of assumptions and beliefs. So finding a whole culture with such different sexual mores, who thought of sex as play and integrated it seemingly into every facet of life, was a revelation. I began to access the distance and perspective it would take to question for myself what I saw around me and what I wanted my sexual values to be.

Then, questioning the justice system: Picard wrestles again with ethics and the Prime Directive, with another powerful unknown entity watching. Picard is presented with two conflicting systems of law, and must decide which to follow, with a crew member’s life hanging in the balance. This was another chance to step outside my own culture’s customs and assumptions of how things are done, and see that the concept of justice could be structured far differently. Capital punishment is seen as unethical by Starfleet culture, and we learn they no longer practiced it at all (They say something to the effect of “Our justice system didn’t always work, but now it does”).

I had already come across such forced choice ethical dilemmas before… the vague sorts of questions that precocious and curious kids explore: if definitively saving one life meant possibly letting a larger number die, which would you choose? When the option of saving Wesley presents danger to the entire ship, Data asks Picard this question outright, and his answer was a revelation to me:

Data: Would you choose one life over a thousand, sir?
Picard: I refuse to let arithmetic solve questions like that.

It was the first time that, presented with two options, someone instead suggested a third way of looking at things. In that way alone, it changed my life.

Finally, Picard as role model: I think this is really where my authentic connection to Picard starts to grow. Picard’s struggle is how to not just save his crewmember, his friend’s son, and his responsibility; his struggle is to save him in a way that keeps integrity with Picard’s own ethical system. He initially has the power to simply move Wesley to safety. Instead he looks to keep from breaking relationship with the Edo, and grapples with a code of behavior he finds to be a source of wisdom and right relationship. Picard embodies something that appears to be missing from the larger Starfleet culture: an awareness of the *work* it took to remove the isms they are so proud to be lacking, and a willingness to continue to grapple and strive to improve. Also, even as he moves from having the upper hand to being at the mercy of a larger power, he continues to deliberate out of compassion and mercy. One of his last statements pleading his case is, “There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.” This stuck with me, and I suspect taught me something about having compassion for myself, eventually (the lack of such in my life was already an issue). Picard also displays a love of learning about other people, not just in an intellectual sense, but in a personal sense as well.

Yet again, the culture of the week is equated with barbarism (by one of the Edo themselves). And we’ll talk later about portrayals of religion, as that develops. The writers are also building their own evolutionary theory here: they’ve established that humans have evolved past a history of savagery. What they begin to establish here is the future of evolution for humans: past flesh, past embodiment, past particularity of time and space. This will be worth watching as it develops as well.

1. Photo from Memory Alpha. Thanks, y’all.

Published in: on June 2, 2012 at 2:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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