The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: Pen Pals

When the Enterprise maps a series of planetary breakups in the Secundi Drema Sector, Picard decides it’s time to give Wesley a taste of command by putting him in charge of a mineralogical survey. Meanwhile, Data makes contact with a little girl on one of the planets, but his violation of the Prime Directive can only lead to problems.

This is a weird episode. For starters, it’s the only one which randomly skips eight weeks in the middle of the episode, but more than that, it doesn’t really seem sure what it wants to be. There’s a fairly standard “first command” story for Wesley, in which he must lead a team of people older and more experienced than himself, with the inevitable consequence that they might question his orders. Unfortunately, because conflict isn’t allowed between the perfect, evolved humans of the 24th century (by decree of the great God Roddenberry), this is a pretty watered down affair in which the team questions one order, Wesley angsts about it in Ten Forward, then goes back and immediately gets them to do what he wants just by saying it in a more confident voice.

Then there’s the other storyline, which begins with Data answering a transmission from a young girl on a pre-warp planet. By the time the senior staff find out about this, Data has been in touch with her for eight weeks, and he’s less than keen to leave her to her fate on a collapsing planet. So the day is saved and Data meets the girl and brings her to the Enterprise – only for Pulaski to then wipe all her memories. Which, given that Star Trek is meant to be about taking the moral high ground, feels a bit heavy-handed and certainly questionable.

The Memory Wipe

For:

  • Sarjenka will never be able to live a normal life with her memories of the Enterprise – she would either have to keep quiet about it forever, or be disbelieved and perhaps even thought to be mentally ill.
  • It stops the Enterprise from worrying about having broken the Prime Directive, and they can move onto their next adventure without worry.

Against:

  • Pulaski performs an invasive medical procedure without her patient’s consent.
  • Who’s to say that Sarjenka didn’t confide in her parents, brothers or friends about Data? Should they have their memories wiped as well?
  • Sarjenka could have explained that it was mortal beings who saved their planet – since no one now knows who did it, religions might spring up claiming it was some sort of deity. Especially once the civilisation becomes advanced enough to probe the core of their planet and figure out that something must have happened to shatter the dilithium crystals within.
  • What if Pulaski has brain-damaged Sarjenka, or removed other memories from the past eight weeks?

Besides, if memory wiping is so easy, why doesn’t the Enterprise use it every time they break the Prime Directive? Is it because Crusher would refuse to do it?

Other bits and pieces

  • Picard enjoys horse-riding, and favours the Arabian horse, clearly the best breed (because my mother breeds them).
  • Troi claims that it’s difficult for Betazoids to be good riders, because they get too caught up in the thoughts of their mount. However, she could still have had a go on a holographic mount, which is just a computer program and has no thoughts. She wouldn’t even have to have any skill – Picard had to specify that he wanted to control the mount himself, which pre-supposes that, by default, the computer controls the mount and you just sit there.
  • The senior staff actually have a serious discussion about whether or not there is a Cosmic Plan, despite quantum mechanics and the fact that future humans are supposed to be secular and atheists.

Summary – Pen Pals: “In which Pulaski rapes an adolescent girl, with Data’s help and Picard’s acquiescence.”

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