Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TNG Ep. 41: Pen Pals

At first you might think that the plot is going to involve a great deal of Wesley, but we're quickly saved from this when Data gets a primitive radio signal from a dying planet. The voice on the signal is a little girl, and soon Data has the whole Enterprise rushing to violate the prime directive to go save his new friend. When the Enterprise gets there, the trouble with the planet turns out to be something geological that Wesley knows how to fix. While they right the planet, Data beams down and personally saves his little friend, who lives way too close to exploding volcanoes. Then, they wipe her memory and return her to her parents on the surface, leaving Data oh-so-lonely. As a last act of defiance - er, I mean, tenderness - Data leaves a stone as a comforting trinket for the girl, once again violating the Prime Directive.

The weakest part of this episode is that Data didn't get in trouble for any of his bending of the Prime Directive. ... No, wait. The worst part was the kid's makeup. Flashbacks to the lizard suit in TOS, anyone? Anyway, the fact that Data made a little friend is adorable, because deep down, we want to see Data as being a child himself. He's like pinochio, just wanting to be a real boy. With super human killing strength and amazing intelligence.

I love it that Data had contact with this little girl without informing his supervisors, as he technically should have. You see, he's smart enough to know that Picard will probably tell him to stop talking to his new friend, and it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission (as the Bynars have already pointed out). Data also knows that he's likely to follow the Captain's orders as long as they jive with general Star Fleet principles, because he's sworn loyalty to Star Fleet and to Captain Picard. So, it was easier for him not to tell Picard, and it makes Data intelligent in a way that's more than just equations and correlations. It's almost, dare I say it, emotional intelligence. And indeed, by waiting, Data helps force the hand of Picard and the Enterprise into helping his little friend.

Some people might be annoyed that Picard broke the Prime Directive, but let me remind you that this isn't the first time they've bent those particular rules. The Prime Directive is a principle, but not one that always makes sense for an individual case. It's the delicate balance we all have to achieve when our principals run into each other, for instance, the principal that we like to help people, versus the prime directive. Real life isn't as simple as our supposed absolutes. As for the Enterprise possibly getting in trouble for their actions in this episode, I see to recall being pleased that another of Picard's Prime Directive flaunts was called into question near the end of season one. Because of that, I feel it's unnecessary for us to see such a calling out again. The gist I get is that yes, the rules are very important to Star Fleet (otherwise why have them?) but they love people like Picard specifically because they trust him to know when to break the rules. I mean, they'll investigate him or what have you, but they don't put people in charge of ships like the Enterprise unless they have some common sense and some empathy, some humanity. They don't promote people to Captain if they wouldn't want to serve under them. At least, not in a perfect universe. And for this episode, everything turned out perfectly. They saved the little girl, and the only hitch is that she can't remember.

But Data can remember. Daaaaaaaw...

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