Monday, December 6, 2010

Drugs and Medicines On Star Trek The Next Generation: "Symbiosis" Stands Up!

The Good: Good message, Good acting, Costuming as a means of characterization.
The Bad: Obvious "Just Say No" work, Low on plot
The Basics: "Symbiosis" tells a wonderful anti-capitalism story while disguising it as an anti-drug advertisement. For anyone who likes good television!

Following the death of Tasha Yar on Star Trek The Next Generation, Denise Crosby returned to play the role again. The first time this happened was the least obvious. It's "Symbiosis," an episode filmed the week after Tasha Yar's demise. Crosby liked the message of this episode enough to come back and fulfill her part in it, despite having been aching to leave for a while.

"Symbiosis" finds the Enterprise rescuing a freighter captained by a man who has absolutely no knowledge of how the way the ship works. The Enterprise rescues their cargo, then the four people who were aboard the ship before it burns up. Deeply offended by the survivors use of the transporter to rescue their cargo before their crew, Picard investigates the matter. It seems that the two planets in the system operate on a simple arrangement: one has a plague, the other has the means to produce the treatment (it is this treatment that was beamed aboard).

The freighter had just made the payment for the drugs when it was destroyed, leaving two of the survivors feeling they are owed payment and two of the survivors (from the plague stricken world) feeling like they've already paid. The episode continues until a reversal occurs, revealing that the arrangement is more sinister than it originally appears; there is no plague and that entire planet is essential a whole world of drug addicts.

What works is the more subtle aspects of the message. The message is mostly not "Just Say No," though there is an annoying and distracting dialog between Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher that is very much a "Just Say No" moment. The obvious message is about the drugs, but that's not a surprise at all. That the Enterprise crew can't recognize a stoner when the freighter is going down is somewhat amusing.

The real message of the episode is the evils of capitalism. The capitalist planet (that produces the drug) has enslaved the other world (the workers). They get everything they need from the enslaved planet and live lavishly in comparison to the widespread poverty and servitude of the other planet. The episode used drugs as a guise to explore the overbearing evils of rampant capitalism. The one planet has a monopoly so it feels no compunction about exploiting the other. Moreover, it is selling an essentially useless product in order to maintain and strengthen its monopoly.

The acting throughout the episode is good. Merritt Butrick plays the addicted freighter operator excellently in one of his final roles. Judson Scott does a good job playing the aristocrat opposite him.

The real star is the costume designer. In one easy move, the costume designer illustrates the disparities in the characters and the cultures of the two planets, dressing the providers is richer, better cut garb than the others. It's a strong visual reinforcement of the stunning gulf between the haves and the have nots.

VERY accessible to anyone, this episode of Star Trek The Next Generation tells two worthwhile stories in one; it's easy to see why Denise Crosby wanted to be a part of it.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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