Hi there Outposters. Now that I got past my various personal issues, I’m looking forward to renewing my work at Last Movie Outpost. One of the things I most enjoyed was doing Star Trek reviews. Lately in-between bouts of crippling depression, I’ve gone back to re-watching various Star Trek series. You know. When it was good.
Everyone remembers episodes in Season 5 of Star Trek: The Next Generation like The Inner Light, Conundrum, Cause and Effect, Darmok, and The Next Phase among others. There are a lot of middling episodes that aren’t all that memorable and are still pretty unremarkable to this day.
Imagine my surprise to run across an episode I never thought that much about and realize that thanks to the changing culture, it turns out to be the most based episode I’ve seen. The Masterpiece Society.
The Enterprise is tracking a stellar core fragment as it meanders it’s way through a solar system. It has over a shitgazzillion tons per cubic centimeter so they want to make sure it gets out without too much damage.
But uh-oh, one of the planets has a human colony on it that wasn’t on their sensors.
The planet Moab IV (named after the Mother Of All Bombs? Perhaps not but thematically appropriate) has an artificial structure on it and contains a human colony. Not just any human colony, but one that has been specifically bred to be the perfect society.
Everyone has been genetically engineered to be the perfect piece in this society. As such, they are very isolationist. It’s the perfect little commune of snooty artists, engineers and politicians. It’s a leftist’s utopian’s wet dream.
Not to say that it’s insufferable. The society seems to work well for them. Because it’s engineered to be that way. So outsiders are forbidden, they would pollute their their perfect society. In this case though, if they don’t respond, the core fragment will tear the colony to pieces when it passes by.
The leader of the colony, Conor, finally responds against his security chief Martin’s objections. Amusingly, Martin takes the role of Worf where every suggestion he gives is rejected.
Conor tells Picard that no one can enter or leave the colony, it’s completely sealed. Necessary given the planet’s hostile environment.
Picard tells him no problem, we got these neat transporters that can take us right in. Conor, and especially his chief engineer Hannah, really want to see this in action. They never invented it as why would they? They never leave the colony, let alone the planet.
Riker, Geordi, and Troi beam down to begin working with the colony on how to save them. Initially they want to simply beam them up but that is impossible as they are so tied to the colony and environment due to the genetic engineering, it would be completely disruptive to their society.
They are also surprised to encounter Geordi, a blind person who would never be allowed to be born in their perfect society. Martin is a bit dismissive while the others are intrigued.
Deanna begins to fall for Conor immediately as he is a perfect leader. Knows exactly what to say in every situation. The entire society has evolved to be a part of the environment as part of the master design, as they put it. Everyone knows their place and can be the best version of themselves they were born to be. Sounds delightful.
Hannah and Geordi pair off to begin trying to solve the problem of how to save this colony. Hannah asks LaForge about the ship and how much power it can generate.
She’s impressed with all the technology that they, even though they have done a lot, aren’t even close to what the greater population of humans have been able to develop with no genetic manipulation. Geordi’s VISOR for instance.
Geordi says that necessity is the mother of invention. Since they don’t allow people like Geordi to even be born, there’s no need to invent something like the VISOR.
Hannah has come up with something that they haven’t, a multi-phase tractor beam but only the Enterprise has the power to make it work. Hannah needs to go up to the Enterprise against Martin’s objections. Conor rightly points out that adhering to all their rules isn’t worth much if they all die.
They work on the idea of the tractor beam for a few days but can’t seem to quite figure out how to do it without burning out the beam. Picard and Troi have a philosophical discussion about how bad an idea genetic manipulation is.
Troi points out it seems to work for them, but Picard thinks they have bred out uncertainty. The unknown is what makes life worth living. It’s the reason the Enterprise does what it does in the first place.
Geordi is a little tired and takes off his VISOR which starts a conversation on the technology. He points out that he never would be here, terminated as a fertilized cell. She says they never wanted anyone to suffer a disability and Geordi retorts who gave them the right to decide if he should be there, if he has anything to contribute.
She has no response to this and instead asks him how it works. In the ensuing technobabble, he realizes that the way the VISOR pulses information to his brain could be adapted to keep the tractor beam from burning out.
He amusedly points out the irony that saving their colony might come from a technology made for a blind man that never would’ve been allowed to be born in their world.
So they are able to move the core fragment but they still need to send down 50 engineers to install shields and structural reinforcement to the colony, much to Martin’s displeasure. They don’t have that kind of technology either. He’s aghast and (correctly) points out how much this will pollute the colony.
It all works and the colony is saved. But Hannah has now seen too much. She wants to leave and so do 23 others. Losing that genetic pool will probably destroy the colony in the long run, at least as it is now.
Picard wonders if the prime directive should’ve been followed but Riker says it doesn’t apply because these people are human. But what to do? Let the core fragment completely destroy the colony?
So re-watching this Star Trek: The Next Generation episode I see points against abortion, eugenics, and communism/utopianism. This is something that back in 1992 was all just obvious in a lot of ways but today? Really hits home.
The obvious anti-abortion stuff is a little on the nose but still is relevant. We create all kinds of technology that sometimes gets applied to other things accidentally.
Trying to go to the moon created all kinds of technology that we use in our every day lives. It begat other things. The cold war was the compelling reason to create the internet. Who knew what it would turn into?
Geordi’s VISOR created to help a blind man see also had the underlying technology that helped them save the colony. Who would put those two together?
Natural progression and the unknown creates all kinds of interesting technological progression that can’t happen if you try to control society. This “perfect society” couldn’t come up with the technology to save themselves.
Perhaps Darwin works in mysterious ways. If you don’t allow natural evolution, you end up stagnating.
Then we have the control aspect. These people may be happy in an impressive cage but it’s still a CAGE. They cannot leave, they cannot choose what they don’t even know about.
There’s an underlying suppression of of information that happens in order to preserve what they have. In this story, it’s done with the best of intentions but in real life, it’s usually to preserve those in power to keep their power.
The society is clearly a commune with a bunch of utopian ideas and a bit of denial of the rules of biological and objective reality. Because of that, reality came and nearly destroyed them.
Picard cannot make the choice for the entire colony as they are human and have rights. Conor says what about the group? They will suffer if people leave!
This is the problem, once you try to control a society, you must destroy a person’s rights if you want to maintain it. It may not happen today, tomorrow, or next year but it WILL happen. And when that happens, you will trample on people’s rights in order to preserve what YOU think things should be instead of always letting people choose their own destinies.
Death camps throughout history have been created from that kind of thinking. The message at the end says that maybe they did destroy this society, but I prefer to believe that it only destroyed it’s current form. They’ll be forced to evolve like the rest of us and will be better for it.
The freedom of millions of people making the best choices they can for themselves creates a reality that grows, evolves, changes, and over the long term improves us all.
This story really brought home to me again the dangers of short term thinking. These ideas that we are fighting through on the culture war are really that.
Genetic engineering or trans surgeries? Both are short term thinking that eventually lead to long term destruction.
Pretending you can control the uncontrollable, instead of navigating the reality we have, eventually will destroy us.
I was surprised at this episode, an episode of Star Trek that I always dismissed as average at best, becoming far more relevant than it ever was. I think that’s a terrible indictment on how far we’ve fallen as culture.
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