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Star Trek TNG - Season 5 - Episode 13

Star Trek TNG - 5x13 - The Masterpiece Society

Originally Aired: 1992-2-10

Synopsis:
Picard tries to save a genetically engineered society. [DVD]

My Rating - 4

Fan Rating Average - 5.64

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 15 1 3 8 17 16 14 18 14 21 6

Problems
None

Factoids
None

Remarkable Scenes
- This episode nicely depicts the technology of the colonists. It looks just about correct for 200 years ago.
- I like how Geordi's blindness is weaved into the story indirectly as a solution to the problem.
- Geordi's supervisor whistleblowing to Hannah about her treachery.
- Picard counseling Troi regarding her behavior.
- Picard reexamining his decision in the end.

My Review
A fan favorite; this episode presents an interesting moral dilemma and an interesting question to reflect on in the end, but to me loses quite a bit of its profound impression because of the simplicity of the issue. Colony of selectively bred perfect people meets disaster. Enterprise averts disaster but contaminates colony. All of this could not be avoided. The question was what to do about it. Enterprise leaves and the colony remains "perfect", or Enterprise takes people and colony self destructs. Well, if the Enterprise leaves everyone there, the colony will just descend to chaos anyway as those who wanted to leave were denied permission to do so. And if Enterprise lets colonists come aboard, the colony descends to chaos too. I don't see how to come out a winner in this situation. The point is, Picard shouldn't be feeling sorry for himself in the end at all. If it weren't the Enterprise, something else would have shattered their fragile little bubble anyway. Such as that stellar core fragment. Or a hostile alien species. To me, this episode is little more than a slap in the face to conservatism and doesn't say anything that isn't largely obvious.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Pete Miller on 2006-04-22 at 7:55pm:
    I don't see it as much a slap in the face of conservatism as a slap in the face of reason. All the arguments for preserving their "society" are flawed. The enterprise had to interfere, or else the colony would have been wiped out. So THAT wouldn't have helped them, to just fly away. And you can't just make the people stay on the colony if they don't want to. They have their basic human rights to choose freely, and who's to say that their path is not the right one for their society? The idea that the prime directive of the federation would support the abandonment of their "society" because it might "upset the balance" warrants a reexamination of the prime directive. Just what is the prime directive supposed to protect if not human rights?
  • From DSOmo on 2007-09-25 at 12:08am:
    - Geordi comments to Hannah Bates, "I haven't had any sleep in so long my eyelids feel like I have lead weights attached to them." Isn't this a rather odd statement for Geordi to make? First of all, Geordi is blind. Second, Geordi's visor pumps the information directly into his brain through little attachments near his temples. It doesn't matter whether his eyes are open or closed!
    - I have read, the creators spelled the name of the actor who played Aaron Conor wrong when this episode first aired. In the credits he was listed as "John Synder." All subsequent reruns list the actor correctly as "John Snyder."
  • From djb on 2008-04-04 at 2:41pm:
    I thought this was a great episode for many reasons.

    This episode is really a human-centered drama with a sci-fi backdrop, much like the series in general, to a certain extent. Fundamental questions about humanity are well-explored, and all of them come down to the basic concept of discovering what it means to be human, a discovery I don't think will ever end.

    This colony and its founders have worked so hard to create a utopia, a perfect island amid the chaos of the universe, and this episode makes a very good case that this kind of endeavor is ultimately quixotic and unrealistic. To a large extent, the inhabitants of this colony have forgotten what it means to be human: it's true that the elimination of suffering is a noble undertaking, but at what cost? The drive to explore the unknown, the uncertainty about life, the challenges and struggles and setbacks that define and shape our existence, are all lost, and in my opinion, all but destroy the essence of the human experience. These people have become, for most intents and purposes, automatons.

    What's more, the society is so rigidly planned that it's more delicate than a snowflake! The loss of just a small percentage of the population will supposedly upend their entire existence? Clearly, the founders of this colony didn't seem to regard adaptability as a very important aspect of their perfect humans.

    This episode hearkened back to two other episodes that dealt with very similar scenarios: The Ensigns of Command and First Contact. The similarity with the former is obvious. A small human colony on a planet is in danger, and might need to evacuate. They are so attached to their way of life that some would choose a losing fight, or in this case, a devastating earthquake. Either way you're dealing with people so set in their ways that they'd choose the possibility of death over having to redefine their existence in a different setting.

    The similarities to First Contact mainly lie in the character of Hannah, who, like Mirasta in First contact, is a brilliant scientist who has always desired something more. It was clear to me pretty early on that Hannah would want to leave the colony. Also, as in First Contact, there is an almost comically overdone opposition: first in Krola (who attempts to martyr himself to prevent his planet from making contact with aliens) and now in Martin, whose short-sightedness is appalling.

    I don't mind these similarities at all; while it's true that in the setting of space exploration, one will find innumerable different situations, it's also true that a few similar themes will crop up from time to time. Permutations, if you will.

    The only thing I didn't like at all was Picard's take on it at the end. This is either poor writing, or Picard acting strangely. His acting as if it were a Prime Directive issue is simply not correct.

    Aside from that, I liked the little plot of Troi's tryst with the colony's leader; you can see her mixed feelings about it very well. Those Betazoid all-black irises are intense! I also liked that while there were numerous subplots, all of them were integral parts of the central plot.

    One aspect of this show and many other sci-fi shows that I don't like is the mechanistic take on consciousness. This series doesn't do it nearly quite as much as many others, and there are a few examples where it breaks out of that paradigm a bit and explores the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there is more to a human than the sum of his/her DNA and upbringing. The soul, perhaps? I think this episode hinted at that subtly but nicely.

    So, good show.
  • From Neil on 2009-10-13 at 3:29am:
    What ruined the whole episode for me was the protestations that losing 20 people would destroy a colony of thousands. It's patently absurd, that this 'designer' colony would be constructed so rigidly - are we to assume that a small meteorite that punctured the shield and killed 5 people would cause a catastrophe as well?

    The original architects would have included *some* flexibility in people's choice of jobs and allowed them to cross-train just in case.
  • From curt on 2010-04-05 at 11:26am:
    Well I do enjoy reading you reviews, i just wonder if you even like the show at all? I have no problem with that or anything, but I think your way to hard in your reviews.
  • From CAlexander on 2011-03-29 at 11:52pm:
    An OK episode, but certainly not the best of its type. I wasn't that impressed with the dilemma of the colonists. They keep insisting they cannot survive change. But that is what all cultures say when they are afraid of change! Who knows what would really happen to them. And as others have commented, it doesn't make any difference, the Enterprise had no real choice about what to do.

    In response to problems: I thought that Geordi said he was improving the efficiency by 300%. This doesn't violate the laws of physics, it simply means quadrupling the efficiency. Consider a modern car, whose fuel efficiency is measured in km/L. Say you have an old car which gets 5 km/L. Then you upgrade it to get 20 km/L. That is a 300% increase in efficiency.
  • From Patrick on 2012-01-01 at 1:49pm:
    Magnificent concept, only slightly less magnificent story-writing, barely competent execution in script and filming. Too bad. And that scene with the Chopin playing in the background as Troi and what's-his-name decide to taste forbidden fruit--UGH.

    So much promise I wish someone would rewrite and re-film; yes, still using the Chopin prelude (what a great idea that was).
  • From Keefaz on 2017-01-12 at 4:25pm:
    Some of the worst dialogue so far.
  • From Mike on 2017-03-30 at 3:10am:
    I thought they were going to convince Hannah at the end there, but she stood her ground. I actually thought her scenes with Geordi were some of the best parts of the episode. Having her claim fake damage to the biosphere in order to get the colony to leave was a nice twist as well. Geordi and the Enterprise present her with a dilemma she's never had to face. Ever the scientist, she opts to leave. Her sabotage is a pretty extreme action, but then again she was bred to be a physicist, not a decision-maker.

    As for Picard, I agree his reflections at the end are an odd way to wrap this up. There's no conflict with the Prime Directive here. And I thought Picard was the guy who shows some flexibility in applying it anyway, rather than being dogmatic about it.

    Since the Eugenics Wars are part of this Star Trek timeline/universe, it may have been interesting to end it by making reference to the dangers of selective breeding and genetic manipulation. You'd think people in the 24th century would be influenced by that, and after Picard's initial reaction to their society, I thought that's the direction it was going. That way, it ends with questions about whether such a society is possible or desirable, not whether ending its isolation and taking a few people away from it will be ruinous.

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