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Star Trek TNG - Season 2 - Episode 15

Star Trek TNG - 2x15 - Pen Pals

Originally Aired: 1989-5-1

Data fights for a friend's life. [DVD]

My Rating - 5

Fan Rating Average - 5.04

Rate episode?

Rating: 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
# Votes: 28 3 8 14 15 27 18 21 28 13 6



Remarkable Scenes
- The debate about the Prime Directive.
- Wesley standing up for himself and taking charge of his team.
- Riker: "O'Brien, take a nap. You didn't see any of this. You're not involved." O'Brien: "Right sir. I''ll just be standing over here dozing off."
- Data returning to the ship with the girl.
- Picard's initial reaction to Data bringing the girl to the bridge.
- The Enterprise correcting the tectonic problems on the girl's planet.
- Pulaski wiping the girl's memory.

My Review
This episode is pleasant in both a routine and unusual way. On one hand, it's nice to see a bit of maturation in Wesley by watching him lead a relatively insignificant team on a fairly unremarkable mission. On the other hand, the debate about the Prime Directive and eventual betrayal of it that Data unleashes is fascinating. Even moreso is the conscious hypocrisy of the main cast concerning the Prime Directive. As has been done before, this episode is further acknowledgment that the Prime Directive is routinely reevaluated on a case to case basis by Starfleet captains. This episode also raises an interesting question. Did Picard cover up the events of this episode and not reveal anything that happened to Starfleet? One thing that leads me to wonder this is Riker telling O'Brien to keep quiet about it. I wonder if the whole ship is hush hushed too.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From DSOmo on 2007-06-27 at 9:33am:
    - Why did Data even start this whole episode with the little girl? Data is an android. He is not swayed by emotions.
    - Picard orders Data to sever the contact with Drema IV. Data responds to Picard's order by piping the transmission from Sarjenka into the captain's quarters! This is NOT severing contact. This is a willful violation of a direct order.
    - Picard states that the Prime Directive is "to protect us - to prevent us from allowing our emotions to overwhelm our judgment." And then Picard does a 180-degree turn and decides to help Drema IV. Why? Because he heard Sarjenka's plea for help - precisely the type of action the Prime Directive was designed to prevent. In "Encounter At Farpoint," the Bandi city gets blown to bits while the leader screams for help and Picard calmly discusses his options. In "Symbiosis," the drug-addicted Onarans beg Picard to help them. He refuses because of the Prime Directive. Maybe the leader of the Bandi should have had one of the children call for help. If the Onarans had brought out one of their little girls - writhing in the pains of withdrawal - would that have caused Picard to change his mind?
    - When Data takes Sarjenka back home, he places a singer stone in her hand. Data leaves tangible evidence of the Enterprise's presence.
    - Did Data produce the stone with a replicator? It looks identical to the one in Dr. Pulaski's office. She agreed that erasing the girl's memory was the wisest course of action. She would not have agred to provide evidence of their involvement. If the stone was not replicated, it was stolen.
    - The house on Drema IV is very interesting. It has a door that can evaporate on command. The door represents a very sophisticated technology, a scientific advancement not reflected in the rest of the home.
  • From CAlexander on 2011-04-05 at 3:24pm:
    A terrible episode, everyone is out of character. First, the basis of the episode is supposed to be Data's connection with the little girl, which we never see. Not to mention that it is clearly inappropriate behavior on his part to have a secret conversation with an unknown species for several weeks using the ship's equipment, and we never know why he does it. Then Picard sets up the Prime Directive as an impossibly unyielding strawman, claiming that they can't intervene to save a civilization from destruction, it has to be left to its own fate. They've never had this mystic view of fate before, the Prime Directive was to avoid screwing up the population's natural development. There won't be any development if the planet explodes! Then Data demonstrates that he has developed an emotional attachment to the little girl. What? Then, for the rest of the episode, Picard becomes a spineless jellyfish who gives in to every demand from Data because they have to save the little girl. This, on the other hand, is exactly what the Prime Directive was meant to avoid! Picard becomes a huge hypocrite – it is OK for millions to suffer for the Prime Directive, but if one of them is a cute little girl, apparently that is totally different. It is as though the writer doesn't care about the characters and just wants to write a little morality play, though what the moral actually is I'm not certain.

    Wesley's plot is OK but not stimulating television.
  • From Bernard on 2011-04-05 at 10:44pm:
    I find it interesting that CAlexander brings up the point about the Prime Directive. At this point in the evolution of the Star Trek universe the way that starship captains interpret the Prime Directive seems to be seen as flexible. So in this situation where people will die if they do not interfere then Picard breaks the Prime Directive. He breaks it many times in fact.

    Take the actions of Captain Archer in the episode Dear Doctor (I think it's Dear Doctor) where they condemn an entire population through inaction. Captain Archer who, incidentally, baulks later on in the series when the Organians show up and intend to do the exact same thing to him and his crew, i.e. they don't want to interfere with lesser species.

    What I'm trying to say is that through the years of writing Trek the creators/writers seemed to decide to turn the Prime Directive into something that it was not supposed to be. Perhaps this episode was the start.

    I agree that it is an abominable episode by the way and cannot believe that our webmaster has rated it so highly!
  • From Alex on 2020-02-20 at 1:38pm:
    I absolutely cannot call this episode dreadful. It may be a less stimulating episode but I feel that it belongs in the "skeleton" that composes the whole body of the series.

    I also feel there's a rather obvious difference between this case of violating the PD and when they didn't do it with either the Ornarans or the Bandi. Both "Symbiosis" and "Encounter..." dealth with already space-faring races. In both cases it was not a force-of-nature scenario that would lead to tragedy. In both cases there *was* an option that ultimately would resolve it. This time there was no undercover plot. The species would go extinct because planetary mechanics.

    Regarding the comments here: How is anybody "out of character"? They're absolutely IN their character when they debate the PD. Worf says that rules are rules and must be obeyed without second thought. Pulaski of course sees the humanitarian angle. Picard himself isn't a robot, he doesn't like condemning a species by inaction, and it was so often that he prefers compromise, this ended up being exactly that. And "Data lacks emotions so why did he bother" simply sounds like not understanding his character, at all. Data doesn't fully understand emotions, but he can think and decide what is right or wrong. This wasn't ever an issue of him being unresponsive to moving situations!

    The most "out of character" bit for me was when they theoretically discussed the "cosmic plan" and how it can be factored it. That sounded maybe a little bit unscientific and it was unusual to see several characters at once discussing it like that.

    Overall I agree with Kethinov that the episode is "routinely pleasant". I'd rate it a 6.

    P. S. Oh one last thing. When Data transports into Sarjenka's house, you can see in the background an endtable-height thingo that is very much shaped like a goat head! So intriguing to find on an otherwise alien planet!
  • From Azalea Jane on 2021-07-20 at 3:15am:
    I heard it pointed out somewhere that the Prime Directive could be seen as a certain kind of apologetics for colonialism. Picard often stresses: "history has shown that any time a more advanced civilization comes in contact with a less advanced civilization, despite the best of intentions, the results are disastrous."

    Are they, though? Necessarily? Always? This attitude posits that the atrocities committed by, say, European colonists to the natives of the American continents were cosmically inevitable once they made contact, rather than a product of human ignorance and greed of the time. This, in a way, absolves colonizers of culpability and acts like it's not possible under any circumstances for a "more advanced" civilization to benevolently interact with less advanced societies. (At least to the point of warp, I guess.)

    It's a perspective I'm still mulling over. But either way, I think this episode highlights the failures of the Prime Directive. Picard even said it in "Justice": "There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute."

    An absolutist approach may seem simplest, but it is not always workable. Failure to prevent harm when you are able to, to me, is ethically questionable. Hiding behind some abstract principle (based on dubious assumptions) doesn't magically change the reality of the harm that is poised to come to these people. I think Picard's faith in the PD is one of his character flaws. For a man of such thoughtfulness and depth, he can also be quite rigid.

    CAlexander points it out well: the PD is intended to avoid messing with a society's natural development. But unless the Enterprise intervenes, there won't _be_ any development, for reasons outside the society's control!

    It almost feels like an attempt on Picard's part to _feel_ like he's "doing the right" thing by doing nothing. It's a nice reminder that our shining Federation is not necessarily the arbiter of good in the universe.

    Data emotionspotting: He's clearly attached to Sarjenka. And when Picard orders him to sever contact, he instead plays a recording -- thereby attempting to appeal to human emotions. It shows an understanding of emotions that enables him to manipulate everyone. And it works! Everyone sees his blatant appeal to emotion and yet it still works! (Also: "Sir, I feel it important...")

    In a comment above, DSOmo says "Data is an android. He is not swayed by emotions." This is a little simplistic and misses the point. Data displaying signs of emotion or attachment is not a writing error. It's part of his character. It may be written a little inconsistently, but Data clearly has _some_ rudimentary emotions, even if he doesn't report experiencing them as such. Indeed, you can't completely separate logic from emotion anyway. Logic is a human construct, and human intelligence is a thin veneer over our core of instinct and emotion. At this level of technological ability, one couldn't design an android trying to be human without it showing something that reads as emotion to other emotional beings.

    I think it's a very Trek-esque plot point that it is the supposedly "emotionless" (though not really) artificial being that has to remind everyone else of their humanity (humanoid-ity?).

    Little peeve: the Enterprise fixing the planet. This is one of many episodes where a process that should take weeks, months, or years takes seconds. Imagine one starship having _that_ kind of immediate power over a planet! Another hasty Trek ending.

    Pulaski: "My emotions are involved. Data's friend is going to die. That means something."
    Worf: "To Data."
    Pulaski: "Does that invalidate the emotion?"

    Pulaski admitting Data's ability to have friends???? Wow. Nice character development!

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