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Star Trek TNG - Season 4 - Episode 15

Star Trek TNG - 4x15 - First Contact

Originally Aired: 1991-2-18

Riker is badly injured on a first contact mission. [DVD]

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 4.98

Rate episode?

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- How could the Malcorians not notice the big honkin' starship Enterprise in orbit of their planet? Seeing as how they're advanced enough to have warp drive, one would assume they'd have satellites in orbit capable of scanning the space around their planet.

- This episode bears the same name as the later Trek movie First Contact. The episode and the movie have similar stories too. A species experimenting with warp drive is visited by a more developed species.

Remarkable Scenes
- The aliens freaking out about Riker's alien physiology.
- Riker, regarding his fingers: "Yes, isn't that something? My father's were the same way."
- Picard and Troi beaming into Yale's lab.
- Yale believing that Picard and Troi are a joke.
- The mentioning that UFOs in the Malcorian sky were dismissed as weather balloons...
- Picard sharing the wine his brother gave him in TNG: Family with Durken. A nice detail, because Robert asked Picard not to drink it alone, and Picard kept his promise.
- Durken: "I will have to say this morning I was the leader of the universe as I knew it. This afternoon I am only a voice in a chorus. But I think it was a good day."
- Nurse Lanel bribing Riker with escape if he has sex with her. The details aren't clear, but it might be safe to say Riker took her up on that!
- The alien doctor refusing to do any harm to Riker.
- Krola attempting to martyr himself, only to be hit with a stun setting.

My Review
At first Krola's stuffy conservatism just seemed like stuffy writing. His whole character seemed so ridiculous that even right wingers might find him to be an unfair caricature. But by the end of the episode it's hard not to recognize Krola or aspects of Krola's attitudes in the politics of real world conservatives. This fictitious situation clearly illustrates how much a conservative mindset can hold back the progress of an entire society. A fine episode.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From DSOmo on 2007-08-24 at 10:44am:
    - The head of state needs a more observant receptionist. When the chief scientist introduces Picard to the head of state, they walk into his office. Actually, the scene features the calm voice of a receptionist - over an intercom - announcing that the chief scientist has someone for the head of state to meet. The receptionist's voice is amazingly dull considering the striking physical differences between Picard and the Malcorians.
    - After Picard proposes a toast, the head of state says of the wine, "We have something very much like this on Malcoria III." What are the chances that this man would use the same designation for his planet that Starfleet does, especially since the Malcorians believe they are the center of the universe? Would a culture that believes itself the center of the universe call its planet by the name of its sun and the planet count to that sun? Maybe we should change the name of our planet from Earth to "Sol III."
    - This makes three times that the matte painting of this city has been used: It was the main city on "Angel One"; it was also Starbase 515 in "Samaritan Snare"; and in this episode, it serves as a medical facility in the capital city of Malcoria III.
  • From djb on 2008-02-29 at 8:40am:
    - I wouldn't be so quick to judge Krola, or the writers' intentions in making his character as he was, or even conservatism in general. I definitely have my problems with conservatism, but I have my problems with liberalism as well. I think they need to both exist to balance each other out. Indeed, without conservatism acting as a bit of a brake on the speed of progress, things can easily get out of hand and overwhelm people. Of course, without progressive ideas, society stagnates. Krola may be an extreme example of conservatism, as he was willing to not only martyr himself but actually martyr himself in the context of a lie with very serious repercussions, but the point still gets across.

    The fact that a man like him is so high up in government strongly indicates that a large bloc of the population shares, to some degree, his conservative outlook, and would be just as hostile, if not more so, to accords with alien races. One can therefore come to the correct conclusion that the Malcorian people in general are not ready for contact with alien races, even though some of them might be happy about such a development. The final assessment that first contact should be put off for a time is sad, but most likely correct. Until the people in general reach a "critical mass" of readiness for such contact, ramifications of such an event could be disastrous, and counterproductive to the goals of interplanetary contact.

    - Establishing first contact with an alien race is the kind of mission I would expect the Federation's flagship to go on. It's good to see them doing something other than scientific surveys and taxi services. It's also good to peer into the very complex and delicate situation of first contact. Imagine yourself in Durken's or Mirasta's place... or Picard's. Or Riker's!

    - I liked the humorous interlude of the Malcorian nurse bribing Riker for sex. You could tell her intentions the minute she walked in the door! (Can any one say "Xenophile?") Riker is a ladies' man, for sure, but you could tell he was more than a little dismayed at being forced into sex with an alien just to get free... only to be beaten within an inch of his life while attempting escape. Talk about adding insult to injury. Or, in this case, injury to insult.

    - Just a thought: The Malcorians apparently have a 29-hour day. I wonder... since they don't have ten distinct digits like we do, who's to say they are necessarily operating in base 10? Or did the universal translator figure that out? How long is their day, really, and why in the world would anyone use a large prime number for any measuring system? One wonders...

    - I, too, wonder why someone down on the planet didn't notice a rather large UFO in orbit. Even if the Federation is against the idea of their ships using cloaking devices, wouldn't they want to develop them for this purpose at the very least? A civilization advanced enough to develop warp drive is almost by definition able to detect objects in orbit around their planet!

    - The only drawback of this episode, for me, is how it starkly reveals the shortcomings of the "universal translator" storytelling device. Riker had the Malcorians fooled until they discovered his out-of-place organs and his digits. Either Riker learned the Malcorian language flawlessly (not very plausible), or the Universal Translator manages to simultaneously translate the speaker's words, simulate their voice, and make the speaker appear as if they're speaking the language (also quite implausible). This makes me beg the question: how exactly does this device work?! Do the producers just sacrifice believability for ease in storytelling?
  • From JRPoole on 2008-05-09 at 4:45pm:
    I'm in almost complete agreement with the post above. Aside from the (admittedly huge) problem of the univeral translator, this episode is top-notch.
  • From Jim on 2008-06-08 at 1:19pm:
    "I'm not going to go off on a political rant here, but I will say that this fictitious situation clearly illustrates how much a conservative mindset can hold back the progress of an entire society."

    You clearly are going off on a rant. Krola's point is one which the writers may not be sympathetic with, but which is understandable and which the Prime Minister sympathises with. Your own propensity to fly off the handle at 'conservatism' makes you seem as narrow-minded as the people you criticise.
  • From Kethinov on 2008-06-08 at 7:49pm:
    Your comment is as needlessly insulting as its point is baseless. The whole point of conservatism as a political ideology is to keep things as they are. That is the very antithesis of the progress and growth of a society.

    Maybe you didn't notice, but the whole point of this episode was to take the conservative political ideology to its logical extremes to point out how silly the whole perspective is in the first place.
  • From Bernard on 2008-06-08 at 10:51pm:
    Firstly, I like this episode a lot, mainly for the reasons djb has already stated. But I have to say that I feel that storytelling works nicely when you use characters to portray opposing sides to a debate. Here we have Yale on one side, Krola on the other and Durken somewhere in the middle. I do not agree that they are trying to show the futility of conservatism at all, they show both sides of the argument and allow the viewer to make his/her own mind up. Some of us will see it one way and some of us will see it the other way and some of us will probably come into the middle. It is precisely this that makes it a good episode for me anyway, you can have good people on both sides of an argument. Perhaps this is the point that jim was trying to put across. :)
  • From Mark McC on 2008-12-30 at 3:43pm:
    I first watched this episode when it aired and I was quite young. Watching it again today, I can't believe I missed the parallels it draws with the alleged Roswell, 1947 alien spacecraft crash that conspiracy folks are so fond of. Only here we have Riker as the alien whose body is recovered and taken to a government medical facility.

    Later, when the Chancellor informs Picard of his decision to keep the truth about first contact from the people, he rhymes of a list of ways in which the evidence of alien life will be dismissed or watered down, including weather balloons (which were the official US government explanation of what was recovered at Roswell).

    Overall, I think this episode is a very enjoyable piece of allegory about what would happen if/when an advanced civilization contacted us here on Earth; even going so far as to suggest that maybe they already have and the government of the time decided that we too weren't ready for such a consciousness-raising event.

    PS not a UFO nut/conspiracy believer in any way, but it's always fun to speculate ;)
  • From CAlexander on 2011-04-24 at 2:16pm:
    I enjoy this episode, getting to see first contact from the point of view of the "aliens" is pretty cool. But I wouldn't say it was a great episode, in many ways it is rather timid and limited in how it shows the first contact. As though it needed more time to really explore the situation on the planet and the motivations behind the Malcorians.

    - Why was Riker carrying a phaser on a delicate first contact mission? And even if he had to for some unknown reason, it seems like it should have been built with a safety mechanism so it can't be activated by the natives.
    - Bringing a member of a race subject to the Prime Directive off of their home planet, and into the Federation, is rather unusual in Star Trek, for good reason. Picard doesn't want to give advanced technology to the Malcorians, as they won't have the wisdom to use it. Now Mirasta is going to enter the larger universe and will surely learn that technology. That's fine, but what if she becomes homesick and tries to charter a flight home? Starfleet is put in the awkward position of having to either forbid her from seeing her friends and family, or trust that she won't reveal her scientific knowledge to a planet for which she is (or was) the Minister of Science!
  • From Pete on 2011-07-08 at 12:54pm:
    This fictitious situation clearly illustrates how much the conservative mindset can hold back society?

    Give me a break. The majority of conservatives don't fear "progress" they just don't want to pay the bill.

    If progress is to punish those that are smart and work hard and reward those that are lazy and stupid... I don't think we'll be getting out of this solar system anytime soon.
  • From Kethinov on 2011-07-13 at 5:04am:
    Conservatism: a political and social philosophy that promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society.

    How does that not precisely describe Krola's character, who is the clearly unsympathetic antagonist of this story?

    Not all conservatives are as absurd as his character, but I think it's pretty clear that this story was meant to attack conservatism in general, as does much of the storytelling in Star Trek.
  • From thaibites on 2011-07-30 at 1:09pm:
    Personally, I think this episode is a "tip of the hat" to Galileo and acknowledges all the aggravation and oppression he suffered at the hands of the Catholic Church. The Malcorians talked about how their doctrine claimed their planet was the center of the universe, and the Church used to BELIEVE that the sun revolved around the Earth - God's perfect creation. To question either of these beliefs is/was heresy and is/was sure to irrevocably destroy everything these people held dear. It would be the end of EVERYTHING! (Or at least that's what the people in control thought and told everybody...) Honestly, those in power ought to give common people some credit and stop trying to spoon-feed them and "protect" them all the time.
  • From Brad Smith on 2011-09-13 at 5:48am:
    Good review of this episode as it is quite fascinating. Your understanding of conservatism is a little lacking though and the "conservatives suck" comment is certainly unnecessary. I think you are confusing the classical definition of conservatism with the way it is used in the modern day U.S. Generally, the word just describes people who want smaller government, lower taxes, fewer regulations and the preservation of federalism. The group you are describing makes up an extremely small portion of conservatives and it is a little offensive to pigeonhole all of us into that category.
  • From Kethinov on 2011-10-07 at 7:19am:
    I'm sorry you feel that way. To be clear, the episode's critique of conservatism (as well as my own) is limited to the aspect of that political ideology which resists change. Certainly the branch of modern conservatism which favors smaller government, lower taxes, and fewer regulations is not at issue here, as those are actually desires *for* a change from the status quo. Granted, I am critical of that branch of conservative politics as well, but for entirely different reasons which have nothing to do with the political commentary reflected by this episode.
  • From Jeff Browning on 2011-10-23 at 10:11am:
    Nurse Lanel was played by Bebe Neuwirth who was a star in the movies "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" and "Jumanji" as well as a major character in the TV show "Cheers". I loved her performance in this episode. So deliciously salacious. It is apparent tha Riker did indeed have sex with her. Riker is a total manwhore as I have pointed out elsewhere. There is no question Riker would readily agree to have sex with Nurse Lanel.
  • From Mike on 2017-03-31 at 7:02am:
    A good spectrum of reactions to contact with aliens is shown here. I have no doubt that if aliens made contact with Earth, there would be similar reactions and that includes Nurse Lanel's :)

    The dialogue between Picard and Durken is some of the best written of the entire series. I really enjoyed watching the two of them sort each other out and discuss the various aspects of first contact between their peoples.

    Some interesting comments on this one. I think, as mentioned above, "conservatism" is being used here in a general social sense. The conservative outlook is indeed one that resists change and tends to perceive change as unstable and disorderly. Conservatism within American politics is a set of positions on the major issues facing the U.S., and not necessarily the same thing. I mean, both U.S. liberals and conservatives are liberal in comparison to 19th Century European conservatism. That label means different things in different contexts.

    But, "conservative" in the way this episode deals with it reminds me more of the Catholic Church/Galileo situation mentioned above. In this case, there is evidence that challenges a society's traditional view of something. The conservative reaction is to suppress or prevent that evidence from bringing about change. The episode isn't justifying what Krola did; Durken does not see him as a martyr who stopped disorder. Rather, Durken realizes that his society, overall, is not ready to confront evidence that challenges its traditions. In other words, his society is conservative and will have to remain "in the dark" until it is truly ready. No wonder Yale wanted to get out of there.
  • From McCoy on 2017-12-06 at 7:57pm:
    While analysing conservatism and Krola character, you didn't noticed that he isn't as absurd as it may look. He's suspicious, yes. But come on! Disguised aliens among people ARE suspicious. And I would be cautious as hell if an well-mannered alien beams in front of me and serves me an utopian speach about long life and prosperity:) As it was well pointed in this episode, the conquerors very often are presenting good will, and then... Boom! Cortez is coming...
  • From Mike Chambers on 2020-04-18 at 8:31pm:
    "Maybe you didn't notice, but the whole point of this episode was to take the conservative political ideology to its logical extremes to point out how silly the whole perspective is in the first place."

    Eric, the logical extreme of practically any political ideology is silly. Whether that be conservative, progressive, libertarian or whatever. That's why it's called an extreme.

    Krola's character is indeed very annoying, and supremely ridiculous. I think he's very poorly conceived of and written. Cornball stuff. He should have been more nuanced, and not such a caricature. Very lazy work by the writers of this otherwise decent episode.
  • From Kethinov on 2020-04-20 at 1:09pm:
    In the 12 years since I wrote that comment, history has only made the insight more relevant.

    It turns out it was overly generous for me to say that merely the "extreme" side of conservatism is characterized by the toxic status quo bias Krola exhibits in this episode because it turns out it was never all that fringe an attitude at all. Where once we could debate which variant of conservatism was dominant within the coalition, it is overwhelmingly clear that people like Krola define modern conservatism nowadays. Their political project is focused almost exclusively on resistance to change or rolling back change. Social change, demographic change, etc. You don't get a terrible rise in right wing populism globally without fear of (or resentment about) change being the basis of your political psychology.

    I've long suspected that status quo bias was an underrated psychological driver of conservative politics. As far back as 1955, prominent American conservative William F. Buckley, Jr. wrote that a core part of his political ideology was to "[stand] athwart history, yelling Stop." The quote is frequently misinterpreted and clearly wasn't meant to be taken literally, but it does clearly signal a discomfort with change, or at least the rapidity of change at the time. It should be no surprise that more than half a century later, conservatism has metastasized into a movement dominated by people obsessed with tradition, anti-intellectualism, and authoritarianism; all of which are political attitudes focused on resisting or rolling back change.

    If Krola is poorly-written, then so are millions of voters in the real world all across the globe who are just like him.
  • From obumpresidency 4life on 2021-08-01 at 3:10pm:
    I just wanted to point out to that one commenter that the opposite of conservatism is not liberalism, it is progressivism. Liberalism is the opposite of fascism.

    Apart from the good scenes with Picard, the episode is pretty bad, though. It is bearable if you skip the Riker and Malcorian only scenes.
  • From Brad Smith on 2023-09-13 at 3:24am:
    Kethinov, My how things have changed. Your response to my comment from 2011 is appropriate in some respects. It turns out it was just me and like three other guys that actually cared about small government and what we called conservatism. That being said, I disagree about calling the political party in the US that you are referring to conservatives. The populism they are espousing is mostly policy free and ideologically void of any conservative principles, especially on the economic side. Conservatives once stood for limited government, a strong national defense, free markets, fiscal responsibility, and the rule of law. But this party now reject free markets, ignore deficits, embrace international appeasement, and could not care less about the rule of law.

    I think people like me need to look inward and ask if we ignored the bad seeds in our movement for too long and allowed them to grow unchecked (obviously I have no political power, but I mean people like me generally).

    I would encourage you (and people of your ilk) to also look inward and ask if your generalizations of conservatives for decades as misogynistic, racist, unsympathetic, and out of touch helped contribute to the problem. And by that I mean, when you call all conservatives those things, you really pissed off a lot of people that weren’t those things. Pissed them off so much in fact that many of them voted for that guy just to get back at you (I certainly didn’t).

    For example: you all hit a demonstrably decent man in the 2012 nominee of that party with each of those false accusations (along with felony tax cheat, thank you very much for that lie Harry Reid). By the time that party nominated someone who actually is all those things in the next cycle, people just tuned out and just assumed it wasn’t true like the last time. Well, unfortunately it was and is true, but now we cannot agree on what truth is anymore. As Andy Shepard said in American President, “people drink the sand (leadership) because they don’t know the difference.” Unfortunately, when you use the same words to describe the 2012 nominee as the 2016 nominee, you contribute to that unfortunate reality.

    I could go on forever on this subject, but I guess I’ll close with saying, we still aren’t all like what you describe.
  • From Kethinov on 2023-09-14 at 3:02am:
    Again, what I was referring to in the review is temperamental conservatism, or status quo bias, not an entire political party. And if your politics includes a robust policy agenda of things you want to change in society — whether those changes are primarily aligned with left or right-wing political thought or not — then congratulations, you're not conservative in the sense that I'm critiquing here: status quo-oriented temperamental conservatism. And while the political right definitely has its "change is scary" faction, rest assured, there are plenty of people on the political left who are like this too who should be criticized for being like Krola as well.

    For example, the internecine left-wing fights about things like replacing means-tested social programs with universal ones are vicious. Likewise the internecine left-wing fights about whether or not to levy wealth taxes are vicious. It's because the debate isn't really about whether or not doing these things would be more redistributionally progressive or lead to a more progressive society or whatever. The debate functions as a proxy for whether it's good to have faster change or slower change. It's just temperamental progressives fighting with temperamental conservatives about how much change how quickly is too scary and they dress up that debate with fancier arguments to mask their fear.

    So no, the political right doesn't have a monopoly on these people and never did. I do however think those kinds of people are more common on the political right simply because of the coalitional incentives at play, this has almost always been the case for the reasons I outlined above, and I think it likely will remain so into the future.
  • From Axel on 2024-02-12 at 11:05pm:
    I know that not every episode of TNG (or any Star Trek) could make a sequel of itself. But this one, in my opinion, screams for a sequel. If nothing else, it would've been interesting to see what happened to Yale.

    This one seems to have ignited quite a debate about conservatism, progress, and such. It did get me thinking; the Malcorians in this episode are an obvious mirror for humanity, and how ready (or not) we would be for alien contact that might shatter our traditional views.

    Is it a simple question of majority rule, i.e., once the majority of people are open to first contact, then it would all work out swimmingly? That is simple and makes sense, but of course, I can't imagine a minority that senses its power slipping away, or its traditional views eroding, simply agreeing to go peacefully into the night and concede to majority rule. We have plenty of examples of how that never happens, including in our own time. Conservatism often has a staying power that does not at all rely on its being in the majority.

    I disagree with the portrayal of Krola being "stuffy" or a caricature. That staying power I speak of is almost always based on fear, and fear is incredibly potent, powerful, and metastatic. Krola is afraid, and he no doubt represents many others who are, even if that fear is a bit exaggerated for dramatic effect and to fit into a one-hour TV slot.

    In the end, the wise Chancellor made the right decision for his people, the visionary Yale got to get out of a society that didn't entirely appreciate her talents or foresight, and the crew of the Enterprise avoided what could have been a disaster, thanks largely to the good fortune of both the Enterprise and Malcor having leaders like Picard and Durken at the helm. This was TNG at its best.

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