Hello and welcome back once again for the latest installment of ‘Final Frontier Friday’!
Having covered a first season episode last time, I thought I’d follow it up with a second season episode to continue charting the show’s evolution. And believe me when I say that while ‘Samaritan Snare’ is far from the heights the series would eventually reach, it is nonetheless better than ‘Code of Honor‘ in every conceivable way. By this time, the writing staff has started to stabilize under showrunner Maurice Hurley and Riker even has a beard! Things are looking up! But how much of an improvement are we actually looking at here? Well, let’s get to the episode and find out.
As Wesley prepares to visit a nearby starbase for a Starfleet exam, Captain Picard finds himself accompanying the young trainee when Dr. Pulaski insists that he attend to an unspecified medical procedure that he’s been delaying for some time. No sooner does the shuttle depart than the Enterprise receives a distress call and moves to intercept.
Upon arrival, the Enterprise finds a Pakled ship. The Pakleds, a remarkably “simple” people, are unable to explain their problem except to say that their ship is “broken”. Geordi volunteers to beam over and make the necessary repairs and Riker agrees, despite Worf’s strident insistence that they simply don’t know enough about the Pakleds to trust them. As Geordi arrives on the Pakled ship, Counselor Troi decides to remind everyone that she’s on the show, and rushes on to the bridge to warn Riker that she senses danger from the Pakleds. With the repairs completed, Geordi prepared to beam back to the Enterprise. Before he can do so, one of the Pakleds grabs his phaser and stuns him. With their hostage secure, the Pakled ship cuts off communication and a standoff begins. When communication is restored, the Pakleds demand full access to the Enterprise’s “computer things”. When they next speak to the Pakleds, Geordi is also present, allowing the crew to convince the Pakleds that he is a weapons expert before taking an aggressive posture. Now allowed access to the Pakleds defensive systems, Geordi is able to gain their trust. The Enterprise feigns an attack using its “crimson forcefield” (in reality a hydrogen discharge from the warp nacelles), while Geordi disables the Pakled weapons (convincing them it was an effect of the “forcefield”). The Pakleds surrender and Geordi at last returns to the ship.
Meanwhile, on the shuttle, Picard explains to Wesley that his “business” at the starbase involves maintenance to his artificial heart, which he needs as a result of a youthful injury. Making small talk over coffee, Wesley asks the Captain about everything from discipline to women, a conversation that culminates in Picard sharing the story of how he ended up with his artificial heart. The short version? As a young Starfleet officer, he found himself in a bar fight with a trio of Nausicaan thugs that ended when he was stabbed through the heart. On arrival at the starbase, the two go their separate ways. Complications arise during Picard’s surgery, and he awakens to find Pulaski standing over him. He nearly died during the procedure, requiring the medical staff to send for the Enterprise, as Pulaski is conveniently the only doctor in the area with the expertise needed to save his life. With the crisis past, Picard and Crusher return to the ship, which warps out of orbit.
This is a really frustrating episode for me. Not because it’s especially bad (though it’s not particularly good either), but because it just drives me crazy. You see, the Pakleds are stupid. They spend half the episode sitting around asking whoever happens to be in front of them why their ship won’t go. Then they spend the rest of the episode patting themselves on the back and smirking about how clever they are for getting one over on the Starfleet crew. But they’re still stupid. Even when they’re not pretending to be stupider than they are, they’re stupid. And I mean stupid. Like, stupid with two o’s stupid. STOOPID. I might sound like I’m overreacting here, and to some extent I probably am. But you see, when your antagonists are so stupid that you constantly find yourself wondering how they mastered pants (let alone space travel), it just completely undermines them. So not only are they aggressively stupid, but because of that, they’re also impossible to take seriously as a threat to the Enterprise. And while it’s not the fault of the episode itself, the frustration is only exacerbated by the fact that it aired right on the heels of ‘Q Who?’, which introduced the Borg and is easily one of the best episodes of the second season. So in the space of a week, we’ve gone from perhaps the most relentlessly implacable foe in the annals of ‘Star Trek’ to a race so stupid (sorry, “stoopid”) that they surrender to a light show.
Even setting aside the Pakleds’ stupidity, there’s never any real sense of menace about them. No sooner has the Pakled ship appeared on the viewscreen than Riker (and by extension the audience) is assured that the Enterprise can easily outrun and outgun them. The only real threat is to Geordi himself, but the Pakleds never seem in a particular hurry to hurt him (and indeed, only ever threaten him directly when it looks like the Enterprise is about to open fire). And that’s really the biggest problem with the episode. At no point is there any particular sense of jeopardy. This goes beyond the Pakleds into the Picard/Wesley side of the episode. Wesley’s Starfleet exams are forgotten about practically the moment he boards the shuttle, and even Picard’s brush with death on the operating table is treated like something of an afterthought.
Really, the best parts of the episode are the ones that follow Picard and Wesley in the shuttle. Essentially a series of small moments between the two, it underscores the fact that the characters had started to come into their own by this point, existing in a far more recognizable form than in the first season (Picard has long since stopped being written as a French Chekov). In fact, this episode provides an important piece of Picard’s backstory, one that the show would later revisit from time to time, most notably in ‘Tapestry’. Highlights of this side of the episode include Picard’s reaction when Wesley tells him he would have made a good father and the look on Wesley’s face when Picard tells the story of that long ago bar fight. It’s just too bad there wasn’t enough material there to fill in more of the episode. It’s not unheard of in TV writing for a B-story to be written into an episode to fill time that the A-story (for whatever reason) just doesn’t have the material to cover. Oddly enough, ‘Samaritan Snare’ feels like the inverse of this: an A-story (the Pakled mess) that exists in order to pad out the B-story. I don’t know that this was actually the case, but it’s hard not to wonder about the possibility.
As always, we’ll be back in two weeks to review another episode. Until then, I’ll see you in the comments!