Written by David Kemper and Michael Piller
Directed by David Carson
Season 3, Episode 7
Original air date: November 6, 1989
Star date: 43349.2
A distress signal leads Enterprise to a crappier-than-usual planet, Galorndon Core, where a small away team discovers the remnants of a Romulan shuttle–which was apparently destroyed after it crash-landed. Worf stumbles across an injured Romulan and promptly injures him some more to make him easier to rescue. Meanwhile, the hapless La Forge becomes the proverbial “boy in the well” when the ground crumbles beneath him and he plummets into a crevasse. Because of magnetic interference in the atmosphere that disrupts transporter beams, communications, and tricorders, Riker and Worf have to leave their friend behind, but no one really considers a surly Romulan on the verge of death a fair trade for their engineer.
Dr. Crusher examines their prisoner and informs them that he will die unless he receives a transfusion of precious, precious ribosomes. The search begins for a matching donor on board, while the crew tries to figure out how to retrieve La Forge and puzzle out what the Romulans were up to on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone. Their ailing guest refuses to give up any information.
La Forge is not one to sit at the bottom of a pit and wait for death or help to come to him. His VISOR reveals metal ore in the soft walls of the hole he’s fallen into. He uses his phaser to melt them down and fashions primitive spikes that he uses to climb out. He stumbles around the inhospitable landscape until he spots a neutrino beam that can cut through the planet’s interference and allow him to contact Enterprise–courtesy of Wesley Crusher, boy genius. Before he can get to it though, he is accosted and knocked out, by a second Romulan.
Romulans are popping up everywhere–Enterprise intercepts a signal from Commander Tomalak, who tells them there was only one Romulan pilot, and he wants him back. He’s on his way, but he promises to stay inside the Neutral Zone until the Federation ship rendezvous with him. It’s even more imperative to keep their only bargaining chip alive, and it turns out there’s one match for the ribosomes he needs: Worf.
Worf is not keen on saving the life of a Romulan with the blood of the parents that they killed, so he declines to share his ribosomes. La Forge isn’t making any friends either–his Romulan, Bochra, is holding a disruptor on him, at least until a pile of rocks falls on him. La Forge rescues him, only to be captured again. But once they’ve had some time to bond, he brings Bochra around to his way of thinking. Only it’s too late; the magnetic forces on the planet are wreaking havoc on both their bodies, causing Bochra to suffer neurological damage and breaking La Forge’s connection with his VISOR. He can no longer see the neutrino beacon.
Now completely blind, La Forge is finally ready to give up, until Bochra suggests he link his VISOR to the tricorder to point the way to the neutrinos. The Romulan becomes La Forge’s eyes and hands, and La Forge half-carries him to the beacon. Back on the ship, everyone tries to cajole or guilt-trip Worf into helping the Romulan, but Picard stops just short of making it an order. Worf refuses and the Romulan dies, just as the impatient Tomalak’s warbird appears to reclaim him.
It looks like they’re going to start a war, until Wesley detects La Forge’s signal from the beacon. Picard takes a chance and asks Tomalak to act in good faith as they lower the shields to beam up La Forge and the Romulan that Tomalak claimed didn’t exist. The new buddies make it to the ship in the nick of time, averting a bloody space battle and a costly special effects budget. Picard agrees to hand over Bochra…and escort Tomalak’s ship back to the Neutral Zone.
Weirdly, I remembered the two story lines in this episode as being in two different episodes, but they obviously fit together and play against each other well, an excellent example of how writers had finally figured out how to balance the plot in their scripts.
This is simply a standout episode, largely because of the unexpected, dark place it takes one of the main characters. In fact, it constantly subverts our expectations, providing plenty of opportunities where you think, “This is it. Worf is going to come around.” But he never does! The last, most striking moment is after Worf refuses again and Picard sternly says, “Lieutenant.” It seems he might actually order Worf to “volunteer,” but he doesn’t. The captain does the right thing, and whether you think Worf does the right thing or not, he stays true to himself. The more I re-watch the series, the more I realize Worf is one of the most complex and nuanced characters on the show, and Dorn really has been shining this season.
I also loved the bits on the planet–and how cool is the name “Galorndon Core”? I like seeing how resourceful Starfleet crew members can be when they’re really put to the test, and La Forge is rather brilliant, as is his new friend, Bochra. Seeing creativity at work like this is so much fun, and it’s a nice message that even though they rely on technology to do so much, they also have ingenuity. However, I did think it was strange that La Forge instantly assumed that Wesley had set up the neutrino beacon. Maybe if it had been another repurposed science experiment, but La Forge is basically implying that the kid is the only person on the ship who could have come up with it. To which I say, “Really?”
You add in the impending threat of the approaching warbird and Commander Tomalak, portrayed by the fabulous actor Andreas Katsulas, and the episode has even more tension with the highest of stakes. It feels like a mashup of “Balance of Terror” and “Arena.” It’s also content to let the mystery of what the Romulans were doing there go unanswered at the end of the episode; it seems to be fodder for a later plot point, but I don’t recall if they ever come back to it. I mean, I’m sure they were up to no good.
There are many other great character moments. Riker is tormented by having to leave Geordi behind: He snaps at poor Chief O’Brien and ends up drinking shots alone in his quarters. His animosity toward their Romulan prisoner is also apparent (Geordi dials the snark up to 11 too), and Picard once again displays admirable diplomacy and strategic thinking under difficult conditions. Unfortunately, you also have Deanna exlaiming “It’s Geordi!” when they get his neutrino signal, continuing to state the obvious.
Sure, I can pick some nits too. Why couldn’t they put the dying Romulan in stasis until Tomalak arrived? Why do Geordi and Bochra seem perfectly fine immediately after getting to Enterprise, despite the cumulative neurological damage and the fact that the Bochra was on the planet longer than the first Romulan? Why didn’t Picard just give Tomalak permission to cross the Neutral Zone, knowing that doing so could save their prisoner’s life? At the end of the episode, they’re supposed to escort the warbird to the Neutral Zone, but they seem to depart in opposite directions?
But whatever. These are minor quibbles when the emotional and moral core of the episode is so strong and like nothing we’d seen on the show before.
Eugene’s Rating: Warp 6 (on a scale of 1-6)
Thread Alert: Stand down from Thread Alert. No new costumes to mock in this episode.
Best Line: “I never lie when I’ve got sand in my shoes, Commodore,” Geordi lied.
Trivia/Other Notes: An early draft of the script had Troi trapped on the planet with Geordi, which at least would have given her something useful to do.
Michael Dorn and some of the writers objected to Worf letting the Romulan die. Dorn was concerned that people would view the Klingon as a murderer, but the producers wanted to show that he has different values than humans do.
LeVar Burton claimed this episode was an homage to the 1958 film The Defiant Ones, starring Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as prisoners who are shackled together and must cooperate when they escape from a chain gang.
This is the first of four appearances by Andreas Katsulas as Commander Tomalak. Katsulas is probably best known to SF fans as G’kar from the series Babylon 5, as well as the one-armed man from the film adaptation of The Fugitive. He also played another character in Star Trek: Enterprise.
John Snyder (Bochra) returns to TNG in “The Masterpiece Society.”
Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 6 – “Booby Trap.”
Next episode: Season 3, Episode 8 – “The Price.”