Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The High Ground”

highground1“The High Ground”
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont

Season 3, Episode 12
Original air date: January 29, 1990
Star date: 43510.7

Mission summary

The Enterprise has decided to give some medical supplies to Ireland Rutia IV, but it turns out terrorists have been bombing places so shore leave got canceled. Bummer. Dr. Crusher, Worf, and Data are sipping some tea in a cafe (for…work?) when a bomb goes off injuring civilians. Worf says they have to get out of there, but Crusher starts bandaging the wounded and refuses to beam back to the ship until the local medics arrive. Suddenly one of the Ansata–the space IRA–appears out of nowhere, kills a policeman, and abducts Crusher to the void from whence he came.

Crusher is taken to their leader–a man named Finn–but she gives him the silent treatment.

Meanwhile, Picard meets with Devos, the police chief, about getting his chief medical officer back. She doesn’t have anything nice to say about the Ansata. Nothing useful, either:

PICARD: And what exactly is Ansata policy with regard to hostages?
DEVOS: I doubt they have one. They don’t usually take hostages. These are not people we’re dealing with here. They’re animals. Fanatics who kill without remorse or conscience. Who think nothing of murdering innocent people.
PICARD: But they could just as easily have shot her where she stood.
DEVOS: Don’t ask me to explain them. I can’t.

Writing! By professionals!

Devos half-heartedly requests some arms to quell the rebellion, but Picard cites the Prime Directive and she doesn’t seem surprised. She does, however, hand over a confiscated…thing…that may be responsible for the Ansata’s miraculous transport ability. Picard trades Riker for it, proving himself a shrewd businessman.

Meanwhile, Finn has made some inroads with Crusher who finally asks him what she’s doing there. He says he wanted her medical expertise, and berates the Federation for “allying” themselves with the Rutia, which Crusher of course denies. She invokes Wesley to try and garner sympathy (has that ever worked?), but is quickly put to work with some stolen Federation medical supplies to treat a bunch of dying rebels. They’ve suffered some kind of irreparable DNA damage. Finn reveals that it’s the work of the “inverter,” their magic transporter, which is actually a dimensional shifter that destroys humanoid tissue. He’s dying, too, but to Crusher’s horror he embraces his role as a martyr. On a more positive note, he draws pretty pictures! But in order to see them you have to hear his conspiracy theories about George Washington, America’s First Terrorist, so it’s ultimately a net loss for the viewer.

Riker and Devos are on the hunt for any leads to the Ansata hideout. First, they interrogate various people who were present at the bombing that are sympathetic to the Ansata cause, including the waiter at the restaurant. Maybe he’s just bitter that a currency-less society is responsible for bad tips, but he’s definitely one of Finn’s men. Riker tells him to report back that the Federation is willing to negotiate for Crusher’s release. It turns out Wesley is the only one actually  making progress on this front, though, because he figures out what the inverter Devos had passed along can do and works with Geordi and Data to trace the emissions and pinpoint the location of their hideouts.

Unfortunately, the waiter not only tells Finn about the possible exchange but mentions the mass arrests and police brutality. Because he might actually have a point in any other show, this one discredits him by making him decide the obvious next step is to blow up the Enterprise while listening to Dashboard Confessional because then, finally, “someone will listen.” Sorry, emo kid, but they won’t.

Using the inverters, various of Finn’s followers zap to the Enterprise, killing random personnel and planting a bomb on the warp core. Geordi manages to pry it off and have it beamed into space, but Finn still makes off with the captain. Picard refuses to cooperate but Finn only needs him as a pawn to get the Federation involved. Then, rather than make a phone call, he uses the inverter AGAIN to go back to the ship and tell Troi to tell the Federation to come talk. By the time he zaps back, he’s in bad shape thanks to the DNA damage.

That last transport was just what Wesley needed, though, so Riker plans a rescue party. They beam over, cut the power, and take down the terrorists while looking for Picard and Crusher. Crusher is starting to get a little Stockholm Syndrome, though, because Finn has been drawing her and gave her his sketchbook as a peace offering. She gets pretty upset when Devos finds the three of them–Picard, Crusher, and Finn–and kills Finn. Then a little boy shows up and points his gun at Devos, but Crusher tells him not to and that works for some reason.

RIKER: He could have killed you. He didn’t. Maybe the end begins with one boy putting down his gun.

Actually, no. The end begins with the credits, which can’t come soon enough.

The High Ground

Analysis

I very much want to admire this episode. I wish I could find in it a scathing indictment of the Federation’s dull pacifism, or a smart look at the difficulties that come with any quest for peace, autonomy, and freedom. It gets so close when Finn refers to the Federation’s “moral cowardice.” I hoped, again, to see a shadow of America’s history: the paradox of warring for peace and fighting for freedom.

Sadly, no. Terrorism and the skunk people who support it are bad!

I’m grossly unqualified to analyze this through its intended lens, that of “the Troubles.” But it’s too superficial and silly to even demur here. When Devos calls these people animals, she’s right. They’re completely ridiculous. We don’t know what they’re fighting for, and we don’t care. From where I’m sitting, their biggest difference appears to be hair stripes. The conflict is absurd, the Federation’s stance is absurd (why exactly are they supplying medicine to one side of a civil war??), the resolution is absurd, and the less we think about it the better.

drawingsThe only way I find this episode remotely palatable is as a Dr. Crusher character piece. She’s competent, principled, and keeps her head together in the face of great threats. She sees a lot more complexity than the rest of us do in Finn’s cause, and isn’t afraid to defend the Federation’s own history against his distortion of it. And while she does sympathize with Finn, she doesn’t fall for him, and never misses an opportunity to call his tactics stupid and self-defeating. Finally, when she meets Picard again, she apologizes for her mistake, acknowledging that her effort to help those on the scene was in a sense selfish and jeopardized the whole ship. Her arc embodies the kind of maturity the rest of the episode so painfully lacks.

But then there’s the creepy pictures and the little boy at the end and the police lady who is just so SAD to be an oppressor and Troi needing to explain to Wesley what a hostage is and SIGH.

At least it includes Picard punching that guy. That was awesome.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread AlertThread Alert: Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Blue and purple, plus skunk hair: just no.

Best Line: FINN: Captain, the Federation has a lot to admire in it, but there’s a hint of moral cowardice in your dealings with non-aligned planets. You’re doing business with a government that is crushing us and you say you’re not involved. You’re very, very much involved. You just don’t want to get dirty.

Trivia/Other Notes: Snodgrass wanted to write an episode paralleling the American Revolution, but the producers meddled: “I wanted it with Picard as Cornwallis and the Romulans would have been the French, who were in our revolution, trying to break this planet away. Suddenly Picard realized he’s one of the oppressors. Instead, we do ‘Breakfast in Belfast,’ where our people decide they’re going to go off to Northern Ireland.”

Ron Moore, Michael Pillar, and Brannon Braga all disavow it, but someone wrote the thing, didn’t they!?

This never aired in Ireland or the UK until 2007.

Richard Cox, who plays Finn, has to be one of the hardest working actors in LA. He’s been in pretty much every TV show since the ’70s. He will look familiar. You will not know why. You will look him up on IMDB. You will still not know why.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 11 – “The Hunted.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 13 – “Deja Q.”

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.