Melissa Snodgras deserves an award for lifting the second season of this show up, delivering the season's best episode in "The Measure of a Man" and the heart tugger of the season, "Pen Pals". Starring an eleven year old Nikki Cox and featuring Data (with Wesley in the tied-in B story,) this episode is full of great moments. The main drama involves Data, in true "Leave it to Beaver" style, getting deeper and deeper into trouble, and taking Picard down with him. The subplot with Wesley (in command of a team) is especially interesting, because instead of dealing with it in a cliche way, having team members not take orders or needing someone else to step in and kick ass for him, the story has Wesley learn that the true conflicts are internalized within himself.
'Pen Pals' is an episode that fails to ignite for me. The premise, in which Data starts communicating with a little girl from a doomed planet is fine in itself, but the way it's executed leaves a lot to be desired. As it stands, I don't really buy it. Data was supposedly communicating with her for several weeks before telling Picard. This strieks me as totally out of character: would Data ever breach protocol in such a manner??
The central dilemma (should the crew stand by and let this civilisation die just because they have to uphold the Prime Directive) shows how retarded and bereaucratic the Federation can be and how horribly arrogant it is to put their own gung ho morals above the fate of entire civilisations. Sure it may be a good principle in theory, but we can see here how disastrous it is when laws are put above the welfare of the people they are supposedly in place to protect.
Anyway, aside from philosophical issues, the main problem with the episode is the poor characterisation of Data (who strangely comes across as more human than the rest of the crew put together). That said, I didn't feel the bond between him and Sarjenka was particularly genuine, mainly due to the pedestrian scripting. Sarjenka's makeup was also a total misfire. She looked like some kind of first degree burns victim.
The Wesley subplot is handled reasonably well, until Wesley, not having been content with saving the Enterprise on more than one occasion, finds out a way to save an entire planet, giving the episode a forced, contrived conclusion that offers a rather phoney happy ending.
This is a passable but fundemantally flawed episode: if you switch the brain to neutral and have an hour to kill it's certainly watchable and will pass the time, but it's not an episode that bears much scrutiny.
The second dull episode sandwiched between two great Trek episodes and two of the best episodes of Season Two ("Time Squared" and "Q Who"), "Pen Pals" is not a terrible episode - just really boring and nearly impossible to invest in.
Brent Spiner's passionate performance is really the only reason to watch this episode. The Prime Directive is a main theme here but it would be used much better in future episodes, Wesley Crusher gets a major role here and that is never a good thing, and who is supposed to be an empathetic character in Sarjenka (Data's new friend) is, in the end, just kind of annoying. Very skippable indeed.
Great episode, one that I found to emotionally portray human beings with a positive light - that somewhere in all of us there is the want and knowledge to do the right thing.
Shame it took an android to remind the team! Well ok it was probably designed that way by the writers! Anyhow, a slow start without action, serves as an adequate platform into a slow but thoughtful middle and a mildy satisfying ending.
The crux of the episode is whether or not the rules we make can be broken, and whether not even for a good cause. In this case its the prime directive and Data responds to a low tech. RF signal which is a cry for help from a dying world.
This plot strand takes a ethical dilemma and demonstrates it on the tails of a very personal story between Data and Sarjenka. Meanwhile on a paralle subplot, Wessers is given his first test of command as he is given the role of leader of a taskgroup looking for a solution to the seismic events that are destroying Sarjenka's planet. This is a pretty ponderous affair but does add a nice angle towards the overall story.
Though this episode is devoid of any real action, there is a large threat that hangs over the population of an entire planet, even if because we dont see them in danger at least the helpless voice of Sarjenka is used to good effect to convince of the plight. The middle acts only real contribution is to have the command crew debate the issues and heap a helping of uneasiness onto the viewer so they join in the awkwardness of not being able to help.
Yeah the ending could have gone one of two ways, but could it have really?! Wessers overcomes his issues with taking command and Data saves his pen-pal. However, Dr. Paulanski's treatment of the girl does pose another ethical question..... or does it?
This episode has some serious drawbacks. The first is that it involves some serious out-of-character behavior by Data and the rest of the Enterprise. It is hard to believe that the character, as portrayed by the show so far, would have acted in the way that he did in "Pen Pals".
The second is that the "issues" it tries to grapple with -- the Prime Directive specifically, more generally what role sympathy for one person should play when much bigger issues are at play -- are dealt with in a ponderous, uninteresting fashion. The meeting in the Captain's quarters never manages to get off the ground. The only good moment comes when the crew hears the little girl's voice and realizes she is an individual, not just an abstraction. Two other later episodes to grapple with the Prime Directive - "Who Watches the Watchers" (season 3) and "First Contact" (season 4) - are much better.
The third is the Wesley subplot. This isn't the Wesley of old -- a supergenius teenager who miraculously saves the day each episode. Instead, he is a young officer given his first taste of command and learning along the way (and happens to save the day - but in the same way any other crew member would). While this is much more bearable than season 1 Wesley, it is quite boring.
However, despite out-of-character behavior by Data, Brent Spiner's performance here is quite affecting and impossible not to appreciate. This would be exploited in a greatly superior during the season 3 classic "The Offspring".
In this episode we find Data has become pen pals with a little girl named Sarjenka who lives on Drema IV. Wesley Crusher is given command on a planet geology team aboard the "enterprise". The geology team find that Drema IV has become volcanically active.
In this episode we find Data has become pen pals with a little girl named Sarjenka who lives on Drema IV. Wesley Crusher is given command on a planet geology team aboard the "enterprise". The geology team find that Drema IV has become volcanically active. Data learns of this and violates the prime directive based on his feelings. Data seems to be becoming more human. The going joke between Riker and Picard is Riker asking how deep are we, sir. The geology team has found a way to calm the planet. I rate this a 7.6 for Data's human traits.
Ah Pen Pals-the episode where Data AND Picard willingly violate the Prime Directive and feel no regrets about it.
WIth the number of times that TNG confronts whether or not to interfere and save a more primitive culture, this episode stands alone. Why? Because Data doesn't consider for an instant that saving his friend might be a bad idea and that saving a whole planet from their natural demise might violate the Prime Directive. The rest of the crew doesn't do much better-apparently it's okay to interfere when your "trying to be human" character starts acting as inconsistent as humans often do. Maybe they thought they were helping him on his journey?
And I'd like to imagine Picard's report to Star Fleet about the whole situation. "We were delayed because we saved a planet from destruction that had no ideas about space travel or Star Fleet. At least we didn't let them know we were there."
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