Friday, August 5, 2011

Classics: TNG 2:17 - Samaritan Snare (Jeers)

Overall Rating: 3.5

Evolution doesn't permit the Pakleds to exist in their current form - no one so inept in the languages could possible fly a star ship.

Plot Synopsis:

The Pakleds are not smart. The Enterprise crew is not smart. They don't make this plot go.

(seriously...full details on this plot can be found at Memory Alpha)

The Skinny:

Episodes like this are why Star Trek has a bad reputation when it comes to "high concept" science fiction. When we say "high concept," we're referring to the art of crafting a story that distorts our normal perspective in some creative way - advances some idea in a manner more likely to get our attention. This episode, for example, was supposed to be about the inherent dangers in being too friendly and too willing to leap to the aid of a stranger in trouble. The title "Samaritan Snare" reveals the INTENTIONS of the authors. How do you trap a technologically superior race of do-gooders? Make them believe you're helpless and in danger and then take advantage of their good nature. The problem is that to tell this story in a unique way...they decided to make the adversary completely and totally mentally deficient. I've heard some defenders of this script claim that the Pakleds aren't stupid, just linguistically limited, but the events of this plot reveal that to be patently untrue. The Pakleds, in fact, fall for some of the dumbest tricks in the book to resolve the conflict, don't know how to work their own ship, can't communicate in ways other than their incredibly simplistic language, and show no signs of being "stupid like a fox." They're just...stupid.

And herein lies the problem. A race of stupid people cannot possible have mastered space travel well enough not yo get themselves killed almost immediately. In fact, I question whether a race this stupid could even have evolved to the point of achieving large numbers on a planet and learning to steal technology at all. Our own evolution tells a rather instructive story. Modern man, though limited in actual knowledge, was nearly as intellectually capable a hundred thousands years ago as he is today, and it wasn't until we reached that new level of intelligence that our numbers began to grow exponentially. The Pakleds certainly do not have any evolutionary advantages of a physical nature that explain their existence in great numbers despite meager intelligence. I'm sorry, but stupidity is not a means for advancement, no matter how much you'd like to sell your story idea in some jarring and unusual way.

And it gets worse. The only reason the Enterprise gets into any trouble is that their crew of highly trained Star Fleet professionals makes a series of mistakes dumb enough to get beaten by the short bus. Literally...our brilliant heroes defeated by Corky from Life Goes On. Trek writers seemed to revel in doing high concept episodes and didn't seem to care about silly things like logic or preparation or continuity. The same crew who defeated the Borg cannot possibly be this stupid. And it's illogical to believe that a race of beings this stupid can possibly have learned to be skilled thieves and navigated the stars. The mind boggles.

The Picard/Wesley side plot saves this episode from total and complete ruin, but only just.

Writing: 2.5

High concept fluff done VERY badly, with a side of Picard drama that doesn't fit at all with the rest of the episode or its' announced theme...not to mention a plot execution that doesn't even manage to tell the story they set out to tell.

Acting: 5.0

A rare bit of non-hammy acting by the early Patrick Stewart (who attained significantly better balance as his character aged) saves this one from being even more lowly regarded.

Message: 3.0

The problem with this is that the message seems to triumph over those who would take advantage of your need to turn into a trickster yourself. Otherwise, the total lack of an interesting message is to the show's lasting detriment.

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