28 July 2013

Up the Long Ladder

Episode: s2, ep18

I assume the episode title is a reference to DNA. There do not appear to be any actual ladders in the episode.

What Happens
Picard and Riker have a meeting about a signal Starfleet found. It's a very old Earth code coming from somewhere no Earth colony should be. The Enterprise is to investigate the mystery distress signal. Worf seems unwell, then he collapses. In sickbay Pulaski reveals that it's just something faintly embarrassing. She covers up for him and Worf thanks her with tea. No more B-plot for you! Data and Picard discover that a previously unknown colony ship launched from Earth in the 22nd century. Its manifest reveals a curious mixture of hi-tech science kit and low-tech agricultural equipment.
The Enterprise arrives in a system with dangerous solar flares, which triggered the SOS. About 200 humans are discovered under the surface of a planet, needing evacuation. Riker is sent to explain what's happening before they're transported. When O'Brien beams people up he is shocked to discover farm animals and Celtic music and a load of anachronistic Irish stereotypes. The people and their animals are put in a cargo bay and stay there. Riker is attracted to a colonist, whose father is leader of the colonists (at least in name), and after some flirting they have sex.
The leader of the Irish* reveals that there was a second colony. The Enterprise finds a planet full of urban technology that's occupied by clones due to an accident that wiped out all but 5 of the original colonists. The Clones are keen for fresh DNA because they are failing as each generation copied has more flaws. Pulaski explains that fresh DNA for cloning won't solve the actual problem as it's part of the cloning process. Despite the disgust crew members express at the idea of donating DNA for cloning, the Clones steal DNA from Pulaski and Riker. Geordi helps them discover this and the growing clones are destroyed.
Picard decides to kill two birds with one stone and insists that the two colonies merge, even though their cultures are wildly different. The Irish need a planet and the Clones need fresh DNA - and to get over this whole icky cloning thing. The Clone leader is bullied into meeting with the Irish leader, they do not get on. Picard insists they have to learn and doesn't leave anyone with a real choice in the matter. The scientific, asexual Clones are the exact opposite of the Irish.  Let's make 'em share a planet, because the Odd Couple concept will work wonders in colonisation.


Oh Captain, My Captain
Picard is initially grumpy about messy agricultural folk on his nice clean ship, but quickly "bow[s] to the absurd", which is a healthy attitude to have though perhaps patronising. Picard treats the Clones more as equals and at least he explains that Federation morals/taboos around cloning are different, rather than getting offended straight away. In the end Picard judges both cultures for being different to his own. Then he forces the two wildly different and divergent peoples to merge their societies and set up a breeding programme, which is somewhat dictatorial.

Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-management
Riker is seduced by a forthright, flame-haired Irishwoman called Brenna, who is also the leader's daughter and utterly competent at actually running things. As happens with TV flirting there is plenty of weird and unlikely dialogue, with foot washing becoming a coy metaphor for sex (yeah, really). Riker plays it a bit too subtle for this lass, though at least she tidies up his room before showing him her underskirts. When she asks whether he's interested in girls he replies "Of course" as though there's no other option. So late-20th Century assumptions still apply in 24th Century then? How disappointing.
When meeting the Clones Riker is aghast at the suggestion of donating tissue samples and gets heated during discussion, even though the Clones mean absolutely no offense. He gets very pointed about his individuality, which is funny when you think that he's going to meet an accidental clone of himself later on. Riker is understandably angry when he discovers his tissue has been taken without his knowledge and destroys his still-growing clone without a thought. Though it seems like maybe the Clones should have tried stealing tissue from someone other than the person who voiced the strongest objections to the idea.

Klingon Warrior
At the very beginning Worf seems a bit peaky. Just before the opening credits Worf collapses. After the credits Worf is in the sickbay and Pulaski reveals that he has a disease normally caught by Klingon children. Basically it's Klingon-measles, and Worf is humiliated. When the Captain asks her what's going on Pulaski says that Worf was fasting and overdid it a bit. To thank her for saving him from embarrassment Worf shows Pulaski a Klingon tea ceremony. Pulaski is thrilled, though Worf warns that the tea is deadly to humans. It's not good for Klingons either, but is used as a test of bravery. Worf waxes poetical, which impresses Pulaski. She injects herself with something from the sickbay that is apparently an antidote (did she just invent that, or was it just lying around?). They drink and she asks about Klingon poetry.
And that's the B-plot resolved within the first 15 minutes. Everything else is A-plot (except for Riker having sex).

Doctor Doctor
Pulaski kinda cheats at Klingon tea since it's not much of a test of bravery if you've taken an antidote. Then again she's too smart to drink something that would definitely kill her.
Pulaski goes on the away mission to the Clone planet and is first to spot that they are clones (everyone else assumes multiple identical siblings who all work in the same building). She asks relevant technical questions and explains the replicative fading problem with cloning and why samples of fresh DNA won't help.
Her attitude to the Clones doesn't seem much better than Riker's, even though she's normally fairly compassionate. She describes the Clones as walking dead, which seems harsh. Clearly she doesn't consider them to be individuals, I expect she views them as lab experiments rather than people in a functioning society. She even bullies them into agreeing to merge with the Irish colony by pointing out that they'll cease to exist in a few generations, leaving a planet with infastructure just waiting for Federation colonisation.
Pulaski uses her scientific knowledge to suggest a polyandrous breeding programme for the merged colony, in which each woman should ideally have children by at least three different men. That's still only a breeding pool of a little over 200, doesn't seem like much. I get the impression that there are a lot of Clones, but genetically they only count as 5 people.

Counsellor Pointless
Troi is the only person who has any consideration for the Clones' viewpoint and she explains the perfectly understandable reasons why their society is the way it is. It might have been interesting if Troi had interacted with the Clones, at least we might have found out whether they were individuals with their own personalities and ideas, or whether these clones were psychological/mental copies of the original 5 colonists. But who cares about questions like that when you could be amused by a drunken Irishman instead?

Poor O'Brien

Oh look, living embodiments of your culture's distant past have turned up at your workplace. How unexpected.


Planet of the Anachronistic Irish Stereotypes
Are ye ready for some Olde Worlde Gaelic charm?
These colonists are the ancestors of those who left Earth, apparently to start a low-tech colony based around the then-popular idea of a "return to a simpler life in which one lived in harmony with nature, and learned under her gentle tutelage." Apparently nature's gentle tutelage gets you something approximating a pastoral Irish idyll.
Well, the leader of the Irish colony sure has the gift of the gab, he's forthright, but friendly and of course enjoys strong alcohol. He even does a comedy wheeze when Worf gives him Klingon booze. His daughter is of course red-headed and even more forthright, not in a leadership position herself (presumably because she's a woman) but taking charge of her father and everyone else to ensure that the practical stuff gets done. She moans about the way men are, but seems conditioned to tidy up after them. Her father's solution to his nagging-daughter problem is to try to marry her off, preferably to some rich fella.
The rest of the Irish are clearly agricultural folk who look like they're from the late 19th or early 20th century (as opposed to the 22nd). They rely on their farm animals and fill the cargo bay with their worldly possessions and bales of hay. They are a simple, hard-working but jolly folk, and music is clearly very important to them as there is always something playing in the background, even though the musicians can't be seen. Someone even manages to play a reel while being transported. I guess we can at least give thanks that they weren't all wearing green and no one says begorrah.

Planet of the Clones
The second colony, that the Picard knew nothing about until the Irish leader mentions it, is the one that had all the hi-tech equipment listed in the colony ship's manifest, being a more scientifically-minded group. Their planet is safe from solar flares and has reasonably advanced tech and urban infastructure. At first it seems that these people are going to be more relateable for the Enterprise crew than the farmer-folk in the cargo bay. The Clone leader explains that the colony ship was badly damaged when landing and only 5 colonists survived. Rather than give up and die they came up with a solution and cloned themselves. At first sex was prohibited and suppressed with drugs, but after 300 years the Clones have lived without it and are a little repelled by the idea.
There's little exploration of the realities of cloning, besides that they're grown in vats. It's an imperfect solution, and they know it. We never really meet any other Clones besides the leader, so it's impossible to say what they're like as people or a society. We don't know if they consider themselves as individuals despite being genetically identical. The leader argues that cloning is they only way they can survive, and points out that cloning Riker does not directly harm him. However there's little actual exploration of their viewpoint, the message is that cloning is repugnant. As it turns out Clones are sneaky, with their DNA stealing ways. I feel like I'm not supposed to be on their side. There's also no indication why people who have developed reliable cloning don't use their tech to create a little more genetic variety. Of course 5 people can never be a genetic base, but I would have thought they could mix some genes to create a little more variety. But what do I know?

The Prime Directive is a Harsh Mistress
I have new respect for the Prime Directive, because this episode shows what happens when groups aren't protected by it.
As humans neither the Irish nor the Clones are protected by the Prime Directive. And even though none of them are in any way affiliated with the Federation that doesn't stop Starfleet turning up and making them drastically alter their society. The negotiations (and first meeting) between the two cultures ended up with Picard and Pulaski telling them how it was gonna be. There was no suggestion of both sides trying to sort things out together, or even having time to acclimatise to each other.

Future History
We learn that the European Hegemony was a loose alliance formed in the early 22nd century, and one of the first steps towards world government. The signal beacon was in use between 2123 and 2190. There were space launches to other solar systems during this time. It seems that this was a chaotic time and records from then are incomplete, which is why there's no record of the correct launch. Earth was recovering from WWIII at the time and nature philosophy was very strong.
Data suggests that even though there's no record of launch itself there would be a ship's manifest. Of course! For details of deep space launches are written on the flimsiest of tissue paper and thrown to the breeze, but you can be damn sure that a full loading manifest would be created electronically, saved in several places and carved in stone to ensure that it survived for future generations. This 22nd Century chaos sounds really confusing. Or perhaps this episode was written by someone who does not understand how information survives over time.
After Data's suggestion Picard quickly finds a detailed manifest from 2123, which must be immediately identifiable. It seems odd that the Computer, or Starfleet Research, didn't find it sooner. Or why didn't Picard think of looking for it himself, isn't he supposed to be an amateur historian/archaeologist?

Do Your Research, Research
Riker identifies the beacon as a kind of SOS, figuring out in seconds what it took hours for Starfleet Research to ascertain. It turns our Riker is familiar with most Earth codes (including SOS, which must be long defunct). Picard asks the Computer to identify it, turns out it's from the European Hegemnoy and was in use between 2123 - 2190. This all seems like the kind of thing that should have been done by Starfleet Research, but apparently none of them thought of it. Plus it seems to take an android to think of searching for related documentation when looking through historical (computerised) documentation.
Based on this I suspect that Starfleet Research is where the Admirals send their layabout cousins, drunken siblings and keen-but-useless nieces and nephews who can't find gainful employment elsewhere.

The End
The Irish leader tells Brenna what was decided while the Clone leader looks alarmed and awed at everything about the Irish. She displeased with the "grandiose plans" decided by men, but concedes when Picard says the alternative is dropping her off at the nearest starbase. She stays out of duty, makes speculative eyes at the Clone leader and smilingly ponders the implications of three husbands.**



* For the purpose of this post I'm using Irish as a shorthand for the agricultural colonists, because of how that's clearly what they're meant to be. I appreciate that actual Irish people aren't like this.

** Based on how their society works it seems like 3 husbands would simply be three times the work for the women. You get the impression that the other Irish women may not be able to marshal people as well as Brenna does.

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