Star Trek: The Next Generation – Up the Long Ladder [2.18]

The Enterprise help the descendants of a remote human colony made up of Irishmen and their farm animals to evacuate their doomed world.  Hilarity ensures.  Then they run into a second colony made up of clones who are so desperate for genetic material that they steal it from Riker and Dr. Pulaski.  After this is discovered, Riker and Pulaski destroy clones.  Picard convinces both colonies to team up together, radically adjusting their cultures in order to survive.

Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Previous Episode: Samaritan SnareNext Episode: Manhunt

I’m left a little speechless by this episode.  I kind of enjoy Danilo and Brenna Odell as characters, as one-note as they are, and there are some amusing antics to be had with the Bringloidi, who unlike the guys in Code of Honor are not just modeled on an earth culture, but are actually meant to be an earth culture.  That’s kind of a cool idea, and a nifty infusion of the real world into Star Trek, but the whole colony ends up feeling like a holodeck-pastiche of the Irish than like a real community.  They stand around petting their farm animals and playing their squeezeboxes, chasing alcohol, and acting either jolly (the men) or grouchy (Brenna, the daughter) – with little attempt to demonstrate what it’s really like to have to leave your whole world as its destroyed and be forced to live in a warehouse.

Then, after 20+ minutes of this, we meet the second colony (and the first semblance of a plot).  They turn out to be an extremely boring bunch.  There is a game attempt to make it really look like a world of clones but in typical Next Generation fashion there is just not the sense of scope necessary to complete the illusion.  Picard makes the assumption that nobody on his ship would want to donate genetic material to these Mariposans – but is that such a certainty?  I could easily imagine some people amongst the 1000 on board thinking that sounds kind of cool.  But more frustrating is the fact that later in the show, Pulaski mentions that even if they get this material their colony will still die out.  Why isn’t this pointed out up front?  It’s blatantly obvious to the viewer – even they were to get a bunch of new clone stock, all the ones that currently exist would still die off at the same rate.

Then we get the scene where Riker and Pulaski have their cells removed from them by force, and when they discover this they charge into the (unguarded) facility and casually and stoically disintegrate the clones.  Riker does this without consulting his captain, without confronting the leaders of the world, or anything like that.  The Mariposans angrily accuse him of murder, but it’s okay because Riker is confident enough to know that he’s justified.  Of course, the violation by the Mariposans is egregious, but any further implications to the situation are pretty quickly dismissed.

Then Picard remembers that oh yeah, there was that first colony (who we haven’t seen for about 15 minutes) who were giving him headaches, so he basic bullies the two societies into merging, ostensibly solving all their (and his) problems.  No offer to help find the Bringloidi another planet, and no stress about sending both cultures into complete upheaval as long as it gets these guys out of his (non-existent) hair.  Oh well, the Bringloidi seem ready to adapt to polygamy, technology, and the rest of it pretty easily.

Really, I should be appalled at a story in which human clones are casually murdered by the heroes who deem them to be worth less than their own personal rights, and in which the breakdown of the traditional family structure is advocated – but the lame absurdity of almost everything about it all makes it hard to get worked up.  It’s badly structured, barely plotted, largely boring, and deals with its high-end concepts with a casual disregard that makes me want to respond likewise.

Oh!  I almost forgot!  There is also an almost completely random teaser where Worf faints at his work station!  It turns out to be because he has, embarrassingly, contracted a Klingon childhood disease.  This has nothing to do with anything else going on, and is only talked about in two “aside” scenes (over fairly early in the episode) with Worf and Pulaski – when she diagnoses him, and when he thanks her with poisonous tea (really!)  It’s another example of the badly structured quality of the story.

Guest Cast
• Barrie Ingham plays Danilo Odell, also was the voice of Basil in the movie The Great Mouse Detective.  He is also apparently one of ten actors to have roles in both Star Trek and Doctor Who (The Myth Makers, from 1965)

• It’s a bit silly no one notices that Worf looks like he is about to go crazy on the bridge at the start, or that Worf doesn’t deal with it himself.

• Some future history is revealed here.  There was a European Hegemony on earth between 2123 and 2190, in the aftermath of World War III.  There will be a movement called Neo-Transcendentalists at the time that favored abstaining from technology.

•There’s also some unexpected input about Klingon culture here, with the Klingon tea ceremony.

• Wesley is not in this episode

• The original colony, which left earth in 2123, is described as being from 300 years ago.  Wouldn’t that it make it 2423, in the 25th century?  According to my Star Trek Chronology, this story takes place in 2365, clearly not 300 years.  I assume, but don’t know, that there is an in-story justification to this date.

• Riker is trying to tell Picard something important, and Picard refuses to listen.  Really?

• They beam up hay?

• In spite of my dislike of the overall story, I’m a bit fond of the Odell family.  They both have some funny moments, in spite of being largely caricature.  Danilo looks at Worf and says, “I don’t suppose security is much of a problem, here.”   And then Brenna angrily yells at Picard and Riker, “You don’t offer us a bite or a sup and when we build a fire to cook a little something, the whole place goes mad!”  And later, when Riker tells her the ship can clean itself, she replies, “Well, good for the bloody ship.”

• Riker is pretty impressed by Brenna.  She asks him if he’s ever seen a woman before, and he replies, “I thought I had.”

• After the little exchange with Brenna, why is Captain Picard so ready to leave without having someone explain to the Bringloidi the food dispensers?  It’s just lucky that Riker went back to make time with Brenna, or maybe they’d never find out.

• Geordi’s Visor functions as a lie detector!  Is that ever mentioned again?

• How come all the clones are the same age?

• “Blatherskyte” is a fun word.

Dialogue High Point
My favorite line comes from the completely disconnected Worf-Pulaski scenes, as they share the Klingon tea ceremony.  Worf mentions that the tea is highly poisonous.

It is also a reminder that death is an experience best shared, like the tea.

Previous Episode: Samaritan SnareNext Episode: Manhunt


4 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Up the Long Ladder [2.18]

  1. Yeah, this episode had some fun moments, but overall, it was pretty bad. Apparently, it was originally meant to be a commentary on immigration, but with rewrites and budget restrictions, that message ended up being lost. Also, Riker and Pulaski killing the clones, as disturbing as it was, was intended as a pro-choice soapbox moment from Snodgrass.

    As for the explanation for that discrepancy you noted in the centuries, my guess is “oops.” TNG takes place in the 24th century, so when they were figuring out the timeframe, they may have forgotten that the 24th century is the 2300s, not the 2400s. Mistakes like that do happen.

    Also, apparently the 22nd century included a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. That’s a pretty awesome reference.

  2. Seriously, Riker’s attitude about the whole situation is utterly selfish and irrational. The cloned Riker would only be a copy of him genetically; emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, it would be a very different person. Riker’s disgust at the idea seems akin to someone refusing to give their fellow a needed blood transfusion. Admittedly, insofar as the side effect of such a “transfusion” is the creation of a new being, it might be more along the lines of donating sperm–but Riker does not seem to have any problems doing that. Even earlier in the episode he had an unnecessary intimate encounter with Brenna. So what is his issue? Furthermore, as you pointed out, aborting the clones like he did was entirely barbaric.

    The much better solution would have been to give them the genetic samples, but then warn them: you will still die in 15 generations if you do not begin reproducing sexually. The increased gene pool would make this a viable option, and neither of the two cultures would be damaged.

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