When a member of a pre-warp civilization is injured, Dr. Crusher beams him up to sickbay, where he becomes lucid enough to see Picard, and come to believe that he is a god. Attempts to erase his memory prove to be ineffective, and his new beliefs threaten to shift the direction of their entire culture. In the end, Picard is forced to reveal the existence of the Enterprise in order to prevent this from happening.
Written by Richard Manning and Hans Beimler. Directed by Robert Wiemer.
Who Watches the Watchers? has got a lot of good things going for it. On one hand, it’s a taut drama built around a compelling situation, especially in its first half. The story of the cultural contamination relentlessly increasing in spite of the crew’s best efforts to contain the situation makes for some very good viewing, and provides a look at the Federation that we really haven’t seen before. And it helps that there is genuine human danger to the crew to go along with this ethical dilemma – with Troi, Riker, and Picard all having their life threatened.
Patrick Stewart’s performance is typically strong here, as he shows great displeasure, discomfort, and conviction about the situation with this civilization. Riker, Troi, and Dr. Crusher all get some good character moments as well (although Dr. Crusher does a poor job keeping the injured inhabitant Liko from becoming further “contaminated” – not because of the inability to erase his memory, but more her failure to keep him sedated / secluded on the ship.)
On the flip side, the episode shows a clear bias against religion. This comes through a bit of a tirade from Picard – one of the character’s strongest moments in the story – in which he compares belief in the supernatural with being in the dark ages, and the decision to leave those beliefs behind as a true moment of enlightenment. None of this is actually necessary for the plot – it would have been enough for Picard to have to deal with being considered a god himself. But the episode takes it further and has Picard quite offended not only about the race’s beliefs about him, but about their renewed beliefs in the supernatural at all. Having Picard and others speak so vehemently – even angrily – against any faith-based precepts puts the producers’ / writers’ own views pretty clearly on the table. And this is fair enough, I suppose – the creators of a television show are allowed to express their point of view. It just happens to be one that I do not share – so it becomes quite easy to see the flaws in the presentation.
There’s a weird sort of arrogance built into the discussion. Their anthropologists somehow know with absolute certainty that Liko’s rekindled belief will give rise to a new religion. How can anyone know such a thing? Supposedly, the Mintakans, as an entire race, left behind their superstitious beliefs millenia ago. That’s right – for thousands of years, they have not believed in anything non-rational. But yet, it seems like their latent beliefs are not buried all that deep if one set of astounding events could turn the tide of the entire culture. And the anthropologists clearly know that, and feel like it is also inevitable that this will result in irrational violence, inquisitions, and all sorts of evils. And of course, this is all justified by Liko’s behavior and his willingness to murder Troi and others. Picard is therefore justified in promoting one form of cultural contamination over another. And naturally, once these offensive beliefs are removed, Liko becomes as enlightened and clear thinking as everyone else. It’s quite an over-simplification that makes the latter half of the story weaker than the start.
• Kathryn Leigh Scott, who plays Nuria, was also a regular on the original Dark Shadows.
• Ray Wise, who played Liko, would later go on to play a key role in Twin Peaks. He has had many other roles that I remember him for, including as Dr. Alec Holland in the original film of Swamp Thing.
• James Greene (Dr. Barron) has had many TV roles, including on The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd.
• Pamela Aldon plays Oji, She has had many voice roles, including in Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks.
Shout Outs to the Past
Dr. Crusher refers to Dr. Pulaski and her memory-erasing techniques from Pen Pals in Season Two.
Setting Up the Future
The “Duck Blind” that the anthropology team uses is similar to something that will be seen in Star Trek Insurrection.
• There’s an interesting moral dilemma between Picard and Dr. Crusher at the start of things that gets quickly lost with everything else that is going on, regarding of whether Dr. Crusher should have allowed Liko to die.
• There is a direct reference to Dr. Pulaski. I believe it is the last time in the series that her name will ever be mentioned.
• Sort of oddly, there is a brief appearance of a hawk, including its screech, in the background as Riker is running away. I’m not sure if the screech was a live recording or not, or added later because it might have seemed even more random without it.
Dialogue High Point
Sadly, the most powerful piece of dialog is also the one of Picard’s that best captures the viewpoints of the episode that I disagree with:
Dr. Barron, your report describes how rationale these people are. Millenia ago, they abandoned their belief in the supernatural. Now you are asking me to sabotage that achievement, to send them back into the dark ages of superstitions and ignorance and fear? No!