Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground [3.12]

Dr. Crusher is kidnapped by violent separatists in desperate need of a doctor.  She grows sympathetic toward their leader, Finn.  Crusher is is unable to significantly help them, as their injuries are a result of the dangerous teleportation technology that they use in their attacks.  Perceiving the Enterprise as a threat, Finn attacks the Enterprise.  He fails to destroy it, but kidnaps Picard.  Their actions allow the Enterprise crew to track their location.  Riker and Worf lead a rescue mission along with the local militia.  Finn is killed, and Picard and Crusher are rescued.

Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Directed by Gabrielle Beaumont.

Previous Episode: The HuntedNext Episode: Deja Q

And for the first time in a year and a half, we have an episode focusing on Dr. Crusher.  And as a fan of the character, that is a good thing.  However, The High Ground is not a particularly great episode.  Similar to the previous episode, The Hunted, it’s a story that is attempting to deal with some pretty deep themes, but which the show is somehow not completely up to.  Actually, very similar to the previous episode, it’s a story that tries to draw a lot of it’s power by using a non-Federation world to present a situation that seems politically straightforward at first, but ultimately is revealed as a lot more ambiguous.

I’d say overall this episode is more successful at presenting this sort of depth than its predecessor, but there is still a way in which at the end of this story, we’re feeling a bit of “so what?”  Again like the previous story, The High Ground also has extended action scenes that are exciting to watch, but which ultimately feel just like sharp relief to all the pontificating going on.   Star Trek has always had the ability to cast current day situations into a science fiction setting, but here most of the story just seems like window dressing attached to some fairly obvious social commentary – first that there is more to terrorists than meets the eye, and second that, you know, killing is bad.

Part of the problem is the way we never really explore what all this means to our central characters.  Although the plot centers on Dr. Crusher, it’s really more about some of the guest characters – the separatist leader Finn and the local marshal, Alexana Devos.  And they work well only some of the time, with Devos especially having a few too many “obvious” moments that aren’t always well-played (her “I want to go home,” speech being the most significant one).  Beverly’s relationship with Finn hints at something interesting, but the actual situation never really allows it to fully go there.

The episode also communicates the fairly strong point of view that terrorism can been a successful agent of political change.  It doesn’t actually say it’s a good thing, but it is implied that it has had positive results.  It’s worth remembering that this story, and indeed all of Deep Space Nine (which brought up similar ideas), was produced well before the attacks in New York and Washington in 2001.  I think these comments must sound quite different to me today than it would have for most of the audience at the time the show was made.   For myself, certainly, and I’d imagine for many other Americans, our understanding of what terrorism is has been radically redefined by that day and by many incidents since then.  But still, as this show attempts to say, it’s always worth evaluating our own contributions to those global situations.

The episode just never actually does that with satisfaction.  Some harsh questions are brought up, but they end up glossed over as in the end, the crew just wants to get their people back and get out of there.  And that’s what they do.  It makes Riker’s moralistic comments at the end about how maybe a a young boy who doesn’t kill is the start of a change, seem pat and a bit hollow.

On the positive note, the episode does feature Dr. Crusher very well, giving Gates McFadden some meaty stuff to do for pretty much the whole episode.  Really, it’s probably her most significant role in the series so far.  The scene with her and Picard being held captive together and getting into a bit of an argument about things represents a welcome return to the intimacy between the two characters.  And the scene where Geordi saves the ship from a bomb is quite good.  The attack on the bridge starts off strong as well, although the scene sort of fizzles by the end.

Guest Cast:
• Kerrie Keane, who plays Alexana Devos, co-starred in the short-lived TV series in the 1980’s, Hot Pursuit, which was something of a cross of The Fugitive and Hart to Hart.  She also had a small role in the quite bad superhero film, Steel.

• Marc Buckland, who has a small role as a waiter, was an executive producer on a number of TV series, including Murder One and My Name is Earl.

• Christopher Pettiet plays a Boy.  He later played Jesse James in the TV series The Young Riders.

• Cool that Crusher gives Worf an order.  I like that.  Although you’d think Crusher could just ask the Enterprise to beam down some supplies.

• Actually, for that matter – if shore leave has been cancelled, why are Crusher and Worf sitting at a cafe?  Why wouldn’t they just eat on the ship?

• Data makes an assumption as to who the bomb is set off by.  Of course, one assumes it would be the separatists, but there is no direct evidence of this when he reports it.

• “I don’t want to be in the transporter room to greet her,” is a nice line from Riker about Dr. Crusher.  It’s quite a different dynamic going on here than if it’d still been Dr. Pulaski.

• The effect for the dimensional jump is pretty cool.

• The action scenes at the start aren’t completely compelling.  One of the extras seems to react slower to the explosion than the others, and the kidnapping scene is directed oddly so you can’t really tell that it’s supposed to be crowded, which presumably is why the security guys don’t shoot that dude immediately.

• Wesley is a bit naive sounding when it comes to learning of the potential role of hostages.  It’s like Picard is talking to a little kid.

• “History has shown us that strength may be useless when faced with terrorism.”  Picard’s line is another sentiment that flies in the face of American political jargon that became predominant a decade after this episode came out.

• Finn is a confused, uncomfortable character – which is a good thing, I guess.  He makes for a good mix of ruthlessness (“I know.  I hurt them”, inevitability (“Don’t you know?  A dead martyr is worth ten posturing leaders,” and humanity (he likes to draw).

• Nice the way they show Data’s inability to understand the idea of people acting irrationally

• I’m not bonkers about Kerrie Keane’s performance

• Data mentions the Irish unification of 2024, which apparently caused this episode problems as far as airing in the UK.

• I like Crusher’s line, “To find a way to reverse the effects of the dimensional shift?  I can do that right now.  Stop using it!”

• What’s wrong with this bridge scene?  It’s Troi’s reaction.  Worf’s been hit, so she goes to him.  But Picard is actually wrestling with a guy on the ground, and she runs right past him.   Why do that?  Why not help her Captain?  Is she that useless?

• It’s absurd, I’d think, that Finn delivers his demands by dimensional shift.  He knows this thing is killing him.  Why not just send a message through that waiter guy?  And of course it allows the Enterprise to track his location.

• Great delivery from Beverly:  “Is that the best you can do?”

• That’s a pretty small rescue team – just  Riker, Worf, and a few local police.  Why not send a bigger group?  Why doesn’t Data come, for example?  And why don’t they just stun everyone right away?

• “He’s prepared to kill you?” “An excellent reason to escape.” Nice.

• Crusher is going to tell Picard something.  Is this the second time that’s happened?

Dialogue High Point
I think Picard’s final to answer to Data about his questions about terrorism is particularly well written:

These are questions that mankind has always struggled with.  Your confusion…is only human.

Previous Episode: The HuntedNext Episode: Deja Q

6 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground [3.12]

  1. Season 3, great season or greatest season? I’ve slowly been working my way through (I’m halfway through 5) and I thought the issues dealt with (particularly this episode) were more rich than anything that came afterward. Plus, you know, Locutus.

    It was really interesting to see an episode dealing with terrorism and I thought it was still completely relevant, despite 20 years. Obviously this episode had the IRA in mind (hence the unification reference and the name Finn) but it really made me think on the issues today. 44 minutes isn’t enough time to solve complex issues without unsatisfying soliloquies at the end, but I think the point was to make you chew it over yourself. You taught me the best stories leave some things unresolved and the Picard/Data interchange is strong enough to leave the issue open despite Riker at the end. Ok, I’m rambling, but I still think about this episode from time to time.

  2. I taught you that? Good on me!

    Seriously, I think the episode is a game attempt at dealing with a tough issue, but I think the story is sacrificed a bit for the social commentary. Not completely, but just a bit. Ultimately, I’m here to watch a story and so I do in fact have an “expectation” in that regard.

    Melinda Snodgrass tends to wear her point of view on her sleeve, I’m noticing as I rewatch these. She’s written one of the very best episodes of the show so far, and also what I’d consider to be one of the very worst. This one occupies the broad area in between.

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