Star Trek: The Next Generation – First Contact [4.15]

After an injury, Riker is discovered to be an alien observer on a barely pre-warp planet.  The planet’s leader’s are divided on how to respond to the first discovery of alien life.  Picard tries to guide them through first contact protocols, but too many of the people react with levels of hysteria to the revelation of beings from space that the world’s chancellor decides to delay open public knowledge of the Federation’s existence.

Teleplay by Dennis Russell Bailey & David Bischoff and Joe Menosky & Ronald D. Moore and Michael Piller. Story by Marc Scott Zicree. Directed by Cliff Bole.

Previous Episode: CluesNext Episode:  Galaxy’s Child

Comments:
First Contact is a standout episode precisely because it is the first time that the point of view for an episode of Star Trek shifted completely away from the main characters, and indeed away from the Federation at all.  Right from the start we get to see how some aliens react to us – “us” referring to the main characters who we usually identify with.  Of course the gimmick here is that the alien culture – the Malcorians – are a lot more like “us” than any of the main characters on Next Generation.  Aside from a few superficial differences in anatomy and the length of their day, there is really nothing to differentiate the alien planet from the primary audience watching the show – 20th century Americans.  And in fact, if there is a weakness to the episode, that is it.  It’s hard not to view the episode as a bit of an obvious parable and how we’d react to discovering we’re not the center of the universe, etc.  Typically, though, anything resembling a “traditional way of life” gets a bit of beating in the presentation.

But that’s a pretty minor weakness, and doesn’t really take away from the episode’s main strength, which is its concept.  The actual drama of what’s happening to the characters is all right, but nothing spectacular.  But the fact that we’re seeing it all from the other side makes it all memorable.  The story thankfully does a good job developing the guest cast with Mirasta Yale, Chancellor Durken, Minister Krola, Doctor Berel, and even space-cadet Lanel coming across sharply and clearly.

Mirasta Yale is assigned quarters on the Enterprise at the story’s conclusion but she never appears again.  This is too bad as it might have been interesting to tell stories about a character who had chosen to exile herself from her home world for the opportunity to explore space.  It would have brought a new perspective to the show and offered a certain level of dramatic potential.

Certainly, it’s the scene between Riker and Bebe Neuwirth as Lanel that is the most memorable in the story.  She’s quite funny, and Riker is also amusing playing “space man”.  And it’s in keeping with Riker’s character (unfortunately, really) that her demands do not come as too much of a hindrance to his escape attempt.

All in all, it’s a fine episode, even if it’s not the most interesting story.

Shout Out to the Past:
Picard mentions his brother, and he breaks out the bottle of wine that he was given in Family.

There is a brief reference to the Klingons, including a bit of information on the origin of their hostilities with the Federation.

Setting Up the Future:
Nothing directly, but elements of the plot (as well as the title) are reused in the movie Star Trek: First Contact.

Guest Cast:
• George Coe, who plays Chancellor Durken, appeared in several episodes of The West Wing as Senator Stackhouse.  He was also a regular on Max Headroom, and has appeared on many other series.

• Caroloyn Seymour, who plays Mirasta Yale, has appeared in Next Generation before, in Contagion.  She’ll appear again in Face of the Enemy.  She was a regular on the original TV series The Survivors, and also played the handler for the evil leaper in several episodes of Quantum Leap.

• Michael Ensign plays Minister KrolaHe’s since had roles on Deep Space NineVoyager, and Enterprise.  He also played Arthur Conan Doyle on an episode of the time travel series Voyagers! and appeared in the movie Titanic.

• Bebe Neuwirth has an amusing cameo as Lanel.  She is famous for playing Lilith in Cheers, and again in Frasier.

Observations:
• That is a great, sharp, and efficient opening teaser

• Geordi is not in this episode

• “29 hours a day”  Ho-hum attempts to make the alien race similar but different.

• Is the best way to make first contact just to beam into someone’s room?

• So that back wall is made up Environmental, Engineering, and two principle science stations.  I never was sure!

•  That’s a airly good and insightful conversation between the Chancellor and the Captain in the ready room.

• One assumes that if Riker wasn’t injured, he could have easily made mince meat of these hospital guards

• I like the bit where Durken is relieved to discover that Picard is not perfect.

• The Chancellor is righteously angry at Mirasta’s failure to not give first disclosure.  I like that – I think he is my favorite character of the story.

• Why doesn’t the Chancellor just order Krola to stop interrogating Riker, rather than getting the Enterprise crew involved.  Maybe he knows Krola is too far gone to just stop with regular orders.

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
It wouldn’t have been hard to re-write this episode without Picard, but you’d have a hard time believing a Captain Riker had beamed down to sneak around this planet.  And if you had Shelby be the one who was captured, double standards would have made it impossible to keep that attempted “escape” scene the same.  Can you just imagine the outrage if the story had featured a female officer agreeing to have sex with someone in order to just escape?

Dialogue High Point
Chancellor Durken has my favorite line, after Picard asks him whether he’d tell his family if he’s had a good day.

I will have to say this morning, I was the leader of the universe as I knew it. This afternoon, I am only a voice in a chorus. But I think it was a good day.

Previous Episode: CluesNext Episode:  Galaxy’s Child


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