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20. HOMEWARD The Next Generation - Season Seven


Written by Naren Shankar/ Spike Steingasser
Story by Spike Steingasser
Directed by Alexander Singer
First Broadcast Jan 17th 1994


combadgeA crucial turning point in the development of the Star Trek universe, demonstrating just how far TNG had developed from its origins as an ‘updating’ of the original series. In many ways, TNG is a journey into doubt and confusion. The Roddenberryesque moral certainties of the first season are gradually eroded as the series develops. By the seventh and last season we are no longer sure whether Starfleet really are still the good guys... The last two seasons of TNG were made contemporaneously with the first two seasons of DS9, and the kind of moral doubt depicted is similar. In some ways, the tension created by this shift is even stronger in TNG – while in DS9 characters like Quark, Odo and Kira may not always act in a straightforwardly ‘moral’ way and may be seen to have considerable divided loyalties, the sight of our ‘well loved Starfleet heroes’ suddenly becoming morally dubious has considerable dramatic power. The first stirrings of such a tendency came as far back as the third season’s The Enemy, where Worf, on grounds of racial hatred, refuses to do the decent thing and give blood to a dying Romulan. But Worf is, of course, a Klingon, and therefore subject to a rather different moral code. In Homeward it is none other than the previously morally impeccable Captain Picard whose actions appear decidedly unsound.

combadgeThe Starfleet Prime Directive of non-intervention in the development of other species was an invention of the original series and as such reflected a certain political naivete which a number of other late TNG episodes such as Pre-Emptive Strike and Journey’s End also challenged. In the original series Kirk often quoted the directive of ‘non-interference with other species’ but often did not stick to his ideology. As a somewhat reckless ‘Hornblower’ figure he was wont to intervene in various societies at will. The more simplistic morality of the original series meant that the results of his interventions were (nearly always) beneficial to the ‘natives’. This kind of paternalist morality reflected the position of the US in world affairs in the 1960’s. By the time TNG was made the world had changed considerably, and the perils of intervention in other societies and cultures were clearer. As a result Picard tries to stick rigorously to the Prime Directive, often assisted by the always ‘morally correct’ Data. In the third season’s Evolution Data insists that even microscopic life forms (the ‘nanites’) created in one of boy-genius Wesley Crusher’s science experiments have the right to be considered a sentient species. It is decided that, despite their interference with the Enterprise’s computer systems, the crew has no right to wipe them out. In the unsettling Who Watches The Watchers (also from the third season) an attempt to ‘monitor and study’ the progress of a developing civilisation goes wrong when the presence of a Federation ‘listening post’ on a ‘primitive’ planet is detected by the locals, who decide that Picard is nothing less than a God. Picard, as a convinced humanist, is appalled by this. But in Homeward he finds himself, in the name of Starfleet, doing nothing less than playing God...

combadgeThe plot of Homeward centres around a planet which is shortly to be made uninhabitable because of changes in its ecology - violent storms are scheduled to wipe out the entire human population, which is in a ‘stone age’ stage of development. Starfleet policy, as defined by the Prime Directive, is to allow this to happen, as taking any other kind of action would violate their principles of non-intervention. Thus we are confronted with the sight of Picard – who holds the ‘Prime Directive’ up as a kind of ‘spiritual truth’, watching solemnly as the storms appear on the planet’s surface and apparently wipe out the entire population. None of his crew challenge him over this – not even Dr. Crusher, with her abiding concern for saving human life, but there is something a little sickening about his rather ‘pious’ recitation of the Starfleet ‘creed’ in justifying non-intervention. The policy of non-intervention is designed so that the ‘natural development’ of races will not be interfered with, but we are left to consider its real moral implications – and it appears that Starfleet would rather see a whole race wiped out than break with its ‘principles’. What we see here appears to be a case of Starfleet’s moral ethics being upheld against the ‘sanctity of life’ itself.

combadgeSignificantly, it takes an outsider to point this out. The scientist Nikolai Rozhenko, Worf’s foster-brother and something of a ‘dropout’ from Federation society, is found living with the natives of the planet. He has a wife and son amongst the tribe he lives with. Although Nikolai respects the need not to allow the tribe access to any futuristic technology, he has appointed himself as a kind of ‘guardian’ to the tribe. In Starfleet’s eyes, this is already a serious Prime Directive violation. But Nikolai is determined to save the tribe, although not from purely altruistic motives as he has an obvious personal interest. But the crucial point of the story is that Nikolai, though a human, does not accept Starfleet’s ethics. To him, the survival of the tribe must be paramount over what he sees as a dangerous, arguably even genocidal, dogma. From the audience’s point of view, it’s hard not to sympathise with him.

combadgeNikolai has a secret plan - using the Enterprise holodeck he constructs a replica of the caves in which the tribe has been living. Just before the planet’s ecosphere is destroyed, he beams the whole tribe onto the holodeck. He then tells them that he will lead them to ‘another land’ where they will be safe. What he really intends to do is to persuade Picard to take them to a new planet where the tribe can begin a new life. Of course, he has only saved a small fragment of the planet’s population, but his actions are well thought-out. He presents them to Picard as a fait accompli. Picard has a new moral dilemma here, but he has no choice but to accept Nikolai’s plans, the only alternative being to murder the entire tribe. Picard is very angry with Nikolai, but Nikolai is not one of his Starfleet ‘underlings’. Worf, characteristically at odds with his family here, is also disgusted with Nikolai for what he sees as deception and betrayal.

combadgeWhat is so impressive about Homeward is the way in which no one moral position is portrayed as ‘right’. Although Picard’s position of supporting the Prime Directive is exposed as (to say the least) morally highly questionable, Nikolai is no saint either. He is motivated largely by selfish concerns, and isindeed taking grave risks with the cultural stability of his ‘charges’. And by appointing himself as the tribe’s ‘guardian’ he is practising the kind of ‘cultural imperialism’ which Starfleet rightly abhors. The limitations of Nikolai’s point of view are exposed when a young man from the tribe accidentally escapes from the holodeck and finds himself aboard a spaceship. He is told that he will have to remain separated from the tribe to avoid ‘polluting’ them with his knowledge but the cultural gulf is too much for him and he commits suicide. The dangers of Nikolai’s approach are clear. But, on the other hand, Nikolai is only trying to protect his family. To him, the need to do this over-rides any moral imperatives. So who can blame him? Who wouldn’t act like he does in his position? Homeward is a highly challenging episode because it leaves the final moral judgements up to us, the audience, and strongly suggests that there are situations where no one form of morality is ‘correct’. It also repositions the Federation as a far more imperfect culture, and clearly shows how dogma can blind even the most enlightened. Picard himself, who on a number of occasions had fought corruption within Starfleet itself, is shown quite clearly to be on the wrong side of the fence morally. Homeward is an episode that takes considerable liberties with his character and thus makes him, in many ways, far more interesting. Its posing and balancing of its apparently intractable moral dilemma is a sure sign that by 1994 Star Trek had outgrown the naive utopianism of the Roddenberry era.

 

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COPYRIGHT CHRIS GREGORY (C) 1999-2002 - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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