Friday, February 14, 2020

Star Trek: Symbiosis

Episode: "Symbiosis"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 22
Original Air Date: April 18, 1988
Image result for tng symbiosis
via Memory Alpha

The Enterprise rescues a freighter crew and its apparently precious cargo, though in fact, it turns out, they've thrown themselves into the middle of a drug deal.  T'John and Romas are two rather unkempt representatives of Onara, a world whose entire population has grown addicted to Felicium, a narcotic produced only on the planet Brekka.  The role of pushers is filled by Sobi and Langor, the more refined Brekkians seeking to be paid for their merchandise.

The relevance of the storyline hasn't diminished in 31 years.  If anything, the role of Big Pharma in the current opioid crisis fits the "Symbiosis" allegory even better than that of the crack dealers of the late '80s.  However, as is often the case with Star Trek, the messaging is far too heavy-handed.  The cast expressed strong objections over a particularly eye-roll-inducing Just-Say-No lecture with which Tasha burdens Wesley.

That said, I always enjoy a solid Prime Directive dilemma.  Even in the decidedly uneven first season, TNG delivered some good ones.  The question of whether to interfere with an obviously destructive relationship is tricky in light of the policy.  Picard's sparring with Dr. Crusher over the matter is especially interesting.  A medical doctor's approach to problem-solving: find the cause of suffering and eliminate it.  Heal the patient.  A Starfleet captain's responsibilities frequently obligate him/her to ignore the issue.  Picard's ultimate decision is reasonable, yet it doesn't actually make anyone happy.  So it goes.

Image result for merritt butrick
via Memory Alpha

A sad real world note: the part of T'John is played by Merritt Butrick who some may remember as David Marcus, Kirk's son, in the Star Trek movies.  In 1988, Butrick was dying of AIDS.  He had no health insurance so he was cast in this episode to help him pay his medical bills.  He passed away in 1989, age 29.

Acting Notes

Image result for judson scott
via Charmed Wiki

Judson Scott (Sobi) was born July 15, 1952 in Azusa, California.  He holds a BA from Cal State-Fullerton and a Graduate Diploma from Julliard.  During his student days, he entered the American College Theater Festival and was named Best Actor in the Western United States.

Like Butrick, Scott also appeared in Wrath of Khan as Joachim, Khan's sideman.  As a result of a spat between his agent and the film producers, he is uncredited in the film, even though his is a rather prominent speaking role.  In television, he has been particularly successful in scoring guest star roles with the sci-fi franchises including V, Voyagers!, Babylon 5 and The X-Files.


  1. I've caught a few essays written by actual college educated philosophers and ethicists on Star Trek's Prime Directive. What few I've read suggests Roddenberry's idea about leaving "primitive" civilizations alone is hotly debated. Although, from my untrained, layman's understanding I see Gene's point that it's the wrong to go around instructing others on how to live.

    In the case of this episode, I would have to side with the Prime Directive and Captain Picard's decision. This happens to be yet another episode where an extremely interesting moral dilemma didn't get the attention it deserved. And yes, the Just-Say-No lecture was way too heavy handed.

  2. Oh gosh, I remember this episode and that horrible lecture. It was way too over the top and so I consider this one of the worst episodes. Thankfully the scripts just got better and better. I have no idea the actor who played Marcus died of AIDS. I always liked Judson Scott even though I didn't know his name. I had a bit of a crush on him. Dumb that they refused to give him screen credit. His name on Wrath, Joachim, was the name of my mom's brother. Unfortunately, he died when he was a little over a year old (because of the war)

  3. Aw, I didn't think I'd be feeling wistful about the "Just Say No" episode, but the guest stars were pretty cool. I also remember Merrit Butrick as a main character on the TV show "Square Pegs" (his catchphrase was "totally different head," and I still don't know what that meant). Judson Scott was the lead on a short-lived TV show called "The Phoenix," a Starman-like role where he had special powers. I didn't know they didn't credit him as Joachim!

  4. I remember Judson Scott most from 'The Phoenix' though I don't actually remember the show very well. I know that I watched it when it was running and him being the star.

  5. I was wondering if "The Phoenix" was a vague memory. I do remember the one scene where he and female sidekick stepped out of the ship, naked. Clouds of mist floated across the scene effectively.

  6. Butrick's death was a huge loss. Very happy that Next Generation gave him one last Star Trek performance, and that he nailed it.