Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 “The Survivors” and “Who Watches the Watchers”

Tea good. House good. Worf pleased.

Tea good. House good. Worf pleased.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“The Survivors”

Plot

A settlement of 11,000 people is destroyed but for one household. The crew of the Enterprise attempts to figure out why they were spared, while being chased around the system by an angry ship. Meanwhile, Troi experiences mental trauma as a song continues to play. Picard eventually figures out the ship (and song) are caused by the man on the surface who is an extremely powerful being. That being reveals himself, heals Troi, and admits to killing off an entire species because of what they did to the colony. Picard concludes the being is to be left alone.

Commentary

This is one of the more memorable episodes so far in TNG. It starts off very slowly, but eventually the seeds of mystery planted in the beginning come to fruition. The plot keeps viewers guessing throughout, but not in a way that is ever obvious. Yes, it’s clear that the evil ship has a connection to the couple, but viewers have to reason alongside Picard in order to try to figure it out. It’s a mystery which keeps viewers guessing until the end. It is unfortunate that the episode feels so slow. It’s not bad at all, but the whole thing just lacks the kind of pacing that the greatest episodes of TNG are able to muster.

Worf’s “I like gall” line was great, but his “Good tea. Nice house.” one-off was better. He’s a great character so far for these one-liners, but I can’t wait to see him develop more as a character.

Picard’s moralizing is interesting, and leads to a number of questions: why could not such a being be punished?; how could this be seen in any way as justice (as Picard possibly implies)?; is there a punishment which could be meted out upon a such a being? These and other questions spring to mind, but “The Survivors” leaves them unanswered at the end, allowing viewers to muse upon them as the Enterprise flies off to another adventure. It doesn’t feel unsatisfying; rather, it calls for reflection in the way that the best episodes of TNG do.

Overall, a very solid episode marred by a fairly slow pace.

Grade: B+ “It’s not a thriller, but it stays interesting–and mysterious–throughout.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was slow to get started but ultimately the plot was quite compelling.”

“Who Watches the Watchers”

Plot

A Starfleet anthropology site is seen by the locals when a hologram projector fails, leading to the belief that Picard is deity. Troi is a captive and her life is in danger as the locals attempt to please their re-discovered belief in the “Overseer.” Ultimately, Picard reasons one of the proto-Vulcans into unbelief and convinces the rest that he is not a deity. They part ways, but have learned more about the broader universe.

Commentary

There is much to love in “Who watches…” First, I haven’t commented on the music in the series yet, but this episode had some pretty solid tracks. At some points they got overbearing/repetitive, but it is the first episode I actually noticed the music in, and it was a good thing overall. Second, the concept of Starfleet having little observation posts all over the place is compelling and interesting, and I remember my childhood wonder at the fact that they’d be there in the midst of discovering. Third, the overall plot is pretty solid.

Unfortunately, the episode isn’t all great. The main difficulty is the constant theme of “religion is for idiots.” On a blog with the title “Eclectic Theist” it should be no surprise that I think this is bunk. Picard emphasized that getting beyond belief in deity was a major intellectual accomplishment, and I would agree that it is–when one is not believing rationally in the actual God. However, apart from the fact that it is very reasonable to believe in God, the whole episode seemingly relies upon the history of religions school which is largely bunk. That is, it seems to portray simplistic primitive religion (which the people of the planet are retreating towards) as an evolutionary step on a movement beyond totemism and finally into “enlightened” atheism.

Now this history-of-religions is actually false, but it also makes for an episode which continues to operate on a kind of moralistic anti-theistic level which is just grating on the nerves. We can debate the finer points throughout, but that is for a different place (see linked posts). My point regarding this as an episode is that it simply destroys much of the appeal of the plot to have religion reduced to such simplicities that people instantly “devolve” into “primitive” religion when confronted with technology, and that this would seem just obviously true. It’s a weak plot point and, again, rams down our throat the notion that it is true throughout, despite having little empirical evidence and even a great amount of counter-evidence (see, for example, this book).

Okay, I promise I’m getting off the high horse now. The episode has a solid premise and some genuine entertainment value. It’s just brought down by the points mentioned above, along with the difficulty of believing that the situation would in any way develop as it did. To think that a person could move from unbelief to casually choosing to attempt to murder others to please an alleged deity is tough to swallow (and speaks to the what I mentioned above). It makes for one of the episodes where you wonder about what could have been rather than what is actually presented.

Grade: B- “A memorable episode brought down by shoved-in-your-face moralizing.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “It was a good story, but there were too many unbelievable plot moments.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

Sigmund Freud, Totemism, and the origin religion- Who cares about facts?– I discuss some difficulties with the alleged origin and development of religion from totemism to ever-increasing complexity of practice. This belief is commonly associated with Freud, but is there evidence for it?

SDG.

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6 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation Season 3 “The Survivors” and “Who Watches the Watchers”

  1. I watched TNG as a kid and took my wife through the series about 3 years ago. This episode was amusing and annoying for the reasons you said above. My favorite part was how the planet people called him, “The Picard.” Oh, the power of the definite article. And the captain got so indignant!

    I am glad you are undertaking this TNG project. Very much worth recalling and discussing.

    • J.W. Wartick says:

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read! It is great fun to go back through and write on these episodes. It’s like rediscovering them! I really think this episode could have easily been in the ‘A’ range without all the pontificating about how foolish religious people are.

      • J.W. Wartick says:

        Also, season 3 has some pretty incredible episodes. I’ve been really enjoying this season. Season 1 is a roller coaster, and season two levels it out only a little. Season 3 is where it seems the show really starts to come into its own.

  2. greg says:

    JW, I am in the middle of a 1-month free trial of netflix right now, and I’m really enjoying watching a ton of TNG episodes (too bad there’s no way I’ll be able to watch them all before the trial expires). I felt the exact same way you did about WWTW…I even took some notes to possibly blog about it, but looks like all I have to do is link to your blog!

    • J.W. Wartick says:

      Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll keep following this series! I just thought WWTW was a really solid episode that was hampered severely by this whole school of evolution of religion thought. But hey, it allowed me to cross-over some apologetics with these episode reviews, so it was definitely worth it.

  3. […] “Who Watches the Watchers” we’re taken on an ahistorical ride through the evolution of religions school. […]

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