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Old June 26 2013, 11:44 PM   #1
Charles Phipps
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Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Let us presume Star Trek has a morality behind it, perhaps even a consistent one. What would be the episodes which best illustrate the and ethics demonstrated in the show? What the central "message" of the franchise is to outsiders. You can choose from any of the series or even EU if you want.

Note, I'm not asking about expressing YOUR morality or most moral period in an objective sense but more the morality forwarded by the show itself. In RL, you can believe Star Trek morality may be wrong (especially in terms of interference, just war, or tolerating human rights abuses via peace-making with 'bad guys') but that's not what this thread is about. It's about Trek's morality.

Likewise, just to make this interesting, you can also choose episodes for illustrating the WORST episodes (or perhaps, let us say, most dissonant) with the message. The ones which may or may not be GOOD but seem to have a morality or message opposed to what we normally think of Trek.

For me, Star Trek's morality is in the "Seek out new life, and new civilizations" mantra. It's about finding different people, different species, and learning from them. You may disagree with them, you may be repulsed, but you accept them on their own terms and broaden your horizons. It's, as John Stewart would say, the "m'kay racism is bad" show. But also the show about being okay with differences in culture, religion, and morality too.

Best Episodes

TOS had a lot of these, I can't even begin to discuss them. "Errand of Mercy", "The Corbomite Maneuver", and even "Space Seed" for me are all very good.

"The Undiscovered Country" and "The Motion Picture" are the most peace-friendly of the movies.

For TNG, I'll nominate "Hugh."

Voyager, I'll also give credit for "In the Flesh" which sacrificed Species 8472's capacity as villains to, instead, be about peace-making. Likewise, "Living Witness."

Deep Space Nine is one I'll have to think about since a lot of its episodes are about the opposite of making peace or how difficult it is. I'll have to cheat and do "Duet" which is just about personal forgiveness.

Not sure about Enterprise. Oddly, "A Night in Sickbay" pops up for me because I'm a dog owner. If anything happened to my dogs, I'd start bombing the planet.

Worst Episodes

This is not a value judgement, just an observation. Also, it's not about MY morality, either. For instance, I don't feel ENT: Terra Nova is very moral at all but it's somewhat Trekkian. Likewise, "In the Pale Moonlight" is deeply immoral but value neutral for Trek morality, IMHO.

TNG's "The Neutral Zone" has the Enterprise crew show remarkable disgust for past humans as well as outright bigotry.

VOY's "Ashes to Ashes" for me just had a rather bad taste in my mouth. The idea that our crew member was unable to reassimilate to Federation life.

ENT's "Dear Doctor" is about how two races can't live together. Forget charges of eugenics, the premise is that diversity makes one race WEAKER than the other. That's like the most anti-Trek thing I can think of.

Mixed

I think Star Trek has some great episodes about challenging morality too. The ones where the heroes aren't very moral but it encourages you to think.

TNG's "Half a Life" has a terrible situation brought about by one culture's stance on euthanasia versus our heroes.

The Borg, by nature, challenge the idea of the Federation by being seemingly antithetical to everything it believes.
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Old June 26 2013, 11:53 PM   #2
Greg Cox
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Well, I don't know if it's strictly a matter of "morality," but "Homeward" is possibly the most ethically dubious ep. Since when did the Prime Directive mean not lifting a hand when an entire alien race faces extinction?

Kirk would have tried to save that planet, not piously recite the Prime Directive!

"Devil in the Dark," on the other hand, probably exemplifies the Enterprise's mission to seek out and understand new life as well as any other episode.
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Old June 26 2013, 11:57 PM   #3
Charles Phipps
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Greg Cox wrote: View Post
Well, I don't know if it's strictly a matter of "morality," but "Homeward" is possibly the most ethically dubious ep. Since when did the Prime Directive mean not lifting a hand when an entire alien race faces extinction?
Weirdly, I get that on practical terms but I don't get Picard's smugness about the whole thing. The Federation can't cure every situation in the universe and trying would just destroy it, but it seems like it's a tragedy rather than a rule.

"We can't evacuate these people because a single ship can't do a planetary population and trying would just fail."

I'm with Kirk the PD only protects living cultures.
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Old June 27 2013, 04:41 AM   #4
JirinPanthosa
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Most representative of Starfleet morality:

Star Trek TNG: Hide and Q, Measure of a Man, The Enemy, Transfigurations, Darmok, The Quality of Life, The Chase

DS9: The Emissary

Voyager: The Void

Least representative:

Star Trek TNG: Pen Pals, Homeward, Chain of Command

DS9: The whole thing after the premiere, but in a good way

Enterprise: Dear Doctor
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Old June 27 2013, 05:07 AM   #5
LobsterAfternoon
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

I'll echo the above poster and agree that Measure of a Man and Darmok instantly come to mind.
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Old June 27 2013, 05:17 AM   #6
sonak
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

worst have to be "homeward," "pen pals," and "dear doctor"



for movies, "insurrection" is in there for its celebration of a Luddite lifestyle and its rejection of the idea of a "greater good" or "needs of the many"


but really, "dear doctor" is the low point for its eugenics racism combined with a complete misunderstanding of evolution
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Old June 27 2013, 06:02 AM   #7
Dale Sams
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Worst? The Enterprise Incident.

*These* are our heroes?

Best? The Drumhead should be required viewing in Political Science.
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Old June 27 2013, 06:03 AM   #8
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

sonak wrote: View Post
but really, "dear doctor" is the low point for its eugenics racism combined with a complete misunderstanding of evolution
I'd think certainly worth listing among the worst is (again picking on poor Enterprise) ``The Communicator'', in which Archer and company set off the local planet's version of World War III[*] lest they run the risk of being ``contaminated'' by a lost communicator.

[*] I am aware that the episode ends before the shooting actually starts; however, I am unable to believe that the situation, as presented, and as the tension was ratcheted up by NX-01's work, would result in anything but unspeakable catastrophe.
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Old June 27 2013, 12:34 PM   #9
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Note, I'm not asking about expressing YOUR morality or most moral period in an objective sense but more the morality forwarded by the show itself. In RL, you can believe Star Trek morality may be wrong (especially in terms of interference, just war, or tolerating human rights abuses via peace-making with 'bad guys') but that's not what this thread is about. It's about Trek's morality.
What exactly makes an episode moral? Is it that the characters act in ways consistent with the Roddenberry ethos? Or is it that the episodes explore the nature of morality itself?

You give the example of In The Pale Moonlight as "value neutral," but the episode does not assert a moral vision. Instead, it explores how small compromises undermine morality.

The larger problem I have with the question is that only one series, TNG, shows characters behaving most consistently under the Roddenberry morality. In TOS, it's about making moral choices. In DS9, it's the complexity of moral choices under duress. In VOY, it's the role of morality under leadership. And in ENT, it's the rewriting of morality under new environments.
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Old June 27 2013, 12:57 PM   #10
Charles Phipps
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Bad thoughts wrote: View Post
Note, I'm not asking about expressing YOUR morality or most moral period in an objective sense but more the morality forwarded by the show itself. In RL, you can believe Star Trek morality may be wrong (especially in terms of interference, just war, or tolerating human rights abuses via peace-making with 'bad guys') but that's not what this thread is about. It's about Trek's morality.
What exactly makes an episode moral? Is it that the characters act in ways consistent with the Roddenberry ethos? Or is it that the episodes explore the nature of morality itself?

You give the example of In The Pale Moonlight as "value neutral," but the episode does not assert a moral vision. Instead, it explores how small compromises undermine morality.

The larger problem I have with the question is that only one series, TNG, shows characters behaving most consistently under the Roddenberry morality. In TOS, it's about making moral choices. In DS9, it's the complexity of moral choices under duress. In VOY, it's the role of morality under leadership. And in ENT, it's the rewriting of morality under new environments.
This isn't about Roddenberry's morality per say but if you think Star Trek as a whole has created its own ethos and which episodes are disconnected with that.
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Old June 27 2013, 01:27 PM   #11
Bad Thoughts
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

OK, then why not In The Pale Moonlight? Much like in Dante's Inferno, it is not filled with examples of good morality, but instead studies morality via its opposites. Sisko's missteps are tied to his putting goals ahead of methods and trusting the actions of others. This suggests that moral actions in the ST universe require personal involvement and a focus on methods, not goals. Indeed, Sisko can't justify his actions because of raison d'état. Furthermore, we learn about the extent to which morality is something that is felt deeply, not just something to which lip service is paid. And Sisko is largely ashamed with his actions: even though he claims he will try to live with the consequences, he still deletes the log in which he details his actions. Is Sisko a paragon of ST morality in the episode? No. However, we learn much about that morality, more than casual references to personal responsibility would allow.
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Old June 27 2013, 01:35 PM   #12
1001001
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

I thought Tuvix was a pretty bad example. The whole episode wrote Janeway into a corner. Unless they were willing to fire Russ and Phillips, there had to be a solution which ended Tuvix's life.

I think they either should have come up with some phenomenon to cause them to become separate again (transporter accident or something), or just not done the episode at all.
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Old June 27 2013, 02:01 PM   #13
Charles Phipps
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

It's an odd episode for triage, since for two people to live, one had to die.
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Old June 27 2013, 02:22 PM   #14
1001001
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

Charles Phipps wrote: View Post
It's an odd episode for triage, since for two people to live, one had to die.
I guess I didn't see the choice that way. It wasn't a choice of "2" or "1", as if they were in comas and needed organ transplants or something like that.

Tuvok and Neelix were already deceased. They were gone. Janeway's decision was less like triage, and more like human sacrifice to resurrect the dead.

JMHO
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Old June 27 2013, 02:32 PM   #15
Charles Phipps
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Re: Star Trek morality test - best and worst episodes

1001001 wrote: View Post
I guess I didn't see the choice that way. It wasn't a choice of "2" or "1", as if they were in comas and needed organ transplants or something like that.

Tuvok and Neelix were already deceased. They were gone. Janeway's decision was less like triage, and more like human sacrifice to resurrect the dead.

JMHO
Well, in this case, it was human sacrifice which would work. In which case, is it immoral NOT to raise the dead?

It's one of the pitfalls of Star Trek that a lot of its technology episodes can lead to some pretty bizarre morals.
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