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The Next Generation All Good Things come to an end...but not here.

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Old September 16 2013, 04:54 PM   #1
Jeyl
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Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"





"The High Ground" represents Melinda Snodgrass' fourth and final venture in writing for Star Trek: The Next Generation, and for someone who brought us "The Measure of a Man", it's a very unfortunate departure to say the least. According to Melinda, this episode was conceived to be an "American Revolution" like story with Picard, trying to keep a planet within the Federation, realizes that his actions are more in line with an oppressor that this planet wants to get away from. Unfortunately the show's producers thought that TNG needed more action oriented episodes so they told Melinda to drop her premise and come up with an action story involving terrorists. I think you can tell how this was going to be problematic. For one thing, if you look at Melinda's Star Trek resumé, action is clearly not her area of expertise and this episode is clearly not something she wanted to write.

Our episode opens with Beverly, Data and Worf enjoying the sights on Rutia Four when a bomb explodes in their immediate area, and it doesn't take long till we see first hand how problematic this episode is going to get. Beverly, jumping into her "I'm so tough!" mode, decides to treat the bomb victims despite protests from both Worf, Data, AND Picard. To make this matter even more ridiculous, Crusher says that she is trying to treat the injured with little to no medical supplies or medical assistance. Now if the situation didn't have the Enterprise in orbit and the away team were on their own, I would understand Crusher's motivation to stay and treat the injured. The problem here is that the Enterprise is in orbit and is fully capable of beaming the away team up and no one thinks to just beam everyone, including the injured, onboard the Enterprise where there are medical supplies and other physicians! Now remember, beaming the injured up to the Enterprise wouldn't be violating anything that the Enterprise isn't already doing with Rutia Four, since Picard clearly stated in his log, "The Enterprise has put in at Rutia Four to deliver medical supplies following an outbreak of violent protests." So if there was some Prime Directive issue about not getting involved with a culture's political problems that are turning violent, they shouldn't be there delivering medical supplies to begin with. Oh, a teleporting terrorists appears, kills a cop, and teleports away with a kidnapped Beverly. Things are already off to a horrible start.

I think now would be a good time to talk about TNG action stories in general. Action episodes in TNG are usually hit and miss at best, with one of the big issues being that they're usually confined to the Enterprise sets. This is problematic since if your going to place the action on the Enterprise, you have to depict your bad guys as being capable of fighting onboard a Starship that should technically be capable of dealing with them all on it's own. "Heart of Glory" showed two Klingons managing to escape their cell with one of them making it all the way to engineering, and last week's episode "The Hunted" showed an alien soldier who, despite not knowing ANYTHING about the Enterprise, managed to pretty much turn the entire ship inside out, cripple it's systems, set booby traps with phasers he's unfamiliar with, defeat every person he came across and still somehow managing to escape. If this sort of thing happens too often, you'll end up with a ship that is so capable of being taken over that it makes the whole crew look like incompetent imbeciles for even thinking that their ship can protect them from anything. And we're not even at the episode where everyone gets taken out by an unarmed Ferengi.

So we have our action scene taking place on the Enterprise where the terrorists outright murder unarmed officers in the freaking hallways. Their plan is to actually blow up the Enterprise by planting a bomb on the warp core. Thankfully Geordi is successful at removing it, but Finn on the other hand teleports onto the bridge and we get a moment that is so mind-bogglingly "WTF?" that there was no way not to use it as this episode's Stinger. Picard literally turns towards Finn, punches him so hard that Finn falls down, and Picard leaps on top of him to continue the struggle. I... I'm at a loss for words. Now I'm not saying this is out of character, but the way he just goes at Finn is totally not something you'd expect to see from someone who takes delight in not getting involved in hostile conflicts.

So Picard is now captured, he rightfully berates Beverly for disobeying his orders and a fight ensues. Finn, with his disruptor pointed at Picard, is shot by one of the planet's security guards and Finn is now a certified Martyr. There's also some bit where a boy could have killed the guard who killed Finn, but he decides not to so we get out "violence ends blah blah blah" schtick so that this episode doesn't leave without some moral conclusion.

Conclusion:
Nothing works in this episode. Our heroes needlessly put themselves in danger, the villains are murderous psychos that the episode tries in vein to paint as sympathetic and the resolution feels forced and uninvolved. While this is Melinda Snodgrass last episode where she's credited as a writer, I don't think it's the episode that caused her to leave the series.

Stinger:
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Old September 16 2013, 10:50 PM   #2
BillJ
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

Another one that I liked.
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Old September 17 2013, 09:35 AM   #3
MikeS
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

I liked it too. I think this episode was very prescient regarding the current state of world politics.

I always thought the BBC banning it worked in the IRA's favour. They could have just edited out the one second where Data mentions the reunification of Ireland but they banned the entire episode. Were they trying to stop us hearing the message? - "There is no black and white between good and bad. One mans terrorist is anothers freedom fighter." - As a victim of the IRA (Warrington) I remember that message really opening my twelve year old eyes.

I agree with Jeyl that the whole set-up felt a bit forced. I too was thinking "just beam the injured up and treat them on the Enterprise!"

Nitpicks;

Google mustn't be as good in the future - Wesley had to search his memory for a name when researching the inter-dimensional transport. We would just put his known search terms into google and be presented with the name! (I know it aired before Google was invented!)

Geordi beaming the bomb into space a km off the starboard nacelle - why not beam it 100km off the keel, just to be sure!
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Old September 17 2013, 03:06 PM   #4
The Librarian
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

I always liked it when Picard punches Finn. With Worf dealing with the other one (rather badly - come on, Worf, set your phaser high enough to actually knock people out) and Finn just a couple feet away, it makes sense for Picard to hit him rather than wait for one of the random extras hanging about the back of the bridge to do it, especially since if given a chance Finn might spray the bridge with gunfire. Also, Picard's expression is wonderful. He looks really insulted and annoyed that he's having to deal with this crap on his own bridge.
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Old September 17 2013, 04:24 PM   #5
IzzyAtWarp9
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

I really like this episode
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Old September 17 2013, 05:18 PM   #6
Strange Citizen
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

Ah, I remember this one well. A very powerful episode from my perspective...and unusually dark for TNG. I apologise for the length of my post - I just have a lot of things to say about this episode!

I agree with the points Jeyl made about the enterprise crew being made to look incompetent by the script. However, I'll be equally honest and say that far from impacting my enjoyment of the episode, it's not something I personally think is really noticeable. Instead, the focus is on human drama, and drama powerful enough to (in my view) outweigh any weaknesses in scriptwriting or execution.

Indeed, human drama is at the forefront of this episode. It's no coincidence to my eyes that both groups of aliens look almost entirely human (although they are referred to as Ansata and Rutians, and thus separate, I was never clear on whether they are or aren't the same species - it doesn't matter). I don't think of this as a typical "forehead aliens" weakness at all, either - instead, it's more like the costume directors worked with the producer and decided that it would enhance the drama of the episode if the aliens appeared more human-like.

The reason why I place such high importance on 'human drama' here is because it's at the forefront of so many good episodes of Star Trek, and one of the things Star Trek does best: exploring the human condition through sci-fi trappings. Here, the Rutians and Ansata are a blatant invocation of either what was going on in the 80's in Britain - or Israel and Palestine. Or anything else similar. It works, IMO, because Finn is an effective villain who the audience can (somewhat) sympathise with even as he does terrible things to entirely innocent people, because it's clear he's been pushed too far.

The Rutian government is portrayed as an oppressive society to say the least; there's no doubt that their police state policies are there because of terrorism, and so we sympathise with them, too. We do see on the other hand the hypocrisy of the Enterprise crew choosing to work with them when this means they have effectively become involved in the planet's conflict - breaking the prime directive?

However, even in spite of all of the episode's grey areas between the almost noble ideals of the terrorists despite their despicable actions on the one hand, and the repressive and militaristic behavior of the government despite the fact that they clearly just want an end to terrorism on the other, there is eventually a clear line drawn between the questionable actions of the Rutians and the outright evil ones of Finn and his terrorist group. It happens quite subtly: at first, Finn and the Ansata are just terrorists, and the Rutians are a perfectly reasonable government. Then, Finn and the Ansata are people we feel sympathy for despite what they do because they simply want freedom (or so it seems), and the Rutians turn out to be hypocritical in that they are a police state who do, or at least did do terrible things to suspected terrorists (Devos, the head of the Rutian security, says that suspects used to 'simply vanish' or something along those lines, although she put a stop to that). We see both sides of the equation: the terrorists who will do terrible things for a 'greater good', freedom; and the government which is willing to do terrible things to protect its people...another 'greater good'.

And then, in the end, it all comes down to who is worse. It turns out to be Finn. The Rutians weren't the nicest of people, but while their policies may be questionable, and while they may be responsible for the situation in the first place since they denied the Ansata independence, they don't blow up people indiscriminately. Finn and the Ansata on the other hand didn't only set off bombs in crowded cafes - killing people who were entirely innocent - but they also attempted to destroy the Enterprise. When all is said and done and it fails, Finn kidnaps Picard and attempts to use him for ransom - to gain, as Beverly says, 'real power'.

One could argue that the Enterprise simply shouldn't have ever been involved, that the situation was simply too complex, too full of those grey areas. But in the end, no matter how repressive the Rutians were, they weren't fanatics out to gain power by whatever means suited them. Finn claimed he was all about freedom, but it's obvious that he wanted to use Picard as a bargaining chip not just to free his people but to gain huge amounts of power. He justifies every one of his actions with that old adage of 'someone else has already done things just as bad as that to me and my friends and family, so I can do whatever the hell I want'. While he expresses brief remorse about the idea of destroying the enterprise with Beverly's son on board, what about the other 1,000 odd people who will die just because they helped the Rutians? He even goes so far as to say: "They are the ones killing your son, not me!" (paraphrased) which is about as hypocritical as you can get. He's the one who started it by kidnapping the Enterprise's chief medical officer! (again, you can say the Enterprise shouldn't have been there - it still doesn't justify Finn's actions.)

Finally, just look at how he responds to Beverly when she accuses him of using fear to control everyone. She says something like "is fear your only weapon? (your best weapon?)" and what is his response? To smile and reply: "No, but it's a good one." In the end, to say Devos is simply the opposite of him and just as bad is laughable. No matter how much you believe in a 'greater good', if you start blowing up innocents and attempting to blow up an entire ship full of people who didn't want to get involved, people who probably had no idea of how many grey areas there really were, then you've crossed the line from legitimate 'freedom fighter', ala George Washington (as the episode says), to fanatical maniac and cold-blooded killer and potentially mass murderer.

Still, so many interesting questions. What was the Rutians' society like? Did they have good reasons for denying the Ansata their independence, or were they simply arrogant and oppressive? Are all the Ansata terrorists no different from Finn? Lots of stuff to explore here, and that's what makes the episode memorable in my eyes.
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Old September 18 2013, 07:21 PM   #7
MikeS
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

Excellent write-up, Strange Citizen.
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Old September 18 2013, 09:55 PM   #8
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

MikeS wrote: View Post
I liked it too. I think this episode was very prescient regarding the current state of world politics.

I always thought the BBC banning it worked in the IRA's favour. They could have just edited out the one second where Data mentions the reunification of Ireland but they banned the entire episode
A season highlight for me too, perhaps because it was banned so I saw it later on, buying the video.

And you have yet another example of how easily and quicky a mighty starship could be destroyed.
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Old September 19 2013, 02:46 PM   #9
Strange Citizen
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

MikeS wrote: View Post
Excellent write-up, Strange Citizen.
Thanks! I know it was a bit long too, I just had a lot to say about the episode. Got a bit more below:

Here's an interesting question: Was Finn really a villain or more of an anti-villain? He'd clearly had a terrible life - his son had died in a Rutian prison for one, which seems to be why he has no problem with blowing up a ship which has children on board, a ship which had no idea of the reality of the situation on the planet. While there is an element of tragedy to him, isn't he still just plain bad? You certainly couldn't call him an anti-hero - not even the darkest anti-hero would blow up over 1000 people, most of whom had nothing to do with his own private war. His actions were horrible, and there's no doubt that he was evil. Then again, what about the Rutians? Are they truly justified in their behaviour, or are they simply repressive and not very tolerant, and not very good at listening to others?

It's weird; when I first saw the episode I was actually rooting for Finn and the Ansata, even after they attacked the Enterprise, and I saw the Rutians as the bad guys, or at least as the oppressors, and I thought the Enterprise crew were completely wrong in siding with them, even if it was just to rescue the Doctor and the Captain. If that was the Ansata's main base of operations, then the Enterprise had ended up helping the Rutian government to defeat the Ansata terrorists! Yes, only indirectly, but still.

Once I actually thought about it however, I realised that this perspective couldn't really be right - Finn was still far worse, since he was killing innocent people. Besides, the Enterprise originally had no intention of taking actual sides, they were only helping the Rutians because the Rutians are the main government and so they must have had no idea about the Ansata. If Finn hadn't kidnapped the Enterprise's CMO, tried to blow the whole ship up, then kidnapped her captain as well, then the Rutians wouldn't have been able to arrest his fellow terrorists! He was responsible from the start because of his deplorable actions.

There's no doubt that the episode is full of moral grey areas, but again, at the end, who was the one who was setting off bombs in cafes, trying to blow up a starship full of people whose hadn't done anything actually wrong but had simply been helping the other side without realising what was actually going on - and to top it off, admitting to the woman he fancied, in response to her asking him if fear was his best/only weapon: "No, but it's a good one", and wearing a dark smile on his face after saying it? That person, ladies and gentleman, was Finn.

Still, it's a complex situation, since the Rutians may be responsible for him being like that in the first place due to their repressive policies. But everyone's responsible for their actions, including Finn. Yeah...it makes for lots of interesting stuff to think and talk about, doesn't it?
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Old September 19 2013, 02:53 PM   #10
Jeyl
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

Rarewolf wrote: View Post
And you have yet another example of how easily and quicky a mighty starship could be destroyed.
While it's certainly nice to have moments where your characters realize they're not as powerful as they thought they were (dealing with the Borg in "Q Who", being powerless in "Booby Trap"), I have some issues when it comes to "close calls" like the one we saw here. Not the fact that it was a close call, but that nobody does anything to prevent that sort of thing from happening again. The Warp Core is still sitting in a room exposed for all to see and potentially shoot at. Engineering has been the number one source of problems on the Enterprise, and most of it doesn't even involve any "clever" schemes. Just put a bomb on the warp core, or read a number on one of the consoles. It becomes less a moment of "We're not as safe as we thought we were" and more a moment of "Did we forget to put a lock on the door again?"
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Old November 30 2013, 10:43 AM   #11
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

B.Crusher annoyed the crap out of me in this episode. She is the very definition of Stockholm Syndrome and I found it irritating how quickly she began taking the terrorists side especially considering they just tried to kill the son she claims to love.

I am not a fan of Crusher at the best of times but this episode was definitely a low point for her.
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Old November 30 2013, 01:50 PM   #12
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

Picard punching Finn felt like something Stewart would have wanted to do, you can tell how eager he was to do that bit. Is it out of character for Picard? I dunno, but I feel it's more Stewart than Picard. As for the episode as a whole, it falls apart the moment Beverly tells those kids "no more killing!" and then they put the weapons down. Terrorism, so simple! The only thing this episode has going for it is Ron Jones' music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8_eI7KHm9yQ
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Old December 1 2013, 05:53 AM   #13
Makarov
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

I think it's totally in character for Picard to take a swing at the guy. I notice a lot of people in general think Picard's character is just some old diplomat but when I think of his backstory: the fight where he got stabbed, him being an athletic runner, his brother being somewhat of a rough housing bully, his interest in detective stories - it all adds up to someone who can throw down.

I'm sure he would have punched out the borg if they hadn't beamed right behind him.
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Old December 1 2013, 10:21 PM   #14
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Re: Episode of the Week: 3x12 "The High Ground"

The Picard punch was a stand up and take notice moment in Season 3. One can't really judge Season 3 Picard by his behavior in the previous two seasons, because he was simply being written poorly/weakly in those seasons, and they only really found the character in Season 3.

Jeyl wrote: View Post
If this sort of thing happens too often, you'll end up with a ship that is so capable of being taken over that it makes the whole crew look like incompetent imbeciles for even thinking that their ship can protect them from anything.
But the ease with which a Starship and/or its crew could be taken over/rendered helpless already had a time-honored history on TOS before TNG got into the fray.

Our heroes needlessly put themselves in danger
Another time-honored Trek tradition before TNG's time. There was a time when I actually got upset at the characters too easily walking into danger, but if they always did the most practical/cautious thing, we wouldn't have a lot of stories.

The Librarian wrote: View Post
Also, Picard's expression is wonderful. He looks really insulted and annoyed that he's having to deal with this crap on his own bridge.
Indeed...if he was so upset at having a child on his bridge, imagine how he must have felt about a terrorist!
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