Star Trek: Jean-Luc Picard – Hero or Hypocrite?

Are you excited about Star Trek Beyond? What about the franchise’s upcoming return to television? I know I am! In anticipation of these monumental Trekkie events, I aggressively ironed on the Starfleet Insignia to the tightest v-neck t shirt I could find at Walmart, and then sat down to watch all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation. After 178 episodes, I’ve come to understand an extremely important concept… space is absolutely terrifying! No wonder it’s the final frontier. At any given moment, you can and will be judged by hostile aliens, get trapped in a temporal causality loop for 17.4 days, or become stranded on an unpopulated m-class planet for at least 8 years, and that’s only if you somehow survived Borg assimilation! Navigating its treacherous terrain requires one of incredible nerves and steely balls that don’t buckle under the pressure of the space-time continuum.  And while Starfleet Academy regularly churns out a slew of bad-asses, there’s one individual who quite literally leads the pack. Enter: Johnny “Cool-Hand-Luc” Picard (Patrick Stewart). Also known throughout the galaxy as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation Starship Enterprise, he’s a man whose bad-assery is matched only by his own intelligence and compassion. Oh, and his occasional violations of the Prime Directive – Starfleet’s General Order 1... the friggin’ cornerstone document of their entire existence. Also referred to as the “Non-Interference Directive”, this order simply states that Starfleet will not interfere with other cultures and civilizations, especially those who are unaware of other worlds. In fact, it was Captain James T. Kirk who once said…"A starship captain's most solemn oath is that he will give his life, even his entire crew, rather than violate the Prime Directive." While the general order is a rational and perhaps even beautiful philosophy, given the circumstances that Starfleet regularly encounters in space, one has to ask, is it really practical? It’s been argued that Kirk himself occasionally violated it. Specifically, when he encountered the people of the planet Miri and gave them drugs... and perhaps when he banged that green chick. In TNG’s Drumhead episode, Picard was accused of officially flushing the Prime Directive down the celestial poop-chute at least 9 times since taking command. That’s far more than Kirk was ever formally accused of. But what if infringements upon the directive can be justified. Would they still be considered wrong? Law and order within the Federation isn’t as black and white as the galaxies that Starfleet explores. There lies a pulsating gray area between right and wrong. At times, the judgment of a Starfleet Captain is the only way to safely navigate through it. In the following examples, Picard clearly violates the Prime Directive. No question about it! But do his actions make him a hero worthy of the title “Bad-Ass”, or do they make him a hypocrite who willfully degrades the integrity of his position? The answer may prove to be just as gray.   #1: Picard ignored the laws of the Edo to save the life of Wesley Crusher. [Star Trek: TNG – S01E08 – “Justice” (Nov 9, 1987)] Wesley Crusher The Situation: While considering granting shore leave for the Enterprise crew, Picard allows young Wesley Crusher to join the senior officers to explore an m-class planetary paradise located in the Rubicun star system. The planet is inhabited by a race known as the Edo; individuals who are as “unusually lovely” as they are horny. It doesn’t take long into their visit for the crew to discover the severity lurking beneath the surface of this seemly serene society. Lt. Tasha Yar discovers that any… and I mean ANY infringement upon Edo law is punishable by death. Around the same time, Lt. Commander Data discovers an ominous vessel sharing their orbit around the planet. The Edo consider this vessel to be their God-Protectors. Things go awry when Wesley accidentally crashes into a forbidden zone, which is to be expected when your last name is Crusher. The young man is sentenced to death. In order to save him, Picard must intervene. The Fuck It Moment: After a heart-wrenching plea from Dr. Beverly Crusher to save her son, Picard decides to break the Prime Directive and risk annihilation from the Edo God-Protectors; an entity who’s already aggrieved from Picard recently leaving human colonists in the Strnad Star System, which the entity also protects. Jean-Luc rationalizes this eloquently by stating that he respects the laws of the Edo society, and understands their need for justice. But as a Starfleet officer responsible for the lives of thousands, he also needs justice for his people. Hero or Hypocrite? Picard has to consider that the incident with Wesley was only a casual accident. It would be a completely different situation had “the boy”, or any senior officer willingly broke an Edo law. While Picard regularly supports his crewmembers, there have been several occasions when he’s unapologetically turned them over to local authorities. Had the punishment for Wesley’s crime been within reason, for example: being charged a fine or spending a brief time in jail, Picard probably would have allowed it. But because the punishment was so unreasonable, he couldn’t reasonably comply. Picard explained to the Edo that early humans were once barbarous towards one another, and widely accepted capitol punishment. Since evolving beyond that era, they’ve come to understand that justice cannot be maintained if laws are absolute. While the Edo’s were perhaps offended by the notion of being called primitive, their God-Protectors seemed to agree with Picard’s rationale, thus allowing him safe passage off the planet with Wesley. Had Picard not violated the Prime Directive, Wesley certainly would have died. But in doing so, he destroyed any chance of a continued relationship with the Edo.   #2: Picard saves the life and planet of a child who was unaware of interstellar life. [Star Trek: TNG – S02E15 – “Pen Pals” (May 1, 1989)] star_trek_tng The Situation: While the Enterprise surveys a region of unexplored planets in the Selcundi Drema sector, they discover a geological disturbance that is destroying planets within that system. At the suggestion of Commander Riker, Picard allows Wesley Crusher (uh-oh!) to lead a science team to study the volatile occurrences. Meanwhile, Lt. Commander Data receives a radio signal from a young girl named Sarjenka, who lives on Drema IV. He corresponds with her for nearly two months until geological disturbances begin eroding her planet. As Sajenka’s home becomes directly threatened by an erupting volcano, she pleads for Data to help her, at which point he informs Capt. Picard of the situation. Picard deeply sympathizes with Data, yet orders him to cease all contact with the girl, as Data is in deliberate violation of the Prime Directive. The Fuck-It Moment: As the destruction of Sarjenka’s planet becomes imminent, Picard consults his senior staff. He and Lt. Worf are in agreement that any interference would only further violate the Prime Directive. However, Lt. Commander LaForge and Dr. Pulaski are appalled that the Enterprise could sit idle while Drema IV is destroyed. Picard’s decision actually comes when Data plays Sarjenka’s message. The captain is unable to ignore the pleas of a helpless child. He states that the Prime Directive does not apply in situations where there is a direct plead for intervention and orders the Enterprise into action. Picard allows Data to beam down to Drema IV to save Sarjenka while the Enterprise saves the planet using a geological restoring process discovered by Wesley Crusher and his science team. Hero or Hypocrite? The reoccurring theme with Captain Picard is “compassion outweighs duty”. When he feels a personal connection to a situation, more often than not, he follows his heart. This was also evident in the previous example with Wesley and the Edo. He’s even admitted to being a captain that doesn’t follow orders blindly. While it can be argued that Picard was in his moral and dutiful rights to restore the geology of Drema IV, sending Data to save Sarjenka was a concise violation of the Prime Directive. Regardless of how he rationalized it at the time. The situation deepens when the young girl is brought back to the Enterprise, is actually given a tour of the ship, and receives a souvenir singing stone from Dr. Pulaski (WTF!!!). Ultimately, the young girl’s mind is erased along with her experiences aboard the Enterprise. But it’s unclear if Picard was attempting to restore the Prime Directive, or just cover his ass. While saving a solar system from annihilation makes for a pretty feel-good day, one also has to consider the heeding of Commander Riker and Counselor Troi.  Both warned Picard that perhaps the destruction of the Selcundi Drema sector was part of a larger “cosmic plan.” A plan in which the Enterprise had no right to interfere. But, as Picard would later explain to Admiral Nechayev, he must always follow his conscious. Therefore to him, saving Sarjenka was the moral and only thing to do.   #3: Picard appears to a primitive race to prove he’s not a God. [Star Trek: TNG – S03E04 – “Who Watches the Watchers” (Oct 16, 1989)] Paki_with_Mintakan_tapestry The Situation: The Enterprise travels to Mintaka III to resupply and repair a secret observatory on the planet’s surface. The facility, which is camouflaged by a hologram, is used to study the Mintakan people - a pre-warp, proto-Vulcan society who are approaching their bronze-age. Before the Enterprise arrives, a reactor within the observatory explodes, injuring the staff members and disabling the hologram. By chance, a traveling Mintakan named Liko discovers the facility with his daughter, Oji. While obtaining a closer look inside, he spies the Enterprise’s away-team repairing machines and providing medical attention to the injured. As power is restored to the interior, Liko is accidentally electrocuted. Dr. Beverly Crusher immediately beams the Mintakan to sickbay. While upon the Enterprise, Liko awakens from unconsciousness and mistakenly identifies Capt. Picard as a God.  Beverly quickly sedates Liko. After healing his wounds, she attempts to erase his short-term memory before beaming him back to the planet’s surface. But the procedure fails. Shortly thereafter, Commander Riker and Counselor Troi disguise themselves as Mintakans and slip into Liko’s village to assess the extent of the cultural contamination. Additionally, they must also locate a missing scientist from the observatory. They soon discover that Liko has spread the word of his experience aboard the Enterprise, and the Mintakans now have a new God called, the Picard. The Fuck-It Moment: As Riker and Deana try to convince Liko that his experience was just a dream, Mintakan villagers recover the missing scientist. This validates Liko and proves the existence of the Picard. The scientist needs immediate medical attention, but Capt. Picard orders no one to teleport in front of the Mintakans. Therefore, a plan is devised where Deana distracts the villagers while Riker escapes with the scientist. The plan is successful, however, Deana is captured and her actions are interpreted as hostile towards the Picard. As the Mintakans debate whether she should be punished, Capt. Picard decides he must somehow confront them before the situation escalates further. Hero or Hypocrite? Despite their pre-technological culture, Mintakan society has evolved from one that relished in supernatural superstition, to one that now embraces rationality and logic. Yet, encountering irrefutable proof of the Picard’s existence, and trying to interpret what the overseer wants, may very well spiral them back into a “dark age”. Under no circumstances can the captain allow that. Even more importantly than saving Deana, he has to end the Mintakan’s belief that he is a God. But there's no way to do so without further violating the Prime Directive. Therefore, he transports Nuria - the Mintakan leader, to the Enterprise and desperately tries to convince her that he too is mortal. He even goes to the extent of allowing her to witness the death of an injured scientist. After succeeding, he and Nuria beam back to the surface to save Deana and inform the other villagers. But Liko is overwhelmed with emotion and isn’t as easily convinced. It takes an arrow through Picard’s shoulder to prove his mortality once and for all. According to the Unofficial Starfleet Manual, situations like the Mintakan are often referred to as “Cluster-Fucks”. It’s a term probably (probably not) used when a situation has no ideal resolution. The damage to the Mintakan culture was irreparable. Therefore, Picard’s only moral course was to reveal himself. Given the circumstances, and Picard’s existing track record, he likely rationed that it was better to progress Mintakan society forward, rather than regress it backwards.   Summary As the previous three examples illustrate, the concept of right or wrong, hero or hypocrite, is a matter of perspective. While Picard’s infringements upon the Prime Directive were arguably justified, it can also be argued that the general order is the law. Therefore, any infringement upon it – justifiable or not, should be considered a crime. Right? Wrong? Who really knows? Joining Starfleet and exploring the galaxy is as much a privilege as it is an awesome responsibility. The rank of Captain was not intended for the faint of heart. While each trekkie might debate the validity of Picard’s infringements, there’s one thing we can all agree on. Jean Luc Picard is indeed worthy of the title, “Bad-Ass”! What would the Federation... dare I say, the galaxy, do without Starfleet Captains? Liko_sees_Picard

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *