Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Up The Long Ladder
Send in the clones... James' TNG season 2 look-back arrives at a poorly developed immigration parable.
This review contains spoilers.
2.17 Up the Long Ladder
The Enterprise receives a distress call from planet Bringloid V, the location of a centuries-old (and long-forgotten) Earth colony, founded by one half of the crew of the SS Mariposa. The Bringloidi are space-farmers following a luddite/Amish-style philosophy rejecting technology-reliant living, but luckily they had a somewhat advanced distress probe lying around in case things got difficult. And that's exactly what happened, because their planet is now about to be destroyed by solar activity.
After sending Riker to meet them (off camera) Picard happily agrees to evacuate the Bringloidi colonists and take them to a nearby starbase, leading to a hilarious scene where O'Brien transports a bunch of people, two sheep, a goat and a chicken onto the Enterprise only for them to gawp like the space-yokels they are. Also, for some reason, he transports a load of hay with them as well (can't get the staff…).
After setting his people up in the cargo bay, O'Dell, the planet's leader and an almost offensively stereotypical Irishman (lots of planets have an Ireland…) thanks Picard for his hospitality (well, he actually says something like "If'n oi could be tankin' ye Captain Picard" before kissing a space-Blarney Stone) and casually inquires if the Enterprise has encountered the "other" colonists. It turns out the other half of the Mariposa's crew, more conventional colonists, set up elsewhere nearby, so Picard heads off to find them.
Meanwhile, Riker is putting the moves on O'Dell's daughter, Brenna, which is totally appropriate behaviour for a man in his position. I mean, it's not like it's the first time he's tried to sleep with an important diplomatic figure, although at least this time it's not actively endangering any investigations or negotiations.
When the Enterprise finds the other colonists – the Mariposans – it emerges that they're a society of clones, following an accident with their original landing party. Unfortunately, their cloning techniques produce imperfections and in a generation or two, replicative fade will wipe them out. Their leader, Prime Minster Granger, asks if the Enterprise crew will donate some DNA so that they can continue their civilisation because they now find biological reproduction "repulsive" (which means they've at least kept up with episodes of One Born Every Minute, if nothing else.)
The Enterprise crew decline, slightly horrified by the idea, although because they're unfamiliar with polite behaviour the Mariposans knock out Riker and Pulaski and steal their DNA to grow some clones anyway. When the pair find out, they transport to the cloning labs and incinerate their still-developing copies right in their very tubes. It's all a bit existential. Granger is understandably upset at what is arguably murder, but Pulaski advises them to start breeding normally instead. Granger quite rightly points out that there are only five of them, which isn't a viable gene pool. Suddenly, lightbulbs go on over everyone's head.
Back on the enterprise, Picard brings O'Dell and Granger together for a meeting and suggests integrating the two colonies. Neither is keen, but the episode is wrapping up so they agree to attempt it. Brenna decides to go off with Prime Minister Granger, although monogamous marriage is "temporarily suspended" until the gene pool is sufficiently widened and each woman is encouraged to have at least three husbands. Er, a happy ending, I suppose?
TNG WTF: I get that the idea is to play up the differences between a "rural" culture and another that relies on technology, but they perhaps take the concept a little too far by giving the Space-farmers space-Whiskey and Space-hay and Space-accents. O'Dell was continually about three seconds away from declaring Picard to be "after his Lucky Charms".
TNG LOL: "Send in the clones" is undoubtedly one of the greatest lines written in all TNG history, but although the painfully stereotypical portrayal of the space-Irish does deliver some genuinely funny moments, as usual it's up to Worf providing the best jokes when he deadpans to the formidable and ranting Brenna "Madam, have you ever considered a career in security?"
Mistakes and Minutiae: Riker's speech about how a second William Riker would diminish him "in ways he can barely imagine" is particularly ironic, given that there is, right now, a transporter-accident Riker clone stranded somewhere on another planet waiting to be discovered in the season six episode, Second Chances.
Time Until Meeting: 29:20. Prime Minister Granger requests a meeting that Picard is only too happy to grant. Although, there is a meeting mere minutes before the start of this episode too - almost the first thing Picard says is "I've just come from a meeting…"
HOWEVER, meeting fans, we get a great moment in this episode when two rival planet leaders are bickering during their summit and Picard shouts them both down, loudly declaring that he "will not allow posturing and bigotry to destroy this meeting!". Yes, the sanctity of the meeting must be protected at all cost!
Captain's Log: Well, it's not TNG's finest hour, that's for sure, although the unconventional episode structure means it's at least interesting on one level – it's a rare occurrence of them meeting a society which DOESN'T have a terrible hidden secret. Although because they meet two, one does.
Still, the ideas are decent and there's a vague pro-immigration message in there, but sadly none of it gets developed quite far enough to make an actual point. And there's also a whole subplot about Worf getting the Klingon version of the measles which I didn't even mention in the recap because it has absolutely nothing to do with anything.
The best you can say is that it's not as bad an episode as you might've found in season one, but it's still strange to see something so poorly-developed showing up this late in the series, when the show has more or less found its feet.
Watch or Skip? Watch if you find the Space Irish funny, but otherwise you can safely skip it.
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