Posted by: rebeccajrobare | August 2, 2018

Competing Priorities: “Angel One”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise has found a missing Federation freighter, the Odin. There are no survivors on board the derelict ship, but some escape pods were deployed. The nearest M-class planet, Angel One, is presumed to have been their destination. The Elected One, or leader, of Angel One’s matriarchal society, Beatta, receives the Enterprise coldly. She reluctantly grants an away team comprised of Riker, Troi, Yar, and Data permission to search for the survivors, who are considered a disruptive element to Angel One’s female-dominated society and have been in hiding. By searching for plutonium, which is not naturally found on Angel One, the Enterprise is easily able to find the Odins, and Troi, Yar, and Data beam to their location while Riker is entertained by Beatta. To the surprise of the away team, the Odins do not want to leave Angel One. They have settled down, married, and have had children, and they will not leave the planet they now consider home. Because the Odin survivors are not Starfleet personnel, the Enterprise crew have no authority to compel them survivors to leave. Beatta declares that if they will not leave, they will be executed; one of her ministers is secretly married to the leader of the Odins, and was followed to their hiding place. However, Riker makes an impassioned plea to Beatta that results in a sentence of exile, rather than execution, with the intent to slow the inevitable evolution of Angel One into a society where the sexes have equal rights.

While this has been happening on Angel One, a ski lesson on the holodeck has somehow resulted in a mysterious respiratory virus being loosed on the Enterprise, meaning that the intended executions on Angel One could not have been averted by simply rescuing the rebels against their will. The virus also stymies the Enterprise from carrying out its orders to make a show of force at an outpost on the border of the Romulan Neutral Zone, which is under threat from Romulan ships. However, Dr. Crusher is able to synthesize an inoculant in time, and the Enterprise heads off to the outpost.

Analysis: With the attempt to rescue the Odin survivors from Angel One, the virus keeping the Enterprise crew away from their posts, and the Romulan threat on the border outpost, there is a lot happening during this mission. The desire of the survivors to remain in a society in which they feel integrated is unsurprising, but it seems very strange that, having located them, Elected One Beatta is able to compel their execution, or exile on Angel One, but not to end them with the Enterprise, who are willing to take the survivors and their families. Particularly given that Riker is willing to have them all beamed to the ship rather than executed, it seems like the threat of execution is rather unnecessary on Beatta’s part.

Picard, meanwhile, is one of the early victims of the virus, and thus is forced to follow Crusher’s advice and be confined to bed for much of this mission. As far as the leadership lesson there, it is important that any person, no matter how senior or important, take the time to recover from illness when necessary. Outside of Starfleet, illness so often seems to be considered a moral weakness. Bosses brag about “never having taken a sick day” and time to recover from illness or to tend to ill family members is begrudged.

With Picard ill, the decisions fall to Riker, Dr. Crusher, and Data, who all exercise good judgement and dedication to Starfleet’s mission and directives. I think it shows the importance of having such a mission in an organization. With the same vision to guide everyone, there are fewer opportunities to disagree about priorities, even if there is disagreement about the details of executing that mission (such as Data interpreting Riker’s orders to allow him to remain at Angel One, rather than immediately taking the Enterprise to the Neutral Zone).

The student of leadership does not find a lot of especial interest in this mission, but its successful completion testifies to Picard’s skill as a leader and the mission-driven nature of Starfleet as a whole.

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Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 23, 2018

Who is Trustworthy: “Datalore”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is visiting the planet where Data was originally found and activated. While investigating the site where a scientific colony had been, the crew find all the components of another android. Data, Dr. Crusher, and the chief engineer assemble and activate this android, who gives his name as Lore. He claims to be Data’s younger brother and pretends to know less than he does. Lore is lying, and is responsible for the demise of the colony through his partnership with the spacegoing Crystalline Entity. Lore deactivates Data and replaces him on the bridge, summoning the Entity to eat the Enterprise. Wesley Crusher is suspicious but his fears are dismissed. However, he finds the unconscious Data, and Dr. Crusher reactivates him. The three confront Lore, and after a standoff, Lore is beamed to the Crystalline Entity, who retreats.

Analysis: This mission hinges on who the Captain trusts. Picard trusts Data and believes him when he says that his loyalty is to the Enterprise even though he has found family for the first time. The implicitness of this trust underlies Lore’s subterfuge: Seeing Data, the officers do not think that he is colluding with an enemy. Wesley spots Lore, disguised as Data, while his face is twitching, and suspects the truth. Lore disguises this tic and causes Data’s face to twitch in the same way, so Wesley’s protests go unheard. His stubborn insistence that something is wrong is met with harsh dismissal (“Shut up, Wesley!”) and he is removed from the bridge.

Fortunately, Wesley’s loyalty is, like the real Data’s, to the ship and crew, and this unfairness does not stop him from going to Data’s rescue. Picard, to his credit, acknowledges his error, and restores Wesley to his place on the bridge. The lesson here is that one’s crew must be trusted, even when they say what the commanding officer does not want to hear. Wesley’s youth is held against him, and perhaps because of that youth he is unable to articulate why he feels so strongly. The Captain therefore makes an error he would not make with Troi or Riker. Earlier in the mission, Yar voices concerns about Data’s ability to put the ship first, and Picard assures her that he has complete trust in Data, though he validates her question as security chief. Only Wesley is treated with dismissal, and this is nearly the undoing of the mission. The actions of the young crew member are, in the end, what saves the ship, and hopefully that will not be forgotten in the future.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 16, 2018

Trust the Team: “The Big Goodbye”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is preparing for diplomatic contact with the Jarada, a species that has refused earlier overtures from the Federation because of errors in the formal greeting they must be offered. Exhausted by his preparations, Captain Picard follows Counselor Trou’s advice to take a break, and visits the ship’s new holodeck to enjoy a story in which he will role-play his favorite fictional character, detective Dixon Hill.

While Picard, Dr. Crusher, historian Dr. Whalen, and Lt. Cmdr. Data are in the holodeck, the Jarada arrive at the rendezvous and scan the Enterprise. The scan causes the holodeck to malfunction, trapping the Captain and crew members inside and disabling the safety protocols, resulting in Whalen being injured when shot with a computer-generated but very real bullet. While LaForge and Wesley Crusher attempt to repair the holodeck, Commander Riker must delay the touchy Jarada and Picard must keep the rest of his crew alive in Dixon Hill’s dangerous world. LaForge and Ensign Crusher reset the holodeck, freeing the trapped crew and revealing to the characters that they are a simulation, resulting in one of them wondering what he will experience when the simulation ends. Picard returns to the bridge and greets the Jarada in the appropriate manner, and they agree to open diplomatic relations.

Analysis: This mission sees a crew functioning at its highest capacity. The Captain follows the advice of the counselor and sets an example for the crew of taking appropriate rest. When the holodeck adventure goes wrong, Picard is able to trust to the rest of the crew to discover what has gone wrong and free them, even though communications are cut off. Riker stalls the Jarada as best he can even though they consider him to be too low in rank to substitute for Picard.

As an observer, I consider the greatest significance of this mission the revelation that the holodeck-generated characters are sufficiently self-aware to wonder about an afterlife when confronted with the understanding of their artificial nature. The philosophical implications are concerning: if we are able to create self-aware avatars, are we ethically obligated to not un-create them? Are they a sentient form of life, and if so, it is murder to end their existence when we are finished with a simulation? I admit, I am concerned about the use of the holodeck following this mission, and I certainly hope that as I learn more about holodeck engineering, these questions will be resolved to my satisfaction!

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | April 29, 2018

Social Graces: “Haven”

Blog note: So that messy, distracting life thing that keeps happening… Well. We have a working furnace, a new sewer pipe, I have a day job, the car has been repaired, and no one is in the hospital! I’d like to say I’m re-committing to this blog and will post routinely, but the truth is that I’m writing what I can one day at a time, and sometimes a day’s writing amounts to a text message or grocery list. If I want to do more, I have to start where I am, and where I am is right here, with a life structured to prioritize all the important things in it — except writing! At least I have a post for you to read while I see if I can restructure…

Mission Summary: En route to the pristine planet of Haven, the Enterprise unexpectedly receives a chest of gems. It is a betrothal gift for Counselor Troi, who is being summoned to the wedding arranged for her when she was a child. The groom, Wyatt, is surprised by Troi’s appearance. For years, he has been drawing portraits of a beautiful woman, and assumed it was Troi. Troi’s mother boards the Enterprise. She flirts outrageously with Picard and feuds with Wyatt’s parents about every aspect of the upcoming ceremony.

A plague ship carrying the last survivors of a devastated world approaches Haven. They say they want to live out their remaining days as a sort of leper colony on the beautiful world. Haven, fearful of contagion, demands that the Enterprise destroy the vessel, though Picard obviously has no intention of doing so. Wyatt is on the bridge with Troi when the ship makes contact and discovers that the woman in his artistic visions is one of the plague carriers.

The conclusion is foregone. Wyatt, a doctor, joins the plague ship, which has really come in search of him. He and Troi part ways with only the slightest regrets, and the Enterprise gets back to its routine.

On Leadership: From the Federation’s perspective, this mission is mostly about the plague ship. As they didn’t actually want to land on Haven, Picard was not forced to negotiate between their wishes and those of Haven’s government. Instead, the thing we learn from Captain Picard during this mission is how to show grace under considerable social pressures. Lwaxana Troi, who is a person of importance on her planet Betazed, freely says what she claims other people are thinking – whether flattering or not, and regardless of whether the thinker would have voiced it. This habit of radical openness exacerbates her long-standing feud with Wyatt’s parents.

Picard handles everything with aplomb. He expresses regret at the impending loss of his ship’s counselor (though as a student of Starfleet leadership practices I fail to see why Wyatt couldn’t have come to live aboard the Enterprise, which carries the civilian families of its crew) but offers Troi warm congratulations. He shows no irritation when Lwaxana proclaims that he is attracted to her, and even carries her heavy suitcase without a qualm. At the wedding party’s dinner, he offers only smiles and grace, attempting to keep the peace between Wyatt’s parents, who want a human-style wedding, and Lwaxana, who insists on a traditional Betazed wedding (in the nude).

I find the lesson of Picard’s example here particularly difficult to put into practice – but that makes it all the more important. Smile and be gracious, no matter how awkward or contentious the situation. It reminds me of the rule that you can only control your own behavior. Picard’s grace under social pressure may have helped make things a little easier for the other participants, and it ensured that he and the Enterprise were remembered as good hosts. Sometimes the leader’s job is to set an example of civility, be a gracious host, and help – to the degree possible – the event to run smoothly. It is not a job I envy, but it is one I can hope to emulate when required.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | August 29, 2017

Refusing the Faustian Bargain: “Hide and Q”

Blog note: That was quite the hiatus! I had a little bit of work, followed hard on by a series of family medical mishaps. And since my kids aren’t yet old enough to watch TV while I get things done. . . (It’s amazing how quickly good intentions around screen time evaporate!) Though one of the boys was riveted by a documentary on Nikola Tesla. . . my suspicion is that the pan-across-the-photographs, Ken-Burns style of program is easier for a baby to look at than a frenetic cartoon. But I digress. On to today’s lesson on leadership.

Mission Summary: Q comes back, kidnaps most of the bridge crew, trades Shakespearean barbs with Picard, and offers Riker the powers of the Q. Riker progresses quickly from refusing to use his new powers to wanting to accept a place in the Q continuum. He offers his friends “gifts” to mark his departure, but each one refuses, and Riker realizes that this is not a path he wants to take. Q departs, apparently snatched away by his angry fellow Q.

Lessons on Leadership: Two moments stand out in Capt. Picard’s handling of this mission. One, when Lt. Yar is returned to the Bridge by herself after having been abducted along with the rest of the bridge crew,  sans Picard, she finds herself in tears at frustration at having an enemy she can’t fight. Her strength and intelligence simply do her no good against an all-powerful and capricious enemy. Picard does not embarrass her for crying, and helps her regain control. Picard consistently has accepted his officers’ emotions as a valuable part of them, never making them feel guilty for having strong emotions and only correcting the actions they may take in the line of duty, particularly in the case where anger or fear may elicit a violent or aggressive response when this is not the best course of action. Certainly in non-Starfleet life, it’s rare to find a leader who can manage emotions and emotionality so deftly in their staff.

Second, near the end of the mission, when Cmdr. Riker intends to leave the Enterprise to join the Q, Picard refuses a gift on his own behalf but allows Riker to offer gifts to others among the crew. Every gift is refused – a Klingon woman for Worf (and I have to wonder about Riker’s judgement, that he thinks a sentient being fit to give, as though she were property! Reviewing this mission, I can only hope that this shows how quickly the power of the Q can corrupt a person’s ethics, and is not emblematic of Riker’s general approach to life, women, or sex); sight for LaForge; a skipped decade for Wesley Crusher, making him instantly a man; and an offer to make Data human. When each colleague has refused, Riker turns to Picard, realizing that Picard knew that this would happen. In the intoxication of his newfound power, Riker has forgotten that the other crew members value who they are now, regardless of loneliness, disability, impatience, or unfulfilled goals. Riker now understands that these are not gifts of beneficence, but tricks that have a string attached. Picard could not have elicited this realization in Riker just by telling him. He knew that Riker needed the experience of being rejected, several times, in order to understand, and he trusted the crew to reject the fulfillment of their fantasies. Whatever Picard’s flaws during some of the other missions we have reviewed, he has a remarkable understanding of his crew’s psychology, and that leads in this mission to a total success.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 26, 2017

Encountering a Trojan Horse: “The Battle”

Mission Summary: The Ferengi have asked for Captain Picard by name, and Starfleet is happy to welcome this peaceful overture. The commander of the Ferengi ship, DaiMon Bok, has a gift for the Captain: his former ship, the Stargazer, found drifting after having been abandoned by Picard and his crew following a battle in which the Stargazer had destroyed an unidentified vessel that had attacked unprovoked. This ship turns out to have been Ferengi. Bok’s crew is confused; they can understand selling the Stargazer to Picard, but giving it away? It’s just not done.

Picard and the Enterprise crew find the peace offering to be odd, but take the Stargazer in tow, beaming over to check it out. Dr. Crusher accompanies Picard, as she is concerned about headaches he has been having, headaches which appear to have no cause. While packing up possessions from his former cabin on Stargazer, Picard is overcome by pain. He and Crusher beam back to the Enterprise, and Worf follows with Picard’s things.

Crusher is concerned about these causeless headaches, and Counselor Troi also knows that something is up — Picard appears to be having intrusive thoughts, but the thoughts that are intruding are also his own. This is patently an attempt to get Picard to admit to some guilt, as ship’s logs found on the Stargazer include a confession that Picard destroyed a peaceful Ferengi vessel and damaged the Stargazer in an attempt to cover it up. None of the Enterprise crew believe this, and it doesn’t take them long to prove that the confession was falsified.

In the meantime, Picard has ordered the Stargazer released from the tractor beam, allowing her momentum to carry her along beside Enterprise. Once this has been done, he beams over, and is surprised to meet DaiMon Bok on the Stargazer‘s bridge. Bok is equipped with a glowing orb that he  manipulates to increase Picard’s headache and Picard collapses, overcome by the pain. Bok explains that his son was the commander of the vessel Picard had destroyed all those years ago, and he is taking revenge for his son’s death. Bok beams away, leaving the sphere behind.

A similar sphere has been found in Picard’s quarters, hidden among his possessions from the Stargazer. Commander Riker contacts the Ferengi vessel and speaks to the second in command, who identifies the sphere as an illegal thought-controlling device. Riker signals the Stargazer, which is preparing to launch an attack on the Enterprise; at his instruction, Picard destroys the sphere and, once more in command of his own thoughts, aborts the attack. In coda, the Ferengi second tells Riker that he is now in command — he has ordered DaiMon Bok arrested and confined, for the crime of a personal venture with no profit in it.

On Leadership: Another day, another form of mind control. It’s a wonder starships are captained by humans at all, if we are so susceptible to mind control. In just 9 missions since the Enterprise set out with Picard in command, Picard has lost possession of his faculties three times. Once, in response to a sort of contagious illness (“The Naked Now”), once by merger with an energy being (“Lonely Among Us”), and now due to a telepathic weapon.

The leadership lessons I see here are to have good people, to trust your people, and to foster an environment where your people trust each other. While Picard is being manipulated by a bereaved father with a grudge, his crew are performing to the top level expected of Starfleet officers. They never believe the fabricated confession, and find the proof of the deception handily. Riker never threatens the Ferengi vessel, instead enlisting the help of his counterpart. The best that can be said of Picard is that when Riker contacts him on the Stargazer, he trusts Riker even in the midst of pain and flashback, following Riker’s instructions and thereby freeing himself of the telepathic influence of the orb.

It is interesting to me that starship captains are so vulnerable to outside influences over their minds. Of course, the three situations seen in these early missions are of entirely different origin; a defense against telepathic interference wouldn’t have impacted the other situations in which Picard loses control. Picard’s continued confidence in himself is inspiring. A less experienced commander could be forgiven for feeling uncertain about their own decisions after all this. In so far as we all have moments in which we lose control — mostly due to our own emotions, and not any external influence — we can learn to trust our teammates, and how to recover from these situations with grace.

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 20, 2017

Wrestling with the Prime Directive: “Justice”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise is negotiating with a planet to allow the crew to take shore leave. Rubicun III is beautiful, with welcoming natives (the Edo) and no crime. After initial discussions are favorable, Commander Riker takes a larger away team to the planet, including Acting Ensign Wesley Crusher, to evaluate the planet’s suitability for visits by the Enterprise‘s children and families.

At about the time that Lt. Yar discovers why there is no crime on the planet, Wesley, while playing with some local children, trips over a fence and falls into a screened-off plant bed. Immediately, two peacekeepers trot along the path, prepared to execute Wesley on the spot for the crime of disturbing growing plants. Riker, Yar, and Worf manage to forestall the execution, and Wesley is incarcerated pending further discussion of whether it is, in fact, correct to execute a visiting youth for accidental trespass.

In orbit, Picard and Data are confronted with another mystery, that of an orbiting construction that seems to be physically present yet strangely immaterial. An emanation of energy from this object enters data, warns against interference with its “children”, and leaves as mysteriously as it appeared. Aware that Wesley’s fate is contingent upon his proper understanding of this culture, Picard asks one of the Edo’s representatives to beam up to the Enterprise. He shows her the orbiting object out the window and she immediately kneels before it, acknowledging it as god. The being in the orbiter threatens the Enterprise with a collision course if the woman is not immediately returned to the surface, and she is beamed directly from the conference room back to the planet.

The interrelated questions faced by Picard are what to do about Wesley, who is still under threat of execution, and what his responsibility is under the Prime Directive, which prevents him from interfering with events on the planet. In addition, the powerful god of the Edo may act against them, should they attempt to violate their own principles. Dr Crusher pleads with the Captain to prevent Wesley’s execution, which of course he will. Beaming down to the planet, Picard explains the dilemma to the Edo and attempts to leave with Wesley and the rest of the away team; suddenly the transporters are not working. Presuming interference by the orbiting god, Picard explains further that his responsibility to protect the lives of the crew and families under his care are a higher principle than even the Prime Directive. The god allows them to return to the Enterprise, and becomes immaterial once more as they warp away.

On Leadership: I’m afraid I have rather a harsh opinion about this mission, and that is that it was botched from the beginning. If the Edo society is covered under the Prime Directive of noninterference, why was the Enterprise negotiating for shore leave there in the first place? Surely it would have been more appropriate to find another planet, either uninhabited or already warp-capable, for shore leave, even if leave is being recommended on medical grounds. The Edo were peaceful and welcoming, and not distressed by being visited by offworlders with more advanced technology, but I am imagining the Earth being visited by, say, the Vulcans, in advance of Zefram Cochrane’s first warp flight, and I think the Enterprise was very lucky that the Edo were more peaceable, more united as a people, and less suspicious than Terrans of the twenty-first century. Humans would probably have shot the away team on sight, bombed the Enterprise, and then argued about the significance of alien visitors. If the Prime Directive was violated on this mission, surely it was the decision to make contact with the Edo that violated it.

The Edo cannot be held entirely blameless themselves, because death is in no way a proportional punishment for accidentally stepping on some plants and breaking a frame that could be fixed by a couple of hours in a woodshop. All crimes being capital crimes seems to have been an effective deterrent among the Edo, but if a child’s accident while playing constitutes a crime, it’s hard to see why the Edo aren’t all sitting around in terror all the time. The geographic zone in which capital punishment applies changes randomly and constantly, but if only one punishment zone is active at a time, then you could commit any crime you liked simply by playing the odds. (I have to conclude that the Edo lacked probability theory as well as warp theory.) I can’t endorse moral relativism here. The standard of the Federation is that capital punishment is morally wrong; having chosen to interact with the Edo, Picard must defend that moral ground, which he successfully does. Allowing the Edo to live and die by their own rules without interference — the Prime Directive — can only work without contact. Contact itself has to count as interference with a planet’s development. We also have to remember that the Prime Directive applies to technological development, not social or moral development per se. For example, some crimes in the Klingon Empire are punished by death, but the Federation does not refuse contact with them on those grounds. The different moral beliefs of the Federation and the Klingon Empire are allowed to be a point of contention, but not governed by the Prime Directive.

I am very curious to know other people’s thoughts about this mission. If you disagree with my analysis, let me know why!

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | July 6, 2017

The Temptation of Knowledge: “Lonely Among Us”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise passes through a nebula that lights up with strange energy patterns. They don’t have time to investigate, however, because they are transporting two groups of delegates — predator and prey species — to a peace conference. While Lt. Worf is working at a sensor control, he is zapped by blue lightning emanating from the panel. Lt. LaForge calls Dr. Crusher to Engineering; when Worf comes around, he attacks LaForge, Crusher, and another crew member who has come to assist. Crusher sedates him, and Worf is transported to Sickbay.

Counselor Troi comes to check on the situation as Worf is coming around. She tells him that Crusher will explain what happened, but Crusher instead wanders off in a daze — unseen by Worf and Troi, the same blue lightning that attacked Worf has now entered Dr. Crusher. Crusher visits her quarters, where Wesley is working on warp theory. After listening for a little, showing an unusual level of interest in warp theory, she wanders to the bridge, citing the need to do research when Cpt. Picard questions her presence. While she works at a science terminal, the blue-lightning entity passes out of her and into the computer, where it interferes with the helm and warp drive. It returns to engineering, killing Assistant Chief Engineer Singh, who is trying to fix the drive, and then returns to the bridge, where it takes the opportunity presented when Picard puts his hand on the helm control to enter Picard.

Picard orders the return of the ship to the nebula, despite already being late to deliver the increasingly difficult delegates to their conference. He refuses to explain the order, and claims to be “too busy” to help Riker manage the delegations, leading Riker, Crusher, and the other senior crew members to become concerned about whether he has become unfit to command. Concerned, they request Picard report to Sickbay for medical and psychiatric exams. Picard retorts that he is too busy, and orders instead the examination of the senior crew members. They follow this order, and when Crusher returns the reports to him, he leaves them carelessly on his desk. But she has now figured out what has happened, with help from the hypnosis sessions Troi facilitated with her and Worf to recover their own memories of contact by the electric entity.

The entity has merged itself with Picard, and now that it has been discovered, it announces its intentions to the Bridge as a whole: Picard has agreed to partner with it. In return for taking the entity back to its nebula, the entity will take Picard with it in energy form, to explore the galaxy as a dual being unbound by physical form. Picard has submitted a resignation to Starfleet. The crew attempt to prevent him, but Picard, with the entity in tow, beams out into the cloud.

They search for him, but they are already late, and his resignation has been tendered. Riker reluctantly gives the order to resume course to the peace conference, but something goes wrong. A message comes through on the helm: the letter “P.” Picard, now an energy being himself, has returned to the ship, unable to maintain the merger with the original entity. In desperation they attempt to beam him back using a stored pattern to give physical form to his mind’s energy. The strategy works, and Picard finds himself in the transporter room, confused – he has no memory of what has transpired.

On Leadership: This mission finds the Captain suborned by an energy being, but uniquely, he agrees to its presence because it is able to offer him the thing that no one else can: Pure exploration, unencumbered by the limits of matter. No command decision made during this mission compares against this single, enormous dereliction of duty. This reveals a tremendous amount about Picard. He joined Starfleet to explore the galaxy. While he is an experienced career officer, now in command of an enormous new ship, and fully aware of the responsibilities he has to Starfleet, the Federation, the crew under his command, and their civilian families under his care, he would give it all up for the chance to explore further than Starfleet will ever take him. We see Picard’s ultimate motivation — and it’s pretty noble, in my opinion. Not love, not wealth, not celebrity, but knowledge. More than that, a knowledge he turned down during the prior mission in part because the opportunity for exploration in that case would have put those civilians in danger (see https://rebeccajrobare.com/2017/06/30/where-no-one-has-gone-before/). This time he can act in a way that puts only himself at risk. While distracted from his ordinary work, he announces his intentions and resigns rather than abandoning his crew without a word. Even while acting out of selfishness, Picard manages to be responsible.

This is instructive, because we all have that thing we would quit our day job for. It might be art, travel, study, or love, but we all have something that would drive or inspire us to make a radical change to our life. For many of us, quitting that job would require discussion with spouse or children first (and if not, a serious explanation afterward!), but Picard does not have a spouse or children to consider. He is respected by his crew, with friendships beginning to form as much as is possible for a commanding officer, but he is not close to them in the way of a family, and certainly he can trust that Riker will be a responsible captain until Starfleet assigns another officer to the post.

It doesn’t work out, however, and Picard is lucky in that he is able to return, apparently without consequences. (He says to the Bridge crew that he has submitted his resignation to Starfleet, but as he is able to easily resume his post I suspect that he had set a file to e-mail at a particular time in the near future.) Most of us are not so lucky; when we burn bridges they stay burned. Ultimately Picard is able to walk away from his command, and then walk back, and I have to wonder what Starfleet Command thought when they reviewed this mission recording! Regardless, I think I have to consider the final lesson of this mission to be self-knowledge: what would stir my heart and mind to such an extent that I would walk away from my life as it is? Which aspects of my life would I be willing to give up? (Not my spouse and children — I don’t think that thing exists — but I could imagine, for example, taking my spouse and children to a Mars colony, or adopting a more minimalist lifestyle in exchange for the opportunity to travel the world with them.) That degree of self-knowledge can be useful to us: first, we can structure our lives for the attempt to live as we truly want, and second, we will recognize our once-in-a-lifetime opportunity when it comes along.

What would you give up for the thing you want the most?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 30, 2017

“Where No One Has Gone Before”

Mission Summary: An engineer and his assistant come aboard the Enterprise to perform tests on the engines. According to Commander Riker, the equations to be tested appear to be “gibberish”, but two other starships are now able to reach higher speeds after implementing engineer Kosinski’s protocols.

The test propels the Enterprise at such a velocity that they escape the Milky Way entirely and end up in another galaxy. It is an unprecedented opportunity for scientific discovery, but Picard reluctantly orders the ship to return home, as a properly equipped science vessel will surely be sent in their place.

However, instead of returning home, the Enterprise travels even farther, finding itself in a realm where thoughts can influence and even become reality. Kosinski is unable to explain what has happened, but Wesley Crusher calls attention to Kosinski’s assistant, who has collapsed. While traveling, the assistant phased in and out of existence.

In Sickbay, Picard orders that the assistant be revived. The assistant explains that he is a Traveler, from what sounds like a different dimension or plane of reality. His people understand that time, space, and thought are the same, and he is the first of his kind to visit our world, in search of people who may be able to develop this kind of understanding.

Wesley Crusher is one such person, as the Traveler explains privately to Picard. Picard can encourage Wesley in a direction that will lead him to such an understanding — but Wesley must not know that this is what Picard is doing.

With the help of Wesley, and the supporting thoughts of Picard and the crew, the Traveler is able to return the Enterprise to where it is supposed to be. He departs, and Picard appoints Wesley to the rank of Acting Ensign and assigning him to the bridge crew.

On Leadership: The previous missions we’ve reviewed have mostly had to do with encountering “new life;” even the “Naked Now” mission was driven by the encounter with what was essentially a new disease. Although the Traveler is from a species unknown to the Federation, the Enterprise‘s problem on this mission largely results from finding itself in a new kind of place.

Captain Picard shows remarkable displays of leadership twice during this mission. First, he orders the Enterprise to return to their home galaxy instead of exploring the new one, and second, he trusts the Traveler to return them there after finding his ship in a realm where reality can be manipulated by thought.

When finding his ship in a new galaxy entirely, Picard, as we have seen on previous occasions, asks his senior officers for their opinions. Data says that the new galaxy, and their current location close to a protostar, where a star is forming, is an unprecedented opportunity for discovery. “Spoken like a true Starfleet graduate,” Picard commends him. It is clear from Picard’s expression and tone of voice that he regrets the decision he is making, but against his own wishes he orders the ship to return. This kind of exploration is better done with a ship that is equipped and crewed differently, and I would think — while ignorant of the specific Starfleet and Federation protocols that apply here — that such a ship would not include civilians and families, given the inherent danger involved. I call Picard’s leadership here remarkable because he is putting the safety of his ship and crew ahead of the exploration and discovery that are his primary mission, and against his own desires. In my opinion, it’s also in keeping with the scientific importance of what is happening: if Kosinski has done what he, at this point in the mission, thinks he has, it is replicable, but needs to be tested under more controlled conditions and understood in order for another ship to travel such vast distances predictably. They also do not know, at this juncture, whether they can return, or even contact their home galaxy. Scientific exploration that would never get back to Starfleet to be disseminated would be useless.

Trusting the Traveler to undo what he has inadvertently done is a leap of faith on Picard’s part. It is the only solution that will allow them to reach home at all; but trusting an unknown being who has erred in bringing them to this place at all seems like a frightening responsibility. The risk does pay off; and perhaps the risk of everyone on the ship dying in an accident is preferable to the risk of everyone on the ship eventually dying of old age if they do nothing. Either way, Picard, of course, is responsible.

Other things of note in this episode: Wesley is the first to notice that the Traveler is responsible for what is happening to the Enterprise, but because of his age and because he is not a member of the crew, Riker and Picard at first do not listen to him. The Captain and Commander have a different level of trust with their fellow Starfleet officers than they do with anyone else, and Wesley’s inclusion as an acting ensign at the end of the mission is in some ways an acknowledgement of this, that he is trustworthy and capable. (It also, not incidentally brings him more firmly under Picard’s authority!) This is an object lesson in leadership: Listen even to people you think you don’t need to listen to, people who are not directly under your leadership. Had Wesley been heard out immediately, the Enterprise would not have traveled to the realm of thought.

Finally, I find it interesting that one of the tenets we have previously observed in Captain Picard’s actions — trust your people to to their jobs — backfires here.  Kosinski’s equations are nonsense, as Commander Riker says, but Picard allows Kosinksi to continue, trusting that because his previous results are good he must know what he is doing. This is another caution, then. The Captain surely can’t be an expert in everything, but it would be wise to listen when someone on your team tells you that the proposed solution doesn’t make sense!

What are your thoughts about this very unusual mission, and how Picard led his crew?

Posted by: rebeccajrobare | June 13, 2017

An Old Civilization: “The Last Outpost”

Mission Summary: The Enterprise pursues a Ferengi vessel that has stolen a piece of technology from a Federation world. As they approach an uninhabited planet, the ship becomes caught in a force field that begins to slowly drain its power. Believing that the Ferengi possess a technology that threatens all the lives on board, Picard prepares to surrender. However, the Ferengi offer to surrender to him. Picard agrees to accept their surrender, and demands visual contact with the Ferengi commander. This is Starfleet’s first look at this species. When the Ferengi realize that the Enterprise is not the source of the disabling force field, Picard suggests that the two crews partner to figure out a way to restore their ships. An away team beams down, only to be separated by whatever energy is disrupting power to the Enterprise. They are attacked by the Ferengi party. Riker, LaForge, Yar, Worf, and Data find each other amid the planet’s strange, misty landscape while fighting off attacks. Then a voice demands an explanation for their presence: A holographic portal, remnant of the civilization whose outpost this planet was, appears to challenge them for their entry into the “Empire.” With difficulty, Riker and Data convince the portal that the Empire it served was destroyed by a supernova 600,000 years before. It is impressed with the Starfleet officers, asking Riker to tell it more about Sun Tzu, and dismissive of the Ferengi, who have shown themselves to be greedy, violent, sexist, and deceptive by Federation standards. The portal releases the ships, the Enterprise recovers the stolen property, and they and the Ferengi go their separate ways.

On Leadership: There are a number of interesting moments during this odd mission. Five in particular stand out for what they tell us about leadership; one of these belongs to Riker, rather than to Picard.

First, Picard allows the Ferengi to believe that the Enterprise has disabled their ship. I find this an interesting choice because in most circumstances we look to leaders for honesty and transparency, even in conflict. Picard seems to make this decision for a couple of reasons. First, he is mindful of two goals. One is to free the Enterprise and save her crew and civilians, but the second is his original mission to recover the stolen device. Allowing the Ferengi to continue under a misapprehension is an understandable decision if it provides some kind of advantage in accomplishing one or both of these goals. In this case, retrieving what the Ferengi have stolen may be possible if the Ferengi believe that returning it will free their ship. Second, Picard does not represent to the Ferengi that he has disabled their ship; he merely allows them to continue believing that he has when they jump to that conclusion — the same conclusion he had jumped to. Picard is merely faster to realize he is wrong. He is taking advantage of their assumptions, rather than lying. In any case, this tactic backfires; the Ferengi are mad at this deception, and it could be concluded that it is why they immediately attack the away team on the planet under the assumption that, having been deceived once, they are being deceived again.

Second, when Data briefs the officers on the civilization to which the planet had once belonged, he is seen fidgeting with a finger trap, and gets stuck in it. Picard commands Data to “get unstuck,” but when Data cannot see the way to release himself, Picard frees him from the toy. This meeting is interesting because Picard offers no objection to Data’s absent fidgeting until it distracts him from his task at hand, and because once aware of Data’s problem, it is Picard who provides a solution to it. In my opinion, this is good management, on both counts, allowing a secondary activity if attention is not distracted from the primary focus and providing solutions to any issues that arise in order to return to that focus. As Data has a greater attentional capacity than any human (as we will learn during a later mission), using the finger trap during the briefing may be analogous to the use of a fidget toy by a businessperson with an attentional disorder; use of the toy paradoxically allows for greater attention to be paid to the task at hand. We can also note here that the crew members in the briefing are giving their full attention to the meeting content. They are not reading their e-mail or doing other work.

Third, while the away team are on the planet and out of contact with the Enterprise, the crew are essentially huddled together for warmth as their oxygen slowly runs out. Picard visits a lounge where Dr. Crusher is distributing blankets. She reveals to him that her son Wesley is in their quarters; she gave him a sedative. He is sleeping through this crisis. Picard tells her that her son “deserves to face death like a man.” Putting aside Crusher’s response to this remark, it is interesting because it reveals both Picard’s attitude toward death, and his increasingly paternal feelings toward Wesley. The idea that “men” face death head on is not uncommon in our culture, and from a leadership perspective, any challenge or desperate situation can only be faced if it is to be resolved. In this case, Picard can do no more to resolve the situation, but he still feels responsible for facing the death that is about to be visited upon all the lives aboard his vessel.

Fourth, Riker displays solid leadership while on the planet. He answers the portal’s challenge with precepts from The Art of War, and denies the Ferengi lies calmly and not defensively. He also restrains Lt. Yar from excess violence against the Ferengi when they remark that allowing “a female” to go clothed in public is an invitation for another man to undress her.

Finally, once they have recovered the stolen technology and are preparing to allow the Ferengi to go on their way, Riker suggests beaming to them a crate of Data’s finger traps. Picard permits this trolling. It’s a very interesting response. It smacks of revenge — “you caused us this trouble, so we will cause some for you” — but the finger trap is essentially harmless (a person could be cut out of it with a scissor if they really couldn’t get free). It’s fundamentally a prank, but do Starfleet captains really prank the crews of opposing vessels? I admit to feeling ambivalent toward this action. I don’t wish to accuse Capt. Picard of a misstep, but it seems like an action that could backfire for Starfleet or the Federation, if the Ferengi consider it a Trojan Horse and an act of war.

What are your opinions about sending finger traps to the Ferengi, or other acts or failures of leadership during this mission?

 

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