Star Trek 167: The High Ground

167. The High Ground

FORMULA: The Hunted + The Vengeance Factor + Angel One + Wink of an Eye

WHY WE LIKE IT: An intriguing exploration of the terrorist mindset with no real resolution.

WHY WE DON'T: Alexana's sanctimonious speeches. The Prime Directive is ignored.

REVIEW: For the second time in a row, we get a show that is an allegory for current events, and military-type current events at that. Again we have the sympathetic guest-star who's killed people. Again he befriends a member of the crew, and again, the Enterprise seems to be working with the authorities who are at least partially in the wrong. Aside from that, The High Ground is a very different episode, but I still wonder why they aired this and The Hunted back to back.

The High Ground is much more topical than The Hunted, and was even banned in Ireland for being too close for comfort (though technically, because of the reunification date given by Data). Today, it reads more as a commentary on Palestine-Israel than on the PLO, but it means to comment on all terrorism. It's a complex issue, and while I think there's something to be said for showing the terrorists in a sympathetic light (they too have children, they may have reason to fight an oppressive regime, etc.), we also have to acknowledge that this is a very specific kind of terrorism after all. Finn's separatists use terrorism, yes, but their goals are those of freedom fighters, whereas we well know that this isn't always the case. A complex issue thankfully not given a resolution here.

Beverly is uncommonly strong in this episode, giving Finn the silent treatment at first, but eventually succumbing to Stockholm syndrome. When the separatists target the Enterprise (and Wesley) she does get a bit more weepy, but it's well-played with only shades of the first season's constant mothering. I have a harder time with the scene in which Wesley is told of his mother's kidnapping, as Wil Weaton is usually out of his depth with this kind of thing.

The episode is a let-down whenever we're on the "other side". The character of police chief Alexana Devos is grating in the extreme. She spouts rhetoric at an incredible rate, making all these terrible, clichéed speeches about the "enemy". It's just dreadfully boring and hits us over the head with the message that no matter how sympathetic Finn can be, terrorism is still wrong. Well, duh! The music supports this cheesiness, as does the ending with a boy putting his weapon down. Actually, my biggest problem with the ending is that the crew really does break the Prime Directive and side with the apparently oppressive government. How? By allowing police forces to come with the rescue party where they kill a separatist leader, find the hidden hide-out, etc. Like that won't change the course of this culture's progress? Worse still, the issue isn't even addressed.

LESSON: If you didn't get it the first time...

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Yes, a worthy episode, but marred by all the sermonizing. The Finn-Crusher stuff is excellent though.


Andrew Gilbertson said...

I found this one to completely sidestep the issue of terrorism, hand-waving it into a synonym for freedom-fighting or rebellion. Fynn says "The only difference between a general and a terrorist is history", or something to that affect. No, sir, the difference is that one attacks civilians (as you did) and the other attacks military targets. Freedom fighters try to overthrow the government. Terrorists kill people at random to try and frighten the nation or group into acceding to your demands out of fear for who you might kill next without provocation. If the episode had noted this, had Crusher call him on his BS, I might've respected it. But if you want to show both sides of a coin on terrorism, you have to actually define terrorism and differentiate it from 'freedom fighting' and the 'military general' comparisons that he gives in this episode. However, no one does, so a terrorist's self-serving rhetoric that disguises the reality of the situation is presented as the 'reality' of one side's position- thus making this episode a fail in my book, as it doesn't explore two sides, it only explores propaganda of two sides.

Siskoid said...

A common TNG tactic. The show wants to tackle topical issues (a Star Trek thing), but often took the coward's way out.

See also The Outcast which is vaguely about sexual orientation.

LiamKav said...

DS9 treated this in a much more comfortable way. There, the Cardassians were an invading party. Kira and co's terrorist actions weren't really anything of the sort... they were fighting an occupying force. The problem with this episode (and I grant that it's a tricky thing to cover in 42 minutes) is that we don't know how the other people on the island (I think it was an island) feel. Do they all want freedom? Would some be happy with just some concessions to greater autonomy? Or are the "freedom fighters" a small group? It's why Data's comment about Ireland is a bit uncomfortable, because a reunification of Ireland is only a good thing if you assume that everyone in Northern Ireland wants it, which they don't. (It also says that the violence will continue for another few decades, which is depressing as hell. Especially after a ten year period with no attacks. Crippling austeristy measures on a country seem to encourage people towards terrorism, although that's a bit of a bigger subject.)

Also, to clarify, it was also banned in the UK full stop during it's initial airing. Sky eventually showed it a couple of years later and just removed Data's line, which seemed to be a much more sensible solution. Still, giving the guy an Irish surname...

One other thing... this episode has an uncommonly exciting teaser. So many TNG episodes have, especially to modern eyes, rather laid-back teasers. I love Tin Man as much as the next one, but all the teaser reveals is that someone Troi used to treat (psychologically) is coming on board the ship. Likewise all those teasers that just end with a character being called to the bridge or whatever and looking a bit annoyed. On this one, bombs! Explosions! Kidnapping! At the very least, it grabs your attention.

LiamKav said...

One more thing... I'll buy that the terrorists have somehow gotten hold of a super advanced teleporter. I won't buy that they've read up on the history of the United States of America, and that they have detailed deck plans for the Federation flagship.


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