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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S1E21 "Symbiosis"

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"If you don't give me my medicine, I'll use my glowey hand to zap him!"

Original air date: April 18, 1988

Picard tries to mediate a trade dispute between two neighboring planets, one of which is the sole supplier of a drug to treat the other's apparently fatal disease. However, the drug turns out to be an addicting narcotic, and Dr. Crusher is torn on whether to offer help to the people suffering from withdrawal symptoms or follow the Prime Directive and not get involved.

Perhaps best-known in retrospect for the extensive behind-the-scenes feature that LeVar Burton did for an episode of Reading Rainbow.


This episode contains examples of:

  • Addled Addict: The Ornarans can't even make basic repairs to their ship. The fact that their people believe they need felicium to survive implies that the Ornarans we see are the most capable their planet has to offer since they are tasked with a mission that is believed to be vital to their world.
  • Affably Evil: The Brekkinas are calm, polite and compliment Picard on his hospitality while ignoring and profiting from the suffering of the Ornarans.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Not only do the Brekkians allow the Ornarans to believe that they need the felicium to survive, they continually refine it to make it even more addictive.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Picard can't tell the Ornarans that their "disease" is merely an addiction, because both the Brekkians' society and their own are based on it. This episode is the first to delve into the reasons behind the Prime Directive, as summed up by Picard to Crusher in the denouement.
    Picard: Beverly, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy... and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees:
    • While some fans found the concept ridiculous of an entire species turning their economy to selling drugs, it has some precedent with the Opium Wars. The British Empire made virtually its entire import sales from dealing opium to China and actively did their best to enforce it on the public.
    • The fact that real life medical corporations turned to selling addictive painkillers that were massively exploited is also a truth of the 21st century.
  • Angst? What Angst?: Invoked by Riker, who notes that T'Jon and Romas seem more concerned about what happened to the felicium than the fate of their two colleagues who went down with the Sanction. It's not specifically stated whether the two casualties were Ornarans or Brekkians, but it's most likely the former, given that Sobi and Langor just complained about not being paid for the felicium instead of chewing out the Ornarans getting their colleague(s) killed via their defective ship.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Almost to the point of being an outright Downer Ending; the Ornarans do manage to stave off more immediate suffering by getting their hands on the felicium, and there is the long-term hope that they'll break out of their addiction once their supply runs out, but no guarantee. The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novels take this a step further by implying that while the Ornarans eventually did break their addiction, the Brekkians just started selling felicium to other races.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: The Ornarans and Brekkians both look like humans for the most part, although the bridges to their noses are rougher and more bumpy. They're also capable of generating electricity from their hands.
  • Captain Obvious: The X-rays from the star causes a surge of blue light in the computer Wesley is working with. His response? "Captain, my console seems to be overloading."
  • Captain's Log: Averted for the first time in TNG. Instead, the Captain sums up the premise of the episode in a shipwide mission broadcast, ordering a yellow alert because of the magnetically active sun they're studying.
  • Chemical Messiah: The felicium is the entire basis of the society of both planets, because the Ornarans believe they need it to survive, and the Brekkians, in response, have completely built their economy around its production.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: It’s indicated that the inevitable breakdown of the system between the Ornarans and Brekkians will affect the latter far more severely in the longer term, as their entire planetary economy is built around the production of felicium, which they will no longer have a customer for once the Ornarans break their addiction.
  • Dissonant Serenity: Tasha after breaking up a "disagreement" between Tjon and Sobi. She is even more softspoken than she normally is.
    Tasha: "Behave yourselves....gentlemen!"
  • Downer Ending: The episode on drug addiction essentially left the Brekkians and Onarans to their own devices. Picard adhered to the Prime Directive stating that this is one problem that they can't solve for others. The episode ends with the crew simply glad to wash their hands of them.
  • Drugs Are Bad: As forceful as the episode's message is, they do at least specify that the felicium did originally serve a legitimate function, and that it's actually drug addiction which is bad.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The computer announces that the ship is at yellow alert, rather than a standard alarm.
  • Facepalm: Picard (of course), predating the page image provided by "Deja Q" by almost two years. No surprise, given the level of incompetence that he has to deal with (see below).
  • Finishing Each Other's Sentences: Picard and Dr. Crusher, simultaneously deducing that the Brekkians knew about the drug all along.
  • First-Name Basis: During their conversation in the turbolift, Picard repeatedly calls Dr. Crusher 'Beverly', indicating both the closeness of their characters and the seriousness of the conversation.
  • Funny Background Event: Near the end of the episode, Tasha can be seen waving at the camera from the far background. That scene was Denise Crosby's last filmed shot on set as Tasha Yar, at least until the character's return in "Yesterday's Enterprise."
  • Going Cold Turkey: Picard hopes to make an entire planet do this, once the Ornaran ships can no longer function and they can't get the Felicium from Brekka.
  • G-Rated Drug: Felicium apparently has an effect similar to opiods. Crusher specifically called it a narcotic.
  • Hostage for MacGuffin: One of the Ornarans holds Riker hostage and threatens to kill him if Picard doesn't give them the medicine. Picard calls their bluff.
  • Insufficiently Advanced Alien: The Ornarans have no idea how to repair their ships, which is quite the headache when Picard's attempts to help fall on people too stupid to implement them. Of course, it could be justified that their addiction to Felicium has some side effects on their mental state.
  • Lost Technology: The Ornaran space ships will soon be this, because the Onarans forgot how to repair them if needed. In the end, Picard is counting on this when he comes up with a Prime Directive–compatible way to end their exploitation by the Brekkians.
  • The McCoy: Dr. Crusher displays similar views to those of her predecessor, arguing for morality over the Prime Directive.
  • Meaningful Name: "Felicium" sounds a lot like "felicity," meaning happiness. The name practically screams "happy drug."
  • Oh, Crap!: Picard's reaction to the possibility that the Ornarans may have brought a plague aboard the Enterprise. Fortunately, there is no medical threat.
    • The reaction of the Brekkians and the Ornarans when Picard refuses to hand over the parts to fix their spaceships.
  • One-Product Planet: Brekka only produces felicium. According to Sobi, they have no other industry.
  • Planet of Hats: Brekka is a planet of drug dealers; Ornara is a planet of drug addicts.
  • Plot Hole: The freighter Sanction was carrying both the medicine and the payment for it. Logically, the payment would be delivered to Brekka prior to loading the medicine for the return voyage to Ornara. The payment was on the freighter purely to involve the Enterprise crew in a dispute of ownership.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: To tighten their grip on the Ornarans, the Brekkians have made felicium more potent and more addictive. As a result, the Ornarans cognitive functions have diminished to the point that they can’t repair their cargo ships. When the last ship inevitably breaks down, the addiction will break, and the Brekkians, who have no other industry and are completely dependent on the Ornarans, will lose their only customers.
  • Rubber-Forehead Alien: The makeup of the Ornarans would serve as the basis for the makeup of the Bajorans starting in "Ensign Ro", before being streamlined on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
  • Rules Lawyer: The Prime Directive prevents Picard from warning the Omarans about the true nature of their felicium dependency, as doing so would fundamentally alter the power dynamic of their system. However, he also uses it to his advantage by refusing to hand over spaceship parts to the Ornarans and Brekkians, ensuring that one way or another the Ornarans will be forced to deal with their addiction problems on their own.
  • Shock and Awe: The Ornarans and the Brekkians can use electric attacks.
  • Skewed Priorities: How the Enterprise crew sees the Ornarans beaming their cargo over before themselves when their ship is about to explode, as well as the surviving Ornarans caring more about the cargo than their deceased friends. Subverted when it's revealed that the cargo is medicine that (they think) their people need to survive.
  • Slobs vs. Snobs: The plainly-dressed Ornarans and fancier-looking Brekkians come across as this, respectively.
  • Smug Snake: The Brekkians in their interactions with the Ornarans and (once the truth about felicium comes out) the Enterprise crew, tend to be highly condescending and self-satisfied. Langor especially, who engages in outright Evil Gloating... right up until Captain Picard pulls the rug out from under the entire parasitic system.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Perhaps not "surrounded," but close enough to Picard's reaction to dealing with a freighter captain who doesn't know anything about how his ship works.
    Picard: Captain, we are beaming over a replacement coil.
    T'Jon: That's great! And that'll fix us up?
    Picard: Yes, once it's installed.
    T'Jon: Right... and how do we do that?
    Picard: ["You Have GOT to Be Kidding Me!" Aside Glance to Riker] What is the matter with these people?
  • Take a Third Option: When faced with the decision between perpetuating a cycle of abuse or breaking the Prime Directive, Picard withdraws his offer to repair the Ornarans' ships (claiming that this would also be violation of the Directive), ensuring the eventual breakdown of the system while leaving the Directive intact.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Neither the Brekkians or the Ornarans come across as the the brightest stars in their particular system:
    • The Ornarans only have 3 sublight space freighters on their planet, 2 of which are non-functional, and the last one is destroyed in this episode, despite the survival of their species (as far as they know) being utterly dependent on trade with their neighbouring planet.
      • As Dr. Crusher notes, the "virus" that still affects their race is no longer contagious at all, and has all of the symptoms of substance withdrawal rather than a typical contagion, suggesting there are no competent doctors or scientists on the entire planet who could figure out the disease was cured long before the Enterprise showed up.
    • As for the Brekkians, they've left the transportation of their sole export in the hands of their barely-competent drug addicted neighbours, rather than maintain and fly their own spaceships to keep their drug trade running. In fact, they've retooled their entire planetary economy into the manufacturing of felicium, making them just as dependent on space trade to survive as Ornara.
  • Truth in Television:
    • Most illicit drugs started life as a medicine.
    • Anyone who's worked in tech support will tell you just how common the freighter scene is.