Follow TV Tropes


Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S2E18 "Up the Long Ladder"

Go To
O'Brien beams up the Bringloidi, and Colm Meaney dies a little inside.

Original air date: May 22, 1989

Picard calls Riker into his ready room and plays a beacon that's been transmitting from deep in space for a month. They agree that it sounds like an SOS code, but it’s a Terran code that hasn’t been used in centuries. Data discovers that the code comes from the planet Bringloid V, home to a colony founded on the philosophy of returning to a pre-industrial way of living. On the way there, Worf briefly falls ill, and Pulaski covers for him, earning his thanks.

Upon arrival, the ship discovers that solar flares from the planet's sun are threatening the colony, so they decide to evacuate the inhabitants, the Bringloidi, to the ship. To the crew's dismay, the Bringloidi turn out to be ridiculously stereotypical Irish farmers. Picard and Riker meet their cheerful, folksy leader, Danilo O’Dell and his beautiful, feisty daughter Brenna. The crew struggles to contain the Bringloidi's attempts to convert the cargo hold into a makeshift farm, and Riker puts the moves on Brenna, while Picard learns from Danilo of a second lost colony that was also founded by their old ship.

They find the second colony, Mariposa, easily enough and make contact with its prime minister, Wilson Granger, who invites them down for a visit, but Troi cautions that there’s something he’s not telling them. Riker, Worf, and Pulaski beam down to the colony, which is much more technologically advanced than the Bringloidi society, and they notice quickly that everyone they encounter looks alike. Pulaski deduces that their entire population is made up of clones, and Granger confirms it. He explains that only five of the original colonists survived, and cloning was the only way for the colony to continue, but Clone Degeneration will wipe them out within the next few generations. He asks the bridge crew for their genetic material to renew their clone stock, but Picard states that no one onboard would agree to such a thing. Instead, they agree only to repair some of their equipment before moving on.

The Mariposans kidnap Riker and Pulaski and steal their genes, leaving them with no memory, but when Granger claims to have not seen them, Geordi picks up on the lie using his VISOR, and the truth quickly comes out. Riker, Pulaski and Geordi beam down and destroy the clones already being made from their genes. Granger confronts them, arguing that the Mariposans have a right to avoid annihilation. Picard is now stuck with two problems: a wild and rustic group of settlers with no home, and an advanced civilization in desperate need of fresh blood. It doesn't take a genius to realize that these problems solve each other.

Picard organizes a sit-down between Danilo and Granger. They instantly hate each other and point out all the problems that trying to coexist with each other will entail. But once Danilo discovers just how much screwing will be required to rejuvenate Mariposa, he warms to the idea. The Mariposans have foresworn all sexual interest and find the idea repugnant, but Danilo assures Granger that nature will take its course. The two sides agree to join forces. Finally, Picard convinces Brenna to provide her leadership to the new society, and she quickly decides that Granger, a man of importance, will be one of her husbands.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Actually Pretty Funny: Picard gets a good laugh out of the Space Amish being on his ship, even though Riker seems to think he'll find it annoying.
  • Artistic License – Biology:
    • Cloning Riker wouldn't make an exact copy of him, only a person with identical genetics.
    • Real clones don't look perfectly identical, just as "identical" twins don't actually look exactly alike. Only some of the background Mariposans are played by real twins who only look somewhat similar to each other. Others are played by the same actor.
    • Even with the two colonies combined, the population is too small to be genetically viable. The Bringloidi colony's numbers are explicitly stated to be 223 (plus two who are still in the womb). While the Mariposans are more numerous in terms of individuals, genetically speaking there are only five of them. Most estimates put the minimum starting numbers for a permanent population in the thousands, unless breeding is very strictly controlled. Presumably by agreeing to take in the Bringloidi refugees, the Mariposans would find Starfleet more disposed to help them with things like using their technology to help with preventing genetic deterioration and offering other settlers to further diversify the gene pool.
  • Bait-and-Switch: Picard is getting frustrated by the Bringloidi's antics. When it seems he's finally had enough, he turns away and steadies himself. But when he turns back around, he's actually laughing. Riker expresses surprise at his attitude, and Picard says that sometimes, you just have to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
  • Bilingual Bonus: The name of the colony, Bringloid, sounds like the Irish Gaelic word for dreams, "brionglóidí." Appropriate for a utopian space colony originally founded by an Irishman.
  • Blatant Lies: Worf claims that Klingons do not faint — shortly after doing just that.
  • Breather Episode: The stakes are pretty low in this episode, and most of it is dedicated to some very broad humor.
  • Broken Aesop:
    • Riker's insistence of being in control of his own genetics and his uncriticized destruction of his clone made without his consent are a poor attempt at being anti-cloning from a secular perspective. The thing is, cloning, in real life, doesn't work anywhere to close to how it's depicted, and even if a clone could be produced as an adult, genes are not the only factor in an individual's personality. So while his clones would no doubt look the same, they'd likely have their own take on things, keeping Riker "unique".
    • The scene was also meant to double up as a pro-abortion message, as confirmed by both the episode's writer and the showrunner. The main problem there is that the clone's existence would not harm Riker in any way remotely comparable to an unwanted pregnancy; Riker would not have to carry the clone inside his body for nine months, nor care for the clone after his birth. However, even with the necessary leaps in logic, Riker and Pulaski destroy their clones specifically because their genetic material was taken without their consent, which has the unintended effect of the episode seemingly only advocating abortion in the case of rape victims; something generally only opposed by the most hardline anti-abortion campaigners.
  • Call-Back: The SS Mariposa was a DY-500 class spaceship, similar to Khan's ship, the Botany Bay, from TOS's "Space Seed" and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Clone Degeneration: The Mariposans have this problem, as a civilization of clones made from previous generations of clones. Genetically speaking, there are only five of them.
  • Expendable Clone: How Riker and Pulaski view their clones, created without their consent.
  • Fiery Redhead: Brenna's hair is on the auburn side, but red enough to fit the Irish stereotype of the flame-haired, hard-nosed, sexually aggressive Irish lass.
  • Gargle Blaster: When Danilo turns his nose at the replicator's attempt at whisky, Worf gives him a mug of the potent Klingon beverage chech'tluth, which comes out of the replicator smoking. One sip of the drink leaves Danilo nearly speechless and wheezing for the rest of the scene.
  • Giving Up on Logic: While pondering what to do with the Bringloidi, Picard breaks down laughing, telling Riker, "Sometimes, Number One, you just have to... bow to the absurd.". Patrick Stewart was actually laughing, and he ad-libbed that line to preserve the take.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Picard and crew have their hands full dealing with the Bringloidi when O'Dell asks about the other colony. This leads the Enterprise to the Mariposans and their problems.
  • Large Ham: Danilo O'Dell is a character broad enough for vaudeville. Just watch him cross his eyes after a gulp of that Gargle Blaster.
  • Living Lie Detector: Geordi's VISOR suddenly allows him to view heart rates and breathing patterns, by which he can tell when people are lying to him. Perhaps in an attempt to cover up any plot holes this revelation might open up, he says it only works on humans. This power never comes up again.
  • Low Culture, High Tech: Granger is clearly concerned about how to get the Bringloidi to adapt to a 24th century society with a 19th century understanding of technology.
  • Mood Whiplash: In the middle of Breather Episode largely devoted to drunken Irish hijinks and bare midriffs, Riker performs what is, at best, a summary abortion, and at worst, outright murder.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: Geordi needs to figure out that Riker and Pulaski were kidnapped, so he suddenly gains the ability to detect lies through his VISOR. This ability never comes up again, likely because it would cut into Troi's abilities to sense deception.
  • Oireland: The Bringloidi descend from Earth Irish, and apparently only the stereotypes of 19th and 20th century Irish survived the years. Their appearance, language, and behavior fits the stereotypical model of the lusty, daffy, drunken and rowdy Irishman as well as the beautiful, Fiery Redhead Irishwoman.
  • Old-Timey Ankle Taboo: Brenna seduces Riker by showing him her ankles and asking him where she can wash her feet. It takes her a few times before he understands that it's a direct proposition.
  • Plot Hole: The Bringloidi have no advanced technology on their planet; Data states that there is no evidence of an advanced communications network, and Worf says there is no artificial power source operating on the planet. Despite this, they were somehow able, not only to learn that the Bringloid sun's flare activity was about to kill them, but to send a distress signal powerful — and fast — enough to be picked up in another star system and summon help in time. This is never explained.
  • Polyamory: The solution Pulanski proposes to get rid of the genetic diversity problems the locals are going to run into—specifically, each woman needs to have at least three children by at least three different husbands.
  • Self-Poisoning Gambit: In thanks for keeping Worf's sudden flare-up of Klingon version of measles a secret from the rest of the crew, he prepares a Klingon tea ceremony with her, but warns her not to actually drink the tea, as it's lethal to humans. Since she's been looking forward to participating in the ceremony, she doesn't settle for an incomplete experience and injects herself with the antidote beforehand so she can drink the tea without killing herself.
  • Shout-Out: The list of deep space launches between 2123 and 2190 seen on Picard's desktop monitor includes references to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, and Urusei Yatsura.
  • Space Amish: The Bringloidi are Space Rural Irish, having been founded on a philosophy of returning to an agrarian lifestyle. That said, the present-day Bringloidi seem to follow that philosophy only by default, since they have no antipathy toward advanced technology nor qualms about returning to a high-tech lifestyle.
  • Spit Shake: How the Bringloidi and the Mariposans seal their merger.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: While the inability to overcome "replicative fading" seems unlikely in the Trek world (the actual body does this millions of times a day), the need to explicitly disallow monogamous marriage and indeed require planned polygamous pairings makes sense. What makes it surprising is that this was outright heretical to the dominant social mores of the time this episode aired.
  • Take a Third Option: Picard faces the choice of allowing the Mariposans to keep their civilization viable for a dozen more generations via cloning or allow them to die out. He takes a third option by encouraging the Bringloidi to settle on Mariposa and re-institute sexual procreation, which will sustain Mariposa indefinitely.