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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S4E15 "First Contact"

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Riker making "first contact".
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(No relation to the feature film Star Trek: First Contact)

Commander Riker is injured while coordinating with Federation scouts on a planet prior to a first-contact mission. Because of this, Captain Picard and Counselor Troi must beam down to the planet before they are fully ready to make contact with the aliens, the Malcorians. Things go sour quickly when Commander Riker is discovered to be an alien by the doctors at the medical facility he is being treated at, and this creates suspicion on the part of the Malcorians that the Enterprise is there to infiltrate their society and conquer them.

Captain Picard and the Malcorian leader, Chancellor Durken, attempt to salvage the situation, but eventually come to the conclusion that the Malcorians are not ready for first contact yet.


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Tropes in this episode include:

  • Absentee Actor: Geordi doesn't appear in this episode.
  • Alien Among Us: Riker and the other scouts from the Federation, to the Malcorians.
  • Alien Invasion: What many, including Minister of Security Krola, believe the crew of the Enterprise is there for.
  • Alien Non-Interference Clause: Picard explains the Prime Directive to Chancellor Durken. At this stage in a planet's progress, the Directive calls for the Federation to guide the newly interstellar species into galactic society, but still avoid "interfering with their natural development"—which as Durken adroitly points out, means not sharing any of the Federation's still far more advanced technology (transporters and replicators, for example) with the Malcorians.
  • Aliens Steal Cable: Picard explains to Yale that part of the First Contact procedure is to view some of the race's entertainment programs to get a sense of their culture. Yale is quite embarrassed at the idea, and he admits it provides an "incomplete" picture, which is why there are also missions like Riker's.
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  • Bittersweet Ending: They get Riker back and part amicably with Chancellor Durken. However, Mirasta Yale leaves with them, because the Malcorians, who had been on the verge of becoming an interstellar civilization, are now going to suspend their warp drive program indefinitely. Given the strict dividing line that the Prime Directive creates between pre-warp and warp-capable civilizations, the Enterprise crew's bungling has relegated the Malcorians to the status of galactic have-not's.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Humans to the Malcorians, to the point where Riker's heart is where they think his digestive tract should be.
  • Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Apparently there are some "differences" between the Malcorians and humans. Which Riker gets to demonstrate to a Malcorian nurse. Lends to some interesting Fridge Horror wondering what was going through Riker's head as he almost certainly knew what the alien had under her clothes, even though she didn't know what would be under his.
  • Continuity Nod: Picard offers Durken a toast to their new friendship using a bottle of the Picard family wine—probably the very same bottle his brother Robert gave him in "Family," advising him not to drink it alone.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?:
    • Krola's paranoia regarding an alien invasion and fomenting dissent is reminiscent of the Red Scare.
    • After Malcorians decline to join the Federation, they cover up the presence of aliens, similar to UFO conspiracy theories in the real world. Riker in the medical facility is also an apparent nod to the "alien autopsy" in Roswell.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi: Lanel essentially gives Riker an ultimatum: Have sex with her or be captured. While it's not a case of physical force, it's still essentially rape-by-coercion. Doubles as Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male as the episode doesn't really play it up as anything other than a humorous scenario, but it's unlikely that it would be taken the same way were the genders reversed.
  • Did They or Didn't They?: We never find out if Riker actually fulfilled Lanel's fantasy.
  • Epic Fail: Krola's attempt to frame Riker for killing him fails spectacularly once Crusher is able to get both of them into sickbay. As she quickly points out after stabilizing them, the angle of the phaser shot meant that it was self-inflicted, there was no way Riker could have pulled the trigger because he was near-death and, worst of all for the poor sap, he had no idea how phasers work and was hit with the stun setting.
  • First Contact: The only episode that shows how a normal, planned first contact procedure is intended to work.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: The subcutaneous communicator shown in "Who Watches the Watchers" would have been very useful for Riker to have on this kind of undercover mission.
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: In an amusing inversion, Riker is this to Lanel, who finds the idea of having sex with an alien hot.
  • Humanity Is Advanced: The Enterprise has technology far beyond that of the Malcorians.
  • Idiot Ball: The Federation has this with Riker. They haven't planned for this particular rather obvious possibility. None of the implants they put into Riker includes a tracking device, and Riker's story is hardly watertight—despite having other agents on the planet who could have been his emergency contacts.
  • In Medias Res: The episode starts with an injured alien being brought into a hospital, with the doctors perplexed by the bizarre biology, then we see that the alien is, in fact, Riker.
  • Left Hanging: Riker was caught up in a riot that required police intervention to break up. Why there was a riot was unimportant, it was just there to get Riker to the Hospital.
  • Nice, Mean, and In-Between:
    • Nice: Mirasta, who quickly and eagerly makes friends with Picard and the Enterprise crew.
    • Mean: Krola, The Paranoiac Commander Contrarian who is willing to martyr himself to end contact between his people and other species.
    • In-between: Durken, who is affable and reasonable, but not quite as trusting as Mirasta.
  • Phlebotinum Breakdown: The Enterprise's Everything Sensors are apparently unable to locate one of the only humans on a planet of alien humanoids. Nor can they find Riker's Starfleet-issue equipment, such as his phaser. If the sensors were up to their usual ability, the episode's plot would have been over with before it began.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Two members of Durken's cabinet were aware of the existence of an alien and didn't fill him in.
  • Properly Paranoid: Durken points out to Picard that many conquerors throughout history have come as friends. This and Krola's paranoia regarding an alien invasion suggests that the Malcorians have been conquered before, or that (as on Earth) various Malcorians have conquered each other.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Chancellor Durken. It's hinted that his moderate nature is actually considered a con rather than a pro by a sizable faction of the Malcorian people.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: That and the fact that the Malcorians do not have individual fingers and toes is the only outward physical difference between them and humans—though in a twist on the trope, it's the ability to turn a human into one of these that makes the planet so easy to infiltrate.
  • Sexual Extortion: Want to get out of hospital before the secret police lock you up forever, Riker? You'd better give this alien chick what she wants, then. We can play this for grins because it's Riker and a girl; odds are low that we'd be yucking it up if it were Troi or Crusher being made to accommodate a nerdy boy-alien's advances.
  • Stealth in Space: Implied. The Enterprise is shown to be in a fairly close orbit with the planet in question, and being over a half-kilometer long does not seem all that worried about being seen in orbit around a planet which is ready to try out warp technology—implying the planet has telescopes, amateur astronomers, satellites, etc.
  • Something Completely Different: A typical Trek story where the crew makes first contact with an alien race, the twist being that it's told from the perspective of the aliens themselves.
  • Thanatos Gambit: Krola tries to kill himself with Riker's phaser and pin it on Riker to show how threatening the humans are. Fails because he doesn't understand the "stun" setting, and makes no attempt to stop the badly weakened Riker from pressing a button on the phaser before he triggers it. The response from the other Malcorians to Krola's plan indicates that this sort of attempt at deception is as common in fiction on their world as it is on Earth.
  • Trapped in Another World: Riker, when he is injured.
  • The World Is Not Ready: Chancellor Durken decides that the Malcorians are not ready to go through with first contact. He promises to devote resources to education and cultural development so that they have a better shot of accepting alien visitors when they get around to restarting their warp drive program.

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