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The Trek Nation - Samaritan Snare

Samaritan Snare

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 25, 2008 - 10:43 PM GMT

See Also: 'Samaritan Snare' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: With the Enterprise en route to study a pulsar cluster, Picard is told by Pulaski that he cannot complete the mission; she is ordering him to a starbase for a physical that he has been resisting. While the captain accompanies Wesley Crusher, who needs to pass his Starfleet exams in order to be permitted to remain on the Enterprise, Riker takes the ship toward the pulsars but is diverted by a distress call. Responding, the Enterprise encounters the Pakleds, a seemingly hapless race who claim to be unable to repair their own ship. But when LaForge goes on an away mission to see if he can help, Troi warns Riker that the Pakleds are not what they seem. LaForge soon learns that they planned all along to abduct a crewmember who can build faster engines and bigger weapons for them. Riker sends a message that he plans to attack the Pakleds, leaving clues in the message suggesting that LaForge pretend to be a weapons expert so that he can disable the Pakleds' defenses in the name of improving it. The Enterprise fires a blast of glowing crimson gas and the frightened Pakleds watch helplessly as LaForge beams away. The ship then rushes to the starbase, where the captain is near death during an operation to replace the artificial heart he received after a bloody fight when he was near Wesley's age. Pulaski beams down and saves Picard's life. The two of them and Wesley, who has passed his exams, then return to the ship.


Analysis: In my family, we refer to "Samaritan Snare" as the "We Are Not Smart" episode - a line we have been known to quote, after doing something particularly stupid, in the whiny drawl of the Pakleds. I hadn't remembered this as a particularly enjoyable or good episode, just a tolerable one, and was surprised yet again at how much it impressed me, like so much of this second season. So much more seems to happen in each episode than in the later series, and although I'm sure part of this is the longer air time before commercials started forcing deeper cuts, it's also in large part the dual-storyline structures that allow every character to do something significant nearly every outing. If there's a flaw, it's that yet again Riker ends up in command during the pivotal moments; I do think Picard has an image problem at this point, but for me it's with the audience, not with his crew who in theory get to see a lot more of him during boring non-episodic travel time. But that doesn't detract from the episode's story.

At the start, Wesley is nervously preparing for exams and Picard is nervously facing down Pulaski, who gives him a mysterious medical order that doesn't make sense till later. We've already had one too many scenes of Picard declaring his distaste for children, so when the captain arrives crankily at the shuttle with his arms full of books to read on the trip, it appears that we may be in for more of the same. Instead Picard decides to confide in Wesley the secret that he wants to keep from the rest of the crew, namely that he has an artificial heart and it's malfunctioning. Either because he's a boy genius or because his mother's a physician, Wesley has heard of the procedure and manages to engage Picard on an adult level about how and why he came to have the heart. One of the joys of rewatching this series is that we've already seen the incident in flashback, in "Tapestry" when Q forces Picard to relive the battle with the Nausicaan that ended with the young Jean-Luc getting stabbed through the heart. Here we get Picard's version of events: his youthful arrogance, his taunting, his ongoing regret.

Wesley doesn't need a lecture on behavior, he's such a paragon that he's nearly a freak, but he sometimes does need a push where confidence is concerned and it's interesting to learn that Picard was once so overconfident that it nearly got him killed. And now it's come back to haunt him. Wesley, meanwhile, has real concerns about his Starfleet exams and gratefully takes the captain's advice, but he has a secret too: he knows where Picard is supposed to go, and has actually promised Dr. Pulaski that he will make certain the captain reports for his cardiac procedure. It's a nice bit of role reversal that Picard accepts graciously, even though he's still upset he's going to be denied a view of the pulsar cluster.

As it turns out, however, the ship never gets to its destination. Riker gets a distress call and does what Picard himself would have done: he goes to see if he can help. Riker's about to get a different kind of lesson in arrogance; believing the Pakleds to be as slow and stupid as they sound to his ears, he condescendingly offers to send LaForge to help repair their engines, even though precisely what the Pakleds say is "We look for things that make us go" - "things" in this case apparently meaning an engineer. Worf repeatedly voices his objections, but the humans laugh at his earnestness. It's only when Troi comes to the bridge to announce that she senses deception that Riker gets concerned. And by then it's too late; the Pakleds stall the engineer, shoot him and raise their shields. In return for LaForge's return, the Pakleds want all the data in the Enterprise computers.

One would think that the Enterprise crew could come up with a deception relatively quickly, sending false information constructed by Data or something like that, but perhaps they're afraid that the Pakleds will shoot LaForge again. Instead they concoct a ruse that, ironically, plays on the Pakleds' relatively trusting natures more than their limited intelligence. The Pakleds believe that Geordi is upset at his crewmates' abandonment; they believe that he is making a good-faith effort to work on a weapon for them, even though he is their hostage; and they believe his account of the Enterprise "crimson force field" without demanding further tests or suspecting a trick. They think they are not smart, but really, they're not sophisticated. They can't be all that stupid if they managed to steal and use technology from the Romulans.

The time pressure makes the ruse particularly enjoyable because when the "crimson force field" is deployed, the crew has already learned that Picard may be dying. Of course Pulaski's the one who ends up saving him, even though he hates the idea of her looking into his innards and knowing his weaknesses; when he wakes and asks what the hell she's doing there and she replies, "Saving your life," it's a lovely moment. His report of Wesley's triumph is nicely played, along with his announcement that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated. But I think my favorite scene is LaForge's attempt to convince the Pakleds that he feels abandoned by his friends at the same time he's trying to figure out what Riker and Data's cryptic message means, with everyone praising his expertise with weapons. The entire ruse depends on his familiarity with his crewmates, and that long-standing comfort tells him what to do.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.