“Attached” is an episode that tries to say something grand about the nature of relationships but really makes cogent observations about communication. The Kes cannot become members of the Federation without resolving their differences with the Prytt; the planet’s societies’ refusal to communicate with each other serves as a parallel for their collective failure to meet the benchmarks for Federation membership. An implant forces Picard to reveal his feelings for Crusher, and even though she reciprocates, she refuses to tell him why she will not act on those feelings, resulting in a missed opportunity. “Attached” also demonstrates that a perfectly solid episode can absolutely fail the dismount, ruining must of the quality performance that went before.
Kesprytt III serves as home to two societies, the democratic Kes and the fervently xenophobic Prytt, and in light of a century-long stand-off, the Kes apply for Federation membership without the Prytt. Starfleet sends the Enterprise to evaluate this admittedly unusual membership request, and Dr. Crusher and Captain Picard have been tapped as the first group to beam to the planet to meet with the Kes. However, they never arrive at the Kes security station because the Prytt use a tractor beam to divert the transporter signal to beam Crusher and Picard to a prison in Prytt territory. The Prytt fit Crusher and Picard with implants that will “calibrate to their psi wave patterns,” as explained by the Prytt Security Minister when she informs them that she plans to interrogate them as to the Federation’s plans for a military alliance with the Kes.
A guard leaves a meal for Crusher and Picard, but Crusher discovers not food underneath the metal cover but rather her tricorder, which has been updated to include a map of the prison compound and instructions as to how to escape. She and Picard take advantage of these and flee. Back on the Enterprise, Riker has reached out to the Kes for their aid in locating Picard and Crusher. In response, the Kes send Ambassador Mauric and a few aides. Mauric explains to Riker that his people have already begun moving to extract Crusher and Picard, but a shocked Riker wants to know why the Kes aren’t pursuing diplomatic relations. Mauric casually admits that the Kes have no way to contact the Prytt. Riker prefers to contact the Prytt, and Mauric explains that he’ll have his people prepare for extraction. Mauric requests that he be given a safe space in which to work, and Riker tasks Worf with helping the Kes establish a temporary base of operations on the Enterprise.
In the subterranean tunnels beneath the compound, a massive gas explosion forces Crusher and Picard to deviate from the route programmed into her medical tricorder. Undaunted, they resolve to try and make it to Kes territory on their own, but a brief separation reveals that due to the implants, not only can Picard and Crusher hear each other’s thoughts but also must remain within a few yards of each other or experience debilitating nausea.
Mauric calls Riker into the set of guest quarters to which he has been assigned and now cluttered with various pieces of equipment necessary for “security.” Riker wants to know if Mauric has any information regarding his officers’ whereabouts, and Mauric accuses Riker of conspiring with the Prytt based solely on the fact that Picard and Crusher missed their rendezvous with the Kes operatives as programmed into the tricorder. Riker, of course, demurs any knowledge of such an effort, but Mauric insists, even threatening to leave the Enterprise. Riker replies that he should do so, after cleaning up the junk he has installed onboard.
Back on the planet, Crusher discovers that nothing in their environment is edible, and she and Picard segue into a discussion of Picard’s feelings for Crusher. He explains, after she senses his emotional attachment, that he has loved her for a very long time, even when she was married to his best friend. Then, when Jack Crusher died, he felt so much guilt for feeling the way he did that he could not act on those feelings, and now, some twenty years later, those feelings are gone. Crusher smiles and reaches for his hand, and tells him that they are friends now.
On the Enterprise, a frustrated Riker stages an intervention between the Kes and Prytt. When the Prytt refuse to communicate with him, he has Security Minister Lorin beamed aboard, and he drags Kes Ambassador Mauric into the Observation Lounge to meet with her. Both sides accuse the Federation of conspiring with the other, and Riker snaps. He informs Mauric that he will recommend the Kes not be granted membership and explains to Lorin that the Prytt’s failure to cooperate will result in a very, very invasive investigation of Prytt territory by the technologically superior Federation. When Picard and Crusher reach the Kes border, Crusher opens a small gap in the forcefield separating the two territories and shoves Picard through it just before the Prytt can take her prisoner. The Prytt soldiers contact Lorin who has them relay location coordinates to the Enterprise, and Riker leaves the Kes and Prytt representatives to their own devices to go meet Picard and Crusher in the transporter room.
Later that evening, Picard and Crusher have supper in Picard’s quarters, and Picard reaches out to Crusher, asking her what they should do now that they know about their mutual feelings. Crusher tells him they should perhaps be afraid of those feelings and leaves. The episode closes with Picard blowing out the candles he had lit for their meal.
From the opening, we know that Kesprytt will not be joining the Federation. As Picard explains to Crusher, no planet has been admitted without first solidifying its society into a single, planetary society because in order to join an interstellar organization such as the Federation, the planet must first overcome its own social and economic obstacles to become fully unified. Crusher is less convinced, but Picard’s point is valid and of course, ultimately borne out by the actions of both the Prytt and Kes. Robin Gammell and Lenore Kasdorf both sparkle as the overly paranoid representatives of a divided world. Riker spends most of the episode vacillating between utter confusion and real frustration with their nonsense.
What’s great about Mauric and Lorin is just how convinced they are that the Federation cares about their petty squabbles. At no point does the episode give us any reason to suspect that the Federation has a real interest in Kesprytt. There’s no mention of dilithium or any other resources that might be of use. No one ever mentions a drug being manufactured there that has use across the Federation. The Federation is literally there altruistically, and the Enterprise crew understand this fact. The Kes and Prytt do not, and their complete faith that the Federation cares about which of them owns a random island on their planet is hilarious. It’s a great counterpoint to the real drama of the episode, which is of course the question of what will happen between Picard and Crusher.
There has been incredible chemistry between McFadden and Stewart since “Encounter at Farpoint,” and the show never capitalized on it. I have heard Gates McFadden lament that the showrunners never pursued an on-screen romance between her character and Captain Picard while choosing to hint at one in the series finale. Certainly, the characters have been obviously pining for each other for six seasons and change now, though that pining seems to have been largely on Crusher’s part (see e.g., “The High Ground” and “Remember Me”). “Attached” flirts with that pining, using technology as a metaphor for facilitating emotional honesty. Picard’s awkward acknowledgment of his feelings over a camp fire is the episode’s emotional climax, so to have Crusher turn Picard down flat without giving any sort of explanation makes absolutely zero narrative sense. Even their costumes in that final scene come from the same color palette, creating a visual link between the two characters—and also with the terrible couch in Picard’s living room, though I suspect that was more accidental than implying a relationship with the furniture.
There are ways that the episode could have handled even a rejection. Crusher could have explained that she carries residual drama from her husband’s death and doesn’t want to pursue a relationship with someone else in Starfleet. Picard is, after all, fresh off of the failure of his relationship in “Lessons,” so she could have alluded to that debacle as a reason not to act on her feelings. However, in an episode about communication and particularly failed communication, to have her stay silent on that issue, is infuriating. “Attached” is a lovely episode ruined by its own ending.
Three Cups of Earl Grey Tea that get shattered in the last five minutes of the episode.
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Nicholas Sagan, son of Carl Sagan, wrote this episode. He would go on to write for Voyager and even become story editor for Voyager’s fifth season.
- I love that all Picard wants for breakfast is a croissant with coffee, and I love that they were both trying to go along with what the other wanted for breakfast. It’s such a great moment, and also, a great way to remind us just how much time these two spend together. Plus, it’s very, very French of him.
- I wish there had been time to explore further the distinction between mental flotsam and real thoughts. It’s a concept that’s deeply ingrained in criminal jurisprudence—you have to have a bad act (actus reus) coupled with the bad mind (mens rea) in order to meet the criteria for a crime. I like that it comes up here because I, too, have wondered how true telepaths handle the issue.