Breaking tradition, I’m following last week’s Rewatch with the episode immediately following it because I think “The High Ground” fills in some of the gaps left by “The Hunted.” I mentioned in my “Defector” review that Star Trek did not engage with the idea of non-state actors in a significant way until “The Maquis,” and I stand by that assertion because while “The High Ground” does involve so-called terrorists, the Enterprise crew remains outside the conflict. In fact, we don’t know anything about the genesis of the conflict between the Eastern Continent Rutian government and the Ansata separatists beyond that the Rutians denied the Ansata independence seventy years ago. As with “The Hunted,” the larger background conflict never gets addressed, and I have to admit, I find what isn’t explored just as interesting as what is. There’s never any discussion as to why the Ansata want independence or even whether the Eastern Continent Rutian government could have done something to prompt the Ansata’s demand. In fact, it’s most interesting that even the episode refers to the “Ansata” and the “Rutians” when members of the Ansata would be just as Rutian as their eastern-continent counterparts. I’m going to adopt that practice throughout the rest of this post in the interests of simplicity, but I do so fully aware of the strangeness of it.
As a brief synopsis, the Enterprise’s mission is to deliver medical supplies to the Rutian government in order to alleviate some of the suffering caused by bombing attacks by the Ansata separatists. While on the planet, the Ansata kidnap Dr. Crusher because they need a doctor. While the Ansata’s ability to deploy personnel without a transporter or any other, traceable means of movement stymies the Rutians and gives the Ansata a tactical edge, the technology they use to travel inter-dimensionally has the unfortunate side-effect of fatally warping its users’ DNA. The Ansata want Dr. Crusher to find a solution, and as an even larger issue, they intend to destroy the Enterprise in order to force the Federation to put pressure on the Rutian government to grant the Ansata’s demands. When their plan fails because LaForge defuses the device they applied to the ship’s warp core, the Ansata kidnap Captain Picard instead, fully intending to ransom him for the Federation’s guarantee that it will blockade the Rutian government until the Rutians comply. Wesley and Data discover how to track the Ansata and therefore where the Ansata base is. They turn the knowledge over to the Rutians who raid the base, kill the Ansata leader, and rescue the hostages. The Enterprise departs Rutia a little sickened by what they’ve all experienced.
This episode is one of the really great ones that does not offer a neat solution. While Finn and his Ansata are engaged in horrific actions, the Rutians tell Riker they bombed a schoolbus full of children, neither does the Rutian government emerge as a moral authority. Devos, the head of Rutian scrutiny, admits that her predecessor engaged in torture and possibly murder of suspected Ansata members and sympathizers. She also engages in mass arrests of suspected sympathizers as a response to Crusher’s kidnapping. Finally, Devos remorselessly murders Finn in order to avoid turning him in to a martyr, which is not only something for which Finn hoped but possibly an outcome of her actions anyway. Even more importantly, Finn forces Crusher to acknowledge that the Federation aid, because the provision of it is limited to the Rutian government, serves as tacit approval of the Rutian government. The “high ground” in the title refers to the moral high ground, which Crusher argues belongs to the Federation, but Finn refuses to accept her assertions. Over the course of her captivity, Crusher comes to question the Federation’s involvement in this rather sordid conflict, and frankly, it’s a valid concern.
The infamous Troubles in Northern Ireland are the actual inspiration for the episode, and unfortunately, I don’t think the episode does a great job addressing the complexity of that conflict. Certainly, attempting to explore an ethno-nationalist conflict in forty five minutes is a tall order, but I do think that reducing the issue to just one of sovereignty is not particularly sufficient. Still, the episode’s attempt to wrestle with these issues more equitably is notable.
Rating: Three cups of Earl Grey Tea and a saucer
Stray Thoughts from the Couch:
- Richard Cox renders Kyril Finn both believably violent and equally human, if you’ll forgive the term. Frankly, the episode’s success falls largely on his shoulders.
- We do get a glimpse of the incredible chemistry between Crusher and Picard on which the series never manages to capitalize. I love that there was an almost real fear of Crusher’s wrath should Picard have beamed her aboard without her consent, and I equally love that Picard acknowledges he should have done it anyway. Their scene in the Ansata headquarters is pretty fabulous.
- This is also an episode that manages to do something useful with Wesley Crusher as a character. I think we can all empathize with the moment when he grumbles because he should remember someone they covered extensively in class.