Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S03E04 – Who Watches The Watchers

In the fourth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, the team stumbles upon a logistical disaster that requires them to re-think the Prime Directive. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

Trigger Warning: For consent and nonconsensual medical procedures.

I don’t normally like this trope because it often has disastrous results within a story. It’s often utilized in a way that pits the white characters as the “gods” of a non-white and primitive culture, and hopefully, you can see what that would be an utter nightmare to watch.

But there’s a distinct lack of condescension within the script for “Who Watches The Watchers,” namely since the Mintakans are written as a reasonable culture, one who values discovery and logic like the Vulcans do. And goddamn, that’s so important! That’s how stereotypes are subverted and how you avoid messy implications. Plus? It’s just better storytelling. It really is! This episode is so much better because it’s not about how simplistic or superstitious the Mintakans are. In fact, that’s an entire part of the plot: these people historically rejected superstitions.

The concern here is that an anthropological study of the Mintakans was destroyed by pure accident and, in the subsequent chaos, the Prime Directive was violated. There’s a clash, then, about what they should all do once two of the Mintakans have been exposed to their existence. Is a strict interpretation of the Prime Directive needed, or should they adapt it given the situation? Unsurprisingly, Picard takes a hardline stance on the matter. He always has, but this episode demonstrates that he’s wrong. Honestly! Initially, all he wanted to do was wipe Liko’s memory and drop him back on the planet, letting him live the rest of his life without any memory of what had happened. Not my favorite solution, obviously, and I think that it’s a drastic and disturbing way to avoid cultural contamination. Actually, that’s an understatement: it’s an awful way to solve a problem, one that negates a person’s consent and prioritizes the comfort of the Federation crew.

So I’m glad it didn’t work and that this crew had to come up with a new way to solve the crisis with the Mintakan people. I am also thrilled that I now have THE PICARD as part of my Star Trek vocabulary. Will I stop using it tomorrow? The day after that? Years into the future when I’ve finished watching the entirety of the Star Trek canon? Nay, my friends, I shall desire to refer to Jean-Luc Picard as THE PICARD until my bones turn to dust. It just rolls off the tongue so well! Plus, it’s very easy to imagine THE PICARD’s face rolling up in frustration and disgust. Try it!


You can totally see it, can’t you?

There’s just so much to love here aside from this, though. We’ve got Riker and Deanna Troi pulling off some beautiful cosplaying as Mintakans. We’ve got Nuria’s brilliance and sense of wonder, which is one of the most infectious things about “Who Watches The Watchers.” And holy shit, there’s THE PICARD’S furious refusal to appear to the Mintakans as a god, which is yet another detail here that makes this episode so unlike other stories that invoke this trope. THE PICARD goes out of his way to avoid being a god to these people because he knows that the ramifications of such an action will always be negative. He’s well aware that he’d be viewed in such a way that any attempt to guide them back to a normal path would come across as him imposing “a set of commandments” on the Mintakans. As much as this episode dismantles THE PICARD’S reliance on a strict interpretation of the Prime Directive, it doesn’t paint him as a fool. That specific line showed him to be incredibly wise, if you ask me.

But I’m most impressed with the long conclusion to the massive problem created by the hologram malfunction. In hindsight, I really feel like this specific episode demonstrated how chaotic the spread on information was within this society. Every time the Enterprise crew thought they’d wrapped all the loose ends, everything got WORSE. So I dig that in the end, honesty works. THE PICARD tells Nuria the truth, demonstrating that while he and his people seem extraordinary, they’re just at a different point in the timeline as the Mintakans. It doesn’t negate Nuria’s wonder or excitement, but gives her the context she needs to understand this entire experience. It’s in glaring contrast to the original plan – nonconsensual mindwipes – and it honestly works a million times better than that idea ever could have, given the situation. By the end of “Who Watches The Watchers,” the Mintakans have been inspired by the events in this episode instead of being traumatized by them. That’s a victory, as far as I’m concerned. It’s also a damn fine episode of this show.

The video for “Who Watches The Watchers” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

Please help book/finalize the Mark Does Stuff European Tour!
– The Mark Does Stuff Tour 2015 is now live and includes dates across the U.S., Canada, Europe, the U.K., and Ireland. Check the full list of events on my Tour Dates / Appearances page.
– My Master Schedule is updated for the near and distant future for most projects, so please check it often. My next Double Features for Mark Watches will be the remainder of The Legend of Korra, series 8 of Doctor Who, and Kings. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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