Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’- S05E16 – Ethics

In the sixteenth episode of the fifth season of The Next Generation, WHAT THE HELL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For suicide, assisted suicide, ableism, nonconsensual medical procedures.

I don’t think this is a bad episode, and it was entertaining on some level. I can’t deny that. But it’s hard to feel good about “Ethics” because it’s morally and philosophically a deeply challenging story. It was always going to be because it’s a super intense (and, at times, brutally unsubtle) exploration of assisted suicide and medical ethics. There’s no easy, comfortable way to do this, but I think the reason this episode feels jarring is mostly because the writers decide to tackle both topics within a single episode. I get why that happened because Worf’s story is so deeply tied within Dr. Russell’s tale. At the same time? I think each of these stories needed their own episode.

Part of that is because of pacing. It’s weird saying this because often, I like when an episode of this show wastes no time in getting ridiculous. But less than ten minutes into this episode, Worf is asking Riker to help him commit suicide, and then ten minutes later, Dr. Russell is experimenting on injured colonists and possibly killing them, and IT’S ALL A LOT TO HANDLE. Emotionally, this is one of the more taxing episodes of The Next Generation, and yet, the writers have to rush from one scene to another in order to fit everything in to a single story.

What result does that give us? An episode that’s strong in some respects, but one that feels disjointed because I don’t know what I’m supposed to be paying attention to. On top of that, I felt deeply uncomfortable about the implications of all of this, though that final scene between Dr. Crusher and Dr. Russell assuaged some of my concern. Namely, this is an episode about a person who believes that their disability is so dishonorable that the would rather kill themselves than live another moment. While Riker and Deanna Troi both do their part to give Worf a reason to keep living, I kept wondering why the hell we didn’t get a single scene between Worf and Geordi. Like the problem with “The Masterpiece Society,” I felt there was an obvious parallel and character insight that was missing from the story. The reason it’s so glaring is because this entire time, there’s a character on the Enterprise – and a major one at that! – who can speak to the experience of being disabled their entire life. But instead of giving voice to Geordi in a very topical way, we have a bunch of able-bodied people arguing with a disabled person about what they should feel or how they should react, and it just feels super messy. Seriously, how did they not utilize Geordi even once in this storyline???

I also thought it was distracting that Dr. Crusher found out that Dr. Russell completely violated medical ethics when experimenting on a colonist and then Picard backed Dr. Russell up. LIKE… THIS FUNDAMENTALLY DOES NOT MAKE SENSE COMING FROM PICARD’S CHARACTER. Here’s a man who respects life more than pretty much everything. Somehow, he has no problem with someone gambling with a person’s life by administering them an experimental drug that probably contributed to their death. That colonist died!!! And while Dr. Crusher hands out the appropriate verbal lashing at the conclusion of “Ethics,” I honestly don’t think this episode even remotely punishes this woman for what she’s done. SOMEONE DIED!!! WHY IS THIS NOT TREATED AS A BIGGER DEAL BY ANYONE ELSE???

I think that’s because there’s simply not enough room here to explore everything. Even Worf’s scenes with his son – many of which are suitably heartbreaking – feel rushed, as if the characters need to hit certain points before they can all dash to the next scene. Even Worf’s eventual resolution feels ridiculous because of this. We’re tricked into thinking he’s died, but then everything magically resolves itself because… Worf has two of everything? Which doesn’t even make a lick of sense because THE WHOLE POINT OF THIS EPISODE WAS THAT WORF ONLY HAD ONE SPINAL CORD, HOW CAN YOU INVOKE THAT NOW. In another show (hello, Friday Night Lights!) that could give this story space to grow, we might have seen an ending that allowed Worf to truly consider the ramifications of his disability. But everything is wrapped up far too conveniently for a story that was otherwise designed to be messy and uncomfortable. It doesn’t fit. You’ve got a story here that is deliberately upsetting, and the resolution is the most comfortable thing imaginable.

The video for “Ethics” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

– I will be at Borderlands Books, Book Riot Live, and Windycon this fall! 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 Kings, season 1 of Sense8, season 1 of Agent Carter, seasons 1 & 2 of The 100, Death Note, and Neon Genesis Evangelion. On Mark Reads, Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series will replace the Emelan books.
- Mark Does Stuff is on Facebook! I’ve got a community page up that I’m running. Guaranteed shenanigans!

About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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