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After the Enterprise-D rescues a freighter crew and the ship's important cargo, Captain Picard faces a difficult dilemma: uphold the Prime Directive, or save an entire civilization from exploitation?



Sanction tractored by Enterprise-D, remastered

The Enterprise-D attempts to tractor the Sanction

The USS Enterprise-D is investigating unusual solar flares and magnetic activity in the Delos system. While taking a look at the enormous solar eruptions, the crew receive a distress signal from the Ornaran freighter Sanction orbiting the fourth planet of the system. The bridge crew, Captain Picard and Commander Riker in particular, are perplexed by the apparent incompetence of the freighter's crew.

Act One[]

The Enterprise reaches the freighter and Picard tries to discern the problem from the freighter's captain, but he is unable to describe it without being vague. Data determines the problem for him by connecting to his computer – their electromagnetic coil is misaligned. Picard offers to beam a new one over to them, but the captain admits he doesn't know how to install it, despite being captain of the freighter for over seven years. An attempt to pull the Sanction to safety with the tractor beam also proves fruitless, as the electromagnetic radiation from the system's sun makes a lock-on impossible.

Riker and Picard perplexed

Riker and Picard, while speaking to T'Jon over the com

Worf warns the rest of the bridge crew that the Sanction is entering the planet's atmosphere, and will not last long. Instead of risking beaming their crew over, due to the solar interference, Yar attempts to beam them to the Enterprise by interconnecting their transporter system with theirs, though quickly gets irritated by the freighter crew's lackadaisical attitude and inability to follow simple instructions. On the first attempt, the cargo of the freighter is beamed over instead.

Act Two[]

Riker and Yar momentarily stare at the cargo in disbelief, wondering why the crew would value it over their own lives. With little time to lose, Yar clears the cargo to cargo bay 11 and attempts to beam again. She is able to beam four onto the Enterprise-D in the nick of time. Two are left behind on the Sanction, however, and Yar does not have enough time to make another attempt to lock on to their life signs before the freighter is incinerated re-entering the planet's atmosphere.

Naturally electric

Fighting with electricity

When the crewmembers, two Ornarans and two Brekkians, arrive, they are very anxious to see the cargo. Even though two of those aboard the freighter have been lost, the primary concern of all four is the cargo. The Ornarans, named T'Jon and Romas, claim that they have paid for the cargo, therefore it belongs to them. The Brekkians, Sobi and Langor, argue that since the payment was lost on the destroyed freighter, the cargo still belongs to them. Sobi and T'Jon begin to fight, using their natural electric charges, until Yar breaks it up by shooting at them with a phaser set on stun.

The four are taken to the observation lounge, where T'Jon and Romas reveal that the cargo is felicium, medicine that their planet needs to combat a plague on their planet. Furthermore, Langor and Sobi note that the medicine is very expensive to cultivate and harvest, and they cannot give the medicine when payment has not been delivered. Then, T'Jon reveals that Romas and himself are carrying the plague, and Captain Picard now realizes that the "plague" they have may infect the entire ship. He puts the ship on med alert and calls Doctor Beverly Crusher to report to the observation lounge immediately.

Act Three[]

As the Ornarans suffer from their lack of medicine in sickbay, the Brekkians continue to refuse them the cargo. Doctor Crusher reveals that she cannot find a cause of the signs of infection. The Ornarans entreat Picard to give them the felicium, and Picard offers to talk to the Brekkians, asking them to give enough for the Ornarans' needs. The Brekkians agree to "two doses for immediate use."


Drugs, but not medicine

In the cargo bay, Langor removes the casing and measures out two doses. It is revealed that Brekkian society is entirely dependent on the trade of felicium with the Ornarans; they have no other industry, nor do they need it. The Ornarans provide all the goods they need in return. They have focused on increasing the potency of the felicium since there is no cure.

Dr. Crusher goes to sickbay and observes T'Jon administer the drug to Romas and then himself, both instantly feeling better, free of any sickness and both exhibiting the same euphoric daze. Crusher keeps her silence, but clearly does not like what she sees. Entering Picard's ready room, Crusher furiously informs the captain that the "medicine" is really a narcotic, which means there is no "plague", and T'Jon, Romas, and the entire population of their planet, are all drug addicts - the illness they believe afflicts them is simply the symptoms of withdrawal if deprived of the drug for too long.

Act Four[]

Data and Riker research the history of the drug which confirms the contraction of the Ornaran plague, though there is not much detail. Dr. Crusher interjects, convinced that the plague has already been cured, but now the Ornarans have become dependent on the addictive nature of the medicine. To Crusher's frustration, though, Picard says he cannot intervene in their societies, despite Crusher's belief she can develop a non-addictive version of the drug that would help wean the Ornarans of their dependency. Then, the Enterprise-D receives a signal from Ornara. Someone named Margan wants to contact T'Jon, so Picard, Riker and Crusher go to the guest quarters, as Picard does not want to grant access to the bridge to T'Jon and Romas.

Meanwhile, at the science station at the back of the bridge, Wesley Crusher wonders aloud how – and why – people let themselves become addicted to drugs. Initially, the inquiry is directed at Data. However, Yar jumps in and answers for him: drugs have their draw for people in desperate circumstances. Alluding to her own possible use of drugs on Turkana IV, where she was born and grew up an orphan, Tasha explains that drugs often seem to solve problems… which is enough for the common addict, even though nothing has improved in the real sense. When Wesley fails to comprehend all of this, Tasha assures him it's just as well.

Paralyzed by electrocution

Riker held hostage by T'Jon

In the guest quarters for T'Jon and Romas, Margan desperately pleads that the Ornarans on the Enterprise-D must get the felicium to Ornara. T'Jon attempts to explain the current situation, but Margan stops him and terminates the transmission. T'Jon, frustrated, then attacks Riker and demands that the Enterprise-D send the felicium to the planet. Picard does not believe he will kill, and refuses. T'Jon releases Riker.

Act Five[]

Langor comes to the Ornarans' guest quarters and asks to talk to Picard. He and Crusher go to the Brekkians' quarters where they offer to "give" the drug to the Ornarans. Picard and Crusher swiftly realize that the Brekkians know full well that there is no longer any plague, because it once afflicted their planet, and they managed to cure it using the felicium, but realized its addictive nature in time to avoid becoming dependent on it. But they have purposely kept this from the Ornarans, exploiting them by keeping them desiring it indefinitely. The last thing Sobi and Langor want is for the Ornarans to break the cycle, which they will do if deprived of the drug any longer. But Picard admits that the Prime Directive prevents him from telling T'Jon and Romas the truth, and requires him to let the Brekkians give them the drug, much to Crusher's visible frustration.

In the cargo bay, the Ornarans prepare to leave with the coils they need to repair their ships. Picard arrives with the Brekkians. He informs them they can leave with the medicine, however, he refuses to repair the Ornarans' freighters, again citing the Prime Directive of non-interference for both decisions. Without the ability to repair their ships, the Ornarans will therefore not be able to obtain the drug anymore and will finally break the cycle of addiction, but not before suffering severe withdrawal pains and believing themselves to be dying. After beaming Sobi, Langor, T'Jon and Romas down to Ornara with their cargo, Picard orders helmsman La Forge to put some distance from the Delos system and the Enterprise-D heads for the Opperline system, a place never before explored.

Memorable quotes[]

"Are we losing our professional detachment, Doctor?"

- Picard to Doctor Crusher

"… Beverly, the Prime Directive is not just a set of rules; it is a philosophy… and a very correct one. History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous."
"It's hard to be philosophical when faced with suffering."
"Believe me Beverly, there was only one decision."
"I just hope it was the right one."
"And we may never know."

- Picard and Crusher

"Freighter, we're going to lock on the tractor beam and pull you out of orbit."
"Hey, that… that's great."

- Picard and T'Jon, as the Sanction begins to burn up in the atmosphere

"Captain, my console seems to be overloading."

- Wesley Crusher

"Drugs… make you feel good."

- Tasha Yar, to Wesley Crusher

"Behave yourselves, gentlemen."

- Tasha Yar, to T'Jon and Sobi after they attack each other

"You're feeling better?"
"Yes, thank you. I'm fine now."

- Crusher, when T'Jon and Romas inject themselves with felicium after which their "symptoms" disappear

"I guess I don't understand."
"Wesley, I hope you never do."

- Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher, discussing drug dependency

"Destination, sir?"
"I don't care. Let's just get some distance between us and this system."
"Course 970, Mark 318, Speed: Warp Three."
"Where will that take us, Mr. La Forge?"
"The Opperline system."
"An interesting choice. Why?"
"Curiosity. We've never been there."

- La Forge, Picard, and Riker

"Wesley, on my home world, there was so much poverty and violence that for some people, the only escape was through drugs."
"How can a chemical substance provide an escape?"
"It doesn't. But it makes you think it does."

- Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher, discussing drug addiction

"Captain, we are beaming over a replacement coil."
"Great… and that'll fix us up?"
"Yes, once it's installed."
"Right." (pause) "And how do we do that?"

- Picard and T'Jon

"What is the matter with these people?"

- Picard

"Captain, how long have you been in command of this freighter?"
"Seven years, with 26 trips to Brekka."
"And you don't know how to align a controller coil?"
"It's never come up."

- Picard, to T'Jon

"Captain, I hope you realize what you've done to us."
"Of that you can be sure. Good luck."

- T'Jon, after Picard has refused to repair the Onarans' freighters

Background information[]

Production history[]

Cast and characters[]

Denise Crosby waves goodbye

Crosby seen waving "goodbye"

Special and visual effects[]

Symbiosis camera report

A camera report for "Symbiosis"

  • The visual effect of the fluctuating force field around the Enterprise-D while near the star Delos was created by using a bowling ball which was trickled with salt. The salt bumping off the bowling ball was used and squeezed during the digital compostion and turned upside down to give this effect. ("The Making of a Legend", TNG Season 1 DVD special feature)
  • The felicium grains shown in the episode were actually red lentils.


  • This is the first time that we see a system interlock used with an alien transporter system showing that it is possible to interlock two different types of transporter beams. The only previous time that we see a Federation transporter working in conjunction with an alien beam is when the USS Enterprise intercepted an alien transporter beam and redirected it to their transporter pad in TOS: "Assignment: Earth".
  • This is one of only five TNG episodes (and the only season one episode) that doesn't have a stardate. The others are "First Contact", "Tapestry", "Liaisons", and "Sub Rosa".
  • The planet was revisited 17 years later by the USS Cerritos as part of Project Swing By in the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Trusted Sources". Upon learning of Picard's actions, Captain Carol Freeman strongly disapproved and her concerns were justified that while the planet was grateful for Picard freeing them from their exploitation, the fact that he subjected them to a mass arduous withdrawal period without any warning, preparation, or any Federation assistance permanently cooled relations with the interplanetary organization.


  • "Symbiosis" featured a reviled 'just say no' discussion on drugs between Wesley and Tasha. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, page 166)
  • Behind-the-scenes footage and bloopers from this episode appeared on a 1988 episode of the LeVar Burton-hosted show Reading Rainbow, "The Bionic Bunny Show." The episode presents behind-the-scenes footage including the makeup process and the filming and editing of a brief sequence on the bridge beginning with La Forge's statement "Solar flares are increasing in magnitude, Captain," featuring editing at The Post Group with Robert Legato, Fred Raimondi and Rich Thorne. This marked the first time outtakes from TNG were officially circulated.
  • A mission report for this episode by Patrick Daniel O'Neill was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 6, p. 58–60.
  • Director Win Phelps remembers, "There were many continuity problems. Down on the set, we began to notice discrepancies. Some sequences just didn't really work. The actors would say "My motivation is totally wrong here", because a previous scene would be contradictory. They were trying to act scenes that they had never read before, or where substantially different from what they had read. That didn't happen every scene, but it did happen." About Denise Crosby's final scene he recalls, "As Patrick and Gates leave the hold where the drugs were kept, we had Denise wave goodbye to the camera. She was about 40 yards in the background, where nobody would notice. It was Denise's last scene on her last day." (The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine issue 19, pp. 28-29)

Video and DVD releases[]

Links and references[]


Also starring[]

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Uncredited co-stars[]



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External links[]

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