(written from a Production point of view)
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?
The USS Enterprise-D is investigating unusual solar flares and magnetic activity in the Delos system when they 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.
The Enterprise reaches the freighter and Picard tries to discern the problem from the freighter's captain, but he is unable to describe it. Data determines the problem for him by connecting to his computer – their electromagnetic coil is damaged. 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 for a long time. 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.
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.
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 before the freighter is incinerated re-entering the planet's atmosphere.
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 make, 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.
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."
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 furiously informs Picard that the "medicine" is really an addictive narcotic, and the "plague" which the Ornarans fear so much is just the symptoms of withdrawal they suffer if deprived of the drug for too long.
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. 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.
Meanwhile, 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.
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 situation, but Margan stops him and stops 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.
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 realizes that they have been purposely exploiting the Ornarans, and that they need to give the medicine now to keep them desiring more of the drug. Picard tells them that he knows, and that he cannot tell the Ornarans without violating the Prime Directive, much to Crusher's visible frustration.
In the cargo bay, the Ornarans prepare to leave with the coils they need for 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 begin to painfully withdraw from it. Additionally, they will believe they are 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 Ornaran system and the Enterprise-D heads for the Opperline system, a place never before explored.
"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
"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
- Final draft script: 16 February 1988
- Revised final draft script, and two pages of research notes from de Forest Research: 17 February 1988 
- One-page memo of script notes from Gene Roddenberry: 18 February 1988
- A filming day: 22 February 1988 (Energized! Taking The Next Generation to the Next Level, TNG Season 1 Blu-ray special features)
- Premiere airdate: 18 April 1988
Cast and characters
- This marks Denise Crosby's last appearance as a full cast member. Although Natasha Yar appears in the following episode, "Skin of Evil", this episode was filmed following that. In the scene with Crusher and Picard leaving the cargo bay at the end of the episode, Crosby can be seen waving goodbye in the extreme background. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, p. 56)
- Gates McFadden talked about this episode, as a socially relevant TNG installment, in the documentary 50 Years of Star Trek.
- Merritt Butrick and Judson Scott, who had appeared in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (as David Marcus and Joachim respectively), are in this episode as well. However, this is Butrick's final Star Trek role before his death from AIDS in 1989. Judson Scott later appeared in VOY: "Message in a Bottle" as the Romulan Commander Rekar.
- Richard Lineback (Romas) later appeared as Selin Peers in DS9: "Dax" and as Kessick in ENT: "The Xindi".
- Margan actor Kenneth Tigar later played Dammar in VOY: "Displaced".
Special and visual effects
- 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)
- 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 Enterprise intercepted an alien transporter beam and redirected it to their transporter pad in "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".
- "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.
- 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
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 11, catalog number VHR 2440, 8 April 1991
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, Paramount Home Entertainment): Volume 1.7, catalog number VHR 4648, 7 September 1998
- As part of the TNG Season 1 DVD collection
- As part of the TNG Season 1 Blu-ray collection
Links and references
- LeVar Burton as Lt. Geordi La Forge
- Denise Crosby as Lt. Tasha Yar
- Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf
- Gates McFadden as Doctor Beverly Crusher
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher
- James G. Becker as Youngblood
- Susan Duchow as operations division officer
- David Eum as Wright
- Shana Ann Golden as command division officer
- Dan Kelpine as operations division officer
- Tim McCormack as Bennett
- Lorine Mendell as Diana Giddings
- Burt Nacke as operations division technician
- Kenneth Tigar as Margan
- Unknown performers as
- Command division officer
- Female command division officer
- Female USS Enterprise-D computer voice
- Female engineer (voice)
- Female operations division officer
- Female Vulcan engineer
- Male operations division officer
- Operations division officer
- Operations division officer
- Seven operations division crewmembers
- Three command division crewmembers
- Transporter ensign
- Two civilians
- Two science division crewmembers
- James G. Becker – stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Darrell Burris – stand-in for LeVar Burton
- Dexter Clay – stand-in for Michael Dorn
- Jeffrey Deacon – stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- Susan Duchow – stand-in for Denise Crosby
- Nora Leonhardt – stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Tim McCormack – stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Lorine Mendell – stand-in for Gates McFadden
- Guy Vardaman – stand-in for Wil Wheaton
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- "Symbiosis" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Symbiosis" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Symbiosis" at Wikipedia
- "Symbiosis" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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