BOOBY TRAP


DATA: “By my calculations, we no longer have sufficient momentum to clear the debris field”.
PICARD: (sarcastic sotto voce): “Thank you, Mr. Data”.
-Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Booby Trap”

In this episode, the Enterprise encounters a thousand year-old vessel built by a race called the Promellians (any similarity in spelling to “Prometheus” is purely a coincidence). The vessel, the jewel of the Promellian fleet, is found admist a giant debris field. The Promellians, a thousand years ago, were at war with the peoples of another planet. For reasons the script does not explain, the other planet decided to gain the upper, and final, hand, in a most ingenious manner. It planted, for lack of a more technobabbly explanation, energy harnesses into the debris – select pieces of it. Thus, when a ship entered the debris field, it would, unknowingly approach a piece of debris, and the energy the ship consumed through flying would be absorbed by the harnesses, which in turn would act like a magnet, repulsing the ship and thus preventing it from escaping the debris field.

What is perceived to be the CGI (double meaning here) “solution” to this “booby trap” is discussed is hit upon by the crew of the Enterprise D, which becomes ensnared in the debris field as it is exploring the Promellian vessel: try to use as much of the ship’s power to make the ship go as fast as possible, so that the ship can overpower the debris field and escape it. The crew, after it attempts this, learns that “powering up” causes it to lose energy as the debris field saps that energy. Eventually, the energy loss will become sufficiently critical such that the shields will go offline and the crew will then be exposed to lethal radiation, followed by death (the latter of which, as someone once said, is worse, because your options decrease).

Finally, Geordi figures out a way out of a seemingly insoluble paradox (the paradox being that if the ship stays put, it stays trapped; if it tries to escape as it would try to escape a fleeing vessel – which it often did, considering Captain Picard is of French ancesrty – then it would become trapped): shut down literally every system on the computer and pilot the ship manually. In this way, the harnesses will not be triggered, and the minimal (but no more) amount of momentum sufficient to overcome inertia will result in escape. Picard manually pilots the ship (and as he does so, makes the above wonderfully curt remark to Data) as described, and the ship escapes.

Lesson? Avoid necrophilia? I suppose so. The real lesson, which, in the best tradition of Star Trek, is given in a way that is implied if you’re looking for it, rather than stated, is that, as Arthur Conan Doyle once said, “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”. And the improbable truth is sometimes the simple, elegant solution you’d dismiss out of hand the quickest – that is, if it had ever even crossed your mind. Don’t become so embroiled in a mental or physical trap by pushing when pushing clearly no longer works. Look for new solutions and new approaches. Find them. Force them. As one of the characters did not say simply because the episode spoke the words for him, “Try it. You’ve got nothing to lose”.


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