For rules to stay relevant – even pillars such as the Prime Directive – they must regularly be challenged and re-evaluated. Many of us love Star Trek for the moral ambiguity, the conundrums with no clearly right answer, and the differing perspectives offered on issues old and new. In TNG, Doctor Crusher often supplies the counter-perspective; whether she’s advocating for an individual, an entire planet, or for herself, she reminds us of the vital notion that there is always another side to the story.
One of Crusher’s early opportunities for advocacy is “Symbiosis.” As the Brekkians continue exploiting the drug-addicted Ornarans, Captain Picard defends the Prime Directive; she shoots back with, “It’s hard to be philosophical when faced with suffering.” While the episode ends with her being prevented from helping the sick population directly, she nonetheless affected the final compromise by questioning Picard and helping him see both sides.
We see her question the Prime Directive again when she advocates for Kamala in “The Perfect Mate.” An extraordinarily problematic episode about sexual agency, human trafficking, and antiquated gender roles, it’s almost worth it for the scene where Crusher directly calls out all of these things. Instead of her usual professional and respectful disagreement with Picard, this scene has her excitedly and passionately calling a spade a spade.
“How can you simply deliver her, like a courier, into a life of virtual prostitution?…She has been conditioned since the day she was born to believe it’s perfectly acceptable to exist only to please men.”
And not to leave the conversation without a fantastic barb, she refers to Ambassador Briam as, “that slave trader, who calls himself an ambassador.” Unfortunately she does not succeed in affecting change here as she did in “Symbiosis,” though it’s refreshing to hear such direct language used to call out a wrong while everyone else is apathetically shrugging their shoulders.
Continuing on to one of TNG’s finest hours, Crusher is the first to advocate for Hugh in “I Borg.” She helped found the great legacy of Trek doctors uttering some variation of the phrase “they’re still my patient” while defending the decision to treat an injured enemy, and this is one of many episodes where we see that sentiment in action.
While Picard is planning to turn Hugh into a weapon, Crusher immediately affirms, “When I look at my patient I don’t see a collective consciousness; I don’t see a hive. I see a living, breathing boy who has been hurt and needs our help.”
She helps bring Geordi around to Hugh’s humanity, who in turn shows it to Guinan, who in turn brings it to Picard. Instead of Hugh infecting the Borg with destruction, Crusher infects the Enterprise-D crew with reason and compassion.
Digging a bit deeper, we see an officer who kept her head longer than most others during “The Naked Now” and “Night Terrors,” two situations where everyone around her was losing their mental faculties. Her ability to keep her cool under pressure came in quite handy during the many times she captained the ship, as well as during “Remember Me,” another of TNG’s finest hours.
Since she’s human and we’re all fallible, she’s erred and taken it too far, such as when she performed the autopsy in “Suspicions.” Yes, this was an egregious mistake, handled poorly by everyone. But it does show us another side of the issue. Even when an action has the best of intention and is rooted in our ability to say “something is not right here,” we can all put our blinders on and step out of character, failing to see our impact until it’s too late.
I was happy to see Beverly Crusher as fallible like any of us, as it makes her triumphs all the more inspiring. She shows us many ways to question authority, even within her close friendship with Picard. Full of mutual respect, this friendship provides a wonderful arena for the discussion of philosophy and Crusher is never afraid to stand by what she believes (“If you’d give reasonable orders, I’d obey.”).
So whether it’s challenging the crew or calling out slave traders who call themselves ambassadors, Crusher excels at raising the arguments needed to keep society’s rules relevant, even pillars such as the Prime Directive.