I’ve always been a big fan of Star Trek The Next Generation and of Star Trek in general (science fiction in general, too!). I grew up watching Star Trek TNG and was always sensitive to the social commentary which underlies every part of the Star Trek franchise.
One episode comes to mind as perhaps the most memorable. Seen in today’s context, it is pretty revealing, and pretty scary too. The episode I have in mind is a two-parter: “Chain of Command” (sixth season).
“Captain Picard, Lt. Worf, and Dr. Crusher are assigned by Starfleet on a covert mission to destroy a Cardassian biological weapons installation on Celtris III, a Cardassian border world.”
Story short, they infiltrate the installation, find no signs of biological weapons, and discover that it was all a trap. Worf and Crusher escape and Picard is taken to Gul Madred, an interrogator who – in Part II – tortures his captive through various methods to try to gain knowledge of the Federation’s plans.
Before a resilient, uncooperative Picard, Gul Madred turns to a final tactic, which is to me, and many others, the most memorable part:
“…he shows his captive four bright lights, and demands that Picard answer that there are five, inflicting intense pain on Picard if he does not agree.”
In the end, Madred is informed that Picard must be returned, and a defiant Picard turns to Madred, shouting, “There are four lights!”
It is a dramatic scene which has since been inscribed in the collective unconscious. Considering the global geopolitical situation of the last decade, it is profoundly telling. In fact, it is said that Madred’s Four Lights test is a homage to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the proverbial Room 101 in which O’Brien tortures Winston Smith, forcing him to say he sees five fingers when O’Brien is really only holding up four of them.
“There are four lights!” has become a classic meme amongst Trekkers and Trekkies alike. And now, yes, you guessed it, THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT! Now when you come face-to-face with an uncooperative co-worker or a defiant teenager, you too can use the classic methods of Gul Madred! Soon when one needs an answer, it will become commonplace to touch the screen on your Android device and have Gul Madred do the dirty work for you!
Available in the Android App Store! Four Lights: Star Trek TNG