(it's entirely possible I'm just mis-interpreting the Admiral's comments, but I've never been able to figure it out, so I'm hoping someone can explain)

DOUGHERTY: We have the planet, they have the technology. A technology we can't duplicate. You know what that makes us? Partners.

PICARD: Our partners are nothing more than petty thugs.

DOUGHERTY: On Earth, petroleum once turned petty thugs into world leaders. Warp drive once transformed a bunch of Romulan thugs into an Empire. We can handle the Son'a, I'm not worried about them.

PICARD: Someone probably said the same thing about the Romulans a century ago.

I've watched this movie dozens of times, and every time I hear this, it sounds like Admiral Dougherty is making Picard's point for him. Dougherty's point is that the Son'a are not going to be a problem for the Federation, but he seems to be justifying the exact opposite view: how easily it is for a "group of thugs" to become a major power.

Why would Dougherty say those two lines? Wouldn't his argument be stronger if he used examples of thugs that didn't turn into major powers?

Personally, it seems like Dougherty's dialogue is just the setup for Picard's line "Someone probably said the same thing about the Romulans..." (despite being an entirely illogical statement from his perspective). But that would be absolutely awful writing, and I'm hoping it's not that simple.


I think you've fundamentally misunderstood Dougherty's argument.

He's saying that the oil barons were thugs... but then were transformed into global statesmen by their newfound responsibilities. The Romulans were little better than interstellar thugs ... but then became an important and influential Empire because of the growth in the size and scope of their holdings.

Dougherty is placing his hopes in the fact that their alliance with the Federation (and the Son'a's newfound power, importance and wealth) will help to temper their baser instincts. They won't, for example need to trade weapons if they're already as rich as Croesus.

Picard, of course, thinks that the Admiral is full of shit and straight up says that the Son'a can't be trusted, but that's mere guesswork on his part.

  • Awesome, I get it now, thanks. I figured it was something like that. I guess I always heard it the other way because the "petroleum-controllers" and the "Romulan empire" seemed like bad guys. But I get that he's TRYING to show that their "growth" changes them into something better. – LevenTrek Feb 10 '18 at 18:39

I would suggest that Dougherty seems to be making Picard's point for him because he is actually demonstrating that he understands Picard's misgivings, and effectively granting the premise that the Son'a are bad news. The counterargument has nothing to do with the present or future moral attributes of the Son'a, the counterargument is that the Son'a are a power that must be, and in Dougherty's estimation can be, reckoned with.

The Federation is presented as the good guys, but they still basically run on defensive realism just like we do in the 21st century: institutional survival is taken as a precondition for implementing the broader agenda of the institution (how can the Federation promote space communism if it's been vassalized by the Ferengi?) Therefore, pursuit of power to guarantee independence is job #1. If another civilization gets the upper hand in terms of resources or technology, it is assumed that they will pose an existential threat, at least from an institutional perspective.

So, basically, Dougherty's telling Picard that power is trumping values in this case, at least far enough to take the presumed-manageable risk of working with the Son'a. It's okay to work with the Son'a because he expects the Federation will be able to maintain the upper hand in the partnership. Picard's final remark about the Romulans is an expression of skepticism that the risk is manageable: after all, regular viewers know that situation spun totally out of control and spawned the greatest threat to the Federation in the Alpha Quadrant.

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