In Where Silence Has Lease, Nagilum threatens to kill one third of the crew. As a response Picard decided to start the self-destruct. The loss of a third of the crew falls near the acceptable tactical losses. Picard even agreed to such in a conversation with Worf. The only other option is for him to blow up the ship, which would be far outside acceptable losses.

Given that StarFleet officers are trained to make life and death decisions correctly, why did he order the ship destroyed?


Picard ordered the ship to be destroyed in the way that a POW may commit suicide to avoid being tortured by the guards; Nagilum was going to kill one-third of the crew in various painful ways, which would definitely qualify as torture. By killing his whole crew in a relatively quick explosion, Picard avoided having one-third of his crew suffer painful deaths. This may have been worth the extra lives to him, in the same way that a doctor might euthanise a patient. It's also a fairly standard Star Trek response to treat any form of captivity with contempt; it goes as far back as The Cage, where Captain Pike preferred to be tortured psychically by the Talosians than to ever give in to their desires, including threatening a suicide pact with the three women on the planet with him if they weren't released.

This may also have been done as a way to show Nagilum, an immortal being, exactly how much humans valued life, which was the reason for its experiments. While this is not stated in the episode, Picard's decision may also have been a nod to Kirk's actions in The Corbomite Manoeuvre; a bluff to ensure the survival of his whole crew.

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    He let it run down to the wire. I don't think it was a bluff... – Valorum Nov 12 '14 at 8:04
  • @Richard: It's been a while since I've seen it. But yeah, I wouldn't blame him if he went through with it. I would. – James Sheridan Nov 12 '14 at 8:08
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    There's also a longer game to consider. Picard regains control of the situation, Nagilum learns that starfeet ships do not make good research subjects, Picard - potentially - ensures the safety of future ships and crews. – Binary Worrier Nov 12 '14 at 13:12
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    This is the first time I have seen this silly episode explained satisfactorily in the almost 30 years since it came out. – Tritium21 Nov 12 '14 at 16:41

Paramount's official startrek.com website summarises Picard's decision-making process:

Unwilling to stand by and watch his crew being slaughtered, Picard makes one of the most difficult decisions of his career. With Riker's support, Picard initiates the auto-destruct system of the ship — within 20 minutes, the Enterprise and her crew will be destroyed.

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    That doesn't really answer the question. Not your fault; startrek.com obviously finds that episode as silly as I do. – James Sheridan Nov 12 '14 at 8:26
  • @jamessheridan - I disagree. It addresses the question perfectly, albeit in a very one -dimensional way – Valorum Nov 12 '14 at 8:28
  • It explains how he made the decision, but not really why. It makes him seem like a crybaby, blowing up the ship because he just can't stand to see bad things happen, which is entirely different to the actual scenario presented in the episode. – James Sheridan Nov 12 '14 at 8:31
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    @tritium21 - if you want (educated) guesswork you can vote for jamessheridan's answer. – Valorum Nov 12 '14 at 17:11
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    @Richard I accepted their answer. – Tritium21 Nov 12 '14 at 17:11

First there is no guarantee that Nagilum would in fact release the ship after studying mortality with a third of the crew, second it is within Picard's characterization to not be toyed with if he can help it (Q constantly annoys him but he rarely goes along willingly with it) and finally if Picard allowed Nagilum to kill one third of his crew there is no guarantee that Nagilum would not continue his study with another crew or many other crews of many other species Picard is willing to sacrifice his vessel and the lives of his crew to potentially stop this from occurring.

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    Your third point has no basis in the episode. Your second point does not fit with established characterizations of the series. Your first point does not hold, as picard chose to kill the entire crew himself, eliminating the chance of survivors that may or may not have existed after the experiment. – Tritium21 Nov 12 '14 at 6:37

One could infer that Nagilum plans to kill the crew in a variety of ways, presumably in some sort of controlled experimentation. Self-destruction would take away Nagilum's experimental control and the potential diversity of experimentation, denying him opportunity for at least some of the knowledge he was seeking. It might be argued that this gave Nagilum the greater incentive to let the ship go and satisfy his search for knowledge in other ways.

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