In the Star Trek TNG episode "Cause and Effect", there is the following dialogue right before the Enterprise collides with the Bozeman:

PICARD: Suggestions?

RIKER: Decompress Main Shuttle Bay. The explosive reaction may kick us out of the way.

DATA: Captain, I suggest we use the tractor beam to alter the other ship's trajectory.

PICARD: Mr. Worf, make it so.

WORF: Engaging tractor beam.

When Picard told Worf to "make it so", Worf had just heard two suggestions, so how did he know that Picard was referring to Data's suggestion? Data's suggestion was the most recent, but Picard never dismissed Riker's suggestion. In addition, Riker is the higher ranking officer, so shouldn't his suggestion carry more weight than Data's?

If I were Worf and Picard told me to "make it so", I would have said "Decompress main shuttle bay or engage the tractor beam?"


4 Answers 4


Protocol for military/science vessels. Worf has to give verbal confirmation of his interpretation of which command he intends to follow.

In this case, Worf has to verbally confirm that he is enganging tractor beam which gives Picard time to countermand him if his interpretation of the command is wrong.

Misinterpretation happens, so subordinates should verbally confirm commands as they understand it. That way it can be countermanded if interpreted wrong. So even if Worf got it wrong Picard has time to countermand it.

In case there is a perception that there is no more time for Picard to countermand: Kindly watch the very end of this episode (where the entire sequence is played out) there is a full 15 seconds after Worf confirms "engaging tractor beam" then data decides to decompress Main shuttle bay instead

So Worf did not know, (to be specific) he interpreted what he thought the captain wanted, and as part of protocol verbally confirmed what command he intended to follow, and Picard has a full 15 seconds to revoke if need be.

  • 1
    I'd also add that Worf and Picard both trust Data, so if it wouldn't have been the better idea, I'd consider it unlikely for Data to suggest it in the first place, which is something both of them would know. He didn't offer an alternative, he recommended something.
    – Mario
    Nov 30, 2014 at 11:09
  • @Mario nice catch! - data deals in numbers and probabilities. Data's recommendation "for tractor beam" would automatically mean "better odds." Probably why the writers made the tractor recommendation come from Data - Picard would regard it as "better odds"
    – tls
    Nov 30, 2014 at 11:37
  • @Mario very insightful, in situations where Picard (deems) he needs "odds" Data's recommendations get top pick
    – tls
    Nov 30, 2014 at 11:48

Presumably Worf's station (Security) is a reasonable one from which to engage a tractor beam — I'd imagine that the tractor beam controls use the same targeting systems as weapons and so on, and we frequently see tractor beams used in not-perfectly-friendly encounters — but not a reasonable one from which to decompress the main shuttle bay.

By contrast, I imagine that Data could readily execute either plan from Ops; had Picard said "Mr. Data" instead of "Mr. Worf", he might have needed to clarify.

  • The security station is often where shuttlecraft are monitored, and specifically unauthorized shuttlecraft launches. Since access going in and out of the Enterprise is a security matter, the security station should be more than able to open and close the shuttlebay doors.
    – Ellesedil
    Nov 29, 2014 at 8:33
  • @Ellesedil: Yes, definitely. It's clear from the show that there's a lot of overlap in what different stations can do; and it may even be that all tasks are possible from all stations. But they're clearly optimized for different purposes. (I can place a phone call from my computer while editing Wikipedia from my phone, but I'm not as likely to do that as the reverse.) And I don't think that Picard, had he wished to order the shuttle bay explosively-decompressed, would have selected Worf as the officer to give that order to.
    – ruakh
    Nov 29, 2014 at 8:55
  1. Even though you discount it, it makes perfect sense for Picard to be responding to the most recent suggestion. If you assume that by saying "make it so" he was ordering Riker's plan implemented, then you have to believe that he was simply ignoring Data. This is the kind of thing that we subconsciously analyze as we follow a conversation.

  2. Even if Worf had some doubts, he would have realized that time was critical and that it was better to take some action to save the ship rather than waste the little time before collision asking Picard for clarification.

  3. It makes for snappier TV. We have to see this scene 3 or 4 times; for it to show us anything more than the essentials of how the decision was made would be tedious.

  • I wish I could upvote this answer more. This is precisely how the scene is interpreted.
    – Ellesedil
    Dec 1, 2014 at 14:04

The original script makes it a little clearer. Picard doesn't simply sit impassively listening to the suggestions, there's some sort of visual reaction to the first one that indicates that he didn't favour it.

RIKER : "Decompress the main shuttlebay -- the explosive reaction might kick us out of the way."

Picard reacts -- sounds dangerous.

Data cuts in, his hands flying across the controls...

DATA : "Captain -- I recommend we use the tractor beam to alter the other ship's trajectory."

PICARD : "Mister Worf -- make it so."

Presumably Picard's reaction (which we can assume was either a grimace or a shake of the head) was simply edited out of the show.

In the absence of a specific confirmation, my personal feeling is that it was the fact that Picard paused after Riker's suggestion and waited for more options that told Worf not to put that particular plan into operation.

  • There's still a problem if they hadn't edited that out. Worf is directly behind Picard and wouldn't be able to see any reaction/expression on Picard's face. Nov 29, 2014 at 10:04
  • @pacoverflow - Which is probably why they edited it out.
    – Valorum
    Nov 29, 2014 at 10:10
  • There wasn't really any pause after Riker's suggestion before Data gave his suggestion. (It's at the 1:10 mark in this video.) Even if there was a long pause, that wouldn't mean that Picard couldn't think that Data's suggestion was worse. Nov 29, 2014 at 10:21

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