After Storyteller, I was really glad to watch Progess. It's a more nuanced plot that drives character development, particularly that of Major Kira, while also revealing more about how the Bajoran government works. Not really much in the way of story arc development, but it does speak to social changes.
Progress is always seen as some shining ideal, the great leap forward. New advances in engineering allow us to build great public works, such as hydroelectric dams, or as in this episode, geothermal devices to harness power from the molten core of one of Bajor's moons, to generate power for large groups of people. With every dam, large lakes are formed, displacing people and animals upstream. In Progress, Bajoran refugees live on the moon's surface, and must be displaced. Because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, and all that jazz. Even if it means burning down their homes first.
If there's something we've learned about Kira so far is that she's proud and stubborn. This episode really focuses on her development, gives her pride a good knock, and tests her stubbornness against those of another: Mullibok. Better yet, it tests her values, showing both her compassion for other Bajorans, as well as her dedication towards the future.
Like Battle Lines, where Kira encountered underground warriors fighting an ongoing war, this episode forces Kira to consider her role in the Bajoran Resistance, as well as her role in the Provisional Government. Are the values she fought for being served now? What cost can be paid now to further their goals as a people? Is it right for a society to demand further sacrifices of a few for the benefit of all? Spock's words in the Wrath of Khan, "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" have often weighed heavily on Star Trek, and have particular resonance in this episode.
The economics of Star Trek
There are several things about Star Trek that are intentionally hand-wavy. You're not supposed to look behind the curtain. Economics is one of them. The Federation supposedly did away with money, as they achieved some kind of Utopia, focused on the mutual benefit of all mankind. As we reach the outer borders of the Federation, things become murkier, especially at Quarks. Gold-pressed latinum is the currency of choice, and it must somehow be resistant to replication, or it would be devalued.
There are some interesting posts about Star Trek economics by Rick Webb and Matthew Yglesias, which discuss Star Trek as an example of post-scarcity economics. From this episode, it's difficult to see this at work.
Both plots in the episode deal with economics at scale. When Nog and Jake begin bartering goods, they begin with a shipment of Cardassian Yamock sauce, specifically stated to be non-replicated. This raises a few interesting questions: is there a quality difference between something which is replicated and then consumed in a short period of time, versus something produced and then shipped at warp speed, then stored for unspecified amounts of time? If replication technology is based on transporter technology, why is there a difference? It would seem to me that the extra costs of shipping would vastly outweigh any potential profits. It seems to me that the last trade, for land, is the one which is most resistant to replication. At the same time, the large energy project shows a disconnect between a large public works, and a smaller commercial interest. The lunar property is in use, while the land Nog and Jake acquired will never be seen by them. Eminent domain, or expropriation, apparently trumps the use by farming.
Is this energy source even needed? We have starships flying across the galaxy at warp speed on a regular basis. Why is harnessing geothermal sources preferred to harnessing these other sources? Why can't Yamock sauce or self-sealing stem bolts be replicated?
The next issue is that of the energy project on Bajor's moon. It's apparently a destructive process, which requires the evacuation and eviction of all residents. It has the states purpose of providing energy to heat X number of homes. From what we have seen so far of Bajorans society, their energy demands would appear to be rather low. There appears to be little evidence of the widespread adoption of advanced technology. In this episode, we see a small agricultural farm. In the Storyteller, we see a small village. We have yet to see evidence of industrialization or manufacturing. It is difficult to determine the actual energy needs. Perhaps the requirement is a long-term, sustainable source? It just seems that the stated benefit of this project is far less than I would have expected, based on the energy output we normally see from the Enterprise.
In the end, Kira stands for progress, accepting the necessary cost. He personal involvement helps us see that she does care, and understand what she asks. There's a rather strong impression that the Bajoran bureaucrats don't understand, or really care about the personal costs involved. While it may be soul crushing for Mullibok to leave his home, Kira helps him complete his kiln before burning everything down, forcing him to accept his loss. She does this only after she has shown her understanding and support. Despite Mullibok's protests, she does it for the best of reasons, as a friend.
Progress first aired 9 May 1993. Written by Peter Allan Fields. Directed by Les Landau.