The Enterprise visits a planet that seems full of people who have no pre-occupations except for happiness and sensuality. However, when Wesley inadvertently breaks a law, he is sentenced to death. Picard and the crew encounter a trans-dimensional vessel of some sort orbiting the planet which is viewed as “god” by the natives. This “god” is tremendously powerful and may force the Enterprise crew to follow its own law of non-interference of native cultures, thus allowing Wesley’s death. Picard refuses to let this happen though, and is able to convince “god” that the absolute nature of its law is unjust. They are able to leave safely, with Wesley.
Teleplay by Worley Thorne . Story by Ralph Wills and Worley Thorne. Directed by James L. Conway.
Good grief. I guess it was just a matter of time before we had an episode like this, where we got to go a planet of skantily-clad California joggers. At least we got it out of the way early on. It’s a bit embarrassing watching the planet-bound scenes, and even more awkward watching how much both Riker and Tasha obviously enjoy the “free love” atmosphere. Honestly, it was a bit of a relief whenever cut back to the ship.
The story brings up some tricky dilemmas for the crew – both the challenge of the Prime Directive (which is here applied to mean the interfering with the due process of a local justice system, even when a Federation citizen may suffer for it), and also the threat of yet another locally omnipotent and therefore personally disconnected force. Unfortunately, though these threats are built up well, they are undermined by an extremely simple denouement. When it comes to the Prime Directive, Picard simply decides what we all knew all along: that it is absurd to think they’ll let Wesley die for the sake of it. And when it comes to the local “god” allowing them to do this, it just takes Picard and Riker about three sentences of impassioned speech to talk it down, and apparently get it to rethink its entire system of law and justice.
This episode had probably the best dialogue of the series so far since the pilot (and that only for Picard during the trial scenes), with a couple of memorable exchanges. I liked it when one of the natives, recognizing both the superior might of the Enterprise crew as well the fact they obviously consider themselves to be more advanced culturally, says with bitterness:
So, we are not yet as advanced as they are. And since you are advanced in other ways too, I suggest you use your superior powers to rescue the Wesley boy. We will record him as a convicted criminal out of our reach, an advanced person who luckily escaped the barbarism of this backward little world.
The episode also features the following take on the standard “awkward Data” conceit.
Picard: Data, don’t babble!
Data: Babble, sir? I’m not aware that I ever babble, sir. It may be that from time to time, I have considerable information to communicate, and you may question the way that I organize it.
Picard: Please, organize it into brief answers to my questions.
What I like is that as this plays out, it turns what is normally a bit of a comic relief conceit and turns it into a genuine character moment.
So in the end, the concepts involved here are fine but dated and overused in humanist science fiction, and particularly Star Trek (see “The Apple” from the original series), but the treatment of them really had a chance to make compelling drama. It’s just too bad that the underdeveloped story climax combined with the ickyness-factor of watching all these half-naked super-fit blonds giving slow, lingering hugs to the various members of the crew really robbed the episode of any hope it had at being a solid and watchable story.
Josh Clark, who shows up as “conn” – which seems to be a generic term for officer on the bridge, later had a semi-regular role as Mr. Carey on Star Trek: Voyager.
Brad Zerbst plays a medical technician in this episode, and does so for two more episodes this season (Heart of Glory and Skin of Evil).
• This episode features the series’ first reference of “Class M” planet, a term used in the original series to refer to earth-like planets.
• At the end of the pre-titles teaser, Picard says about the planet, “Let’s just hope it’s not too good to be true.” Err…anyone have any guesses about that?
• One of the Edo says, “Our rules are simple: No one does anything uncomfortable to them.” Um, it makes me uncomfortable just being here and looking at you.
• I think Riker’s whole reputation as a lady’s man all starts with this story and his absurdly demonstrative happiness on being on Planet Frisky.
• Picard sends Geordi to look at the mysterious object through a window. I like that, it makes sense, the way that Picard avails himself of Geordi’s special skills, even though it kind of comes to nothing.
• That Wesley is a pretty good gymnast!
• The scene where Tasha and Worf find out about the punishment zones and the mandatory death penalty is pretty good, but it’s awkward storytelling that they talk about the potential danger to Wesley, even for something as simple as failing to keep off the grass, immediately before Wesley gets in trouble for basically doing just that.
• The Federation has no death penalty. I don’t know if that was ever mentioned on the original series or not.
• It’s pretty bad of the crew to fail to catch this death penalty thing as Tasha was studying this world’s laws, to allow a child to beam down to such a planet, and to allow Wesley to wander around without a commbadge.
• Annoying, that Picard wants to talk directly to Dr. Crusher about the situation with her son, but when he returns to the ship, he doesn’t actually take the time to do so.
• It’s nice to see an episode that features Wesley but that treats him as something else than an engineering prodigy. Unfortunately, once he’s arrested he doesn’t actually do anything in the story. At the end, he makes an effort to give a bit of a character-growth line by telling Picard to his face that he has to be included in the decision about what is happening to him – but it’s undermined by the next shot basically having Picard ignore this, with no references to any negative consequences to his actions.
Dialogue High Point
The best line here comes from one of Picard’s Captain’s Logs, and perfectly sums up what was potentially the most interesting challenge of the story.
Whatever the object or vessel in orbit with us, it hangs there like a nemesis. It is one thing to communicate with something mysterious, but it is quite another to be silently observed by it.