The Enterprise investigates a planet of weapon manufacturers where all life has abruptly disappeared, along with an investigating Starfleet vessel. Riker, Data, and Yar must deal with growing strength of the planet’s automated defenses on the ground, while LaForge must do the same in command of the Enterprise. Meanwhile, Captain Picard is trapped underground with an injured Dr. Crusher whom he struggles to keep alive.
Story by Maurice Hurley & Robert Lewin. Teleplay by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler. Directed by Les Landau.
First, the negatives: Chief Engineer Logan is a bit of a twerp, first berating Geordi for endangering the ship by refusing to leave the planet, and then for deciding to leave the planet (and the away team) in order to save the ship. In terms of the overall show format, the series desperately needs to get someone down there in Engineering that the audience will both recognize and like (this change is coming with Season Two). Also, the highly advanced technological hologram of Captain Paul Rice is really pretty stupid and would not effectively fool anybody for more than a minute or two. Riker takes a few minutes to basically make fun of it, coming to the conclusion from its comments that the Drake still exists somewhere – a conclusion that is never followed up on.
Other than these things, Arsenal of Freedom is really one of the best episodes – if not the best episode – of the first season of Next Generation so far. This largely due to the strong ensemble nature of the episode. All of the regulars, except for Wesley, who is absent, have a good role and good material to work with. Geordi especially gets some good attention in this episode, having to come up with strategies to deal with the ship’s defenses, as well as stare down the aforementioned twerpy Commander Logan. Even Troi, who only has a small part, actually gets to function as one would expect a Ship’s Counselor would act. She gives Geordi genuinely useful advice that helps him in his temporary command of the ship. Even better, this advice really has little to do with her empathic ability, and more just with her training in psychology.
Tasha also gets to actually act like the Security Chief. Even though she is the junior officer in the Away Team, she is offering insight, advice and recommendations that are fitting for someone in this position – something she rarely has an opportunity to do. Reviewing this season, it’s no wonder Denise Crosby grew tired of this role.
There are a number of very good yet subtle character moments. Levar Burton – who has got quite the job to do bringing this character to life without the use of his eyes – has a very low-key but meaningful response to Logan berating him for “fighting blind”. And Dr. Crusher, who also gets to show off genuine medical knowledge, and get a bit of a backstory as well, has a nicely underplayed comment when Picard observes there must be a lot of things he doesn’t know about her (“Quite a few,” she says.) She also gets to cut through Picard and Data’s over-analysis with the simple but completely effective ultimate solution to the episode’s plight: simply turn the machine off.
In a way it’s a pity that this episode didn’t follow up the pilot, instead of The Naked Now. I’m overstating it, because you wouldn’t have wanted to kick the show off with a story that gives so much weight to a supporting character having to command the ship, but the effective use of the ensemble would have been useful. Both this and The Naked Now are ensemble stories, but while one used artificial means to try to get each character to bare their soul, this one simply put the characters through their paces and showed what they were capable of. Even Wesley would have worked in this story as one of the nervous crew members looking to Geordi for confidence and strength in the midst of battle – if the writers could have resisted the temptation to have him help save the ship (one feels they probably would not have been able to).
Shout Outs to the Past:
Setting Up the Future
• There are reference to Beverly’s grandmother, who is referred to again much later in the series, in that strange episode in Season Seven about Dr. Crusher and that weird ghost-thing. I don’t know if she was mentioned in between or not.
• Vincent Schiavelli who appears as the holographic peddler, has had all sorts of strange minor and supporting roles, including in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Batman Returns, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, and Tomorrow Never Dies.
• Marco Rodriguez, who appears as the image of Captain Paul Rice, also appears later in the Next Generation episode The Wounded.
• Julie Nickson,who appears as Ensign Lian T’Su, also had a role in Deep Space Nine and a recurring role in the first season of Babylon 5 as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair’s girlfriend, Catherine Sakai.
• We learn here that Riker turned down his own command!
• Minos, the weapons-manufacturing planet, is a bit reminiscent of Magrathea, the planet-manufacturing planet, in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
• There is a high, wide shot of the bridge at the end of one of the Acts that doesn’t do the set any favors – it makes it look absurdly oversized and a bit awkward.
• This is the last time, I believe, that we see the ship separate, at least in the TV series.
Dialogue High Point
There are a number of good moments, but I think the high point comes as Geordi tries to relinquish command of the separated Enterprise to Picard, only to be told
Mr. La Forge, when I left this ship, it was in one piece. I’d appreciate you returning it in the same condition.