The Enterprise discovers a human colony world on a planet which, by treaty, belongs to an unsympathetic and powerful alien race. While Picard struggles to find a way to convince the race to give them the time needed to evacuate the colony, Data must overcome the resistance of the colony’s leader to leaving. In the end, both are successful, and the colony is saved.
Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass. Directed by Cliff Bole.
Ensigns of Command is a reasonable quality, fairly solid episode of Next Generation. It still does not betray any particular greatness that we generally associate with the third season of the show, but it also doesn’t have any particular weaknesses evident. Looking at it again, I had to consciously remember that a lot of the development I associate with Data hasn’t taken place yet. Other than his brief tryst with Tasha Yar, this is the first time we see Data dealing with any form of romance, and the first time he explicitly expresses his inability to feel anything for a potential romantic partner. It’s also a fresh observation that Picard makes about the creativity he displayed in playing the violin. So even though they feel a little “old hat” now, these sorts of things were new territory for the character at the time.
Another thing that is nice about Ensigns of Command is the way that even though the drama is split between a couple of different settings, it all comes out of one specific mission in a believable way. Sometimes, Next Generation can have a bit of a “Meanwhile, back in the subplot…” feel to it, but that is nicely avoided here. Data on the planet, Picard dealing with the aliens, and even Geordi with the transporters are all really part of the main plot. The subplot is Data’s relationship with Ard’rian, and it flows seemlessly alongside the main plot, where it belongs, and never gets distracting.
The episode creates a nice physical setting for the colony, as well as some good production design for the Sheliak ship. The Sheliak creature is a little less impressive, but it’s always surrounded by its ship trappings so that keeps it from being too annoying.
My favorite scene may be the one where Riker has to tell Data to get on with his mission (“Data, I can’t help you. I don’t know these people, I haven’t talked to them. You have. Use that fancy positronic brain of yours and carry out your mission.”) My memory of the episode was faulty so I didn’t recall why Data had the job (because of the radiation everyone else was susceptible to) so Riker’s action seemed more unsympathetic. But on a fresh watching, I liked the way that there were several mounting pressures on the crew to get the job done, and how Riker simply didn’t have any ability or time to mollycoddle Data at all through coming up with a solution.
And Data’s solution is a good one, at least dramatically. It was good fun watching him down the guards who hoped to stop him, and then destroy the aqueduct so easily. (“That was the stun setting. This is not.”) It makes for a very effective demonstration to convince the short-sighted Goshoven, and a fun watch for the viewer.
So in the end, it’s not a spectacular episode, but it’s a fine one.
• Eileen Seeley plays Ard’ian McKenzie. She later appears as Martha Wayne in Batman Forever. I didn’t even remember that the Waynes were even in that movie.
• Mark L Taylor appears as Haritath. He was the voice of Firestorm in the old Superfriends series, the voice of Jimmy Olsen in the 1988 Superman cartoon. He also had a small part in V – the Final Battle.
• Richard Allen, who plays Kentor, also appears in the later episode Darmok.
• Mart McChesney, who plays the Sheliak, also played Armus (a similarly blobby alien creature) in Season One’s Skin of Evil.
Setting Up the Future
I actually can’t remember for sure, but I assume that we’ll see Data playing a musical instrument again.
• Mr. O’Brien, improbably, I think, plays the cello.
• Picard and Dr. Crusher are more or less on a date, listening to the concert. Later, it turns out that Crusher bootlegged a recording of the concert! OK, maybe I’m reading into things…
• Considering there are 15,000 colonists, it’s a pretty small town meeting that convenes about the situation.
• “This is just a thing. And thing’s can be replaced. Lives cannot.” It’s a nice line from Data, especially when there are those who argue that he is just a thing as well.
• It’s enjoyable to watch Picard wait his time when he finally gets the upper hand with the Sheliak.
• Cute bit with La Forge at the end about modifying the transporters. “It’ll take 15 years and a research team of a hundred….”
• The Shuttle Onizuka named after Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion.
Dialogue High Point
There’s a number of good lines, some of which I’ve already highlighted. But for timelessness, you have to appreciate Geordi’s response to Wesley saying that Picard “wants the impossible”:
That’s the short definition of Captain.