Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Vengeance Factor [3.9]

The Enterprise gets involved in encouraging reconciliation between two the mainstream leaders of an alien civilization and a faction of their people who for years have been scavengers and pirates.  Things are complicated by a murder that takes place amongst these “Gatherers”.  The crew figures out that the culprit is Yuta, a servant of the planetary leader, who is engaging in a blood feud against a rival Gatherer clan.  Riker had been attracted to her, but is still able to stop her before she kills the leader of the Gatherers.

Written by Sam Rolfe. Directed by Timothy Bond.

Previous Episode: The PriceNext Episode: The Defector

I’ve just heard the other day of cameras that allow you to adjust the actual perspective of your shot by using reflected light to render what is behind objects in the frame.  It just sounds crazy to me.  But maybe that explains the moment in The Vengeance Factor when the computer is able to extrapolate the rest of Yuta’s face from a bit of it seen in an old photograph.  Even so, it seems an unnecessarily complicated process.  Can a computer really determine what someone’s jaw line is going to look like based on one of their eyes and a bit of forehead?  Why not just have the old photo reveal Yuta’s face properly?  Or better yet, why not have the computer compare the part of the face it can see with the Yuta they know, and identify if the at least that part of the face are identical?  That’d make more sense to me.

Judging the whole of The Vengeance Factor on this moment may be a bit unfair, though.  The episode is actually around some interesting premises – both the idea of Yuta’s blood feud as well as the general premise of the Enterprise dealing with the issue of the return of the Gatherers to mainstream Acamarian life.  Watching Picard slowly bring these antagonistic factions to the table, even over just a glass of brandy, brings out a dimension of the Captain that we have always assumed is there but have not often had an opportunity to actually see.  Sovereign Marouk is an interesting character as well, steeped in the traditions (and even prejudices) of her class, but yet still refreshingly sincere in her desire to see her people reconciled.

Another interesting aspect of the story is actually Riker’s relationship with Yuta.  I’m not talking about the romance, per se, as that seems is weak.  In fact, there is really nothing about Yuta that seems to motivate Riker’s attraction to her beyond her looks, so it makes the guy look pretty shallow.  But his response to the apparent boundaries placed on her life as a servant, his assumptions about why her freedom is restricted, and his belief that he can somehow “love” her out of those limitations make for an notable contrast as to what is really going on.  The truth, which is that Yuta’s servitude has little to do with Sovereign Marouk or the plight of the Gatherers, has the potential to be compelling in an unexpected way.

Sadly, in spite of all this potential raw material, the episode itself is a bit flat.  Riker’s relationship with Yuta doesn’t develop the ideas that are present strongly enough, and the two story streams end up competing with each other.  There is a valiant effort to develop the culture of the Gatherers but it doesn’t ring entirely true, partly because the performances don’t seem fully believable.  Brull’s interaction with Wesley regarding his own children (along with Welsey’s prejudices) is another ambitious attempt to create compelling character drama, but it’s hit and miss – a well thought-out pairing, but still playing a bit forced and unnatural.  And the drama contained in the plight of the Acamarians is ultimately sidelined in favor of the Yuta story – which really has little to do with the negotiations plotline.

So it comes across as an absurd coincidence that the very last two people of her enemy clan turns out to be people she can see thanks to the events of this episode.  Why did she think becoming Sovereign Marouk’s servant would help her to come in contact with these Gatherers?  It’s not until the Enterprise gets involved at the start that she is even considering this reconciliation process, and it’s been 19 years since the last effort.  How big are these clans, anyway?  Has she really killed all of them except for two without anyone noticing?  And it’s a little surprising that there have been no records at all in the last fifty years of anyone dying from this special disease that she’s been infected with.

And there is something about the directing of the climax that reads a little funny.  When Riker beams down to confront Yuta, why doesn’t he bring a whole security detachment with him?  Why not have a couple of security guards actually get in between Yuta and her victim, while some others drag her away and arrest her, rather than everyone just standing around while Riker shoots her repeatedly?  For that matter, why not just beam Yuta out of the situation before she can do any damage?  Maybe that’s what Riker is stewing about in the end.  “Gee, if I’d just handled that a bit differently, maybe I wouldn’t have had to disintegrate her.”

A couple of other small points:  the Enterprise’s involvement in this whole political situation seems contrary to Picard’s stance on the Prime Directive back in Symbiosis.  There, he refused to get involved in an internal political situation with a non-Federation world even though it was clear that one part of the population was hurting another.  Here, he quickly gets involved in an internal political situation with a non-Federation world simply because on part of the population was hurting some Federation people.  Of course the response here is more believable and sympathetic – it just makes what happens in Symbiosis seem more ridiculous, even hypocritical,  in hindsight.

Also, there are a lot of parallels between this episode and the original series story, The Conscience of the King – romance between Enterprise senior officer with an attractive but spacy blond who turns out to be a vengeful assassin, using a particular lifestyle as an excuse to get around to find her victims.  The main difference is that the original series episode was more cohesive and felt grander thanks to the invoking of lots of Shakespeare.

Guest Cast:
Lisa Wilcox, who guest stars as Yuta, appeared as the heroine in a couple of Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Stephen Lee, who plays Chorgan, has had appearances in a three part Quantum Leap story, as well as Babylon Five, a later Next Generation episode called Gambit part 1, and in The West Wing.

Marc Lawrence, who plays Volnath, has been in movies since the 1930’s, including classics such as The Virginian and Key Largo.  He also, according to the internet, appears uncredited in the early Doctor Who story, The Chase, as a sailor on the Mary Celeste.

• The opening teaser is pretty good and an interesting way to get us into the main plot of the story.

• Seeing Sovereign Marouk respond with excitement to the ship going into warp is a good and natural moment.

• The ambush scene is pretty good, but why can’t the away team just beam up without having to …oh, I was just writing this when I realized that I’d been fooled just as much as the ambushers!  Well done!

• The sudden revelation of Yuta  as a cold-blooded killer is effectively done.

• On Ten Forward, Troi makes room for Riker to make some time with the cute visitor.  Not sure what to think about that.  I guess she knows when Riker is looking to put the moves on someone, and doesn’t want to stand in his way.  The familiarity with it all makes Riker seem like even more of a jerk to me.  But then, it was only just last episode when Troi was diving head first into shallow romance.

• “I do not feel pleasure or passion.  I haven’t been able to for a long time.”

• Riker is pretty slow to respond to Red Alert being signaled.

• One of the cooler moments of the story is how casual Picard is when first encountering Chorgan and his incessant attacks.

• Chorgan claims he could take Picard prisoner, but really could he?  Couldn’t Picard just beam away?

Dialogue High Point
There is nothing brilliant, but I do like the scene where Picard confronts Chogran over the viewscreen.  He ways

Chorgan, if I had wanted you destroyed, you would not be talking to me now.  Obviously, I want something else.

Previous Episode: The PriceNext Episode: The Defector

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