Star Trek: The Next Generation – Devil’s Due [4.13]

The Enterprise must confront Ardra, supposedly a figure from myth on a particular planet who bought the world in exchange for 1000 years of peace and prosperity, now returned to collect her due.  In spite of her impressive powers, Picard is able to prove that she is a con artist, stopping a world from being enslaved.

Teleplay by Philip Lazebnik. Story by Philip Lazebnik and William Douglas Lansford. Directed by Tom Benko.

 Previous Episode: The Wounded •  Next Episode:  Clues

Comments:
Devil’s Due is a fun though inconsequential  episode largely thanks to a unique sort of challenge for the crew as well as spirited guest performance from Marta Dubois as Ardra.  However, ultimately it’s a story riddled with overwhelming leaps of logic and a general feeling of stupidity.  Ardra is revealed at the end to be a bit of a cheap con artist, with a weak knock-off of Romulan technology backing her up…but somehow this woman is able to beam on and off the Enterprise with impunity, kidnap crew members without anyone realizing that a transporter is at work, and cloak the entire ship?  And somehow cloak the entire ship in a way that leaves the crew helpless to do anything about it – like say beam down or fly off in a shuttle?

And even if she does succeed at her absurdly complicated plan, why is she doing it?  I mean, sure, she wants the Ventaxians to give her a bunch of money and jewels and whatever, but why does she specifically go after the Enterprise?  Does she think anyone is just going to hand over Federation flagship just because of some millennium-old contract that they had nothing to do with–even if they did believe she is who she says she is?  Does she think the Federation would not fight to get it back even if the Captain was too stupid to do so?  It’s like she is courting disaster.  Is she so smitten with Picard that she’s willing to risk everything through her taunting?

Certainly the episode would have improved from having a rationale behind these questions, but it might have also improved if they had made Picard less sure of himself from the beginning.  It might have been punchier if we’d seen Picard a bit thrown off by her displays of power.  There still would have been room for his moral arguments that the Ventaxians actually pulled off their survival by their own determination and wits – and in fact, those arguments would have been much more dramatic if Picard thought he was dealing with the real 1000 year-old deal.  As it is, Picard comes across a bit too clever, and as a result is a bit boring, even if the performance is typically solid.

What saves the story from being a complete waste is, as I’ve mentioned, the fun of Ardra’s characterization in general, as well as some pretty funny stuff with Data in the courtroom scene.  Ardra is even a character that might have been fun to bring back in the future, in some other sort of con-job, but that never happened.  But after the strength and genuine emotional drama that we’ve seen in a bunch of the fourth season so far (eg. Family, Brothers, Reunion, and even last episode’s The Wounded, these positive aspects are just not enough to really sell me.

Shout Out to the Past:
• There is a brief reference to Q.

Guest Cast
• Marta Dubois plays Ardra.  She played Michelle Hue, Thomas’ wife, in Magnum P.I.  She also played Princess Koji in the series Tales of the Gold Monkey.

• Paul Lambert, who plays Dr. Howard Clarke, previously appeared in When the Bough Breaks, one of my personal least favorite episodes.

• Marcelo Tubert plays Acost Jared.  He played the Palestinian prime minister in a few episodes of The West Wing.

Observations:
• Data plays Scrooge at the start.  The episode tries to tie this in thematically by talking about how fear motivates people, but it does feel like a bit of filler.

• Funny meta-message having Picard talking about just being vaguely familiar with method acting

• “Data, the moment you decided to stop imitating other actors and create your own interpretation, you were already one step closer to understanding humanity.” – a good line from Picard.

• The teaser ends with a grim shot of Picard having heard the news from the science station.  This is of course to create some dramatic tension prior to the credits – but really, can you imagine Picard just standing there, silent like that?  It would make him looked stunned into inaction.

• A couple of good exterior shot of the planet helps to add some production value

• There is a reference to O’Brien, though he doesn’t appear.

• It’s cool and surprising when Ardra shows upon the Bridge.  Too bad it doesn’t amount to anything that makes any sense by the time the story is over.

• In her ‘seduction’ scene, Ardra has ridiculously big hair.

• Marina Sirtis briefly plays Ardra as well!  Maybe if she showed up as Dr. Crusher, she would have had some pull.

• Is Data actually incapable of lying and deceit?

• The end of the story is a silly, though sometimes funny, courtroom drama.  Apparently the customs of Ventaxian legal procedure are exactly the same as earth legal procedure, as well as dramatic conventions, with objections, overrulings, and even last minute witnesses wandering into the back of the courtroom at the critical moment.

• Nice when Data tells Picard to sit down

• Very funny line from Data to Ardra, and a contender for best dialog, “The advocate will refrain from making her opponent disappear.”

• All right – that devil costume just looks silly.

• Another cute Data line, “Sustained.  I will draw my own conclusions….if you do not mind, sir?”

• And a good comment from Picard:  “Mister La Forge, my reputation as a litigator, not to mention my immortal soul, is in serious jeopardy.”

• Data is positively amused by Picard’s courtroom’s antics

Crazy Talk: Captain Riker (Huh?)
This is perhaps the first story that would have actually improved by having Riker as Captain over Picard.  Picard is just a bit dull in his instant perfect understanding of Ardra and absolute immunity to all her charms or lies.  Having Riker in there, who might have been ready to turn her charm back on her a bit, and certainly would have been less stuffy and high brow, might have made things more interesting.  Possibly this could easily be attributed to the fact that the story was apparently originally written for the aborted Star Trek Phase II series, and so a more Kirk-like figure might have proven useful.

Dialogue High Point
There are a couple of good lines (mentioned above, but probably my favorite is this one from Picard to Ardra:

I have encountered many who more credibly could be called the devil than you.

 Previous Episode: The Wounded •  Next Episode:  Clues


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