I’d usually sort of lay out what kind of batshittery you’re in store for this episode, but a lot of the jolts depend on a certain amount of tension, and I don’t want to ruin that for you. So let’s dive right in and let the absurdity unfold organically, like a flower opening to the warmth of the sun or a facehugger taking its first, terrifying scuttles towards raping your face with its space penis. This episode opens with Deanna Troi plying her Betazoid charms on a towering, ugly, alien bartender. It turns out she’s wearing her civvies and combing the local taverns looking for Picard, who has disappeared. After some lascivious back and forth the bartender makes it clear that he’d love to fuck her, but won’t be telling her anything about his discreet clientele.
Riker wanders over, shouting jocular comments about knife fights over his shoulder and Worf joins them. Worf points out a weasely looking alien in the corner who probably has information, but seems unwilling to share. Worf has also come up with a very un-Worf-like story about Riker looking for his sister’s husband who fucked her over and went on the lam. In fact it will be down to Beverly Crusher to start making threats as the supposed sister, presumably because she’s pissed off she didn’t bone the captain when she had the chance.
It turns out that the captain got himself evaporated in a bar fight with some mercenaries a while ago, and the crew returns to the Enterprise in a vicious funk. This is the kind of funk that launches murder sprees. It is not the kind of funk that one dispels with a nice cup of tea. In fact Riker is so Punisher-level pissed off that he asks for permission to take the Enterprise on a full on vigilante tour of the surrounding star systems until he finds the perpetrators and brings them to justice.
Starfleet, being constantly concerned with respecting the laws of other cultures and not interfering needlessly in their affairs, of course grants the Enterprise free reign to go rocketing around looking for revenge. I’d like to put this into some perspective. So far as anyone knows Picard was killed in a bar fight. Possibly by mercenaries. There is no evidence of a Starfleet threatening conspiracy. He wasn’t even on a Starfleet mission. Picard was, for all intents and purposes, on his own time.
The Enterprise is a galaxy class starship. It’s crew complement is 1012, comparable to that of a small aircraft carrier, minus the carrier’s troops. This is a ship that has been built to probe, quite literally, the furthest reaches of the explored universe. “To go where no one has gone before.” This is like Starfleet letting a goddamn aircraft carrier off the chain in a random section of space to pursue some bar brawling mercenaries. Yes, Picard is a huge figure in Starfleet, the captain of the flagship, but this kind of looseness with resources in the hands of emotionally compromised crews is psychotically irresponsible.
Riker, now in ruthless vengeance angel mode, threatens the squirrely alien with serious time in a Klingon prison (the space equivalent of Turkish prison) unless he gives up some more information. After some bluster and cowering he mentions the next set of ruins that the mercenaries might be headed for. How much pull Riker actually has within the Klingon justice system is probably pretty low though. This alien ingrate is likely to find himself serving the full 20 years in whatever unpleasant pit Klingons consider prison. Well, according to Memory Alpha the life expectancy for a prisoner on Klingon penal colony Rura Pentha is a year, so he may not make it the full sentence. It seems unlikley that he’d make it the proposed five years of the reduced sentence.
The Enterprise proceeeds to the system indicated by doomed, squirrely alien and beams down to th surface to investigate. It looks like the site has laready been thoroughly picked over. It also transpires the those that did the picking are still there, and the away team comes under fire. Luckily they have their disruptor sponge Redshirt along, who dutifully absorbs the first salvo. A firefight ensues and Riker is captured, leaving Data in command of the Enterprise.
Brent Spiner seems supremely uncomfortable exuding authority within the Data character. He’s been creeping closer to human, but he can’t seem to convey authority and leadership without looking sinister. Just look at those peaked fingers. That’s an Ultron pose, or more accurate to the universe, a Lore pose. A ship makes a run for it and you can’t help but feel like there’s a sinister neck snapping coming when Data asks why they weren’t able to detect the ship sooner. In any case the Enterprise loses sight of the ship on sensors and is now in a holding pattern. Worf is pissed the fuck off, but there’s nothing to be done. In fact Worf seems to be having a little trouble following Data’s orders. He’s compulsively arguing without offering much in the way of rebuttal.
It may also be worth noting that Starfleet has not exactly had a perfect record of respecting Data as a full-fledged, autonomous being. I have a feeling there are a few admirals who might not enjoy their flagship in the command of a machine. Though, “You let the Android drive on your personal vengence rampage!” does seem like an absurd objection to raise. What happens on detached duty, stays on detached duty I suppose.
Riker awakes on Captain Baran’s ship with a pain dispensing implant in his neck and a crew furiously debating whether he should be held for ransom or jettisoned into space. Being so close to utter emptiness clearly makes people itchy to fill it with something, especially if that something is the corpse of an enemy. A bald, handsome mercenary named Galen (Picard!) pushes strongly for Riker’s execution. He insists that he’s a shoddy officer that Starfleet would rather court martial than negotiate for. Riker plays along, taking the role of callous ne’er-do-well on the outs with the Federation to heart.
It’s quite clear that Baran fucking loathes Picard and that by pushing for his death Picard is manipulating the situation to save Riker’s life. Additionally to add value to Riker’s life Picard has rigged the engines into a feedback loop that only Riker knows how to fix. He easily outshines the engineer on the bridge and struts his peacock feathers in Picard’s face. Baran is suitably impressed, and sees Riker as a potential ally with no alliances on the ship and every reason to hate the rest of the crew as either jerks who want him dead or incompetents. Gambit succesful!
At this point I’d like to give the writers their due. According to what happens on screen Picard’s various gambits throughout this pair of episodes are very convincing. In fact these may be some of the most convincing pieces of manipulation and gamesmanship in the entire series. They build on the premise that Baran is incompetent and not much of a leader without his torture implants towards an obvious mutiny endgame. Whether Tallera, the scheming Romulan, or Picard will eventually lead this mutiny isn’t entirely clear, but their dance is well choreographed as well.
Picard certainly is a leader, but he’s hiding his real potential. The crew is scooping up Romulan artifacts and Picard is the best man for the job of testing them for a mysterious set of traits. As long as Baran needs him he’s free to foment anger and stupidity with only the occasional blast of searing pain from his implant to distract him.
Some of the plans revolve around Picard essentially having complete control of the ship’s systems for some reason, but other than that he tends to prevail through believable tricks and pushing plans that are honestly better than Baran’s. His positioning of Riker feels right, and you never once question that he’s got a plan that we can trust in. In fact the good work the writer’s have done thus far pays off immensely in this episode because we trust Picard. We trust that the crew of the Enterprise trusts each other. It’s not perfect, but for a show that’s as likely to rely on commercial breaks and technical jargon as anything for tension, the intrigue is handled very well.
This is all about to culminate in a high stakes trust game across two bridges and a Starfleet base. The next artifact site is under the protection of a Federation outpost equipped with shields, phasars, and maybe photon torpedoes. Baran is convinced he can destroy the outpost. Picard convinces him that as long as Riker is alive they may as well get some use out of his Starfleet status and try to talk their way into the base rather than cratering it and attracting all kinds of attention.
Riker fails, this particular outpost being one of those pesky Starfleet installations that actually follows procedure and doesn’t just lower their shields for any joker in a uniform on a strange ship. Before Baran can commence with the cratering Picard sends a technobabble beam into the shields, shutting them down and allowing the mercenaries to beam up almost all of the artifacts. Before Baran can get down to the destruction he’s been so clearly slobbering over for the last three shouting matches the Enterprise shows up with phasars blazing.
Again Riker is forced to give orders that are destined to land on deaf ears, in this case, Data’s. And now the trust fall commences. Riker tries to use his override codes to drop the Enterprise’s shields, knowing full well they won’t work. Data, knowing that Riker knows this, and over Worf’s objections, lowers the shields and Picard fires. Phasars rip into one of the warp nacells and…
TO BE CONTINUED