The Enterprise Unchained, Pt. 2, The Continuing (Bonkers) Final Season Of TNG

…And basically nothing happens. Picard has lowered the power of the phasars so that they will do no damage to the Enterprise. Just like turning down the power on your microwave will leave you with a frozen and impenetrable food-brick, the nacell is solid. The other nacell gets the same treatment and Data orders fake battle damage throughout the ship in order to fool the mercenaries’ sensors, the space equivalent of exploding a packet of McDonald’s ketchup on yourself. (McDonald’s ketchup is the best for fake blood because it is the least like actual food.)

The Enterprise still has weapons capable of slicing the mercenary ship in half though, so Baran makes a run for it. Data lets him go, prompting Worf to grumble and make an expression that looks like nothing more than him trying very hard to keep a wildfire from breaking out across his forehead ridges.

Eventually this pattern of Worf grumbling at Data’s orders will lead to a confrontation between Data and Worf. Though it’s not the warmest friendship on board the Enterprise, Data’s logic, mixed with Worf’s outbursts and stubbornness, make for some unconvential, but still heartwarming, moments. They don’t need to stop being serious or break down in order to be vulnerable with each other and come to an understanding. After Data calls Worf out for showing open irritation and defiance in front of the crew he tells Worf that he’s sorry if he has ended their friendship. Worf acknowledges that it was he who endangered the friendship in the first place, and that he’d like it to continue. There’s no nonsense. Both characters are communicating on the same plane. Data makes the small concession of apologizing first and everything falls into place. It’s the kind of moment that no other characters on television could have. It’s one of the moments that makes Star Trek, and the TNG characters in particular, great.

It’s also nice to see some conflict in the crew. Sometimes people get along just a little too well on board, like they put something in the replicator food.

On the mercenary ship, where conflict is NOT in short supply, Tellera is becoming increasingly suspicious of Picard. She can see that he’s pushing Riker deeper into Baran’s pocket, but her accusations are interrupted by one of the artifacts that they’re looking for being found.

Meanwhile Baran is falling right into Picard’s and Riker’s hands. He might not like Picard, but he trusts his judgement, and he’s come to exactly the conclusion that Picard wants. He sees Riker as a man without a place who must be looking for a job. He’s too smart to take Riker at face value though, and he wants him to jump through some hoops first. Riker should befriend Picard and incite a mutiny so that he can see who will remain loyal to him. It will also be Riker’s duty to kill Picard when the time comes. Picard’s life is now safeguarded and Riker and Picard will have all the time in the world to scheme. Things could not possibly be working out better.

Props are due the actor playing Baran here. His mix of bluster, violence and insecurity manages to sell all of these maneuvers as reasonable.

But now it’s reveal and exposition time! Tellera caught Picard’s secret message to the Enterprise when Riker sent his command codes, but all is well because Tellera is secretly a Vulcan named T’Pol (a name that will get use again in Enterprise) hunting down Vulcan separatists who want to preserve the purity of Vulcan culture by removing all hints of alien influence and cut the Vulcans off from the rest of the galaxy. Is it just me or does pretty much any notion of “purity” in a philosophy guarantee that it will be awful? Nazi’s, religious cleansings, genocides fuck, even those creepy purity ceremonies where fathers pledge to protect their daughter’s vaginas from unapproved penises are about purity. Stop thinking purity is a virtue people. Okay, deep breath… the isolationists are after the artifacts because they form an ancient Vulcan weapon from the time before they converted to logic. It will allow the holder to kill with their psychic powers. Whew, did everybody get that? Good, because I’m not going to repeat myself.

The Enterprise has, through sheer luck, stumbled upon the Klingon carrying another artifact waiting to rendezvous with the mercenaries. This particular turn doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Why do they happen to pass close enough to this guy to even take an interest in him? Space is really, really big. The chance for random encounters in open space is pretty much non-existent. Imagine two ships that are free to roam all of the oceans of the world. They are the only two ships that exist and they have no particular mission. They might eventually put into land at the same place, but to encounter each other in open ocean would be ludicrously unlikely. It’s time to get either Picard or Riker back onto the Enterprise though, so obviously they’ll have to raid the Enterprise and retrieve the artifact. Of course Riker is tasked with making sure that Picard does not return.

When the time comes for Riker to kill Picard he misses, right in front of Deanna Troi, embarrassing, and ends up “dead” on the observation room floor while Picard beams back to the mercenary ship.

Poor Riker’s plan at the beginning of this series of episodes got completely derailed. He was ready to lay some serious justice down on some scumbag criminals with the power and might of the Federation’s flagship vessel. He was going to spread some serious bad ass on this corner of the universe and make it very clear that nobody kills Picard without consequence. Could we ascribe to him the petty concern of wrapping up this violent justice parade with humbly accepting official command of the Enterprise? We certainly might.

But what happened instead? He was captured and immediately left at the mercy of Picard’s schemes. Of course he’s relieved that Picard is alive, but there’s always something painful when our narratives of a situation are destroyed, even if they are destroyed for the better. His visions of heroically parading brutal murderers through the halls of justice have wound up with him passed out on the observation room floor, burdened with the task of explaining Picard’s wayward adventures and brilliant plan to the rest of the crew. Not exactly how he pictured things going.

It’s mutiny time on the mercenary vessel, and a prime chance for Picard to smug it up all over the bridge. To the crew it sure looks like Riker betrayed everybody. No reason he would have stopped his killing with Picard. It looks like Baran was set to kill everyone and keep the artifact and the profits for himself. Baran is determined not to go down alone though. Even with the whole crew standing against him he wants to watch Picard squirming his last painful moments of life away on the deck so he reaches for the neural servo control. Of course Picard switched the circuits so the servo ends up killing Baran himself. How he got access to a device that never leaves Baran’s side is a mystery, as is why Baran didn’t have his own servo taken out at some point. If someone had installed a device exclusively for inflicting pain in my brain I would have it removed at the first possible opportunity whether or not I held the remote control. Who just leaves that hanging around in their brain. Dead people, obviously.

Despite the crew previously saying they wouldn’t follow Picard, but Tellera, he ends up winning this mutiny and getting called captain. He very clearly gets off on being called captain. There’s definitely some “I love it when a plan comes together” style masturbation in Picard’s future. What do you mean you don’t jerk off to your manipulative, high stakes deception ploys? That is the whole fucking point!

Payment, and the final artifact piece, awaits the crew on Vulcan, and in order to clear a path Picard has told Riker to warn the Vulcan security minister that the mysterious ship headed for their homeworld is carrying an undercover operative. The only problem is that security does not have an undercover operative hunting down ancient artifacts. T’Pol is actually part of the separatists she described! She may be the only separatist. We never meet any others. There is no glorious leader waiting to slobber and rub his or her hands together over the ancient weapon when they get to the surface to collect payment. There is only T’Pol.

The weapon does indeed work, the two mercenaries that beam down with T’Pol and Picard are handily dispatched by it, but the third symbol that Picard saw should be between the gods of war and death points to the weapon’s weakness. It can be defeated by peace. If the mind is peaceful the weapon has no effect. When Riker and Worf beam down to save Picard the weapon fails to affect them. They clear their minds of anger and aggressive thoughts and they are free and clear. T’Pol, who may have orchestrated multiple teams of mercenaries across multiple planets to bring together the ultimate weapon that will finally allow her to cleanse her world of unclean influences, unclean influences that maybe only she sees, is left standing alone with a useless piece of rock. The weapon is completely useless against Vulcans. She is an evolutionary throwback that was cleansed from the Vulcan people thousands of years ago. If anything she is the exact filth that she would wish to expunge from the Vulcan race and culture. In a final, desperate attempt she turns the weapon on on Picard. Fortunately smug can’t kill you and he simply plucks the artifact from the hands of a completely broken woman.

Back on the Enterprise Picard is all set to change and head back to bridge, but Data reminds him that as far as Starfleet is concerned he is dead, and unable to give orders. Riker, likewise, is technically a fugitive and also unfit for duty. Picard gets a final, smug chuckle in, jokingly orders Riker taken to the brig and heads to his quarters to take a nap. Data, either not getting the joke, or deciding it will be funniest to carry all the way through, escorts Riker to the brig. The episode ends as life does. The dead get to sleep and the guilty are left wondering where the joke begins and ends.

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