Scotch and Star Trek

Scotch… the final frontier.

This is a quest I embarked on thanks to the influence of /r/DaystromInstitute and the realization that I have never actually seen much of the original Trek. This provided me with an excuse to go through from the beginning to see the process by which a cohesive, generation-spanning and inspirational setting is presented to viewers. In the end, though, it’s an excuse to get snarky and pick apart a show I’ve loved since childhood.

Why the drinking? Because every time I reflect on the scope of this project I realize there are over five hundred hours of Star Trek ahead of me.

Here’s to you, Scotty. 

Today’s feature:

TNG: S3E10: "The Defector"

In which Data learns to act, a Romulan decides he must act, and Picard acts pretty smug. 

The transparent opening theme of the week is treason and paranoia.

The transparent opening theme of the week is on lies and leadership.

We open, apparently, at a Renaissance faire. Or possibly Picard and Data playing Henry V. Or rather, Data playing Henry V while Picard coaches and a holographic model of Patrick Stewart as Michael Williams. Because Patrick Stewart would be damned if there’s Shakespeare being done and he’s not in it. Also, apparently Data can act. Sadly, as always, these little vignettes get interrupted by the important stuff of the episode, like an incoming vessel from the Neutral Zone. A Romulan scoutship, as it happens.

They’re about to open a hail when they get communications incoming, and the Romulan asks for rescue, as it is being pursued by a D’deridex-class battle-cruiser. The scout ship barely makes it across the border of Federation Space before getting disabled and, interestingly, seems to lose all momentum once its engines are disabled. Since space simply does not work that way, it seems apparent from this one clip that, at the very least, Romulan engines don’t work by expelling propellant in the opposite direction (which is good, because the Rocket Equation is a beast) but probably more like by crawling space in a given direction – by actively altering space so that it ‘falls’ down a gradient. When that gradient snaps back into place as a reaction to the violent stop of whatever’s adjusting it, the turbulence arrests motion.

Hush you, it makes more sense than if a rocket engine died and the ship stopped moving, I don’t see you coming up with any better ideas.

One tends to wonder if the Federation has enough left to learn from Romulan ship and engine design that it's worth towing the ship to a starbase.

One tends to wonder if the Federation has enough left to learn from Romulan ship and engine design that it’s worth towing the ship to a starbase.

Anyway, the battle-cruiser briefly crosses the Neutral Zone in that kind of way where a drunk guy at a bar will get up in your face, but then they just leave. Apparently, the cease-fire treaty with the Federation doesn’t have a hot-pursuit clause. The escaped Romulan refuses medical treatment, because he has vital information to give to the captain. Apparently, the Romulans are building a secret base at Nelvana III that the Federation listening posts have missed, and the Romulans are about to send a fleet against the Federation and end the cease-fire. And this low-level Logistics officer doesn’t want to live through more war, probably because he’s not a xenophobic hate-monster like the majority of Romulan leadership.

Riker discusses the possibility that the defector is a plant whose purpose is to trick the Federation into breaking the treaty. The question I have is… to what purpose? The interstellar community that we know of so far consists of the Federation and their hundreds of client worlds, the Klingons who they are in a strong peace treaty and possible alliance with, and the Romulans, who have so far been presented as personally antagonistic, militarily ready, and politically a half-step away from war. There are unaligned worlds scattered around but most of them either don’t pursue interstellar travel or are so wrapped up in their own drama that they barely notice when the Enterprise shows up to solve all their problems.

Provoking another major power into starting a war has only a few very specific purposes that simply starting the war yourself does not:

  1. If you have a free press, it justifies your war to your people
  2. If your enemy has a free press, it increases the likelihood that your enemy will sue for peace due to internal pressures.
  3. If outside unaligned governments are watching, you can make them sympathetic to your cause.

For reasons we may find out in this episode, I personally tend to doubt that the Romulan Star Empire has a free press. The Federation does, but the fact that Riker picks up on the possibility of a ruse within about fifteen seconds means it’s not a complex enough ruse that, once the story has filtered out through Starfleet declassifying the mission logs, it will convince anyone in the Federation that the Romulans are mistreated gossamer butterflies is… remote. So who would they be showing off for? Are they trying to buy more Klingon hulls? From “The Enemy” it seems like the bad blood between Romulans and Klingons runs a little too deep to be repaired anytime soon. So the question remains – why bother with the duplicity, if they want to start a war again?

Turns out Geordi is drooling at the chance to investigate the scoutship, so that answers that. Sadly, the ship has a self-destruct which the defector Setal set. He wants to avert a war, not betray his people. I respect that. He also gives us the Romulan perspective on how the Federation acts. Where we see curiosity, they see greed and the desire to exploit anything. I can’t really call him out on that, because it was literally my first thought. Plus One to the writers for that.

I don’t know what it is, but pretty much every episode with Romulans in it is great. They were two of my top 5 episodes in TOS, and in this one the culture clash as we get to know Setal as a principled defector, and how he deals with our favorite crew, is top-notch. He seems puzzled that they put him in real quarters rather than a brig, and checks to make sure his suicide pill is still there in his boot. Well, probably a suicide pill. He probably wouldn’t hide his Flintstones Chewable.

Picard gets a message from Starfleet Command with a two-and-a-third-hours delay time, because they’re at the edge of the Neutral Zone scanning for any signs of the new base. He has to decode it, and it turns out that the Romulan government is demanding the return of the defector through political channels. Nobody is fully buying the authenticity of the message, up to and including Geordi doing a backtrace of the chase logs to discover that when the scoutship was damaged, the warbird slowed to match rather than overtaking. Given that the chase ended right at the Federation border, it seems awfully convenient. The question that everyone is asking is, on what level are the Romulans playing?

iocane1

“Mmmm, I love Earl Grey Tea.”

“Cheers!”

iocane1

“…On second thought…”

They’re going to launch a probe toward the site of the base, and Picard orders Data to save an objective record of events, because it’s possible that in 24 hours they’ll be at war. He also asks Data how the crew is doing, because Troi is busy with Riker interrogating Setal, and Geordi tries to explain to Data what a human ‘gut feeling’ is and why it’s useful. And as the probe goes into orbit around Nelvana III it starts to find trace subspace radio frequencies and other traces that could come from cloaked ships or even possibly a cloaked base. They’ve been thinking it’s a ruse, but if so than the Romulans would have to have put a chatter generator in the Neutral Zone to lure the Enterprise in. This only makes it more confusing as to why they’d bother… if the point was to make the Federation start a war.

Among the things that Data is trying to learn about in this episode are homesickness, and even though Federation replicators don’t have the pattern for Romulan Ale, they do, apparently, have a holodeck program for at least one Romulan world. As he laments the artificiality, it turns out that the defector is actually a Romulan Admiral, Jarok who was in charge of someinfamous massacre. He and Picard have a face-to-face where it comes out that Jarok had a come-to-Space-Jesus moment when he realized that he was creating a worse galaxy for his daughter to grow up in, and it seems genuine enough to make Picard willing to take the risk. That, and Jarok’s willingness to provide engine and cloaking data on Romulan warships.

They charge across the Neutral Zone making fatalistic references to Custer’s stand at Little Bighorn, and arrive at the site of the purported base, which isn’t there. The subspace chatter does seem to be coming from chatter generators, but Jarok also seems genuinely confused. In fact, it seems that Jarok was fed disinformation, either as a loyalty test or for the aforementioned casus belli. The Enterprise is about to withdraw when they’re met by two warbirds.

"Commander... bring me my brown pants."

“Commander… bring me my brown pants.”

Romulan warning shots are apparently on-target at low power, rather than deliberately off-target. And who should it be but Tomalak, super gloaty and threatening to tow the junked Enterprise back to the capital of Romulus as a warning to potential traitors for generations to come. Picard, though, seems pretty confident, possibly relating to two lines of dialogue fifteen minutes ago where a coded Klingon message came through that Worf took in a security office off-camera. Picard gets a smug gloat and a line from Henry V off before three Klingon warships decloak and defuse the situation.

I mean, tensions between the Romulans and the Klingon-Federation alliance are still going to be ratcheted up, extending the war longer and cementing a personal enmity between two battleship commanders on opposite sides. But there’s always hope, right?

 

 

Did we miss something awesome?