In which Picard handles a Kirk situation, everyone loves a girl fight, and there’s a surprising lack of urgency.
We are in orbit above Ligon 2, home of, apparently, a rare vaccine on a planet that is not currently a member state of the Federation. The vaccine is urgently needed, and the Federation must therefore negotiate with the inhabitants. Why they can’t just replicate it is unknown at this time. Perhaps they don’t have the pattern? One would think that Starfleet Medical would keep the replicator patterns for anything that’s known to be useful on hand. I would be surprised if it turned out they couldn’t replicate vaccines: if you can replicate food that tastes anything like food, that implies that you can replicate proteins and all manner of complex molecules. Surely once you have the vaccine at all you should be able to analyze it in whatever way they got steak and chocolate into the memory banks and store the meds in there too?
This episode already has hallmarks of classic Trek – an unaligned people with a rare resource, and surely some amusing and hilarious cultural misunderstandings will almost get someone killed. The local leader expresses shock and amazement that the chief of security is female. And amusement when Yar throws the courrier on the ground to search the sample container for, I guess a bomb or something. Surprisingly, no diplomatic incident is immediately forthcoming, but ominous words about Yar being exactly what the leader Lutan needed are exchanged.
A state reception is prepared and Picard presents a gift to the Ligonians, noting their similarity to other ancient earth cultures. Note at this point that the Ligonians are stated to have been humanoid and almost human, and there’s a significant lack of rubber foreheads here. Recall from “The Paradise Syndrome” that aeons ago an alien species went around putting humans on various planets. These might be another legacy of that. Also, every time I think of that episode I want to watch StargateSG-1 again. Yes, all ten seasons of it. Maybe someday when I’m done with Trek.
In the mutual masturbation session where everyone is patting everyone else on the back for being so friendly, Lutan asks to see a holodeck and asks that Yar show him how it works. She has this weird expression on her face but goes along with it for the greater good, and shows them how the aikido training program works. They all head back to the cargo bay to beam back home, and Lutan kidnaps Yar just before beaming back.
The first thing Picard does is fire eight photon torpedoes and have them detonate a kilometer above the planet’s surface. This seems insanely aggressive given the destructive power of these particular armaments – if you think airburts aren’t dangerous remember that Fat Man was detonated only half as far from the ground. However, Picard does order a ‘display’ blast, so maybe they used weaker torpedoes. Troi expresses little concern for Yar. She justifies it by stating that she doesn’t sense malice from them and doesn’t think they’ll hurt her, but I’ve decided that Troi and Yar hate each other, because it makes it more fun that way. In other news, Crusher has, at least, been trying to replicate the vaccine and for some reason becomes unstable. I’m okay with it – at least they made the effort.
In this time of crisis, Picard gives Wesley an opportunity to sit at Ops after Beverly makes eyes at him. The two of them have a history so it’s not quite is completely frivolous as it sounds, but you’d think they might wait until the security chief is un-kidnapped. Also, Data commits a faux pas by referring to French as an obscure langage in front of, and directly to, Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Just because the man speaks with an English accent doesn’t mean you’re going to get away with that shit.
The current speculation is that Lutan is counting coup against the Enterprise, according to the local code of honor, and similarly according to local custom Picard is the one who can visit and be considered honored guest, and Yar will be given back at a feast later if Picard can swallow his pride and ask. Of course, now Lutan wants Tasha to be his wife. His current wife objects and challenges Yar to the death. Picard refuses, and Lutan voids the treaty and refuses the vaccine. Awkwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaard.
Troi, in keeping with her new role as Tasha’s arch-rival, tricks Yar into admitting that she was flattered when Lutan kidnapped her and decided she was going to be his concubine. Okay, pause. I just have to stop and point out that one of the few things we know about Tasha this early in the series is that she spent her life between the ages of six and fifteen running away from rape gangs. I will draw no conclusions from this because it is a goddamn minefield. I will, however, speculate that psychiatric care in the 24th century, Troi aside, must be fantastic. Troi, meanwhile, continues arguing for Yar to accept the challenge. The infection and death rates they’re looking at are terrible, so the challenge must proceed.
Also, Lutan’s current wife, Yarina (coincidence? I think so!) is the one who is actually rich. In this society, women own property and men… it’s not actually clear what men do, but Picard is able to trick Lutan’s second into revealing that Lutan is looking to upgrade wives and inherit all the wealth when his current wife kicks the bucket because of how badass Tasha is.
In a brief vignette that appears to have nothing to do with the plot, Geordi is shaving and explains to Data that the razor Data adjusted to be perfect is too perfect, and that Data still hasn’t gotten the hang of jokes, but great amusement is had when Data somehow makes a slip of the tongue… unperfecting him, humanizing him, and making Geordi laugh. The two of them get drafted into figuring out which weapon on the Big Wall O’ Weapons will be the best one to use, and Picard gives us a very brief reminder on how the Prime Directive works – humanity imposes this directive on itself because nobody interfered with them as a primitive species, and they were able to grow out of cultural immaturity. This at least is handled very nicely – Picard stops himself from rambling because everyone knows stuff.
The weapons arrive, and it appears Tasha will be fighting with a poisoned gauntlet crafted to look like the Hellraiser from an alternate universe where everyone is a parrot. The arena is activated – it’s a series of platforms of varying elevations enclosed by green fluorescent light bulbs that are probably lasers or lightsabers or something, and a bunch of poles to hold on to. Fortunately, there’s a Plan. I recall another fight to the death in TOS, in the excellent episode “Amok Time.” Since Crusher is also involved in the plan, it wouldn’t be extraordinary for some pharmaceutical to be involved. The contest is begun and the command is for it to continue without interruption.
It is therefore surprising when Lutan stops the combat in order to return Yarina’s murdermitt when she hits one of the light poles and it flies off into some poor schlameil’s lap. This also makes no sense – Lutan wants Yarina dead, surely it would be in his best interest to just let the combat go?
Anyway, Yar wins the contest because, let’s face it, first-world professional volunteer military training is pretty baller, the Federation has the martial arts traditions of dozens of Earth cultures and a hundred worlds to draw from for training, and Yar is a bit of a jock. With Yarina stabbed and poisoned, Yar falls on her and they both get transported up to the ship. There area few dicey moments, but Picard establishes that the Enterprise is entitled to the vaccine and Yar can be Lutan’s wife if she wants.
Yarina is alive. Crusher resuscitated her after she died, which means that she’s no longer married to Lutan and he’s penniless. She immediately marries his second-in command because he was rooting for her in the contest, and she takes Lutan as her beta husband. The other guy then says that this proves how much more civilized the Ligonains are than the Federation. Picard tries not to laugh, and the Enterpries heads off towards the dying colony planet at a leisurely pace to go deliver life-saving vaccine.