TNG: S1E08: “Justice”

In which Star Trek does Skinemax, Wesley steps on the grass, and Picard gets told.

"No, no, it's fine, Tasha. I've just never heard you say 'get my freak on' before."

“No, no, it’s fine, Tasha. I’ve just never heard you say ‘get my freak on’ before.”

The Enterprise is wandering around nearby the end of their last mission and found a previously uncharted class-M planet inhabited by very human-looking humanoids, and Crusher demands Picard try to get some shore leave going to relieve some stress. This seems hella irresponsible – like the conquistadors showing up in Tenochtitlan with Mardi Gras beads. Even if you don’t give something to or catch something from the locals, you might not have the same idea of what constitutes a good time and will probably be leaving solo cups all over their sacrificial altars. At least Yar did her homework and made a handbook of the local laws and customs. They are surprising by the standards of the Federation – very ordered and rigid when it comes to littering, and few to no public indecency laws.

Picard thinks this is too good to be true, but nobody can find anything bad to say about the planet except that there’s some weird sensor reading going on, hardly worth mentioning. Particularly in light of the natives taking regular trips downtown to pound town. Riker only seems marginally more excited about this than Yar. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – post-traumatic counseling in the 24th century must be fantastic. Yar spent the first 15 years of her life running away from rape gangs, then graduated the academy to be chief of security on an Enterprise, and still manages to leer at the chance to have random anonymous sex with an alien species. Picard offers Wes a place on the away mission because he wants to make sure it’s healthy for young people as well.

The inhabitants of Rubicon III, the Edo, all wear tea towels, and Troi is not a fan of the way they pitch a tent and hug to say hello. Worf enjoys it, though. He’s pretty good early on with the one-liners. There’s some idyllic trying-to-be-Baywatch shots of the locals running around a lush garden complex, and wes turns down the Welcome To Our Planet Aych-Jay to go play catch with some other kids. The local rule is “nobody does anything uncomfortable.”

I'm trying very hard to avoid cameltoe and moose knuckle. I hope you all appreciate it.

I’m trying very hard to avoid cameltoe and moose knuckle. I hope you all appreciate it.

Back on the ship, Data is trying to work out what the sensor glitch is, to the point of just calling out “hey you guys, what’s up.” Surprisingly, he gets an answer, kind of. The object shows itself in an effect more-or-less in keeping with Data’s statement that it seems to be only partially in the customary region of space-time. Picard orders Geordi to a window to get a “real look.” Up close, it looks like a space station painted green except for the windows and then given a greenscreen effect. Then it sends a probe to penetrate the ship – a glowing energy sphere that looks like a fat tinkerbell and talks with the Voice of God.

USB is SO three and a half centuries ago.

USB is SO three and a half centuries ago.

In fact, it seems miffed that the Enterprise left colonists on a nearby world and wants to find out if they have the same designs on Rubicon III, and hands them an ultimatum: Do Not Interfere With The Edo. Then it messes with Data a bit to get information exchange.

Back on the planet the youths are challenging each other to feats of acrobatic might before a blonde girl starts hitting Wesley. He tries to teach her baseball, but in order to do so they need to go to the gardens to get a bat. Riker finds out that something cut off the communication and tries to consolidate the landing party, and in the process of doing that we get to hear about how there’s no such thing as crime anymore. Instead they have Mediators to wander around to a randomly selected area every day called “the punishment zone.” Sounds spooky. Or kinky. Since nobody knows where the Punishment Zone will be, nobody commits any crimes because all crimes are punishable by death. And despite all Tasha’s homework about these customs, this is the first she’s hearing of it. Or of the little white fences to remind people not to trespass.

And that's how Wesley died.

And that’s how Wesley died.

I actually have trouble deciding whether this system is stupid or brilliant. It’s clever enough, but it does bring to mind a secretive cabal hiding out in the woods with binoculars all day. Plus, they have to be sure not to be seen, or someone with malicious will would know that any laws could be broken anywhere else. I don’t like what it says about me and humanity in general that my first thought when presented with this system is how to game it. And sadly for Wesley, today was a punishment zone here, so now they have to kill him.

This would be really easy to resolve if they could beam up or communicate with the ship. Hell, they could pull a “Code of Honor” or “Amok Time” and insist they ‘kill’ Wes themselves give him something to simulate death or cause reversible death, and then revive him shipboard to save diplomatic face. In fact, only moments later, Fat Tink finishes face-humping Data and communications resume. So with 21 minutes left to the episode, there’s already an easy solution. They can uphold the Prime Directive and the local laws, then use technomagic to save their crew and just ban Wes from the planet for life. In fact, one of the locals suggests that they just beam Wes out so they can record him as a fugitive. He sounds bitter about it but it’s a valid solution, except that some reading of the Prime Directive forbids it.

I see dead people.

I see dead people.

It’s hard to see how the Prime Directive of Noninterference could forbid rescuing crew from death on a pre-warp planet but not forbit, oh, I don’t know, taking your crew on shore leave on a pre-warp planet. Or telling them about a half-real space station in orbit around their planet. I mean, it’s okay, because they already know God exists and recognize it from the description. Or offering to take one of them to space. The volunteer is frightened. Troi tells her there’s no reason to be even though, as we discovered in “Lonely Among Us,” she’s about to be killed. The only consolation is she’ll never know it.

Picard shows her God from out of the lounge window, at which point Fat Tink gets angry and starts on a collision course towards the Enterprise. Picard urgently beams her back down to the planet to appease Fat Tink. It’s only now that Picard deigns to deal with Crusher’s very rational worry about her son. Fortunately, she is a consummate Starfleet officer and is able to bury the panic after only a token outburst because Panic Never Helps. This is why Crusher is a better doctor than McCoy. (Although I’m willing to admit at this point that McCoy is a great character.)

The Edo God, who I have been calling Fat Tink because it amuses me, is a collection of beings on a spaceship who consent to being called God because they don’t think it harmful to the Edo culture at this stage in their development. Probably because the Edo haven’t invented cameras yet, so it can safely perform miracles. Data is able to give Picard the lowdown on Fat Tink, which claims the entire local star cluster, and Data gets the sense that they won’t judge the Enterprise by Fat Tink’s rules, but will judge it by the rules of the Federation. Meaning if they violate Federation law to rescue Wesley they’ll probably in the cacky.

This feels very similar, thematically, to Q’s role in “Encounter at Farpoint.” Picard is given a puzzle or situation to solve while an ineffable god-being sits in judgment over his actions. So much so that I’m inaugurating another counter. I really need to start keeping track of these. Picard also refuses to allow arethmetic to resolve the answer to ‘who would you save, one person or a thousand?’ questions. He is not, therefore, a believer in any kind of utilitarianism. It’s a trait he shares with Kirk: the refusal to accept the best bad option presented to him, in favor of searching for a third one. He also promises Crusher that he won’t let Wes die, “whatever the cost.” The implication is that he would claim that as captain Wes’ behavior was his responsibility and put himself in the boy’s place. We should not, at this point, forget that Picard was the one who carried Jack Crusher’s corpse home to Beverly and Wesley. This may be biasing his decision-making process, because he is human.

The woman Picard took up to the Enterprise reasons that because Picard shared the sky with God, he must be a god. Giving us another counter. A counter that’s going to see a looooot of use in DS9. The Edo give Picard an impassioned, dare I say Picard-like speech about how without their one inviolate law they might lose their society. I was not excited about this episode but watching Picard get the patented Captain’s Morality speech rather than give it is a pretty good inversion of the trope. Picard does some moralizing and tries to beam out, but Fat Tink prevents the transporter from energizing. Picard gives a brief statement that justice can’t be absolute, which frankly falls flat when compared with the Edo speech, but it seems to do the trick, somehow.

Picard Teaches Morality To God Counter: 2

A Starfleet Officer Is Mistaken For A God Counter: 1

 

 

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