In which the Federation solidify their reputation as interstellar do-gooders, Data tries to be funny, and Okona keeps the canaries flying.
I vaguely recall something about the actor in this episode almost being chosen as Riker. I could be making things up. It probably doesn’t matter. The *Enterprise* is traveling between twin planets that were colonized by a humanoid race and which are now in a longstanding, if unsteady, alliance, when Worf detects a damaged ship whose best armament is laser weaponry. He says it with such derision that we must therefore assume that phasers are somehow a fundamentally different directed coherent energy weapon. Food for thought. Picard agrees that they should probably stick around in case the cargo carrier Erstwhile, captained by Captain Okona, who is indeed outrageous. His roguishness has captured Troi’s interest and Data’s curiosity. Our favorite crew, being the spacefaring goodie-two-shoes that they are, agree to repair his systems. It says a lot about the society they live in that nobody really considers refusing aid even for a moment. Even Worf merely recommends limited access to critical areas of the ship.
Beaming aboard, Worf divests him of his sidearm and hidden knife, and he immediately begins flirting with the transporter operator, who is having none of it. Well, some of it. Well, they’ll be meeting up later for drinks. He even tries to joke with Data, including a little misunderstanding regarding the laws of Newtonian physics. I will quote:
Life… is like loading twice your cargo weight onto your spacecraft. If it’s canaries, and you can keep half of them flying all of the time… you’re all right.
The flaws of this particular philosophy are left as an exercise to the reader, but it serves to illustrate Okonoa’s cavalier attitude towards life as Data escorts him to his booty call with the transporter tech.
It appears to be getting to Data that he doesn’t have a sense of humor, so hegoes to Guinan for advice on humor and witticisms. Pulaski hasn’t shown u p in this episode yet, but I’m going to take the opportunity to contrast her treatment of Data with Guinans. Guinan manages to be perfectly honest and frank about the areas of human culture that Data objectively lacks without making herself the prime suspect in any computer-related hate crimes that might happen. Unfortunately, her advice appears to be to study more, so he asks the Enterprise computer to show him the stand-up stylings of one Ronald D. Moore. If that name sounds familiar, it should, he’s one of the writers.
What happens next makes me wish I was already in Deep Space 9, because Data speaks with a hologram that is aware of its own existence as a hologram (or at least, recognizes Data as the reason he’s at that nightclub) and a favorite character gets life advice from a hologram. Also, Data thinks that fish are amphibians, and the Star Trek writers of the day think that Jerry Lewis impressions are funny. I’m with Data on this one. What is funny is a comedian discussing craft at android-rated access speeds.
Oh hey, looks like the rest of the episode is happening. Another ship is appraching the Enterprise. You’ll recall that in “Heart of Glory” I made the point that Federation, Romulan, and Ferengi ships are aesthetic in a way that even some Klingon ships aren’t, at least post-The Motion Picture. Federation ships have nothibg but smooth hull plating on the outside, while a lot of the ships of minor powers that we see have exposed pipes, the kind of thing you would expect to see if weight was still a very real concern when dealing with gravity wells. A warp-capable civilization doesn’t really have that considerating, since warp travel has to function by, in some way, bending spacetime to do FTL without relativity. The ship apparching the Enterprise is about half the size of one nacelle and aiming lasers at them. Apparently, laser weapons as an entire class can’t even get past the Enterprise navigational deflectors. Since Picard is, at this point, the least worried he’s ever been, and orders the main defensive shields dropped in case he decides to surrender.
Debin, the captain of the little boat, does have a point – the Enterprise is in their system, and if they’re not a member race (and potentially even if they are) then the Federation has no particular rights. Again, we get a very solid sense of why Picard is thoroughly a man of a diplomatic era (as opposed to Cowboy Kirk) because it’s pretty clear that the Enterprise could swat this other ship in its sleep. Apparently, Debin wants Okona extradited for crimes committed on the planet Atlek. During these negotiations, another ship pops up, this one from the other planet, Straleb, and they also want Okona. Worf is dispatched to extract Okona from the latest bed he’s been occupying.
Unfortunately, Okona can’t say why the two captains want him. This doesn’t mean he doesn’t know. Apparently, his crime is knocking up Debin’s daughter, so Debin demands that Okona come back and ‘make an honest woman of her.’ Contrast this view of sexuality to the one that prevails aboard the Enterprise – Picard doesn’t care how many of his crew Okona schtupps because they’re all consenting adults and presumably the transporter can usually be trusted to filter out any known cross-species crotch rot. That may have been my favorite sentence on this blog so far. It’s almost nicely understated, and then has to go and ruin it by hanging a lampshade.
The other captain wants Okona because he stole a national treasure. Also, there’s definitely an undercurrent of Two Houses Both Alike In Dignity here – Debin’s daughter is pregant, and the other guy’s son appears to be incredibly embarassed by his father’s behavior. Okonoa, to his credit, isn’t demanding anything of Picard and appears genuinely sorry that Picard is in this predicament even though the Enterprise is in, again, the least danger it’s ever been in. He’s willing to get in his ship and run despite his ship being outmatched by the other two. And after a conversation with Wesley, Okona appears to either be sad about his life choices or come up with a plan, and either way decides to stay and work things out, so Picard beams the two delegations into a conference.
Apparently the one guy’s son and the other guy’s daughter have been boinking and Okona took the jewel to deliver to the daughter as a wedding present/dowry/whatever the local tradition demands. Of course, now it’s too late and everyone is shouting and Data is still trying to tell jokes. The pacing in this one just kind of fell apart, but the two plots are pretty decent and without glaring technical faults. The interpersonal plot resolves and Data is left trying to tell jokes to an audience programmed to laugh at anything he does, and when he gets it, we get a poignant moment where Data recognizes that it’s not something he’s going to be good at intentionally for a while.