TNG: S3E02: “The Ensigns of Command”

In which nobody writes new music, corporations are always jerks, and Data gets creative. 

I neither have soul nor am a soldier.

I neither have soul nor am a soldier.

Cruising along in the silence of deem space, a string quartet is setting up in Ten Forward. O’Brien is on the cello and Data will be playing the violin. We also have a random Vulcan we’ve never seen before who is not wearing a starfleet uniform. In fact, neither is O’Brien. I guess Random Science Devision Crewmember #1 and Data just don’t have anything they find more comfortable than their uniforms. Anyway, Data tries to dissuade Picard and Crusher from watching his performance, because he has no “soul”. This scene sets up what will likely be the theme of the episode – that excessive honesty in a commander, or the presumption of defeat, can be disastrous. Also, that musicians are jerks.

Now might be a neat time to point out that we only rarely get a glimpse of what future art will actually look like. All the music is either jazz or classical, all the literature is either Shakespeare, Doyle, or Moby Dick. The only art we really see is the semi-functional aesthetic design of the Enterprise itself. Now, I’m not insane, I know this is because future music hadn’t been invented yet, but there’s no speculation. It paints a picture of a future where the only new things humanity produces are scientific research. We see Data occasionally paint a picture as part of his quest for humanity, and I think at some point Crusher writes a play, but nobody is ever in their quarters playing air-holophoner to Andorian hip-synth power-trance.

Sadly, Picard’s listening pleasure is interrupted by a message from the Sheliak Corporate – the first such message to the Federation in 111 years. Apparently, there are humans on a planet that the Sheliak own according to a treaty, and the Enterprise is required to remove them so the Sheliak can settle there. The area is full of a form of exotic radiation that screws with the sensors,  transporters and phasers and should kill humans, but apparently they’ve adapted somehow. The Sheliak, meanwhile, would have no moral qualms about exterminating all the humans there so long as it’s their legal right to do so. Data being the only one on the ship who can survive on the planet, he is sent to investigate the humans. Riker guesses it will be a lone crashed survey vessel, and at most a dozen or so people. A few shuttle convoys and they should be fine, and the rest of the episode is a medical drama about their withdrawal from the exotic radiation, right?

Data lands and is greeted by two colonists who take him back to their leader, amidst promises how the Federation being proud of them for all they’ve accomplished since their great-grandparents time. Uh oh. They’re descendents of a colony ship Artemis that went off-course and is now a thriving colony of 15,000 or so. Worf seems to indicate the Enterprise could carry them all (with the shuttle bays loaded to capacity and probably the holodecks converted to barracks) but it would take at least four weeks to do so. So it does seem that the Enterprise has energy reserves to accomplish this. Picard needs to extend the deadline they were given, but since the Sheliak homeworld is so far away, it will take significant time to reach them. And after that, of course, the actual conversation with them will take many hours because of the communications delay, right?

Looks kind of nice for an irradiated wasteland.

Looks kind of nice for an irradiated wasteland.

Artemis colony is a third-generation colony launched roughly at the same time Kirk was bopping around the Galaxy talking computers to death. If they had replicators, they were industrial, not miniaturized personal food machines like on the Enterprise D, and they haven’t had contact with the Federation to get the latest models since. All of their tech is going to be about 80 years behind. With that in mind, this is a pretty nice-looking colony and  except for the radiation looks like a nice place to retire. Too bad the Sheliak are going to raze it to the ground.

Data explains his mission, to get the colonists out. The leader, Goshevin, is not having it, not after working so hard to settle. After receiving the response and being told to get going, Data meets a young woman who’s friendly and interested. To illustrate how behind the times she is, she asks if he’s duotronic. Ha. Even M-5 was multitronic. It is to laugh.

Back on the ship, Picard and Riker tell LaForge and O’Brien to get the transporters working despite the radiation, despite the fact that it’s impossible. Starfleet seems to operate by the old standby of the Army Corps of Engineers: The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer. Remember, when you don’t know how long it will take, say it’s impossible, so that in three days when you get it done everyone is impressed. Speaking of the impossible, renegotiating the treaty isn’t an option either. The original negotiation took over three hundred lawyers. Picard has… Troi.

Cool throneroom. I want one.

Cool throneroom. I want one.

Of course, that’s if Picard can get the Sheliak to talk to them. Their military capabilities must be equivalent enough to the Federation that they felt it was worth a treaty 111 years ago, but they aren’t exactly chatty. Since Picard has nothing the Sheliak want, up to and including the moral concern for the lives of humans, and he doesn’t have the authority to threaten war, the discussion is over. They hang up on him mid-sentence which, considering the known subspace communications delay should not really be a thing. Grr, hiss.

"The Digital Conveyor is more art than science."

“The Digital Conveyor is more art than science.”

Data’s new friend Adr’ian McKenzie (I wish I were making that up) agrees with him that evacuation is the only sensible choice and tries to give him the lay of the political landscape. Meanwhile, Geordi and O’Brien tehnically have the transporters working, so long as you don’t mind being broken in half on the way.

Goshevin is showing off the colonial aqueduct and making a big lofty speech about what it means to the colonists. It’s an important sentimental monument to the humans living there. Sadly, the Sheliak don’t care, Starfleet won’t have evacuation ships there for three weeks, and the humans living there refuse to leave anyway. Data is having difficulty innovating when it comes to getting them ready to leave, but at least he’s made enough ground noise that there’ll be a public meeting, and tried hard enough that Adr’ian gives him a hug and kiss, and suggests an alternate approach, bringing us back to the teaser theme.

At least the transporter problem is progressing. Instead of melting completely in half, their test pods are now only a little melted. It’s entirely possible that a human subject would merely be in unbelievable agony and begging for death after going through that. So… progress? When they succeed, they will also have pushed back the limits of transporter technology for all of Starfleet.

Data’s debate tactics are a little staged and cringe-worthy, and is called out on it. He does a little better than he has so far, but when it comes to manipulating emotions, he’s still a novice, and loses, at least as far as public perception goes. He manages to start a groundswell, at least.

While the Enterprise is en route to intercept the Sheliak ship to try to reason with them, Troi takes the opportunity to explain to Picard why negotiations are so difficult and gives a brief lecture on xenolinguistics. It’s a good one. Hey, that’s two episodes in a row that have had scenes solid enough to be remarked on and worth watching. I like this trend.

Her lecture does bring up the question of how the universal translator works. It was able to establish communication with a brand new form of intelligence, the nanintes from last episode, with only about ten minutes of human-scale time. It didn’t translate the word in Troi’s lecture, but maybe this is because she just made it up. It apparently also can’t handle the level of syntactical complexity the Sheliak use either, at least not without being so lossy that it’s insulting even to try. Picard tries to negotiate in person, but they get beamed back to the Enterprise mid-sentence.

Welp.

Welp.

After Goshevin resorted to force and tasered Data in the chest. He’s able to self-repair after a time, and notes that actions speak louder than words. He modifies his phaser using a part from his arm. The technobabble is that this part will allow the phaser to continually re-adjust so that the radiation doesn’t scatter the beam. Okay, sure. That’s not how optics works but whatever. Data decides to send word that he’s going to destroy the aqueduct. It draws a crowd, to say the least. Data pops up from ambush, phasers all the guards, and phasers the aqueduct. Apparently, the phaser has a setting powerful enough to transmit vaporization energy up a stair-style water feature and across several miles of aqueduct, blowing up pumping stations as it goes, all the way up a mountain. This is by way of demonstration – if Data can do that with a hand weapon, it becomes a little easier to see that the Sheliak could just glass the site from orbit. Fortunately, he seems to ahve made his point.

Meanwhile, studying the treaty, Picard seems to have found an out. He requests third-party arbitration, a species called the Grizellas, which are in the middle of a six-month hibernation cycle, and gets to hang up on the Sheliak for once. Now that the crisis is settled, Geordi presents his findings that the transporters can, in fact, be modified, and all it will take is 3.1 million man-hours. Good thing it’s not necessary.

Data reminds us that for all his cleverness, he doesn’t have feelings, but in the wrap-up, Picard gives him a little encouragement and points out areas he may not realize he’s being creative.

Did we miss something awesome?