In which a prisoner escapes, I still despise the Security division of Starfleet, and what have you done for our veterans lately?
The Enterprise has arrived at Angosia III, which has huge gleaming buildings, an extensive tram system, and a recent history with war that Riker is impressed they’ve already recovered from. They seem like ideal Federation candidates, all dedicated to reason and science and holy crap is that James Cromwell? Man, being on Earth during World War III really ages you.
Fortunately, the prime minister is interrupted with minor matters of state – a prisoner escape from their lunar colony, and Riker offers to use the Enterprise to track the escape craft. Dude picked a terrible day to escape, unless of course there’s some sort of deep dark secret this world is hiding and only a member of a disenfranchised subgroup is willing to speak out.
In fact, the escape craft performs some neat and tricky maneuvering that Data can’t keep up with and escapes. The prisoner, Roga Danar and is a violent and dangerous offender, and is clever enough to use a stationary polar position to confuse the Enterprise sensors. When they find him, he goes to ramming speed and uses a shield collision to break away from pursuit. So, what have we learned from this? First, the Enterprise D will automatically raise shields when it detects an uncontrolled collision. Second, physical objects impacting the shields will bounce. This latter makes sense for the same reason modern tanks tend to have angled armor plates – the more energy you can redirect on a new vector, the less energy your armor (or shields) absorb and the less damage you take. The ovoid shape of the Enterprise shields, and in particular the way it’s squashed to present its ‘sharp’ corner towards the plane of engagement, probably helps a lot, and is likely why we don’t see any kinetic weaponry employed by any of the major powers, despite Sir Isaac Newton being the deadliest sonofabitch in space.
Well, that and the collateral damage, but nothing about the portrayal of the Romulans and Klingons suggests they particularly care. The closest we see to kinetic projectiles is torpedoes, which are just a Matter/Antimatter explosion vehicle which delivers thermal and radiation energy directly to the shields.
Anyway, back to the episode. The Enterprise is being outmaneuvered by an unarmed shuttle and are about to just beam the entire shuttle aboard (which let’s not gloss over the fact that they can apparently do that) except that this was another diversion and there’s an escape pod. Even though there are no life signs, O’Brien just beams the only ~2 meter object aboard, holds him in stasis until the security team gets there, and deactivates his weapon. He still beats the crap out of two security guys and Transporter Chief O’Brien and shrugs off several phaser hits until Worf and Riker get there and finally subdue him.
Important sidebar: Roga Danar does not give off life signs that the Enterprise can detect. Not with external sensors, and not with internal sensors. It does beg the question of what exactly life signs are and how they can be detected from hundreds if not thousands of kilometers away.
Danar is having bad dreams. Troi senses it from several corridors away and goes to find out what’s wrong. He flirts with her a bit, and we definitely get a sense that he’s not an insane maniac despite confessing to three homicides in order to escape. Still, she advocates for him to Picard based on the conversation. Not to let him free, but to just do a little more investigation. Since Picard rebuffs her, she goes to Data and finds out he has no criminal record. As far as his military record goes, he had an honorable tour of duty, so we don’t really know why he’s in prison.
Well, okay. He’s in prison because he’s a threat to society, but really that’s just because he’s a soldier in peacetime. He signed up to be, basically, Captain Angosia, became a supersoldier, got either brainwashed or PTSD or both, and there’s no place for that anymore. The tragedy is, of course, that this episode remains extremely relevant, although that makes it good television. When Picard tries to get a diplomatic solution, he butts up against official pushback.
We also learn, from Data speaking with Danar, that Data is not programmed to kill, though he is programmed with military strategy. He is also more capable of changing his own programming than a psychologically-conditioned super-soldier, which makes a kind of sense. At least Picard is as on his side as possible, but his hands are tied, diplomatically speaking.
Interestingly, they can’t beam Danar out of the holding cell while the force field is up. It makes sense that those cells would be enclosed in transporter-proof shields (else how can you hold anyone who has accomplices?) but then the question becomes how do you affect a transfer of a dangerous prisoner. Worf is choosing a simultaneous operation. If I were in charge of ops and wanted to make sure he didn’t escape (rather than giving him the chance to escape because his Cause is Just) I’d probably introduce a knockout gas into the holding cell, or if possible alter the characteristics of the force field to one that the transporters can penetrate. Anything but allowing a brief moment where there’s no containment and the prisoner is conscious. If I didn’t want to give him a fighting chance and have plausible deniability to the local government.
Predictably, things go wrong. It kind of looks like he explodes mid-transport, but instead he escapes. They raise General Quarters alarms and security fields on several decks. As far as worldbuilding goes, I really love this episode. We learn a lot. Bridge can override turbolift destinations. Phasers can be set to explode. Whatever the Enterprise crew does, Danar is playing at least one level above them because they’re not actually a tooth-and-nail military organization despite being structured like one. It tells us a little about the nature of the Angosian war. Also, Danar is able to knock out a security guy because he’s looking at the force field rather than the way someone could approach him ( because Starfleet Security remains just indescribably terrible) and use his commbadge to lower the field. If there’s any validation, it would have to be a hand scanner in the commbadge rather than in the voice recognition, but I’m leaning toward ‘there’s no validation’ because Starfleet Security procedures remain just indescribably terrible. He didn’t even have to give a name.
Because of the open engineering plan, one man with a phaser can take down the entire section staff. Even a General Quarters alert doesn’t slam down bulkheads or anything, although I suppose there might have been and he bypassed them just as easily as he did that force field. Somehow, Danar is an expert both at isolinear chip technology and the Enterprise’s specific systems. I mean, I guess he had a whole two minutes to study the ship schematics. They think he’s after the shuttlebay, because that’s a system he accessed and they can’t pick up on patterns of decoy and deception. Well, everyone except Data. However, it’s pretty neat that the Enterprise systems can detect open junction panels. It’s a very minor thing but it’s nice because I wouldn’t have thought of it while I was putting security doors on critical ship systems. and installing man-traps in the detention center.
It is worth noting that they could space him at any time. They could just pull everyone back to their quarters, erect force fields everywhere, and suck out the air from the entire ship. There’s a limit to how much damage he could cause. They won’t because they’re the good guys. Instead, once they figure out where he’s going, they finally flood his location with gas, but not before he finds hidden emergency environment suits or a breathing apparatus or something. Which should definitely be there because what are you going to do, let your crew get killed on the off-chance a desperate supersoldier escapes?
I want to go on record that Worf is significantly less stupid in this episode than the rest of the Starfleet Security division. Still, Danar gets the best of him, powers the cargo transporter with a phaser, and beams aboard the transport ship. I will repeat that in case you missed it: he powers a matter/energy conversion machine with a standard-issue sidearm. I choose to take that as ‘he powered the console with the phaser, but the transporter itself used main ship’s power’ because the alternative is that phaser batteries carry approximately 3.5 gigatons of energy. By comparison, the Tsar Bomba, biggest nuclear weapon ever tested, had only 58 megatons of energy. In practical terms, it would mean that a phaser battery is a more efficient method of energy storage than antimatter equivalent to half the mass of an adult male humanoid, which is just silly. So it’s a good thing I unilaterally decided what must have actually happened.
Anyway, Danar escapes, attacks the lunar gulag, frees the prisoners, and marches on the capital. It’s up to the entire senior staff to beam down in front of a horde of supersoliders to fix everything. Except Riker. Riker gets to mind the ship. Still, if it comes to violence, everything is already over anyway. In a long scene, we see the disgusting underbelly of how a peaceful society tries to deal with necessary unpleasantness. As I said, this episode remains tragically relevant. Although, a solution comes to mind. Kirk exiled Khan to a planet where the augments could survive. The phrase ’40 acres and a mule’ comes to mind. Either way, it’s an internal matter, and Picard leaves them to pick up their mess, for application to the Federation at a future date.