In which Riker tries to get Picard laid, Picard gets laid, and free will is an illusion.
There’s not enough scotch in the world for this. Okay. We open on what is pretty clearly either a resort or a brothel on Risa, and two shiny alien dudes appear who don’t look relaxed at all. These guys are looking for Picard specifically, and the computer seems happy to help, if only Picard were actually there. Picard isn’t there and has no plans to go there yet, though, so these are fairly obviously time travelers of some stripe or another. Why don’t I sound more excited about that, you ask, given my love of time travel? Because it doesn’t really matter, as far as I recally.
Picard has been negotiating a peace treaty for several weeks and seems just totally exhausted, and not even excited about having completed his mission. It is Troi’s expert opinion that Picard needs a vacation. This is undoubtedly, true because, as I have mentioned to my surprise before, Troi is actually good at her job despite what I remembered about this show. It’s Riker’s look of surprise that’s throwing me. “Vacation,” he seems to ask. “What is this strange and mythical anomaly of which you speak?” I guess you don’t rise to executive officer aboard the Flagship of the fleet by being anything less than utterly devoted to your job, so well-portrayed, Star Trek.
There’s a conspiracy afoot. Crusher goes to Picard to basically force him to take a medical leave. The banter here is actually delightful, if a bit one-sided. Since the Enterprise is about to undergo maintenance anyway, Beverly keeps pushing, but given the presence of time travelers it seems inevitable that… yes, Riker has just accosted Picard in a turbolift to tell him to go to Risa. Picard refuses, until Troi ‘casually’ mentions that her mother may be joining them on the starbase for the duration of the Enterprise maintenance cycle, at which point Picard pulls a face. That was a cruel trick, Deanna, and you ought to hope that nobody reports that adorable little fist-pump you did do Picard until after his vacation. In fact, Picard sees through the ploy, but goes on vacation anyway because it’s the only way people aren’t going to continue to pester him. The thought of anyone escalating from threats of Lwaxana Troi is horrifying.
Riker starts slipping into the dumb jock role that I seemed to remember him having. He protests Picard packing books and mentioned, in Troi’s presence, some of the things he likes about Risean women. It seems like he kind of forgot his ex-girlfriend who he must maintain a professional working relationship with was in the room. Riker also asks for a souvenier, called a horgon, from Risa. Worf offers to assign a security detail, but honestly given how bad Starfleet security details tend to be at their jobs, what would be the point?
So Picard just beams down and is immediately accosted by a lovely brunette who uses his lips as a convenient hiding place from a Ferengi she seems to be afraid of.
Incidentally, my no-fanservice rule means that while I will hold myself to the standard of not using bikini-clad ladies to get pageviews, neither do you get Picard wearing shirts with a deep V. Deal with it, I don’t believe in double standards.
Okay, time for an aside. The Federation is, at least on an individual scale, as close to post-scarcity as makes no difference for most people. Food is free. Shelter is probably free, although luxury accommodations may still be… well, a luxury item. In this vision of the future, nobody starves or dies of exposure, is the main point. But we’ve seem hints that some things still require some method of keeping economic score, at least as far as negotiations outside the Federation. A prime example would be the Wormhole negotiation in “The Price.” For a stable wormhole, why wouldn’t Starfleet just offer to replicate anything the Barzans want? Either high-minded concerns about breaking their economy, or because the Federation is still somewhat limited on an industrial scale.
Why is this important? Because what we see of Risa is that Picard can just beam in to a literal paradise world with no prior notice and in the space of a jump-cut can be reading in a wicker chaise while scantily-clad ladies refresh everyone’s drinks constantly. How does Risa afford this on a scale large enough to ensure that people who randomly drop by from all corners of the Federation can be served?
Replicators help, obviously. Energy doesn’t seem to be a problem when no civilization worth mentioning is beholden to the tyranny of the rocket equation. You can launch as many orbital solar gatherers as will fit and not throw shade on the celebrants below. As for the rest of it, I imagine that Risa maintains everything else it needs through high-level barter deals with the rest of the Federation. Risa agrees to provide the ideal shore leave planet for anyone who behaves themselves, and in return the Federation handles any defecits Risa may experience. I suppose what I’m really wondering is how much anyone bothered to quibble over the details.
Picard is being constantly distracted by a constant stream of women asking him if he wants… companionship. It seems that the horgon Picard just purchased for Riker is the Risean tiki-totem of sexuality and having one out in the open is a symbol that screams DTF. With this new information, Picard hides the statue, only to be interrupted yet again by a Ferengi in a Hawaiian shirt who gets a little pushy, and demands Picard hand over ‘the disk.’
The brunette shows up again, introducing herself as Vash and intent on bothering him incessantly, but when he leaves, she finds the opporutnity to slip the disk into Picard’s robes when they run into Sovak, the Ferengi. Picard is fed up with the whole thing and goes back to his suite to find the fish-people scanning it. The fish-people introduce themselves as Vorgons from the 27th century. This is clearly why Picard hates vacation.
They’re here about something called a Tox Uthat, a device left behind in the past by a 27th century visitor which is capable of stopping the nuclear processes in a star. It was hidden in the 22nd century ‘from criminals’ and, look, okay. Why? Who builds a device that can kill a star, first of all? Second, if you have time travel, then hiding a device in the past where more people will have had time to hear of it is functionally equivalent to ‘hiding’ it in a labeled display case at a traveling circus a few towns away and knowing that traveling circus is coming back. Even if it’s more inconvenient to get to now, it’s coming anyway. Why not ‘hide’ the thing in an active volcano during the geologically active period of some newly forming planet, is what I’m getting at here. I mean at least hide it in the future so that nobody in the present just automatically knows where and when it is. Friggin’ Mad Scientists. They have no common sense whatsoever.
Anyway, these Vorgons have been tasked with finding it, and when they were unable to do so, began, you know, searching the history books for it. They found something that might have been it in a brief historical footnote featuring Picard, which is why they’re here. Even though he hasn’t found it yet, we are assured that he will, because it’s aprt of history. Apparently, history is immutable, which at least answers one very important question. The scientist who invented it had to hid it in the past because he had already hidden it in the past. The Vorgon method of time travel, while super convenient, appears to lack the ability to move outside of constrained loops of temporal causality. They say that when Picard finds it, he will give it to them, and he agrees. His stated reason is that the device belongs in their time, but I have to wonder if his primary motivation is that if it stays in the 24th century it could be used in the 24th century. They leave, and he finds the disk in his robes.
He goes to find Vash to confront her, and the plot advances. Vash worked with Sovak when the means to that end weren’t precisely legal, and we exit the scene with Picard and Vash going to team up to find the thing. They leave, and Sovak finds them. Enjoy this screenshot. It’s really difficult finding material that doesn’t break my policy in this episode. As it turns out, Vash is the one who’s a criminal, at least according to Sovak, who’s kind of incredibly in love with her.
Incidentally, Picard tackling that terrorist in “The High Ground” was one thing, but punching a Ferengi in the face after disarming him is extremely awkward. You have the disruptor, why wouldn’t you call whatever passes for the local constabulary. Risa is stated to have laws, presumably there’s somewhere that enforces them, even if those people mainly get paid to sit around and read for hours on end most of the time.
Back on the economic side of things, Vash, it turns out, did take Sovak’s money because she couldn’t afford to get to Risa without it. That kind of makes the case for the Federation keeping an open account with Risa whereas private citizens and researchers do, but still conflicts with Kirk’s assertion that they don’t use money in the 23rd century. I have a couple of solutions at the moment but they all pretty much imply a military dictatorship, howsoever benevolent, which is not really consistent with a sustainable utopia. For now, I’ll go with ‘Vash was researching outside of Federation space, where money actually matters’ because that’s simpler. She gets Picard to admit he’s having more fun going on a treasure hunt, and then they probably bone in their sleeping bag.
They get to the place where the Uthat is supposed to be, and start digging. The Vorgons show up to witness this historic moment. Then Sovak shows up with a rifle, so it’s a fun little party. They’ve got a pretty good hole going when Picard gives up on finding the thing. Sovak has a full-on breakdown and starts digging by himself in desperation. One almost feels sorry for him.
Back at the resort, Vash is disappointed that they didn’t find the device and asks to be alone. The Enterprise is finally done with her repairs and is ready to beam Picard back aboard. Instead, he tells them to be ready for ‘Transporter code 14.’ As with anything referred to by a number, this is Ominous. Picard meets up with Vash on her way out and demands the Uthat. A number of small clues have led Picard to deduce that the Uthat was in Vash’s possession the whole time, and she set the whole thing up to convince Sovak that it was a myth. She hid it in a horgon’s head, which is just all kinds of clumsy symbolism. The Vorgons show up, but Vash casts suspicion on the Vorgons based on some iffy legends, they get hostile, and it turns out that Transporter Code 14 explodes the target matter. Probably in such a way that actual explosive matter is denatured though SCIENCE! so that it can be used to disarm things rather than set them off. Transporter Code 14 also seems to explode things faster than a full transporter cycle, which explains its use over the ‘beam out energy only’ strategy that’s been used once or twice before.
Deprived of their prize, the Vorgons reveal that he was supposed to destroy it, which gives us some ominous hints about the true nature of fate and free will in the Star Trek universe. Picard also clearly doesn’t understand how predestination paradoxes work, but he does understand how to get one last round of tonsil hockey in.