Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: Justice

Airdate: November 9, 1987
8 of 176 produced
7 of 176 aired


After depositing colonists in the Strnad solar system, the Enterprise pays a visit to neighboring Rubicun, a system graced with one of the most peaceful, pleasurable planets on record, that of the Edo. All goes well until Wesley runs afoul of one of the Edo's laws, and is sentenced to death. Will Picard respect the law of the Edo or act in the favor of his own crew members?  

If you were this man, would you be smiling?


Matthew: There are some fundamental flaws with this story. From the beginning, I am wondering how this whole "shore leave" visit doesn't constitute a pretty bad Prime Directive violation on its face. We have a people with no space travel, transporters, etc. etc., who worship a giant space deity and also worship the Enterprise crew as gods when they are revealed to share an orbit with said deity. Does this sound like a culture that should be visited without precautions? If they had set up that they had been visited and ruined by some other space-faring race, it may have been OK.

Kevin: I agree. How did they even make contact? The Edo seem to have no advanced technology. Did they just beam down in the middle of a room and say hi?

Matthew: Another problem is with the general logic of this culture. Just how has placing white boundaries around random things in the park sufficed to do away with greed, lust, avarice, and violence? Was it a progressive conditioning exercise - first white bars were placed around the hot women you might want to rape, then around banks you might want to rob, and on downward until there is only the need for a little random schedule reinforcement to avoid extinction?

Kevin: More deeply, and speaking as a lawyer, the system of laws makes no sense. If someone were attacked, but it weren't in a zone, the attack would go unpunished? Also, even in 1987, there was enough evidence to demonstrate that the death penalty doesn't actually have a deterrent effect, so I don't find even the hypothetical culture based on it credible. More basically, who would think having one punishment for all crimes is a good idea? Zero tolerance policies actually have the opposite effect on decision making. No one goes "Oh, jaywalking is punished like murder, so I better not jaywalk," they go "Oh murder is punished like jaywalking, so what's the difference?" It makes people find the horrible crimes less horrible, not the non-horrible crimes moreso.

Matthew: Tasha takes it on the chin in this episode. Somehow, in her pre-shore leave survey of this culture's laws, she misses the "death box penalty" clause, which seems to be the ONLY law on the books. She also is portrayed yet again as a horn-dog extroardinaire, which seems antithetical to a character who survived rape or the threat of rape in childhood. I just don't get what the writers were trying to do with Yar. Apparently, neither did Denise Crosby. Speaking of character that get the shaft, poor Wesley. Not only does he get to deliver the classic line: "I'm with Starfleet. We don't lie," he also gets one of the most awkward and unbelievable "teenage boy turning down sex for some reason" scenes in the history of, well, never.

Kevin: I am going to give Federation culture the benefit of the doubt and assume that their response to victims of sexual assault is sufficiently compassionate and nuanced that a survivor would have access to the tools necessary to get themselves back to a place where they feel comfortable acting on their sexual desire. Less optimistically, some victims of assault do act out sexually, where others may shut down, but that aside, it was still lazy writing. They weren't trying to write Tasha as an example of empowered womanhood; they were just trying to titillate the audience. As for Wesley, that was just painful all around. I always got the impression the crew assumed Wesley would go get laid and they were either fine or even encouraging that. It would have been interesting to see how Federation society treats teenage sexuality when technology would pretty easily be able to prevent or cure any of the dangers they face today. And the baseball line was just too much. "I need a stick about that long and that thick."

We have wood about that long and that thick, Wesley!
Sorry, sorry...I couldn't resist. If you go back and watch the scene, when he says the line, the two boys give each other a look that cracks me up every time. I wonder at what point in Edo society you get bar mitzvahed or whatever and exchange the at least marginally flattering shorts for the halter tops.

Matthew: There are some interesting aspects to the story which could have been developed better. The ethical quandary in this plot is solid - how far should we go to respect alien laws? Picard refuses to let arithmetic decide ethical questions, and won't sacrifice Wesley just for the sake of the crew escaping the Edo God's wrath. Picard utters a very Roddenberry line about their enlightened penal practices, that "we can detect the seeds of criminal behavior" and nip it in the bud, as opposed to punishment later on. Really? Unfortunately, any potential for interesting resolution of these questions is fixed by a pretty lame speech, in which Picard prevails on the Edo God to essentially let things slide just this once. To which the God says "whatever," and lets a capital criminal go on his merry way.

Kevin: This is as good a place as any to discuss a problem I've always had about the prime directive, or at least its applications. There's a little bit of hubris on the part of the Federation in assuming that a pre-warp culture can't handle mere contact, if not overt attempts of Federation interference. I understand the underlying ethos that it's not the Federation's place to interfere, but I have a philosophical issue with the idea that the Prime Directive carries an affirmative duty to maintain a current culture's status quo, as if by being this culture's status quo, it is inherently better. I mean, how far does it go? Say there is a society fanatically devoted to the idea they are the only life in the universe. Should we put up Mr. Burns' sunblocker in space to hide the evidence we exist? Is our job to make sure nothing challenges their world view, or simply refrain from trying t change their world view? It's certainly not Picard's job to go in and rewrite their legal system, but I never quite understood how it's somehow his job to ensure its uninterrupted, unchallenged survival, when his crew and his interests directly come into conflict with it. The Prime Directive should bar the Federation from going in and doing something for someone else's own good. But why should it bar the Federation from acting to protect its own interest? The Edo culture may change as a result of this incident, but too bad. That's what cultures do. They grow and change in response to stimulus and environment. Once, there were no croissants in France, and then there were, and now they are identified as part of French culture. The very ethos of the Prime Directive would seem to say that the new Edo culture that may result is no less valid than the old one, neither one entitled to Federation help to remain or come into existence. Picard acting to save his crew in a way that incidentally changes Edo society is not the same as Picard consciously attempting to change Edo society, so I found the Prime Directive hand-wringing a little misguided. Any thoughts, Matt?

Matthew: I would subscribe to the interpretation that doesn't relegate cultures to ossified hulks that never change. I also think your formulation of trying to avoid situations of conflict between Federation culture and native culture X is the right interpretation given the (albeit conflicting) treatments we've been given. Federation culture is so much more advanced that any instance of conflict will likely be rail-roaded in favor of the Federation position - essentially the height of colonialism/imperialism, which is what the rule is being written by Roddenberry in response to. Which is why they shouldn't have landed on the damned planet in the first place. If you come across a culture that hasn't a prayer of keeping up with you if and when there is a conflict, leave them the hell alone. If the culture is at the same general level (the Richter Scale of Culture?), then have all the intercourse with them you like. Literally and figuratively. 


Matthew: Let it not be said that the cast butchered great material here. There were writing issues from the get go. But the line readings were not great. Wil Wheaton looked pained and annoyed, for the most part. Michael Dorn got in a few decent one liners. Stewart was OK as Picard here, but was mainly confined to speechifying. Gates McFadden did another Yeoman's job displaying motherly love. I really don't know why they axed her, if it was anyone's decision but hers.

Kevin: Portraying sexuality has always been one of the weak spots of TNG, and Star Trek more generally. Characters tend to be either somewhat sexless or they are in sparkly bikinis trying to bag Kirk. I think its part of a larger tension of how adult a show Star Trek is or should be. Sex is either not portrayed or portrayed in a way so extreme it becomes societally-sanctioned caricature. And, I think Wil Wheaton's frustration was not acting.

Matthew: Brenda Bakke was pretty good as Rivan. She was cute, despite the frizzy curl, and her niavete came off well. Jay Louden was less successful as Liator. But maybe I'm being swayed by the failure of his bulge to surmount the costume he was given.

Kevin: I agree on Rivan. She at least had some energy.

Production Values

Matthew: Location shooting helps this episode out a great deal. Despite any number of incredible and unbelievable developments, the sewage treatment plant they shoot at looks great. But the costumes... oh, the costumes. I can see what Theiss was going for, to reveal as much flesh as possible, but sometimes, flesh should be concealed.  I specifically call your attention to the above photograph. Do I really want to see this man's pasty belly? Then, we have the utter atrocity committed against the actor's natural endowments, whatever they may be. This instance of cameltoe inversion, a reversed polarity anti-bulge, must haunt the man to this day. Combined with the awful hair on just about everyone, I find the look of the Edo frankly disastrous. Kevin, help me out here. 

Kevin: That water reclamation plant is going to get a ton of use. It gets reused as a building in Starfleet Academy throughout the franchise. As for the costumes...I think there's a basic problem here. Men traditionally aren't the ones who have to look sexy, so I think a lot of costume people don't know how to do that. A halter neck flatters a woman. It draws attention to shape of a woman's torso. On a man, those places don't look as good. You don't want to minimize the shoulders on a guy. And even in the subset of attractive, in-shape men, only a subset of those have really great abs. So costumes that draw attention there are going to fail as well. It really felt like Theiss used his bag of tricks in women's costumes to make a man's costume, and that's why it failed. Men are sexy.

You just have to know how to dress them. Or in this case, undress them.  I really wonder if some of those guys were tucking. I get the impression someone at the network said you can't have that much moose-knuckle, the male equivalent of camel toe, (The More You Know) on screen, so they intentionally tried to downplay the men's crotches. That is the saddest sentence I have ever typed. It's like I said in the acting section, they always seem to feel this need to stylize the sexy characters to make them more palatable, and the result is this outfit that is simultaneously over-revealing, but in no way sexy.

Kevin: One other thing, the Rubicun god was a neat model, and for the amount of detail they put into it, you didn't get to see a whole lot. It will come back in Conundrum as the Lysian Central Command, and it's a good model then, too.

Matthew: Agreed. Especially the way they shot it, it was mysterious and cool all at once.


Matthew: Despite its flaws, I think there's the germ of a good story here. And frankly, the bad stuff falls into the "So bad it's good" range for me. So I'm willing to call this another "Spock's Brain," and go with a 2.

Kevin: Is this as bad as Code of Honor or Angel One? No. But that's the faintest praise with which I have ever damned anyone. But in the end, I agree with Matt as to its perverse enjoyability. This gets a 2 from me as well, for a total of 4.


  1. Noting your discussion of the Prime Directive reminded me of a universe where there is no Prime Directive and what happens to alien races there, and it's not even a colonialism thing. I'm thinking about the Mass Effect universe, which is a great sci-fi setting because it doesn't try to be on either end of the extremes when it comes to a utopia verses a dystopia. It's a political set up where humans are the young upstarts who are gaining acceptance over some of the older more established races.

    Anyway in Mass Effect history, one race that has been shit upon precisely because there is not prime directive is the Krogans. A war-like culture that was tearing itself apart with nuclear destruction was discovered by more advanced races. These more advanced races, races of the council, were in a war with an insect race called the Rachni, and were losing horribly. For their own purposes, the council races advanced the Krogan thousands of years in training and technology to kill off the Rachni. The Krogan succeeded, but then wanted to be recognized and become part of the council. The Council didn't like this, the Krogans rebelled, and then were fought off by another race of aliens who were then later added to the council after defeating the Krogans. Also, to aid the war effort the council created a genophage that made only 1 in 1,000 births viable in the Krogan race. The Krogan at the point you meet them in the game are a dying race who struggle for respect but end up being body guards and bounty hunters across space because there's nothing for them to come home to. And the females essentially stay home and try to get knocked up since it's now vital to the continuation of the species.

    Essentially, even without colonialism, whole planets can get fucked over if you don't have something like the Prime Directive in place. The only thing that prevents you from exploiting a lesser-developed race of people at that point is having a damn conscious, and unfortunately history has shown that's not something to depend upon.

    Sidenote: Those costumes in this episode need to burn in a fire.


  2. I need to play through both games. I got about halfway through 1. But I don't have my 360 any more, and PC gaming is for the birds ;)

  3. Hey! PC gaming is totally legit! :P

    Either way, you should play through Mass Effect. It's a compelling story through and through.

  4. Regarding the Prime Directive, let me start by agreeing that the writing absolutely could have been more explicit in that Enterprise crew were not disrupting the Edo society by appearing. However, judging by the way the populace accepted their arrival (with happy energy and only a bit of mild curiosity) it seems to me that the Edo have for some time been aware of people from other planets, along with any reasonable assumptions that would go with that (i.e. FTL travel).

    By accepting that, I am comfortable that they did not violate the Prime Directive simply by being there. However, I do have a problem with there being a Prime Directive violation by taking Wesley back.

    By my understanding of it, the Prime Directive basically says that no person within the Federation (particularly within Starfleet) may engage with any population prior to pre-warp capability, but also that if forced to engage such a populace to do as little as possible to influence the natural course of evolution.

    It seems that the Prime Directive even goes so far (as shown in S02E15 "Pen Pals") as to dictate that an entire populace should be allowed to go extinct if they are pre-warp and not able to save themselves. This is presumably to avoid influencing the populace of other nearby worlds that may be affected in the first people were saved and/or become aware of FTL societies. For example, if the Federation saves these people, what happens if 100 years after Federation intervention they conquer and enslave the nearest planet to them?

    That being said, WHERE in the Prime Directive does it say that Federation citizens and Starfleet crew must obey all the laws of a planet they visit and accept the criminal justice system that exists there, entirely. It seems to me that there may be a law like that, but not with the Prime Directive itself.

    Also, what about the fairness to Federation citizens? Should Wesley have to accept his imminent death simply cause his ship's security chief said "It's all good, junior. Go play"? And he's presumably a minor, so should his mother just have to accept that?

    It seems to me that an extremely just society like the Federation and an extremely thorough military system like Starfleet would have some judicial system designed specifically, if not exclusively, to handle these exact situations. It seems to me that Picard's first reponse should be "Oh merde! Contact the JAG officer at the nearest starbase." Thoughts, Kevin?

    But more importantly, exact HOW does them taking Wesley by "force" (beaming him away) hurt the Edo society in any way? Are people going to suddenly start committing crimes because they think the Enterprise is hanging out to beam them after, as well? That makes no logical sense. Also, this would be a perfect situation to launch one of the infamous Starfleet warning buoys with a message something like: "Beware this planet. It's all hump or death... hump or death... hump or death!" It's good to be the Federation.

  5. [Guess I talked too much. I had to do this in two posts.]

    Switching topics, I had no trouble with the notion that teenage boy Wesley is turning down what appears to be sexual advances. You know what kills the mood of teenage sexual arousal?? All your mom's closest friends and coworkers lingering nearby! Those Starfleet sensors on board the Enterprise can't help much either.

    Though, I'm with Kevin about the looks the two Edo boys keep giving each other. My favorite is when the girl first approaches Wesley and you see the two boys looming in the background. The looks they give each other appear to be "OMG.. she's gonna do it! She's gonna try to doink the alien!!" All it was missing was a high-five. (I bet the high-five was cut during editing.)

    My biggest problem with episode, though, is that it appears that this planet's official welcoming committee, who appear to also be the ruling body of at least the area they're in, are what seem to be the two most inexperienced and naive people in the Alpha Quadrant.

    Man, I can't wait til Season 2 when we can all start sounding more like we like this show!! LOL

  6. Oh, I love Season 1. But I love it in the way a parent loves a child with problems.

    There were good ideas being developed as stories. There just wasn't the strong editorial voice that would rein in future seasons' stories (in a good way) and some of the conventions that render the characters familiar weren't in place yet (Season 2 is where most of them show up).

  7. As for the law stuff, foreign citizens are subject to the laws of whatever country they are in. A tourist in America is subject to all the same laws as a citizen. If a foreign national is arrested, they have certain rights to communicate with their home embassy, and whatnot, and depending on the political relationship and what is going on, there can certainly be some room to maneuver in how to proceed.

    Really this would have been solved had Tasha done her job and actually studied what the laws were. But your ultimate point is valid, this is a diplomatic problem, not a prime directive one. Either by the arrival of the Enterprise or a previous ship, the prime directive ship had sailed. If they were talking about taking an Edo with them to prevent their execution because they subjectively felt it unjust, that would be a more PD question.

    And yeah, Season 1 has some moments. "Where No One Has Gone Before" and "Conspiracy" stand out. What's sad is that between a somewhat awkward infancy and the writer's strike in season 2, the early TNG really got hobbled.

  8. Don't worry. Karma gets Tasha soon enough!

  9. HD Highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    This episode looks REALLY good in HD. On the DVD (and TV for that matter) it was impossible to tell that the Edo costumes are actually really subtle shades of blue and pink. The foliage is amazing. And the visual effects, especially a shot with the sensor orb, Data, and the Edo God on the viewscreen, look incredibly good.

    There are really no lowlights here. Visually, anyway. :)