Monday, January 3, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 1: Arsenal of Freedom

The Next Generation, Season 1
"Arsenal of Freedom"
Airdate: April 11, 1988
20 of 176 produced
20 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is searching for the missing USS Drake. The ship went missing near the planet Minos. Minos was a world known for its weapons, and selling weapons to both sides of the wars they supplied. The planet has been desolated, and there is no sign of the Drake. What happened to the Drake, and what dangers await the Enterprise?

Headaches or not, I guess cystic acne still afflicts the 24th century...


Kevin: I'm really glad it shook out that I got to start off this review. As I discuss in my Why I Love Star Trek essay, this was the first episode of TNG I ever saw, so this one has a special place in my heart. While, after analysis, this is not the best TNG has to offer, there is a lot here that explains why I tuned in the next night. The primary plot of the episode is, admittedly, a little thin. The crew evades a physical threat. My only real complaint is that the solution, while cute, is a little too pat. Would the machine restart when Picard can't produce a credit card? The highlight of this episode is the character development. We get the start of Riker's deferring of command. It's an interesting twist on the Kirk motif Riker was clearly being modeled after. Kirk would never have deferred the center chair. Riker doing so, for the express purpose of learning more about command from a more learned superior adds a neat level to Riker's character. It adds a depth to Riker. The numerous later iterations of this started to just feel like creating the excuse to keep a promising captain on the show for seven years, but here, it really works. It evens plays off the restraint he eventually showed in "Hide and Q."

Matthew: As far as the sci-fi story goes, there is an obvious "arms race" metaphor at work. The Echo Papa series represents the ultimate "smart weapon," and the natural, if predictable, route for the story to take is that it ran amok and destroyed its creators. Stories like this have been done before and since in Trek, usually with bio-weapons. But this iteration is just fine for what it is. To me, the only problem is that the society that the weapons destroyed never really seemed to exist, except for one creepy guy - who looked just like a human anyway. The horror is somewhat abstract when the people killed don't really exist for the viewer. I guess I also had a small problem with the idea that just one of these things could be so powerful. I would have been more satisfied with a swarm of the machines, though I guess budget would have held that back. It was made out of Leggs containers, after all.

Kevin: What drew me in most about the episode was the interplay between Picard and Crusher. Even without knowing any of the history to that point, the conversation between the two is compelling. There's history there and it's obvious. Picard's concern and the strata of subtext that Gates McFadden adds to every line make every frame of film they are in together really, really interesting. One of things I liked was the way they talked about the disaster on the Arvada colony. They talk about it to each other like people who both know what they are talking about. I always hate when character dialogue is unnaturally stiff for the sake of exposition and verbally rehashing facts they both know and know the other knows. The result is natural dialogue and just hints of what they are talking about, which really serves the drama. Top to bottom, but for the absence of some major character change as a result of this episode, the scenes were awesome.

Matthew: Definitely some nice scenes, which furthered an understated, teasing chemistry that would go sorely undeveloped, basically forevermore. Sigh. You know, other characters got a lot of great stuff here. Yar gets a competent role in the firefight. It's always nice to see her get played as something other than a butch dyke or a horny "girl gone wild." I liked Riker's conversation with the Rice simulacrum, too. It was like a Turing test conversation. And apparently Riker watches Shirley Temple movies on his personal relaxation light.

Kevin: Back on the Enterprise, we get some wonderful moments with LaForge and Troi was neat, too. Burton did a great job portraying competent, but nervous. His conversation with Troi was great. It did credit to both their characters and the idea that these officers truly are the best in Starfleet. Geordi's line "You've earned the right to sit those chairs," may have been directed as much at himself as the two younger officers. This command ability coupled with the jack-of-all-trades technical help he seems to give makes his appointment as Chief Engineer logical and credible. I also liked the solution of taking the Enterprise into the atmosphere to find the cloaked drone. It was some neat effects and the last time we get to see the saucer separated until Best of Both Worlds.

Matthew: I also made special note of the Geordi plot and Troi's counsel for him. Very good stuff, both believable and enjoyable to watch. Chief Engineer (?) Logan was kind of a tool, and unnecessarily so. First, he wants to leave right away in order to save the ship. Then, when Geordi suggest basically just that, he gets all snotty about it. He seemed like a character whose only motivation was to antagonize Geordi, which doesn't seem very realistic. Maybe he knew Geordi had an application in for the job.

Matthew: Story logic issues: Why couldn't Yar and Riker go down the hole in order to be safe? I know it's a big drop, but Data could have caught them. The Echo Papa salesman using an "Early bird gets the worm" aphorism is out of place. The communicator malfunction was pretty weak, merely being necessitated by the plot in order to add a bit of peril. After Picard agreed to buy, why didn't the orbital unit shut down when they made the sale? Geordi and the Enterprise still had to fight it for a scene.


Kevin: Top to bottom, this was a really good job by the main cast. Picard and Crusher's scenes were compelling, even without a payoff by the end of the episode. I also liked Riker and Yar's conversations on Minos. Engineer Logan came off a little flat, but he wasn't really given a lot to do. I liked the actor who played the salesman. He was the appropriate amount of sleazy.

Matthew: Geordi gets juicy scenes, and LeVar Burton really runs with them. I wouldn't be surprised if this episode was the one the producers looked at to determine whether Burton could carry a role like Chief Engineer. It was odd in the first place that it was left undefined in TNG, given Scotty's key role in TOS. Burton has a commanding presence, a canny ability with technobabble, and a warm, relatable quality. I kind of wish we had seen him commanding the USS Challenger in a new series, as we got a peek of in Voyager. Of course, I wish lots of things when it comes to Star Trek. I wish I were in charge, too.

Production Values

Kevin: The plant life on Minos seemed a little plastic-y to me, but there was at least plenty of it. That was one dense jungle. There was a slightly claustrophobic feel to Minos that aided the tension of the situation.  I liked the cave set for Crusher and Picard. Dark, but not too dark, and the detail work was good. Also, whoever or however they did the stunt work for the fall into the cave, it was really good. It felt like an actual fall and it looked like both of them did at least part of the stunt themselves.

Matthew: Yeah, the foliage wasn't great. But it at least covered yet another "planet soundstage" set. The weapon was a decent design, apparently modeled after the shape of Leggs plastic pantyhose containers. The model's execution was a little weak for me though. It didn't feel detailed enough. I guess it was pretty good for 1988 special effects. The force fields, whether it was the one covering Riker, or the one around the ship, were good early "video toaster" style CGI. I remember pausing my VHS recording as a kid and watching the bubbles form, and watching the phaser blasts. So maybe the best thing to say about this show's production values is that they were very much of their time.

Kevin: The fight sequence on the Enterprise was good, too. The shield effects were good for their day, and while the separation was a reuse, the drive section entering the atmosphere was new, and I always liked it.


Kevin: I'm giving this a 3. The action is good, but between the action on the Enterprise, the action on Minos' surface, and Picard and Crusher in the cave, it's almost too much for the episode. The real sin of course is the ramp up of Picard and Crusher's conversation ramps to nowhere. Especially after "The Big Goodbye," there is clearly something there both in terms of the writing and the acting chemistry. Rodenberry nixed any real change to these characters, and it caused the writer of this episode to leave the show. It's a shame on all counts. Even a confession of something that doesn't get resolved in this episode would have been enough to elevate it above the 3. That being said, it's a good, entertaining episode, and it certainly got me to keep watching.

Matthew: I think it's a 3 as well for a total of a 6. This show is pretty much the definition of average. A good mix of concepts (albeit not developed fully), derring do, and character moments. None of the elements in their own rights were great, but the blend leads to an entertaining 45 minutes of TV.

1 comment:

  1. HD Highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    The space battles came off really well in HD, much better than the SD presentation. The foliage, fake as it may be, was super-crisp. There were some composite shots (force field, phasers, and Echo Papa) on the planet that look light years ahead of the SD. This was a really good HD episode overall.