Star Trek The Next Generation: The Ensigns of Command

"Data, telling us you're going to fail before you make the attempt is never wise."

While Picard tries to negotiate face to face with aliens that don't have a face, Data must persuade a group of colonists to move on.

This episode sets up an interesting problem. How can a crewmember with no understanding of emotion deal with a crisis born out of emotions? When a group of colonists who went off course and colonised the wrong planet 91 years ago refuse to leave, Data must try to convince them to evacuate, as he is the only crewmember immune to the radiation on the planet. But when simple logic - the faceless aliens will kill you all if you don't evacuate, so evacuate - doesn't work, he is rather at a loss.

The colonists' attachment to their colony is a significant but entirely emotional attachment. They've worked hard to survive for three or four generations and built a life for themselves, and are understandably reluctant to give up a life their forebears died for. But to a completely logical brain, their refusal to leave would seem baffling. They were not supposed to colonise this planet and have no rights to it, so the Federation cannot protect them from the faceless aliens who have been ceded the planet in a treaty. They can all be moved elsewhere to found a new colony, or they can be killed by the aliens who want their planet back. If they stay and try to fight, they will lose. From an emotionless standpoint, it's hardly a difficult decision.

Colonist leader Goshevan's general dislike of androids and girl of the week Ard'rian's fetish for them seem a rather unnecessary addition to remind us constantly what Data's problem in understanding the situation is. On the other hand, his romance with Ard'rian is rather sweet and represents his first real love interest, if you don't count his one night stand with Tasha Yar, and their arguments over the personhood of androids do lift the episode by offering some real character interaction, which elsewhere is, perhaps inevitably, lacking.

Data eventually finds a way to convince the colonists using a practical demonstration of the fact that if they stay they will all die and allowing their survival instinct to kick in. He seems to be making progress in learning how to manipulate human emotions, even if he doesn't entirely understand them. This is rather neatly demonstrated by his kissing Ard'rian 'because she seemed to need it' (echoing her words to him earlier) and in his conversation with Picard, in which Picard is convinced Data's playing has feeling even though he insists it does not. Over the course of the episode, Data has clearly developed not only a level of creativity, but the ability to fabricate feelings reasonably convincingly - and perhaps that's the first step to actually developing them.

Bits and pieces

 - Dr Crusher and Capt Picard look very cosy sitting together at the concert in the cold open.

 - A string quartet including a Vulcan and an android must be very... precise.

 - It does also include Chief O'Brien, revealed here to be a cello player.

 - Troi's demonstration of how difficult it is to communicate without a common language using a cup of tea is rather good.

 - Goshevan demonstrates once and for all that he hasn't much of an argument when he resorts to shooting his opponent. Not the way to win a debate in the long run.


Troi: Captain, when the treaty was first negotiated, the Federation sent 372 legal experts. What do we have?
Picard: Thee and me?

Ard'rian: You really don't understand human behaviour, do you?
Data: That is somewhat of an understatement.

Data: Do you consider your position so weak that it cannot withstand a debate?

Data: Things can be replaced. Lives cannot.

A solid installment based on an interesting dilemma. Two and a half out of four faceless aliens.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


Billie Doux said...

Excellent review, Juliette. I liked this one more than the premiere. Maybe I just like Data episodes. He had to struggle to get the colonists to listen to him, but he kept working at it until he figured it out. Come to think of it, that's what Picard was doing with the completely unemotional but also intractable Shelliak.

Ardrian, Data's love interest, was almost like an android groupie, but I did like her outfit, so there's that. I also really like the way they changed Data's make-up this season, although I can't quite put my finger on what they did. Better hair, maybe? Are his eyes darker?

Juliette said...

Thanks Billie :) I hadn't noticed they'd changed Data's look but you're right - darker eyes and darker hair, I think.

drnanamom said...

Thanks for the review Juliette. I found the 'android groupie' a bit creepy but the kiss Data gave her was sweet. I also enjoyed the ridiculously long and detailed treaty. A real comment on the 'legal-esing' of everything. I also liked his comment that a treaty is not law (although sometimes it is).