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Star Trek The Next Generation: Justice

"Let's hope it is not too good to be true."

Wesley Crusher is condemned to death for smashing a greenhouse and killing some plants.

Somewhere here, buried under the mess and the silliness, is a decent enough idea for an episode, in the early TNG "moral dilemma" mould. How do you reconcile a desire to abide by others' laws, and indeed rules insisting you must do so, when you have strong moral objections to the foreign laws? Plus there's some consideration of the pros and cons of a system in which every crime, no matter how trivial, is punishable by death (generally speaking, we're against it). However, this idea got buried by a few other issues that rise to the surface.

One of the problems with it is that Wesley Crusher is the victim of the severe law. When I was little and used to watch The Next Generation I had a crush on Wesley (he was older than me at the time) so I quite like him, but I'm given to understand that he is not the most popular character in Star Trek. You can see why it seemed like a good idea to put Wesley's head on the block - he's a child, innocent and naive, plus his mother is one of the senior staff. But the majority of the audience are so annoyed by Wesley they find it hard to feel sorry for him, and unfortunately Dr Crusher's hand-wringing is also rather irritating more than moving, and just acts as a reminder that having children, including the children of senior officers, on board the Federation's flagship is just a daft idea in the first place.

There are far bigger problems here than Wesley, though. The depiction of the planet concerned (Rubicun III, inhabited by the Edo) is utterly ridiculous in every way. It's disturbingly Aryan, for a start, all blond hair and blue eyes, and the inhabitants run everywhere, because apparently no one's ill or disabled either and no one ever gets tired. Everywhere is supposedly beautiful and everyone is happy all the time, to the point where it's truly, deeply nauseating.

All of that pales, though, in comparison to the fact that this is apparently the Planet of the Orgies. The inhabitants all wear nappies with bandaging across their chests, because they seem to find that sexy, and spend all day fondling each other in public. They even greet total strangers by nuzzling them, regardless of said stranger's apparent discomfort. During scenes on the planet, before Wesley becomes a wanted criminal, there are people snuggling in as intimate a fashion as the censors will allow, constantly. Some of them are getting in some exercise in their nappies as a prelude to snuggling, some are playing music as an accompaniment to the snuggling, and sometimes they give each other massages, but PG-13 rated orgy activity seems to be their primary occupation. Riker loves the place.

The advantage of all this is, of course, that it's hilarious. I recently re-watched this episode with a group of friends and we were all laughing happily at it - and as always, I'll take utterly stupid but funny over boring any day. It really doesn't work on any kind of dramatic level, though, and like the Ferengi's introduction, suffers from trying to cover too many themes and topics at once (justice, pleasure, crime and punishment, philosophy, Riker's need for sex etc. etc.). Despite its good intentions, this is a terrible, terrible episode - but as a viewing experience, it could be worse.

Bits and pieces

 - While the Edo greet everyone by sexually harassing them, they do stop short at inflicting this on Wesley, checking humans' customs for 'young ones' and keeping the hug brief.

 - In addition to all the other awfulness, the Enterprise also runs into the Edo's god, some kind of alien orbiting the planet, and Picard forces one terrified Edo girl to confront it. This is all as cringe-worthy as it sounds.

Quotes

Geordi: They're wild in some ways, actually puritanical in others. Neat as pins, ultra-lawful, and make love at the drop of a hat.
Tasha: Any hat.

Riker: They certainly are fit.
Troi: They certainly are.

Data: You were right, sir. I do tend to babble.

Wesley: I'm with Starfleet. We don't lie.

Picard: There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.
Riker: When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?

It's really awful, and while it's good for a laugh, it's not quite as ridiculously, hysterically so-irredeemably-awful-it's-a-strange-kind-of-genius as Voyager's lizards - ironically, it loses points for the sincere attempt at something interesting. One out of four really not very sexy nappy-outfits.

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

6 comments:

  1. And I would like to personally thank Juliette for taking this stinker off my hands, since it was my turn. And writing a terrific review on top of it. :)

    At least Wil Wheaton got the last word, since he is very cool now.

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  2. :) You know how much I love the truly ridiculous ones :)

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  3. I just watched it, even though it was tempting to skip it. I thought the Wesley stuff would be the most ridiculous, but it's really a tie with Riker acting all horndog and Data attacked by Glinda the Good Witch. And the costumes remind me of the horrible white hand-towels and white wigs in "The Apple".

    http://www.douxreviews.com/2010/10/star-trek-apple.html

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  4. Great review Juliette! You made me laugh more than once. It is funny how what might have seemed avant garde years ago is now merely ridiculous. And it continues to amaze me how much racism, sexism, etc was evident in this show as it was trying to be very forward thinking.

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  5. That's a very astute observation about the Aryan-ness.

    It's definitely an interesting take, by this episode, that if only we'd kill people over the most minor things, we'd be living in a weirdly peaceful and sensual (heteronormative) utopia (maybe Roddenberry's fantasy?). And seriously, all throughout the episode I kept wondering if anyone in that society had any sort of work to do. Like growing food, or maintaining buildings. It seemed like they did not, and spent entire their entire days just snogging and laying about. You'd think that would become boring after a while.

    An entirely different observation: I wonder if the writer(s) of this episode read Foucault or Bentham. Because the "every day one area is assigned to be surveilled for crime, but nobody knows which area" idea seems to be straight out of the philosopher Bentham's Panopticon proposal. Bentham proposed a round prison, with a guard tower in the middle, from which all cells were theoretically visible. The people in the cells would never know if they were being watched or not.

    The Building circular – an iron cage, glazed – a glass lantern about the size of Ranelagh – The Prisoners in their Cells, occupying the Circumference – The Officers, the Centre. By Blinds, and other contrivances, the Inspectors concealed from the observation of the Prisoners: hence the sentiment of a sort of invisible omnipresence. – The whole circuit reviewable with little, or, if necessary, without any, change of place. (Bentham)

    Foucault saw this as a metaphor for modern human society. Another part of his treatise juxtaposed the older mechanisms in society in which corporal punishment was a big thing, with modern society which had more of a focus on discipline/tweaking behavior. I wouldn't be surprised (although it's not a 1:1 match due to the Edo using a Benthanite mechanism) if this juxtaposition was translated into the Edo with their corporal punishment based society, and the Federation where as the society tweaking behavior and imprisoning people. Maybe I'm reading too much into it! But it's quite a coincedence that the Bentham-esque plot is combined with the reflection on different systems of punishment and discipline. (seems like I'm not the only one (link to a social theory site) who observed this)

    Lastly, I don't know a lot about the prime directive. But I'm kind of confused about the fact that the Enterprise can just land, and communicate, with what seems to be a pre-spaceflight society. Wouldn't the first contact with spacefaring aliens potentially cause great societal changes? (if he had played it a little bit differently, the Edo could've seen him as a God, or have stopped seeing the other God as a non-God)

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  6. The last 'he' being Picard. Oops!

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