Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 49: The Ensigns of Command

This is how Data takes command, baby!

This is how Data takes command, baby!

Plot Synopsis:  Data must convince a colony of 15,000 people to evacuate before the aliens who own the planet arrive.

Plot A and B Analysis:  The teaser begins with a concert in Ten Forward in which Data apologizes for how much he’s going to suck playing the violin. After a pep-talk with Picard & Dr. Crusher the concert starts, only to have Picard leave a moment later when the Bridge needs his attention. The Sheliak, a race that hasn’t contacted the Federation in 111 years sends a message to get those freakin’ Humans off a planet they are going to colonize in four days. What’s weird is the planet is covered in hyperonic radiation, which kills humans. Plot A revolves around Data and the colonists, plot B is the Enterprise and the Sheliak. Data is sent to the planet since he’s too awesome for radiation to affect, and he finds a colony of 15,000 folks who don’t want to leave. It’s just as well because without transporters the Enterprise can’t get that many people off the planet in a couple of days anyway. So Data works on getting colonists on board with evacuating with his new sidekick, and Picard and company try to get the Sheliak to give them more time. Both plots are interesting, but the real draw is watching Data struggling with his first solo command. Both plots also resolve in a satisfying fashion.

Favorite Scenes:  My two favorite scenes are Data laying down the smack at the pumping station, and Picard finally outmaneuvering the Sheliak at their own game. There is a nice little line I’ve always remembered. It’s in a scene where Geordi, O’Brien and Wes have been tasked with the seemingly insurmountable goal of modifying the transporter to work in the radiation. Picard pokes his head in the transporter room and asks how things are going (they’re going badly), then leaves.

Wes:  He wants the impossible!

Geordi:  That’s the short definition of captain.

Ugly lookin' cuss, isn't he?

Ugly lookin’ cuss, isn’t he?

Use of Cast/Characters:  Picard does pretty much everything a good captain would do. He sets everyone to a task suited to their talents, and personally intervenes with the Sheliak. He fails a few times but comes through in the end, bitch-slapping the Sheliak down, giving Data some valuable advice on command in the beginning and offering insight into his artistic endeavors at the end. Riker doesn’t do a lot in this episode other than give Data a kick in the butt and remind him the lives of the colonists are riding on him. Troi is used here. She has some scenes where she offers some advice and is Picard’s right hand in this episode. I’m not sure that she actually helps, but she’s there! Data gets by far the most development as we see him adjust to the difficulties of command. He does a good job of dealing with a recalcitrant colony leader, finds allies, and continues to try until he succeeds. Geordi, O’Brien and Wes do about the same, which is take part in a mini-plot involving the transporter. It’s just a couple of scenes but it’s pretty enjoyable. Dr. Crusher has a grand total of about six lines, and Worf gets the same amount of play. It’s good to see Colm Meaney back. We actually learn a little more about Chief O’Brien, that he plays the cello, but I don’t think we ever see this again. The guest stars do a pretty decent job, but none of them are particularly noteworthy. Mart McChesney played Armus in season one and the Sheliak director here, and he died young, at the age of 44. 

Blu Ray Version:   Nothing more than the usual crystal clarity and enhanced resolution. There are a lot more details, and the differences in the interim version of the Starfleet uniforms the cast is using is actually noticeable for perhaps the first time. Because of the clarity of the transfer, you can literally read part of the treaty with the Sheliak when Picard looks it up at 38:25. Pause it and read it, it’s a complete joke. Here’s is some of it excerpted:

You might think that [this is] clever stuff. Boy you are wrong. That gets double for anyone who had anything to do with the original treaty. Most of those lawyer folks are like in the hospital. Along with executives of the Siruis Cybernetics Corporation. It took what see[m]s like forever. Rick is [?] getting a Kei and Yuri reference into the text, you know, the two cute girls with the big guns. We might [have] Akira, Ranma Nibunnoichi, Urusei Yatsura, Rhea Gall Force, and a few other animated films. The Federation at this point in time seems more tangled up…

…in the text of the treaty, or didn’t anyone think about that eventually when the bloody document was first drawn up? Never mind, it’s a rhetorical question anyway, but we just thought we’d try to demonstrate our legalistic cleverness. Just one more paragraph until the critical one, where we talk about consultations and that sort of thing. The Sheliacs don’t sound like a race selling planets to, if we have to write (much less read) one of these contracts each time, although, that’s why we have computers, so we can do search-and-replace.

Nitpicks:  You know, I don’t have many nitpicks with this one. For a colony with 15,000 people we see a total of maybe 20? It comes across as a village rather than a thriving community. The title for this episode is inexact. I would’ve preferred “The Burdens of Command” or something. I guess I wish the Sheliak would have been developed a bit more also.

Overall Impression:  This would have been a stronger episode to begin season 3 with than Evolution. This one was shot first too, don’t ask me why it aired second. Data really has a baptism of fire in this one; the plot required Data and Picard to succeed, or they both fail. They both succeed with difficult tasks, and I think it helps establish how this crew are the best in Starfleet, they just don’t quit until they win! I love Data in this episode, we really see him stretching and it’s an enjoyable process. This shows a key difference between the focus on most of the episodes of TNG as compared to DS9 or Voyager: if this were either of the latter shows, they likely would’ve “reversed the polarity” or done something with tachyons or used the transporter buffer in a ridiculous way to solve the problem. We’re not bogged down in technobabble and people solve the problem, not technology. I still enjoy this one all these years later. I don’t think there are many weaknesses here, but it’s not among the most memorable episodes either. I rate this episode 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Well, it has been a couple of seasons since Data's gotten any action...

Well, it has been a couple of seasons since Data’s gotten any action…

Behind the Scenes/Trivia:  This was actually the first episode made for season three, not Evolution. In an interview with Melinda Snodgrass she said she was given the directive that Data was supposed to make love to the girl who had a crush on him. “He is fully functional you know” Roddenberry said to her, “I don’t want her to just have a crush on him, I want him to sleep with her.” However the budget was cut by $200,000 at the last minute so that whole scene went, and thank goodness. That would have been weird. The title of this episode is from a poem by John Quincy Adams called “The Wants of Man.” While they were filming this episode the Dalai Llama’s entourage visited the set and took a photo, that’s kinda cool. Believe it or not Grainger Hines, who played Gosheven, had all of his dialogue dubbed by another actor because he didn’t like his vocal performance. What the heck? Also, this is the second episode of the series where no stardate is ever given.

Missable/Unmissable?  This is overall a good episode, I recommend it. Keep watching there are several good episodes in a row coming up, including the next one.

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