OVERALL RATING: D+. ACTING: Stewart, Spiner and Dorn, B. Remaining Crew, C. Edos, C-. WRITING: D.. DIRECTION: D. The actors depicting the child-like, simplistic Edo are really not to blame. It is a direction problem. A good director could possibly have overcome the silly script.
THE SHOW: The Enterprise happens upon a planetful of Newport Beach surfers and beach bunnies--all inexpressibly young, blonde and tan--who live a life of pure pleasure and fun. We see beautiful greased bodies being massaged on massage tables and beautiful, scantily-clad bodies kissing, hugging and making out, and running around playing outdoor games, just like they do at any Southern California resort. The "Edo," who are plagiarized from the "Eloi" in H. G. Wells "The Time Machine," are child-like, naive and a bit dense. If they should stumble into certain areas of their playground--areas that are constantly changing--the penalty is death.
This rule also applies to guests. As an Away Team, including Wesley Crusher, checks out the planet as a future vacation spot, Wesley goes after a ball thrown into a death area, and the Edo prepare to execute him.
The most interesting scenes are the ones in which Captain Picard accuses Commander Data of "babbling," then later apologizes--a nifty little subplot about Picard's disrespect for another life form (that is, android Data). The rest of the story is ill-conceived, awkward, extremely contrived and highly retrograde, although there are amusing moments of low comedy as the touchy-feely Edo meet the stiff-backed, uniformed Enterprise Away Team. Worf (Michael Dorn) has a particularly good moment. When a scantily-clad, gorgeous young Edo girl gives him a warm welcoming hug, he gazes up at Commander Riker and dryly says, "Nice planet."
The problem with this story--aside from the highly contrived, childish culture of the Edo--is that it creates a false conflict between the Edo's arbitrary "laws," with their punishment of death, and the "The Prime Directive"--the Federation policy of non-interference with other cultures. The writers then squirm around in this false conflict, trying to prevent Captain Picard from looking like an idiot.
The Prime Directive is a policy that derives from earth's wretched history of "pacification" of native cultures, and is intended to prevent Federation personnel from "contaminating" undeveloped societies in outer space with information and ideas that could distort the natural evolutionary development of the culture. In subsequent episodes, contact with developing cultures is undertaken with extreme care, after a long period of clandestine observation. In this case, the Enterprise stumbles into a developing culture with both boots on, and immediately plans to exploit the paradaisical world as a vacation spot for Federation personnel. If that isn't contamination, what is?
One would presume that some sort of Federation screening must already have taken place, and the Edo must already have been judged sufficiently developed to accept Starfleet personnel as vacationers and guests. How else could the Enterprise be sending down an Away Team to freely mix with the Edo and open an United Federation of Planets Express office? In fact, the episode opens with the report of an initial Away Team (including Riker, Data and Troi) whose apparent failure as anthropologists has caused this entire mess--although they are never called to task for it (the script ignores its own backstory). How could they not have suspected a possible Prime Directive violation, while assessing such simple and naive people? Didn't they ask about laws and punishments? The Edo are not at all reticent about discussing their laws, as revealed in later scenes. How could Riker, Data and Troi have missed the "death zones" law?
In addition, very early in the episode, a strange object suddenly appears in orbit next to the Enterprise. It is partially transparent and is judged to be a highly sophisticated, multi-dimensional space ship. It does not respond to hails. You would think that Captain Picard would hesitate to allow his Away Team to go romping around with the Edo on the planet below, with such an ominous thing in the sky. Soon, the object sends a probe onto the bridge--a pretty, revolving, crystal item, rather like a Christmas tree ball--which asks Picard, in a booming, god-like voice, "What are you doing to my children?" By this time, of course, the writers have contrived to cut off communications with the second Away Team down on the planet.
A bit later, Captain Picard beams an Edo girl up to the Enterprise and shows her her "god" out the window of the conference room, in orbit with the Enterprise. Talk about interference! The girl falls to her knees in shock and terror. Edo culture will never be the same. Picard can do this, and not save Wesley?
The Prime Directive has been seriously violated from the get-go. As one of the Edo males later plaintively states, "We didn't ask you to come here." Picard's subsequent agonies over "contaminating" a developing culture (by ignoring its laws and rescuing Wesley from execution) therefore become a rather silly exercise is philosophical quibbling. Babbling, indeed. It is Captain Picard who is "babbling." But none of this is of any real concern to the writers. Their object is to present gorgeous Venice-beach bodies kissing and making-out on the sidelines--to the sniggering delight of the apparently repressed Enterprise crew.
Wesley's mother, Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) is righteously outraged at Picard's quibbling over the Prime Directive while her son is in peril of death. Data is intrigued by this maternal behavior and begins to comment on it. Picard has just accused Data of "babbling" on another topic (the number of inhabitable planets in the sector). Crusher tells Data to "shut up!" and stalks out.
Data, who is not plagued by emotions but is endlessly fascinated with human behavior, immediately shuts up and has, thereafter, to be prompted to speak more than one word at a time. Picard later apologizes to Data. Picard had, of course, shown disrespect for another life form, that is, Data, an android who is constituted very differently than a human being, has no emotional understanding and possesses endless curiosity.
Picard and Data have a nice couple of scenes. In one of them, Data tries to explain what it was like to be mind-probed by the Edo's god entity. He starts to say that it was "easily" accomplished, then changes his mind. In fact, the entity had almost over-loaded his circuity. What he is trying to say is that it was painful but, since he supposedly can't feel pain, he pauses and tries to explain it some other way. It is a nicely loaded pause--indicative of many future achievements of perfect timing in Picard-Data scenes (a credit to actors Stewart and Spiner.)
Picard's attitude toward Data in this sequence has many implications for the Data character. On the one hand, Data is your perennial adolescent--like an annoying 12 year old boy who expects everything to be logical and asks insufferable questions always at the wrong moment. But he also is a stand-in for us, in the conflict between Picard and Crusher, and we sympathize, not with Crusher--whose maternal reaction is intensely boring--and not with Picard--whose respect for the Edo's stupid laws goes too far--but rather with Data. We would like Crusher to shut up. We would like to see Wesley get his lethal injection. And we would like to have more of Data, the babbler.
The script creates an overly-neat conflict of Edo law (the death traps) and Enterprise law (the Prime Directive) so that Picard can make the sentitious point, to the "god," that laws oughtn't to be absolute. Picard doesn't remember this for long, however. In later episodes, he is willing to sacrifice thousands of lives to his absolutist interpretation of the "Prime Directive" (see "Pen Pals"). Picard's apology to Data is charming. Wesley, unfortunately, is rescued. And the Enterprise goes on its way, leaving Pleasure City behind.
One wonders what will happen to the Edo as the result of this "contamination" by the Enterprise and its captain. Will they achieve guilt and shame? Will they achieve war? Will they one day wear red uniforms and deem themselves superior to people who love pleasure?
"Justice" may be viewed as a companion episode to "Code of Honor." In "Code of Honor," African-American types are made out to be a bit dense. In "Justice," it's Nordic types who take the hit. Simplistic irony of this sort will continue to plague "Star Trek TNG" writing all the way into Season 5, when they tackle Lesbianism (disguised as Unisexuality) in "The Outcast."
TERGIVERSATION METER READING: -3. The depiction of the Edo as "children," and the fabrication of their absurd laws, provides the Enterprise crew with a way to look down their noses at others, while puffing themselves up as "superior." The pursuit of pleasure and physical well-being are depicted as child-like and silly.
Tergiversate (tur-ji-ver-sat): 1. To use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate. 2. To change sides; to defect; apostatize. The Tergiversation Meter scale runs from -5 (very defective) through +5 (unambiguous, true blue philosophical humanism with no negative subliminal messages).
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