The Ensigns of Command
Overall Ep :
First Aired :
2 Oct 1989
Season Ep :
As the Enterprise-D is approaching the Sheliak ship, Picard orders Riker to block it's path. Riker responds by punching some buttons on the panel on his chair. Is the helm officer on his break or something?
We've been told many times that the combadges people wear act as universal translators, automatically and perfectly translating all foreign languages into English. So when Troi said "S'smarith" to Picard as an example of an alien word, why didn't the translator just translate it into English?
Great Moment :
Data's destruction of the aqueduct is a cool moment, somewhat spoiled by the fact that it still seems to be working fine in the next shot. When the episode aired, there was much speculation about what exactly Data did with that shot... best I can figure is that he blasted the water whilst leaving the aqueduct itself alone. Whatever happened, it certainly looks impressive.
Body Count :
No actual deaths, but several colonists get stunned by Data.
Mark McChesney, who plays the Sheliak in this episode, also played Armus in "Skin of Evil".
The Dali Lama visited the sets during the filming of this episode; all of his entourage turned out to be Trekkers, and clamoured to be photographed with Brent Spiner!
The episode's title is from the poem "The Wants of Man" by John Quincy Adams.
In her conversation with Picard, Troi uses the word "S'smarith", suggesting that it may mean cup, glass, liquid, clear, brown or hot. This is the second and last Betazoid word we ever learn, the other being "Imzadi", which is Betazoid for "Beloved".
Aboard the Enterprise Data is playing violin as part of a recital for the crew. He is confident that his performance will be technically flawless, but advises Picard that he may want to watch a different performer as Data's play lacks "soul". Picard declines, but just as the performance is about to begin Riker calls him to the bridge and he is forced to walk out on the recital.
On the bridge Picard finds that they have been contacted by the Sheliak, a mysterious and powerful race which the Federation has not heard from for 111 years. The message is demanding that the Federation remove the Human colony from the planet Tau Cygna V. The planet was ceded to the Sheliak in the treaty of Treaty of Armens. The message seems confusing, since no Federation colony has ever been recorded on the planet as it suffers from lethal hyperonic radiation. Picard takes the Enterprise to the planet to investigate.
On arrival they detect life signs on the planet, but the radiation makes it difficult to detect any real detail as well as making the use of transporters or phasers impossible. Crusher suggests that the colonists must have somehow adapted to the radiation, allowing them to survive on the planet. Picard is concerned that the message from the Sheliak is demanding the removal of the colony within days; the Sheliak consider Humans to be a lower form of life, and will be perfectly willing to destroy the entire colony if it is still there after the deadline. They expect that the colony will be a small group struggling to survive, perhaps a dozen people or so, and send Data down in a shuttle to prepare them to be evacuated.
On landing, Data finds that a thriving colony led by Gosheven. The ship Artemis was the source of the colony; sent to Septimis Minor, the ship had wandered off course and been lost. The colonists not only survived but completely overcame the radiation, and have been busily expanding over the last 92 years. To Picard's shock, they now number 15,253 colonists - without transporters, it will take a month to shuttle everybody off the surface. Picard tells Data to prepare the colony to be evacuated anyway and hails the Sheliak to try and negotiate.
Data meets the colony leader, Gosheven, but the man flatly refuses his order to evacuate. He reveals that more than a third of the original colonists died when they landed on the planet, and ever since they have made huge personal sacrifices to survive and prosper. To Gosheven, the idea of leaving is a betrayal of all those sacrifices. When Gosheven leaves Data meets Ard'rian McKenzie, a robotics and cybernetics engineer who is fascinated by him. Seeing her as an ally, Data begins to get to know her.
On the Enterprise, O'Brien and La Forge are working on a way to make the transporters function as the ship closes on the Sheliak vessel. Picard hails them but the discussion is futile - the Sheliak simply repeat their demand, quoting the exact lines of the treaty to him and flatly refusing to compromise. When he tries to press the matter, the Sheliak representative cuts the connection.
At the colony Ard'rian gets to know Data, helping him to understand Gosheven's attitude. Data tries again to convince him, but he again refuses to listen. Data decides to try and convince others in the colony, hoping to build a momentum for change that Gosheven will be forced to deal with whether he likes it or not.
Picard takes the Enterprise out of orbit, reasoning that a Sheliak ship must already be on the way with the deadline so close. Riker hails Data as they leave and insists that he must convince the colonsits to evacuate, no matter what it takes. Data decides to try some reverse psychology; at a meeting of the colonists he makes a speech praising their willingness to defend their homes even though it means they will certainly be slaughtered to the last man. Although the speech makes some of the colonists uneasy, Gosheven is able to rally the people with thoughts of fighting off the Sheliak. He notes, as he has several times, that his grandfather is buried on a nearby mountain, a casualty of the aqueduct system which pumps water into the colony. The meeting breaks up with most in favour of fighting, but a few of the colonists decide to meet with Data to express their unease. Gosheven turns up, challenging the meeting and then resorting to using a shock prod on Data to render him nonfunctional. Ard'rian struggles to reactivate the android as the others leave.
Meanwhile on the Enterprise meets the Sheliak ship and Picard requests a conference, as per the treaty. He and Troi beam aboard and ask for a few weeks of grace to evacuate the colony, but the Sheliak flatly refuse - and when Picard becomes angry, they simply beam the pair back to their own ship in mid sentence.
Data reawakens and bemoans the lack of success of rational debate. He decides that more direct action may be convincing, and sets about modifying a phaser with circuitry from his own body to allow it to function in the radioactive environment. When he succeeds, he tells Ard'rian to inform Gosheven that he is going to destroy the aqueduct. As a crowd gathers, Gosheven arranges a defence - several men armed with crude clubs. Data arrives and uses his modified phaser to gun down all of the defenders in moments. He informs an amazed Gosheven that "that was the stun setting... this is not," and then turns and blasts the water in the aqueduct, vapourising miles worth of it with a single shot. Data points out to the amazed colonists that this is what a single hand phaser can do - the Sheliak have weapons which are vastly more powerful, and can quite easily sit in orbit and exterminate every single colonist. He points out that the aqueduct is "just a thing," and that things can be replaced whilst people cannot. Goseheven bows to the inevitable and agrees to evacuate the colony.
Meanwhile Picard finds what he needs - he hails the Sheliak and quotes an obscure part of the treaty which allows for disputes to be arbitrated by a third party, and nominates the Grizzelas. Since this species are currently in their regular hibernation sequence, the arbitration will have to be put off for six months. When the Sheliak begin to bluster and protest, Picard cuts the channel. They hail him frantically, and Picard takes a leisurely walk around the bridge whilst making them wait for his response. They finally agree to give him the weeks he needs to remove the colony.
As Data prepares to leave, Ard'rian approaches and asks if he has any romantic feelings for her. He politely says no, and when she looks sad he kisses her in an attempt to cheer her up before leaving. Back on the ship he finds Picard listening to a recording of his concert in the ready room. Picard comments that whilst Data claims that he has no recording style of his own, in fact he has managed to combine the rather different style of other artists - an act that Picard suggests shows individual creativity in itself.
Pretty standard stuff, this, but quite well executed. On the plus side, it's nice how they have Data being forced to learn new ways to interact with Humans. Data is fundamentally reasonable in all things, and he struggles when he's put in a situation where the people he has to convince simply aren't convinced by reason. Data responds as he always does - he comes up with an alternative strategy, and when that fails he instantly discards it and tries another, then another, until he hits one that works. It's entirely in character and exactly what you'd expect from him.
The colonist's motivations are also quite reasonable. I'm glad that they didn't really make Gosheven up into some boogie man bad guy. He's being unreasonable, but not absurdly so - he has a genuine love for his home, and very strongly feels the sacrifices that have been made to build the life they enjoy. Faced with the imminent loss of it all he does what many people would do - he goes into denial. He deals with Data by flatly denying the issues, but when Data steps his response up to a level where Gosheven simply can't ignore the facts any more he caves and agrees to do the sensible thing.
The Sheliak are also intriguing; on the one hand, it's pretty obviously a money saving thing that they put the Sheliak representative into an outfit that completely covers his body. But they put a nice spin on that by the simple trick of making that garment constantly bulging and moving - it makes it look like the Sheliak itself is somehow expanding or changing shape, giving it a rather odd any mysterious quality. Cheap, simple, but quite effective. The resolution of the situation is also quite clever, with Picard finding a smart and non-violent way to turn the treaty against them.
The only thing I don't really like is the whole radiation aspect. They build it up as this catch-all explanation of almost everything in the episode. It's so lethal to Humans that nobody but Data can beam down... yet most of the colonists survived it, and "adpated" to it. How does one adapt to radiation, exactly? The episode never even tries to explain it, which I suppose at least spares us some technobabble. It also serves to incapacitate phasers, which seems an odd choice to me. Since Data can modify his phaser to function anyway, what was the point in making it not work in the first place? It seems like an unnecessary element.
The whole romantic subplot also seems rather unnecessary. They bring it up, but they don't really go anywhere with it and in the end it's pretty much just dropped when Data leaves.
Overall, then, a reasonably good effort.