9/27/13

Star Trek: Asterisk "Devil's Due"

Vital Information
Series: The Next Generation
Episode: S04E13
Air Date: February 4, 1991
Written by: Philip LaZebnik and William Douglas Lansford
Directed by: Tom Benko

Premise
The Devil went down to Ventax II, she was lookin' for a planet to steal. Picard was in a bind because a lawyer signed a nearly 1000 year-old deal.

Recap
We start off in 19th century England... or a reasonable facsimile thereof. Data's working on his acting skills and is playing a scene from A Christmas Carol with him in the role of Scrooge. I'm not sure how convincing his acting is, but at least he has Sir Patrick Stewart there to guide him. The scene he happens to be acting out is the one where Scrooge, struck by fear, insists to the ghost of Marley that his senses are not to be trusted and can play tricks on him. And it seems we'll have an opportunity to put that assumption to the test, because the Devil has just landed on Ventax II.

See, there's a Federation science station on this planet, and it's being shaken up by the earthquakes and general chaos that's happening, heralding the arrival of Ardra, their sultry, female version of Satan. An angry mob breaks into the science station just as the Enterprise is able to beam up its leader, Dr. Clark, but the rest of the team is taken hostage. Dr. Clark explains that the Ventaxians believe Ardra gave them a thousand years of peace and tranquility in return for her total domination and enslavement at the end of this period. And she's back now to collect on this deal. Picard beams down to see what's up and try to get the science team back, and guess who arrives to meet him...
A sultry, female devil with an updo.
Ardra claims not just to be this planet's Devil, but every planet's Devil. She transforms into Satan and then Fek'lhr, the Klingon Devil (as Worf watches and flinches a little), then back to Ardra. She immediately takes control of the planet by handing some forms over to its former leader to sign, and demands the release of the hostages. She has no time for silly Federation scientists. But Picard has time for her. He tells Data to pour over the 1000-year-old scrolls to find more information on Ardra. He's not convinced this woman is who she says she is, and he's going to prove it... somehow.

Back on the Enterprise, the crew tosses possibilities back and forth. Is she Q? Some other powerful being? No, everything that she did could be done with known technology. Meanwhile, speak of the Devil and she shall appear... in your captain's chair. Cheerily, she explains that the terms of the 1000-year-old agreement specify everything in orbit around Ventax is hers, too. Picard is now fighting not only for the planet, but for his own ship. That night, after Picard is sure that Ardra is a con artist, she appears in his quarters while he's trying to sleep and attempts to seduce him. She says she can be any woman he wants, and even turns briefly into Counselor Troi, which is probably more awkward for Picard than sexy. When he rebuffs her advances, she transports him down to the planet...
...in his pajamas.
Data comes down with a shuttle and an extra uniform to retrieve Picard, but when they head back to the Enterprise... it vanishes! Geordi, who was working with the science team to find Ardra's ship or power source or whatever says that he found a jump in Z-particles as the Enterprise disappeared; that could be location of her ship. Picard knows all he needs. Time to go into chambers. He challenges Ardra to arbitration: if she loses, she gives up her claim. She's fairly confident that she's not going to lose, so she agrees, on one condition: she really wants Picard. If she wins, she gets him.

So they go to court and Ardra once again displays her power. She causes things to disappear and reappear, she changes form, she causes an earthquake, but Picard maintains that all of these things are just trickery. The former leader of Ventrax says she promised 1000 years of peace, and they had 1000 years of peace. Picard, however, tries to convince him that the Ventraxians accomplished that peace on their own because, as Data learned from A Christmas Carol, fear is a powerful motivator. Everything else, Picard says, even he could do. And so he does. Putting Ardra to shame, he causes his own earthquake that she is unable to stop. He causes Ardra to disappear, and she can't come back until Picard wills it. He even turns himself into Fek'lhr, the Klingon Devil.
DISHONOR ON YOUR COW!
Picard then reveals that Geordi and the science team are aboard Ardra's ship controlling all of her "magic tricks" by listening in through the comm badges. She was able to control them earlier through a little device in her eye that was activated through blinks. This woman claiming to be Ardra is no more than a con artist and has no real claim on Ventrax. She attempts to escape, but the real leader of Ventrax summons security to grab her and take her to prison. He then thanks Picard for saving Ventrax, but Picard insists that the people of Ventrax saved themselves long ago. And that they should continue to do so without the belief that the Devil is going to take her due.

Review
It's interesting to note that this episode was originally written for the Original Series crew. That's perhaps why Picard has a bit more intimate of a relationship with Data here... Anyway, you can really see the Original Series influences in this story, and it's kind of nostalgic, but still a little out of place. It kind of feels like this episode takes place in an alternate universe. The story is good, don't get me wrong, just... off somehow. Perhaps the characterization borrowed a little too much from Kirk and Spock. In any case, I give the story thumbs up despite feeling... off.