Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Justice

Review James Hunt 9 Nov 2012 - 09:43

After a brief interlude, James' weekly Star Trek: TNG season one look-back returns with an episode that's best avoided...

This review contains spoilers.

1.8 Justice

If you grabbed someone off the street and said to them "Hey, remember how bad the early TNG episodes were?" they'd probably shout at you for touching them without invitation. But if they didn't, there's a good chance they'd instantly think of this one. The episode where Wesley Crusher receives the death sentence for accidentally trampling some flowers. And if you think that sounds stupid, wait until they start debating the ethics surrounding it later on…

Now, to be completely honest, there's a good idea at the centre of this episode. Considered objectively, this is a story about the strength of the death penalty as a deterrent, and the balance between personal freedoms and enforcing the law. Unfortunately, this potentially rich vein of moral exploration gets squandered on a premise so stupidly reductive that it ceases to bear any logical relation to arguments for or against capital punishment.

At the very least, killing people who break the law does not, under any circumstances, lead to an idyllic and utopian peace. Even at its most basic level, history has shown that there are always things people care more about than their lives. And let's face it, if you can't trip over a greenhouse without being killed by the state, there's a fair chance you'll spend a lot of time cowering in your house rather than risk catching a severe case of lethal injection on the way to the newsagent because you accidentally loitered next to a "no loitering" sign while trying to read what it said.

As for the episode itself, it makes even less sense than its own arguments. The events that I will dub The Trial of Wesley are predicated on the idea that allowing Wesley to escape death will lead, inexorably, to the collapse of the Edo civilisation as they know it. It's not really explained how. Presumably the thinking is that if one person gets away with a crime, anyone can, and instantly will attempt to do so - but Wesley isn't really part of their society, and everyone in that society seems horrified at the idea that the law might be broken at all. So even as I struggle to make the logical connection between Wesley being killed to preserve the peace, none appears.

And that's not even the dumbest thing about the episode. Because, this being Star Trek, the unwritten rules state that A) any Utopian society hides a dark secret and B) is probably being run by a computer. Admittedly, in this case it's a giant space computer with a booming voice that is also part-ghost, but… well, no buts, that's all we get. Why does it care about its "children"? We don't know. Why do the Edo regard it with such fear? Again, no explanation.

Picard spends much of the episode debating whether or not to violate the Prime Directive in order to save Wesley's life, while Beverly Crusher, cast in the role as "an irrational female being ruled by her emotions" spends the entire time pointing out the obvious: this debate is completely insane and Wesley should be rescued immediately. And having set up the violation of the Prime Directive as a Rather Big Deal, Picard eventually listens to Beverly and beams Wesley back to the ship… at which point the episode ends. Right at the point where the first interesting thing occurs.

TNG WTF: Okay, so… according to this episode's premise, no-one knows where the enforcement zones (where breaking the law results in an instant death penalty) are located at any given time. But as soon as Wesley breaks the law, two dudes in grey jumpsuits (called "mediators", even though they don't so much "mediate" as "immediately execute people") run out and grab him.

So what are we to assume? That dudes in grey jumpsuits stand around looking nonchalant and everyone pretends not to have noticed them patrolling what is obviously an enforcement zone? Or that they hide in the bushes until they spot someone breaking the law? This is the sort of thing that makes it clear no-one involved with the episode had a clue what they were doing or why.

LIATOR: Rivan, perhaps they can't run.
WESLEY: Can't run?! Sure, we can run, right commander?
[TROI: I can't, on account of this ridiculous outfit no-one but me ever has to wear.]*
RIKER: That's the custom here? running? Lead the way!

*line cut from broadcast version.

Who's That Face?: Rivan (Brenda Jean Bakke) is fairly prolific, and amongst other things, played Michelle (the Sharon Stone spoof character) in Hot Shots! Part Deux.

Time Until Meeting: Another meeting-free episode! Although to be fair, great swathes of time are devoted to characters sitting around discussing legal minutia. Still, it's on an alien planet rather than in a meeting room, so I'll let it pass.

Captain's Log: At this point it feels like the production staff isn't even trying. By now the cast were firing on all cylinders, acting the hell out of their roles – but the writing? Sheesh. And let's not even say how awful the costume design in this episode is.

To be fair, the credited writer effectively disowned the episode following extensive rewrites, but someone, somewhere did a real hack job on this. Luckily, things start to improve from the next episode onwards, but based on the episodes that have aired so far, it's hard to imagine the series being well-received at the time…

Watch or Skip? Skip-skip-skippety-skip. Just don't skip into any flower beds by accident while you're doing it.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, Lonely Among Us, here.

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Disqus - noscript

As bad as this episode is, I actually loved the giant space computer/god. The scene where it appears was wonderfully ominous and it felt like a genuine threat to the characters...

I hope these early episodes don't hurt future viewing figures for TNG on SyFy.

Apparently, there are no bras on this planet either

They missed a perfect opportunity to kill off the annoying Wesley Crusher character D<

I'm a bit embarrassed by this, but i only found this blog now and read all the articles up until here and i laughed out loud about 10 times.
Thank you, keep going, i'm loving it, even when i was a kid i realized by season 4 that season 1 was mostly horrible

I would have thought a better genre reference point for Brenda Bakke would be her role as Selena Combs in American Gothic.

Ah, Justice. So much cameltoe.

James, if you are not going to actually pay attention to the episodes then don't bother watching them. 1. People do know about the enforcement zones. They are marked with white fences. 2. It is stated that the mediators KNOW which zones are marked for that day. So when Wesley kills the flowers in that zone they come out because that zone was marked for that day. 3. The Edo are afraid of their "god" because it came down to the planet before. 4. Just because the death penalty doesn't lead to a utopia here on earth doesn't mean it won't work in alien cultures. There are many other factors that help them achieve their utopia as well. The whole point of this show is that you can't hold these alien cultures to earth standards. 5. This episode has the best line ever in Trek and you ignored it..."When has just ever been as simple as a rule book..."

I didn't say that the mediators don't know where the enforcement zones are. My point was that if the citizens aren't supposed to know, how do they not notice the mediators hanging around in their grey uniforms? The dude specifically says "No [citizen] ever knows when or where an enforcement zone will be" (so I don't know where you got that white fences idea from).

As for the whole point of the show being that you can't hold other cultures to Earth standards... no. That's the OPPOSITE of what Star Trek does. It's entirely ABOUT the Federation imposing its (more enlightened) standards on other cultures to teach them a lesson. And furthermore, the big over-arching message of Star Trek is that everyone, human or alien, is fundamentally the same. So I'm happy to say that any living creature forced to exist in fear of an instant death would not lead to a Utopia.

Fair point about the Edo god, and the final line is good, but it doesn't stop the rest of the episode stinking. And at this point, I feel like I've thought about the episode far more than anyone involved in making it, so, er, that'll do now.

Loving ALL of your reviews so far, but I had to respond to this one with a little more levity than usual...

Wesley's "We don't lie" is so wooden that to light a match would burn
the place down in a second. A naive kid would say the line, but this
is Wonder Boy we're talking about -- you know, the boy known as "the third Wonder Twin", and with a brain full of
Wonder Bread. In a previous life, I'm sure Wesley was the fifth Beatle, who taught them all how to write and play as well...

Even the Edo call him "the boy" at one point, which really shows how bad the writing
was - apart from your fantastic points, especially about the "mediators" (and I though their outfits were mauve, but - yeah - why aren't they wearing the same idiotic white diapers as the rest of them?). The Edo may have all been crewmembers, or should have, based on
that alone... they seem just as dumb as the rest of the crew, since
that's the only way to make Wonderboy brighter than everyone else in
season 1... ugh...

The story wants to be a stern tale of the prime directive, but somewhere
along the way - a rewrite or two by someone else later - it becomes a
stupid blond hair blue eye underendowed and oversexed escapade, with all that neat fluff about colonization, an angry deity-like figure protecting the life-forms on these already-inhabited planets, etc... well, the Edo planet was inhabited but it didn't mind griping about the unpopulated one...

The initial concept of "one penalty for all crimes" (death) could have
been used to much peril and intrigue - but even that gets squandered as TwinkieBrain
there gets it for falling into a fenced daffodil sanctuary.

Now, already

1) the planet's inhabitants seem more interested in copulation since there's nothing else to do (except make flower gardens, apparently)

2) the bridge crew freely say to include the Wonder cupcake along for
the ride, after all the talk of "making it" at the drop of a hat

3) said cupcake gets all embarrassed and squiggly on top when the ho-ho girl wants him to share his filling...

4) Clearly, the tiny Sno Ball is just trying to fit in but trips over
his Ding Dong and lands in the flower preserve, since that was all
flower power had in the end, as personified by the one who rewrote the
episode in a bizarre attempt to "keep the 60s alive", apparently...

There was no way to get the death penalty concept in a purported idyllic
society to really come across with any seriousness. The Yodel and the
Butternut there make some sad statements about their now not being
respected by Picard and Dr. Whinymother... then comes the Edo judge
that decides to let them go... and, as you said, the one throwing the
ball - and square at the boxed-in weed preserve as well - would have
gotten the penalty if Wes wasn't pie-faced enough to go after the ball
himself... let the imitation snack cake, and his accomplice Lil'
Debbie, get the shot, with Wes and the crew keeping a safe distance...

One can tell there was once a good story in this horrific little mess somewhere, but it all gets pushed aside.

And I'm not sure when Wes was ever dubbed "Wonderboy", but all the
references to junk food seemed apropos, given how much junk food this
poor episode of TNG ends up being... sold past its expiration date...

For the record, because I'm pedantic that way, you're right, James, the populace did not know where the enforcement zones would be, just the mediators. There are white lines/fences, which have nothing to do with the enforcement areas, they just marked places you shouldn't cross into. And if you happen to cross into them while it's in an enforcement zones, you're SOL...

why did they go down to the planet in the first place? the edo don't seem to be warp capable.

Another serious WTF: The Edo Ambassador flatly told Picard to just take Wesley away, and that the Edo would just record Wesley as an escapee. Sure, Wesley could never go back, but the Ambassador did *not* threaten diplomatic sanctions.

The mediators aren't wearing the diapers because they need pockets to hold the poison.

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