Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Arsenal Of Freedom
James remembered Arsenal Of Freedom as one of TNG's better efforts, but how does it fare on a closer look?
This review contains spoilers.
1.21 Arsenal of Freedom
The Enterprise heads to the planet Minos while looking for the recently disappeared USS Drake, which is commanded by Riker's old school-friend, Paul Rice. As they approach, Data explains that Minos was made famous for its sales of incredibly advanced weapon systems. Hmm, I wonder if that'll come in helpful later?
As they approach the planet, they find it devoid of intelligent life, but an automated sales pitch invites them to check out their new weapons. A "minimal" away team consisting of the second in command, Chief of Security and whatever Data is (Head of Exposition?) beam down to the planet, whereupon they encounter Riker's old friend, Paul Rice himself. Or at least, something pretending to be him.
The Rice-hologram tries to interrogate Riker to get information about the Enterprise's capabilities, but it's incredibly bad at its job so he just makes fun of it ("My ship is the Lollipop. It's a good ship." - basically the twenty-fourth century equivalent of making Siri repeat swearwords) until it gets bored, seals him in a stasis bubble and flies off in a huff.
Picard takes Dr. Crusher and beams down to the planet, deciding to leave Geordi in charge while he goes. This is probably because Geordi is the only regular cast member left on the bridge who doesn't randomly disappear for several episodes at a time. Luckily, Picard anticipates a quick visit with absolutely no complications. Er, right.
As the away team attempts to free Riker, a floating drone attacks them. Picard and Crusher run off and manage to fall twenty feet into a cave. Picard is mostly unhurt, but probably because he landed on Dr. Crusher, who is properly messed up. Picard looks around for some dock leaves to rub on the wounds, and while Data and Yar free Riker, they discover that their communicators are all jammed. Another Sentry attacks, and this one has better AI: It can dodge weapon fire! Like the Stroggs in Quake 2! But it turns out you can defeat it by firing your weapon directly at it and then just to one side of it. Like the Stroggs in Quake 2.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise is attacked by a cloaked anti-ship drone. La Forge, in command and out of his depth, is given a hard time by Chief Engineer Logan who makes the entirely reasonable point that he outranks Geordi and should probably be running things. But Geordi is too brave to act sensibly, and instead tries to fight the drone unsuccessfully. Eventually they run away, but it's okay! They're going to separate the saucer section. A pretty sane move, all things considered. Troi gives him a pep talk, then he meets his skeleton crew on the Battle Bridge, which is like a regular bridge but with ominous mood lighting.
On the ground, Picard basically trips over a computer terminal and accidentally switches on the Minosian sales hologram. Data finds where they fell and jumps into the hole. While Yar and Riker try to destroy the next drone, Picard and Data try to deactivate the system. Eventually Picard has a brainwave and agrees to buy the weapons system, and pleased that it's made the annual sales quota, the system shuts down, disintegrating the drone attacking Yar and Riker as it does.
Meanwhile, in space, the drone attacking the now-saucerless Enterprise hasn't got the remote switchoff signal, but Geordi tricks it into entering the atmosphere where its cloak won't work, and shoots it. Hurray! Success! The away team gets beamed up, and because they need to go and get the saucer section, Picard and Riker let Geordi drive the rest of the way. How patronising. (Tellingly, this is the last time in all of TNG that La Forge ever gets command of the Enterprise.)
TNG WTF: So, hang on. By Picard's analysis, this weapon system was so "perfect" that it exterminated ALL LIFE on the planet? That doesn't sound "perfect". That sounds "massively defective". I can appreciate an intelligent weapons system that got so smart it eliminated all life on its own planet (the idea of Skynet extended to the extreme) but this one's literally just a bunch of semi-intelligent drones running on autopilot. All they had to do was switch it off! This is clearly the sort of Star Trek situation where the logical practicalities come a distant second to the underlying message (and look out for Symbiosis next week for much more of that.
Oh, and speaking of WTF moments: "Things have become very dangerous, very quickly. I'd better beam down to the planet and leave a low-ranking bridge officer in charge." is not the behaviour of the Picard we know.
TNG LOL: Maybe it didn't carry the same meaning back in the eighties, but this is clearly one of the most hilarious Riker responses ever:
Rice: "Who sent you?"
Riker: "Your mother!"
(In fact, this whole sequence is great. Personally, I enjoy anything where people in Star Trek outsmart a computer, even more so if it's by shouting increasingly angry non-sequiturs at it.)
Mistakes & Minutiae: Why doesn't the Starship Interception drone disappear along with the other one when the system is deactivated? Presumably it was just sensitive to Geordi's need to close his character arc.
Who's that Face?: The Minosian sales-hologram is only the late Vincent Schiavelli, previously seen in… well, take your pick. Hundreds of things. To me, he'll always be the grumpy ghost from Ghost who taught Patrick Swayze how to kick things.
Time Until Meeting: No meeting! Again, there's too much action to stop and chat about it. Also the guy who normally operates Powerpoint is stuck in a hole on an alien planet.
Captain's Log: This is a season one episode I actually remembered as being really good. As it happens, it's not quite as great as I remember, but it's also still one of the better episodes. I like the Twilight Zone/Outer Limits-style twist at the end, because it's both clever and quite funny, and the idea of a weapons system that comes back better every time is a good one. This whole episode feels a little Phillip K Dick, actually.
However, what I didn't remember was the great swathes of episode devoted to Geordi struggling with his command – although let's hear it for Chief Engineer Logan, the one man in history who's ever won the audience's favour by respecting the chain of command, following orders and not being a loose cannon.
That aside, most of the stuff on the planet is pretty boring. "Well, we've tried shooting at it and now we're out of options." Say Riker and Yar. "Keep me awake!" says Crusher, echoing the thoughts of the audience every time she's on screen. To be honest, the only bit on the planet I actually enjoyed between Rice's hologram disappearing and the salesman's hologram appearing was when Data jumped really far down into the cave without getting damaged and then he's like "Yeah, I'm a robot, look impressed."
Watch or Skip? Watch!