Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Vengeance Factor

Review James Hunt 2 May 2014 - 10:14

The crew of the Enterprise encounter an alien race, and Riker encounters a hot blonde. What could go wrong?

This review contains spoilers.

3.9 The Vengeance Factor

An away team consisting of Riker, Worf, Data and Beverly Crusher arrives at a Federation outpost to discover that it's been ransacked by hostile aliens. Everyone's alive, but Crusher discovers some unique bloodstains which identify the perpetrators as members of the Acamarian race. Wow, bringing Crusher along really paid off for a change!

Reasoning that the attack was performed by the Gatherers, an exiled and nomadic offshoot of the Acamarians, the Enterprise crew head to Acamar to meet with their sovereign leader, Marouk. Once she's aboard, Picard convinces her to come with them to negotiate peace with the Gatherers and re-integrate them into society. She agrees to try, even though this doesn't really seem like any of his business. All she needs to do is invite a few more servants on board before they leave. Picard dispatches his own manservant, Commander Riker, to deal with it.

Greeting the servants, Riker instantly notices that one of them is an attractive blonde woman called Yuta, and he immediately takes a shine to her. Before you can say "diplomatic minefield", Riker's turning on the famous Riker charm, which largely consists of thinly-veiled chat-up lines. Hey, Riker, remember that time you slept with the head of a matriarchal society and caused all sorts of trouble? No? Evidently. "You'll have to cook me some Acamarian meals," he tells Yuta. "Perhaps breakfast?" he thinks, but doesn't say. "After we've had sex overnight," he unnecessarily continues.

The Enterprise heads to a Gatherer outpost and an away team consisting of the second in command, chief security Klingon, head robot and a blind engineer head to the surface. No, I'm not sure what Geordi's doing there either. They get into a firefight with the Gatherers but manage to turn the ambush around by pretending to beam out, in what ranks as the most tactical thing Riker has ever or will ever do.

After convincing Brull, the Gatherer's spokesman, to meet with Marouk, Picard chairs a meeting. While he's convincing these people that reintegration is a great idea, Yuta sneaks off and kills one of the older Gatherers, Volnoth, simply by touching him, saying "my clan will outlive yours!" which is a dead giveaway that she's probably evil. Quite what any of this has to do with online gaming, I'm unclear.

Luckily, Brull doesn't really mind that Volnoth suddenly died for no reason, because that's what old guys do apparently. Interested in returning to Acamar, he agrees to lead the Enterprise to the Gatherer's main leader, Chorgon, for further talks. Back on the ship, Marouk tells Picard about the barbaric system of vengeance which used to rule their culture, and how they're all well past it. Picard uses this as a way to knock humanity of the past. Which is to say, us. He does this a lot.

Elsewhere in ten-forward, Yuta and Riker share a meal and what passes for flirtatious banter, before he's called to the sickbay. Crusher has figured out what killed Volnoth: a microvirus! You know, a virus only smaller. The strain is designed to attack his specific DNA, leading them to conclude it was a deliberate killing!
Later that day, Yuta visits Riker in his quarters. He does his level best to get her to sleep with him, but no amount of begging will work, not least because she's in quite a lot of personal turmoil. Not that this bothers him. After all, when you've slept with every woman on the Enterprise, anyone else will do, no matter how psychologically distressed she appears to be.

Things progress no further, though, because they've arrived at Chorgan's location! After trading shots, the Enterprise's vast superiority wins out, and Chorgan agrees to talk. Marouk, Brull and Yuta head over there with Picard to talk shop.

Back on the ship, Crusher and Riker investigate previous deaths from Volnoth's clan. They find one from 53 years ago, and a photo identifies Yuta at the scene. Only she hasn't aged a day! Worse still, Chorgan is in the clan she's been killing off. Realising that she's probably evil, and at the worst chaotic good, Riker races to Chorgan's ship to stop her. The negotiations aren't going well, but this would literally kill them.

Yuta is about to pass the virus to Chorgan when Riker appears in the conference room and orders her to move away. Riker tells everyone the truth, and she fills in the gaps: she's had procedures to make her not ago (eh?) and demands vengeance for her clan's war with Chorgan's. Riker tries to talk her out of it, but she's determined to try. Everyone else just sits completely still while she lunges at Chorgan and Riker shoots her with a phaser until she is incinerated. Then he looks upset, because now they'll never have sex.

The negotiations are saved, but for some reason Riker isn't that happy. Probably because he just killed that person with a total lack of proportional force. Picard tells him that shore leave has been extended and maybe people should take a few days off. Riker says "I'll tell the crew." And that's the end of the episode for some reason.

TNG WTF: In the final scene, Riker is forced (well, maybe not forced. He's quite keen) to kill Yuta. In the background, Picard sort of sits there looking blankly ahead, barely blinking. The reason is that he had to stay still so that they could add the disintegration effect. But in-story, we're forced to assume he's thinking "oh great, now I'm going to have to fill out loads of incident reports to explain this one."

TNG LOL: There's something quite refreshing about The Gatherers, who appear to be an entire race descended from 1980s hair metal. If one of those characters had shown up carrying a double-headed flying V, I wouldn't have blinked. You can't help but find them amusing.

And, of course, there's the famous photo-reconstruction scene, in which the computer manages to extrapolate Yuta's face from a small visible portion. It's a bit like someone saw Blade Runner but didn't really notice that there was an attempt to put actual science into that film.

Mistakes and Minutiae: Another new phaser setting: overkill. Riker uses it to incinerate Yuta where she stands, rather than safely restrain her. The complete list is now Stun, Kill, Cut Through Door, Heat Up Rocks, Head Explodey, Aqueduct Demolition, Smelt Ore and Overkill.

Also, Marouk is the first and probably only character to refer to Starfleet as "the Starfleet". It may be intended as a quirk of her particular race, but all I can think is "We did 20 takes and that was the best one."

Who's That Face?: Yuta is Lisa Wilcox, who was also Alice Johnson in a couple of Nightmare on Elm Street films and was also Missy (I mean, mom) in the live action Bill & Ted TV series (but not the movies).

Time Until Meeting: 4:44. Picard sets up a meeting with Marouk. Troi also gets a seat, but Riker has to stand.

Captain's Log: At its best, Star Trek is a humanist celebration of the best we, as a civilisation, can achieve if we dedicate ourselves to altruism, diplomacy, pacifism and understanding. And at its worst, it's kind of like this episode. It starts off relatively well, with Picard brokering a deal and saying things like "What do you have to lose by trying?" which is as pure a message of hope as you can get. It posits that even the greatest differences may be overcome if only we listen to one another.

Of course, by the end of the episode the message has turned into "Sometimes, to achieve peace you have to kill those who demand war." Which isn't necessarily untrue, but it's a considerable distance away from the utopian ideals that Star Trek normally strives for.

And it's not like Riker HAD to kill Yuta. In this situation, where he's trying to stop her from physically attacking someone, a crowbar to the back of the knees would have achieved a similar effect to his preferred option of "completely incinerate". I guess when you're holding a phaser, every problem looks like one of those floaty lights that you shoot for phaser target practise.

Watch or Skip? Skip it. A total mess.

Read James's look-back at the previous episode, The Price, here.

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