Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Devil’s Due

Picard's pyjamas! The devil! Judge Data! This week's TNG lookback reaches a hugely fun courtroom episode, Devil's Due...

This review contains spoilers.

4.13 Devil’s Due

Picard is watching Data perform as Ebeneezer Scrooge on the holodeck when the ship receives a distress call from a Federation science team on Ventax II. The planet’s population is rioting because it just reached the end of an alleged thousand-year contract with Ardra, their planet’s version of the Devil, which promised the citizens peace and prosperity in return for becoming her property when the contract was up. Remember: always read the small print.

With a mob holding most of the science team hostage, Picard beams down and gets his negotiating pen out. As he attempts to quell the superstitious crowd’s fear, Arda appears, announcing that “Time’s up.”

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In an attempt to convince everyone that she is who she says, she briefly takes on the form of the Klingon “devil” Fek’lhr and then produces legal documents for the planet’s leader, Jared, to sign. She orders the release of the hostages, and then appears on the Enterprise shortly after to declare that the ship also belongs to her, much to Picard’s visible irritation. Imagine, a woman captaining the Enterprise? How absurd.

Picard convinces Data that Ardra is a con artist, invoking the scene from A Christmas Carol from earlier in the episode. Fear is a powerful motivator, he says, without acknowledging how tenuous a link that is (it’s a good job Data wasn’t doing scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or something). Rather than try to expose her , Picard plans to stall so that the Enterprise can uncover her tricks.

That night, Ardra appears in Picard’s room and attempts to seduce him but he rejects her advances, probably because he appears to be wearing a pair of curtains and no-one looks good in that. Annoyed at being spurned, she transports him to the planet and disables the Enterprise’s transporters. It’s a good job he doesn’t sleep nude, that’s all I’m saying.

Data takes Picard back to the ship in a shuttle, but just before they dock it disappears, which is a lucky twist because it means the writers don’t have to try and cram Crusher, Troi and Riker into a script that has no place for them. Back on the planet, Picard demands that Ardra go into contract arbitration with him. They agree that Data can be the arbitrator because he’s an android and therefore can’t lie (unlike those toilet-cleaning mechanoids). If Picard wins, she gives up the planet. If she wins, Picard becomes her boy-toy. Sounds, er, fair.

After a lot of talking it looks like Picard is about to lose, but luckily during a recess Geordi reveals that he’s found Ardra’s ship and can prove that she’s a fraudster. After demolishing the historical superstition that Ardra did anything at all (the superstitious respond well to facts, I believe) Picard then demonstrates his own range of powers, proving that Ardra just has a box of tricks which he now controls. The Enterprise is removed from the cloaking field she placed on it, and Ardra stands revealed as a con-artist known across the sector.

Ardra is about to escape when she’s arrested by the Valaxians. She submits to her fate but says goodbye to Picard with a suggestive “Until we meet again…” – but that never happens again. Not even in the spin-off novels and comics. Can you believe they missed that trick?

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TNG WTF: Given how they completely nailed the designs for Fek’lhr and Ardra, I find it kind of funny that the version of the Devil that briefly turns up in this episode looks like something you’d find in a children’s comic. It’d make a good Halloween costume, but if you were actually in Hell it’d be almost distractingly crap.

TNG LOL: This is actually a really funny episode. Basically everything Data says in his capacity as judge is hilarious in its deadpan way. Picard’s frustration is funny, especially when he gets left on the surface of the planet in his pyjamas. But the biggest burn in the episode? When Picard rejects Ardra’s advances: “I find you obvious and vulgar”, he says. Ouch.

To Boldly Go: The Enterprise responds to a distress signal from Ventax II. No word on what was going on before that, but it presumably wasn’t so important that two members of the senior staff couldn’t hang out in the holodeck.

Mistakes and Minutiae: This is one of the TNG scripts originally produced for the aborted Star Trek: Phase II. If you squint it does sort of have that TOS feel to it. Apparently in the original script the judge was the Enterprise’s computer, which makes me wonder why anyone would let Kirk try to convince it of anything. 90% of the computers he talks to end up stuck in logical loops.

Time Until Meeting: 9:42. But the entire back half of this episode is basically a big meeting, so it’s a great one for fans of talking and standing.

Captain’s Log: This episode is great fun. I’ve said before how much I like the courtroom episodes of TNG, and this one has a really excellent premise at the heart of it. A few things don’t quite add up, like how come Ardra’s got the ability to lock down the Enterprise’s doors and communication systems without anyone realising, or how she can transform into a copy of Troi without any direct contact with her. Or why Picard is in bed while Worf and Geordi are out working. But you can ignore all of that stuff because it’s just so much fun.

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It works on almost every level – not just because it’s got a strong and simple premise, but because Ardra is a great foil for Picard. In many ways she’d have made a great recurring villain, but maybe it’s her one-off appearance that makes her so compelling. If you were going to complain about anything in this episode it’d be that – yet again – it’s a Picard and Data two-hander where most of the crew doesn’t get much to do. But how can you get too upset about a duo that watchable?

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, The Wounded, here.

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