Revisiting Star Trek TNG: The Wounded

Enter, the Cardassians! Picard avoids war in the latest Star Trek: TNG episode to come under James' microscope, The Wounded...

This review contains spoilers.

4.12 The Wounded

When the Enterprise is attacked by a Cardassian vessel, Picard is confused until its captain, Gul Macet, informs them that the recent peace treaty has been broken by another Federation vessel who attacked and destroyed a new science station. Taking their former enemies on board, Picard learns that the accused, Benjamin Maxwell, was formerly Chief O’Brien’s Captain during the Cardassian war.

Although O’Brien tries to assist Picard in understanding Maxwell, he’s offended by Macet’s suggestion that Maxwell is out for revenge and rejects the Cardassians’ attempts to forge a friendship with him. Because clearly O’Brien already has enough friends.

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The Enterprise manages to track down Maxwell’s ship, the Phoenix, but can only watch helplessly on the scanner as he destroys a Cardassian warship and a smaller transport ship, causing 650 deaths. In the wake of the disaster Picard and Macet attempt to maintain their truce even as one of Macet’s men is caught possibly tampering with a computer. Although he claims he was just a UX nerd taking notes on their interface (and I can believe it, those guys never switch off.)

The Enterprise rendezvouses with the Phoenix and Maxwell comes aboard, all smiles and handshakes. O’Brien vouched for his reasons earlier, but Picard isn’t very convinced by Maxwell’s claims that the Cardassians are trying to re-arm. It turns out Maxwell is one of those maverick, rule-breaking captains they used to make Star Trek series about, only in this case he’s the bad guy because he’s probably wrong. His plans are straight out of the Zapp Brannigan Big Book of War, and his plans for preventing a war from starting seem to involve starting one himself.

Picard eventually convinces Maxwell to return home and puts him back on his ship, where he promptly ignores everything Picard said and heads off to blow up another Cardassian transport ship. The Enterprise intercepts him but can’t verify his claims that it’s carrying weapons because the ship is blocking sensor scans.

Picard is about to engage the Phoenix when O’Brien convinces Picard to let him solve the situation using the transporter. O’Brien tricks his way past the Phoenix’s shields and solves the problem using an Irish stereotype: singing. Luckily, Maxwell doesn’t notice this borderline offensive use of cliché and realises that this is a no-win scenario. Unlike the maverick, rule-breaking captains they used to make Star Trek series about, Maxwell accepts this and passes command to his first officer, surrendering himself to the Enterprise.

As the Cardassians return to their ship, Picard pulls Gul Macet aside and points out that while murdering people indiscriminately is probably wrong, Maxwell’s basis for these murderings wasn’t entirely inaccurate – the science base was in a tactically important location and the freighters probably were carrying weapons – and while he’s interested in protecting the peace, the Enterprise will be watching the Cardassians closely.

TNG WTF: Why are the O’Briens using plastic forks to eat their breakfast!? Did they steal them from Ten-Forward!? Why have he and Keiko apparently never eaten with one another before? What the hell is the Cardassian’s headgear supposed to be?! WHO IS PILOTING THIS TV SHOW?!

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Also, O’Brien was a tactical officer on board Maxwell’s ship and now he’s just a petty officer transporter chief? Seems like a slight career downturn.

TNG LOL: Thank you, Chief Obvious:

*sound of phaser fire hitting ship*O’Brien: “Something’s wrong!”

To Boldly Go: The Enterprise is conducting mapping surveys near the Cardassian Sector. I don’t know about you, if I’d been at space-war with the space-Nazis I’d probably want to have the local space-ography mapped during the war when it might be of strategic importance, not after. Maybe the border didn’t exist until recently.

Mistakes and Minutiae: This is the only episode outside of season 2 in which Gates McFadden does not appear. This, when you think about it, is completely insane. She’s the ship’s doctor and in something like 150 other episodes of TNG they found a tenuous way to work her into the script. But this week, they couldn’t. Not doing stretches with Troi, not having dinner with Picard, not even doing shots with Guinan to steady her hand before a big operation. Was she ill or something?!

Who’s that Face: Gul Macet is played by Marc Alaimo, who later plays the most famous Cardassian of them all, Gul DuKat. Perhaps they’re cousins.

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Time Until Meeting: 8:35. It’s not in a meeting room, but the crew all huddle around the Science II station on the bridge for a top-secret chat. Well, it’s not like anyone was doing any Science II at this moment in time. If you don’t think that counts, it’s almost immediately followed by a meeting with the Cardassians in the meeting room at 10:35.

Captain’s Log: It’s only the bloody Cardies! It’s fair to say that these guys end up as a major contribution to Trek lore and as introductions go, this is a way better first appearance than the Ferengi managed. It’s nice to have villains who operate on the same philosophical level as Picard even if they occasionally get a bit facist (but hey, so does Riker when he’s had some synthohol. Not that it gets him drunk, he’s just not very nice.)

This episode is pretty solid Trek territory. Picard struggling for peace in the face of someone who can’t accept the end of a war. There are some great touches – Macet being surprised to discover that the Enterprise can read Cardassian transponder codes, and Picard giving up the Phoenix’s shield codes against Worf’s protestations. O’Brien’s awkward chat in Ten-Forward in which the Cardassian expresses regret for their role in the war and O’Brien goes a bit PTSD. If you want to find TNG coming out strongly against war, you only have to look at O’Brien’s “I don’t hate you, I hate what you made me become” speech.

Philosophically speaking the episode comes out in favour of Theodore Roosevelt at the end when Picard admits he’s talking softly but carrying a big stick. If you ever thought Kirk was the more interesting captain, episodes like this challenge that assertion. Kirk would’ve started a war if he thought he was morally justified. Picard would rather prevent one at all costs then shoulder the burden of the deaths that might result if he’s wrong.

Ultimately, it’s a pretty solid and interesting episode which is only really let down by some dodgy alien headgear design and Maxwell’s slightly wooden performance. It’s not a classic by any stretch, but it’s not an episode I remember in any particular detail and was surprised to find myself enjoying. So in that sense, at least, it may count as underrated.

Read James’ look-back at the previous episode, Data’s Day, here.

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