Saturday, August 20, 2011

4-13. Devil's Due

Ardra (Marta Dubois), aka the devil.
















THE PLOT

A distress call from a Federation science station brings the Enterprise to Ventax II. The planet, which has enjoyed an idyllic agrarian lifestyle for a thousand years, has descended into panic. A thousand years ago, their ancestors signed over the planet to the demonic Ardra (Marta Dubois) in exchange for a millennia of peace and prosperity. Now the contract has come due - and Ardra has apparently returned!

Picard refuses to believe in Ardra, noting that every demonstration of power she supplies is something their own technology could duplicate. He states that he will not leave the planet in the hands of a woman he dismisses as "a flim-flam artist." But when Data comes back from the planet's surface after reviewing the thousand-year-old contract, he brings news that makes Picard's attempts to discredit Ardra all the more personal: The contract is valid, and if this woman is indeed Ardra, she has legal possession of not only Ventax II but also anything in orbit - including the Enterprise!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Picard: Refuses to even entertain the notion that this woman might be the Ardra of Ventaxian mythology. Even before she overreaches and tries to lay claim to his ship, Picard has already put his crew to work searching for the source of her power. He dismisses Ardra's wiles as "obvious and vulgar," and clearly enjoys turning the tables on her at the end. Patrick Stewart seems to be having fun here. He gives a pleasantly laid-back performance, which makes the episode infinitely more watchable than might otherwise have been the case.

Data: Has embraced acting, according to Stanislavsky's "Method," believing that if he can increase his emotional awareness by performing emotions that he will become closer to being human. Picard praises him on his improved acting skills after a holodeck performance of a bit from A Christmas Carol, though this scene mainly seems to exist to indulge Brent Spiner's occasional taste for ham. When Picard uses Ventaxian law to force an arbitration of Ardra's claims, it is agreed to use Data as the judge. Data does caution Picard that he will rule strictly according to Ventaxian law, with no bias in his captain's favor - something which does prove to be the case. Brent Spiner is quite amusing in these scenes, particularly when he tells his arguing captain, "I have ruled, sir. Please sit down."

Hot Alien Space Villain of the Week: Marta Dubois, as Ardra, helps to save this episode from tedium with a certain elegance and solid comic timing. Ardra shows a great deal of style and showmanship, but also has an air of being almost eternally bored - which almost makes it convincing that she would be intrigued enough with Picard to overreach so badly by trying to apply her confidence game to his ship. I stress the word "almost" there, but it is clear that she enjoys fencing with Picard.


THOUGHTS

Devil's Due is a dumb episode. A very dumb episode. Its conflict is fueled by creating a planet of gullible rubes, and is escalated by making the villain stupid enough to attempt to apply her claim to the planet (which we're specifically is not a Federation planet) to the Enterprise.

Think about that for a moment.  Take away that attempt to claim Picard's ship, and there's a decent chance that Picard won't be able to do anything about her fleecing of the planet.  After all, Starfleet has no actual jurisdiction over Ventax II.  If the contract is valid, it's an internal matter.  But her overreach means that even if Picard didn't resist, which he's obviously going to, she's just made it in Starfleet's best interests to discredit her.  Ardra's attempt to lay claim to Enterprise exists solely to create some false jeopardy in an otherwise tension-free episode, and has the unintended consequence of making her seem outright stupid.

This story was apparently originally designed for the abandoned Star Trek: Phase II series, with Kirk in the Picard role. Though the writing staff has done a passable job of grafting the TNG cast onto it, the episode's origins do show - notably in that no regular other than Picard and Data has much of anything to do. Presumably, Kirk would have filled Picard's role, with Spock getting a combination of Data and Geordi's material, and McCoy making wry comments on the sidelines. Between this and The Child (the other reworked Phase II script), I'm thinking we got a lucky escape when Paramount decided to do movies instead. Based on these two scripts, the series' output would have likely been hackneyed and obvious, and the resulting show would probably have been canceled within a season - almost certainly ending Star Trek as a franchise forever.

All of that said, Devil's Due is watchable, even passably entertaining. A large part of the credit goes to the performances of the three leads. Patrick Stewart, Brent Spiner, and Marta Dubois are all on good form. None of them takes the material too seriously, resulting in several amusing bits. Viewed in context, with the light relief providing a vacation from the more serious surrounding episodes, there is some (very thin) merit here.

Viewed simply as a Star Trek episode, however, this is pretty tepid stuff.


Overall Rating: 4/10








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