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July 14 2024


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The Ensigns of Command

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at March 14, 2008 - 4:32 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Ensigns of Command' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Picard is called away from Data's violin performance because the Sheliak, who never make contact with humans, have sent a message. It turns out to be a warning that if the previously undiscovered human settlement on the fifth planet of Tau Sigma V are not removed immediately, they will be eradicated by the xenophobic Sheliak, who wish to colonize the planet. Picard immediately takes the Enterprise to the Class H world, which Crusher is surprised could support human life. Data goes down because he is impervious to the radiation on the planet and discovers a group of humans who have built a thriving civilization after their ancestors' colony ship was stranded en route to another world. Data warns them that they must prepare to evacuate, but the settlers - particularly their leader, Gosheven - have no interest in giving up the city they worked so hard to terraform. Meanwhile Picard goes to ask the Sheliak for more time to evacuate the large number of humans, since Starfleet cannot send a sufficiently large transport for several weeks, but the Sheliak insist that they will attack and eradicate the colony if it is not dismantled at once. While Picard negotiates and ultimately uses the Sheliak's insistence on following their treaty with the Federation to the letter against them, Data realizes that talk will not be enough to convince Gosheven and his followers to leave. Instead he modifies his phaser to stun several guards and blasts the aqueduct to give the inhabitants a small taste of the destruction that will follow if they do not evacuate. Things can be replaced elsewhere, he tells them, but people cannot. The settlers agree to prepare to leave when the transport arrives, and the Sheliak agree to wait for it to remove the humans before colonizing their planet.

Analysis: Like many of the best Next Generation episodes, "The Ensigns of Command" has an A plot and a B plot that merge dramatically and thematically yet allow a lot of different characters and settings to be explored. On the one hand, it's a bottle story in which we get to see Picard's frustration trying to negotiate from his own bridge with a hostile and inflexible alien; on the other hand, it's a Data story in which he learns new facets about humans and his own interactions with them (and gets kissed in the bargain). While I wouldn't rate either as the series' finest, mostly because the guest characters are scripted only in broad strokes with their actors overcompensating, it's well-paced and nicely put together.

The Sheliak, who appear to be the same species as the villain from "The Savage Curtain," consider humans such an inferior species that they don't want to talk to them, let alone consider sharing a planet. Picard is sufficiently aware of their hostility to understand that any humans on Tau Sigma V will have to be evacuated quickly, but he assumes there must have been a recent transport crash with a handful of survivors on the hostile world; he certainly isn't prepared to find a thriving culture of more than 15,000 people. Nor could the Enterprise cope with so many evacuees even if LaForge and O'Brien could figure out how to make the transporter work through the planetary radiation (and it would take many days to evacuate by shuttle, says Worf).

Data, then, faces an interesting challenge as a non-human sent to convince a group of proud humans to give up their home, a place built on the blood and sweat of their great-grandparents. None of them have ever seen a sophisticated android before, and with the exception of one woman who finds Data intriguing - and attractive - they are not inclined to take his word on the necessity of leaving. It's not that they think he's lying about the Sheliak threat but that he can't possibly understand the passion that ties them to this place. Hearing their leader give a rousing speech about their commitment to the planet, Data tries to out-speak him, which he does quite impressively, yet it is not enough to convince the colonists to revolt against the leader. Then Data makes a decision almost unheard of on Star Trek: he decides that words will not be enough. He isn't Kirk or Picard, after all; like his violin-playing, his speeches are imitations of the passion of others, not original. He decides that a demonstration of violence is called for.

Meanwhile, in the intersecting storyline, Picard is trying desperately to avoid violence, arguing with a species so confident in its superiority that the individual with whom Picard must speak can rationalize slaughtering a colony of humans as the equivalent of taking care of pest control. The Sheliak are naturally abrupt, rude and contemptuous, and Picard's attempts to take the high road are repeatedly disappointed when the Sheliak cut off communications in the middle (Riker even uses the presumably anachronistic phrase "they hung up on you"). Ultimately Picard gets his revenge very elegantly by subjecting the Sheliak to the kind of bureaucratic nitpicking they've been using to rationalize mass murder, finding a clause that lets him pick a neutral negotiator and then selecting one who will be in hibernation for several months. When the Sheliak attempt to contact him to grant additional time to move the human colony instead, Picard hangs up on them.

The colonists come across rather hopelessly naive and Data's "love interest" rather silly, since she knows that he can't feel anything for her yet can't resist asking anyway. The planetary leader, Gosheven, is particularly poorly written, using violence to shut Data down and thus revealing early on that he's not going to be an impressive intellectual adversary, which is a pity; the drama could have had more emotional impact had it been more like Deep Space Nine's "Progress," in which Kira had to relocate a Bajoran settler from a moon Bajor planned to lay waste for energy. But it's a timeless story - people set up camp in the desert, build a home, then are told that someone else claimed the desert first - with strong performances by the regulars and humor injected by Data and Worf when things threaten to get too serious. And Data realizes that maybe he can become a virtuoso on the violin after all.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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