Written by Richard Manning, Hans Beimler, Maurice Hurley, Robert Lewin, Hannah Louise Shearer, and Tracy Torme
Directed by Les Landau
Riker: The name of my ship is the Lollipop
Rodriguez: I have no knowledge of that ship
Riker: It’s just been commissioned. It’s a good ship
Yes, that is an actual conversation from this first season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. As the season is winding down, the episodes seem to be getting better. This is definitely one of the better ones.
The Enterprise travels to the planet Minos in the Lorenz Cluster to find out what happened to the U.S.S. Drake. Captain Rodriguez was in command of that ship, and he happened to know Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) back in Starfleet Academy.
What they discover is a planet devoid of intelligent life which was once habited by a race of arms merchants. An away team led by Riker beams down to the planet surface. Quickly they are assaulted by an unknown enemy. After having the conversation above with what is apparently a holographic image of the dead Captain Rodriguez, Riker is encased in a sort of force field presumably for transport to an interrogation center at a later time.
With only Data (Brent Spiner) and Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) on the planet, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) beams down along with the Doctor Crusher (Gates McFadden) to try to free Riker and see if he is injured. Just as Data and Yar manage to free Riker, they are once again attacked. Trying to fool the attacker, the crew separates. It is at this point that Picard and Dr. Crusher fall down a hole into some sort of cave.
Meanwhile, Geordi LaForge (Levar Burton), the blind helmsman of the Enterprise has been left in command of the ship. They are also being attacked by an unknown enemy. There is a sub-plot here where the Chief Engineer feels he outranks Geordi and wants command to be turned over to him.
This episode has good character development for Geordi, Picard and Crusher. While trapped in the unknown hole, Crusher begins to go into shock. To keep her conscious, Picard engages her in a series of conversations which subtly shows there is a deeper attachment between the two of them.
With Geordi, we get to see that at times he is unsure of himself, and the confrontations with Chief Engineer Logan aren’t helping. What isn’t explored, however, is exactly what Logan’s problem with Geordi is. Does he feel that because he is blind he should not be in command? Does he feel that he has more practical experience than Geordi? Does he outrank him? The source of the conflict between the two of them is never established and makes this part of the plot feel forced. It probably doesn’t help at all that the actor portraying Logan is terrible in the role.
The writing is better than some episodes, but not great, so I feel the actors deserve the credit for making this episode work. They seem to be finding their footing in regards to their characters. Jonathan Frakes especially seems to be defining Riker in more human terms rather than as a cartoonish Captain Kirk knock-off. There is also more action here than we have seen previously this season – and not the space-battle type either. Though it is not too suspenseful, it does fit well with the story and manages to entertain.
In the end, the crew surmises what killed off life on the planet and what happened to the Drake: all of what they experience here is an elaborate demonstration of the newest armament system developed by the merchants. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a way to turn it off until Picard finds what seems to be an obvious solution. It’s the sort of thing that leaves you feeling “Why didn’t anyone else think of that?”
Previous episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Heart of Glory
Next episode (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Skin of Evil