Season Three - TNG

Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Ensigns of Command

Written by Melinda M. Snodgrass
Directed by Cliff Bole

Though this is the first episode filmed of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was actually shown after the episode Evolution. Normally, that would not be a big deal. In this case, it is. If you watch the episodes in number order (or the order filmed) suddenly Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden) has returned to the Enterprise with little or no explanation. For a better understanding of why she is suddenly there, if you are following the story, you would be better off watching episode #50 before episode #49.

The Enterprise receives a terse message from the Sheliak – a non-humanoid race that considers itself vastly superior to humans. The Federation has a treaty with the Sheliak. They inform Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) that there are humans on a planet.

Initially, they think they are looking at an exploration ship that has crashed. However, it turns out that a colonization ship bound for another planet managed to find its way there. There are 15,000 descendants of the original colonists. The planet is in a radiation belt which renders the Enterprise transporters inoperable.

Complicating matters even further is that the colonists have a stubborn leader. Since there is a high level of radiation on the planet, Picard is forced to send Commander Data (Brent Spiner) to convince the colonists to leave the planet and negotiate their withdrawal. (The colonists adapted to the radiation over the years.) Their leader refuses to discuss leaving the planet, thinking more about his own pride and what they have accomplished. He also does not respect Data and his opinions since he is an android.

This is a terrific character-building episode for Data. We get to see him deal with his android limitations and have to be innovative in dealing with the other humans. It doesn’t seem like he is out of character since it seems to be logical thought processes at work rather than emotion. Brent Spiner gives a tremendous performance as Data. He convinced me that Data was still an android and yet evolving in his thoughts and processes almost as if human. His Pinocchio-like quest throughout the series is given a tremendous boost here with this performance in this episode.

The second story has Picard – who up until this time has been portrayed as a great negotiator – struggling to prevent the Sheliak from destroying the colony before they can manage to evacuate all of the colonists. Since the Sheliak regard humans with the same regard we have for cockroaches, they would think nothing of wiping out the entire colony of humans from space and settling their own people there.

Patrick Stewart gives a terrific performance as well and he runs the gamut of emotions and frustration trying to protect the colonists from the arriving Sheliak vessel. The treaty is so precise and the Sheliak seem to have it just about memorized. They are taking it “by the book” with no room for negotiation. It is terribly frustrating for Picard. However, his smugness and self-satisfaction when he finally finds a solution is also appropriate. Stewart makes all these facets of Picard’s character believable here.

If there’s one disappointment I have it’s a recurring one in the Star Trek universe: that is, that the Sheliac alien race is never again brought up. After going through so much to create and develop them, they are once again cast adrift, never to be heard from again. Wouldn’t it have been interesting to see how they dealt with The Borg (or vice-versa)? If they took sides during the Dominion War (in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) or if Voyager had to deal with them on some level?

I could also quibble again about too much time being spent on the guest-cast, and not enough on the regular cast, but it’s not so bad here. The story is fairly well-written and the usual cast in no way seems to be acting out of character. The writers seemed to know that this story would work better by focusing on only one or two of the Enterprise crew and wrote it that way. However, this is the beginning of the main focus of the series begins to settle on Captain Picard and Commander Data. This is a trend continues especially throughout the last few seasons of the series and especially the Star Trek: The Next Generation movies.

Otherwise, this is a pretty good episode that I enjoyed watching again, even if it is somewhat out-of-order.

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