Written by Robin Bernheim and Richard Danus
Directed by Cliff Bole
The Enterprise visits the planet Angosia, which is in the process of applying for membership into the Federation. The planet has recently ended a very long war and has recovered from it remarkably well. While there, an uprising occurs at one of their penal colonies and one particularly violent individual, Roga Danar, manages to escape. Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) volunteers to have the Enterprise chase after the fugitive. After a lengthy game of cat-and-mouse, he is recaptured and beamed aboard the Enterprise.
It is then that the crew learn of the bio-engineering and intense psychological training that many Angosian soldiers underwent. The bio-engineering causes Danar to have no life-form readings when scanned. The psychological training is the reason for the violent outbursts.
Feeling that these soldiers had no place in society as it emerged from the violent conflict, the Angosian leaders sentenced them to life on a separate planet away from the rest of their civilization. Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) likens it to an “orbiting gulag”.
The episode is very blatantly a statement about how soldiers are treated in society after returning home from a war. After having been trained to kill! kill! kill!, they are expected to shut it off. Here, the Angosians took volunteers and turned them into killing machines without any consideration as to what would happen when the war was over. Though in this case it is as the result of bio-engineering and psychological training, it nudges the conscience just a bit to wonder where the line is that is “too far” to go to win a war.
An intriguing point to ponder is that this episode first aired in January of 1990, long before the Gulf War started and we ever heard of “Gulf War Syndrome”.
The acting here is terrific. Jeff McCarthy does a wonderful job as the conflicted Danar, who is responding to situations only as he is “programmed” to do. He conveys the angst when – after being treated well by the Enterprise crew – he informs them that he must try to escape. His portrayal of a man who has no control over his actions is on the mark.
We also get to see good performances out of Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner as Counselor Deanna Troi and the android Data. They have the most interaction with Danar on the ship, and their conversations are some of the highlights of the episode. We are also treated to a great performance by James Cromwell as the Angosian Prime Minister, Nayrok. Cromwell will magnificently portray Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact.
The chase scenes were good, but it also took away from this episode. At times I felt more like I was watching The Fugitive set in space – the wrongly imprisoned man trying to outwit and outlast his pursuers. This two distinctly different tones give the episode a schizophrenic feeling; it doesn’t know whether it wants to be an action story or a thought-provoking one.
What redeems it is the ending. The way Picard chooses to leave the planet is a stroke of genius and it made me smile. It sends a message about treating people in a disposable manner without doing so with overkill.
Anyone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation would be able to pick up this one and watch it with no problems. It’s one that I highly recommend to get the flavor of the show without ending up totally confused.
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