In which Wesley commits a crime on the Legalistic Planet of Blond Joggers. (Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.)
We get right into the story by having an away team return to the bridge and briefly report on their first contact with the Edo, a peaceful people who seem to spend most of their time making out with each other. When a follow-up team returns to the planet, we see a few amusing moments as the crew attempts to be professional in a sexually charged atmosphere.
A strange object appears in orbit above the planet and sends a snow globe into the bridge so that a voice-over performer can yell at Captain Picard. The globe then perches on Data’s head to exchange knowledge — in the process knocking Data out.
On the planet, there’s an utterly cringeworthy moment when, after a stunt-double wearing Wesley’s costume performs some cartwheels, a cute teenage girl seems to proposition Wesley. I felt for Wil Wheaton, who had to deliver this line: “Well, actually, there are some games I, uh, don’t quite know yet.” And, of course, it turns out the girl just wants to play ball with him (get your minds out of the gutters, you 1980s post-sexual-revolution audience carefully manipulated into jumping to a conclusion perfectly justified by the context).
Meanwhile, Riker finds his communicator doesn’t work. Oddly, Troi doesn’t try her own communicator; she just accepts they are cut off from the ship. Meanwhile, we learn the Edo keep the peace by randomly executing anyone who violates even minor laws, and everyone realizes they don’t know where Wesley is.
I had to pause my video and do something else for a while, because I had a flashback when Wesley gets in trouble and they cut to a commercial.
As a little kid I had flaxen blonde hair, and of course, my name is Dennis, so I identified with the character Dennis the Menace. But I hated watching after-school reruns of the 1960s show, because it made me so anxious whenever they cut to a commercial break just after Dennis got into trouble.
Back on the Enterprise, the globe-probe releases Data, and we hear the away team calling in. Picard leaves orders to be contacted as soon as Data’s awake, and then heads to the planet to deploy some some heavy-duty rhetoric.
A strict interpretation of the Prime Directive would mean not interfering with Edo culture, but Picard energetically debates the morality of their capital punishment. The Edo man Liator gets a good passive-aggressive speech in which he suggests that the Enterprise just beam Wesley away: “We will record him as a convicted criminal out of our reach. An advanced person, who luckily escaped the barbarism of this backward little world.”
Dr. Crusher reports that Data is awake and wants to speak to Picard immediately. (Why Data didn’t just call Picard himself isn’t explained.) Picard, who moments ago ordered that he be contacted as soon as Data is awake, instead embarks on a side quest that involves taking an Edo woman up to the Enterprise so she can take a look at the orbiting entity, which she promptly identifies as God.
The Picard speeches and the scene with the Edo woman are fairly good Star Trek. I think this is the first time we learned that the comm badges could come off so easily; after the Edo God does some more yelling, Picard pops his badge onto the Edo woman’s clothes to facilitate beaming her back to the planet quickly.
Remember how Picard ordered Dr. Crusher to contact him the moment Data woke up, and then how Data woke up but Picard ignored him? Well Picard ignores him again, this time for a scene where he talks to Beverly about Wesley. When he finally visits Data in sickbay, where we get a comic interlude based on the premise that Data “babbles.”
The actors do the scene well, but it feels like what it is — a side-quest. After the commercial break, some time has passed, and Data joins Picard in the lounge for what seems very like a continuation of the scene we just watched. Beverly joins them shortly, and only now, hours after the Wesley crisis began — does Picard state he won’t actually let the boy die.
Back on the planet, the woman who visited the Enterprise now treats Picard like a god. The Edo man who earlier gave the passive-aggressive speech gets even sassier, pointing out that “We did not ask you to come here.”
The resolution involves Picard giving another speech. Since we’ve already seen that the entity orbiting the planet can interrupt communication, there was a good bit of tension when Picard finishes his speech then dramatically calls for the ship to beam them away. (Will they be stuck on the planet, so that Picard will have to listen to a rebuttal speech?)
Overall, the God subplot is underdeveloped; it’s unnecessary, in part because this plot rehashes the whole “omnipotent Q is watching Picard in order to pass judgement” plot element. While nobody out-speechifies Picard, the Edo performers did a good job selling a pretty silly premise, and the script provided them with substantial speeches in defense of their culture — unlike the devious and ratlike Ferengi from The Last Outpost, the pointlessly feuding Selay and Anticans in Lonely Among Us, the Planet of Sexy Black Stereotypes in Code of Honor, or the opportunistic and insensitive Bandi from Encounter at Farpoint. On my rewatch, I’m surprised at how many of these strange, new alien civilizations were presented as objects of contempt.
All of which reminds us that the Legalistic Planet of Blond Joggers is precisely the kind of pre-space-travel civilization that the Prime Directive should have declared off-limits in the first place. Why did the Enterprise start making plans for some sweet, sweet shore leave, thereby exposing this civilization to the idea of space travel, transporters, and Wesley’s teenage angst? As the series progresses, we’ll see the Federation’s first contact protocols fleshed out in more detail. It’s only in retrospect that this episode seems so inconsistent with Federation principles. As a stand-alone episode, there are some good scenes, but overall the pacing and plotting is awkward.