May 30 2011 2:30pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Justice”

Rivan of the Edo“Justice”
Written by Ralph Willis and Worley Thorne
Directed by James L. Conway
Season 1, Episode 7
Production episode 40271-109
Original air date: November 9, 1987
Stardate: 41255.6


Captain’s log. The Enterprise stumbles across an inhabited Class-M planet occupied by humanoids. Crusher has been agitating for the crew to take shore leave, and the planet seems well suited to it.

The locals, the Edo, are all blond and tanned and fit and scantily clad—it’s like being in Los Angeles, basically. The welcoming committee asks if they want to go to the council chambers, or have sex first.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise keeps finding an odd sensor shadow. Data tries the direct approach of hailing it and asking it to identify itself, and it appears—sort of. Both sensors and La Forge’s VISOR show it as partly in and out of reality. It sends a probe, which shows up on the bridge and asks what the Enterprise is doing there. After they explain themselves, the probe warns them not to interfere with its children, then communes with Data.

Back on the planet, the Edo either play really silly games, or smooch a lot. The away team gets nervous when they realize they’ve lost contact with the ship—and get more nervous when it’s revealed how the Edo maintain peace. There are “punishment zones”—if one violates the zone, one is condemned to death. One such zone is over new plants, which Wes falls into while playing ball with some of the kids, blissfully unaware that he’s just committed a capital crime.

The away team stands off with the Edo Mediators, who are prepared to kill Wes, which Riker refuses to allow, punctuated by Worf and Yar’s phasers. The Enterprise finally regains communication, and Picard beams down to negotiate.

The Edo agree to await carrying out Wes’s sentence until sundown, and even suggest the Enterprise free Wes by force, which Picard refuses to do. He takes Rivan, one of the Edo, onto the ship to identify the thing in orbit, which the Edo refer to as God. God then threatens the ship until they return Rivan to the planet. (At no point does anyone ask what God needs with a starship....)

Data explains to Picard that God is a collective being that exists in several dimensions, and it has set itself up as a caretaker to the Edo. Picard agonizes over the decision he must make—unwilling to sacrifice Wes (or any crewmember), but needing to respect the power of the Edo’s caretaker, which will take a dim view of Picard breaking the Prime Directive. The Edo themselves plead with Picard to obey their laws.

The caretaker refuses to allow them to beam out, and Picard finds himself pleading as well. There can be no justice, he says, when laws are absolute, that life is a study in exceptions. That does the trick, and the away team beams up and leaves orbit. One hopes they dropped a few interdiction beacons on their way out….

Thank you, Counsellor Obvious. “Sharing orbit with God is no small experience.” Yup.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Enterprise crew is amusingly incapable of determining the nature of the Edo’s caretaker, leading to a frustrated Picard asking, “Why has everything become a ’something’ or a ’whatever’?”

Troi admires Liator

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. For a planet filled with people who “play at love,” their actual interactions are more akin to high school students in the back of a sedan.

The boy!? Wes violates local laws, is condemned to death, and intones “I’m with Starfleet—we don’t lie” in what may be the worst line delivery of Wil Wheaton’s entire career. He also justifiably calls Picard out when he tries to tell the boy that he’s not involved in the decision about his own execution.

If I only had a brain… Data is rather shocked to discover that he babbles.

There is no honor in being pummeled. Worf explains that recreational sex is a bad idea with human women, as they are too fragile. WOO HOO!

Yar and the EdoWelcome aboard. For all that “Code of Honor” was decried as racist, the description applies much more to this episode, where the planet of pretty people is entirely populated by blond-haired, blue-eyed white folks, starting with Brenda Bakke and Jay Louden as Rivan and Liator.

Also the relief tactical officer is played Josh Clark, who would go on to the recurring role of Assistant Chief Engineer Joe Carey on Star Trek: Voyager.

I believe I said that.

“And they make love at the drop of a hat.”

Any hat.”

-La Forge and Yar enthusiastically describing the Edo.

Trivial matters: This is the first of three occasions where Picard brings a woman from a primitive planet to the ship and impresses the crap out of her by letting her look out a window—the next two coming in “Who Watches the Watchers?” and Star Trek: First Contact.

Make it so. An episode that has occasional moments—Picard and Data’s philosophical discussion of matters with immediate practical consequences, Worf’s deadpan reactions to the Edo (“Nice planet”), Picard’s frustration with the Enterprise’s inability to determine specifics about the caretaker—but collapses under the weight of its own ridiculousness. The Edo are caricatures, and Eurocentrically offensive ones at that, the Edo’s deity is simplistic and underdeveloped, and way too much time is spent standing around talking. Wes being the one to accidentally break a law was so predictable that Worf went ahead and predicted it in the script.

And then in the end, Picard saves the day by speechifying. It isn’t even all that much of a speech, and its brevity just makes it even more unconvincing. A very anticlimactic end to an endlessly long buildup.

Having said all that, I will say that I absolutely and unreservedly loved Picard’s response to Data’s query as to whether or not he’d sacrifice one life to save a thousand: “I refuse to let arithmetic decide questions like that.” That line helped cement Jean-Luc Picard as a great character.

(Added bonus: Check out Wil Wheaton’s recent recap of “Justice” at the Phoenix Comic-Con.)


Warp factor rating: 2

Keith R.A. DeCandido’s most recent Star Trek work includes the Captain’s Log comic featuring Edward Jellico, the novel A Singular Destiny, and stories in Seven Deadly Sins and Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows. Follow him online at his blog or on Facebook or Twitter under the username KRADeC.

Christopher L. Bennett
1. Christopher L. Bennett
I agree completely about the "arithmetic" line -- one of my favorite Picardisms. And "There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute" is another. There were some good ideas here, but they were buried under the kitsch.

I remember reading an article back around '87 in which John D. F. Black, the former TOS story editor who wrote the story that got turned into this episode (and who used the pseudonym Ralph Willis here), talked about his original version, which was a lot darker and more thought-pr0voking than this turned out to be. Unfortunately I no longer seem to have the article. But this was quite a wasted opportunity. Something truer to the original version, less diluted with Roddenberry's fixations on sex and judgmental godlike aliens, would've been so much better.

One thing that's strange about this episode's setup is that they seem to have forgotten about the Prime Directive at this early stage of the series. The Enterprise crew blithely goes down and makes first contact with a relatively primitive people who have no spaceflight capability, and nobody seems to think there's anything wrong with that. Given how fanatically strict these characters became about the Prime Directive later on, it's hard to reconcile this one with the rest of the series.

The episode also illustrates how hard it was to deal with sexual subject matters on a syndicated show that had to be safe for timeslots watched by younger viewers. They had the same problems with Risa later on.
Christopher L. Bennett
2. John R. Ellis
I hated this episode as a young teen. It was so...embarrassing.

But now I share Wheaton's opinion: Of all the bad episodes from the earliest years of TNG, this one is very nearly the most fun.

Even if the Edo outfits strike adult me as being creepy.
Keith DeCandido
3. krad
Christopher: What's especially hilarious is that the entire back half of the episode hinges on the Prime Directive and obeying it by respecting the Edo's local laws. But it's forgotten in the first half when they beam down in the first place, as you say.

Disagree about the "absolute" line, as it comes across as hokey, even though it's absolutely true.

As for the sex, they might have been better off by implying things, and not actually showing the Edo frolicking, which just came across as goofy.

And I just want to repeat what you said about "Roddenberry's fixations on sex and judgmental godlike aliens." Talk about tiresome tropes....

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
rob mcCathy
4. roblewmac
people join Starfleet because everyone else dresses goofy.
Christopher L. Bennett
5. Christopher L. Bennett
Okay, so they remembered there was a Prime Directive, but weren't clear on what it meant. Which is understandable, since TOS was a little vague about that sometimes. Did it just mean not imposing your will on other worlds, or did it mean not even revealing your existence to them? TOS often went with the former, looser interpretation -- for instance, in "A Private Little War," Kirk told Tyree that he was from another world, but when the Klingons gave the villagers firearms, that was considered a Prime Directive violation that had to be combatted. But it sometimes suggested a stricter view, like in "Bread and Circuses" -- the one time the PD was actually quoted onscreen, and "No references to space, other worlds, or advanced civilizations" was included. At least, it seemed the gag rule existed but could be suspended if the situation warranted it.

But at least for this episode, the "no contact with pre-warp civilizations" rule was nowhere to be seen, and the Directive was defined only in terms of interference, not contact. Which is actually more sensible than the rather fanatical extreme they took it to later on, the sociologically inept assumption that "primitive" cultures would be too fragile to survive exposure to more advanced knowledge and thus needed to be kept in the dark altogether. But they're just so careless about the first contact here -- a carelessness that's directly responsible for the episode's core crisis -- that it errs too far toward the other extreme.
Eugenie Delaney
6. EmpressMaude
Oh, Gack. I do forget how bad these early episodes were. The costuming is really, really awful - I know they're supposed to be titillating, but the hankie-briefs on the men seem like they are in the process of ever-so-softly castrating them, and the women look like they've decked themselves out in kleenex. I know that's half the point (that they be half-nekkid!)but... did anyone watching this find them exciting or sexually interesting? I found them embarrassing. I know I shouldn't have, but even in high school I was half-hoping that the Eloi... oops, the Edo, would just off Wesley for the good of the series. I do think that Gates McFadden did a nice job here, playing the angst/terror riddled mother, but then again, I wonder what the hell she's thinking (and always did wonder, for that matter) letting her boy genius nerd son gallivant away on foreign planets. Oh, and her dark maroon-red hair? So 80's.! However, I fell in love with Jean-Luc Picard right here and now for that arithmetic line... and it's been unrequited love ever since. Jean-Luc, call me!
j p
7. sps49
This episode shows how the Prime Directive was perverted by TNG. Yes, it was straight up violated at the beginning, but then it is used to justify Plot Stupidity. If a planet's society is advanced enough (and unfriendly enough) to place the ship in danger, how does the Prime Directive apply?
Amir Noam
8. Amir
This is a fairly weak episode from the fairly weak first season. I agree
with the warp factor rating of 2 (though I have to wonder if the rating
of 1 is being saved for some particularly horrible episode).

However, thanks to the bonus link Keith included, I think I now must rate "Justice, as told by Wil Wheaton" as my favorite TNG episode EVER.
rob mcCathy
10. roblewmac
uh wesley knows "baseball" and worf does not know ROME?!
Marcus W
11. toryx
So as I said a few posts before, I was so upset about The Naked Now when it first aired that I decided not to watch anymore TNG. A few weeks later I started thinking that maybe I was being too judgemental. It's a new show after all, still finding its footing. So I decided to give it another shot.

This is the episode that was playing. Which led to me avoiding the show entirely for the next several years.

Edit: Tor, stop messing up my formatting!
Christopher L. Bennett
12. Pendard
You forgot to mention the absolutely WORST line in the episode. Even worse than "we don't lie" is Wesley's response when one of the teenage girls suggests they play a game, and he thinks she's coming on to him. He basically says something like, "There are some games I'm not ready for yet." Seriously, that kid's gonna die a virgin! What 15 year old boy wouldn't be doing cartwheels if he thought a hot girl from a sexually open culture was into him? Totally unrealistic!

One thing I've always appreciated about this episode is that it gives us a peek at the sex lives of the future. Although the crew behaves in a sort of "high school" way, it isn't exactly "no sex, please, we're Starfleet." I definitely get the feeling that Will, Tasha and perhaps Geordi either have or are planning to enjoy their shore leave before Wesley totally cock-blocks them by messing up the Edo's floral arrangements. From what I know about Gene Roddenberry, he had some pretty utopian ideas about sex, but they weren't exactly the type of thing that was reading for a primetime audience in the late '80s -- not to mention that a lot of the episodes were written by other people who didn't have the same ideals, so their application was very inconsistent. Still, we get hints of it in episodes like "Justice" or "Haven."

The Prime Directive in this episode is definitely more along the TOS lines -- contact is okay, sharing technology or influencing a culture is not. If you're the type of Trekkie who likes to rationalize inconsistencies (I am) you can explain this away. Not everybody has the Prime Directive, so a lot of pre-warp cultures have probably been contacted by non-Federation aliens. This would be more true during the TOS era when the Federation is smaller and its influence isn't as great. So there would be two types of pre-warp planets -- the kind you can contact because they already know aliens exist, and the type you can't contact because they don't.

And, as for people from primative societies freaking out when they look out the Enterprise's window, don't forget that poor guy in "Homeward" who was so freaked out he killed himself! The three ladies you mentioned did comparitively well!
Keith DeCandido
13. krad
Pendard: I forgot about "Homeward." Then again, I try very hard to forget about "Homeward".........
Christopher L. Bennett
14. Sean McQuaid
Amused to see someone mention S7's "Homeward," since that ep's forever linked to S1's "Justice" in my mind by the glaringly contradictory Picard behaviour. The "Justice" Picard is willing to override the Prime Directive to save a single life, Wesley's, but the "Homeward" Picard is so icy-cold rigidly devoted to the Prime Directive that he's willing to condemn the entire Boraalan race to death on principle.
Christopher L. Bennett
15. Michelle Faid
Ironically, I knew this was THAT episode when I heard the name of the system. Picard starts out saying something about checking into this idyllic planet in the Rubicon system.

Rubicon. Really? I feel like the writers sat there saying, "You know, I feel like this doesn't have enough bold face metaphor. Let's really hit them in the face with it."
Christopher L. Bennett
16. Michelle Faid
Oh god. A minute after the horrible awkward cuddling get to know you hug scene, Yar (from the rape gang planet of rape and orange cats) remarks, "This is like Eden!"

...yeah. We get it, shitty writer pants. All your metaphors, all of them, are abundantly clear.
Christopher L. Bennett
17. Ensign Jayburd
I love Liator's sarcasm describing the "barbarism" of his "backward little world." That actor had to deliver that line wearing a reverse V-Neck slow castration jumpsuit that puts Ben Stiller to shame. And he almost pulled it off - the line, not the costume, thank God.

Once again we see seeds of Trek greatness, except this time they were amongst a veritable sea of inanity.
Carl Freire
18. ohpopshop
Finally rewatching the series here a year after your posts on this seasons--thanks much for the Wil Wheaton post on YouTube: just awesome! Anyway, watching this for the first time in years leads me to the realization that the problem with the first season boils down to the writers (=Roddenberry, as script monitor perhaps?) decided that it was time work out all the concepts behind the Prime Directive, among other things, on screen rather than working it all out and sticking it in the series bible instead. Actually, it's not just Prime Directive-related issues--it's all "how would a different society think about issue X, Y, or Z?" and then simply working it all out rather mechanistically or mechanically at least on screen instead of in the production office (or wherever). This is why the first season is just bleah: there's a lot of working out of concepts rather than working out of stories. As a result, another awkward first season episode--exposition for the road ahead, rather than something that really stands out on its own.
Christopher L. Bennett
19. ElusiveBreath
Just discovered this rewatch, and I had to pop in to say that this was the very first episode of TNG that I ever watched, so it holds a special place in my heart for that alone. Otherwise, well, at least the show gets a lot better in time!
Christopher L. Bennett
20. ScottM
"I refuse to let arithmetic decide questions like that." ... Reminiscent of his quote from Insurrection: "How many people does it take, admiral, before it becomes wrong?"
Christopher L. Bennett
21. Hypersion
This episode is one of the reasons why the genral public doens't like ST or sci fi in generation. The sex on the episode is written by the 40 year old virgin.

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