Jul 18 2011 1:13pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Arsenal of Freedom"

Minos salesman“The Arsenal of Freedom”
Written by Maurice Hurley and Robert Lewin and Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Directed by Les Landau
Season 1, Episode 20
Production episode 40271-121
Original air date: April 11, 1988
Stardate: 41798.2

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise travels to Minos to follow up on a mission undertaken by the U.S.S. Drake, which has since disappeared. The Drake was trying to find out why the planet Minos — a world that specialized in arms dealing — had gone quiet.

Upon arrival, the Enterprise finds no intelligent life, no sign of the Drake, and an endless advertisement for Minos’s services as arms dealers. On the logic that, if there’s an automated ad working, there might be someone or something else down there, Riker, Data, and Yar beam down to check it out.

The Drake’s captain, Paul Rice, went to the Academy with Riker. While investigating on the surface, Riker sees Rice — but he’s acting strangely. Soon, it becomes evident that it’s an image of Rice designed to glean information. Once Riker exposes the image as a fake, it turns into a floating metal thingie that encases Riker in a force field. Yar blows the thingie up, but Riker remains encased, in some kind of stasis.

Because the plot calls for this episode to be La Forge’s baptism by fire, Picard decides to beam down, along with Crusher. He leaves La Forge in charge, because the plot calls for this to be La Forge’s baptism by fire, despite “Lonely Among Us” establishing Worf as fourth in command.

While the away team is tending to Riker, another floating metal thingie shows up and attacks them. Picard and Crusher are separated from Yar and Data, and fall down a hole. Crusher is badly injured, and Picard tends to her. Communications are out, so they can’t contact the Enterprise.

Yar and Data shoot Yar and Data are able to destroy the metal thingie — it takes two of them this time — and then Data is able to free Riker. La Forge, however, is unable to beam the away team back because the ship is attacked by an assailant that can cloak itself. Worf can’t get a lock on it, and it’s pounding the crap out of the ship. All attempts to fire on it have failed, and to make matters worse, Chief Engineer Logan — who outranks La Forge by a grade — insists that he should be put in command. But La Forge refuses because, well, the plot calls for this to be La Forge’s baptism by fire.

After the crisis grows worse, La Forge appears to give in by giving Logan command — then he finishes the sentence with the words, “of the saucer section.” La Forge separates the ship and takes the stardrive section back to Minos to deal with the cloaked assailant from the battle bridge.

On the planet, another metal thingie attacks Riker, Yar, and Data, but it takes all three phasers to destroy it this time. Crusher’s arm and leg are both broken, and the latter is bleeding badly. Crusher has to walk Picard through assisting her, all while going into shock. He has to use some roots to clot the wound, and Picard keeps her awake by getting her to talk about how she knew about them — then discovers machinery that is still operative. The salesman comes back and explains that this is a demonstration of the Echo Papa 607, the “ultimate killing machine.” It’s so good, apparently, that it wiped out the entire population of Minos.

Riker, Data, and Yar find the hole Picard and Crusher fell down, and Data jumps down and joins them for no compellingly good reason, leaving Riker and Yar to fend for themselves. It’s Crusher who finally figures out the solution, while falling into shock, no less: turn it off.

For reasons that the script never explains, this shuts off the surface attack, but the Enterprise is still being fired upon. La Forge brings the ship into the atmosphere, and their attacker follows them down, revealing itself by its turbulence. Once that happens, Worf can get a phaser lock and blow it up, at which point the away team is beamed back.

However, Picard refuses to accept command back until La Forge returns the entire ship, so La Forge gets to be the one to sit in the center seat and say, “Engage” at the end of the episode.

La Forge in charge

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is blown off by Picard when she tries to object to his joining the away team, even though she’s absolutely right to do so, then she gives La Forge some good advice on helping the relief conn and ops officers, Solis and T’su, get through the crisis.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard and Crusher bond over talk of going into shock and Crusher’s experiences with her grandmother on the failed Arvada III colony. The scenes between them are as touching and adorable and wonderful as every scene between Sir Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden. The episode, as plotted by Robert Lewin, was intended to focus more on Picard and Crusher, but apparently Gene Roddenberry nixed the notion.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf provides a nice prelude to his forthcoming lengthy stint at tactical by running the weapons console while Yar’s on the planet. When asked by La Forge how fast he can get a weapons lock, he confidently responds, “Fast!”

Chief Engineer LoganWelcome aboard: Julia Nickson and GeorgeDe La Peña convey both nervousness and competence as T’su and Solis. Vyto Ruginis sneers a lot as Logan, who is a straw bad guy for La Forge to knock down, and Marco Rodriguez makes no impression whatsoever as what was, to be fair, a fake version of Paul Rice.

But the episode is made by the late Vincent Schiavelli as the sleazy salesman for the Echo Papa 607. Schiavelli, as usual, totally owns every scene he’s in.

I Believe I Said That: “Tell me about your ship, Riker. It’s the Enterprise, isn’t it?"

“No, the name of my ship is the Lollipop.”

“I have no knowledge of that ship.”

“It’s just been commissioned — it’s a good ship.”

The image of Paul Rice grilling Riker, and Riker quoting a very old song…

Trivial Matters: It is revealed that Riker was offered the command of the Drake, but turned it down. This is the first of three commands that Riker is offered over the course of TNG that he turns down. He doesn’t accept a captaincy until Star Trek Nemesis.

Deny Thy Father Riker’s time with Paul Rice at the Academy was detailed in the novel The Lost Era: Deny Thy Father by Jeff Mariotte. Lian T’su returns in the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers story Wildfire by David Mack.

Logan is the third member of the First Season Chief Engineer Derby, following MacDougal in “The Naked Now” and Argyle in “Where No One Has Gone Before” and “Datalore.”

The script is written by Richard Manning and Hans Beimler, who would go on to write plenty more for TNG and, for the latter, DS9.

Make It So: “Peace through superior firepower.” A strong action episode, a good spotlight for La Forge, some fun Picard-Crusher moments, Vincent Schiavelli being skeevy, one of Yar’s better turns as chief of security, some good Riker bits, and Crusher cutting through the crap with the best technobabble solution of all, to wit, “turn it off.”

The episode isn’t without its problems. It makes no sense, none, that the Enterprise continues to come under attack after Picard shuts the machine off. It’s especially irritating because the fix is simple: rearrange a few scenes.

La Forge’s baptism by fire is horribly contrived. Picard doesn’t even give a good excuse for going down to the planet beyond the script calling for it. Plus, one of Riker’s oldest friends has been killed, and it might’ve been nice if he’d, y’know, mourned him at some point.

But despite that, it’s a fun, enjoyable, diverting episode.


Warp factor rating: 6.

Keith R.A. DeCandido also portrayed Lian T’su in the Star Trek: Starfleet Corps of Engineers novella Many Splendors, which is but one of his many many many many many pieces of Star Trek fiction. And he’s written lots of other fiction, too. Check Keith’s web site, read his blog, or follow him on either Facebook or Twitter.

John R. Ellis
1. John R. Ellis
I agree completely on Vincent Schiavelli. He's a much-missed performer, one who made this episode a darkly comedic delight for the young me.

I should watch it on NetFlix.

It's been so long since I watched it, but is Crusher's grandmother the same one who it turned out was in an obsessive sexual affair with a parasitic alien energy entity? Or was it her other, non-alien-vampire-loving nana?
Keith DeCandido
3. krad
John: Nope, same one.

Buddhacat: GAH! This is what happens when you write the rewatch after spending a weekend at a convention in Toronto. (Was a guest at Polaris 25 this past weekend. Did a full day of programming, flew home, walked the dog, did the rewatch. Wheeeee!) Will fix that...
Michael Burstein
4. mabfan
One of the things I liked about this episode was that the moral was presented rather subtly for Trek. "You poor fools," Picard says, "your own creation destroyed you." Or something like that. And then he DOESN'T go on to say something like, "the way nuclear weapons almost destroyed the United States and the Soviet Union in the late twentieth century."

Compare that to the Vietnam war being made overly explicit in "A Private Little War," or racism in "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," and you'll see what I mean.
Adam Whitehead
5. Werthead
Nice little SF crossover trivia: Julia Nickson went on to play the recurring role of Catherine Sakai on the first season of BABYLON 5.
John R. Ellis
6. Pendard
When I was a wee young six-year-old lad, this was my favorite episode of TNG. I watched my videotape of it until it wore out, I loved it so much. Everybody gets something good to do! Picard and Beverly get alone time in the cave, Riker gets his fantastic "Good Ship Lollipop" banter, Data gets to leap into a 20-foot pit, Geordi gets to be in command, Worf gets to be in an actual battle, Tasha gets to fight a war computer, Deanna gets to actually counsel somebody, and Wes (presumably) gets to catch up on his homework while the grown-ups do their OWN jobs for once!

Plus, THE ENTERPRISE SEPARATES! Don't underestimate how important that is to a six-year-old in at the critical stage of falling in love with Star Trek for life. Awesome doesn't get any awesomer than one ship turning into two ships (even if one of them is kinda lame)! Who knows, if this episode hadn't blown my mind by letting me see the ship separate and go into an actual battle rather than just surrendering immediately like the last time, I might have realized that TNG season 1 is rather boring a lot of the time and watched some other show. It's difficult to say, but if they hadn't separated the ship and then blown up Remmick a few weeks later, I might be commented on some article about Star Wars right now instead.
Michael Poteet
7. MikePoteet
Add me as a fan of the "good ship Lollipop" moment -- maybe the most natural, unforced bit of humor in the entire first season. Frakes pulls it off perfectly.

And I'm with Keith on praising the Cruhser-Picard scene. Even if it was less than what the episode originally called for, it made me think that their awkward relationship might really be one of the foci of the series. (So imagine my surprise when she wans't even around for season 2!)

Definitely one of the strongest from the first season. LeVar Burton handles his moments nicely, giving us every reason to expect Geordi will move on to bigger and better things than helmsman (con? ops? I never can remember which of the "new" bridge stations is which). (And @Pendard - Thanks for giving us your then-six-year-old's self view of the saucer separation!)
Keith DeCandido
8. krad
Pendard: Your #6 is my favorite comment that I've gotten on a rewatch yet. That's awesome.

MikePoteet: La Forge moved on to become chief engineer in the second season when they realized that having a rotating cast of chief engineers was silly. :)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
John R. Ellis
9. Pendard
Thanks, KRAD! That means a lot to me and my six-year-old self.
John R. Ellis
10. Pendard
Oh, I almost forgot! The other really cool thing about "Arsenal of Freedom" is that it happens in real time. There's no attempt to play up this fact in the episode -- no ticking clock, a la 24 -- but the nine minute interval between the time one drone is destroyed and the time the computer can deploy the next one means the time from the time the first drone encapsulates Riker to the time Picard shuts off the system right after the fourth drone appears is barely more than 27 minutes. You have to add the time that the drones are actually active, plus a little time at the beginning and end of the episode, so the whole story apparently to take place in about 45 minutes, the actual running time of the episode.

Six-year-old me never noticed that, but twenty-nine-year-old me thinks it's pretty cool.
Keith DeCandido
11. krad
Pendard: Erm, there's only one problem -- it's 12 minutes between attacks, not 9.....
John R. Ellis
12. Mike S.
I too remember enjoying this episode when I was a 5-year old (which is when it aired originally). I didn't really become a fan until a few years later, because my father soon gave up on TNG, before coming back to it around the Borg 2-parter, but I always remembered watching this one.

What I liked about the Crusher-Picard scenes was the doctor-as-a-patient aspect of it. I'm sure a lot of her patients are nervous when they see her over the littlest things, and while her situation was far from trivial, she still got to walk in her patients' shoes for a little bit. We also get to see her as a compotent doctor, when she is able to treat herself with the berries.

Yes, this episode has problems. One is that, it never defines Logan's logic. First, he questions Geordi's command competence, because he is seemingly putting the ship at risk. OK. Then later, why is he second-guessing Geordi for warping out? This is EXACTLY what Logan wanted to do in the first. Even if Logan was just testing Geordi (which I think he was), it would have been nice to have had his thinking explained.

That being said, Keith, I think your rating of 6/10 is just a little bit low, IMO. I basically agree with you on it, but I consider some of your critisims to be more of a minor variety then you do, and to me, the show is more of a 7, or even an 8 (In fact, I rank it fourth in terms of the whole first season). That being said, I think that your ratings so far have been spot on, for the most part.
John R. Ellis
13. Pendard
@KRAD (#11): Is it really? Great! You have to add far fewer extra minutes to 36 minutes to end up with 45 than you do when you start with 27, so a 12-minute interval works much better. I doubt you would find that it worked out exactly right if you timed it with a stopwatch, but it is nonetheless extremely close to being in real time.

(I tried to look up the real number but couldn't find it, so I went with imperfect memory.)
John R. Ellis
14. efullerton
It's so silly that an entire planet was wiped out by a machine that could be turned off in 30 seconds. 4/10
Michael Burke
15. Ludon

But they were arms dealers. Probably had business codes of practice that made the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition read like a comic book. The solution would be just beyond their grasp.

This episode makes me think of the pay-off line in War Games. "Strange Game. The only winning move is not to play."
Amir Noam
16. Amir
Despite the obvious plot holes, I still consider this episode one of my absolute favorites on acount of it being so much fun to watch.

Pendard@6, thanks for articulating the good points of this episode. I think I was about 12 when I first saw it, and at the time I, too, didn't care about any of the flaws.
John R. Ellis
17. Pah
I think the most obvious plot hole is the decision to beam down to a planet that advertises itself as full of weapons without thinking that it might be booby trapped.

But the thing that attacks Enterprise does not have to be connected to the device on the planet, does it? I can be just another product available for demonstrations...

Clearly one of the best episodes though - especially like LaForge's handling of the situation and the idea that someone challanges his authority at a very bad moment.
Justin Devlin
18. EnsignJayburd
OK, this was still the '80s. Plot holes and contrivances were a TV way of life back then. But despite the fact that this episode replete with them, it was one of my favorites for a long time. As Pendard said, it pretty much has it all.

We also get to see why LaForge was pretty much fast-tracked from Jr. Lt. to Lt. Commander within 2 seasons (and made Captain in at least 2 different alternate realities). The episode also demonstrates why Worf was the duh choice for Tactical Officer/Security Chief after Tasha's demise.

And we got to see the Battle Bridge! We never got nearly enough of that with good old Enterprise-D. Oddly enough, the only time we've ever seen Picard command the Battle Bridge was in the pilot episode. LaForge commands it in this episode, and Riker commands it in The Best of Both Worlds.

In Generations the Battle Bridge was commanded by a warp core breach.
Justin Devlin
19. EnsignJayburd
Also, wow, what are the odds that the alien makers of the Echo Papa 607 would have the same phonetic alphabet as NATO?
Michael Burke
20. Ludon
I'm sure that could be waved off as a Universal Translator artifact. A Klingon (with Klingon as the first language) would likely whatever passed for their letters for those sounds or meanings.
John R. Ellis
21. Fresno Bob
I always thought that this could have been one of the answers to the borg problem, just take delivery of the weapons system!
John R. Ellis
22. Big Joe S.
I recently rewatched this ep. This one of the few (only?) episodes in the First Season that actually does incorporate the principals (save Wesley, SHUT UP WESLEY!) meaningfully.
Geordi and Worf have to fight the orbital weapon. Troi chimes in just enough to encourage Geordi-without seeming like an asshole. Geordi also shines as Acting Captain, particularly in making the decision to run and come back with the Stardrive Section (which they should have done more of), and standing up to Logan's villainy.
That's a great action sequence where Geordi outfoxes the orbital weapon.
Picard and Crusher are again brought together. Granted, it's underdeveloped, but, we do learn about Crusher and how she cares on more levels than one. There should have been some tenderness, but, it's pretty intimate in as much as Crusher is in a role-reversal scenario with Picard.
Riker, Data and Yar are also great in solving and then running from the planetside Echo Papa 607. They all work well together in initially being able to defeat the planetside weapons, and, then face the real risk of destruction with the last one. Granted, Picard's solution is a little deus ex machina, but, it makes sense.
This episode doesn't rise though to being "The Battle" principally because there is not the same emotional intermingling and not as insightful into individual characters. But, it's a good adventure.
John R. Ellis
23. DPC
Loved your analysis' conclusion at the end:

"La Forge’s baptism by fire is horribly contrived. Picard doesn’t even
give a good excuse for going down to the planet beyond the script
calling for it. Plus, one of Riker’s oldest friends has been killed, and
it might’ve been nice if he’d, y’know, mourned him at some point.
And how they all decide to beam down to investigate so absent-mindedly to begin with... no real reason given, or any... not even a token "what if the Ferengi find and exploit this" comment... which is for the best as the Ferengi never felt sincere or threatening as being "the new Klingons"...

But, for season 1, it is quite the engaging tale...
John R. Ellis
24. BGdSP
They came for the USS Drake. After 10min it's out of the plot...
They came for Paul, after 10min we understand that an image of him appeared and then what ? well he may be dead , no need to seek further, or be sad.

They're making a theory after 20min that everybody died because of their own weapon... ok well, "puzzle solved ! we can go home and laugh about it now".

I really don't like this episode because it focuses to much on the main cast (geordi in command etc), I like when they're doing that but not when you've got an entire planet destroyed on the other side of the plot. (+ the USS drake , must be destroyed, no wreck or else... that's fine !).

They chose a very strong and serious topic and then completely let it go to put the emphasize on 2-3 main characters...

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