(Apologies for the lack of rewatch on Tuesday. Someone I’ve known since high school died of a heart attack at the depressingly young age of 41 this past week, and I’ve been a bit of a mess this week. But we’re back on track — look for “Reunion” on Tuesday...)
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 4, Episode 6
Production episode 40274-180
Original air date: October 29, 1990
Captain’s log: The poker game—including Riker trying and failing to pull a card trick on Data that I knew the trick of when I was a teenager, so Riker thinking he could fool the hyperobservant android with it is pretty damn hilarious—is interrupted by a distress call from the freighter Arcos, which has been damaged while in orbit of Turkana IV. By the time they arrive, the freighter has exploded, but the two crew members managed to get into escape pods.
Unfortunately, Turkana IV is not a nice place. It’s the cesspool of a colony that Tasha Yar was born on, and there hasn’t been any contact with them for six years, which was after their government collapsed. All the surface settlements are long-since destroyed; everyone lives underground.
Given the chaos of the colony that Yar described, the away team of Riker, Data, Worf, and Crusher beams down in a defensive posture, back to back with phasers out. However, the colony seems calm—at first. An alarm rings and an armed gang shows up. They represent the Coalition, who control half the city—the Alliance controls the other half. Hayne, the Coalition leader, says that the Arcos crew are with the Alliance, and they offer assistance for a price. The group the away team encountered had just stolen some synthale from the Alliance. They all wear proximity detectors so they know when someone from the other side is near—it makes it hard to do anything substantive to their enemies, and has resulted in a stalemate. Hayne is hoping the Enterprise will give them weapons, claiming unconvincingly that he just wants to keep the peace.
Riker commits to nothing, but beams back—Hayne gives him a bottle of the stolen synthale as a gift for Picard. The captain rightly pegs them as urban street thugs. Hayne then contacts the ship and introduces them to a woman claiming she’s Ishara Yar—Tasha’s sister. He also says he’ll help them free of charge, on the theory that Starfleet paying the Alliance ransom is bad for him, and it’s better for him to help the Enterprise get their people back.
Picard discusses it with the crew. Riker and Worf don’t trust Hayne. They did mention that they had a deceased crewmate from Turkana IV, and Crusher says they could’ve just checked the Starfleet database. (Because a failed demi-anarchistic colony that has had no contact with the Federation in six years would of course have access to a database that lists personnel of a military organization. Right.)
Ishara is beamed aboard as the Coalition liaison. She doesn’t think very highly of her late sister, calling her cowardly for leaving Turkana IV and claiming that, fifteen years later, she doesn’t even remember what Tasha looked like.
Data escorts Ishara to an observation lounge full of skeptics. Ishara offers a DNA sample to prove she’s Tasha’s sister, and then gives the skinny on Turkana IV: there were dozens of factions vying for power, and the government gave police power to the two strongest factions—the Alliance and the Coalition—to try to maintain order. They put in the proximity detectors, as a way of keeping them in line. At that, it failed rather spectacularly. The Coalition and the Alliance overthrew the government, leaving them to go at it as the last factions standing.
In mid-meeting, the Alliance sends a ransom demand: the Enterprise has 20 hours to “make reparations” or the two Arcos crew will be tortured and killed. La Forge says that he can track them from the escape pod, but they don’t know where it is—at which point, Ishara reveals the pod’s exact location, which proves to be a nice little good-faith gesture.
However, the pod is in Alliance territory. Ishara proposes she be a diversion—her implant will draw the Alliance toward her while La Forge inspects the pod and installs a relay so they can use the pod’s tracking on the Enterprise. Ishara also is scanned by Crusher for DNA verification (which happens slower on the U.S.S. Enterprise in the 24th century than it does on CSI in the 21st—and the latter is the one that’s less realistic...) and Data tells her how her sister died.
Riker, Data, Worf, and La Forge set up near the pod. O’Brien beams Ishara down a few levels away, which draws all but two of the pod’s guards away. Worf and Riker take those two down and get to work. La Forge needs an extra ten minutes, and Ishara’s moved under a reactor so O’Brien can’t get a lock on her for beam-out. Riker goes after her, and saves her from an ambush. It was a stupid personal risk for him to take, but he didn’t want to lose another Yar on an away team of his.
The results of Ishara’s DNA tests are conclusive; she is Tasha’s sister. When Picard thanks Ishara for her help, she takes another shot at Tasha for running away in a cowardly manner, at which point Picard tells her the story of how he met Yar. She was rescuing colonists from a minefield, one of many times she put her own safety on the line for others.
Now that they know where the Arcos crew are being held, Ishara (now wearing a skintight blue outfit, in which she stands in sexy provocative positions) helps Data map out the location. Ishara knows the tunnels, including blind alleys that don’t show up on the sensor map. But she can’t beam down without her implant setting off alarms. However, Crusher can remove her implant.
Ishara talks to Data in Ten-Forward about how maybe she misjudged her sister, that there’s something to be said for living in the Federation and not watching your back all the time, and she talks to Data about leaving Turkana IV and enlisting in Starfleet the way Tasha did. She goes to talk to Hayne, ostensibly about her decision to leave, but instead reports to Hayne that “It’s working.” Given that she’s been saying all the appropriate things right out of the grifters’ handbook in how to get people to trust you, it’s not even remotely a surprise that she’s pulling a fast one.
Crusher removes the implant, which she gives to Data as a memento in case something goes wrong. They beam down in the heart of Alliance territory, which isn’t all that well guarded since the proximity implants keep folks from getting this far in, usually.
While the Enterprise team rescues the Arcos crew, Ishara goes to sabotage the fusion reactor that keeps Alliance defenses up. Data confronts her, realizing that this was all an elaborate (well, okay, not really that elaborate) con to get someone in. Ishara holds a phaser on Data, set to kill, but between him and Riker, they take her down and stop the sabotage.
Back on the Enterprise, Ishara’s brought to the bridge, back in her old clothes (only people who want to live in the Federation get to wear sexy skintight outfits, apparently). Picard inexplicably beams Ishara back down, saying that it was their own fault for trusting her overmuch due to her kinship to their dead crewmate. Ishara does apologize to Data for hurting him; he insists he can’t be injured in that fashion, though he later looks at Ishara’s chip with a sufficiently sad expression to put the lie to that insistence.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: The implants go off whenever someone else wearing an “opposite” implant is nearby, and there are also alarms that go off if someone goes into “forbidden” territory. It’s been over a decade, and nobody in either the Alliance or the Coalition has been able to figure out a workaround?
Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi senses Ishara’s ambiguity, that she’s conflicted between Turkana IV and the possibility of Starfleet. Ishara herself shows no evidence of this ambiguity in her betrayal, since she holds a phaser set to kill on Data that same day.
There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf expresses concern about Crusher beaming down to Turkana IV, mindful of Yar’s stories of rape gangs, and he drinks Ishara’s Kool Aid as much as everyone, saying it’ll be a good day when she joins Starfleet. (Hardy har har.)
If I only had a brain...: Data explains how friendship works with him despite his not having feelings. “As I experience certain sensory input patterns, my mental pathways become accustomed to them. The input is eventually anticipated and even missed when absent.” Ishara, meanwhile, totally sees him as an easy mark, as she plays him like a two-dollar banjo.
I believe I said that: “Estimate five minutes to warp drive containment breach.” (Sound of an explosion.) “Make that three minutes.”
Tan Tsu, one of the Arco crew, in his message to the Enterprise.
Welcome aboard: Beth Toussaint is very well cast as Ishara Yar, as she looks like she could very easily be Denise Crosby’s sister; she also bears a striking resemblance to Linda Hamilton. (Director Robert Scheerer suggested Toussaint, having worked with her on an episode of Matlock.) Don Mirault is two-dimensionally sleazy as Hayne, and Vladimir Velasco is appropriately frantic as the Arcos shipmaster.
Trivial matters: This episode was most notable for being the 80th episode of TNG, which meant that it had surpassed its predecessor—the original Star Trek only had 79 episodes. Except, of course, it isn’t: it’s only the 80th because “Encounter at Farpoint” is inexplicably counted as two episodes (yes, it was shown that way in reruns, but it aired as a single episode in the fall of 1987). Strictly speaking, “Legacy” was the 79th episode. Still a landmark, but not the one they said it was. (Back in 1990, this really bugged the crap out of me, because I didn’t know anything about production codes and stuff, and I counted the episodes I had on my VHS tapes, and there were only 79 of them, dammit!)
As an in-joke, Picard makes reference to their cutting off an archaeological exploration of Camus II—the same planet where “Turnabout Intruder,” the 79th and final episode of the original series, took place. (The former English major in me wants to correct the pronunciation of the planet from “KAY-mus” to “ca-MOO.” And I didn’t even like The Stranger!)
An alternate backstory for Yar was established in the novel Survivors by Jean Lorrah, which was written long before this episode was aired.
Picard’s first meeting with Yar that he describes to Ishara is dramatized in The Buried Age by Christopher L. Bennett.
This is the first script by executive story editor Joe Menosky, who would go on to be a prolific contributor to TNG, as well as both Deep Space Nine and Voyager.
Make it so: “You don’t believe I’m Tasha’s sister.” I’m not sure it was such a hot idea to showcase the success of a spinoff over its predecessor by making the main characters in it all be dumb as posts, but that’s the route they chose for #80. That’s only one of this episode’s numerous problems, however.
Data being fooled by Ishara actually makes sense. He’s the most literal-minded person imaginable, and he’s never been conned before, so I have no trouble believing that Ishara would be able to play him. But Riker? Picard? Worf? It’s ridiculous that all of them would go from skeptical to accepting just on the basis of a DNA test, and trust Ishara so completely. It wouldn’t be so bad if the cynicism about the Turkanans wasn’t so blatant in the early part of the episode. Picard, Riker, and Worf all agree to play along with Hayne, but to pursue other options. Those other options are never even mentioned again, as they throw all their distrust out the window because one of them happens to be a blood relative of Yar. It’s too extreme—some degree of that would make sense, but that they do a complete 180 in trusting her just makes the main characters look like dumbasses.
The entire episode hinges on a notion that cuts off the air supply to my disbelief. This mess of a planet, one that’s been unable to figure out a workaround to a proximity detector system that’s well over fifteen years old, somehow has access to a Starfleet database that includes listings of crew members who died two-and-a-half years earlier? They must have someone who can hack Starfleet’s computers—yet they’re still stuck with the proximity detectors? Cah-mon!
And then we have the cherry on top of this absurdity: Picard just lets Ishara beam back down to Turkana IV as if nothing happened. First of all, as Riker rightly points out, there should be consequences for her attempted murder of two Starfleet officers (she fired on both Data and Riker with a phaser set to kill, though she apparently has Greedo’s marksmanship...). Secondly, and much more fundamental, though, is that they took Ishara’s implant out. By sending her back to the surface, they have just irrevocably changed the balance of power in favor of the Coalition, who now has the only operative on Turkana IV who can move freely about the colony. This same crew that has twisted itself into a pretzel to stay within the boundaries of the Prime Directive for much less compelling reasons (viz. “Pen Pals” and “Who Watches the Watchers?”) just blithely lets this happen? This is a clear and obvious Prime Directive violation, and Picard’s willing to do it just because he’s embarrassed at the way Ishara ran rings around their emotions?
This is a rare case of an episode that I haven’t watched hardly at all since it first aired since a) I never thought very highly of it and b) I’ve never needed to watch it for research for any of my Trek tie-in fiction. (By contrast, I’ve watched the next episode up, “Reunion,” many many many many many many many times...) I was curious if I’d hate the episode as much now as I did then, and I actually find I hate it more. Maybe it’s because I’ve become a fan of both Hustle and Leverage, so seeing the Enterprise crew as marks who fall for a confidence game (and not even a very skilled one) just makes me embarrassed for characters I normally like.
It’s cool in the abstract to see Yar’s homeworld and meet her sister, Brent Spiner does excellent, subtle work with Data’s relationship with Ishara, and the action scenes are well handled by Scheerer, but this episode just doesn’t work.
Warp factor rating: 3
Keith R.A. DeCandido’s latest work of fiction is the just-released -30-, in collaboration with Steven Savile, the first of a four-part series of thrillers under the general title of Viral. Currently, it’s a Nook Exclusive, but it will be out in other formats next month. Books 2-4 (by Steve and other authors), which tell the overarching story from other angles, are also available.You can order -30- directly from Keith’s web site, as well as his other recent books; it’s also a gateway to his blog, his Facebook, his Twitter, and the various podcasts he’s involved with: Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.