Written by Philip LaZebnik and William Douglas Lansford
Directed by Tom Benko
Season 4, Episode 13
Production episode 40274-187
Original air date: February 4, 1991
Captain’s Log: Data is playing Ebenezer Scrooge on the holodeck while Picard observes — in much the same way he watched Data play Henry V — and then is summoned to the bridge. There’s a distress call from Ventax II — the Federation science outpost on that world is under attack. Apparently the Ventaxians believe their world is coming to an end tomorrow.
The Enterprise arrives just as the scientific outpost is being invaded by an angry mob. The head scientist, Dr. Clark, is beamed to safety on the ship and explains the situation to Picard: Ventax was a society that turned its back on technology a thousand years ago and have remained a peaceful, agrarian society ever since. They made first contact with the Klingons sixty-five years earlier, and have refused to adopt technology that was available to them.
Then, a few years ago, the planet’s head of state, Acost Jared, became obsessed with the legend of Ardra, a major figure in Ventaxian theology. Ventaxian myth held that they, in essence, sold their souls to the devil a millennium earlier in exchange for peace and prosperity, and Ardra was due to return soon and enslave the population. The rest of Clark’s team are being held hostage by a group of Ventaxians.
Jared contacts the Enterprise. He claims that there are signs of Ardra’s return: shaking of the ground (which Clark says are ordinary geological tremors), and visions of Ardra herself. Jared has seen them himself. He does promise to try to see what he can do to free the hostages, as he feels the innocent shouldn’t suffer for their sins.
Picard beams down to meet with Jared, accompanied by Data, Worf, and Troi. Shortly after their arrival, a woman appears, saying, “Time’s up!” She claims to be Ardra — as well as a similarly devilish figure from other cultures, including Fek’lhr, a creature from Klingon myth who escorts the dishonored dead to Gre’thor. She presents forms that include censuses and economic forecasts to Jared (which appear in her hand).
Jared pretty much kowtows to Ardra’s every whim, but Picard is more skeptical. He insists on viewing the contract, having Data go over every word of it. The rest of the senior staff, along with Clark, meet on the Enterprise. It’s possible she’s another refugee from the Q-Continuum or Q himself, but he wouldn’t bother with a contract — or an economic forecast. Plus everything she does is possible to re-create with technology. Picard has Riker and Worf search for her power source, while La Forge returns to Ventax with Clark to find the source of the tremors.
Picard goes to the bridge to find Ardra sitting in his chair. Picard attempts to remove her, first via Worf physically and then via the transporter, but she remains on board — pulling Q’s trick of replacing a crewmember, in this case the relief ops officer. Data returns on board and tells Picard that the contract is legitimate, which thrills Ardra, as the contract states that anything on the surface or in orbit is also hers. So she claims the Enterprise before disappearing off the bridge, returning the befuddled looking ops officer.
While Picard isn’t all that concerned over her claim to the ship, he does not wish to turn the Ventaxians over to this woman, whom he is convinced is a con artist, using the fear generated by the Ardra legend for her own purposes. He orders Data to go over Ventaxian legal precedents to try to find some way to challenge the contract.
That night, Ardra visits Picard in his quarters, wearing a very sexy outfit. Picard dismisses her as obvious and vulgar. She alters her outfit into something a bit more Victorian, then changes into Troi — none of which works. So she sends him down to the planet in his bedclothes, and the transporter malfunctions. Data fetches Picard in a shuttle (with a uniform for him to change into), and heads back to the ship. En route, Data describes a precedent involving a Klingon craftsman and a Ventaxian, which was resolved via arbitration rather than the Ventaxian courts because an alien was involved.
As the shuttle approaches the Enterprise, the ship suddenly disappears completely. Data and Picard return to the science station on Ventax, where they can’t find any sign of the Enterprise anywhere within one light-year. La Forge and Clark detected some energy spikes, and they feel that if they can get Ardra to perform more “magic tricks,” they might be able to triangulate the power source.
Ardra then appears, claiming that the Enterprise is in her possession. Picard requests arbitration, arguing that she is not truly Ardra. Ardra is reluctant — while she has nothing to lose if she really is Ardra, she has nothing to gain, either. Picard tries offering her the location of a rare jewel (hoping, no doubt, to expose her as the treasure seeker she really is), but she refuses, instead requesting that Picard give himself over to her fully, heart and soul (his body’s already hers). Picard agrees, and Ardra names Data as the arbitrator, as he will act without bias. Despite Data’s urging for Picard not to pick him, the captain does so, pointing out that Data’s the only person on Ventax that Ardra can’t intimidate.
The arbitration begins. Jared is the first witness, and he explains the circumstances under which Ventax made the arrangement with Ardra. The planet was in chaos, war-torn, polluted, choked by industrial waste, and falling apart. They agreed to Ardra’s terms because they had nothing to lose. Picard then questions Jared about the history of how the changes came about — over the course of the questioning Picard makes it clear that Ardra had no participation in those changes. She did not remove all the weapons, she did not clean up the environment, she did not advise the council that drew up the constitution, nor did she force the treaties that ended the wars. She made no active participation in the thousand years of peace and prosperity.
La Forge enters the courtroom, at which point Picard requests a recess. La Forge reports that all the extra magic tricks Ardra performed in court to prove her bona fides gave him and Clark enough to trace her. She has a cloaked ship in orbit, and extended that cloak around the Enterprise, combining it with a subspace field to kill communications. La Forge has already penetrated both the cloak and the field and been in touch with the Enterprise.
An hour later, the arbitration resumes. Picard demonstrates that he can “steal” Ardra’s powers. He causes tremors — and Ardra can’t make them stop. Picard pulls a few more of Ardra’s tricks (making her disappear, turning into Fek’lhr), then reveals that a team from the Enterprise beamed over to the cloaked ship and took over the equipment she used to control her “powers.” She’s a con artist with, according to her crew, 23 aliases, who apparently studied the Ardra legends carefully and landed her biggest score: an entire planet. And it would have worked, too, if it hadn’t been for those pesky Federation scientists sending out distress signals...
With the revelation that she’s a fake, she is put under arrest and Data declares the contract invalid. Ventax II can return to normalcy, and Ardra is imprisoned. She tells Picard that he would have had more fun if he’d lost, and laughs saying those dreaded words, “Until we meet again.” (They won’t.)
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Ardra creates the illusion of super-powers through the use of holography, force fields, transporter technology, and a cheap copy of a Romulan cloaking device. She controls the tricks via blinks of her eyes.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi senses an almost suicidal anxiety among the Ventaxians. But she can’t sense anything useful from Ardra, whose thoughts and emotions are very controlled — as you’d expect from a magician, or a con artist.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is a bit nonplussed by the appearance of Fek’lhr, perhaps because of his discommendation from the Klingon Empire.
If I Only Had a Brain...: Data has embraced method acting in an attempt to improve his performances. Picard questions this rather old-fashioned style, but Data feels that immersing himself in the emotions of the characters will help him get one step closer to being human. Picard points out that using his own type of acting rather than simply impersonating others (as he did when he was Henry V) is bringing him a step closer.
Amusingly, when speaking Scrooge’s dialogue, Data uses contractions. Nobody comments on this.
He also makes a dandy judge.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Ardra hits all over Picard, going so far as to make his giving himself over to her as her prize if she wins the arbitration. At this, she fails rather spectacularly, as Picard evinces no interest in her whatsoever (even though she’s quite dishy).
I Believe I Said That: “Mr. La Forge, my reputation as a litigator, not to mention my immortal soul, is in serious jeopardy.”
Picard expressing his concern over how poorly the arbitration is going for him.
Welcome Aboard: Marta DuBois, probably best known as Detective Hansen in the McBride movies on the Hallmark Channel alongside John Larroquette, is entertaining as Ardra, and indeed is the only reason why this episode is in any way watchable. Barely.
Paul Lambert — last seen on TNG as one of the Aldeans in “When the Bough Breaks” — and Marcelo Tubert are fairly blah as Dr. Clark and Jared, respectively.
The crew speculates as to whether or not Ardra is a member of the Q-Continuum, and when Picard takes over her technological tricks, he uses a very Q-like finger-snap to cause the tricks to start and stop.
Ardra’s technology is used in the TNG eBook miniseries Slings and Arrows, first in Phaedra M. Weldon’s The Oppressor’s Wrong by a group of Starfleet officers who are aiding in the coup d’état seen in the Deep Space Nine episodes “Homefront” and “Paradise Lost,” then by a group of renegade Klingons in your humble rewatcher’s Enterprises of Great Pitch and Moment.
Another being claiming to be the devil, Lucien, appeared in the animated series episode “The Magicks of Megas-Tu.”
Kang said in “Day of the Dove” that the Klingons have no devil, which makes Fek’lhr’s appearance here problematic, though if he escorts people to the bad afterlife, he’s closer to Charon from Greek myth than Lucifer from Christian myth.
It’s amusing to see Picard critiquing Data’s performance in A Christmas Carol, considering that Sir Patrick Stewart would go on to perform the role of Scrooge on stage and screen, including in a one-person production of the entirety of A Christmas Carol, which he did on Broadway for several years in the 1990s and again in 2001. (I was fortunate enough to see it three times, including the 2001 production at the Marriott Marquis which was done as a benefit for people who suffered in the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.)
Proving that there’s no justice in the world, this was the highest-rated episode of TNG since “Encounter at Farpoint.”
Make it So: “We are not impressed with your magic tricks!” Okay, I understand why “The Child” was reworked into a TNG script. The season was starting late, there’d been a writers strike, they needed to ram something into production quickly to get the second season started.
What the hell was the excuse here? TNG had, at this point, a fairly stable production, with some perfectly good talent floating around. Why did they feel the need to dredge this nonsense up?
This whole thing comes across as a particularly doofy episode of the original series, which is not surprising, given its source. Hilariously, though, the original script had the Enterprise computer as the judge (you would’ve thought it would’ve been Xon, the Vulcan science officer intended to replace Spock, since Leonard Nimoy wasn’t going to participate in Phase II), and the con artist pretending to be the devil was male. Honestly, that part blew my mind when I read it, because I had no trouble imagining Ardra pulling her same shtick on Jim Kirk. Plus, that outfit she wears in Picard’s quarters is right off of William Ware Theiss’s 1967 coat rack...
Anyhow, this is a dumb episode. It’s not even dopey fun. Marta DuBois chews nicely on the role of Ardra, and it’s fun to watch Data chastise Picard from the bench. The courtroom scenes are identical to modern American courts, down to the legal language, which is fairly unconvincing on an alien planet. And overall, it’s just dumb.
Did I mention it was dumb?
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido is pleased to announce that his thriller -30-, in collaboration with Steven Savile, will be available for all non-Nook eBook platforms starting this week, as will the other three novellas in the “Viral” series. Do check them out, along with Keith’s other fiction like SCPD: The Case of the Claw, Dragon Precinct and Unicorn Precinct (the third book, Goblin Precinct is due out next month), and Guilt in Innocence. You can order those books, as well as go to Keith’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and various and sundry podcasts at his web site.