The Arsenal of Freedom
How much would you pay for a weapon system like this...? Wait! Don't answer yet because you also get the extinction of all intelligent life on your planet ABSOLUTELY FREE!
Hijinks are brewing over on the planet Minos, so the Enterprise rushes over to investigate. We learn a little about an old friend of Riker's from the Academy, Captain Rice, who sounds like a knock-off Captain Kirk. No wonder Riker got along with him so well! In an uncharacteristic move, Yar proposes a security plan that makes sense, and executes it professionally as she beams down with a small Away Team to minimise risk. She's finally showing she can act as a competent Security Chief - just in time to get killed in two weeks time. Riker runs into Rice, who behaves oddly, so Riker tells him about his ship, the Lollipop. "It's a good ship", he quips in perfect deadpan. But Rice is just a hologram projected from a flying drone that freezes Riker in place. So worrying is this that Picard and Dr Crusher beam down in order to get dramatically trapped in a cave. These drones are upgrading and improving every twelve minutes... you might say that they were adapting.... but that might make experienced Trek fans think of the Borg so let's not do that or the entire episode will feel disappointing.
Things must be desperate because we get a log entry from LaForge! He faces almost immediate mutiny from the Chief Engineer of the week, but LaForge is feeling badass and is not taking any guff from anyone. Actually, he's so confident and effective in command that all Troi can do is sit there looking stern - no warnings about people hiding something or anything! LaForge takes great delight in giving the Chief Engineer command... (wait for it)... of the saucer section. That's right, we're ditching you sunshine, this is LaForge's Enterprise now and he's kicking butt! Troi uses her unique power of stating the obvious to warn LaForge that his junior officers are nervous. They probably aren't happy that they’re abandoning all the families in the inadequately protected saucer section.
Data pops down to help the Captain and Dr Crusher who is quibbling over prices and extras with the sales computer, while Riker and Yar get damp underwear upstairs and have to jump behind some polystyrene rocks to quiver while they hope that somebody competent will rescue them.
Don't worry, Super LaForge to the rescue! He's got Worf and two disposable Ensigns to help him so victory is inevitable - even the Ensigns survive. Now that's some quality commanding! I suggest we get LaForge a promotion... please wait 6 episodes for delivery.
Remember all the talk of shields and deflectors from the start of the season? Well it's back. Worf cries out: "Shields just came on! Deflectors also up..." I think this might be the last time that we hear the deflectors mentioned as if they were part of the main defensive systems.
There's a curious ambiguity between the screenplay and the final episode over the term 'Ersalrope wars'. Both versions have Data state that Minos gained fame as arms merchants during this conflict, but the screenplay has a point in which Picard says that the recorded message was "left over from the time of the Romulan wars, when the business of selling arms was booming." In the final episode, this is corrected to 'Ersalrope wars' but the subtitles on DVD versions still say 'Romulan wars'. I deduce that the script originally used 'Romulan wars' throughout, but that this was changed as part of the last minute edits... Either they thought we'd had enough random references to the Romulans last week, or they wanted to belatedly keep their powder dry for the damp squib that is "The Neutral Zone"…
But what is the name of the weapon being used to attack, you might ask? Well, it seems the screenwriters, Richard Manning and Hans Beimler, couldn't quite decide but they settled on 'Interrupter' as this SHOUTY ALL CAPS script fragment shows:
as the ENTERPRISE IS HIT by something quite unlike a phaser beam. The weapon -- call it an INTERRUPTER -- plays havoc with the ship: WE HEAR A SCREECH as LIGHTS DIM, CONSOLES GO CRAZY, and the BRIDGE VIBRATES as if the ship's shaking itself apart. After a beat, the INTERRUPTER EFFECT ENDS, and bridge systems slowly return to normal.
It seems that there were fights on the production team about whether Dr Crusher was going to confess her feelings to Picard in this episode, until Roddenberry shut it all down. Apparently, Robert Lewin (who along with Maurice Hurley came up with the story for this one) became so frustrated with Roddenberry's lack of interest in character development that he quit the show. I can't say I blame him, but really it's just as well that they didn't ‘out’ Dr Crusher's feelings here. It would have been far, far too soon, and the way it’s handled in later seasons is so much more satisfying.
It's an emergency! Quick, pull a new Chief Engineer out of the big bucket. Who did we get this time...?
Why it's Vyto Ruginis as Logan, who shockingly has no connection to Scotland whatsoever. He gets a huge number of lines, mostly sparring with LaForge as he boasts of his "greater rank and experience". He sucks in every way and I think we're all relieved that we never ever see him again.
Much more fun is 'the Peddler', played with great panache by Vincent Schiavelli, whose naturally odd looks work so well he doesn't even need latex to pull off this role. He's a hugely versatile character actor, with a broad range of credits, but of course he never overcame his lack of 'leading man' looks to score any major roles. As a supporting player, however, he had such a distinguished career that in 1997 Vanity Fair called him “one of America's best character actors”.
(Incidentally, this is the first episode directed by Les Landau, who racked up 34 episodes at the helm on TNG, 14 more on DS9, and another 10 on the lesser Trek shows.)
Models, Make-up, and Mattes
I don't like the drone design very much, to be honest, although it's well composited in the shots where it appears. The script doesn't call it a drone, because it prefigures the first of these horrific weapons in the real world weapon by decades. The dialogue sticks to just calling it 'the weapon' or, in the Peddler's spiel, ‘the Echo-Papa Six-oh-Seven’. It's also really weird using the same model but at a different scale in the orbital battle, but what the heck, its efficient production if nothing else, and it’s only on screen as a blur for a few seconds.
I'm also wildly unimpressed with the set dressing of Sound Stage 16 in this episode... and I rankle at the claim that there's no intelligent life left on Minos, as it sounds as if the jungle is full of birds. Our birds can be extremely intelligent, and I don't see any reason that the equivalent species shouldn't be so on Minos, but I suppose this is merely a quibble.
Meanwhile, let's welcome back the never-tedious saucer separation sequence, which is comprised entirely of stock footage from "Encounter at Farpoint". It's just as exciting here as it was back at the start of the season, which is to say, not even remotely. It is, however, fun to see the stardrive section running around nekkid, and it looks as if there was a little extra footage of this studio miniature that was shot especially for this episode. There is also extensive footage of the Enterprise-D's shields in action and what's this - a full spread of photon torpedoes!
Wow, they really are pulling out all the stops in this story, although sadly nobody actually says “full spread, maximum yield” as a friend of mine would quip every time I sneezed. No wonder that Les Landau thought it was "one of the shows with the most production value of any we've ever done." All in all, this is a rollicking adventure and one of very few all-action-spectaculars in TNG’s run.
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As a weapons designer, disorienting people by making their consoles beep uncontrollably is of primary concern!