Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S01E08 – Justice

In the eighth episode of the first season of The Next Generation, Wesley is sent with an away team to an Eden-like planet, only to discover the one aspect of their utopia that’s horrifying. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek. 

As strange as “Justice” was at times, I actually thought this was a pretty fantastic episode for the show, a fascinating chance to explore the complications of the Prime Directive. That means I had to ignore some of the silliness on Edo, like… well, where do I start? Everyone runs everywhere. Their outfits are both totally absurd and frighteningly practical once you think about how often these people had sex. This culture values sensual pleasure, and yet everyone is straight. (And white. Oh my god, this is all so white.) And apparently no one actually does any work? How do these people eat? Who works on their pristine lawns and shrubbery? Where does their electricity come from? Is there any sort of infrastructure here, and who runs that?

While I think you could surmise that this was all provided to them by their “God,” it’s a little distracting. At the same time, I don’t know that the worldbuilding matters all that much to the story that the writers try to tell with “Justice.” All we need to know is that this world appears very much like a utopia with one exception: a random sector of this planet is deemed the “punishment zone,” where any law broken there is punishable by execution. Therefore, no one on Edo ever risks breaking a law because they don’t know if they’ll ever be in the punishment zone. It’s a brutally effective way to enforce the law, made clearly evident by a population that seems eager and willing to abide by such an organization. And that aspect was part of what made this such a complicated situation: the Edo people were very proud of their system of law. This was not a case of them submitting to a set of rules without knowing of the implications of them. They all knew what this meant. They knew of the violent, chaotic history on their planet before the punishment zones were set up.

So what happens when an outsider breaks one of their laws? On Edo, there’s sense of degrees; any crime gets the death penalty. This directly clashes with the kind of applicable punishment present in Federation standards, and thus, what the Edo people do is immortal to them. It’s injustice. But whose injustice? Who is in the right here? Is it moral for the Enterprise crew to pull Wesley out of Edo control?

IT IS SUCH A MESSED UP CONUNDRUM. That also means that this ends up being one of the more satisfying stories that I’ve seen so far. The writers take care to respect both sides of this problem. The Edo are not doing something that’s heinous or antagonistic. Could you even say that there’s an antagonist within this episode? Perhaps the Edo God works as one, but it’s not like we’re meant to see this character as a remorseless evil. No, just like the Edo, it has a justified reason for acting as it does. To that being, there is a clear picture of justice. To Captain Picard, there is a clear picture of justice available to him, too. He cannot allow these people to execute one of his crewmembers, especially for the specific crime Wesley committed. But what about his commitments to the Federation? The Prime Directive makes it very clear that he’s not to interfere with this culture and how they operate, but how can he also contradict his own responsibilities as a Captain?

It’s a damn good conflict to give the characters. We get to see Dr. Crusher’s own anguish over the possible loss of her son; we get to see Data realize when his info-dumps are inappropriate; we get to see Riker walk around most of this episode with a giant smile on his face because SEX. And hey, as awkward as a lot of this was, I still appreciate that this show is willing to tackle sex and how other cultures view it. We even got a scene where Worf talked about Klingon sex! (That’s… that’s not a sentence I thought I’d ever type. WELCOME TO MY WEBSITE.) And at the center of this all is the morally conflicted Captain Picard, who must decide between a number of seemingly impossible solutions that might end in Wesley’s death, his own death, the crew’s death, or the loss of his career.

The resolution felt a bit rushed, as I don’t know what the ramifications will be for Edo. Will their God consider changing the absolute nature of their rules? Were the Edo people irrevocably changed because of what Picard and the others did? Was the Prime Directive broken? I don’t actually know, honestly. But I still found this episode immensely entertaining, one of the better ones so far this season. MORE LIKE THIS.

The video for “Justice” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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