Memory Alpha Entry
We now come to Part three in the four part series of TNG episodes written by Melinda Snodgrass, a writer who started out with a huge hit in the form of "The Meaure of a Man" only to have her nest story gobbled up in executive stupidity for "Up The Long Ladder". Now that it's Season 3 and everyone still working on Star Trek doesn't have to deal with Maurice Hurley, things should start to finally pick up. The result is "Ensigns of Command", a pretty average episode that, despite some obvious writing tropes, isn't really bad at all. I like the idea behind it and the execution is pretty sharp.
We start off by being introduced to a human colony that settled on a planet that once belonged to a race of black shiny rugs. These rugs have reappeared and are using legal rights to acquire their planet back. Problem? They want it back now and they're perfectly willing to kill anyone who happens to be on it that's not a rug. It's no easy feat to evacuate the colonists due to the planet's atmosphere playing havoc with the crew's health and the transporter systems, so the most effective means of evacuation won't be completed for a whole three weeks. When the Enterprise sends in Data to deal with the colonists, they're not so open to leaving either. So Plot A will revolve around Data trying to convince the colonists to evacuate, while Plot B focuses on Picard and Troi's efforts in trying to appeal to the rugs' good nature so that they can delay their massacre long enough to evacuate the planet.
This episode has a lot of things going against it on the premise alone. A-hole colonists who won't leave even for their very lives, and a-hole aliens who will murder innocents just because they want to start unpacking asap. I can imagine how difficult it must be for a writer to come up with a way to care enough about these colonists' well being when most of them are portrayed as a bunch of close minded people who would rather die than be inconvenienced. But that's ok, because when we have a story written by Melinda Snodgrass, we get her trademark "Mary Sue" in the form of Ard'rian McKenzie. She's part of this human colony and unlike a lot of crap we're going to have to put up with in regards to "re-location" stories in Star Trek, she actually treats this situation with an open mind and even delivers a line that I thought was awesome when I was still in my single digits. It's nice having a character who's a member of a group where the story draws conflict from that's on the side of our heroes. Can you imagine if there were characters like that in Star Trek Insurrection where some Baku were willing to leave their homes if their planet's healing properties could be used to end the Dominion War in a more peaceful manner?
But not everything about Mary "Ard'rian" Sue is good. For one thing, it's an obvious self-insurtion character done for the sake of having intimate moments with the character of Data (whom Melinda admits is the best character) and has herself moments where Data praises her character and that he would not have accomplished his mission without her. When I read about the last minute budget slashing which resulted in their relationship not being developed more deeply, I couldn't help but wonder if that was actually a good thing. I'm not opposed to Data having a romance with someone, I'm just opposed to a romance that goes nowhere and does nothing.
Where I really give this episode credit is how it gives each plot it's own moment of "awesome". For the A Plot, we have Data literally coming in guns blazing and making a really cool stand off moment showcasing his modded phaser. The B Plot gives an awesome moment for Picard when he finds something in the treaty that can be used to his advantage (An area Melinda is really good at) and has a really great moment where he literally cuts the rugs off mid sentence and does a little walk around the bridge. The moment where he looks at the Enterprise-D plaque and rubs off some dust is a moment that not many Star Trek stories get to have. It's probably my second favorite "Now we wait" scene in the whole series (first favorite coming this season).
So with the treaty loophole giving Picard time to evacuate the colonists and Data successfully convincing the colonists to leave and (SHOCK) giving Mary a kiss, our episode ends.
This episode gets an "Above Average" grade in my book for it's good execution of a typical (and soon to be overused) storyline. While Ard'rian will always be a Mary Sue in my eyes, the fact that she wasn't a character who "woos" Data into seeing her people's ways that results in Data siding with them was very welcome. If you can get passed the stubborn preachy leader who won't leave no matter what, this episode is quite good. And even though they're rugs, the Sheliak are pretty awesome looking.