TNG] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "The Pegasus"
Review by Tim Lynch <tly...@juliet.caltech.edu>
WARNING: This article contains potentially dangerous spoiler information
regarding TNG's "The Pegasus". Those not having seen the episode are urged to avoid this article until further notice.
Wow. Probably the best of the season to date -- certainly the meatiest.
I am very impressed -- barely a wrong note to be found in this one. Quite a bit more will follow, after this synopsis:
The Enterprise takes on board one Admiral Eric Pressman. Pressman, as well
as being high up in Starfleet Intelligence, is also Riker's first commanding
officer from the Pegasus -- and it's the Pegasus that is at issue right now.
She was apparently carrying sensitive prototype equipment that would be
dangerous in enemy hands; and the ship, thought lost with nearly all hands in
an explosion twelve years ago, is apparently in the Devolin system, where the
Romulans are intensely searching for it. The Enterprise is to proceed to
that system and find the Pegasus -- "salvage it if possible, destroy it if necessary."
When they reach the system, they find it consisting primarily of asteroid
debris, making scans slow and difficult. A Romulan warbird that's also
exploring the system drops by to exchange "pleasantries", and its commander
promises to remain in the area a while longer. The Romulans have a two-day
headstart in the search, but the Enterprise begins searching nonetheless.
Meanwhile, Riker and Pressman talk about the final days of the Pegasus to
each other; and while Riker has second thoughts about some of his actions,
Pressman reminds him that their actions were "for the good of the
Federation". What's more, he plans to start up "the experiment" again if
they find it intact -- "and this time, no one's going to stop us." He tells
Riker that there are written orders for him from Starfleet Intelligence in
the computer, and that he is not to reveal the nature of the mission to anyone, not even Picard.
After Pressman makes veiled remarks to Picard about the importance of
loyalty, saying outright that it was Riker's unswerving loyalty on the
Pegasus that kept them both alive when nearly every other crewmember died,
the Enterprise strikes paydirt, finding signs of the warp-core.
Unfortunately, it appears to be buried far down in a chasm on a large
asteroid, and in the time it would take to find it more precisely, the
Romulans would be over to see what was going on. Riker suggests destroying
the asteroid to keep the Pegasus out of Romulan hands, but Pressman
vehemently opposes it, preferring instead to go with Picard's plan of
blanketing the area with ionizing radiation and covering traces of the
warp-core's radiation. Although it's a risky move, it works, and the warbird
apparently leaves. Picard, not wanting to arouse even further suspicions,
orders the Enterprise to pursue a false search pattern and come back to the asteroid the next day.
After Picard leaves, Pressman upbraids Riker harshly in private for even
considering destroying the Pegasus -- it would be difficult, he points out,
to change the balance of power in the quadrant without the Pegasus in hand.
Riker shows Pressman that he's changed in many ways, but Pressman commends
him for his past loyalties, and says that "I know I can count on you again" to help him in this mission.
Riker then proceeds to Picard's quarters, where Picard wants to talk about a
deeply-buried report he's uncovered about the last day of the Pegasus. The
investigation found evidence of a *mutiny* on board, something unthinkable in
the Federation, and signs that all the surviving officers, Riker included,
withheld information. While Riker is willing to give some details about the
mutiny (most of the crew felt Pressman was endangering the ship with some
engine tests, and Riker, fresh out of the Academy and "full of notions like
duty and honor" defended Pressman until they both could escape), he will not
talk about what else was going on, suggesting that he take it up with
Pressman. "I'm taking this up with *you*, Will! The Judge Advocate thought
that you were participating in a conspiracy to cover up the truth. Now what
the hell is going on here, Will? Why did that mutiny happen? Why is Pressman so determined to find that ship, twelve years later?"
"I've said all I can," Riker replies. "I am under direct orders from Admiral Pressman not to discuss this ... sir."
Picard stands, appalled. "Very well. He's an Admiral, I'm a Captain -- i
cannot *force* you to disobey his orders. Therefore, I will have to remain
in the dark on this mission; and I will just have to trust that you will
not let Pressman put this ship at unnecessary risk. And if I find that that
trust has been misplaced, then I will have to re-evaluate the command structure of this ship. Dismissed." Riker, somewhat stunned, leaves.
Picard's worries come to a head very quickly, as the return to the asteroid
with the Pegasus brings a call from Pressman to take the Enterprise itself
into the chasm, as it seems the surest way to get the Pegasus salvaged.
Faced with direct orders, Picard agrees -- but only after logging his
explicit objections and threatening to abort the mission if conditions get
too tight. Fortunately, they find the Pegasus, but 65% of it is entombed
*within* the asteroid itself! It is determined that much of the engineering
section is intact, and Pressman and Riker beam over once life support is restored.
There, as they stroll past dead bodies to reach their objective, Riker gets
more and more troubled about the nature of their mission. Finally, as
Pressman discovers that "the experiment" is intact, Riker makes a decision:
he will not allow Pressman to continue the experiments on the Enterprise.
Although Pressman argues with him strenuously, even calling him a traitor,
Riker stands his ground, saying that he made the wrong decision twelve years
ago, and that if he had it to do over again, he'd have joined the mutineers.
Pressman threatens to end Riker's career if he says a word to anyone, but
just then they are forced to beam back. The Romulans have sealed off the
entrance to the chasm with disruptors, sealing both ships inside kilometers of solid rock.
The Romulans hail, expressing regret over "accidentally" trapping the
Enterprise in the asteroid and offering to beam all personnel to safety. No
one, however, agrees with this choice, as it would hand over both ships to
the Romulans without a fight. The Romulans lurk outside, awaiting a
decision -- and Riker makes a choice. He tells Picard that Pressman's
experiment may offer a solution. "It's a prototype for a Federation cloaking device."
Pressman is angry, and tells Riker that he's just ended his career, but Picard
is incensed: The Federation agreed sixty years ago in the Treaty of
Algeron never to develop cloaking technology. Pressman acknowledges that,
but insists that the treaty was the Federation's biggest mistake, allowing
the Romulans to keep them off balance for decades. When Picard doesn't
agree, saying that this device might change the balance of power, but is
unethical and illegal, Pressman tries to assume command. He quickly finds,
however, that no one will go along with *his* mutiny, and conversation turns to the device.
Riker explains that it not only cloaks a ship, but "phases" it, allowing it
to pass through normal matter. Thus, if hooked up properly, it should allow
the Enterprise to leave the asteroid unscathed. Although the connections are
somewhat tricky, LaForge and Data manage to hook it into the Enterprise
safely, giving hints to what happened to the Pegasus in the process. The
Enterprise escapes the asteroid, but then decloaks deliberately in front of
the warbird, when Picard tells them that a message will go out very shortly
to the Romulan government about this entire incident. The treaty, Picard
assures Pressman, was negotiated in good faith and will not be broken -- and to that end, he places Pressman and Riker under arrest.
Later, Picard visits Riker in the brig. A full inquiry will get underway
shortly, and will probably lead to a court-martial for Pressman and many
other members of Starfleet Intelligence. Riker's part in it will cost him a
great deal of respect, but his choice to tell the truth now, and his twelve
years of superlative service since the Pegasus, will probably save him. His
decision, furthermore, has done more than ever to convince Picard that, despite Riker's mistakes, Riker is still his choice for first officer.
Well, that takes care of that. (I never remember how much time it takes to
write these synopses up after a few weeks off until I've done it. Yeesh. :-) ) Now, some equally verbose commentary:
First of all, I just noticed something interesting. With Ron Moore returning
to the TNG writing fold, all of the last four shows have been written by the
regular members of the writing staff: Moore, Brannon Braga ("Parallels"),
Rene Echevarria ("Inheritance"), and Naren Shankar ("Force of Nature"). Of
those, all but "Force of Nature" were quite good -- a serious upturn from the
fairly lackluster start this season had. So a hearty "welcome back" to the big four -- but where the heck were they earlier?
In any event, Ron Moore's return certainly was remarkable -- not only is this
one of the best of the season (it's this or "Parallels", depending on what
I'm in the mood for), but it's probably the best TNG he's written in over a
year. The last things he wrote that really drew me in were "Relics" and
"Tapestry", and I think I like this a good deal better than either of those.
Everything about it just felt so completely *right* that it was a pretty riveting show, all in all.
Most of the teaser wasn't related at all, but "Captain Picard Day" had me in
stitches the whole scene. I enjoyed the scene as a whole immensely, but more
than anything I just about died at seeing Frakes's Patrick Stewart impression
actually make it in front of the camera. Frakes must've been saving that one
up for *years*, given the smirk he had when he finally got to throw himself
into it. Great, great fun. (Now I want to see Picard's entry into Commander Riker Day, but I suppose I'll live.)
On to more serious points. This season is likely to have a lot of shows
trying to answer fundamental questions or resolve fundamental issues, since
this is the last go-round for the series. On the whole, I'm not too thrilled
with that, since on the whole it tends to lead to things like "Attached",
which redeemed itself only with acting that rose light-years above the
material. However, "The Pegasus" would be a fine model to follow for such a
"fundamental" show, because it didn't really feel like it was trying to do
that. What it felt like, and what it *was* through and through, was a damn
good Riker piece about coming to grips with bad decisions. I consider the
facts that it (1) settled the question of why the Federation doesn't have a
cloaking device, and (2) set things up so Riker won't have to make excuses
for not being a captain in the film series almost incidental to that fact.
And that, I think, is exactly as it *should* be -- a show saying only "let's
show why the Feds don't have a cloak" is about as relevant to the characters
and to all but the most driven viewers as one that says "let's show why all
races are humanoid." "The Chase" was the latter, and my feelings about that one are not positive -- "The Pegasus" handled its question RIGHT.
What's more, this was the sort of "answer" that raises as many questions as
it ties up. We know now that the Federation has agreed not to develop a
cloaking device. What we don't know, and what I'm sure will be debated for
*another* twenty years unless someone decides to give it more detail, is WHY
they made such an agreement. Regardless of Pressman's methods (more about
him later), his argument that this treaty was a mistake may have some merit
to it. (One of my officemates thinks so, and we've already gotten into one
argument about it, so there's definitely room to maneuver -- either that, or
I need a life. Take your pick. :-) ) What circumstances would make the
Federation willingly agree to forgo such an important battle advantage? Were
the Romulans so far behind in everything else that the Federation agreed to
do it solely to stop the wars? Were the Romulans so far ahead in everything
as to be able to force such an agreement? (That one I doubt.) Did the
Romulans agree in turn not to try to develop some *other* form of technology?
If so, what? (And are they abiding by it?) Lots and lots of questions here,
with lots of possible answers. We've got a nice little backstory here waiting to be told, and I rather like that.
[By the way, something else came to mind. Since the treaty was sixty years
or so old, that puts it about fifteen years past "Star Trek VI". It's all
undoubtedly too late for Kirk's Enterprise to be involved -- septuagenarian
captains aren't all that believable in my book, particularly in as martial a
time as that era apparently was -- but Sulu and the Excelsior (or some other
ship) should still be around. There's lots of room to fill in that decade
and a half from his point of view -- anyone with ideas for a novel about this? :-) ]
Enough about the long-term ramifications, though. Even within the context of
the episode, this show spoke volumes, especially about Riker. With someone
as willing to stand his ground with Picard as Riker has been over the years,
one might expect it to be a surprise that he *didn't* start out that way --
but I could see it very easily coming from someone "seven months out of the
Academy, my head still full of words like 'duty' and 'honor'." Given the
sheer force of personality Pressman had, to boot, Riker's unswerving loyalty
at a crunch time makes sense -- but it must have been giving him nightmares
for months afterward. Both his obedience then and his utter anger about it
now rang completely and utterly true, and may even go a little ways to
explain why he was willing to risk his career back on the Hood to keep his
captain from beaming down then: maybe he was compensating for not standing up to his captain when he *absolutely* needed to.
Pressman's character, on the other hand, also spoke volumes, but in a very
different key. It's difficult to argue conclusively one way or the other
about the Treaty of Algeron, so I won't try. However, Pressman's methods
strike me as exemplifying the very worst elements of "intelligence"
communities. Pressman was convinced what he was doing was right, to be sure;
but he was convinced *SO* absolutely that any means, no matter how brutal
or how unjustified it might seem from other standpoints, was justified in
terms of the end it would bring about. The elements of Starfleet
Intelligence that were behind this seemed to have an attitude of "we know
what's best for the Federation, so the rest of the Federation should stay the
hell out of it" that, frankly, I see enough of in this century to make my
skin crawl. I'm not sure it's in keeping with Roddenberry's original idea
that the Federation is basically perfect, but I honestly couldn't care; it's
realistic (there are always going to be some snakes in any garden), and it's
cautionary (not that those who need the caution will be listening anyway, I suspect).
Actually, the reactions Picard (and Riker, to a fault) had to Pressman's
presence and manner made for a very interesting contrast between what
Federation crews and Romulan crews will put up with. In Romulan ships, or so
it's appeared, having an intelligence operative there giving orders and
threatening reprisals may make for some feelings of distrust (not
surprisingly), but they are accepted as part of the ship, in most cases.
Here, Pressman definitely wasn't -- and had he been less than an Admiral in
rank, Picard would undoubtedly have simply refused to follow many of the orders. It's an interesting point to look for, I think.
Everybody did a bang-up job, acting-wise. Frakes showed more range than he
has any time this season, and made it so that Riker honestly seemed to be in
a lot of pain over his past choices. I haven't seen Terry O'Quinn in the
past, but I've heard good things about him, and if this performance was any
indication they're well deserved; he made Pressman powerful enough that Riker
as an ensign couldn't be expected to resist him, but also extremely flawed.
As for Stewart, I'll just say this: I laughed like hell during the teaser,
but his threat to Riker to drop him as first officer made me feel like I'd
been kicked in the teeth. That was such a cutting scene that I felt tired
just watching it, and it's tough to do without both actors involved having gone all out. Major compliments to them.
I think that's really most of the comments that come to mind. This was a
show that I think will rank rather highly in TNG's annals -- a good, solid,
meaty drama that also has some interesting reflections on the universe
surrounding it. If this and the two shows before it are any indication, this
season should have a major, sustained upturn in quality much as last season did around this time. Suits me fine, that.
So, some shorter points:
-- I still say Lloyd Bridges should have had a cameo somewhere, given the title and the genre. ;-)
-- Based on the stardate, listing the Pegasus bit as happening twelve years
ago seemed a bit off at first. Then I realized that the date given would
have been for the *inquiry report*, not the incident itself. Does a year and
a half seem an excessively long time? Well, if it does to you, I've got two
words in response: "Iran-Contra". It seems that the process has at least speeded up a _bit_ by the 24th century...
-- Riker served on a *lot* of ships in the past twelve years. Think about
it: at this point we've got him pinned down as an ensign on the Pegasus
twelve years ago, a lieutenant on the Potemkin three years later ("Second
Chances"), and a lieutenant commander and first officer on the Hood for at
least some of the three years after that, prior to joining the Enterprise
crew. That's some fairly quick rank-climbing -- no wonder everyone thinks he needs to take a command.
-- Okay, someone has to ask: were Lisa and I the only ones expecting to see
Red Lectroids clinging to the rock face as the Enterprise was phasing through? :-)
-- No *wonder* I was reminded a little bit of "Face of the Enemy". Besides
the obvious Romulan presence, John Debney did the music for both, and damned well. Give this guy some more work.
That about covers it. So, wrapping up:
Plot: Tight, suspenseful, and gripping. Can't argue with something like
Plot Handling: Extremely nice. LeVar Burton is turning into a very capable
director. Characterization: Not a false note to be found.
OVERALL: An easy 10. Keep this one for posterity.
Worf's foster brother and the Prime Directive -- two things that just shouldn't mix, it seems...
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
"I don't know. I think the resemblance is rather striking. Wouldn't you
agree, Number One?"
"Isn't there something else you have to do?"
-- Riker [imitating Picard] and Picard
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...