Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Picard Risks His Soul, The Viewers Get Bored: "Devil's Due"

The Good: A moment or two of humor
The Bad: Takes itself seriously, Writing, Lack of character development or real acting
The Basics: In an episode where Picard faces off with a woman claiming to be the devil, the viewer finds nothing to enjoy.

There are some things Star Trek: The Next Generation never did: Data never did ballet, Troi never had an episode where we learned she's a hermaphrodite, Riker never had a belching contest with Geordi. There are some things the series should never have done. "Devil's Due" is a perfect example of that. This is an episode that is so badly conceived that it makes the idea of a Star Trek: The Next Generation/Brady Bunch crossover seem like it could be a good idea. Indeed, script supervisor Lolita Fatjo, who ran the script department of Star Trek: The Next Generation through Star Trek Voyager touts an episode where the Enterprise crew journeys to a planet made of Velcro as one of the superlative worst episodes that came across her desk. I'm wondering how she missed "Devil's Due!"

The Enterprise receives a distress call from an outpost on the frontier where the natives have gone completely bonkers fearing the end of the world and such. The ship arrives amid rumors of Ardra's return, a devil the planet has long feared would return to claim the planet. And Ardra does return, in the form of a woman who demands the planet. The citizens are ready to turn the planet over, but Picard is not. Sensing a con-artist, Picard gambles his soul against Ardra in a trial to prove Ardra is not who she claims to be. And Data is drafted to be the impartial judge.

So here we get an episode where the devil makes an appearance in several forms. As I suggested before: this episode ought never to have been made. But it was and what does it have going for it? In truth, not much. Nothing, actually, outside a few moments of humor. The moment is supposed to amuse fans with the special effects, but they are not exciting. Indeed, the most intriguing visual, the Klingon devil Fek'lhr, is barely glimpsed before it disappears again. Instead of funny, this premise is mostly just ridiculous and disappointing. Wow, Picard bets his soul against this week's new villain . . . you don't have to be a betting person to figure out which way that's going to go!

This episode is just plain silly, but the crew plays it as if it is supposed to be serious and dangerous, which only adds to the camp value of it. The plot is absurd: a devil coming back to claim a planet and the Enterprise's captain combating her. This is the worst villain who attempts to be as bad as Q to ever show up in the Trek universe. That Ardra is treated as a legitimate menace is not a triumph of diplomacy but the execution of reason at the hands of stupidity. Ardra, whether or not she truly is a devil, is silly in concept; what could one person honestly do with a planet? What is the point of a simple character like this establishing dominion over a whole world? I mean, people might like to say "I'd like to rule the world," but it's a completely impractical concept in reality. It's even more foolish in a time/place where every practical need can be replicated. I mean, ruling a world for wealth has little meaning when you can just program a computer with the molecular formula for anything you might want to own.

But add to that, the writer of this particular episode has no idea who they are writing about. The characters all come across as lame or flat. In a scene where Ardra attempts to tempt Picard, she appears as several women, including Deanna Troi. Claiming to be Picard's unattainable desire in the body of Troi is ridiculous at this point in the series: following the Borg incident, Troi would be the confidant with whom he would have basically relived the rape the Borg did to him. Given the time frames here, it's unlikely that Picard would have any attraction to her. Add to that that Picard has never had even an inkling of a desire for Troi. So, while members of the audience may be drooling over Troi, Picard has shown no penchant for her.

But even Data comes across as unusually sterile in "Devil's Due." There is almost a ridiculous sense to his lack of emotion here in that it is referenced so many times that we rapidly stop caring about it and instead "get it" already. Beyond that, Data lacks his personality in addition to his absence of emotions. In short, the viewer is supposed to believe that because Data is impartial as a judge he lacks any real idea about the way the verdict of the trial ought to go. In short, we are supposed to equate emotionlessness with a lack of judgment.

I would like to be able to blame the actors here, but it's impossible to do so: they have nothing to work with. The script is so thin that the fact the actors showed up to devote a week of their lives to this one astonishes me. Indeed, they plod along listlessly and one can almost see Patrick Stewart mentally figuring what his time is worth as he quietly rolls his eyes (in body language, not in actuality) throughout the episode.

Fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation will be disappointed by the cheap rip-off of Q that Ardra represents. They will sigh at what is supposed to be funny and shake their heads at how serious the crew takes everything given the absurdity of the situation. As for those who do not like the series? There's nothing here to entice them. There is no witty dialog, no character development and no superlative acting.

Then again, there are Ardra's outfits. But even those merely cover a bland surface.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fourth season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode or movie reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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