Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Allegiance”

Allegiance“Allegiance”
Written by Richard Manning & Hans Beimler
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Season 3, Episode 18
Original air date: March 26, 1990
Star date: 43714.1

Mission summary

Picard’s chillaxin’ in his quarters, reading a book (or rather, sleeping with one) when a probe enters his room, scans him, and beams him away. When Picard awakes, he finds himself in a locked room with two others: a Bolian Starfleet cadet named Mitena Haro, and a milquetoast Mizarian named Kova Tholl.

They explain that they, too, are prisoners. Their captors seem to have provided food pucks but any attempts to escape–say, by messing with the door–are punished with lasers. No one has seen these captors, though, so Picard attempts to communicate by tapping out some prime numbers on the console. Maybe they’re listening, maybe not, but a fourth guest beams into their cozy little prison: a hairy, violent Chalnoth named Esoqq.

Back on the Enterprise, Picard has been replaced by a doppelganger with a little bit more style than the usual Picard. With no explanation, he has the crew set course for a random pulsar. They’re going to be late for an important date, but no matter: pulsars! Later, he stumbles into the crew’s poker game to tell Troi he’s worried the crew won’t follow or respect his unpredictable behavior. She assures him they’re all slaves to his authority and he shouldn’t lose a wink of sleep over the prospect of mutiny. Did I say mutiny?

Meanwhile, Esoqq discovers he can’t eat the food pucks, putting them all in the dangerous position of being potential food to a starving beast-like humanoid. Picard suggests they work together to dismantle the door, but a) that never works! and b) Tholl wants no part in it because he’s from a race of passive losers because that’s totally a thing that would ever exist. But he was right, and as soon as they seem to get the door open a crack they are all hit with lasers. Of course, at this point they all turn on each other. But realizing again that they have no choice, they decide to work together to disable the laser mechanism and get the door open again.

The crew starts to turn against the fake Picard when he leads Ten Forward in a rousing drinking song, invites Crusher to his quarters for an intimate dinner for two, and then finally orders the ship to approach the pulsar, where the shields will deteriorate and fail in just under 18 minutes. By now everyone knows something about this guy is a little off (not key, though–that’s pretty good), and the doppelganger suspects that they’ve been plotting something, too. He tries to relieve Riker from duty but Worf won’t obey. In fact, no one will obey! Damn anarchists! Riker takes command of the Enterprise and gets them out of there before the ship and all its crew are destroyed by the pulsar, and doesn’t at all seem to be worried about a court martial because hey, at least he’ll still be around.

Out in space prison, the four manage to successfully open the door only to find….another door! It’s doors all the way down, people. That’s it, Picard’s had enough. There is no escape, because it’s not really a prison–it’s a laboratory maze!

PICARD: It’s the only explanation. Look at the four of us. We do have something in common. We all react differently to authority. You, the collaborator, defer to whoever has control. You, the anarchist, reject authority in any form. I, a Starfleet Captain, trained to command. And you, a Starfleet cadet, sworn to obey a superior officer’s authority. Our captors have placed us here and have devised obstacles for us to overcome. They give us food which Esoqq can’t eat, to make him a threat. They give us a door we can’t open until the four of us co-operate. And each time we succeed, they deal us reverses to set us against each other again, while you observe our reactions.

The secret scientist aliens finally reveal themselves. It’s an experiment! And the guinea pigs don’t even get a lousy $10 for their time! Evil scientist aliens transport him back to the bridge and whine that he’s ruined their little experiment. They’re all identical and have no sense of authority and wanted to figure out what that was like. But Picard does NOT like to be kidnapped, cloned, and imprisoned, so while the aliens are blathering on about their problems, he silently indicates to his crew to trap the aliens in a forcefield.

PICARD: Imprisonment is an injury, regardless of how you justify it. And now that you have had a taste of captivity, perhaps you will reconsider the morality of inflicting it upon others. In any event, we now know about your race and we know how to imprison you. Bear that in mind. Now get off my ship.

They beam away, and then everyone gets in their nudge, nudge at the True Picard before the credits roll.

Allegiance

Analysis

Someone is clearly exacting obligatory college reading vengeance against Sartre by giving that setup a resolution, as flimsy and unsatisfying as it is.

I hate this episode. I hate that someone wrote this and thought it was anything other than an insipid, boring mess. I hate the four stupid prisoners that are only different enough to feel like an uninspired D&D campaign. I resent the monologue at the end that This is About X and You are a Symbol of A, and You are a Symbol of B.  And I especially loathe that this is followed by “Captain’s Holiday,” but I guess on reflection I’d rather be trapped in a crappy existentialist ripoff than have to watch Picard and Vash again. (Speaking of: happy birthday, Eugene! Have a drink or five on me and Vash.)

I think what bothers me most is that I spend the entire episode thinking: I know what you think you’re doing. The aspiring winks, nudges and nods are more like slaps and blinking arrows. It’s like a big middle finger to anyone who likes thoughtful, literary science fiction. “You like metaphors? HERE! CHOKE ON THIS!” Granted, it’s supposed to be a fun character piece for Picard, but it’s not fun. It’s stupid. If a sultry flirt and a macho braggart are buried deep in Picard, it’s only because those things are buried deep in everyone, and that is a stupid revelation that no one over the age of thirteen should have put to paper. If that’s what they were going for–look at the secret thoughts of Picard!–they could have done it with a lot less swagger and a lot more subtlety.  Instead, it seems like a long bender, as if he had encountered another space pox that dropped his inhibitions. Not only have we seen that before, but it was bad the first time!

Maybe I wouldn’t be so harsh if this hadn’t followed “Sins of the Father,” a great example of how to do a character piece. (Hint: Worf never says “You are all symbols of corruption and the destruction of immature idealism! I will not play your stupid game and look now it is all better, let’s lulz!”) Picard learns absolutely nothing, about himself or the universe, or anyone else in it. He doesn’t have to confront any aspect of himself, good or bad. The crew does, a little–but that’s not really Picard and it’s going to take more than a wink to get me to bridge that fake alien clone gap before I believe the clone’s actions mean much about who Picard truly is. Finally, the whole episode ends when Picard acts the sniveling child and does the same terrible thing to his enemy. Yeah, you actually get, hm, ZERO moral high ground for that move, Picard.

Oh, and on a world-building note? The Mizarians make no sense. If your people have been endlessly conquered, your actual culture is going to have been so subsumed by generations of conquering peoples that the “true” Mizarian culture would be… well probably something with slightly more complex notions of pacifism and cooperation than “Fighting bad! Meditation good!” Not that the alien scientists make any sense, either. Collective decision-making isn’t the absence of authority–on the contrary, it means deferring absolutely to the authority of the majority and making decisions based on that majority’s best interests. Even bees have a strong sense of hierarchy. And if these guys really didn’t understand the concept of authority, how did fake Picard imitate it so well?

Ick ick and blech. Your move, Vash.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert!Thread Alert: I thought about going positive and featuring Crusher and Picard’s date night outfits (which I love), but who can resist these scaly jerks? Poor actors, having sequined spandex vacuum-sealed to their all-too-human rears. The best part is Picard’s and Riker’s reactions. I feel ya, buddies.

Best Line: ESOQQ: My given name is Esoqq. It means “fighter.”
THOLL: I’ll bet half the names in the Chalnoth language mean fighter.
ESOQQ: Mizarians, your names all mean surrenderer!

Trivia/Other Notes: The song that the fake Picard sings in Ten Forward is “Heart of Oak,” the official march of the Royal Navy.

Esoqq’s costume was eventually altered–unrecognizably–into Morn’s getup on DS9.

The actors who play the surprise kidnappers in the end are real life twins. Can you tell? Yeah, didn’t think so.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 17 – “Sins of the Father.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 19 – “Captain’s Holiday.”

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.