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

Teleplay by Worley Thorne
Story by Ralph Willis and Worley Thorne
Directed by James L. Conway

Season 1, Episode 8
Original air date: November 9, 1987
Star date: 41255.6

Mission summary

After settling some colonists in the Strnad solar system, the Enterprise comes across a Eden-like M-class planet called Edo in the adjoining star system. A small away team has been down to make contact, and the locals are party animals. LaForge describes the Edo as “wild in some ways, actually puritanical in others. Neat as pins, ultra-lawful, and make love at the drop of a hat.” While Riker’s already got his bag packed, Picard thinks there must be some negatives. He allows a small party–including Wesley Crusher, for some reason–to beam down to test the place’s suitability for shore leave, but warns that they should “just hope it’s not too good to be true.”

Right on cue, the sensors start to go crazy–it’s reading that something else is in orbit around Edo, but no one can see it. Oh well. Nothing worth getting in the way of hot sex, right?

Riker, Worf, Troi, Yar, and The Boy beam down to the surface and are warmly–ahem–greeted by the locals. The Edo are scantily clad, attractive white people who run around everywhere for maximum bounce potential.1 The whole city is essentially a pleasure palace, which doesn’t bother the grown-ups (except Worf, slightly) but Wesley feels extremely awkward. Luckily some spawn his age take him away to “play ball”… if that’s what the kids are calling it these days.

Picard, meanwhile, has found the invisible ship off the starboard bow: it’s an intimidating all-powerful, pan-dimensional energy being (APPDEB) and god-alien, and it’s not happy about the Enterprise‘s presence near its “children.” The APPDEB demands to know why the Enterprise is planting its seed all over the quadrant, but Picard’s attempts to explain are awkward for everyone. Then the APPDEB, in the form of a ball that looks like Ghostwriter, merges with Data. This is completely unessential to anything that happens later.

Back on the planet, our heroes are getting a sense of the planet’s dark side, and not in the sexy, dungeons-and-rayguns way. The tour guides, Rivan and Liator, explain that the planet has only one punishment–death–for any crime. The city is divided into “punishment zones,” any one of which is active at a given time. Of course, no one thought to mention this to the tourists, so by the time the crew finds Wesley he’s already toast. Chasing a ball (not, to my disappointment, a “ball”), he crashed into a miniature greenhouse in an active zone. The “mediators” who enforce the laws show up, take his confession (the repercussions of which he does not know), and attempt to inject some kind of poison before the crew stops them.2

Picard beams down to treat with the Edo about Wesley, who make it clear that death is non-negotiable. (Woo-hoo!) They accuse Picard and Starfleet of failing to respect their laws and customs, but promise that Wesley will be safe from harm until sundown, for maximum dramatic tension and hand-wringing. Picard must tell Dr. Crusher what has happened to her son, and decide whether or not to violate the Prime Directive and rescue Wesley. He asks Rivan to accompany him to the ship and points out the floating half-invisible APPDEB outside a viewing port, but she drops to her knees and prays for forgiveness. She recognizes it as their god, and the APPDEB flips out about his “child” being on the space ship. Picard beams Rivan down immediately before the entity destroys the Enterprise. The related lesson? If Picard chooses to rescue Wesley, he has the added threat of destruction from the god-alien-ship in orbit.

In any case, Dr. Crusher is getting all wild-eyed, so Picard beams down with her to confront the Edo. They bring out Wesley, who tries to sacrifice himself for the ship but Picard refuses on the grounds that it’s time for some arrogant moralizing on the subject of the episode’s title:

LIATOR: Our laws have been violated. What of justice?
TASHA: What of justice to Wesley? Does he deserve to die?
PICARD: I’m truly sorry, Liator, but I must have justice for my people, too.

But when they try to beam out, the signal does not work. Oh, snap.

MEDIATOR: God has prevented your escape.
CRUSHER: Then your god is unfair. My son had no warning that his act was criminal.
MEDIATOR 2: We cannot allow ignorance of the law to become a defense.
PICARD: I don’t know how to communicate this, or even if it is possible, but the question of justice has concerned me greatly of lately. And I say to any creature who may be listening, there can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.
RIKER: When has justice ever been as simple as a rulebook?

This seems to persuade the god-alien, and the crew then successfully beams up. Somewhat guiltily, Picard tells the god-alien that he’ll take the colonists off the world in the Strnad system if it prefers that, pending a signal.

The god-alien ship vanishes. What this means, no one knows.

1 This is the most unrealistic part of the episode. I mean, ow.

2 I may never forgive them for this.


What I think sets “Justice” apart from, say, “The Apple,” is unearned pretension. “The Apple” is terrible but it has no aspirations to greatness; “Justice” thinks it’s writing a Greek tragedy.

Fully acknowledging that I may be giving credit where it’s undue, I assume the Edo people are so-named to evoke ukiyo-e/ related art and the Edo period. For those of you who didn’t obsessively read Shogun when you were 13 (as I assume the authors did) and will allow me to distill 300 years of rich cultural history into a paragraph in a Star Trek review, the “Edo period” of Japan’s history is notable for two things: an extremely strict social order and caste/class system imposed by the Tokugawa government, and [possibly NSFW warning] a kind of free* love hedonism best known through widespread imagery in woodblock prints. I think the tableaux of couples making out on the lawns are a direct reference to this kind of imagery, though for the life of me I cannot figure out why it’s here. Are the authors trying to make a point about the unexpected contrast between open sexuality and totalitarian governments, or did they just read a really titillating National Geographic feature? Do I want to know?

Whatever they were trying to do, what they got was an incomprehensible, inconceivable mess. It doesn’t work on any possible level. The Edo society is ludicrous. If ignorance is no barrier to punishment, then what’s the point? Law, justice, and punishment systems are based on a) everyone knowing all the rules; and b) people understanding the consequences of breaking those rules. If people do not understand the consequences, then how exactly is this an effective method of enforcement? I’m especially baffled by the fact that the Mediators intend to execute Wesley on sight. If you want to make an example of him, shouldn’t you string him up before the whole town with a big sign on his chest that says “I WALKED ON THE GRASS”? I really don’t think this kind of authoritarianism works when you quietly and invisibly execute the accused and send out next-day press releases.**

Ultimately, there’s no argument whatsoever that this could possibly be the right thing to do. Everything surrounding Wesley’s crime and punishment is a charade, and the people on Edo don’t even make an effort to defend the act as just. Their argument is simply capital punishment —> ??? —> law and order. Picard makes a forceful argument for why this kind of “justice” is, by definition, not, and they respond with… nothing. Liator responds with the vague “Our precepts have been handed down from long ago. The tranquillity you see in our lives has been made possible by our laws.” Without an ounce of wisdom or sense to their decrees, finding any moral ambiguity to this situation is impossible.

Finally… the god-alien. It serves absolutely no purpose other than to provide an answer for “so why DON’T they just take Wesley?” The solution that Picard winds up going with is to do what’s right and let god sort it out–and that could work if they didn’t actually illustrate that with a scene in which god validates their point of view. Subtlety, ladies and gentlemen! At least the booming god voice was a better actor than Gates McFadden, who spent the whole episode looking like she had seen a mouse in the kitchen.

The only bright spot in this dark, dark mess is Picard’s convictions coming through at the end. I resented that they actually showed him thinking about it (really? You have to laboriously tease this out, aloud?), but it’s noteworthy he acknowledges that as far as letting your crewmembers die for stupid reasons, “the Prime Directive never intended that.” I also really like the exchange that he has with Data, in which Data asks him to evaluate one life over a thousand lives, and Picard answers: “I refuse to let arithmetic decide questions like that.” That, and not the stupid Edo on their stupid Yoshiwara planet, is the best example of how human judgment influenced by subjective factors is the only way to mete out anything resembling justice.

* Well, rented.

** Unless you’re Putin.

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

Thread Alert: Remarkably, Wesley’s sweater is the most attractive piece of clothing on this planet.

Best Line: PICARD: Why has everything become a “something” or a “whatever”?

Trivia/Other Notes: From Memory Alpha: “Writer John D.F. Black used his pseudynom ‘Ralph Willis’ in the credits, because the televised episode bears little resemblance to his original first draft script. In Black’s treatment, the colony of Llarof installed ‘punishment zones’ to fight anarchy, however the zones are now enforced to abide the law, but for only those who are deemed not immune to them. An Enterprise security guard, protecting two children while on shore leave, happens upon a crime scene, and is shot dead by a policeman, who is also killed by his partner on the spot, for misinterpreting his duty. In his first draft, Picard decides not to help the rebels who fight against this system. Finally, it turns out the rebels install a similarly totalitarian regime when they gain power. In the second draft, the rebel leader, called Reneg is put on trial and executed for treason. Picard muses on the topic of people having their right to decide their own justice without interference.”

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 7 – “Lonely Among Us.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 9 – “The Battle.”

About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.