Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Arsenal of Freedom”

“The Arsenal of Freedom”
Written by Richard Manning and Hans Beimler
Story by Maurice Hurley and Robert Lewin
Directed by Les Landau

Season 1, Episode 21
Original air date: April 11, 1988
Star date: 41798.2

Mission summary

Enterprise reaches the Lorenze Cluster in search of the U.S.S. Drake, which vanished while investigating the sudden disappearance of all intelligent life on Minos, a planet of arms merchants. As soon as they arrive, Enterprise is hailed with a targeted advertisement from the self-proclaimed “Arsenal of Freedom.” Annoyed that he had to sit through a commercial, Picard sends a small away team to shut everything down.

Riker, Yar, and Data beam down to a foggy tropical forest, with the nagging feeling that they’re being watched. They discover advanced weaponry lying around and meet Captain Rice, commander of the Drake, who looks and behaves strangely and lacks life signs. Riker evades Rice’s single-minded questions about his ship and calls him out as a fake, prompting the man’s image to disappear—revealing a hovering drone that zaps Riker into a stasis field. Yar destroys the droid, but Riker is trapped like a mint-in-box action figure.

Picard places La Forge in temporary command and beams down with Dr. Crusher. As Data tries to free Riker from storage, the group’s attacked by another droid. Picard and Crusher flee and promptly fall into a hole, doing a credible impression of the Marx Brothers. The physician sustains a broken arm and bleeding wounds and is unable to heal herself. Even more bothersome, their communicators stop working and Enterprise is barraged by a fast, cloaked enemy. Chief-Engineer-of-the-Week Logan tries to assume command, but La Forge sends him back to Engineering where he belongs.

Data frees Riker and the away team continues to get harassed by the droids, but fortunately the machines are terrible shots and can be destroyed if the Starfleet officers cross phaser beams. Picard keeps Dr. Crusher alive with home remedies, and La Forge concocts a plan to destroy their unseen assailant—which fails. Finally, he decides to separate the ship and puts Logan in charge of the saucer section, while the drive section engages the enemy. La Forge goes into Picard’s ready room to soak up his mojo, and Troi offers him some helpful advice: be inspiring and pretend like he knows what he’s doing.

[Stock footage]

In the underground cavern, Picard stumbles across the computer that runs the whole shebang [moral] and realizes that the people of Minos unwittingly sealed their fates with their own weapons [/moral]. Data joins them and attempts to reprogram the demo mode that is running amok, until Crusher tells them to just turn it off, like many viewers likely did with this episode. Picard pretends he wants to buy the weapons and stops the droids on the planet, but the one in orbit doesn’t get the memo.

La Forge, now in command of the battle bridge, delivers a stirring speech and takes the star drive into the planet’s atmosphere. They successfully lure the droid where they can see and destroy it. Finally able to lower shields, they beam up the people on the surface.

LAFORGE: Relinquishing command, Captain.
PICARD: As you were, Lieutenant.
PICARD: Mister La Forge, when I left this ship, it was in one piece. I would appreciate your returning it in the same condition.

La Forge orders them to rejoin the saucer section, leaving “The Arsenal of Freedom” behind like a bad memory.


Stupid, stupid, stupid episode. My first impression was that this is like the TNG equivalent of “Spock’s Brain”: boring, pointless, and nonsensical. This is one of the few I feel is barely worth discussing, because it’s ultimately just a series of unfortunate events, with little going on beneath the surface.

Speaking of which, this episode does continue the trend of throwing Picard and Dr. Crusher together and hinting that there may be feelings between them—but I can’t be sure that I’m not just reading into that because of how their characters interact later in the series, when there’s at least some character development. La Forge is once again given a chance to be more than a navigation officer, and he does a decent job of it. In fact, he handles command so well, I wonder why he’s never put in charge of the ship again. Never mind the fact that he shouldn’t have been left to run things, since it’s ridiculous for Picard to beam down into such a dangerous situation, when his first officer has already been compromised. This is another example of the show setting up rules that it flaunts when it wants to, and a rare instance where Counselor Troi is right about something.

At this point, I suspect most viewers actively hate Tasha Yar, and it seems like the crew does too. Riker asks for her advice on the away team, then tells her he thinks she’s wrong before going along with it. When under attack, Data picks up Yar and tosses her like a rag doll to “safety.” Riker asks her for advice again later, and she comes up blank. Where’s Worf when you need him? Oh, right—saving the Enterprise, because he’s actually a competent tactical officer.

And while we’re on the subject of competence, I was surprised that they were already talking about Riker as command material, that he’d in fact already turned down his own ship to serve on Enterprise. His response to Picard’s question about Captain Rice might also be telling about Starfleet. He describes Rice as “Able. A good officer.” Excuse me, but shouldn’t that apply to every Starfleet officer? Especially if their admission policy is as selective as it’s represented in “Coming of Age”?

Any good moments from this episode come from the characters, which would have been a surprise earlier in the season. The flimsy, drawn-out plot doesn’t even try for coherence. By the time Picard beams down to the planet, Data has somehow figured out the whole back story on the drones attacking them. What, did he find a user manual? A medicinal root just happens to be hanging around, and Picard basically trips over the source of all their trouble. I couldn’t even figure out what Logan’s deal is. At first he demands La Forge take the ship out of orbit, then when he does, he’s aghast that they’re leaving the away team behind on the planet!

And again, I remembered only one thing from this episode: a line of dialogue that I could have sworn came from a much better story. You probably know which one; it’s the one I picked for best of the episode.

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

Thread Alert: Not many guest stars in this episode, and Wesley’s nowhere to be seen–even with his mother trapped and dying in a cave with Captain Picard–so I’m just going to put this out there: I have never seen a Starfleet uniform look less flattering than it does on Ensign Lian T’Su. Maybe it’s just her reclining posture and the fact that the actress is probably wearing a costume that wasn’t properly fit for her. Or maybe it’s laundry day and she had to borrow her roommate’s uniform.

Best Line: RIKER: The name of my ship is the Lollipop.
RICE: I have no knowledge of that ship.
RIKER: It’s just been commissioned. It’s a good ship.

Trivia/Other Notes: Robert Lewin intended to develop the budding romance between Picard and Dr. Crusher in this episode, but Gene Roddenberry rejected that idea, as he seemed to eschew character development of any kind.

The sand pit Picard and Crusher end up in was infested with fleas.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 20 – “Heart of Glory.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 22 – “Symbiosis.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.