Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Vengeance Factor”

thevengeancefactor191“The Vengeance Factor”
Written by Sam Rolfe
Directed by Timothy Bond

Season 3, Episode 9
Original air date: November 20, 1989
Star date: 43421.9

Mission summary

After discovering a ransacked Starfleet research facility–evidence of encroaching raids from a group of Acamarians called the Gatherers–Picard decides to do something about this problem once and for all. Enterprise sets out for Acamar III, where he meets with the leader of the ruling group of Acamarians, Sovereign  Marouk.

Marouk hopes that Picard’s arrival means “the Starfleet” will help hunt the Gatherers, but Picard is more interested in healing what he perceives as the Acamarians’ broken society. Marouk is not interested in absorbing the nomadic marauders back into Acamar; the two groups split off a century before, and the people on the planet have evolved so much since then. They aren’t barbarians who scavenge and steal from other races–they’re civilized, with clean clothes, refined tastes, and slaves. She ultimately gives in to peer pressure when Picard offers a compelling argument:

But there is so much to gain and there is so little to lose by the effort. The problem affects us all. It cannot be ignored.

Meanwhile, Riker takes a shine to Marouk’s fetching young chef/food taster, Yuta. He astonishes her by using the replicator to prepare a cold drink of water for her sovereign, then says he looks forward to having her make him her signature dish, “Parthas a la Yuta,” because Acamarian food is totally like Italian cuisine and she’ll obviously get his little joke.

Enterprise seeks out the Acamarian raiders at their base on Gamma Hromi II, walking right into an ambush from the Gatherers. But with help from science and the ship’s transporters, they turn the tables and get the drop on the raiders, who look like rejects from the Thunderdome. They force the Gatherers to participate in negotiations to return home to Acmar, but things get off to a bad start. While their leader Brull has a private discussion with Sovereign Marouk, Yuta kills one of his men with a single touch–thus getting back at him and his clan for some previous slight against her own clan, of which she is the last survivor.

The other Gatherers aren’t too upset about the death of their companion, Volnoth, since he was old and they’re too busy dividing up his stuff. Dr. Crusher determines he died of a heart attack, but she soon discovers that this was no ordinary heart attack; it was triggered by a micro-virus engineered to target only Volnoth. Murder most foul!

Wesley and Brull bond in Ten Forward, and Yuta presents Riker and Troi with a dish of parthas. In a rare moment of real insight, Troi departs–allowing Riker to have a moment to appreciate Yuta’s meal until they are both called away by duty. But she later disturbs Riker’s attempts to relax in the most uncomfortable chair designed by man, when she comes to his quarters and offers herself to him–at Marouk’s suggestion. This sets off the commander’s internal red alert:

RIKER: Wait a minute.
YUTA: I don’t understand. Don’t you want me to give you pleasure?
RIKER: Not as a servant. I told you, I prefer equals.
YUTA: Even in the matters of love?
RIKER: Especially in matters of love.
YUTA: I’ve offended you.
RIKER: No. I only want to make you as happy as you want to make me. You’re entitled to that.
YUTA: No, I’m not.
RIKER: Yuta.
YUTA: I do not feel pleasure, or passion. I haven’t been able to for a long time.
RIKER: I don’t know who did this to you, or why, but it can change.
YUTA: I wish it could. Tonight most of all. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry too. Fortunately, this precious moment is interrupted by a real red alert: Enterprise is under attack by another Gatherer ship, commanded by Chorgan. Picard uses phasers to convince the Acamarian to hear Marouk’s offer of amnesty. They adjourn on his ship. Then Data and Dr. Crusher come up with shocking news: Through rigorous research, deduction, and computer wizardry, they have learned that Yuta is more then seventy years old and that she murdered Volnoth.

Riker beams over to Chorgan’s ship just in time to stop Yuta from assasinating the Gatherer leader, the last of the Lornak clan on whom she must exact her revenge. As the last of her clan, she was somehow altered to age more slowly to give her time to fulfill her purpose. Stubborn against Riker’s pleas to stop, as well as the stun setting of his phaser, he finally disintegrates her to protect Chorgan.

Since he’s had a rough day, Picard tells Riker he can take shore leave at a starbase before their next courier mission, but the commander is inconsolable.

thevengeancefactor149

Analysis

For a long while watching this, I wondered if I had ever seen this episode before. I had no recollection of it at all, but I’m certain I saw it years ago–just not more than once, it seems. Easy to see why: There isn’t much to recommend it, and what’s there is overall unremarkable. The conflict is boring and seems too easily resolved, and the budding romance between Riker and Yuta, not to mention the uneasy understanding that grows between Wesley and Brull, never goes anywhere. The ingredients are all here, but the recipe was lost and they just tossed everything together in a large mixing bowl.

The Acamarians are supposedly upgraded from a nuisance to a real threat, enough of a problem that Picard decides to put a top to their reign of terror. But of course, we’ve never heard of them before, they don’t actually seem all that dangerous, and I can’t even tell if Starfleet has ordered Enterprise to settle a non-existent dispute or if this is Picard’s own vendetta. It’s strange, because in some ways this reminds me of an original series episode, but it’s so bland. It might be preferable if it were terrible, because at least that might mean it was trying to do something ambitious or interesting, but it just feels like filler. Like no one had anything better to do, so they picked up a mediocre script and decided to film it.

The worse thing for me, what absolutely wrecks it beyond mere incompetence, is the ending. As far as I can tell, there’s no reason for Riker to kill Yuta. He tries to stun her a couple of times, then he raises the setting of his phaser to maximum, skipping over like eight or nine other settings. No one else makes an attempt to stop her. Riker doesn’t even try to just get between her and Chorgan. Couldn’t he maybe knock her down? Punch her out? Chorgan could, I don’t know, get up and try to stay away from her.

Then there’s the whole matter of Yuta being a murderer. Not only did they miss the opportunity to lend the episode a little mystery, but they solve the crime by magically extrapolating her face from the smallest visible sliver of it, further lowering the bar set by TV procedurals that resort to sloppy tactics like that on CSI and The X-Files. Then there’s some serious hand-waving going on to explain how she hasn’t aged in more than fifty years.

Maybe this episode was supposed to be some kind of moral lesson about slavery or the folly of violence and gang warfare; naturally, Picard doesn’t give up his chance to compare the Acamarians’ situation with humanity’s violent history. But this episode is essentially a waste of everyone’s time.

Eugene’s Rating: Dead in Space (on a scale of 1-6)

thevengeancefactor119Thread Alert: There is so much to remark on in this episode. Yuta’s the only Acamarian who looks halfway decent, oh-so-subtle slave collar and all. The Gatherers are just generic grungy rebels, but Marouk stands out in her shapeless yellow mumu and hideous makeup. This is the stuff of nightmares.

Best Line: Having trouble coming up with one, honestly. How about this, from Brull: “A child? This doesn’t inspire my confidence.” He isn’t wrong.

Trivia/Other Notes: Some of the other inspired titles for this episode include “The Human Factor,” “The Vengeance,” and “The Weapon.” Too bad they didn’t think of “Into Darkness.”

Picard doesn’t react to Riker killing Yuta because Patrick Stewart had to remain still in order to get the special effects for the phaser to work. Director Timothy Bond wanted to have him in the shot. But one wonders, was a reaction written into the script? Bond claimed that “the dialogue was of little consequence” and some of it was cut. This doesn’t inspire my confidence.

The background of the science outpost in the teaser was originally created for the 1956 film Forbidden Planet.

Lisa Wilcox (Yuta) might be familiar to some viewers as Alice from A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and 5, or as Missy Preston in the short-lived TV show Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures. Michael Lamper (Mallon, one of Brull’s Gatherers) is a rock guitarist who was Marina Sirtis’ boyfriend at the time of this episode; they were married in 1992.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 8 – “The Price.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 10 – “The Defector.”

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About Eugene Myers

Eugene has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr. His website is at http://ecmyers.net.