Recap: Star Trek The Next Generation S 4 E 13 Devils Due

While Picard is giving a frank critique of Data's performance as Ebenezer Scrooge during his A Christmas Carol holoplay, the Enterprise receives a distress signal from a Federation science station on Ventax II. They contact the station's director, Dr. Clark, who explains that the station is being attacked by the planet's populace which has erupted into chaos over a belief that their world is about to end. Once the Enterprise arrives at the planet, the Ventaxians break in and Dr. Clark is beamed aboard in the nick of time. Unfortunately, the rest of the scientists are taken and they can't get a lock on them. In the ready room, Dr. Clark explains that the Ventaxians were a highly advanced civilization until 1000 years ago when they suddenly turned their backs on technology and reverted to an agrarian society. Dr. Clark describes their society as idyllic until a few months ago when the Ventaxian head of state, Acost Jared, became increasingly obsessed with the legend of "Ardra", the Ventaxian Devil figure. According to the legends, 1000 years ago, during a time of great strife and suffering, Ardra promised the Ventaxians 1000 years of peace and prosperity in return for her eventual return and subsequent enslavement of the population. The Enterprise is eventually contacted by Jared himself, who reveals the scientists were taken hostage and that the planet has been plagued with the omens of Ardra's return, including earthquakes and several appearances of her in person. The crew beams down to speak with Jared, hoping that they might dissuade fears of a myth among the populace and secure the hostages' release. Jared simply babbles nervously about Ardra...and then suddenly states "She's here!". On cue, a woman suddenly appears in a flash of blinding light saying "Time's up".

The woman starts talking and walking around like she literally owns the place, demanding a full census of the population with emphasis on productivity and economic forecasts. After she asks about the identity of the Enterprise crew, they introduce themselves, and Data asks if she is indeed the mythological Ardra. She replies it is but one of her names, and that she is the truth behind countless Devil myths. To make a point she looks straight at Worf and claims she is known to the Klingons as Fek'lhr. Worf scoffs at this, to which she responds by turning into Fek'lhr right before his eyes and then changing back. Picard stares skeptically at her, which Ardra notices and points out that surely someone who has traveled the universe like him has seen a diverse array of creatures that has room for someone such as her. Picard replies he encountered several beings with a more credible claim of being the devil than her. Picard demands to see the contract Ardra has made with the planet so that Data can examine it. He also offhandedly mentions the hostages, which causes Ardra to demand Jared have them released. The crisis that brought Picard to the planet is solved, yet Picard remains adamant to examine the contracts, which Ardra teasingly claims is because he's obsessed with her. Picard vows to "not abandon this planet to that woman".

In the ready room, the crew discusses the possibility that Ardra is a member of the Q continuum or even Q himself disguised as a woman for kicks. Picard refutes this claiming Q wouldn't care about contracts or economic forecasts and is convinced that she's a simple con artist with a bunch of powers easily replicated via technology seeking to take advantage of the legend of Ardra to take over the planet. Picard orders a search for a possible base of operations when an intruder is reported on board: Ardra is on the bridge sitting on Picard's chair. Worf tries to get her out but (predictably) ends up bouncing off a force field. Ardra claims the contract also gives her claim over everything in the planet's airspace and orbit...including the Enterprise.

While Ardra makes herself at home on the bridge, Picard orders Data to study the contract and the Ventaxian legal system for some sort of loophole. At one point Ardra even tries to seduce Picard, changing into various forms, including Troi, but Picard rejects her advances. She retaliates by transporting him to the science station on the planet in his bedclothes (surprising Geordi and Clark) and disabling the transporters, forcing Data to pick him up in a shuttle with a spare uniform. On route back to the ship, Data relates that he found a legal precedent involving a contract dispute between a Ventaxian and a Klingon craftsman where it was decided that due to one of the parties being alien, it was a matter of arbitration and not the courts. Picard notes that this is just what they need and that they will be able to lure Ardra into it by playing a con of their own... Unfortunately as they're discussing this, the Enterprise suddenly vanishes.

Geordi tries to locate the ship but can't find it in a range of one lightyear. However, he did notice a jump of Techno Babble Particles and claims that if they can get Ardra to do some more of her tricks, they might pinpoint her power source. Picard then goes to Ardra and explains the arbitration precedent. Ardra doesn't see why she should agree to this, prompting Picard to promise her a legendary priceless jewel if she wins. Ardra isn't interested and proposes a different offer: Picard himself, "heart, mind and soul". Picard reluctantly agrees, leaving the matter on who should be the arbiter: Ardra chooses Data, under the rationale that as an android he is incapable of bias. Data takes Picard aside and asks that he refuse since he will not guarantee Picard's victory, but Picard abides by the choice since Data is the only person on the planet who Ardra cannot intimidate.

The of the century then begins. The beginning doesn't go well, since Ardra manages to use a few iffy yet acceptable under Ventaxian law arguments as well as intimidating Jared (the sole witness) to "prove" that she is indeed Ardra. At one point she demonstrates her powers again and asks Picard if he can explain them. Picard cannot. Meanwhile Geordi and Clark Techno Babble their way into tracking Ardra's power source with little success.

Meanwhile Picard decides a different approach. Not being able to prove she is not Ardra, he disputes her involvement in the bettering of Ventaxian society in the 1000 years that followed the dark days that prompted the deal. By questioning Jared, Picard can prove that all said improvements were made by the Ventaxians themselves without any help from Ardra. However, Ardra responds by asking Jared if the terrible conditions would have continued had she NOT intervened. Jared replies yes. And this is taken as evidence that the contract was fulfilled.

Things look pretty grim for Picard until Geordi enters the room and Picard asks for a recess under the guise of Geordi bringing evidence for review. Geordi explains that they have tracked the power source: a ship equipped with a "bad copy" of a Romulan cloaking device parked near the planet's magnetic North Pole. The Enterprise's "disappearance" was accomplished by simply extending the cloaking field over it. Geordi has contacted the ship and Picard and Geordi hatch a plan...

The arbitration resumes and Picard claims that Ardra has no powers whatsoever and decides to prove it by "stealing" them. Picard then causes some earthquakes of his own, makes Ardra disappear and assumes the guise of Fek'lhr, all of which Ardra is powerless to stop. Picard explains that the Enterprise has seized control of her ship, where all the technology she used to perform her tricks was held. He also reveals that "Ardra" was telling the truth when she claimed to have many names: her crew revealed she's used 23 aliases in that sector alone. Data declares the contract dissolved and "Ardra" is arrested. She claims Picard would have "more fun" if he had lost and gives a "until we meet again". Picard and Data exit, roll credits.

This episode contains examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: How Picard sees Ardra. Not that she's really ugly...far from it.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Ardra accuses Picard and company of this, since despite all the incredible and varied things Picard and the crew of the Enterprise have seen over the course of their careers, no-one ever considers the possibility that Ardra is what she claims she is. They briefly consider that she may be Q (or a Q) but dismiss it on the grounds that no Q would be interested in a planet's economics. It may be, however, that it's because of this experience, where all claims of supernatural beings always turn out to be some variety of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, that they doubt her.
    • Ardra repeatedly demonstrates a lack of any kind of extrasensory abilities. She did not know about the Federation hostages, requires a census of the population as well as economic forecasts, is unaware that Data is an android until told and just generally asks a lot of questions that one would expect a genuinely godlike being to already know the answers to. This is an obvious tipoff that she is neither the "devil" nor an advanced alien.
  • Big Red Devil: One of Ardra's forms.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Played with. Ardra's tricks were performed using technology, but it turns out to be technology that the Enterprise itself possesses (or at least knows of), dressed up to look more impressive than it is.
  • Courtroom Antic: Several, including a few not in the standard playbook.
    Data: The advocate will refrain from making her opponent disappear.
    • It later comes back to bite Ardra; when Picard "steals" Ardra's powers, Data decides that Picard has a certain amount of leeway given Ardra's prior actions. Once Picard has replicated all of Ardra's prior tricks, Data promptly declares that said leeway has run out.
  • Courtroom Episode: With Data being the utterly impartial arbitrator. It makes you wonder if any other civilization has thought of using androids for arbitrators or judges.
  • Deal with the Devil: The whole situation rests on the claim of a deal with Ardra that the Ventaxians made with her a thousand years ago that she would give them a thousand years of peace and prosperity in exchange for her enslaving the entire populace when the time period expired. The criminal known as Ardra appears at the present time to take advantage of this to make the planet surrender its resources to her.
  • Holographic Disguise: Some of Ardra's tricks involve this, including temporarily taking over the appearance of an Enterprise bridge crew member. Picard uses this knowledge at the end during the arbitration by taking on the form of Fek'lhr with the same technology.
  • Hot as Hell: Ardra wastes no time flaunting what she's got.
  • Hypocrite: When Picard "steals" Ardra's powers, Ardra appeals to the judge despite having used the same antics earlier. Data declares that under the circumstances, Picard is allowed some leeway.
  • Ignore the Fan Service: Picard isn't even the least bit tempted by Ardra.
  • I Have Many Names: Ardra boasts this in her role as The Devil. Interestingly, this turns out to be true, though only in her criminal career.
  • Invisibility Cloak: Part of Ardra's bag of tricks. Turns out to be of low enough quality for Geordi to penetrate it.
  • Ironic Echo: A visual one: when Picard "steals" Ardra's powers, he replicates a trio of her prior tricks: First, he causes an earthquake (which Ardra can't stop), then he makes Ardra disappear briefly, and finally gives himself the guise of Fek'lhr.
  • Loophole Abuse: Heroic variant: "Ardra", after being outed as a con artist, withdraws her claim to the planet. It's for this reason ("the advocate's withdrawal") that Data declares the contract null and void, even though "Ardra" is not the actual advocate as has just been proven.
  • Magic Feather: Picard argues that the original deal with Ardra was a case of this, as there are no records of her actually helping to create the Utopian society the Ventaxians now enjoy, and their history actually indicates the idea of the deal helped the people put in the hard work necessary to create it themselves.
  • Recycled Script: This is another story (as was "The Child") that was written for the abandoned Star Trek Phase II series in the 70s.
  • Satanic Archetype: Ardra.
  • Second Coming: Of Ardra, which the criminal posing as her takes advantage of.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: A subtle case as Picard doesn't actually mention anything about it, but Ardra assumes that Troi is the crewmate he's attracted to rather than Dr. Crusher.