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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S1E20 "The Arsenal of Freedom"

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Original air date: April 11, 1988

The Enterprise is in search of the Drake, a light cruiser that vanished near the uninhabited planet Minos. Upon arriving, the crew encounter an automated sales pitch for weapons and learn that the previous inhabitants of Minos were arms dealers.

An away team encounters Captain Rice of the Drake on the planet, but Riker quickly realizes that Rice is an imposter, and there are no life signs on the planets except the away team themselves. Rice reveals that he is just a hologram created by a floating sentry drone, which fires a stasis field around Riker. Picard and Crusher beam down to the planet, but get trapped in a pit as increasingly deadly drones continue to attack the remaining away team.

Meanwhile, the Enterprise is attacked by another factor of the planet's defense system while Geordi is left in charge. Geordi fends off attempts by the Chief Engineer to assume command as he struggles to decide whether to risk the whole ship to save the away team or abandon them and flee to safety. Geordi eventually separates the saucer section so that the majority of the ship's crew can stay safe while the rest engage in a risky maneuver to defeat their attacker. The ploy works.

On the planet, the away team realizes that the next drone attack will probably be their last. In the pit, Picard discovers the computer that operates the sales hologram and learns that the attacks on his ship and crew are all part of a sales demonstration. He agrees to buy the weapons system, and the demonstration ends. The reunited away team beams back aboard the Enterprise, and Picard allows Geordi to stay in command until the saucer section is reattached.

Tropes in this episode:

  • Adaptive Ability: Each time the weapons are defeated, the system analyzes its defeat and produces an upgraded version capable of defending itself against what last destroyed it. The planetside weapon gains Deflector Shields and gets better at dodging, while the orbiting weapon gains an Invisibility Cloak.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: When you build an efficient, adaptive, evolving AI for a weapons system you're just asking for trouble.
  • Arms Dealer: The planet's economy was built on developing and selling weapons, openly selling to both sides of a conflict.
  • Bad Liar: The simulacrum of Paul Rice is so stiff and clearly artificial that Riker quickly catches on and turns the tables on it.
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Geordi calls Chief Engineer Logan to the bridge and tells him he's going to take command...of the saucer section to evacuate all non-essential personnel while Geordi takes the drive section back into battle with the drone.
  • Bluff the Impostor: The holographic Captain Paul Rice unquestioningly accepts Riker's answer to which ship he's serving on, "The Lollipop, it's a good ship," which tips Riker off. Although given that Riker already suspected there was something wrong with Rice just showing up on his own separated from his ship and asking probing questions about Riker's ship, he was probably just having a laugh while evading the questions anyway.
  • Cutting the Knot: How do you stop a rogue weapon salesman program from "demonstrating" its wares on you? Tell it that you're suitably impressed and will buy it.note 
  • Disastrous Demonstration: The entire plot is driven by a weapons system set on demo mode that treats everything on and orbiting the planet as targets to demonstrate its effectiveness on.
  • Force Field: The drones on the planet can create one that envelops an enemy soldier and places them in stasis for recovery and interrogation later.
  • Forgotten Phlebotinum: While it clearly had some bugs in its software that needed patching, the Echo Papa 607 would have certainly come in handy when the Borg, and later the Dominion, threatened the Federation with extinction. And Picard did technically agree to buy it. Maybe the salesman AI just refused to sell the floor model?
  • Gone Horribly Right: The weapons system was too effective for its makers.
  • Group Reacts Individually: The crew is looking at a devastated planet and wondering what the disaster was. Proud Warrior Race member Worf suggests, "War?", Data, a Ridiculously Human Robot, suggests, "Disease?", and Geordi, one of the biggest jokesters of the crew, jokes, "A dissatisfied customer?".
  • Invisibility Flicker: How do you locate a drone with a perfect Invisibility Cloak? Let it chase you into the atmosphere, though you have to hope your tactical officer can spot the wake it creates and destroy it before you burn up.
    Tsu: Turbulence to starboard!
    (EP-607 appears)
    Geordi: There he is!
    Tsu: Scanners locked!
    Worf: Weapons locked!
    Geordi: FIRE!
    (The Enterprise fires a phaser beam, and the EP-607 goes boom)
  • Jerkass: Chief Engineer Logan (in his only appearance) is more concerned with trying to pull rank on Geordi than the fact that they are under attack and out of contact with the away team, opposing Geordi's plans no matter what he does.
  • Kinda Busy Here: Geordi says this when Picard calls the Enterprise to let them know that the away team is all right, as he's busy fighting the drone in orbit.
  • Lead the Target: Essentially what the away team has to do with the drones after they adapt. One will fire their phaser to get the drone to dodge into the other's line of fire.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang!: Tasha suggests this as a countermeasure against the final drone, but Riker points out that it'll still get them no matter where they go.
  • Lightning Bruiser: The Echo Papa 607 drones inflict deadly damage, can easily dodge enemy fire, and as they are destroyed, their newer iterations get Deflector Shields.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: The final drone is touted as being the ultimate version and practically unstoppable, but never gets to strut its stuff before Picard shuts down the system.
  • Odd Reaction Out: The crew is looking at a devastated planet and wondering what the disaster was. Worf, of a Proud Warrior Race, suggests, "War?", Data suggests, "Disease?", and Geordi, breaks the pattern of different and serious answers, joking, "A dissatisfied customer?".
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: The model of the Echo Papa 607 drone was created by Dan Curry, from a L'eggs pantyhose container, two plastic Easter eggs, and a shampoo bottle.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: What confirmed for Riker that Paul Rice wasn't real was that at no point did he call him "Will" despite their friendship.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: Maurice Hurley saw the plot as commentary on the sale of American Grumman F-14 Tomcats to Iran taken to the "ultimate conclusion".
  • Rousing Speech: Geordi gives one to Tsu and Solis, giving them the encouragement that Deanna says they need.
  • Simple Solution Won't Work: When Picard does the simple thing that would satisfy the sales pitch and agrees to buy the weapons, the sales computer ends the demonstration and does not deploys the even more powerful drone it was designing; however that does nothing to stop the drone already engaging the Enterprise, leaving Geordi to have to blow it up.
  • Stating the Simple Solution:
    • When Riker and Tasha are wondering how to safely get down the hole to reach Picard and Crusher when they can't climb. Justified in that Data is sturdy enough to withstand a fall that could kill a human, as he then demonstrates.
      Data: I can do it, Commander.
      Riker: How?
      Data: Jump.
    • Crusher's suggestion for stopping the Echo Papa 607: "Why don't you just shut it off?" This inspires Picard to agree to buy the system, ending the demonstration.
  • Stock Footage: The saucer separation sequence is reused from "Encounter at Farpoint", but with a stationary background. The writers had intended to reuse it many more times, but saucer separation turned out to slow down the pace of a story too much.
  • Take a Third Option:
    • Find a way to overpower the increasingly advanced weapons and escape, or be destroyed? Picard finally declares his wish to buy the weapons, bringing the demonstration, which was after all a sales pitch, to an abrupt end.
    • According to Riker, when he was at Starfleet Academy Captain Rice took an exam that offered three choices. He rejected all of them and offered his own, fourth, option. He got the top score and now the same test is given with four choices.
    • Geordi does this as well. He can stay, fight the drone, and risk a thousand lives; or he can take the Enterprise to safety and abandon the away team. He instead separates the ship and sends the saucer to safety while he takes the drive section back into battle.
  • That Old-Time Prescription: Dr. Crusher has some knowledege of herbs and roots as medicine after being stuck on Arvada III during a disaster and watching her grandmother use them once the regular medical supplies ran out.
  • That's an Order!: Picard trying to keep Crusher conscious.
    "Stay awake. That's an order."
  • Title Drop: The holo-salesman does this when describing Minos.
  • Too Dumb to Live: It turns out Echo Papa 607 didn't turn on its creators, some idiot just put it in demo mode with active weapons.
  • The Triple: When the bridge officers wonder aloud what happened to Minos:
    Worf: War?
    Data: Disease?
    Geordi: A dissatisfied customer?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never get confirmation as to what happened to the Drake. It's hinted that it suffered the same fate that nearly befell the Enterprise, but we don't see if the crew is dead or in stasis somewhere.
  • You Are in Command Now:
    • Geordi, although Chief-Engineer-of-the-Week Logan disagrees. Geordi has to finally put his foot down and bluntly tell Logan that he is in command until either Captain Picard or Commander Riker relieve him of that duty.
    • Geordi then puts Logan in command of the saucer just before separation.
    • Played With at the end when Geordi tries to return command to Picard, but he refuses until Geordi puts the Enterprise back together. It's clearly implied to mean, "You did great Geordi, and in recognition, you can be in command for a bit longer."
      Picard: Mr. La Forge, when I left this ship, it was in one piece. I would appreciate your returning it to me in the same condition. Do you concur, Number One?
      Riker: Absolutely, sir.