The Hubby and I are crawling our way through Star Trek: The Next Generation – all of ‘em. Thank you, Netflix. Star Trek: TNG is well-known for its emphasis on rationality and humanism; it promotes science, exploration, critical thought and solving mysteries by examining evidence and facts. It advocates acceptance – and at the very least, tolerance – of different types of people, dress, attitudes and cultures. We’re in the thick of season four right now, and I recently saw three episodes in a row that really drove home how rational and skeptical The Next Generation was, and which inspired me to do a write-up on one particular episode, The Devil’s Due.
I watched TNG as a teenager, but this is the first time I’ve watched it since becoming aware of the skeptics movement, so I’m seeing the show in a whole new light. Or maybe just with a brighter light.
Episode 13: The Devil’s Due
Air Date: February 4, 1991
Director: Tom Benko
Writers: Philip Lazebnik, William Douglas Lansford
Ardra, The Devil of Ventax II. Image Source
The Ventaxians are convinced that their world is coming to an end. In the distant past, their ancestors signed away their freedom and possession of the planet to the Devil – in this culture called “Ardra” – in exchange for 1000 years of peace. At the start of the episode, 1000 years have passed since the signing of the contact, and there have been warnings of Ardra’s coming: tremors and claims of visions of the devil.
The Enterprise has answered a distress call from Ventax II sent by a planet-based Federation science team; their lab had been overrun by panicked doomsday-preaching Ventaxians. Upon the away team’s arrival on the surface, Ardra herself appears to the crew and the Ventaxian leader to claim “her planet”. Ardra is able to instantaneously change her appearance, to cause tremors to start and stop at her command, and she even makes the entire Enterprise starship disappear! But Captain Picard smells a phony. He describes Ardra as being a flim flam artist to his crew, and accuses her of being a fake in front of the Ventaxian leader. Picard convinces Ardra to settle the dispute through arbitration by offering himself up to be her slave should he lose.
During the trial Picard attempts to prove Ardra a fake, and she attempts to prove that she is the Devil. In the end Picard and his crew are able to discover the source of her “powers”: a cloaked starship and fancy holograph and transporter illusions. They reveal Ardra’s trickery for the Ventaxian leader by taking over her ship and “stealing her powers”. We learn that the woman posing as Ardra is a notorious scam artist known throughout the sector. She is arrested by the Ventaxians and the Enterprise leaves with another mystery neatly solved and stored away in a captain’s log for future generations to review.
Wikipedia calls out this episode as an illustration of Arthur C. Clarke’s Third Law: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” and notes that the leader of the science team on Ventax is named “Dr. Clarke”.