Sunday, July 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Justice"

When I decided to cover TNG in addition to TOS, there was a list of about twenty episodes I was anxious to sink my claws into. There are not many in the early seasons, but “Justice” is one of them. Surprisingly enough, I am not going to hate on Wesley the Wonder Boy here even though he does exhibit a pitifully immature attitude for a sixteen year old genius. What I am more interested in is the convergence of religion and law.

My attitude about “Justice” has changed over time. For quite a while there, I considered it a critique of the absolute law religion imposes upon its adherents. It is not much of a stretch to consider the Edo the ancient Israelites living under Mosiac Law. Throughout the Old Testament, God strictly enforced the law with no exception because the law served the higher purpose of paving the way for the Messiah.

Mosiac Law was absolute and it served to keep the Israelites from being corrupted by outside sources. The god of the Edo appeared to have the same intentions. With that in mind, it is easy to see how ‘Justice’ could be a critique of Old Testament rules. We are obviously pulling for Wesley to escape punishment because we find god’s law of execution for a simple crime of accidental vandalism grossly unfair. As a Christian, I have to become defensive about such a critique.

But a more mature viewing is necessary. As I have gotten older and wiser (?), I note the resolution of Wesley’s legal predicament parallels the development of Christianity without critiquing it as harshly as I once thought. While Wesley was originally subject to absolute law, Picard’s argument to the Edo god that justice cannot be absolute suggests the necessity of grace from the god because an absolute law is impossible to perfectly follow.

The Edo god accepts the concept of grace on two levels, one of which is not so obvious in the episode itself, but does come into play later when Picard is called on it in “Coming of Age.” Picard is violating the Prime Directive by rescuing Wesley from execution, but he has also violated the Prime Directive by interacting with the pre-warp society in the first place. The Edo god is already cutting him slack by entertaining his mingling with the Edo to begin with. So the Edo god is already allowing for grace because of its information exchange with data near the beginning.

It is not a perfect parallel to the Israelites or the theological development of Christianity, but anything more overt would have become even more preachy than the worst of Trek often is. What I have taken away from the episode is less a criticism of God’s Old Testament justice than an appreciation of the current grace we live under.

Somehow, I doubt that was intentional. But we you consider that we encountered a backward, superstitious, and violent planet run exclusively by blacks afew episodes ago and an idyllic, peaceful society inhabited by blode haired, blue eyed Aryans here, we just have to accept some unintended messages come across from time to time.

On a more superficial note, Picard was even more of a royal jerk than usual. He blew off Beverly several times while she was worried about her son being executed in a few hours she had to degrade herself by literally begging to beam down once her professional duties tending to Data were finished. He scolded data twice while the android was trying to relay important information. You may argue he was wound tight over concern for Wesley or his crew, but he snapped at him with a contemptuous “boy’ when Wesley tried to speak up before sentence was carried out. Perhaps I should cut him some slack with the pressure he was under, but he seemed extraordinarily cold, especially considering it was his violation of the Prime Directive that started the whole mess to begin with.

Regardless, “Justice” is one of the few bright spots in the first season. Double shocker that Wesley was at the center of a decent episode. triple points that Picard did not decide to destroy the Edo god because it was stifling Edo society like Kirk would have.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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