Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Next Generation 4x13 "Devil's Due"

rating: ****

the story: The crew attempts to counter a being's claims to fulfilling an alien culture's prophecies.

similar to: "The Apple" (Original Series), "False Profits" (Voyager)

my thoughts: From seemingly such common origins as a Star Trek trope, "Devil's Due" emerges to be a true classic in execution thanks to displaying just how clever the crew really is.

An alien claiming to be the devil is certainly unique in the franchise (unless you count the Animated Series), but otherwise the original series had so many godlike beings running about, Next Generation already created Q in answer (brilliantly, of course) in that direction.  So exploring the opposite was both natural and risky.  Watching it all play out could just as easily have produced another episode about a na├»ve culture needing to be set straight, but instead it becomes a battle of wits.  Voyager did a lot of episodes like this, actually, and usually quite well.  The most similar one would be "False Profits" (a sequel to a Next Generation episode, fittingly enough), in which a different prophecy is seemingly fulfilled.

But watching Picard match wits with a con artist, or someone other than Q, is a thrilling experience, with a wonderful denouement as all their tricks are reproduced by Starfleet technology.  Too often this sort of intervention story can seem condescending.  It helps that even our crew is trying to figure it out, and by the time they do they're far more concerned with the bad guy than judging the duped alien culture.

This is a wonderful example of Star Trek taking one of its most tired tropes and really having fun with it in the classic one-off adventure format.  As a result, existing fans will have as much fun watching it as someone not nearly as familiar with the franchise.  That's a good way of defining a classic right there.

What's more, it's a perfect example of just how comfortable the series was with itself by this point.  This could have been a Q episode.  It wasn't, and even references Q in the dialogue.  That's confidence for you, in ways that at the time were startling and new.  It's hard not to love.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

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