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This pair of episodes was uneven. The first episode has some really great writing and some nice touches in both the character development and plot departments. But the second episode is the most obvious allegory this side of a Highlights political cartoon, and the Prime Directive ruins everything, so...

Anyway, without any further ado, "The Arsenal of Freedom" is notable solely for the fact that, while it would have been an apt comparison, the story never stoops to commentary about today's 'Murican Society's obsession with guns/weaponry/winning. It actually gives all the characters something to do that shows great character development for almost everyone involved and leads to a few notable character revelations.

The plot revolves around a planet that existed solely to sell arms to all and sundry, but where the entire population has been mysteriously wiped out; the previous ship to investigate has disappeared. The Enterprise and its crew are obviously keen to find out what happened, especially since the captain of the disappeared ship is a friend of Riker's from his academy days, and he's skeptical that anything could have beaten this guy. During the course of this conversation, we find out that Riker was offered the captain position of this missing ship, but declined it for... vaguely resume-improving-ish reasons. So he has a personal stake in figuring out what happened to this other guy, and this plays out in a very minimal but arresting fashion. Yar, Data, and Riker beam down to the planet and are quickly accosted by a ghostly illusion of this other captain, who behaves oddly. Riker quickly figures out that it's a trick, and there's some hilarious dialogue as he baits the illusion with nonsensical answers to its questions (including the information that Riker pilots the good ship Lollipop.) But then an evil drone thingie shows up and starts firing and it's stasis fields everywhere!

A side note about this evil drone: the Netflix summary of this episode mentioned the words "floating mechanical death sphere" and the first image that popped into my mind was the torture droid from Star Wars. Imagine my surprise when the drones looked more like little dirigibles, only spherical on top, but with little tails on the bottom, like angry wasps. Whoever wrote this summary needs to check the definition of "death sphere." :{

Anyway, Riker is trapped in a stasis field, and against everyone's better instincts, Picard says he's beaming down to the surface with Crusher, leaving Geordi in charge of the whole ship. The moment after they get down to the surface, another droid shows up and in the fleeing, Crusher and Picard fall into a deep hole, where Crusher is severely injured (as in, bleeding out level injured.) Between bouts of unconsciousness, she talks Picard through basic first aid and reveals that she learned practical medicine from her grandmother, who was involved in some sort of doomed colony experiment where a lot of people died. This is a really moment for people like myself who ship Crusher/Picard, and I got a little annoyed that the writers didn't go any further with it. But the episode zips along as Data and Yar unfreeze Riker, and the three of them figure out where the captain and Crusher are, and then manage to switch the weapons off. Huzzah!

Meanwhile, on board the Enterprise, a far more tense plot unfolds around Geordi's authority as temporary captain. The Chief Engineer shows up and says that he's higher ranked than Geordi, and as such, he should be in charge. The Enterprise is attacked by more weapons from the weapons planet, and there's some back and forth about how to combat them. Geordi makes a brief strategic retreat so that he can separate the ship into its two parts, and send the saucer section to safety, but taking the battle section back to the planet himself to rescue everyone else. (He also wisely sends Chief Engineer Haircut with the saucer section.) Through some good tactics, he's able to defeat the interplanetary half of the weapon, and bring everyone back safely.

This episode is especially notable for its handling of both Geordi's character development and its introduction of secondary characters. There are two ensigns on the bridge, a token Asian lady, and a white guy, and Geordi insists that they'll be OK with him on the battle bridge in battle. Troi counsels him to be careful because they're inexperienced and need guidance, and Geordi does just that, in the least condescending and most captain-ish way possible. It's a pleasure to see him act confidently and as he gives his pep talk, it's genuinely inspiring. I have a feeling that Geordi is going to become one of my favorite characters over the course of this rewatch, especially if the writing with his character continues to be so good. The secondary characters rise to the occasion despite their fears, and it's an organic, well-deserved victory for all involved.

Unfortunately, the writing isn't so good in "Symbiosis." The Enterprise is monitoring some sort of gigantic solar flare activity that's messing with their instruments when they're hailed by a passing freighter ship. It's in distress, but its crew is acting super-weird and more than a little bit high. (I started saying "Dave's not here, man" whenever they were on screen, and it was hilarious.) They ask for help as their orbit begins to decay, but since everything's all wonky from the solar flares, the only thing the Enterprise can do is beam them over before their ship explodes. The other crew sends over their cargo first, and Yar and Riker are horrified at this action because it costs the lives of two of the six crew members. (This episode was actually a goldmine of the crew being weary of other people's stupidity. Picard gets a pretty epic facepalm action in the first ten minutes.) It quickly transpires that the planets near this solar flare star are inhabited by two races: the Richie McRichersons, and the Poors. The Richies have a drug medicine that the Poors need for a plague addiction problem. The cargo that they beamed over was this medicine/drug. They bicker annoyingly over who owns it.

Crusher figures out what's what fairly quickly, although there's enough time involved, and the Enterprise crew seems so clueless about addiction in general, that I wonder whether this plot point is one of those things we don't have in the future. Yar has a very clunky, PSA-style dialogue with Wesley about the allure and trap of addiction, so... uhm. Dunno.

Anyway, Crusher wants to short circuit the Richs' evil scheme, but Picard refuses to, because of the Prime Plot Device Directive. He does mess with the evil scheme, but in a very, very subtle way that absolves the Enterprise of most of the meddling, so yay-ish. In case it's not obvious, this episode was very oddly and slowly paced and a bit of a bore to slog through. Not the best work, and rather disappointing after the previous episode.

Signs it's THE FUTURE: METERS, people. The metric system has won out! Also, thrilling space combat! And maybe we've conquered drug addiction...? Sort of?

Signs it's NOT THE FUTURE: Rich people are still douchebags to the poors. :(

Most random thing from my notes: UGH SO MUCH ALLEGORY DAMMIT PICARD ~~~~

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