In the past, I’ve expressed my disdain for courtroom dramas (in fact, the last time Star Trek: The Next Generation did a major story of this type, no less). I think they’re a cheap way to artificially introduce drama while at the same time potentially dangerously misleading people when it comes to actual legal jurisprudence. Media has power because so much of what we perceive about how the world works is gleaned from it, and it is thus media’s responsibility to be accurate should to choose to be realistic (whether it should choose to or not in the first place is another discussion entirely). Deliberately faulty and inaccurate legal information for the sake of conflict is but one way media can do harm and add to the world’s darkness-A comparatively small one in the grand scheme of things, but a no less noteworthy one.
So thankfully, even though “The Noise of Justice” is split almost entirely between a hearing room and a holding cell, this isn’t actually the kind of story it is. Captain Picard and the rest of the Enterprise crew are obviously innocent, and, more to the point, we know they’re going to be cleared pretty quickly: There’s two more issues in this story arc and it would be absolutely tortuous for Michael Jan Friedman and Pablo Marcos to drag a courtroom plot out that long in a comic book. The central hook of this issue comes firstly from speculating about what might be going on and if someone is out to destroy the careers and reputations of the Enterprise crew for some reason as we move away from the diversionary plot last month to the main meat of the miniseries, although we figure that’s all going to get cleared up in the coming issues as well. Secondly however, it comes from watching the crew do battle with Starfleet Command over the allegations levelled against them. And it’s altogether fitting that the chief prosecutor is our old nemesis Phillipa Louvois as “The Noise of Justice” is a compelling rebuttal of “The Measure of a Man”.
As is standard for Friedman by now, each character (save the Cushers: While Wesley is thankfully absent, we can assume Beverly is still recuperating from her ordeal last time) is afforded a spotlight scene, and he’s once more nailed their voices. In this story, these spotlights manifest by giving each character time on the witness stand to face down Louvois’ relentless assault of legalese and leading questions. Were this a television episode, we’d call it a bottle show as it largely takes place on one set, which is a praiseworthy dedication to good storytelling sense as we might expect the comic book to be flashier, more colourful and feature far more explosions and fisticuffs. Instead, the bigger “effects budget” goes into things like the look of Starbase 104, which is pleasingly futuristic and abstract-looking, and flashback sequences for Captain Picard that reveal bits of his history as he examines his life choices as he faces the risk of losing everything he’s lived for.
During these flashbacks, we get a look back at Captain Picard’s first time taking the Starfleet Academy entrance exam, the bar fight where he was stabbed through the heart (Pablo Marcos does an interesting job imagining the Nausicaans three years before we see them on TV) and an away team mission where he once apparently served under Admiral Rosentrum back when he was a captain and even saved his life. The picture we get of Picard in this story is that of a person possessed with a boundless sense of loyalty, humility and selflessness and in possession of a quiet strength and dignity. He’s everything Starfleet claims it wants but doesn’t really: We all know by now, after all, that no matter what Donald Varley might say, the Picard best suited to Starfleet was Claude, not Jean-Luc. Which is why it’s the ultimate insult and narrative collapse for Starfleet to finally turn on him, as it shows in stark contrast precisely how opposed their core values and worldviews really are.
It’s funny, for all of its talk of fair and egalitarian representation beneath the law, Starfleet seems to be operating pretty clearly under the premise that Captain Picard and the Enterprise are “guilty until proven innocent”. Sounds a bit like the Cardassians.
Shades of “Duet” to come are keenly felt here, as the very best bottle episodes are the ones where peerless acting absolutely nails gripping writing to create an instant classic. And much like “Duet”, “The Noise of Justice” is a barely-restrained philosophical war between two perspectives. It’s really fun for me to imagine the actors getting to deliver these lines, as I’m sure they would have had an absolute blast with them. Riker is one of the standouts in particular: Each of his lines seethes with barely contained rage and indignation at Louvois’ calculated, methodical dedication to proving him and his crew guilty on principle: He’s clearly still furious with her over what she put him through in “The Measure of a Man”. To Riker, Louvois is the embodiment of punch-clock evil, and he’s horrified and enraged at how quick she and her superiors are to stab Captain Picard in the back despite everything he’s done and tries to stand for. We’re also reminded of the anti-time Riker from “The Gift”, who felt similarly betrayed by Starfleet’s rapid embrace of Claude Picard and persecution of the Enterprise and her crew.
Geordi’s testimony is instantly memorable because of how well Friedman writes him. It’s hard to believe “Serafin’s Survivors” and “Shadows in the Garden” was only a couple of months ago, because the Geordi here is unrecognizable from the character there. Friedman has finally got LeVar Burton’s mannerisms, and his affability, down pat, and Geordi becomes one of the most likable characters on display owing to his loyalty and soft-spoken tolerance even under Louvois’ relentless scrutiny. Of course we have to have a scene with Data, whom Louvois rhetorically punches in the gut by manipulating him into admitting that, as a machine, his memory can be reprogrammed and falsified. Worf, meanwhile, looks like he can barely keep himself from killing Louvois on the spot. Because Will is right: Even though she’s ultimately sympathetic to the crew’s plight and hopes they’re cleared, in order to do her job Louvois has to vilify them.
She’s not living her life in accordance with the values she claims to hold because of her loyalty to an authoritarian power structure whose orders she follows without question. And as Captain Picard himself will soon say, “The claim, ‘I was only following orders’ has been used to justify too many tragedies in our history”.
But the real highlight is once again Deanna Troi. As skilled a philosopher as she is a psychologist and an anthropologist, Deanna proves to be the only person who truly has the rhetorical chops to go toe-to-toe with Louvois, and her testimony is an absolutely glorious thinly veiled assault on the captain’s core premises, drifting ultimately into the nature of reality itself. But Deanna isn’t playing to derail at all, rather, she’s meticulously and comprehensively countering and outmanoeuvring Louvois at every turn, leaving the prosecutor flustered and frustrated by the end of it. Deanna’s debate skills are positively balletic, and she decisively sinks the authoritarian intellectual framework Louvois is hiding her ethical bankruptcy behind.
Oh, she may find them charming in a “scrappy underdog” sort of way, but make no mistake: Louvois plainly sees the Enterprise as an uppity thorn in her side. They upset the comforting lie Starfleet his built itself around by revealing it to be the hollow shell it is, because they’re simultaneously everything Starfleet claims to hold most dear while also constantly at odds with it. They’re a rebellious, insubordinate underclass who makes the lives of people like Louvois difficult, and she thought she could teach them a lesson by, if not casting them as mass-murders, at least painting them as dangerously irresponsible. She may not have thought this consciously, of course, but it guides her actions regardless. Problem is, Louvois never expected to meet one of the scrappy insubordinates who could actually fight back by turning her own rhetoric against her.
But before Deanna Troi can manage to singlehandely take apart the entirety of Starfleet Command, we learn something else. Apparently, the Enterprise has been sighted in the Alpha Sarpeidon sector. Which is rather peculiar all things considered, as the Enterprise is also docked at Starbase 104 for the hearings.