The Hunted may not be remembered much as a classic episode among fans of The Next Generation. But I have always found it to be one of the series most accomplished episodes. It has many of the ingredients that made TNG so popular in the first place. It has a wonderful protagonist. Strong action sequences. Elements of science fiction in the use of genetically engineered super soldiers. And a earnest stab at the issues of war and its effects on people and those called to serve in it.
Indeed, many have claimed this episode is an allegory for the Vietnam Conflict. Frankly it is very easy to see why. And if people watch this episode without perhaps getting a perspective about that conflict they are ignoring the obvious. Thankfully the episode is not heavy handed over this issue and instead takes a light handed approach. That is not to say that it does not have a message behind it. It just hands it with a gentle touch.
The episode itself is a roller coaster ride from beginning to end. Roga Danar's escape attempts provides one of the greatest action sequences of the series. And despite the length of the sequence it never feels too long. It also helps that while me do not understand completely Danar's methods, we can sense their is some logic to them. We get to see the Enterprise crew, in all their cockiness and faith in their own technologic advancement, overcome by a lone and unarmed man. Even the tactically brilliant Data finds Danar an opponent too difficult to contain.
Ultimately the episode works because of the character of Roga Danar. A broken yet also defiant soldier who knows and understands the horrors he has committed but wants for a better life. He is a victim of his worlds pride and his own patriotism. We can all understand his perspective and experiences. His determination not to return to the penal colony even at the possible cost of his own life is stunning. His live free or die attitude is more than just a piece of bravado, but is actually meaningful.
The actor Jeff McCarthy plays Danar perfectly. He fits in extremely well with the regular cast. In particular his scenes with Data and Troi in the ships brig prove this. While his amazing action scenes demonstrate his military and combat background. It is his conversations with Data and Troi that show his human side. The part of him that gives him a chance at redemption. It is easy to see McCarthy's theatrical background in his performance as he brings a great weight to his scenes. He holds himself well, does not become over exaggerated and fidgety and even uses the confined space of his cell to the benefit of his performance. When he speaks he is almost soft like a whisper, but when angry he is every bit as fierce as a Klingon.
It is interesting to see his conversations with Data and Troi. In Data he see and has a counterpart in someone who has been programmed to be a cold, determining automaton. Yet like Danar, Data has developed his own sense of humanity. With Troi he has someone who is of the same level of compassion and intelligence he has. As Troi explains, he has a gentle soul that is overlaid with his military training and programming. She perfectly represents a part of him that is his only remaining link to his former self.
The Angosians themselves are nothing unique in the long list of alien races encountered by the Enterprise. Indeed, even the inclusion of James Cromwell as the Prime Minister does little to change this fact. Aside from Cromwell's performance as Zefram Cochrane in Star Trek: First Contact, his work on Star Trek has been virtually anonymous. His character in this episode starts off well, we sympathise with him. But as Danar becomes an increasing threat to him and his government he begins to become more paranoid. His desperate calls for the assistance of Picard and the Enterprise work well. And when Danar and his fellow super soldier arrive, he still remains determined to retain the status quo of his society even as everyone else recognises that it is no longer achievable.
The ending is, of course, typically Star Trek. We don't get to see what will happen to the Angosian people now that their forgotten soldiers have returned. It is merely implied by the ever reliable Picard that the Angosians will find a way out of the crisis. It is a bit disappointing, but nonetheless seems a fitting end to a thrilling episode.
It is a testament to the writing that the episode works as both a deeply interesting story and a ripping action yarn. It also helps that Roga Danar is one of the few characters that actually feels whole rather than merely a thin cardboard cut-out used merely to convey a message.
The Hunted really is one of my favourite Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes. One that I have no problem watching again and again. It has some of the strongest performances from both the regular and guest casts, a thrilling story and a solid message behind it. It is just a shame that the series does not have that many more like it.