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Retro Review: Power Play

Posted by Michelle - 25/09/09 at 05:09 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 05 Episode: 15 (s05e15)

Original US airdate: 02/24/1992

Troi, Data, and O’Brien are possessed by aliens who claim to be the spirits of dead crewmembers from the USS Essex seeking to recover their mortal remains from their crash site.

Plot Summary: The Enterprise follows a distress call to an M-Class planet where the crew is shocked to learn that the signal came from a Daedalus-class starship, the USS Essex, which has been missing for almost 200 years. Because scans cannot penetrate the planet’s electrical storms, Picard agrees to let Riker take a shuttlecraft with Data and Troi, the latter of whom senses intelligent life on the surface. The storms bring down the shuttle and disrupt communication; Riker breaks his arm. Ro Laren is able to estimate the location of the shuttle crash, but since the ship can’t transport the crew back, due to the same electromagnetic interference that prevented them from transporting to the planet in the first place, O’Brien volunteers to risk his life to beam down with a pattern enhancer. He arrives safely and helps set up the boosted confinement beam, but just before the away team can be transported back, a huge electrical storm hits, knocking out all four crewmembers and sending rogue energy patterns into Troi, Data, and O’Brien. Once back on the ship, those three crewmembers insist that the Enterprise must move into a southern polar orbit, where they claim the Essex will be found. Picard is wary, and while Troi distracts him with an emotional appeal, Data and O’Brien try to seize control of the bridge. When the crew fights back, Troi, Data, and O’Brien take over Ten Forward, using the crewmembers there as hostages to demand that Picard change course. Troi tells Picard that their bodies have been taken over by the spirits of the captain, first officer, and security chief of the Essex and claims they just want peace for their mortal remains. Meanwhile, Crusher guesses that Riker was not affected like the rest of the away team because of the pain of his broken arm and suggests that pain might force out whatever is possessing the other three. When LaForge and Ro are unsuccessful in knocking out Data when they use a plasma burst to stun Troi and O’Brien, Data threatens to kill all hostages unless Picard obeys their demands. Troi tells the captain the location of their remains and orders him to let O’Brien beam them up to a cargo bay, though when the transport is completed, Picard finds not human remains but more aliens seeking bodies to possess. He says that he would rather blow open the hatch and kill all crewmembers in the cargo bay than risk any additional crewmembers’ lives. Fearful of being sucked into the vacuum, the aliens leave the bodies of Troi, Data, and O’Brien to be beamed back with the others. The three possessed crewmembers return to normal.

Analysis: “Power Play” isn’t at all original in terms of its storyline – last generation, it was Sargon, Thalassa, and Henoch looking for human bodies to borrow – so the fun of the episode lies in watching three of the unlikeliest suspects become mutineers while the more aggressive crewmembers can do little but acquiesce. This is one of Troi’s more interesting episodes, which may be a sad comment; it’s obvious here that Marina Sirtis can play forceful and nasty, yet she’s given little opportunity in other episodes to demonstrate her range. One doesn’t really want to witness the ship’s counselor’s angry edge, but at the same time, it’s nice to see such a dramatic shift in her personality, and interesting how subtly it unfolds – unlike Data, who here resembles Lore in his impulsive fury and lashing out, Troi is willing to bide her time and play Picard, using her skills at reading emotions to manipulate him to achieve the goals of the alien dictating her movements. It’s both creepy and a bit exciting to see how dangerous Deanna could be if she chose to twist her crewmates’ feelings against them.

O’Brien is even creepier, though, because the alien inside him is able to access all his memories of courting and marrying Keiko, though apparently without experiencing any of the warm feelings that presumably accompany those recollections. He’s fascinated by Keiko, behaving like a stalker – he takes her as his personal hostage. She, in turn, is repelled and horrified to hear details from her private life recounted in her husband’s voice, from her husband’s memories, yet utterly detached from the person she knows her husband to be. There’s a truly terrifying moment early on when Miles tells Keiko to silence the baby when it seems like he might silence the baby himself, but though he shows no attachment to Molly the way he does to Keiko, he doesn’t lash out at her either; he’s content to let Keiko keep passing her off to another crewmember so he can have Keiko’s undivided attention. It’s a different pathology than the alien inhabiting Troi, whose concerns are power and control, or the one inhabiting Data, who enjoys inflicting pain and goading others, but it’s still frightening behavior.

Picard doesn’t seem to believe for one second that these crewmembers contain the spirits of crewmembers from the Essex – not because he can’t possibly believe in ghosts, which are ubiquitous in the legends of many worlds, but because he doesn’t accept that a Starfleet crew would resort to terrorism no matter what they had been through. We’ve seen Starfleet officers do crazy things in response to the loss of a ship and crew – I’m looking at you, Commodore Decker – but the viciousness here is wholly unnecessary, given that Troi very nearly had Picard convinced to examine the southern polar region by the time Data decided not to wait. The real character story therefore is Picard’s: telling Riker that he’s a hostage everywhere on the ship for as long as these aliens control it, he offers himself in exchange for the wounded in Ten Forward, then agrees to accompany the away team to a cargo bay that he’s fully aware he may have to decompress to kill everything inside. Not knowing what he’s facing, he’s prepared to sacrifice himself along with the others to save the rest of the crew. Through it all, he’s almost uncannily calm, reacting more like a trained hostage negotiator than a hostage. Riker, Ro and LaForge remain outside the action, beyond danger, and they seem much more upset by the possible disastrous results if they can’t come up with a solution.

I was glad Riker’s pain didn’t provide the solution – it would have been too much like “The Deadly Years,” when Chekov’s terror protected him and gave McCoy the clue he needed to save the rest of the crew. Instead it proves an interesting diversion that leaves Picard in a worse position than before, since Ro’s plasma blast succeeds in agonizing the two humans but doesn’t disable Data, who’s the biggest threat of all. Data and Troi both show how well they know their captain as well as Starfleet protocol, repeatedly predicting his behavior, so it’s a bit baffling that they don’t realize as Riker does why Picard chooses Cargo Bay Four for the transport from the surface. Maybe Troi thinks Picard is bluffing, because while I have no trouble believing Picard would give up his life in an instant to protect the ship, I think he would have a much harder time sacrificing both O’Briens, Worf, Troi and Data without more of a fight.

One very enjoyable aspect of the story is how well the crew works together and how smart everyone is. Ro comes up with the idea for the plasma shock, Crusher figures out that it’s amnionic energy affecting the away team and figures out how to isolate it, Riker understands what Picard doesn’t say in his orders, O’Brien proves that he knows the transporter systems even better than LaForge does. But if he possesses Miles’ intimate memories of Keiko, how come he doesn’t also share Miles’ memories of the fact that a transporter weakness was the reason the Enterprise sent down a shuttle in the first place? And how did Troi fail to guess that the crew would modify something in the cargo bay – if not a containment field, then an electrical shock – to try to block them? It’s a good thing Crusher didn’t calibrate for only three amnionic aliens! The ending is a bit rushed and not quite convincing, but we’ve known it was coming, and it allows some moments of dark humor such as when Data apologizes to Worf for assaulting him, saying Worf’s restraint was remarkable. “You have no idea,” growls Worf. Keiko recovers and forgives Miles awfully quickly – without benefit of counseling – but I always wondered whether their ongoing marital problems on Deep Space Nine stemmed from everything their family suffered aboard the Enterprise.

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