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The Trek Nation - Peak Performance

Peak Performance

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 22, 2008 - 8:34 PM GMT

See Also: 'Peak Performance' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Starfleet is organizing battle simulations to prepare for future threats like the one posed by the Borg, and sends the Zakdorn strategist Kolrami to oversee an exercise in which Riker and 40 members of the Enterprise crew are given the derelict ship USS Hathaway for mock attacks on the Enterprise. Riker recruits Worf as his tactical officer, LaForge as his engineer and heads over to the ill-equipped Hathaway, which has no warp drive and damaged systems. When Kolrami - who has already beaten Riker badly in a game of Stratagema - scoffs that he doubts Riker stands a chance, Picard defends his first officer as one of Starfleet's finest. Meanwhile, Worf concocts a plan to make the Enterprise believe that a Romulan warbird is approaching and Wesley Crusher uses his science project to provide the Hathaway with a burst of warp speed. The Enterprise is in vastly better condition, although Data has also lost to Kolrami in Stratagema and is reluctant to assume his duties, believing his systems must be faulty. The Hathaway starts strongly by tricking the Enterprise into chasing the phantom Romulan ship, but when a Ferengi warship arrives minutes later and opens fire, the Enterprise assumes it's another ploy of Riker's and fails to raise shields. The Ferengi assume that the Hathaway must contain contents of value if the Enterprise would fire on another Federation ship and demand its surrender. Using Wesley's warp jump, the Hathaway flees behind a nearly planet just as the Enterprise pretends to blow it up. Kolrami is forced to admit that Riker has performed well, and later, when Data asks for a rematch in Stratagema, he storms off furiously when the android is able to force a stalemate.


Analysis: One of the most fun aspects of "Peak Performance" is discovering just how much of a fan William T. Riker must be of James T. Kirk. Kirk beat Starfleet's no-win scenario for cadets, the Kobayashi Maru simulation, by cheating, and Riker does something similar here; ordered to improvise, he and his crewmates throw out the rule book and come up with their own way of doing things, which not incidentally saves their lives. It's not at all clear at this point how such shortcuts will be of any use against the Borg, who aren't nearly so easily diverted as the Ferengi, but we get to see the clear contrasts between how Picard does things and how Riker does and why having the two of them working together is so invaluable. Picard is a man of enormous conviction and deep personal reserves, while Riker is a consummate team player; even more than Picard, it's his command style to consult with his crew and then let them do what they do best without over-supervising. When Picard learns that Riker has bent the rules, he's impressed rather than annoyed like Kolrami.

Really, almost everything about "Peak Performance" is fun, from Worf's scowling assessment of the condition of the Hathaway ("Not good") to a guest appearance by Armin Shimerman as the Ferengi Bractor. Pulaski, who's a firm believer that it's good for people to be pulled out of their comfort zones, maneuvers the Zakdorn and the android into a competition that ultimately has an impact as big on Data as it does on Kolrami: faced with the very human concern that he might make a mistake at a critical moment, Data gets a glimpse into what life is like for everyone else on the crew and discovers that he doesn't always have to be the very best to be a success. Wesley connives to use his science project to power the Hathaway, pretending he's taking a break from the war games while he's scheming to win them, and when Riker finds out, a momentary accusation of cheating gives way to a big grin. It's a bit of a disappointment that we never learn who would ultimately have prevailed in the Enterprise-Hathaway competition - we don't get to see how Riker would have used his momentary warp drive in simulated combat - but since the point is to test improvisation and clear-headedness in the face of a real threat, this ending is more satisfying.

The crew interaction is wonderful, too. Worf is in growly Klingon mode from the start, scoffing at the idea that Kolrami is supposed to be a great warrior, warning Riker that he will be displeased if Riker doesn't take Kolrami past level six at Stratagema, insisting that LaForge should sit beside Riker on the Hathaway bridge, suggesting the false ship diversion, and answering Riker's assertion that a mistake with the warp jump would be unfortunate with, "Very unfortunate. We will be dead." Troi and Pulaski both pressure Data to take part in a competition for which he isn't certain he is prepared, then come to understand that they have caused a serious crisis of confidence in the android that only the captain can help resolve, which he does with one of his better speeches ("It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is life."). How very far Pulaski has come from the doctor who distanced herself from the seemingly emotionless android at the start of her time on the Enterprise; here she argues to Picard that whether it's biology or algorithms at work, Data's worries are affecting his performance and he needs to be confronted like any other crewmember.

Riker is delightful in command of a hopeless derelict, announcing that the Hathaway is fantastic because it's theirs, then desperate to find some way to save his crewmates on the Enterprise though he has no weapons and little maneuverability. Yet the most telling Riker incident comes not during the preparations or the battle but when he challenges Kolrami to play Stratagema, knowing that he will lose badly. Riker explains that it will be an honor merely to sit at the table with the galaxy's greatest player; he's not concerned about being humiliated before the strategist or his own crewmates, and he accepts his loss more graciously than those crewmates do. This is a man who is comfortable revealing his limitations, who has already said he prefers to serve under a brilliant captain than take his own command. It's Picard and his friends from the Enterprise whom Riker sets out to impress in the wargames, not Kolrami.

And Kolrami, who gloatingly tells Riker that how one performs in mismatch is what interests Starfleet - when one is in the superior position, one is expected to win - ultimately has the most to lose in a rematch with Data. No one is rooting for the outsider and he has nothing to gain, for he has already defeated the android, contrary to everyone's expectations. Data concludes that he stands a better chance of playing for a draw than a victory, and when he does, he is able to block Kolrami through more levels than anyone else ever has, ultimately leading to a display of poor sportsmanship when the Zakdorn storms away from the match. He may be a great strategist but he's no team player - he had wanted Picard to abandon the Hathaway and sacrifice those crewmembers to save the others. On Picard and Riker's crew, the ability to work well and forge bonds with others is valued far more highly than individual tactical brilliance...something that the android, the Klingon and the boy know well, even if the Starfleet genius hasn't caught up.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.