Plot Synopsis: Picard takes a much-needed vacation on Risa, but weird aliens and a horny Lara Crof–female treasure hunter–start him on an unexpected adventure.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here isn’t too bad. A couple of weird-looking aliens show up on Risa, the pleasure planet we’ve heard about since season 1, and look for Captain Picard but he isn’t here. On the Enterprise Picard has just returned with counselor Troi after negotiating some tough trade agreements and he’s a little worn out. Troi sums up what he needs in one line: “Our captain needs a vacation.” Plot A is about Picard’s holiday, there is no plot B. Doctor Crusher, Commander Riker and Counselor Troi combine their powers to harass him into going to Risa, where adventure promptly begins. Overall the story here is light, fun, adventurous and has some romance, similar in tone to Romancing the Stone. There are no serious plot holes here, it’s not slow, and things resolve themselves in a decently-satisfying fashion.
Favorite Scenes: Riker and Picard on the turbolift is worth a chuckle, and Riker is indirectly responsible for my other favorite scene. Picard is trying to read his book in the sun and women keep coming up to him, which he keeps brushing off (don’t you hate that). This particular woman–Joval–is puzzled:
Joval: I don’t understand. You say you wish to be alone, yet you carry the Horga’hn.
Picard: Well I just purchased it. *significant pause* Why? Are you implying this has some special meaning?
Joval: The Horga’hn is the Risian symbol of sexuality. To own one is to call forth its powers, to display it is to announce you are seeking jamaharon.
Picard *under his breath*: Riker…
Joval: Do you seek jamaharon?
Picard *shaking his head*: I don’t even know what it means. The Horga’hn is for a friend.
Joval: I see, someone close to you.
Picard: That’s right.
Joval: Someone you love!
Picard: I wouldn’t go that far.
Use of Cast/Characters: Levar Burton and Wil Wheaton had this episode off. This is the second of a pair of episodes written to add characterization to Captain Picard, as well as address Patrick’s assertion back in season 2 that Picard doesn’t do enough “shooting and screwing.” This episode is all about him and we learn a bit more about his love of history and archaeology as well, which will continue to inform his character in future episodes. He’s a guy who loves adventure and we see a bit more of his personal self and less of the captain. Riker and Troi contribute about the same amount to this episode, and for the first time in a while Troi actually affects the plot. They also have a couple of playful interchanges, which is nice to see. Worf and Doctor Crusher have the same amount to do, which is very little. Data is present but has no lines at all. Jennifer Hetrick plays Vash, and she is pretty believable, but also pretty limited as an actress IMO. Max Grodenchik plays Sovak, the Ferengi, and does a good enough job that he will go on to play Rom on DS9. The two 27th century aliens are about as stiff as one can imagine, and rather boring.
Blu Ray Version: Beautiful and vibrant. Barely-dressed women have never looked this clear on TNG, but nothing otherwise note-worthy.
Nitpicks: I’m not sure I ever needed to see Captain Picard in what is essentially a speedo. The Vorgons just look like dorky aliens to me as an adult. I don’t think much thought went into them, especially given the story of how this episode came about, which I discuss below. Around minute 26 Picard throws the ol’ one-punch knockout! It was commonplace in 80’s films and TV shows, and it’s about as realistic here as it would be in life–not at all.
Overall Impression: The plot to this episode sounds like the beginning of a joke: a Starfleet captain, a tomb raider and a Ferengi all go looking for this plastic crystal… While not as nakedly (heh) sexual as the Edo in Justice, we still see boobs coming at us (literally at 11:40), butts hanging out, and other sensual delights on offer at Risa. This episode also highlights what is now the typical role of Ferengi: mischief makers and comic relief. I’ve never thought of this as a particularly strong TNG episode. It’s not terrible, but it’s pretty light weight for me. Even as light adventure it’s not particularly strong, and after hearing what Ira Behr–a wonderful writer/producer for a few TNG and a bunch of DS9 episodes–says what this episode was originally about, I find myself wondering what might have been. I have no problem with giving Picard a lot of screen time, but give the rest of the cast something to do! Starship Mine is a much stronger episode with just this kind of balance. For me it never rises above “average.” I rate this episode 2.5 out of 5 stars at best.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: There’s a story about this episode that was told by Ira Behr, who worked under Michael Piller and Rick Berman at the time. Please forgive the length.
I came up with an idea that the captain takes a holiday. He goes to a pleasure planet where there’s a holodeck in an arcade-type setting where you face your greatest fears. The story is about the fact that Picard’s greatest fear is he is promoted to an admiral, loses the Enterprise and Riker becomes captain. He deals with how he feels about that, and how it affects a possible relationship with Dr. Crusher, he was an explorer and now he’s not an explorer, etc. Ronald Moore and I worked on it, Piller (the head writer) loved it, and then I get called in to talk to Gene Roddenberry. First thing Gene says is, “I read this thing, we’re not doing it. Captain Picard is John Wayne, and he’s not afraid of anything, that’s who Picard is. If they made him an admiral he’d just go, ‘Fine, I’m an admiral.’ But I really like this pleasure planet idea. We’re going to get Captain Picard laid. This is what I want. I really want to get him laid, and I really want to show this pleasure planet. I want to see men kissing men and women kissing women, etc.” I went to Rick Berman who said “Oh don’t worry about that, don’t listen to Gene, just give us a funny episode, a light episode where the captain gets laid. That’s it.” I went back to the writing staff, who were crushed, and we write the kind of episode we were told to write. I then get a call and am told Patrick Stewart wants to have lunch with me. Patrick was very nice, but tells me he’s heard a story “floating around” about Picard worried he’s getting old and becoming an admiral and he has a hard time dealing with that, and “I just want everyone to know that I would never play that part, I would never do that.” The message was the same, “get me laid.”
I wish this was the episode we saw. Instead we won’t see Picard in a situation remotely similar until the excellent Tapestry. The idea of the Tox Uthat, something that can essentially kill a star, is I have long believed the genesis behind the trilithium weapon Soren uses in Star Trek: Generations.
Missable/Unmissable? On its own merits this episode is missable. However, Vash appears in an excellent episode next season as well as one in DS9. The next episode is a definite step up from here.