Plot Synopsis: With the Borg threat in mind, Starfleet stages a war-game simulation pitting Captain Picard and the Enterprise against Commander Riker and the eighty-year-old starship Hathaway. However, when the Ferengi suddenly attack, the Enterprise is crippled forcing Picard into a seemingly no-win situation.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here sets up the episode with excellent efficiency: Picard agrees to have a mock battle with Riker, who will be captaining the Hathaway to hone their combat skills in light of their encounter with the Borg. Plot A is about the training exercise, there is a kind of sub-plot B about Kolrami and the game strategema. Kolrami is the puffed-up Zakdorn Federation strategist who will be grading their performances, and he’s rather disdainful of Riker. He then destroys him at the game Strategema after Riker’s challenge. Riker proceeds to take all the officers off the Enterprise except for Data and they start pimping the Hathaway up. Meanwhile we detour to watch Data get spanked by Kolrami and then spends most of the episode whining about it, and Troi, Pulaski and finally Picard has to step in to remedy the situation. The plot plods along in a somewhat interesting manner as both sides prepare until we get to the battle simulation, where there is some action. Unfortunately an annoying adversary shows up and the resolution is full of holes.
Favorite Scenes: Picard’s defense of Riker in his ready room to Kolrami is nice, and it’s where he refers to Riker as “the finest officer with whom I have ever served.” There is a little bit of comedy in the scene with Data and Troi, which isn’t bad. The best scene of the episode is at the very end, where Data “busts up” Kolrami.
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard is used quite a bit here, and he seems to spend a lot of the episode defending Riker in one way or another. In fact we can see again how proud he is of the resourcefulness of his first officer. He does come up with the idea of how to out-think the Ferengi which is nice, even if the execution is one of the plot holes of the episode. More on that later. Riker shines here as the underdog, and he has the confidence and skill to make the audience think he might have something up his sleeve for the combat simulation. Data unfortunately spends a chunk of this episode pouting, which is really rather ridiculous, and in fact that whole section was unneeded. Still his redemption at the end is maybe the most satisfying part of the episode. He doesn’t really contribute anything during the simulation however. Geordi and Wes are instrumental in giving Riker an edge, and they work well together as cast members and characters. I’ve always thought that what Wes did was in actuality cheating though, no way around it. Worf has a nice part to play, and now that we’re at the tail end of season two he’s finally getting about as much screen time as most of the other cast members. He makes a genuine contribution. Troi does little except talk Data through one scene. Otherwise she’s like some kind of bar maid, putting on and then taking off those hand attachments for Strategema. Who came up with that idea anyway? Pulaski’s sole contribution is volunteering Data to challenge Kolrami, so I guess she does something. Roy Brocksmith plays Kolrami, and he does it very well. He creates a character that we know how to react to within the first five minutes and he’s consistently fun to dislike for the whole episode. His performance is such that it makes that final scene where he “loses” satisfying instead of guilt-inducing. On the contrary, Leslie Neale plays Ensign Nagel, the blonde chick on the Hathaway. She only has about three lines, but they’re all delivered so painfully they stand out. Yikes.
Blu Ray Version: The planet in this episode is only seen briefly, but it’s pretty nice. The resolution here is uniformly excellent, and like the others makes it seems like this episode was shot just last week. The colors and effects are gorgeous! Several small errors in the original version were fixed and some effects (such as Strategema) were punched up. If you pause around 14:01, you’ll see a slim black border on the right side of the shot, instead of the scene going all the way to the edge of the screen. This was fixed in the Netflix version, but is still visible in the Blu Ray. This is because the frames used for season 2 are slightly wider than the 4:3 ratio of TV.
Don’t get too excited, Riker doesn’t last that long.
Nitpicks: Worf’s chambers are incredibly poorly lit, thank goodness we’re near the end of the second season where I won’t have to put up with it anymore. The Strategema game looks interesting enough, but the hand pieces are downright hokey. Those black cards at the back of the bridge are still present as they have been through most of season 2, but you only notice them if you look for them. I’m also not sure about the exchange between Wes and Riker on the Hathaway–he starts out thinking Wes cheated, then seems to change his mind even though Wes doesn’t give him any reason to. My biggest problem with this episode though is the plot hole during the encounter with the Ferengi. Worf is able to fool the Ferengi’s sensors into thinking that another Federation starship is on its way so the Ferengi retreat before they can detect that the Hathaway wasn’t really destroyed–only that’s kind of impossible. The only reason Worf could fool the Enterprise was because he has inside knowledge of the ship’s security override codes, so how in the frick could he do that to an alien vessel that has comparable technology and security to the Federation? Answer: he couldn’t.
Overall Impression: I don’t really care for this episode, though it’s not outright bad. It seems like a typical season two episode: decent for season two but it doesn’t hold up well over time, or even over the rest of the series. So much of the tension here seems contrived. First Riker takes virtually all the useful bridge crew with him, leaving only Data, who conveniently gets an inferiority complex. You know watching the episode that they won’t let Riker beat Picard because what would the audience think of that? Something has to happen to distract us from that so the writer trots out the Ferengi, the one TNG adversary that nobody takes seriously. Due to this nobody really feels much danger even though they have the advantage, and then they get scared away by phantoms. I will say this about the episode though, it’s at least an attempt at a true ensemble episode, most every character contributes something. This is only about the fourth episode of the series to do that and I admire that they are trying. Still, I can’t call this a good one overall. I rate this episode 2 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: The references to Riker’s previous battle tactics, hiding over a planet’s magnetic pole is one that we’ll see used next season in the episode The Hunted. The dilithium “chips” on the Hathaway was really just wax from a blue candle. You might recognize the Ferengi captain as Armin Shimerman, who was one of the original Ferengi from back in The Last Outpost, and who went on to play Quark in DS9. Does Kolrami look familiar? This same year he appeared in Tango & Cash, War of the Roses, and his most famous role in Total Recall the following year. He was the guy with the pill who tried to convince Quaid that everything was a dream, remember? Anyway for those interested he appears later in the DS9 episode Indiscretion. The Zakdorn won’t appear as a race again until Unification I. This is also the first time we can see Ferengi are given different uniforms than the awful furs they were wearing in The Last Outpost.
Missable/Unmissable? Eh, missable. There’s not a lot here worth writing home about, though it’s not really a terrible episode. I can’t say the same about the next one, which is a toilet bowl by comparison.