I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.
The Enterprise investigates a distress call only to have O’Brien, Troi, and Data taken over by alien energy beings. They attempt to hijack the ship in order to bring aboard more of their beings, but their initial attempt fails, only to have them instead take hostages in Ten Forward. As the hostage situation continues, the crew attempts to find ways to thwart the aliens, which largely only infuriate them more. Ultimately, Dr. Crusher finds a way to put the beings in stasis, just in time to save the ship.
“Power Play” is a pretty intense episode based on a premise we’ve seen plenty of times before: foreign entities attempt to take over the ship. The reasons it managed to avoid feeling like a major case of deja vu were first, by involving secondary characters deeply in the drama and danger; second, by making tertiary characters more central; and third, by having just enough twists to keep viewers interested.
It was a great decision to make Chief O’Brien and Ensign Ro deeply involved in the plot, because it made the episode feel fresh despite having a plot that has largely been done before. Moreover, involving characters like Keiko O’Brien in the danger as well, because this made it feel as though someone might actually be in danger. Again, we know that unless an actor decides to leave, no main character is going to die off in TNG, so when characters who might recur show up and get in danger, it feels more real than when Riker gets in trouble for the hundredth time.
The plot itself is straightforward, but having the twist where the aliens weren’t actually what they claimed to be–marooned Starfleet people–was a bit unexpected and made it seem all the more genuine.
Also, here’s an epic quote:
Data: “Lieutenant, I must apologize for my inadvertent misconduct toward you.”
Worf: “No apology necessary.”
Data: “Your restraint was most remarkable.”
Worf: “You have no idea.”
“Power Play” is the kind of episode that could have gone very poorly, but featured enough unique plot points to rehash a similar story without feeling old or overdone.
Grade: B+ “Engaging and foreboding, ‘Power Play’ is enough to keep viewers entertained.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “I really enjoyed the suspense of figuring out who was possessing their bodies and the problem-solving that the crew went through. Also, Dr. Crusher saves the day!”
Worf gets severely injured and may have permanent paralysis. This leads to his decision to try to end his own life, because for a Klingon, his life may as well be over. As the crew struggles to come to grips with this decision, Dr. Crusher has a showdown with Dr. Toby Russell, a neurological specialist, over whether to try a risky procedure that could regrow Worf’s spine. When tested methods fail to satisfy Worf, he makes the decision to ask Riker to help end his life. Riker argues that Worf must instead ask Alexander and explain it to his son. Dr. Russell, however, intervenes and suggests the risky surgery to Worf, who accepts. After apparently dying in surgery, Worf pulls through and it appears his functions will return to normal. Dr. Russell receives a stern lecture from Dr. Crusher.
There are lots of lectures and even tongue-lashings in this episode, which was largely an exploration of ethical problems related to medicine and euthanasia. Despite this focus on the ethical questions the episode raised, there is a solid amount of plot here, even acknowledging the mostly throwaway side plot of a rescue mission the Enterprise is taking on. Sure, it’s not full of action, but the plot here centers around the characters, and the amount of investment the series has put into these characters shows through.
See, I think it must have been a tough sell to say “Let’s make an episode in which most of the main characters spend the whole time talking.” But, it weirdly works. Riker’s reservations about helping Worf were spot on. Picard’s insistence on maintaining respect for different cultural norms was also in character, though perhaps a bit more heated than one might expect. Dr. Crusher’s insistence on thoroughness and her scathing critique of Dr. Russell is probably the highlight of the episode. At the end, she acknowledges that the risk saved Worf, but her lines about the need for medical procedure and testing in environments with less risk was both in character and also on point.
The acting throughout is also great, which it would have to be if we’re supposed to believe the people are actually struggling with the issues being raised. Even Worf’s interactions with Alexander were touching.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the episode is one hinted at in the previous episode: as a viewer, you pretty much know Worf will pull through. I mean I knew this because I’ve seen the series and Deep Space Nine, but even before, you always knew the main characters would somehow make it out. I’m not sure if this episode would have worked if they had chosen a secondary or guest character to be the focus of the episode, but it would have been more dramatic as a viewer to have someone to whom something like paralysis or death could actually be permanent.
Overall, though, the episode was intriguing and emotionally powerful. It wasn’t the most exciting episode, but it was good to watch.
Grade: B+ “Lots of lecturing, but the questions it raised were deep, and the drama centering on Worf was very solid.”
Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “‘Ethics’ featured some excellent acting but the story suffered from unexplained canister collapse and too many monologues.”
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