Star Trek: The Next Generation – Peak Performance [2.21]

The Enterprise takes part in some war games, with Riker and a skeleton crew having to engage in mock combat against her in an out-of-date ship.  These games are interrupted by the sudden arrival of some greedy Ferengi out for quick profit.  Meanwhile, Data experiences a crisis of confidence when the visiting Federation strategist beats him at a computer game.

Written by David Kemper. Directed by Robert Scheerer

Previous Episode: The EmissaryNext Episode: Shades of Gray

Comments:
Peak Performance is an episode that threatens to be quite good, but which ultimately doesn’t live up to its promise when placed under a moderate level of analysis.  That’s too bad because the parts that are good are very good, so much so that I’d understand if people loved it.  I guess it’s all a matter of what you really focus on.

Anyway, there’s a lot that is right here, including the contrast of  Picard and Riker’s command styles.   Riker in particular is given a lot of good moments as we see how he handles being Captain of an underdog ship.  He gets some good dialog as well, with lines like “Just remember, Enterprise – Captain Riker’s never lost,” and “What the hell.  Nobody said life was safe.”

The scenes where Riker engages Geordi and Worf to be in his crew are well done, and all the bits with Riker’s crew on the Hathaway ready are enjoyable.  Even Wesley makes a salient but not overblown contribution.

Similarly, the actual battle scenes – both the simulated ones against each other and the real ones against the Ferengi – are well-paced and effectively dramatic.  The camaraderie that emerges from the crew during all of this is great and goes a long way to actually making the crew feel like they are really beginning to function as a family.  The Ferengi themselves are the best they have appeared so far, with Armin Shimmerman doing well with the small amount of material he has to work with as DaiMon Bractor.

Sadly, however, the ultimate solution to the situation, though clever, works far too conveniently and quickly, and comes across as a bit easy-breezy.  Why did the Ferengi beat a hasty retreat at the first indication of a second vessel suddenly turning up?  Since they’d beaten one so easily, why run away so quickly from a second?  And how did Worf trick their ship’s sensors anyway, since he could only do it to the Enterprise because he knew the ship’s systems so well?  It’s a weak ending which undermines the strength of what we’d been enjoying up to that point.

The other weakness in the episode is just how much time is given to Data’s subplot of “losing his confidence.”  It’s not a bad “b” story, but it takes up way too much screentime.  We’ve got Troi trying to talk to Data, and then Pulaski trying to talk to Data, and then Troi and Pulaski talking to Picard, and then Picard talking to Data – all covering more or less the same ground.  And all this comes after a bunch of other scenes with Pulaski convincing Data to play the game against Sirna Kolrami in the first place.  If this subplot was told a bit more economically, maybe more time could have been given to making the ending of the main plot stronger.

The other scene which comes across as a complete time-filler is the blah blah blah between Data and Troi attempting to anticipate Riker’s tactics, which ends with the profound conclusion that Riker will probably do whatever he will do based on the type of man he is.

A final oddity of the story lies in the odd premise that up until the Borg threat, Starfleet and its officers don’t really consider themselves part of a military organization.  The war games are implied to be highly unusual and that defense is really just a tiny part of what Starfleet Captains do.  Now, of course I understand (and enjoy the fact) that Starfleet’s primary mandate is exploration, and that they don’t to phasers as a first recourse.  Still, it seems a little silly to think that full combat and defense training is not part of Starfleet officer’s preparation.  Has it really been so peaceful in the Federation since war with the Klingons was ended and the Romulans went into hiding?  Even though the Cardassians hadn’t been retroactively inserted into Star Trek history yet, the Ferengi have obviously been a threat for a while. You’d think Starfleet would be constantly preparing for all sorts of military threats.  But then again, maybe the Federation really has come out of a bit of an idyllic golden age, and that’s what has led them to put children, schools, etc. on their flag ship.  As the franchise progresses (and possibly as it got less and less under Gene Roddenberry’s control), we’ll see Starfleet turn more militaristic in nature, as many more serious and nasty threats emerge.

All of this commentary would make it sound like I really don’t like the episode, but that’s not true.  The positive parts I mentioned I actually really enjoyed – well done, character-driven drama with a healthy dose of action.  It’s just that all that good material throws the story’s weaknesses into sharp relief, which is too bad.

Guest Cast
• Roy Brocksmith, who plays Sirna Kolrami, has had roles in Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, but I remember him as one of the board members in The Hudsucker Proxy and as Dr. Edgemar (the man with the unfortunate bead of sweat) in Total Recall.

• Armin Shimmerman is back as another Ferengi – DaiMon Bractor.  He’d previously been a Ferengi in their debut story, The Last Outpost, and of course goes on to play Quark in Deep Space Nine.

• David L. Lander, who plays a Tactician, was famous for playing Squiggy in Laverne & Shirley.

• Glenn Morshower appears as Ensign Burke.  He was to appear in all seven seasons of 24 as Aaron Pierce.

Shout Outs to the Past
The “Borg threat,” from Q Who, is referred to as the motivation for much of what happens in this story.

Have we heard this before in Next Generation?  The “call signal” on board the Hathaway, when Riker is addressing the crew over the PA, is the same as that from the original series.

This is surely not intentional, but this is the second consecutive episode in which the Enterprise must face the possibility of combat against a vessel from roughly the time period as the original series.

Setting Up the Future
Similar to the above, we will see the fruition of the Borg threat in a forthcoming episode.

Observations
• The Zakdorn guy is pretty funny right from the get-go, but I’m not really sure if it works or not.

• Interesting character bit with Worf, trying to make a model ship. It’s funny, but a bit surprising.

• Picard declares that the leader of an Away Team has absolute authority over a mission.  I’ve never thought about that before, but it makes sense, and is consistent with Picard’s command style.

• Some good lines in this story.  Kolrami says, insultingly about Riker, “An opponent of limited dimensions can often be quite diverting.”

• A good Worfism:  “If there is nothing to lose, no sacrifice, than there is nothing to gain.”

• “What is the Zakdornian word for mismatch?” Kolrami is asked.  “Challenge.”

• Picard rightly cuts through all the nonsense with Data, reminding him of his duty.  Simple wisdom that Data should have already known, but wisdom nonetheless:  “And Commander, it is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose.  That is not a weakness.  That is life.”

• Funny moment with Geordi when he hears the idea of pretending his ship is destroyed by a photon torpedo attack:  “I think I hate this plan.”

Dialogue High Point
I enjoy hearing Picard’s spirited defense of Commander Riker.  The best bit is

The test is whether the crew will follow where Commander Riker leads.  His joviality is the means by which he creates that loyalty.  And I will match his command style with your statistics any time.

Previous Episode: The EmissaryNext Episode: Shades of Gray

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