Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Game [5.6]

Wesley Crusher returns to the Enterprise for a visit to find that the entire crew is becoming addicted to a small video game that Riker was introduced to during a jaunt to Risa.  Riker, Dr. Crusher and Troi deactivate Data as he would not be effected by the game, purposely spread it everyone on board to get them addicted as well.  Wesley and his new girlfriend Lt. Robin Lefler discover the game is actually a form of a mind control.  Wesley reactivates Data who is able to figure out a way to undo the game’s effects, and restore the crew.  They easily capture the alien who was attempting to take down the entire Federation with this game.

Teleplay by Brannon Braga. Story by Susan Sackett & Fred Bronson and Brannon Braga.  Directed by Corey Allen.

Previous Episode: Disaster • Next Episode: Unification I

When I rewatched Disaster, I was expecting an episode I loved, only to find it was an episode I thought was good, but didn’t revel in.  With The Game it was sort of the inverse – I was expecting to find an episode I hated only to discover that while it wasn’t great, it was actually okay in most ways.  At the time, the episode was notorious for bringing back Wesley Crusher only to have him save the ship.  The episode tries to spread around the credit a bit, and even Wil Wheaton said at the time (if my faulty memory can be trusted) that it wasn’t a “Wesley-saves-the-ship” story, since Robin and Data helped, but let’s face it – Wesley’s our central character here, he’s the one we see solving most of the problems, he basically saved the ship.

And not just the ship – the entire Federation, it seems.  Because that game seems so small, lightweight, portable, and easily replicated that it was ready to be shipped out all over the quadrant, turning the entire free worlds into a bunch of driveling slaves to the previously unheard of Ktarians.  These Ktarians turn out to be the big losers of the day.  Why did they only give out one game out to one Federation citizen.  It seems easy enough to make – why not just make a hundred and spread them out over a few star systems?  Why not give it to everyone who visits Risa?  And why, oh why, did they choose to start with someone who serves on the only ship in the whole of Starfleet that has an android officer?  Stupid aliens.

Speaking of the game, they say that it has a mind-controlling element, but it doesn’t help Wesley’s image when we put him in a story that features everyone else, even Picard, falling prey to an evil Nintendo Game Boy headset.  It sadly helps to solidify the impression that the writers felt constantly determined to justify Wesley by having him be smarter than everyone else.

What does help the episode is that Wil Wheaton is noticeably more relaxed and comfortable playing Wesley than we have usually seen him.  And a young Ashley Judd is pretty impressive as Robin Lefler, making her a welcome (though sadly never used again) addition to the recurring cast – you can see why she showed up in various Star Trek spin-off and fan-material.  However, her “laws” seemed to be made up of all the most trite cliches you can come up with – “You can only count on yourself,” “When all else fails, do it yourself,” “You gotta go with what works,” and so on.  Presumably the rest of the laws that we don’t get to hear includes gems such as “Look before you leap,” “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” and “Don’t look a gift Rigellian klartogh in the mouth.”

Still, Robin and Wesley are kind of a likeable couple, and do a decent job of anchoring the episode, and make it surprisingly fun to watch, in spite of the story and logic weaknesses.

Guest Cast:
• Ashley Judd reappears as Ensign Robin Lefler, after debuting in Darmok.  Of course, she’s a popular actress who has been in a lot of movies, including the abysmal Olympus Has Fallen as the President’s ill-fated wife.

• Katherine Moffat, who plays Etana Jol, had guest appearances all over TV in the 1970’s and 1980’s, including Quincy M.E., CHiPs, BJ and the Bear, Enos, The Dukes of Hazzard, Fantasy Island, Knight Rider, The Love Boat, T.J. Hooker, Simon & Simon, Murder She Wrote, and more.

• Patti Yasutake appears for the first time this season as Nurse Ogawa

Shout Out to the Past
There is a reference to Beverly teaching Data to dance in Data’s Day.

And, of course, Wesley is back, with lots of talk about Starfleet Academy, including references to Boothby, who was mentioned back in Final Mission.

Setting Up the Future:
Um, there is a reference to Boothby, who will finally show up in First Duty.

• And we’re back on Risa again.

• The Game itself doesn’t look all that interesting, but I guess it’s the physiological effects that we’re seeing Riker respond to.

• Wow, Troi really really really likes chocolate.  “Chocolate is a serious thing.”

• Why doesn’t Wesley try to turn on the lights when he comes into the observation room?

• Cute moment from Data, when he tells Wesley, “Good for you,” for pulling his prank.

• It’s actually a cute scene with Data and Wesley catching up.  “A notably awkward experience,” says Data about the Sadie Hawkins Dance.

• Funny line from Robin to Wesley:  “Your neutrinos are drifting.”

• And a funny line from Data after being told to flip a coin to make a decision about which science team goes first:  “A coin, very good.  I will replicate one immediately.”

• A little glimpse into Picard’s past:  “Wesley, if you meet someone whose initials you might want to carve into that elm tree, don’t let it interfere with your studies. I failed organic chemistry because of AF.”

• Reference to Data’s cat.

• “I’d like a chance to even the score. Ten Forward, nineteen hundred hours. Will you join me for coffee?”  Smooth, Wesley!

• Sort of creepy watching Beverly play the game

• What works about this episode is the way the characters retain their personalities and intellect even as they fall under the game’s thrall – sort of like Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  The episode also reminds one of the original series story, This Side of Paradise.

• Robin looks very nice on her dinner date, certainly better than Wesley does in his space sweater

• It’s pretty clear to the audience that Picard is already under the game’s control when Wesley comes to see him.

• I like it that Robin is smart enough to lie to people about the game.

• There is a signal disconnect between Data’s head and body which is stopping his ability to move, although last episode it was revealed that even if his body wasn’t working, he could still speak.  I guess Dr. Crusher was smart enough to deal with that.

• OK, Robin seems to be under the game’s control at the end.  But then didn’t she know that Wesley was re-activating Data?  If so, then why didn’t she tell the others once she came fell victim to the game?

• She doesn’t have any dialog, but Gates McFadden has some interestingly ambiguous facial expressions going on while Wesley is being pursued.

• I like Wesley’s impatience to get the Jeffries tube open.

• Data shows up at the end, and even though the pacing of the scene could be better, it’s sort of awesome

Dialogue High Point
Wesley takes the wind out of Picard’s sails, speaking of Boothby at Starfleet Academy:

He didn’t remember you, sir…at first.

Previous Episode: Disaster • Next Episode: Unification I


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