Troi, Data, and Chief O’Brien are possessed by three disembodied aliens who end up taking Ten-Forward hostage. They claim to be ghosts of the crew of a long-lost Starfleet vessel, but are in reality prisoners seeking to escape from an inhospitable world. They attempt to coerce the Enterprise into beaming up their comrades in order to escape, but are outwitted by Picard and the crew, and wind up trapped on their prison world once again.
Teleplay by Paul Ruben and Maurice Hurley . Story by Rene Balcer and Herbert Wright and Brannon Braga. Directed by David Livingstone.
Apparently, one of the lead producers of Next Generation, Michael Piller, disliked the script for this episode because it was an expensive and well-directed, but ultimately empty. I, on the other hand, feel that a well-directed action-heavy installment is exactly what this series needs.
There are a lot of examples of dramatic moments in Next Generation that are marred by poor, or at least pedestrian, direction or editing – where we go from one dramatic beat to another in a way that is stilted or awkward, or draws attention to itself. There is none of that in Power Play. On the contrary, there are numerous moments where we shift from one dramatic exchange to another via a well-directed interruption – a background character suddenly reacts to something that is unseen, taking us into the next part of the story. It’s fairly seamless.
And I would hardly call the story “empty” either. Our heroes come face to face with the dilemma of having their trusted friends turn against them, and the tension of trying to stop them without endangering them or other loved ones. Keiko must even face her own husband having been turned into a monster. They must wrestle with the uncertainty of who or what their enemy really is – ghosts, or something more dangerous? And in the end, it’s the crew’s willingness to die to save others that wins the day – true heroism (it’s especially cool to see Keiko participate in this – “I would die to save the life of my child.”). While it’s true that the episode doesn’t deeply explore an idea or an issue, it is emotionally rich and dramatically full – far less empty than an inferior episode which spends all its energy “looking at an issue” – say The Drumhead or The Loss.
In addition to the sharp direction, a lot of the credit for the story’s strength goes to some good performances by Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner and Colm Meaney as our surprise bad guys. (It could be argued that a lot of the interest just comes from seeing them play something different, but there’s an episode coming up in a couple of years called Masks which is going to prove that is no sure recipe for success.) All three create new characters that are compelling and even slightly sympathetic. Brent Spiner is excellent as “evil but not Lore” and Marina Sirtis is an unexpected but effective choice as the group’s leader. And it’s especially unsettling to see evil-O’Brien try to figure out his relationship with Keiko and Molly.
It’s a good episode, with a gripping story and lots to enjoy.
The guest cast here are almost entirely recurring performers – Colm Meaney, Michelle Forbes, and Rosalind Chao.
Setting up the Future:
• It’s not really a set-up, but it’s interesting to note that years later, on Deep Space Nine, Keiko will also be possessed by a malevolent entity, much to Miles’ distress.
• Troi’s empathy is useful here, although I guess in this case it basically just gets the crew in trouble
• The shuttle bouncing effect is a little wacky. It looks like it’s achieved by actually shaking the shuttle set around violently. I wonder if it’s actually more effective when they just have the camera jerk around for the crash.
• It’s hard to imagine why there isn’t a medical officer on the away mission. Although I guess Troi’s presence is explained by the fact that she may be needed to find the survivors with her empathic abilities. Maybe they couldn’t afford to bring a Doctor as well, since that shuttle looks really small.
• “They’re coming. They’re coming with the storm,” says Troi. Very modern day Doctor Who.
• Chief O’Brien is a hero!
• One of many good directorial touches: Data’s reflection, showing him getting angry when his controls get cut off.
• Why don’t they capture these guys with the transporter when they first start running around? Later they try, but too little too late. However, you’d think the ship would be smart enough to trace them without needing to use their commbadges. You know, life signs, etc.
• Good exchange. “Worf: I have no fear of death. Evil Data: And I have no fear of killing you.”
• The plan to free Troi and the others involves making them feel a great deal of pain. They think it will work on Data, but does Data really feel any pain?
• Unnerving to have Data pull a phaser on Keiko and Molly.
• Evil Troi’s story about being crew members of the old Federation ship is sort of plausible from a Star Trek perspective–it’s a good diversion for the audience.
• Evil Data commanding Picard to pick someone to die is reminiscent of Skin of Evil.
And his picking up Picard by his neck is very Darth Vader.
• It’s good to see the crew try numerous different approaches to stop their enemies, each time seeming to fail.
• Taking Worf as a hostage? That’s got to be a mistake. Better to take a scared and helpless civilian.
• Ro reports that she is reading dozens of the aliens, hundreds…which is it? Dozens or hundreds?
• “If I could’ve killed that thing inside of me, I would have,” says O’Brien. I don’t remember how I felt about that line when I first saw this. Now, as a husband and a father, I’m pretty sympathetic with the sentiment.
Dialogue High Point
The dialog in the episode is solid all the way through, but with nothing spectacular. After some thought, I’m going with Picard’s last orders to Riker before submitting himself as a hostage:
Number One, so long as they’re on board this ship, I’m a hostage no matter where I am. We all are. I must find out who we’re dealing with. If La Forge and Ro can attempt a rescue in short order, then let them proceed. If they can’t, I will provide you with another opportunity. Watch for it.