Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Next Generation, Season 1: The Battle

The Next Generation, Season 1
"The Battle"
Airdate: November 16, 1987
9 of 176 produced
8 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is sent to a remote sector to meeting with the Ferengi. They have a gift for the Captain. It's the derelict U.S.S. Stargazer, Captain Picard's former ship, previously thought destroyed. He was forced to abandon it after barely surviving a battle with a mysterious attacker. As it turns out, the attacker was a Ferengi vessel, and its commander was the son of the Ferengi Daimon now giving him the Stargazer. What secrets does the long-abandoned starship hold? Do the Ferengi have an ulterior motive for their apparent generosity?

Just where do Ferengi stand when they're making transmissions like this?


Kevin: This episode didn't have the strongest science fiction credentials, but it more than makes up for it with character development. We get a ton of history for Captain Picard and lovely moments between Picard and members and his senior staff. The idea that Picard had prior command experience before the Enterprise is a good addition. It makes it more credible he was given command of the flagship of the Federation. The scene in the conference room was a lot of fun, any "Picard Maneuver" jokes aside. The maneuver itself was great because it sounds credible and acknowledges that from the outside, warp speed would create perception problems. The old Stargazer might actually only appear for shorter than human reaction time, but it is still a neat idea.

Matthew: Is it sci-fi? Well, we may just have to define this at some point. The working definition I use is "a what-if story in which the effects and changes wrought on human beings by some form of science or technology are explored." There is plenty of room for debate within this framework - are disaster stories sci-fi?Is there such a thing as hard vs. soft sci-fi? OK, anyway, I think "The Battle" counts. We have a memory-creating mind-control machine. That sounds like technology to me, and we're certainly telling a story of how it affects Picard. Is it the hardest sci-fi out there? Does it really drive the story, or is this more of a revenge yarn? Maybe, maybe not. But suffice it to say, my mind was sufficiently engaged by the alternate possibilities of this story to call it sci-fi. Plus, at this point, we care enough about the characters to enjoy a story that gives us meaty Picard backstory. As far as the Picard maneuver, I have some story logic questions. I get how it could work once. But twice? "No defense against it?" I don't know. If you're absolutely certain it will be employed (as the Enterprise crew is in this case), don't you just shoot the ship that's closest to you? It's the only one that could possibly be the real one. Warp speed has been defined pretty well in canon, as something that goes in one direction. So there's really no way to flit back and forth between positions at FTL velocity (and thus preserve any real mystery as to your location) without having to turn the ship. I'm just not seeing how it's a devastating strategy after the first time.

Kevin: The Ferengi revenge plot was largely good. The fake log and everyone's reaction to it created some credible drama. Faith with an iota of doubt always plays well. The mind control orbs are a little contrived. The episode may have been stronger had it focused on the fake log and some tension that maybe Picard had actually made a mistake. That being said, Picard's hallucinations were quite effective.

Matthew: This episode almost resurrected the Ferengi as villains. The producers could have gone in the direction proposed by this show, but instead went in the direction proposed by "The Price" and "Perfect Mate." Daimon Bok was a credible villain with credible motivations, and the overall plot was pretty strong. I agree that the doubt in Picard could have been explored more. But it was good for what we got. Anyway, I thought the flashback scenes were totally cool. I remember thinking so when I was a kid, and I still agree with myself. Giving your characters real, organic backstories is gold as far as drama and as far as the viewer identifying with them.  It's too bad that some people (you get one guess) think that creating logically consistent back story and universe detail is passe in our topsy-turvy modern times.

Kevin: One gripe I do have is Crusher's line about no one getting headaches. First, it's an annoying trope of season one to constantly point out how backwards the twentieth century was. Also people don't get tension headaches on the future? I'm actually bothered by the idea that minor ailments are extremely medicated, or at least treated as things requiring immediate medical attention. It seems to contradict an underlying theme of the show about how we don't have to use technology just because it exists, instead it should serve to increase quality of life. Relying on pain killers when the solution may be find a better way to handle stress seems problematic.

Matthew: Not only was this a blatant "IT'S THE FUTURE!!!" thing, it also is inconsistent with some other TNG dialogue, in which the brain is regarded as the last truly mysterious organ.

Kevin: In Wil Wheaton's memoirs, he posits that Wesley's scoffing line "Adults," was pretty much the moment the Wesley Hatred really cemented, and I can't say as I disagree with him. Shouldn't some other member of the crew also noticed a strange transmission from the Ferengi ship? I will grant that Wesley had the best chance of catching the comparison, but his pomposity is annoying, and after a pretty solid performance in Where No One Has Gone Before, it's also out of character. I also HATED him coming to the bridge to announce his own super special sensors caught something before the bridge sensors will. Even he has to know that bragging rights aside, it would still better serve the bridge to inform them over the comm. I understand he's a teenager and hasn't learned restraint yet, but this is beyond the pale. It's increasingly clear the writers don't know how to write for the Wesley character given the parameters laid out by Rodenberry. Wheaton has displayed before he can play a quieter, less self assured potential genius, and it served both the character and the episode. The cockiness in his two scenes is damaging to the character and annoying to watch.

Matthew: When Kelly and I watched this episode, we laughed at those lines ("You're welcome, ladies" and "Adults.") I can see why people were irritated, but I personally wasn't. One or two more story logic notes: why not destroy the ball that they have on the Enterprise? It was not established that this would be dangerous to Picard, so I would think that most anyone would thing to themselves "maybe I should destroy the device that is helping an enemy control my captain's brain." Also, what's with two revenge plots instead of just one? Are you controlling his brain and sending him to his death, or ruining his career? It's like the writers broke two ideas in story meetings, and then just decided to use both.


Kevin: The clear winner on the acting front is Captain Picard. So I should more accurately say that the clear winner is the audience. His first scene on the bridge of the Stargazer is absolutely touching. His scene in the conference room describing the final moments of the Stargazer was told with the skill of a master storyteller, and it showed in how the other actors responded. Patrick Stewart did a great job of saying his former shipmates's names with the same ease and emotional depth as this one, so it made them seem like real people. Even before the mind control device caused him to slip into present tense, it felt like I was on the bridge.

Matthew: Definitely Stewart's high point in the series thus far. His other mind control bouts ("Lonely Among Us") aren't this good. I'm sure it was an easier job finding the emotion given the idea that this is his character's real past, and a real failure, that is being relived.

Kevin: Other nice notes were Picard and Riker in Picard's quarter's discussing the altered log. Riker's torn between duty and loyalty and it played nicely off of Picard's assertion of his innocence, but concern that even the appearance of impropriety could cost him his command. The show is only six episodes old, but they have a real rapport. This is especially nice since there has been a conscious attempt to not have the show focus on the Captain/First Officer friendship; it's good that they still have a relationship even if it's not the gravitational center of the show.

Matthew: This was a good story for building relationships. Gates McFadden and Frakes did good jobs portraying care, concern, and loyalty. Might it have been more interesting if Riker hadn't gone so far in the admiring direction so soon? Maybe. But Frakes does the job. And McFadden gave a nice feeling of the impulse that she might just crawl into bed with him and hug him to sleep. Sigh. We can only hope.

Kevin: The Ferengi were better this time around. No hissing or jumping. Bok's rage is understandable, and adequately acted. I thought Dr. Crusher came off a little too whiny this episode. She's condescendingly ordering Captain Picard around in every scene. She's coming off less as CMO and more as mother hen.

Matthew: She should order him into bed. Naked. And maybe she can give him a little blue hypospray, to boot.

Production Values

Kevin: This episode might not make any top ten lists for best effects, but there's still a lot to recommend it. The Stargazer itself is a neat design and I am thrilled they resisted the urge to use an existing model. The refit Constitution or an unaltered Miranda class would have felt too old. Aside from that, it's always nice to have the canon expanded. If you watch carefully in that first scene on the bridge, when Geordi says "Constitution Class" and they dub "Constellation" over his original audio when they decided later to go with a new model. The bridge itself is clearly a redress of the Enterprise bridge from WOK and SFS, but it's effective nonetheless. The damage looked pretty good as well.

Matthew: New ships are an easy "+1" for any episode. Redresses of movie sets? Another +1. We also get to see Okudagrams for both pre-TNG Starfleet and Ferengi bridges. Basically, this episode is a real treat for he nerds.

Kevin: The Picard Maneuver was neat to see in action. Production values aside, I enjoy being shown things and how cool they are rather than just being told about them.

Matthew: Definitely a nice effect, maybe the best so far in the series. The animation of lighting effects was very cool. Speaking of "effects," the music cues in this episode were good, and had the effect of heightening the drama.


Kevin: This episode is certainly a better use of the Ferengi, though we don't really get any Ferengi specific development here. It could have been any heretofore unknown enemy. The mind control story is a little contrived, but everyone plays it well. In the balance, I am going to give this a three. Picard's acting is beautiful as always, but it doesn't push this into above average territory. Still, it's another solid episode, and coming on the heels of Justice and Lonely Among Us, the season needs it.

Matthew: This is a 4 in my book. It's got a plus story, plus acting, and plus production values. It doesn't hit a grand slam on any of these counts, but it is solidly above average. I consider this a season highlight along with "Where No One Has Gone Before," "The Big Goodbye," and "Conspiracy." So that brings us to a 7 total.

1 comment:

  1. This was another great HD transfer, coming hot off the heels of "Justice," which might be the best looking episode of the Blu-Ray set overall.

    Highlights include an overhead view of Picard in the medical exam bed, with every little stipple of the cushion being visible. The space exterior shots are quite good as well, with the Stargazer model looking more detailed than ever. The energy effects aren't as good as some episodes, but they are ultra crisp and colorful. There is a static effect when Riker talks to Picard on the Stargazer over the intercom that is really subtle. It would be impossible to see in SD, which makes me wonder if they added it for this remaster.