Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Peak Performance

The Next Generation, Season 2
"Peak Performance"
Airdate: July 10, 1989
46th of 176 produced
46th of 176 aired


The Enterprise is assigned to war games in anticipation of the Borg threat. Commander Riker will command the antiquated USS Hathaway in simulated combat against the Enterprise. The games are being overseen by Zakdorn master strategist Sirna Kolrami. Kolrami is initially dismissive of Riker's ability to succeed in such a mismatched situation, much to the irritation of Picard and the crew. Kolrami is an expert in a game known as Strategema, and looking to see him taken down a peg, Dr. Pulaski maneuvers Kolrami into a game with Data, assuming Data cannot but win. To everyone's surprise, Kolrami handily defeats Data, causing him to believe something must be wrong with him. How will Riker fare against the far superior Enterprise? How will Data fare against his own self-doubt? What surprises wait for both ships in their game?

Kolrami begins the "jiggle yourself thin" diet with his fingertips. 


Kevin: This is an awesome episode, and even though it lacks the conclusory feel of a season finale, they really, really should have gone with this one for the finale instead of Shades of Gray. The set up is good. It harkens back to "Q Who" without getting bogged down in details. I thought that Riker and Picard's shock at Starfleet testing combat skills was a tad over the top, but we hadn't been introduced the never ending series of border wars with the alien of the week yet, so it's not too off the wall. What I enjoy is that for a conflict that by definition has no consequences, it still felt like they did. Everyone was approrpriately invested, and it makes the story more compelling.

Matthew: The story has some similarities to "The Ultimate Computer," inasmuch as we have both wargames as well as (some) computer control of the ship. In fact, the Ultimate Computer parallel belies the notion that Starfleet is not a military organization. All that aside, this was a nice chance to introduce a guest character (and a new race) in the Zakdorn strategist Kolrami, which gave the crew a funny but still irritating antagonist to play against. The "competition" aspect of the episode was fun. The characters are having fun, and so too do we. The one thing I wished we had gotten more of was life on the Hathaway. They were supposed to be over there for 2 days, right? Some "lower decks" action would have been cool, as well as perhaps some more comedy revolving around people not being used to "old" technology. I guess these sorts of things were difficult because of budget and time.

Kevin: A lot of characters got a lot of nice moments. I've said before that Season One Riker's bravado was a little taut and a little forced, and this is a great example of how the character has grown. His brashness is more comfortable and genuine, and it makes him more fun to watch. Worf building the model ship is just too darling for words, and he gets several awesome one-liners. He always makes the most of his comic straight man role. Wesley also gets a nice moment when he gets the antimatter from the Enterprise. His feigned shock was pretty well done.

Matthew: This episode had a scene between Picard and Kolrami which really worked for me - when he was defending Riker's honor against Kolrami's withering criticism. It really spoke to the relationship between the two officers - and was paid off when Riker showed particular ingenuity with the warp jump. It would be hollow wordplay if Picard were to just say it. But we witness it. That's good writing.

Kevin: The B-plot of Data's self doubt was also nicely done. It's always nice when Troi gets something professional to do, and Picard basically slapping him in the face to snap him out of it was great to watch. I would have liked a little more explanation of Statagema, though. If it's like chess, where there are a huge, but ultimately finite, number of game permutations, then Data should win handily as he can simply think of every possible move and pick the best one. But there's no reason Data must win a game of Monopoly. Even making good decisions, chance plays a role. I particularly liked how they discussed his doubt that, while not an emotion in itself, is functioning the same way. I enjoy any exploration of how Data views himself and how his personality functions.

Matthew: One thing I really like about the B plot is that it revolves around a game. Who was it that said you can tell a lot about a people by the games they play? My point is, it makes the world feel real when you have extended uses of things like Parrises Squares, Strategema, and so on. Getting to actually see the game is icing on the cake. It makes the world and our particular starship crew in the world feel much more organic. They root, they bet on outcomes, they care about the players. Just like real people!

Kevin: The weak point of the episode is the Ferengi plot. Why disengage the regular weapons at all? Why not do everything by computer simulation including the lasers? The Ferengi are certainly better portrayed here than in Last Outpost, but they still largely there to add tension, and it feels just forced enough to be off for me. The solution, and its buildup were pretty neat though.

Matthew: I didn't mind the Ferengis' presence per se, it was only the "fused control relays" that turned the weapons off that was lame. It's a total "dramatic malfunction" in the worst way. I actually thought, story-wise, that the Ferengi were pretty menacing, at least insofar as they wanted to steal a starship or two. But why don't the Ferengi come right back after the photon torpedo trick, since all they'd have to do is a long range sensor scan to determine that the same two hobbled ships were still there?


Kevin: This is a highlight of season 2's acting for me. This an episode that functions well because it's quietly showcasing the character's we've developed. Picard's command style and faith in his crew, Riker's charming bravado, Data's simulacrum of emotional awareness, Worf's deadpan..the list goes on. Even Wesley's ingenuity gets a credible and in no way annoying outing this time. Everyone acted the way their characters would dictate they act, not the script.

Matthew: Yeah, I think Dorn got the biggest laughs, with his perfect deadpan. Spiner was also great with Sirtis in their funny scene between discussing Riker's demeanor: "knowing that he knows that we know that he knows..." As a matter of fact, this may be the episode that has the best mix of comedy and action in the series thus far. We've had some good serious shows, and a few comedy shows, but never really a healthy mix. That mix was evident here, and it takes actors who can do both to be pulled off. Kudos to the cast!

Kevin: Armin Shimerman begins the career long atonement for "The Last Outpost" with a far more nuanced performance. It doesn't quite break free of the two dimensional writing, but there's a reason they keep bringing him back. Roy Brocksmith is a highlight of the episode for me. His officiousness was pretty funny, and every time I watch the episode, I spent the next day or so responding "Hmm...hmmm..." to everything.

Matthew: Yeah, the Kolrami character was really brought to life by Brocksmith. It's great when casting works out so well. I would have loved to have seen him again in later seasons or even series, the character is that amusing. Can you imagine Kolrami captaining a Zakdorn vessel at Wolf 359? Or fighting in the Dominion War? I can. And imagining things like that is what being an utter Trek nerd is all about. Indeed, Shimerman's line readings were light years ahead of "The Last Outpost."

Production Values

Kevin: Behind "Q Who" and "Contagion", this is a comfortable third place for best effects of the season. The shots of the Hathaway swooping over the Enterprise is easily one of the best model shots of the series. The reuse of the Constellation-class was neat. The engineering and bridge sets were great and totally in keeping with the previously established designs. Matt points this out in the podcast and I never realized it before, but Star Trek V and VI come after this. Having seen them out of order, I always assumed in my head that they dusted off a V or VI set for the Stargazer/Hathaway, but it's the opposite. Okuda went back to his designs in Season 2 of TNG to develop them into the V and VI aesthetic. That is awesome beyond words.

Matthew: There is so much great stuff in this episode. First of all, we get lots of fun "pew pew pew" action with starships firing on one another. That stuff costs money, and the money shows on screen when it gets done. As far as sets go, we see Worf's quarters - a redress of Data's quarters with some nice props including the Kahless statue and the goofy "ball chair." The Hathaway gets a nice bridge, which appears to be yet another redress of the battle bridge, which itself is a reuse of the ST1-3 bridges. Great Okudagrams abound, with a the lovely graphic design sense you mention. The engineering layout of the Hathaway is odd - is it an Enterprise reuse? It's hard to say, but we get a neat look inside the dilithium chamber. Stratagema looks cool, too - sort of a mix between the ancient game "Go" and the 80's Taito arcade game Qix. The controls are a bit of silly 80's futurism, looking like they could have been ripped from Nintendo's Virtual Boy or something.


Kevin: This is one of those episodes that somehow doesn't get mentioned in the same breath with other Great Star Trek Episodes, and that's a little unfair. The episode is highly entertaining and pretty well paced, save a little slowness with the Ferengi plot. It's chock full of character moments and effects are all around nifty. I heartily give this a 4. It lacks a little of the narrative ambition of a 5, and the Ferengi plot falls a little short. Still, I always love watching this episode.

Matthew: Definitely a 4. The writing is a fun showcase for both comedy and action. The acting displays the versatility of our cast. The production values are uniformly good - there is always something interesting to look at on screen. I think that the sci-fi is perhaps a little wanting, and that held it from a 5. But anyway, our ratings bring it to an 8 overall.


  1. You have ten of YOUR minutes to take back what you said about us Ferengi! We are not poorly written, two-dimensional, irritating characters who sound like we should be wearing handlebar mustaches on an episode of Superfriends or any 70's Hanna Barbera animation.

  2. This was one of my favorite episodes of all Trek... until the Ferengi showed up. It was so unnecessary and ruined 35 minutes of anticipation of who would win the Picard/Riker showdown. What a waste. :(

    I figured neither would win it outright but enough to prove Riker was on par with Picard. Instead it was just bleh.

    I did like the B plot a lot though. "It is possible to make no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness; That is life."
    Amazing quote.

    Btw I know this blog is from long ago so you may not see this but thank you for writing it. Love the insights!