Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: The Price

The Next Generation, Season 3
Airdate: November 13, 1989
55 of 176 produced
55 of 176 released

When the Barzan people discover a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant of the galaxy, the Enterprise is sent to mediate negotiations between the Barzan and several interested parties. Things swiftly go pear-shaped, however, as the Ferengi crash the party, Counselor Troi falls for an opposing negotiator, the Federation representative falls deathly ill, and the wormhole turns out to be not quite what it seemed.

This leotard is going boldly into the cameltoe neutral zone.


Matthew: I think it's fair to say that the story here can be classified into two separate but related categories - plot threads revolving around the wormhole itself, and the romance between Troi and Devonani Ral. I will treat these aspects separately. As a story about a wormhole and a negotiation, there is enough here to maintain my interest, but not enough to really dazzle me. I appreciate that this episode sets up the idea of the galactic quadrants (nailing down a heretofore very nebulous galactic cartography), and establishes wormholes as capable of transit over large distances, as opposed to the sort of dangerous accident-holes they were portrayed as in ST:TMP. But with that being said, we don't get a lot of sci-fi in relation to it. Other stories with wormholes dealt with time displacement, resident aliens, and the like. This could just as well be a story about a canal that is disputed over by several 18th century factions on Earth.

Kevin: I would have liked a more thorough exploration of the economics of this universe, both in and out of the Federation. Is there a currency that is valid everywhere? Is it just barter? Some hybrid? I did like the discussion of the Federation as an organization constantly in conflict, if not war, with other people. Seasons 3 and 4 onward introduce about a million species that the Federation had protracted border wars with, and it makes an interesting note on their pacifist leanings. The scene on the other side of the wormhole was pretty funny for me, and I like that they bring the characters back in Voyager.

Matthew: The romance, although firmly entrenched in a soap operatic mode, is actually somewhat enjoyable. It's nice to see Riker actually challenged by a Troi paramour (Wyatt Miller was too much of a twerp). The ethical dimension of how open a telepath should be was interesting, though maybe not taken as far as it could have been. It would have been nice to see a real frank discussion of how distrusted a telepath would actually be in a society of non-telepaths. The two story threads dovetailed nicely when Riker and Ral's negotiating styles were contrasted, just as they romantic styles were. It was nice to see a female character as a sexual being out for her own gratification, but also one who was in control of her feelings and was able to choose her career over a fling.

Kevin: The foot-rub close up was too long, but other than that, I thought this was a pretty well developed story. It could have used one more scene of flirting before he starts pawing at her headband, but other than that, it was well done. The acting and writing choices were, as you as said, soap opera-ey, but overall, I thought they had chemistry, and the bedroom scenes were surprisingly grown up.  They avoided my most-hated romance cliche: skipping over anything interesting and cutting to them lying in bed with the woman holding a sheet to her clavicle like her life depends on it. I remember being a little scandalized when Troi straddles Ral in bed, but I was like nine when I first saw this episode. Riker also comes off way better in this episode than in Haven. I actually got the impression their relationship had become a good friendship and whatever reflexive jealousy he may feel, he is genuinely happy and supportive. One scene of the dialogue between the two would have really sealed it, though.

Matthew: I appreciated Troi and Beverly's scene together - and certainly not for the awful Jazzercise leotards. It was just nice to have women be friends with each other on screen. It goes a long way towards making these people feel real, and to making female characters not seem like mere sex objects for the males (be they viewers or characters).

Kevin: I agree on this point, but will add the caveat that these scenes between the two tend to be all about their romances with men. The scenes do a great job of humanizing them, and it's nice to see their perspective on these things, but it's still a little narrow. It would add a nice dimension if they discussed things like work or hobbies or something. Just one holodeck adventure together, as long as it's not an Austen novel, would have been great. They'll do that more in DS9 and Voyager, to the franchise's lasting benefit.


Matthew: Well, this is a "Troi Episode." So it really does come down to how well Marina Sirtis does, doesn't it? The challenge here is to remain interesting to an audience that, perhaps, is less interested in soap opera than science fiction. Like me, for instance. I will say that though it was not a smashing success, I never felt embarrassed for Counselor Troi. Sirtis made restrained choices, and seemed like a real and strong person who was dealing with her emotions effectively.

Kevin: Yeah, the face you make for PAIN and LONELINESS isn't that far off for the face you make...nah, I can't finish that joke, sorry. I really liked her acting in the scene with Beverly. Despite my minor objection that they only ever talk about men, there was an ease to the scene, for both of them actually. It felt like a real conversation between real friends, and that's always nice. I also think she did a nice job of portraying moral outrage caught in a logical flaw, when Ral called her out for using her own telepathy for gain. You can actually see her trying to think of a quick response. It was well done.

Matthew: The other end of the romance is Matt McCoy's Devonani Ral. It was... well, let's just say Ral kind of irritated me. Which I suppose is a part of the character. But if someone is going to get Troi to become interested in him, I feel like he should really be charming. McCoy's Ral was just sort of unctuous and a bit sleazy. The only thing I ever really liked McCoy in was L.A. Confidential - in which he played an unctuous and sleazy TV star. Did I mention he struck me as unctuous and sleazy? This is a problem because it calls into question the Troi character's choices. So I'm going to have to say this was a casting miss for me.

Kevin: I feel marginally more qualified to discuss his innate attractiveness than you Matthew, for obvious reasons, but I agree fully. It's the flipside of the problem in a TOS when the woman is supposed to be so attractive she gives men nosebleeds but the actress is just okay. I would have liked either a conscious attempt to share traits with Riker, making her attraction more logical, and Riker's subtle resentment more interesting, or the opposite, someone who offers the things Riker can't. Like if he offered to give up his career to stay on the Enterprise with her? How would she respond?

Matthew: Frakes gets to play an uncustomary role - the jealous ex. He was perfectly effective at it. He portrayed a mix of sangfroid and a roiling undercurrent of tension. It sucks to watch someone eat your lunch, and to sneer at you while doing it. But protocol limits how you can respond.

Kevin: Like I said above, I think Riker did a good job of playing slightly jealous, but understanding why he's not supposed to be. It came off that he was just pissy at Ral because Ral was a jerk. A scene with Troi and Riker would have really been good here, just to see how he reacts to her.

Production Values

Matthew: The wormhole was nice, but not great. It is a good enough effect for TNG at this point, but doesn't  rise to the heights of some of the best astronomical effects we've seen thus far, such as in "Evolution." The interior and exteriors of the wormhole effect was really the only optical in this episode. I guess we also got to see phasers destroying a missile, which was also unremarkable. I wish we could have seen what Geordi was describing from his VISOR. They had just done it to great effect on the neutrino fountain in "The Enemy," and I felt shorted by not seeing the particle shift of the wormhole.

Kevin: Agreed. Maybe had they thrown in a planet or gaseous nebula or something in the Gamma Quadrant, just to break up visually the two sides of the wormhole. The effects are, ultimately, adequate. That's not bad, just adequate.

Matthew: Alien makeup and costumes are the other big elements of this show. The aliens looked good here. Westmore has come a long way from his days with the Anticans and the Selay. The clothing was less successful. Casual wear is always dicey - it has to be both "future" and "believable." Well, they got one out of two in this attempt. I'll leave it to you to decide which. And, the leotards. The leotards.

Kevin: The butt-head alien was well acheived, and I liked the mouth piece on the Barzan premiere. It was clear what it was for, but not obtrusive. The hair-crimping dates the look, which is odd, since the character is supposed to be from another planet. Does the premiere have a picture of the Barzan equivalent of Wham! on her wall? We've settled into the Ferengi uniform, and I've always found them a little bit of a throwaway. Quark and other Ferengi outfits in DS9 make much more sense for who they are portraying. Even for military uniforms, you'd think the Ferengi would bling them out a little more. And yes...the leotards. Let's start by giving a round of polite but sincere applause to Gates McFadden for having a totally rocking body, and I'm not even going to append "for a woman her age." Rocking body, full stop. Troi is wearing the new Playtex Cross-Your-Heart Leotard,'s certainly attention grabbing. What really nags me about them is what it says about what the people who made them think about women. No one has ever actually worked out in that outfit. The only time women come close to that is when they are filming a workout video. Once everyone starts rocking the unisex Mok'bara robes, not only are they more flattering, they're also less insulting.


Matthew: Although I have mentioned a few lackluster elements, this episode was still solidly entertaining. It sets the stage for both wormhole stories and galactic quadrant stories in the future of the franchise (with a great follow-up in Voyager's "False Profits"). It presents a relatively credible romance for a strong female character, and also gives them a credible reason for breaking up. But this praise is leavened by my sort-of irritation with the Ral character, and with the general lack of ambition. So it's just an average 3 in my book.

Kevin: In a way, a romance-centered episode getting a three is like a science-fiction episode getting a 4 or 5. Star Trek does not normally do romance well, and the fact that they found the fairway at all is something of an accomplishment. I mean, can you picture a season one attempt at this? Yeah...that's what I'm saying. This is a solidly average episode, and gets a three from me as well, for a total of 6.


  1. I love that Picard gets the time it would take to travel from the Alpha to the Delta quadrant, right. It creates continuity with Voyager. We know this is all taking place in the same universe. It was probably coincidence, but it was a good one. I always smile when he says that.

  2. Also, that line in the end by Troi: "I already have a job as a counselor" should really have been "I want to be your lover, not your savior."