Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: The Game

The Next Generation, Season 5
"The Game"
Airdate: October 28, 1991
105 of 176 produced
105 of 176 aired


Commander Riker returns from his Risa vacation with an odd little device in tow - a game that proves to be compelling and addictive to anyone who plays it. When the game takes hold of the crew with a fervor rarely seen from other shipboard fads, a visiting Wesley Crusher becomes concerned. Can he and his "good friend" Robin Lefler discover the nature of this game before they are forced by their shipmates to try it themselves? Will they unravel the dastardly agenda behind it?

"Just make the disk go into the cone..."


Matthew: This Brannon Braga-penned episode has a polarizing effect on fans. Some people think it is wholly inappropriate to the series, or is cheesy, or lame, or something along those lines. But you know what? I swing towards the other pole on this one. I think it's an inventive science-fiction idea that represents a nice change of pace.So let's start with the sci-fi - video games had been in the public consciousness since let's say the mid-seventies, and many a pundit decried their effects on the minds of their players. This story extends that premise into the future - with a truly mind-altering game. Apparently, it renders the frontal cortex of the player highly suggestible, turning them into sort of programmable zombies for the Ktarian cause (the same Ktarians that later were said to have impregnated Samantha Wildman on Voyager? Hmm...). That's science-fiction! The way the plot played out resulted in some creepy moments - especially the reveal that Picard plays the game, and when they force Wesley to open his eyes. I also like that this didn't become a screed against games in general, but the game is being used by malevolent beings as a plot.

Kevin: I agree there are several moments that are quite fun, but I think that's more a credit to the actors that the writing. I don't know, but this episode never really did it for me. I will admit I do still have a bit of a knee jerk reaction an a "Wesley saves the day" episode, so I am going to make sure that I don't let that spill over into other parts of the episode. I think the undertone of Rodenberry's position on drugs seeps into the episode. I can suspend a lot of disbelief for my beloved franchise, but I could never quite get myself to the point where I buy that no one in the Federation uses mind altering substances to manage stress. All the dialogue between Wesley and Lefler when they were investigating the device read like two teenagers in an after school special who had never heard of drugs and couldn't fathom why people would use them.

Matthew: I like how this episode expands and elaborates on continuity. It brings back Ensign Robin Lefler (played by the luscious Ashley Judd), and adds to her back story by saying she's a recent academy graduate, who still has friends in Wesley's cohort.What? People who go to the academy and who make friends there and have reasonable careers and things make sense? Shocking (OK... Abrams bile receding). Anyway, it precipitates some fun dialogue between Wesley and Lefler, about practical jokes, birthmarks, and so on. It was nice to see Wesley not being an irritating douche, instead being a young man trying to bed a bodacious babe. I like the idea that there are fads on the ship that are here one week and gone the next.

Kevin: I agree this is definitely points in the episode's favor. The snippets of dialogue about Data at the Academy and Wesley's prank war were really cute. My reticence about Wesley's miraculous skill set aside, both the character and the actor have grown, and I agree, this is certainly the most "natural" the character has ever come off.

Matthew: I will say that the mechanism of the mind control was a little murky, as was the "cure." Strobe lights? It also diminishes Riker's character a tad that it is his uncontrollable horniness that puts them in the position of having their minds controlled.

Kevin: This is where the episode kind of falls apart for me. I like the idea of exploring what would happen when the crew were dealing with addiction, but I never quite translated how they can be made docile enough to turn over the keys to the Enterprise, but on the ball the way they were when hunting Wesley. Shouldn't the loss of will come with a diminution in ability? I would have liked to see them focus more on the actual impact of the addiction. It could have made the plot a little more organic. Rather than a comic-book Nefarious Plot, it could have been something more subtle, like a general attempt to damage or destabilize Starfleet. I think it also would have been interesting to see the crew deal with actual withdrawal rather than being cured by a flashlight.


Matthew: This is one of Wil Wheaton's best episodes, bar none. Gone are both the "gollee gee whiz" early Wesley as well as the emo-Wesley of later seasons. Now, it's kind of nice to have Wesley back. He seems well adjusted, interested in girls, and actually identifiable. I want him to succeed, and I don't mind at all hat he's using deep scientific knowledge to do so.

Kevin: I agree. His dialogue when testing the game device was a little off for me, but that was a writing problem. Otherwise, it was really good. It was particularly nice to see his scenes with Crusher and Picard.  The scenes really sing with the more Wil Wheaton can now bring to them, opposite such gifted actors.

Matthew: It is incumbent upon any reviewer to discuss Ashley Judd. Well, she's Ashley Judd. Totally hot, but also, quite pleasantly, totally a fit for the TNG universe. She delivers technobabble with ease, and truly appears interested in Wesley. The way she delivers her "laws" is amusing and cute, and it underscores the loss we feel when she is never brought back. Now, to be sure, it's Ashley Judd, and she actually did go on to bigger things. But that doesn't mean we can't still wish she stuck around.

Kevin: I always found the whole "laws" thing a little stilted, but I suppose that's how the character is supposed to read, charming and bubbly, but a little socially awkward in a way she doesn't quite realize. Her teasing of Wesley played really well. I wasn't as generally bowled over as you, Matt, but still, she did a good job.

Matthew: I want to single out three instances of sexually charged performances - Troi, Crusher, and Nurse Ogawa. Each is amusing for different reasons - Troi for he sexualizing of chocolate. Crusher for that "you just caught me masturbating" vibe. And Ogawa -- her little orgasmic moan in the turbolift at "Level 47" was really hilarious.

Kevin: Between Naked Now, The Host, this one, and Sub Rosa, Gates McFadden really gets to bust out her O-face quite a bit doesn't she? But credit where credit is due, she nailed that scene.

Production Values

Matthew: With the exception of the Risa set, this is a bottle show. We get a few nice views of crawlspaces, an extended look at some sickbay lab equipment, and a look at some crew quarters. All of it is just fine, but none of it really stands out. We see the Oberth-class model again, which is always welcome. On the clothing front, the introduction of the cadet uniform gives us a preview of DS9 and Voyager uniforms, which I've always liked for their visual impact. Wesley gets a non-dipshit casual ensemble for once. And Ashley Judd? Well, her clothes kind of suck, but they do not blunt the Ashley-Judd-ness of it all.

Kevin: This was Wesley's least egregious sweater, but I did not like the powder blue car floor-mat additions to the shoulders. I think the cadet uniform is actually the best Wesley has ever looked, probably because it's the best cut uniform he's ever worn. It's flattering and not a bulky sweater, but also lacking that odd up-the-ass-crack-waistband of his gray uniform. Ashley Judd's pink dress was bad, but nowhere near as bad as other civilian wear, so I tend mostly to forget it. The Katarian ship looked like a reuse of the ship from Haven, sans weird transparent ball, and it looked pretty good this time.

Matthew: The Game. Well... it was the early nineties. So CG is limited. But is this really the best they could come up with? The design seems really insipid - like iPad game insipid. The joy juice shot in your brain must be really potent - because this game seems really boring from a design standpoint. Stratagema looks more interesting.

Kevin: I don't a way, I think there could be a subtle dig at gaming in there. From Pong to Angry Birds, it is the simple games with simple mechanics that tend to be truly universally addictive. Note to the Okudas: I pay you  a billion dollars to replace the game in this episode with Angry Birds in the Blu-ray release. Thank you.


Matthew: I think this is a solid 3. The concept is strong, and the acting is decent. Does it get developed in really interesting directions? Not really. But the story as is provides a platform for some funny scenes, a few creepy ones, and some nice character moments. I find it to be inoffensive, charming, and entertaining.

Kevin: I'm going with a 3 as well. The plot really doesn't do it for me in the end. I found the set up and solution too neat. What makes the episode are some first class acting scenes by guest and main cast. That makes a total of 6.


  1. first of all glad you guys pointed out the semi-sexual nature of the 'game' but you failed to point out what I guess can only be described as the mutual 'faking' by Wesley and Robin on their date! What mother would not be worried by that scene.

  2. That chocolate scene is everything.