Monday, November 21, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Power Play

The Next Generation, Season 5
"Power Play"
Airdate: February 24, 1992
114 of 176 produced
114 of 176 aired


Introduction

The Enterprise detects an centuries old distress call from a moon in orbit of an uncharted world. Counselor Troi  senses there is somehow still life somewhere on the moon and she with Riker and Data attempt to shuttle to the surface. The shuttle is forced down the moon's storms, and Chief O'Brien must beam down to help them. When they return, Troi, Data, and O'Brien attempt to seize control of the Enterprise and eventually take a room full of hostages in Ten Forward. What has caused the three to act this way? And will the Enterprise be able to save the people trapped with them in Ten Forward?
I... want... a window!



Writing


Kevin: This is a pretty well done take on the possession angle for me. First, while Troi is among them, it is not because of her telepathic skills. It was also neat seeing that they retained the memories of the host bodies as it really gave their interactions some bite. Watching "Troi" discuss how she would normally advise Picard in this situation or O'Brien remember that the shuttles have transporters was fun. Also, Picard's appeal to them in the cargo bay was nice insofar as it invokes the parts of the characters we like the most, and it makes Picard a bit of a badass to volunteer to get sucked into a vaccuum. That takes balls.

Matthew: I agree that demonic possession presents an interesting-ish opportunity for characters to play against type. This episode gave us a chance to have the O'Briens get a bit more fleshed out, and hostage situations tend to make for pretty good drama. I will say that this one lacked some teeth. Usually on a television show, the terrorists kill at least one person to show they are serious. This lack of willingness to get really violent led to less tension, and also led to my other problem with the plot, which I will get to below.

Kevin: I felt like this was a retread of the idea of "Skin of Evil," but done correctly. There were three distinct personalities at work and they had credible motivations, which we got to see via their interactions with ecah other and the crew. Also, removing a complete consciousness of a discreet individual as a form of punishment is both more disturbing and more credible than removing parts of many personalities to give birth to Armus. Given other non-corporeal stories the show has done, it makes sense that a personality can be separated from a body and remain intact, where I never quite got how just the negative qualities of many people someone combined to one sentient being.

Matthew: Actually, the episode this reminds me of is "Return to Tomorrow" - three crew members are possessed by alien presences with different personalities. I think this is less successful than that TOS classic, because of the sort of toothless criminality I mentioned above. If they are not going to be ruthlessly violent, and they aren't going to really argue with each other over their course of action, I think making them criminals is a bit weak. I would rather they had been the Essex crew, and that they were insane, as Worf suggested. Or, better still, perhaps one could be an Essex crew member, surreptitiously joining the criminals. What I am getting at is the lack of real conflict between the spirits. I agree that they were interestingly varied. I just don't think this variance was interesting enough.

Kevin: The first two thirds of this episode were paced really well for me. We didn't get endless dramatic music cues and mysterious happenings leading up to the reveal of their possession, like "Lonely Among Us." We got right into them acting out. We also spent a minimal amount of time sussing out the solution. The crew got to display their intellectual chops when Crusher realizes Riker's pain was what protected him. It was a lot more fun watching them try to implement a solution rather than devise one. It also gave everyone from Riker to Geordi to Ro something to do, and that's always great.

Matthew: I agree that pacing was not an issue here. This was a crisp, action-packed show. I was never bored by the proceedings on screen. I was just mystified by what I perceived as issues in story logic. Also, what was up with the logic of "only cargo bay 4" being one whose hatch can be blown?

Kevin: By the time they started the move to the cargo bay, the episode slowed for me a little. It began to consist more of Troi claiming to be the captain of the Essex and Picard not believing her. It's not fatal, and I still enjoyed it; the episode had just slowed for me, but that's really my only problem with the show.

Matthew: Yeah, I was really kind of flummoxed by the mechanism by which the Troi spirit knew all of the details of the Essex, and the complicated nature of masquerading as them, but totally blowing their plan by taking hostages right away. I get the idea that they tried to use the Essex to escape. But how could a ship that was incapable of surviving the storm have actually picked them up in the first place? Again, as I said, I wish they just were the Essex crew, or were a mix of crew and criminals. Then, the details could have been used to back up the story of a turncoat spirit who decides to aid the Enterprise. Finally, their surrender at the end seemed oddly anticlimactic. Why would disembodied spirits, who can survive sitting in a cargo bay, by killed by being vented into space? Why would the three possessing spirits give a damn about their prisoner buddies? The whole disembodied consciousness thing, while potentially interesting, wasn't really developed well.

Acting

Kevin: The three possessed crewmen did a great job. Troi's body language and intonation really changed, as did Spiner's. Watching Troi cooly predict and parry the crew's responses was pretty chilling. She also did a good job of looking like she was supposed to be the one in charge. Here warning to Picard at the end eas particularly effective. It was truly menacing without needing to overemote. Spiner did a pretty good job of being "the flunky with the short fuse" and it always stayed on the this side of over the top. The smallest shift was Colm Meaney who seemed to be playing "Irishman in the IRA" rather than "Irishman in a neighborhood pub" as per usual. Also, his interactions with Keiko were really upsetting, largely due to the chemistry the two normally have.

Matthew: Spiner was just sort of playing a Lore redux for me. Was it creepy to see him threaten babies and strangle the captain? Sure. But it wasn't really new. Sirtis and Meaney, on the other hand, were great. Sirtis had a great cool resolve, which I kind of wish her regular character had. And to see O'Brien turn on his wife and baby like that was chilling. Keiko is going to have some bad times with mental possession and duplicate drone O'Briens in the future...

Kevin: The rest of the ensemble got a lot of little things to do, which were great. Ro and LaForge working on the beam together was really well done, and the crew did a good job of interacting over the comm lines, which can't be easy since they are not in the room.

Matthew: I am in definite agreement that this is a good "competent crew" ensemble show. Particularly competent-seeming were Frakes and Dorn. I liked the Dorn-Spiner showdown, that's the sort of nerd-fodder we want to see in a possession show.

Production Values


Kevin: The shuttle wreckage was neat to see. I loved the exploding hatch. The storms were well composited and didn't look overly blue screened. Marina Sirtis insisted on doing her own stunt when they all got knocked out by the storm, and ended up hurting her tailbone, and sadly, you can't even tell it's actually her. But, kudos to you, Marina Sirtis, for being such a team player.

Matthew: I though planet hell looked fine. The shuttle descent didn't do it for me, though. The caera shaking looked phony, and you could see that the storm outside the windows was a smoke machine and nothing more. The storm itself has a rather "Last Outpost" look to it. That's not necessarily a good thing. Speaking of technical merits, the direction, camera angle choices, and music were all quite good. They lent the episode a more exciting air than I think the story really created on its own.

Kevin: The backing of the black corridor panels was neat to see. I also liked the way the grates came up to reveal piping in the Jeffries' tube. It's one of the few times those things have felt like the maintenance areas of the Enterprise they are supposed to be.

Matthew: I renew my objection to the design of the crawlspace. This is a place designed by future engineers for crawling, and it is covered with a zillion little knee-destroying nubbins. Did it look nice? Sure, if you're willing to check your brain at the door. (Paging JJ Abrams...) Anyway, yes, I do agree that seeing the "circuitry" of any Enterprise system is always cool.

Conclusion


Kevin: I am going with a 4 on this one. It's a nice take on the possession story, and it was well acted by the leads and the guest stars, and has some pretty solid production values.

Matthew: I'm with Michael Piller on this one. He thought the acting and directing were snappy, but the script was "meh." Me too. While mildly enjoyable, the story just didn't go in any really interesting directions. The mechanism of possession and the whole missing-Essex thing were confusing. This is a 3 for me, making for a total of 7.

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