Monday, January 16, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Man of the People

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Man of the People"
Airdate: October 5, 1992
128 of 176 produced
128 of 176 aired

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a negotiator, Alkar, en route to Rekag-Seronia, a world torn apart by civil war. Alkar is traveling with his eldery mother, who dies on the way to the peace conference. After sharing a mourning ritual with Alkar, Counselor Troi begins to exhibit strange physical and personality changes. What is happening to Troi and is Alkar somehow responsible?

Let's get you out of that hot, confining uniform, my hirsute teddy bear...


Kevin: In a way, this episode is oddly nostalgic for me. We have several severe plot problems that we haven't seen pretty much since season 2. Conflict with an alien of the week we don't care a fig about? Check. Guest star that kind of drags the episode down? Check. Undercooked exploration of an ethical issue? Check. An almost insulting use AND a psychic possession/of Counselor Troi? Check and double check. Let's take them apart one at a time. First, the Rekag-Seronia conflict, which is apparently so severe, it justifies murder to Alkar at least, never appears on screen in any way. It pretty much certifies that I won't care about them, and that Alkar's "good of the many" speech will never have any weight behind it.

Matthew: I was thinking the same thing about the Rekag-Seronians... have I time-traveled back to the first few seasons? Not only is this a guest star that bogs things down, it's a boring ambassador with a dark secret. How many times have we seen this? "Loud as a Whisper," "The Price," and "The Host" spring to mind.

Kevin: Turning to Alkar's "use" of his companions. I actually find myself upset that all of Alkar's victims, potential or actual, are or were attractive women in their 30s. It adds an unnecessary sexual element that creeps me out without actually advancing the story. Also, Alkar's plan, even if justified ethically, still doesn't quite pan out for me. Is he so distracted by his baser urges that he can't focus on something? Dude, do some yoga and get on with your life. Maybe the explanation could have been better..well..explained. Like maybe he can be emphatic with other species, helping him in negotiations, but only with the focus that transferring his negative thoughts brings. The story we got was just a little too ephemeral to really have any import.

Matthew: The fact that these people were women in their thirties didn't bother me. I can see how someone would want to do this with people in line with their sexual preference. The implication to me was that Alkar did in fact have sexual relationships with his receptacles, but couldn't or wouldn't for some reason with Troi. But indeed, the bigger problem was that his motive wasn't clear. I agree, one line of dialogue about how he uses his powers to influence others, necessitating receptacles, would have fixed this.

Kevin: And now we have come to heart of the crapitude of this episode: the stupid and horrible things done to Counselor Troi. Once again, we have her being possessed by an external force against her will, a trope that has long since lost its interest. They used it pretty well in Power Play and should have stopped. I didn't like that the physical changes registered as "aging" rather than "sick." The mechanism for that is not clearly explained, and I was really bothered by the magical transformation back to the blush of youth at the end of the episode. Speaking of magic, what the hell happened to Alkar? Why did Deanna have to be dead? Why not just leave orbit? It's not magic, right? Sufficiently far away, Alkar should not have a link with her. Right? Right? Everything about this aspect of the plot has a sense of "it works this way because the script says it does." The whole aging thing, right down to naming the original transport "Dorian" felt tacked on. In Dorian Gray, the painting displays not just Dorian's age, but the results of his life of dissipation and cruelty, so I get what they were going for, but it was too ham-fisted to work.

Matthew: Some very artificial aspects of the story made themselves obvious. Why can Crusher keep Troi in dead mode for 30 minutes, but not 30 minutes and 45 seconds? One would think that keeping someone in such a torpor would become progressively worse as time went on, and that the side effects would get more and more untenable the longer you delayed resuscitation. Instead, we have an arbitrarily binary set of repercussions. I also really dislike the insta-morph back to young Troi at the end. I can almost, kind of, maybe just a little bit swallow the idea that a torrent of negative emotions could overwhelm the body's systems and cause premature aging. But the idea that the cessation of these emotions would instantly turn her back into sexy Troi with a giant perm again? GMAFB. This is a writing problem, because it would have been interesting and realistic to address the rehab, plastic surgery, maybe even gene therapy, that it would have taken to repair the damage. Instead, as you say, the mechanism of change is basically magic. Folks, magic and Star Trek simply do not mix. Also, one little thing was missing from this episode that would have made me very happy - a mention of the Betazoid "phase" and its being an explanation for Troi's change in behavior.

Kevin: There is one almost-saving grace of this episode, and it's the actually nice scenes with Riker. His responses are organic and appropriate across the board, except for apparently not treating the scratches to the next morning. His concern and outrage in sickbay are entirely in line with his previously established relationship. When either of them is injured, the other takes on the role of spouse in the hospital waiting room, and it always plays really well. Even the last scene with its surprisingly casual display of physical intimacy was really nice. I imagine Sirtis and Frakes fighting for those moments, and I'm always glad they are there.

Matthew: There were some scenes I really enjoyed, despite the problems we've identified. One was Troi's seduction of the ambiguously heterosexual good-looking operations ensign. It had really good comic timing from the turbolift to the payoff in her quarters. I also like that it reinforced the military aspects of Starfleet culture. The other scene was with Ensign Janeway. It was quite funny how Troi dressed her down, and was an interesting reversal of character.

Kevin: I think there is the core of a decent episode in here somewhere, and I actually think the relationship between Troi and Riker could have been the focus of the episode and solved a lot of problems. Say Alkar comes to them for help acknowledging openly what his companion is for and asks Troi's help, clearly delineating the stakes in a much better way then was actually done. Being a good, altruistic Starfleet officer, she agrees over Picard and Riker's understandable objections. Now we can watch the personality changes in a much more organic way. Like Picard's mind meld with Sarek, we could get some awesome scenes of Troi struggling to control it and failing, and lashing out at the people around her. Imagine if Alkar's negative emotions tapped into some long-resolved (at least consciously) resentment toward Riker about him choosing his career over her, and she snaps at him and says something she knows is designed to hurt him as much as possible. Then we could get an awesome scene after the drama is over of struggling with knowing intellectually Deanna was not exactly responsible, but still being hurt by what she said or did, and trying to suss out how genuine it actually was. Then the conflict is about characters I care about with stakes I can relate to, and it would let two awesome actors act together.

Matthew: Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.


Kevin: All my other legitimate complaints aside, Sirtis really did the best she could. In interviews on the DVDs, she describes herself a Greek tragedian, and it shows here, quite nicely I think. The plotting was stupid, but I kind of liked watching her meltdown. If nothing else, the woman committed to the part. In a vacuum, the screaming, the vamping, and the weird touching herself scene all played as fully realized. She really dove right into bitter and resentful. Lastly, any leading lady who doesn't do a double take when asked to wear that outfit in Ten Forward is my kind of actress.

Matthew: I agree on Sirtis 100%. This was not a bad episode because of an over the top bad acting job by Sirtis. Quite the opposite. It was a bad episode despite her fine work.

Kevin: Riker did a really great job showing a range of hurt and concern and outrage over the course of the episode. Really, he always does a good job of being dependable when Troi is having a nutty, and it's always played really well. It doesn't come off like he's simply rescuing her or expects something in return. It just reads as genuinely warm and supportive.

Matthew: Indeed, when Frakes and Sirtis get together in a scene and play off of each other, it basically always works. They've got such great chemistry - and in my book, unless you're currently or want to be doing it with someone, chemistry is the product of acting ability. I bet they worked on their dialogue together, improv-style, in their down time, to make sure that everything on screen read natural and real.

Kevin: Picard put some good energy into his disgust with Alkar, but the script didn't give enough room to really shine. Alkar wasn't bad per se, but I think he fell into the trap of portraying a serene, above-it-all character as boring. Without the script to really give depth to his actions, he really needed to add some life to the character to make me at least contemplate his side as legitimate, and that never happened.

Matthew: Yeah, there were a few notes from Chip Lucia that sabotaged any remaining potential. He was practically twirling his handlebar mustache at a few points, such as when the local security personnel make the Picard and Worf leave the planet without him. For the ethical issue to have any heft, Alkar has to seem like not a douche. Instead, he was most definitely not not a douche.

Production Values

Kevin: It's not the best age make-up, particularly toward the end, but the mid-range with the graying and the crow's feet looked pretty decent. And let's all say a thank you to Marina Sirtis to staying shape and the nice costume assistant that taped her into the blue lace number. It totally read as drag queen, and from me that is a genuine compliment.

Matthew: We are introduced to the unnamed Klingon martial art of mok'bara, here. Well, it's basically tai chi, but who's complaining? It looked surprisingly good, and I wouldn't be shocked if it owed itself to Dan Curry, who is a martial arts expert in addition to the TNG effects guru.

Kevin: "If you can't make it good, make it blue" is  an axiom of effects design according to Dan Curry (I think - someone said it about the vortex in "Time Squared). It is no more true than in this episode. The transferring effect totally reminded me of the energy beings in "Lonely Among Us," and you never really want to remind me of that episode. Beyond that, there's nothing much in the way of effects here. The Rekag-Seronia set looked like a fairly standard waiting room. The only thing missing were some outdated copies of Cosmo.

Matthew: The Seronian security guards looked like they were borrowing the outfits of the who-cares aliens from "Loud as a Whisper." As you say, reminding us of previous crap episodes is not exactly the way to our hearts.


Kevin: This is a 2 for me only because any episode where Riker and Troi get interact can't be a total loss. Sirtis tried her best, and in the production of Madea in my head cast only with Star Trek actors, she has a mortal lock on the lead. Still, the conflict is uninteresting, the ethical question undeveloped, and the mechanism of the major threat was pretty much nonexistent. This is pretty much the nadir of the sixth season, depending on how I end up feeling about Aquiel and Descent.

Matthew: There is some stiff competition for nadir status. I didn't dislike this one as much as you did, but there is no denying that this episode is kind of crap. How crap? There are redeeming facets, that we mentioned above. So I agree with the 2, for a total of 4.


  1. I just like that Deanna stabs Picard with his own knife. That's the knife that the Tamarian captain gave him in Darmok. Hooray for continuity!

  2. I guess it is a matter of opinion that the "being possessed by an external force against her will" trope "has long since lost its interest. " Not for me. I find such episodes always interesting and intriguing, It is entertaining to see an established character act out of character. Weird. Strange, Disturbed and what have you. I never find such episodes boring, especially if they are this well done.

    For me, the conflict Alkar came to negotiate was beside the point. It was just a convenient thing to drive the plot, to show us that he is negotiator - a mediator who needs calm and serenity to be succesful, so he dumps his negative emotions onto another person. That is all this episode is about.

    The most intriguing part of this episode for me is Deanna's transformation. She is always very level headed, reasonable, calm, pleasant. And i loved watching her melt, fall apart. The moment the calmness that defines her was taken away, she is irritable, anxious, nervous, impatient, uncomfortable in her skin, agitated, sardonic, bitchy, mean. That scene where she dresses down the ensign is everything. "How would you feel if you had to sit around listening to people whine about themselves all day?" HA! That was so great.

    I loved how they recorded her transformation this extensively. It started little - like with her just feeling like shit in the am and not wanting anything to do with anyone - to her begging Alkar to take her with him and screaming in desperation.

    Sirtis played the transformation and eventual instability beautifully and convincingly. Watching this the first time I realized how calm and together Deanna actually is.

    I also found the aging plausible. Stress, anger, bitterness - all the things Deanna exhibited and felt - do lead to premature aging. So it made total sense to me even though I agree that her being magically transformed back to her gorgeous self did seem very unrealistic.

    Overall I really enjoy this episode and, once again, I did not let the inconsistencies bother me because, overall, it works. It was Skin of Evil type of episode in the sense that you had this calm, serene man be all those things because he was able to dump all those negative emotions and dispositions - the ones that Deanna exhibited as she spiraled down - onto someone else. You cant achieve that level of togetherness and calm with meditation. Maybe Alkar had a fiery personality, insecurities, doubts, anger issues that cannot be resolved this easily. Suggesting he meditate to work them out would be as trite as telling B'elanna Torres to meditate to work on her anger issues and the things that make her who she is.