Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Face of the Enemy

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Face of the Enemy"
Airdate: February 8, 1993
139 of 176 produced
139 of 176 aired



Introduction



When Counselor Troi wakes up on a Romulan Warbird and discovers that she has been surgically altered to look like a Romulan, she must piece together her situation, improvise in front of hostile Romulan soldiers, and simply try to survive.
Ensign DeSeve would have stayed with the Romulans, but he wanted to go back to his neighborhood barber in Scranton.





Writing


Matthew: There are three ways to evaluate this episode, I think. The first is as a character story about Troi. In this respect it excels. Counselor Troi makes a transition from fish out of water to desperate, wily survivor in a very satisfying way. Seeing her character take charge over Subcommander N'Vek was a great moment for her. This episode is Troi being taken seriously. There is no comic relief or flippancy, as there might be in a L'Waxana episode.

Kevin: Yep. Give the woman a pair of pants and watch her soar. The best part was I bought her taking control of the situation. Sure, it was a little spurred by the desperation of the circumstances, but it actually felt like she was managing it, not succumbing to it. I liked that they picked Troi as opposed to Riker or Data for this. It would have made sense for them to slip seamlessly into the deception, but watching Troi do it had notes of "Disaster" where it really says something about her character that she can step up in a crisis. I particularly enjoyed her sparring with Toreth. You could sense the internal weighing of the gambles she was taking.

Matthew: The second way of evaluating this for me is as a Romulan political drama. On the one hand, there is a certain narrative momentum to the story that is undeniably entertaining. The whole hidden identity aspect of the story is rife with dramatic potential, and several scenes exploit it well, especially the dinner, and the reveal of Troi to the Enterprise. The notion of a dissident underground railroad is a fine one as a plot driver, too. The Ensign DeSeve plot could be interesting, but is kind of an afterthought, seemingly designed only to provide plot-necessary information to the heroes.  On the other hand, the plot seems unduly complicated, almost to the point of absurdity. Would Spock really have endorsed this plan, which involves killing and kidnapping? The exchange of non-dissident lives for dissident ones seems blatantly unethical. Why in hell would Troi have access codes to Federation gravitic sensor nets? Why is the underground railroad really necessary, if as august a personage as Spock was able to steal in to Romulan territory?

Kevin: The politics of the plot made no sense of any kind, plain and simple. Why pick Troi? How would Troi have the codes? Even if she had them, wouldn't the sensor net still log them, just not stop them? It's like saying if I had someone's email password, I could access it. I could, but the system would still log the access. What border guard of any stripe would not note a crossing, even a friendly one? Yeah..no sense at all. And I agree, I can't believe Spock would countenance this plan. Even at his most "needs of the many"-ness, he would never condone murder. This raises the possibility that the proconsul is only using Spock's name for cover, which would have been a fun eventuality. The avenue I thought they really whiffed on was Toreth herself. Given her blatant antagonism to the Tal Shiar, maybe Troi could have been on the verge of being interrogated and laid her cards on the table and told Toreth who she really was and solicit help. That would have really done a good job of combining the political elements with the personal ones the show established.


Matthew: The third way of evaluating this to me is as a science fiction story, and this is where I think there is a lot of missed opportunity. The plot, as indicated above, was unduly complex and difficult to believe. But it also missed a whale of a sci-fi opportunity that would have fixed many of the problems (minus the Spock issue). It is unbelievable that Troi could have picked up fluent Romulan so quickly, or that the universal translator works so well that an entire room full of lifelong Romulans would not notice something amiss. Well, why not use a science fiction idea like a "personality implant" to fix these issues? Perhaps Troi could have been implanted with the memories of the dead Romulan officer, with various interesting consequences for her character psychologically. Whose motivations is she acting upon? Will she lose herself? And so on. Instead, we just have to swallow a whale of a logic problem and try to remain entertained.

Kevin: This episode really had the potential to be the Romulan "Redemption" literally and figuratively. In the end, the logic problems come this close to derailing it. Solving the episode's problems would have netted a more in depth view of the TNG Romulans, and that could have been fun. I will say, I will give the writers credit for killing N'Vek. It would have been easy to have a classic TNG happy ending where everyone lives and gets a pony, but Toreth killing him was executed (pun intended) pretty ruthlessly, and it helped make the episode feel like it had higher stakes, even with its logic problems.

Acting

Matthew: None of the issues with this episode reside with the acting. Marina Sirtis shows her acting chops here, in her character's transition from afraid to fighting for control of the situation. Her anger on the destruction of the cargo ship and her relief on returning to the Enterprise were palpable.

Kevin: We've talked about this before, but the actors really do a great job of acting as custodians for the internal integrity of their characters. There was just something about the way Troi goes after N'Vek about the cargo ship that felt not just like pro forma Federation outrage at the loss of life, but specifically authentic to Troi. I would go so far as to say that her performance makes sure this is an enjoyable episode regardless of the logic problems.

Matthew: We've already sung her praises in "First Contact," but Carolyn Seymour is yet again superb as Commander Toreth. I could listen to her read the phone book, personally, her voice is so interesting. She makes Toreth a well rounded, believable character, to boot. Scott MacDonald was also good as N'Vek, lending a nice air of gravitas to the role.

Kevin: It always nagged me that they didn't make her the same character. Having another encounter with the Enterprise could have added some layers to her reaction. Still, she does a great job. The woman just exudes gravity.

Matthew: Barry Lynch was kind of a non-entity for me as DeSeve. Perhaps it had something to do with how ridiculous his hair looked. His performance didn't overcome it.

Kevin: A couple of choices he made were odd. I never liked how he called Picard :"commander" or seemed to be struggling for the right English word. It just read as too much.

Production Values

Matthew: There was some really nice music in the intro of this episode. It set the mood generally, and the mood overall was accentuated by dark lighting schemes and so on, most of which looked nice. There were a lot of Romulan costumes, which means there were a lot of bad looking clothes. The worst of these was DeSeve's civilian ensemble, which did not help his generally dumpy appearance.

Kevin: Yeah, you figure they would have figured out how to prevent moobs in the future. DeSeve's wig was also not the best. It literally looked like it didn't fit. While the Romulan costumes are still well into the upholstery territory, I did like the subtle changes to the straps and collar pins for the Tal Shiar.

Matthew: This is out most extended look at a Romulan Warbird interior. It was nice looking for what it was, but it never appeared larger than a Klingon BOP. The Warbird strikes me as equivalent in size to a Galaxy class ship, and it didn't seem spacious enough to me. The stasis crates for the dissidents were nice looking. The major optical effect was the nice disruptor kill of N'Vek. I'm sure Kevin will dislike the explosion of the cargo vessel.

Kevin: I stand on my record of not liking the explosion overlay effect. N'Vek's vaporization was pretty well done, and I agree, a few more rooms on the warbird could have been fun. The bridge felt large enough, but they should have had the meetings in a different room than where they ate. That alone may have been enough to make the ship feel bigger.

Conclusion


Matthew: I have talked myself into a 3 on this one. I think the story problems are big enough to balance out the good performances and nice tone of the episode. Ironing out the Spock issues might have made this a 4, and ironing out the Troi/language issues with a science fiction angle might have propelled it higher still. But as it stands I can't realistically say this rises above the fat portion of the TNG bell curve.

Kevin: I agree with the three. This had the potential to be the truly awesome TNG contribution to the Romulan canon. Instead, like every other outing, it still falls short. The really good acting balances out the logic problems though, and the result is a sufficiently entertaining episode to land square in the middle of the pack. That makes a 6 overall.

1 comment:

  1. This episode really benefited from the HD upgrade. Dark scenes are a lot less murky, and the Romulan uniforms are bristling with detail. Space scenes look lovely, too.

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