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The Battle

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 27, 2007 - 8:16 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Battle' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: While complaining to Dr. Crusher of a headache, Picard is interrupted by a summons to the bridge. A Ferengi, DaiMon Bok, celebrates Picard as the victor of the Battle of Maxia and offers him as a gift the USS Stargazer - the ship he commanded and abandoned after taking heavy damage in that battle with an unknown vessel, which Bok explains was Ferengi. However, Picard's headaches worsen after a visit to the ship, and he begins to hallucinate about the battle. Meanwhile Riker discovers a log indicating that Picard ordered the Stargazer to fire on the unknown Ferengi vessel even though it was flying under a flag of truce. Because there are discrepancies between Picard's log and the ship's official log, Data concludes that one is a forgery. Wesley Crusher, who is studying anomalous readings from the Stargazer in engineering, realizes that they are the same as the captain's altered brain waves and convinces his mother that Picard is being manipulated. By the time Riker has determined this, however, Picard has beamed himself back to the Stargazer, where he attempts to relive the Battle of Maxia, this time using the "Picard Maneuver" against the Enterprise. Data develops a counter-strategy on the spot and neutralizes the Stargazer while Riker convinces Picard to destroy the device affecting his brain, which he has learned from the Ferengi first officer is illegal and costs Bok - who lost his son in the Battle of Maxia - his own command.

Analysis: "The Battle" is a more interesting episode than the first Ferengi installment, "The Last Outpost," though it seems to take the crew an awfully long time to figure out something the audience can guess about a quarter of the way into the story. We know one thing about the Ferengi thus far - they're obsessed with profit - so when a Ferengi shows up wanting to give Picard a Federation starship as a gift, we really don't need Troi to announce that she senses danger and deception...we could figure that part out ourselves. (And rewatching these early episodes, it's so very easy to see why Denise Crosby quit...Worf is the one who declares that he doesn't trust the Ferengi coming aboard, even though Yar is supposed to be chief of security.) It's a transparent set-up, with the only mystery being why Picard is getting headaches even before the Stargazer is in scanning range.

A lot of interesting tidbits get dropped in "The Battle," from a glimpse of what Picard was like as a younger commander to a demonstration that Ferengi have some scruples unrelated to profit, but none of them are explored in this episode...it won't be for years, until Bok's return in a much later episode and then Michael Jan Friedman's Stargazer, that "The Battle" will seem worthwhile. Here we have yet another display of unexpected weakness from the captain - as with "Lonely Among Us" not something that would be a problem a season from now, when we've seen Picard be strong and resilient most of the time - and another solution provided by Super-Genius Wesley Crusher, or as Worf so charmingly refers to him, "The Boy." "The Battle" seems full of first-season Next Generation clichés, and it's bad news indeed when one can define those clichés after so few episodes.

Some aspects are interesting, like the developments among the Ferengi. Clearly family loyalty trumps profit as well as a code of ethics; Bok's obsession with revenge at the expense of his command and his honor actually seems rather admirable, given what we've seen so far of Ferengi scruples. And the illegal mind-control device is a neat concept, allowing Patrick Stewart to play an increasingly befuddled Picard who can't tell past from present and can't trust his own memories. He keeps addressing his former first officer, Vigo, rather than Riker, and although rationally he knows that he wouldn't have fired on a defenseless vessel, emotionally he is afraid that he somehow suppressed a truth that is only now emerging.

Ironically, because Picard is out of commission in so many early episodes, we get a very strong sense of Riker as a command officer and a team player. He tries so hard not to step on Picard's toes that it takes longer than necessary for him to connect the dots, and it's a bit ridiculous that it takes Wesley rather than LaForge or another engineer to guess at a connection between Picard's altered brain waves and the mysterious energy readings, but despite some bumbling by the crew, the first officer comes through very forcefully, devoted to Picard and determined to clear up what he believes is a certain attempt to ruin the captain before Starfleet can start meddling. He reminds me a bit of Spock defending Kirk, refusing even to allow the captain to question himself. Crusher and LaForge already seem more comfortable bringing their findings to Riker than to the captain, in obsession with whose privacy no one thinks to search his cabin and find the device manipulating his thoughts.

The pacing of "The Battle" is quite good, with fewer draggy, talky sequences than in recent weeks, and it's nice to see a bit more of how the crewmembers relate to one another during everyday ship operations. Crusher has a nice moment reminding Picard that she could relieve him of duty (my ten-year-old's comment: "He got schooled!") and Riker is charming pointing out that it will take so long for Starfleet to respond to a message that he'd be just as happy trying to clear up any misunderstandings about Picard's past by themselves. The writers still don't know what to do with Troi beyond having her state the obvious - she announces that Picard is angry just as he turns to attack - and seem really clueless about the extent of Yar's powers, since I would think a security scan of anything Picard brought onto the Enterprise from the Stargazer would be one of her first priorities, not to mention leaving a team on the Stargazer in case of Ferengi sabotage.

"The Battle" is a reasonable diversion, but The Next Generation is clearly still trying to find its feet, with some awkward establishment of character backstory and trying to turn a one-dimensional alien menace into something more. It's also very obvious that Wesley-hatred was never Wil Wheaton's fault - what could he do, when the writers kept insisting on making him the single-handed problem solver each week - and that the writers weren't certain how to write senior female officers doing something other than nurturing. Even so, there's groundwork laid here that brings about good things later on.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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