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The Price

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at May 2, 2008 - 7:59 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Price' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is chosen to host a group of negotiators bidding for the rights to the Barzan wormhole - the only known stable shortcut across the galaxy. While the Ferengi team incapacitates the Federation delegate, Troi carries on a romance with the Chrysalian negotiator, Devinoni Ral, who is working behind the scenes to convince various other bidders to drop out of the competition. Having chosen Riker to bid for the Federation, Picard then agrees that his crew should explore the wormhole before committing to a bid. LaForge and Data take a shuttlecraft through, followed by the Ferengi, who are convinced that the Federation will try to trick them. The other side of the wormhole is reportedly in the Gamma Quadrant, but LaForge and Data conclude that it is not stable on that end and has apparently jumped to the Delta Quadrant. The Ferengi refuse to accept these findings, however. Meanwhile, Troi learns that Ral is part Betazoid like herself and has been manipulating his competitors, including Riker, by pressuring them during the bidding, using his empathic powers to determine their weaknesses. Ral and the remaining Ferengi put on a show for the Barzan, using Ferengi threats to convince the Barzan to sell the wormhole rights to the neutral Chrysalians who are willing to offer convoy services to the Ferengi in the interests of peace. Troi denounces Ral, yet the Barzan and Chrysalians are already committed to an agreement by the time LaForge and Data return to explain that the wormhole is not stable after all. The Ferengi explorers have become trapped in the Delta Quadrant. Troi declines when Ral asks her to come work with him.

Analysis: Maybe "The Price" played better before the vastly better stable wormhole stories on Deep Space Nine or even its own sequel, Voyager's "False Profits." But given what a painfully bad Troi episode this is, I don't think so. While it's interesting at first to get a glimpse of the private Deanna who consoles herself with chocolate and enjoys girl talk with Beverly Crusher, Ral isn't worth her time, and the ease with which he manipulates her is embarrassing to watch. He's supposed to be an empath who reads emotions, not someone who can block someone else's empathic skills and control their feelings, so there's just no logic to her falling for such a con man without once suspecting that he's using her, looking for an edge to win the bidding war. Once his secret is out and conflict enters their relationship, it's much more interesting, with Ral suggesting that Troi's behavior is just as unethical detecting Romulan emotions and reporting them to Picard as is his own use of empathy in his negotiations, but then the storyline goes over the top with the Ferengi ruse and Ral's deception which is obvious to viewers even before Troi announces that the "peacekeeping" has all been an act.

The only person who comes out looking really good is Riker, who takes abuse from Ral for hesitating both in negotiations and with Troi, yet ends up sparing the Federation a really bad deal for the wormhole...and, as we know now, his patience waiting for the right moment with Troi will eventually serve him as well. There's a lovely scene where Ral tries to needle Riker by flaunting his relationship with Troi, which Ral suggests is more passionate than what she shared with Riker or she would still be with him. "She could have been yours," gloats Ral, saying that Riker didn't do enough to keep her, and now Ral is going to take Deanna and the wormhole both. "That's the first bad play I've seen you make," retorts Riker, telling Ral that if he can make Deanna truly happy, nothing would please him more. Of course Ral is probably picking up on underlying jealousy and frustration from Riker, but the Enterprise officer's not going to risk either the negotiations or his friendship with Troi over might-have-beens. Riker may be a master at bluffing in poker, but he keeps his biggest cards close to the chest and doesn't take the big risks until he's sure they're worthwhile.

We do get a tantalizing glimpse of how a stable wormhole might work - a compelling enough concept that Deep Space Nine built much of a series around it, including a complex theology and a detailed history of the planet nearest the gateway - and of several other species, including the Caldonians, who don't really want to deal with the administrative problems of controlling a distant wormhole, the ever-greedy Ferengi, and the unknown Chrysalians who for some unexplained reason choose a human to negotiate for them. Ral is reputed to be a brilliant negotiator yet he comes across as a sleazy politician, telling everyone what they want to hear, subtly playing on people's fears and flattering their strengths. He suggests that Troi feels that she can't be a counselor and a woman at the same time, which is just plain annoying in a 24th century context - no one ever suggests that Picard can't be a captain and a man unless he lets his hair down! It's clear from Troi's conversation with Crusher that part of her just wants a hot physical affair, and it would be more palatable if that's what this had started as, followed by the discovery that they have very different values that make an emotional connection impossible. Instead we're supposed to buy that Troi fell quickly and passionately in love with this guy, which makes her seem both rather juvenile about love and rather lacking in confidence about her ability to be herself in a relationship. How much better if she had been named the negotiator for the Federation, allowing her to level the playing field on her own terms.

The Barzan remain largely a mystery and the Ferengi are broadly-drawn stereotypes as usual, adding little drama and even less comic relief, which the episode could have used. I don't feel so badly about no one really lamenting their loss since we know they're going to get rich and get home during Voyager's run, but it seems a rather extreme fate for a couple of lackeys. All in all, the episode might be worth watching if you want to watch Troi and Crusher work out together in leotards or you enjoy seeing Riker keep his dignity in a difficult situation, but for me, when Ral shows up at the end wanting Troi to quit her job so she can become his conscience, the price is too high.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

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

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