Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “The Game”

“The Game”
Written by Susan Sackett & Fred Bronson and Brannon Braga
Directed by Corey Allen
Season 5, Episode 6
Production episode 40275-206
Original air date: October 28, 1991
Stardate: 45208.2

Captain’s Log: Riker is vacationing on Risa, having invited a Ktarian woman named Etana back to his room. She gives him a headset, which she describes as a game that “everyone” is playing. It’s fairly simple: you put a disk into a cup that grows out of what looks like a checkerboard, but when Riker succeeds, he gets a brief feeling of euphoria. Etana encourages him to take it to Level 2—which is two disks and two cups, and presumably twice the euphoria…

Riker returns to the ship while it’s en route to the Phoenix Cluster. Their exploration of the cluster—which requires 15 new science teams to beam on board—has been cut from five weeks to two weeks, which requires a great deal of juggling on the part of Riker, La Forge, and the engineer the latter has promoted to mission specialist, Ensign Robin Lefler.

Riker meets up with Troi, and tells her that he has a game he got on Risa that’s even better than chocolate (which excites Troi very much). Meanwhile, a ship rendezvouses with the Enterprise carrying Cadet Wesley Crusher, who beams on board. After greeting O’Brien, Wes is surprised that no one came to meet him in the transporter room. O’Brien says there’s a senior staff meeting. Wes asks if he can stop by, and O’Brien checks with the bridge, where Worf says he supposes it’ll be okay if he does so.

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Wes goes to a darkened observation lounge, and then the lights go up and he realizes that the “meeting” is a surprise party for him. Picard greets him in Latin, Crusher thinks he wears the uniform well, La Forge assumes the chicks dig the uniform (because who’s a better authority on what women like than Geordi La Forge????), Riker asks him to help out with the Phoenix Cluster survey, and Data asks if he was cool with the surprise. Troi also tells Crusher about an awesome game she’s been playing.

Data and Wes compare awkward Academy stories, from the practical jokes to the agony of the Sadie Hawkins Dance.

Wes immediately gets to work, where he meets Lefler (and is introduced to “Lefler’s Laws,” starting with #17: when all else fails, do it yourself), and is totally taken with her—as is she with him.

Crusher calls Data to sickbay, allegedly to help him reprogram a tricorder—then turns him off. Riker and Troi join Crusher and do some sabotaging of Data.

Wes has tea with Picard and the former tells the latter about how he’s doing at the Academy, including his teachers and his meeting with Boothby the groundskeeper (the latter at Picard’s suggestion back in “Final Mission“). Tea is interrupted by Crusher, who reports that Data is malfunctioning.

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La Forge and Riker check Data’s quarters and personal log to try to find some reason why he lapsed into the android equivalent of a coma, but they find nothing. Riker suggests he take a break and play this game he got on Risa…

Lefler and Wes work together and also flirt like mad. Wes invites her to coffee at 1900 in Ten-Forward, which she refuses—instead saying she’ll meet him for dinner. Wes then walks in on Crusher playing the game. She says it was actually meant for Wes, but she couldn’t resist. He declines the option to play the game—Crusher covers her insistence on his playing it with maternal desire to spend time with her son—as he’s focused on getting ready for his date.

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The date starts with Lefler telling Wes about her life, and the conversation later modulates to discussing the game, which a large chunk of the ship is playing. Like true geeks, Wes and Lefler want to know how it works before they play it, so they hook it up to the medical computer. They soon learn that it’s psychotropically addictive, stimulating the pleasure center of the brain, but neutralizing the reasoning center. Wes immediately reports it to Picard, who expresses concern and promises an immediate investigation—then, as soon as Wes leaves, he starts once again playing the game he quickly hid when Wes came in.

The game is going through the ship like wildfire, and Robin and Wes are having a harder time resisting people’s exhortations to play it. It’s also suspicious that Data—who wouldn’t be affected by the game—fell unconscious right when the game started spreading. Wes and Robin discover that Data’s been sabotaged subtly and expertly, which meant it had to be done by La Forge or Crusher.

On the bridge, a ship rendezvouses with the Enterprise, and Picard then advises the bridge crew to make sure everyone on board has a game. Crusher and Worf arrive at the former’s quarters, to find Wes and Robin playing the game—except they’re pretending to, using mockups. It’s enough to fool Worf and Crusher, apparently.

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Etana rendezvouses with the Enterprise, where Picard reports that the ship is secured for her. She starts giving the crew instructions on how to distribute the games further—Riker to the Endeavour, La Forge and Troi to Starbase 67.

Wes goes to engineering, having created a site-to-site transporter program, but Lefler’s been compromised. Worf and Riker are in engineering and chase him, but he activates the program, which brings him to deck six. He tosses his combadge and hides in the Jefferies Tubes—but Worf tracks him and he and Riker are able to grab him and bring him to the bridge. The bridge crew hold him down and Picard places the game on his head, Riker and Worf forcing his eyes open as they activate the game (providing Wes with his very own A Clockwork Orange moment!).

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And then the lights go out on the bridge, and Data strides on through a turbolift, hitting the crew with concentrated light pulses, which breaks the programming. Then he turns the lights back up on the bridge, and orders Worf to secure the alien ship off the starboard bow with a tractor beam.

Wes, it turns out, reconnected Data’s positronic net, and while Wes led everyone on a merry chase, Data was able to reprogram the palm beacon.

The Enterprise rendezvouses with the Merrimack, which will take Wes back to the Academy. He has a kissy-face-filled goodbye with Lefler. She gifts him with a book filled with all 102 of her laws.

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Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The game apparently stimulates the frontal lobe, accessing it through the eyes: every time someone activates the game, beams emit from it into the eyes. It’s never made clear how the game can possibly work on La Forge, whose eyes a) don’t work and b) are blocked by the VISOR. For that matter, Klingon brains are obviously shaped differently, so how does it work on Worf? (Hell, how’d they get him to play it?)

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Riker sees Troi in Ten-Forward with chocolate ice cream covered in chocolate fudge and chocolate chips. She insists she’s not depressed, at which point Riker asks if “you two want to be alone.” But Troi allows him to join “them,” and proceeds to wax rhapsodic (and more than a little erotic) on the subject of the experience of chocolate. (She also didn’t know that Riker doesn’t like fudge. They’re former lovers and have a telepathic bond, how could she not know that?I mean, seriously, I can tell you the chocolate-eating habits of every woman I’ve ever dated, and I didn’t have a telepathic bond with any of them. Sheesh.)

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There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf makes Tarvokian pound cake for Wes’s surprise party, a skill he has never demonstrated before or since.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data was apparently the victim of practical jokes at the Academy, and had difficulty with social interaction. He is also taken out of action early on, as the game won’t work on him.

The Boy!?: Wes comes back for vacation and is immediately put to work, then gets to (surprise!) save the ship. Again. As an added bonus, he gets the girl.

No Sex Please, We’re Starfleet: Wes and Lefler are all over each other pretty much from jump. It’s actually kinda cute, especially since they meet geeky.

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I Believe I Said That: “Well, tell ‘em to flip a coin. We’ve got to work together on this mission, otherwise we’re never gonna get it done.”

“A coin. Very good. I will replicate one immediately.”

La Forge making a smartass remark about solving a resource-allocation problem with the sensors, and Data taking him a bit too literally.

Welcome Aboard: Wil Wheaton returns for the first time since departing the main cast in “Final Mission,” the first of four times he’ll reappear on the series following that departure. Ashley Judd returns as Lefler, a much more substantial appearance than her cameo in “Darmok.” Katherine Moffat plays Etana, and is much stronger as Riker’s playmate in the teaser than she is as a threatening presence later on (she’ll also appear, far more effectively, in the Deep Space Nine episode “Necessary Evil”).

Trivial Matters: Lefler will go on to become a regular character in Peter David’s Star Trek: New Frontier novel series, starting out as ops officer on the U.S.S. Excalibur, later becoming the First Lady (and eventually leader, after her husband’s death) of the New Thallonian Protectorate. The origin of her personal laws was provided in the short story “Lefler’s Logs” by Robert Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com:Greenberger in the New Frontier anthology No Limits (which was co-edited by David and your humble rewatcher). Lefler also appeared regularly in the TNG comic book written by Michael Jan Friedman, published by DC in the early 1990s.

Six of Lefler’s laws are established in this episode. Three more will be established in the comics, with another six in various New Frontier novels.

Data references Crusher teaching him to dance in “Data’s Day” (prompting an amused, “the ‘Dancing Doctor’?” comment from Wes), and offers to tutor Wes in dancing.

This is the first onscreen reference to the O’Briens’ daughter’s name, Molly.

This was the first episode to air following Gene Roddenberry’s death. Ironically, the story pitch for the episode was co-written by Roddenberry’s longtime assistant (and illicit lover) Susan Sackett, who was freshly out of a job when it aired. (Anecdotally, Roddenberry’s widow Majel Barrett fired Sackett herself.)

Brannon Braga had been made a full staff writer for the fifth season (after being an intern for the fourth), and turning Sackett and Bronson’s pitch—which had been batting around since the fourth season—into a workable script was his first assignment in that position.

Corey Allen also directed Wes’s first appearance in “Encounter at Farpoint” and his last episode as a regular, “Final Mission.” He will direct Wes’s final appearance on the show, “Journey’s End” in the seventh season.

A rumor started online that Judd would be joining Wheaton for his cameo in Star Trek Nemesis, based on something Judd said on an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman—except Judd didn’t appear on Letterman at any point proximate to when the rumor started. The rumor went so far that IMDB’s listing for Nemesis had Judd in the cast list for some time.

Make it So: “Your neutrinos are drifting.” This episode does have its moments. For starters, Lefler is a wonderful character, and Judd’s chemistry with Wheaton is actually quite excellent. They’re a very convincing couple. Several individual scenes are well played, including the surprise party, Wes and Picard’s talk over tea, Wes and Data’s comparing notes on awkward Academy stuff, and the teaser with Riker and Etana. And the moment when Data walks on board the darkened bridge to save the day is pretty awesome.

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But overall, the episode is simply awful, contriving a ridiculous scenario in order to allow Wes to save the ship. It simply strains credulity that so many people would try the game—and that Wes and Lefler wouldn’t. It’s also impossible to credit that the device as portrayed could possibly work on La Forge, nor how anyone would get Worf to even try it. (Both those things happen conveniently off-screen.) The game itself is pretty doofy, with cheesy graphics that were already dated in 1991, but that actually didn’t bother me so much, as the game itself is just a cover for the brainwashing. Having said that, the brainwashing itself is absurdly convenient. It allows everyone to behave normally when the plot calls for it (like when they’re trying to stop Wes, or when they need to, y’know, operate the ship), but somehow also turns them into drooling idiots who talk like they’ve smoked a ton of weed.

Just a stupid story.

 

Warp factor rating: 3


Keith R.A. DeCandido didn’t do a rewatch on Tuesday because he was finishing his Leverage novel The Zoo Job, which will be out in the spring of 2013. Fitting, since Wil Wheaton plays the recurring role of Ka0s on that show…

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