Jun 2 2011 1:03pm

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

U.S.S. Stargazer“The Battle”
Written by Larry Forrester and Herbert J. Wright
Directed by Rob Bowman
Season 1, Episode 8
Production episode 40271-110
Original air date: November 16, 1987
Stardate: 41723.9

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise rendezvous with a Ferengi vessel, which keeps them waiting for several days, telling them to “stand by.” Picard, meanwhile, has been suffering headaches, and Crusher can’t find a cause, though she does give him a painkiller.

DaiMon Bok, the commander of the Ferengi vessel, finally breaks the silence to say that he has a mutual problem to discuss in person and agrees to beam aboard in an hour. A Constellation-class starship comes into the system—Bok explains that it’s under his control. It’s a gift for Picard, whom Bok describes as “the hero of the Battle of Maxia.” That’s the hifalutin’ name the Ferengi give to an encounter Picard had under his previous command, the U.S.S. Stargazer, nine years previous, during which he fought an unidentified vessel and destroyed it. He had to abandon ship.

Bok explains that the “unidentified” ship was Ferengi, and the approaching ship is, in fact, the Stargazer, which Bok has salvaged—and gives it to Picard as a gift (to the chagrin of his first and second officers, who were expecting profit).

Picard tells the others what happened nine years ago: a vessel attacked the Stargazer for no reason. Out of desperation, Picard ordered the ship into maximum warp for half a second, stopping right at the enemy vessel—which thought the Stargazer was in two places at once for a moment—and enabling the Stargazer to destroy it while they fired at the false image. That tactic is now known as “the Picard Maneuver.”

An away team beams over. Picard is overcome with memories—and then, when he goes to his old quarters, is overcome with pain. A device in his footlocker glows—and a matching device on the Ferengi vessel is operated by Bok, who wants revenge on the “hero of Maxia.”

Data informs Riker that Picard’s personal log downloaded from the derelict tells a different story from the historical record. Picard ordered an unprovoked attack on the Ferengi ship, which was under a flag of truce. Riker must report this to Starfleet Command, even as Data tries to determine whether or not it’s a fake.

Picard & Crusher

Picard’s headaches grow worse. He’s been remembering the Stargazer’s last voyage in his dreams, and he’s no longer sure if the logs were faked, if perhaps he did destroy the Ferengi ship for no reason. Crusher cannot determine the cause, but she does provide a sympathetic ear and a sedative so he can sleep.

But the sedative is no match for funky alien mind-control tech. (And honestly, when is it ever?) Bok turns the device up to 11, and Picard wakes up and hallucinates the Battle of Maxia.

The next morning, Picard seems well rested, and orders Riker to release the tractor beam on the Stargazer, allegedly to preserve power. Then Crusher, Troi, and Wes realize that some low-intensity transmissions from the Ferengi ship match anomalies in Picard’s brain scan—just in time for Picard to beam over to the no-longer-tethered Stargazer.

Bok is also on board the Stargazer, now holding the alien device. He orders shields raised, and explains to Picard that the DaiMon of the ship Picard destroyed nine years earlier was his son, and this whole thing is his revenge on his son’s murderer.

After Bok beams out, Picard starts reliving the battle, with the computer—set by Bok—responding to his verbal commands. The Enterprise manages to get the Stargazer back in a tractor beam, and—with help from a frantic Riker—Picard has the wherewithal to destroy the sphere.

Bok’s first officer relieves him of command for engaging in an unprofitable venture, Picard beams back on board, and the Enterprise tows the Stargazer home.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi senses something odd with Picard, and again something odd later on, but none of it is particularly useful, and it’s the Crusher family that does the work in figuring out what’s wrong. Nothing she senses is in any way useful.

Can’t We Just Reverse The Polarity?: “By comparing the Stargazer’s main computer log to Captain Picard’s personal log, I found checksum discrepancies, sir.”

“What does that mean?”

“All information is time-coded by entry, and the bits, when totaled, produce an aggregate amount, which—”

“I don’t want a computer science lesson, Data!”

Data starts to explain the faked log, with Riker cutting off the babbling, which is quite likely the only time the word “checksum” has been used in dialogue in the history of Star Trek.

The boy!?: Wes comes all the way to the bridge from engineering to report something on long-range sensors, with Picard upbraiding him for not using ship’s communications, thus wasting valuable time. Later on, he notices that the transmissions from the Ferengi ship match Picard’s brain scan, and is rather irritatingly smug about it. Not that one can blame him, since none of the other fully trained Starfleet personnel figured it out. (Wil Wheaton himself pointed to this episode as cementing many fans’ hatred of the Wes character.)

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data devises a defense for the Picard Maneuver, and even confidently proclaims that there’s no question that he’s right. Of course, he’s proven correct just a few seconds later….

There Is No Honor In Being Pummeled: Worf has the incredibly exciting task of carrying Picard’s luggage from the Stargazer to the Enterprise.

DaiMon Bok and his officers

Welcome Aboard: The Ferengi are much less comical here than they were in “The Last Outpost,” and while it’s partly due to the toning down of their goofy mannerisms, credit must go to guest stars Frank Corsentino and Doug Warhit as, respectively, Bok and his first officer Kazago. Corsentino’s Bok is convincingly slimy, and Warhit shows impressive depths, particularly in his conversations with Riker.

I Believe I Said That: “Why do doctors always say the obvious as though it’s a revelation?”

“Why do captains always act like they’re immortal?”

Picard and Crusher, comparing the stereotypes of their jobs.

Trivial Matters: While Picard having a previous command was established in the TNG bible—and was used in David Gerrold’s novelization of “Encounter at Farpoint”—this was the first time it was mentioned on air. Michael Jan Friedman would write a series of novels focused on the Stargazer, starting with Reunion—a reuniting of the Stargazer crew on the Enterprise, based on what was learned in this epsiode—followed by The Valiant and the six Stargazer novels, which chronicled Picard’s first year in command of the ship. Several other novels and stories, by Friedman and others, would make use of the Stargazer as well. The Battle of Maxia was novelized by Christopher L. Bennett in The Buried Age, a Picard-focused novel that bridged the nine-year gap between the battle and “Encounter at Farpoint.”

Make It So: A solid episode that has an interesting look into Picard’s past. Sir Patrick Stewart does a stellar job, modulating from pained to confused to nostalgic to frustrated to crazy, all quite convincingly. It’s fun seeing the Stargazer, which is a redress of the Enterprise bridge from Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The crew’s enjoyment of seeing the old tech is palpable, but the near-reverence Picard has is a joy to see, even though it has the bitter tinge of Bok’s mind control. In particular, this episode nicely establishes that Picard had a life, a career, prior to the Enterprise, and that his experience as a commander long predates the start of the show. It gives the character greater depth.

Although many viewed it as too little too late, the Ferengi are at least a bit redeemed after their unfortunate first appearance in “The Last Outpost.” Bok’s revenge for his son is a good motive, if clichéd, and Kazago’s reasons for relieving him—the lack of profit—is a nice twist.

The episode is not without its flaws. The use of Troi and Wes is not the best, and letting the audience know about the mind-control device half-an-hour before the rest of the crew does soften the suspense. And then there’s Crusher’s clumsy exposition regarding medical advances, talking about how cool it is in the 24th century where they don’t have headaches or common colds. Gates McFadden manages not to slip into smug self-righteousness, but it’s a close call.

Ultimately, the episode works due to its focus on Picard, who is rapidly growing into a fascinating and complex character. (It’s also far from the last time he’ll have his mind messed with by external forces…)

Warp factor rating: 6.

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written bunches of Star Trek fiction, including several pieces that focused on Jean-Luc Picard, among them the comic book Perchance to Dream, the short story “Four Lights” in The Sky’s the Limit, the eBook Enterprises of Great Pitch and Moment, the novel Q&A, and much more. Follow him online at his blog or on Facebook or Twitter under the username KRADeC.

Joel Cunningham
1. jec81
Really enjoying the recaps! This is easily one of the better season 1 episodes. Which isn't saying much, but I have a real soft spot for this show.
Michael Poteet
2. MikePoteet
I remember being impressed with the "hallucination" scenes, including the detail that Picard's Stargazer crew wore (as I recall) ST II-era uniforms. (Though without the undertunics, right? That's really not a good look... those "beefeater" jackets need those tunics below! Go re-watch "Yesterday's Enterprise" if you don't believe me!) I was still faithfully taping every TNG episode off-air at this point, and I thought this one got worse each time I watched it. Patrick Stewart is, of course, "good in everything" (just like Gene Hackman -- thanks, MST3K!); but, apart from establishing the Stargazer on-air (best starship ever to be built in Bedford Falls!), this one doesn't have much to commend it today. (And the nitpicker in me always hated that Kirk could speak openly of heaving headaches in "Tribbles" and everyone knew exactly what he was talking about; but, 78 years later, no one had any memories of ever having had one. Maybe the secret ingredient in the headache cure turned out to be quadrotritcale!)
Keith DeCandido
3. krad
Mike: No, the Stargazer crew wore the same skintight spandex that everyone else was wearing. There were other flashback episodes that had folks wearing the TOS movie-era uniforms but without the tunics -- and yes, it did look ridiculous -- among them "Yesterday's Enterprise," "Tapestry," and the holo-image of Jack Crusher in "Family."
Mouldy Squid
5. Mouldy_Squid
At last a half-way decent episode. Even the special effects were well done; the Picard Manoeuvre looked pretty great. And Sir Patrick really shows his acting chops. Too bad it took seven weeks to get to this first good episode.
Eduardo Gisbert
6. xgisbert
I always liked episodes in any Trek series where more that one ship would appear. It made me believe that there was more of Starfleet and the Federation as a whole than the Enterprise. I even fantasized about a series that would show the chronicles of several Starfleet ships and crews.
Christopher L. Bennett
7. Christopher L. Bennett
Nice concept, and it's a shame they didn't do more with the Stargazer, but I found "The Battle" to be rather weak. There are logic holes, some of which I had to struggle to patch up when I wrote The Buried Age (mainly, how the hell did Picard and his crew not know their ship had survived largely intact -- or if they did, why would they leave it intact in possibly hostile space rather than scuttling it?). I found the dialogue rather awkward, though it's been a while, so I'm not sure how much of that was the script and how much was the directing. Not to mention the FX error of making the Stargazer look almost as big as the Enterprise.

I do like the idea of the Picard Maneuver. It's so rare for anyone in SFTV or movies to remember that the speed of light is finite and that if a ship could travel at FTL it could outrace its own light, creating illusions like being in two places at once (or going backward). However, it's clear in the rest of ST that warp-capable species have FTL sensors allowing instantaneous detection of things parsecs away, so this nice bit of scientific literacy is hard to reconcile with the usual, more fanciful conceit.
Christopher L. Bennett
8. Mike S.
I know that no one thought of it at the time, but now, when you here about "The Picard Manuver" defeating the Ferengi, who here thinks Picard won the battle by tugging on his uniform?
Michael Poteet
9. MikePoteet
@KRAD 3 -- For the second time in two weeks, I stand corrected! Or, as James Kirk once said, "Damn. Must be getting senile."

@Mike S 8 -- Indeed! Now what would be really cool is if Picard could tug on his tunic at near-light speed, to create the illusion that he's pulled it down to his waist before he actually has....!
Christopher L. Bennett
10. Sanagi
It really is a shame this wasn't the first Ferengi episode. I particularly like that the 1st officer relieves Daimon Bok for being unprofitable. The Ferengi are usually portrayed as shallow fools or callous exploiters but it makes sense that they would be very sharp in certain ways. And when you see how their culture deals with a rogue like Bok you have to allow them some respect.
Keith DeCandido
11. krad
Sanagi: Agreed. In the parallel universe where this was the first Ferengi episode, they actually turned into a good, nasty foe for TNG. It becomes a much more different show after that.............

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher L. Bennett
12. Pendard
Like a lot of my first season favorites ("The Naked Now," "Where No One Has Gone Before," "The Big Goodbye," "Datalore," "Heart of Glory," "Arsenal of Freedom"), this episode has some flaws... and yet they can't detract from my love of it. I don't think my love for season 1 is entirely rational. It has more to do with my memories of how much I loved it as a 5 year old in 1987, and with that aura of newness that the show has, like anything is still possible. I would take season 1 over season 7 any day -- the world was so full of possibilities that the show was tripping over them all.

"The Battle" was one of the only episodes that actually managed to make the Ferengi seem menacing (which was the original intention). It gave us a ton of Picard's backstory that would be leaned on for many future episodes, and unlike Data's backstory in "Datalore," the series didn't have to spend the next few years working around it or trying to ignore it (how many colonists have their minds stored in Data's brain again?)

One thing that always interested me -- according to "The Battle," the destruction of the Stargazer was 20 years ago. What did Picard do in the 20 years between the destruction of the Stargazer and becoming captain of the Enterprise? Inquiring minds want to know, yet the TNG writing room stays silence. Get to your computer, KRAD, you've got books to write!!! ;-)

Or, if you don't want to, what's Michael Jan Friedman doing these days?
chris kenny
13. chrisblue77
I use to call this one the battle of Maxi pad:D
Keith DeCandido
14. krad
Pendard: it was only nine years between the destruction of the Stargazer and the launch of the Enterprise-D, and the novel you ask for has already been written (as I said in the "Trivial Matters" section): The Buried Age, by excellent writer (and commenter here on Christopher L. Bennett.

And yeah, the Ferengi were indeed a genuine menace in this episode. Oh, what might have been if this was their first appearance rather than "The Last Outpost"......

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
Christopher L. Bennett
15. Big Joe S.
I concur in your general assessment that this is a solid episode. I dissent though from your rating-and would go further to call this episode the best of the First Season, particularly when considered in light of the whole series.
We know almost nothing about Picard at this point. We just know that he is "becoming better acquainted with his new command", and that he had some prior relationship to Dr. Crusher, from "Farpoint."
This episode dives headfirst into who Picard was and is. Until Picard's kidnapping and assault by the Borg, he always seemed to have a bug up his ass. In this episode, Picard avoids that proverbial bug goes from strength (the Picard Maneuver) to elation and pride (reunion with the Stargazer there) to extreme vulnerability in short order.
This vulnerability is an emotional level that Next Generation rarely explored. The lack of resolution Picard feels over Maxia is very real. "I
destroyed an entire starship..And then that log...or am I going crazy?
How do I know I was in my right mind at Maxia? How do I know I'm in my right mind now?"
And this vulnerability creates conflict. Riker is trying to figure out if he has to turn in (or even kill) Picard or if the Ferengi have perpetuated a coverup (they have). And there is Crusher, who is witnessing Picard unravel and helpless to stop it.
The scenes that always stick out to me are all of the flashbacks to the Stargazer. "Can you identify them, Vigo?" "PHASERS FIRE, TORPEDOES AWAY!" "I SAID GET THE FUSION GENERATOR UNDER SURGE CONTROL! YOU'RE MOVING MUCH TOO SLOWLY! ARM THE TORPEDOES MAN!...WHO ARE THEY?"
Granted, I agree that the episode does not utilize all character as well as it should. But that's a structural flaw in the First Season-the ensemble itself was too large and ill-defined. (Just like them not sticking with Troi's hair down.) But, in as far as Picard, Riker, and Crusher being the ones who brought the episode to life, it works.
There is also something else missing from your assessment. Ron Jones does an outstanding job with his score. The score, when taken with the scenes, brings the episode to another level. You are facing Picard's doubts, memories, everything, as he lived them. Indeed, I bought the soundtrack.
Finally, there is actually a message in this episode. "Let the dead rest, and the past, remain the past." Reliving one's past by way of revenge solves nothing-and nostalgia should only go so far. It's also one of the few times TNG got into that area.
So, I concur in your assessment of the episode being great. But I dissent from the rating. It may be the best of the First Season.

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