Written by David Kemper
Directed by Robert Scheerer
Season 2, Episode 21
Production episode 40272-147
Original air date: July 10, 1989
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise welcomes Sirna Kolrami, a Zakdorn strategist who is supervising a war game between the Enterprise and an eighty-year-old derelict, the Hathaway, in the Braslota system. The Hathaway will need to be made space-ready — Riker will captain the ship, and he will have two days for his hand-picked forty-person crew to do that. Then the battle exercise will commence, with simulated phasers and torpedoes, and the computer shutting down any areas affected by the simulated strikes.
Picard and Riker both think the exercise is a waste of time, as combat strategy is a minor part of a starship captain’s job, but Picard feels that the Borg threat is enough of an issue to overcome his objections.
Riker can choose from anyone on board save for Data, who will serve as Picard’s first officer. He recruits La Forge, Worf, and Wes, then challenges Kolrami to Strategema, a game at which he is a past master. Kolrami beats him in about four seconds, to the chagrin of his audience, who would like to see the arrogant strategist taken down a peg.
They arrive at Braslota, and beam over to the Hathaway. It’s a wreck, and it’s got only a few dilithium crystal shards and no antimatter to power the drive. Riker mentions this to Kolrami, asking what the Zakdornian word for “mismatch” is. “Challenge,” is Kolrami’s answer, and how they perform in a mismatch is the point.
After being told by Riker to improvise, Wes beams his plasma physics homework over from the Enterprise, as it contains antimatter, which will allow them to power a two-second warp jump, which will make a nice surprise during the exercise.
While Riker gets the Hathaway ready, Data is manipulated by Pulaski into challenging Kolrami at Stratagema. Kolrami beats him, to everyone’s shock — especially Data’s. So stunned is he by his failure that he takes himself off active bridge duty, fearing that he is malfunctioning in some way. It is Picard who points out that it is possible to make no mistakes and still lose.
Kolrami expresses disdain for Riker’s command style — what he calls an inappropriate joviality — which Picard turns around and defends.
The war game commences. On Riker’s instruction, Worf hacks the Enterprise security system and makes them think they’re being attacked by a Romulan ship. While distracted, the Hathaway gets a mess of simulated hits.
However, when the Enterprise detects a Ferengi ship on approach, Picard assumes it’s another trick — right until the Ferengi fire on them. The Kreechta is commanded by Bractor, who wants to know why the Enterprise fired on a vessel of lesser design, and then protected it when the Ferengi attacked. Bractor offers to let the Enterprise go if they turn over the Hathaway, which they assume has some value, giving them ten minutes to decide.
Picard refuses to retreat and leave the Hathaway vulnerable. Riker insists that he do so, as the Hathaway will activate their warp drive — which gives away Riker’s ace in the hole, but which also prompts a notion in Picard. The Enterprise ’s main weapons are offline thanks to the Ferengi, but they are able to fire two (and only two) photon torpedoes. Data theorizes that if the Enterprise fires the two torpedoes on the Hathaway, with the Hathaway activating their warp drive at the moment of detonation, it will appear to the Ferengi as if they have been destroyed.
Sure enough, it works, with an exclamation point from Worf, as he uses the same holographic trickery on the Ferengi to make them think another Starfleet vessel is on approach. The Ferengi bugger off, and the Enterprise retrieves Riker and his crew.
Data decides to accept Kolrami’s offer of a rematch. He plays a game that lasts longer than any Stratagema game in history before Kolrami gets fed up and quits the game. Data changed his strategy so he constantly played for a draw rather than victory — which Kolrami’s ego couldn’t stand before he quit.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: “Have you ever driven a Grenthamen water-hopper?” “Yes.” “Ever pop the clutch?” That is so much better than the usual technobabble we get. It explains exactly what the problem is, succinctly, humorously, and with a minimum of impenetrable jargon.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi is unable to get Data to come out of his quarters, but she does keep him from overanalyzing Riker’s likely strategy.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf also thinks the exercise is a waste of time — “If there is nothing to lose, no sacrifice, then there is nothing to gain” — and when asked by Riker what you’ve got if you’re outmanned, outgunned, and out-equipped, he replies: “Guile.” That answer’s enough to get Riker to make him first officer, and sure enough, it’s Klingon guile that saves the day.
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data loses at Stratagema to Kolrami, only to view it as a catastrophic malfunction. Troi, Pulaski, and Picard visit him in succession, trying to get him to come out of his quarters. Troi tries psychobabble, Pulaski tries being snotty (“How long are you going to sit sulking like Achilles in his tent?”), with Picard finally succeeding by, well, being the captain.
This is Data’s second shot at being first officer, and he once again does a better job than the guy who normally has the job.
The Boy!?: Wes beams his plasma physics homework — an experiment with antimatter — off the Enterprise to the Hathaway, which enables them to activate their warp drive. It’s especially fun for him to play Burke like a fiddle, boring him with technobabble and platitudes to cover his beaming it to the other ship.
I’m a Doctor, not an Escalator: Pulaski finds Kolrami to be arrogant and obnoxious, prompting her to arrogantly and obnoxiously manipulate Data into playing him at Stratagema.
Welcome Aboard. Roy Brocksmith has always been an excellent character actor, but I’d argue that this was his strongest performance, playing Kolrami as a distinctive, hilarious character. Armin Shimerman returns as the second of three Ferengi he would play — the last one being one of the first Ferengi we ever saw, and the next being Quark, an opening-credits regular on Deep Space Nine — and he imbues Bractor with far more menace than any Ferengi we’ve seen to date. David L. Lander and Leslie Neale fill in nicely as a Ferengi and Ensign Nagle, respectively.
But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is Glenn Morshower as Ensign Burke (who temporarily is promoted to lieutenant by a flubbed bit of Picard’s dialogue). Morshower’s probably best known for his recurring role as über-reliable Secret Service Agent Aaron Pierce on 24.
I Believe I Said That: “I have wagered heavily in the ship’s pool that you will take him past the sixth plateau.”
“And if I don’t?”
“I will be… irritated.”
Riker and Worf, discussing his Stratagema game.
Trivial Matters: For the second week in a row, we have an episode with a future Farscape scribe in the writing credits — last week it was Richard Manning, this week, it’s Farscape’s co-executive producer Kemper. Both Kemper and Farscape creator Rockne S. O’Bannon are big Star Trek fans, and plenty of Trek references snuck into their show.
Riker points out that “Captain Riker’s never lost,” referring to the events of “A Matter of Honor.”
This is the first reference to the Borg since “Q Who,” though this episode makes it clear that Starfleet is preparing for their threat, as we’ll see again in “The Best of Both Worlds” at the end of the third season.
When Riker addresses the entire ship, the bosun’s whistle is the one from the original series.
In your humble rewatcher’s eBook novella Many Splendors, reprinted in the Star Trek: Corps of Engineers: What’s Past trade paperback, one chapter retold this episode from the POV of La Forge’s engineers, including actually dramatizing the one-second warp jump, which Riker described in the episode as “different.”
Make it So: “I busted him up.” There is a great deal to like about this episode. The dialogue is spectacular, the plot moves along beautifully, there’s humor, action, and some truly great guest performances. The hallmark second-season expansion of the cast to show more of the crew continues with Burke and Nagle from security, and the entire cast gets at least one moment in the sun.
In particular, there’s a relaxed camraderie among the Enterprise crew on both ships that is very appealing, from Worf’s wager to Wes’s “improvising” to Picard’s upbraiding of Data to Riker’s glee at his assignment to La Forge’s playing with engineering toys to Data’s busting Kolrami up.
However, the episode has some major logic problems in its climax. Picard asks if Riker was monitoring communications, and says that Kolrami is right, that the Enterprise should retreat — except Kolrami didn’t say that while communicating with the Ferengi or the Hathaway, so how did Riker know?
The Ferengi damage to the Enterprise is incredibly contrived — the control systems that allow them to switch from simulated to regular weapons are fused, and the transporter’s out. Basically they only lose what’s convenient to the plot, which is remarkably specific.
Much more problematic — if the Hathaway can monitor the communications between the Enterprise and the Kreechta, why can’t the Kreechta do likewise for the communications between the Enterprise and the Hathaway, thus overhearing their entire plan?
And finally, Worf’s little bit of guile worked because he knew the Enterprise security codes. So how did he pull the same trick on a Ferengi ship whose codes he doesn’t know, not being chief of security for that ship? (Of course, knowing the Ferengi, they probably got their security systems on the cheap anyhow...)
Still, these are minor speed bumps on a fun ride. This would’ve made a nice season finale, actually.
Warp factor rating: 7
Keith R.A. DeCandido is not at all looking forward to watching “Shades of Grey” later this week. His most recent novels are Guilt in Innocence, part of “Tales from the Scattered Earth,” a shared-world science fiction concept, and the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct. Find out more about Keith at his web site, which is a portal to (among many other things) his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, his blog, and his podcasts, Dead Kitchen Radio, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning HG World.