Feb 3 2012 3:30pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Ménage à Troi”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch of “Ménage à Troi”
Written by Fred Bronson & Susan Sackett
Directed by Robert Legato
Season 3, Episode 24
Production episode 40273-172
Original air date: May 28, 1990
Stardate: 43930.7

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is attending a trade agreement conference on Betazed, and hosting an end-of-conference shindig in Ten-Forward, complete with Algolian ceremonial rhythms. The Ferengi were invited for the first time, and one of their delegation, Nibor, loses to Riker at three-dimensional chess. Meanwhile, Tog, the DaiMon of the Ferengi ship, has the hots for Lwaxana Troi. Against the advice of his aide Dr. Farek, Tog approaches Lwaxana, who rips into him, making it clear that a) she’s not for sale and b) if she was for sale, she still wouldn’t allow herself to become his property. Her tirade — which gets the attention of everyone in Ten-Forward, most notably Troi, who looks very much like she wants to throw up — only makes Tog more exhilarated.

Tog returns to his ship, and Troi and Lwaxana get into a nasty argument. Lwaxana believes that her daughter won’t be happy until she starts a family, as that was what made her happy (up until now, anyhow...).

The Enterprise is going on a mapping expedition in a stellar nursery not far from Betazed — though they’ll be back in time to deliver Wes for his oral entrance exam for Starfleet Academy (he’s already passed his written). They leave Riker and Troi behind, taking shore leave on Betazed. Their romantic interlude is interrupted by Lwaxana and Mr. Homn, who set up a picnic, and Lwaxana tries a little too hard to put Riker and Troi together.

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Tog beams into the picnic with flowers for Lwaxana. She tosses them aside and rejects him again; his response is to beam himself, Lwaxana, Riker, and Troi to his ship, with the three of them winding up unconscious in a cell. When they wake up, Farek beams Troi and Lwaxana to a wardroom, but without their clothes. (“Females do not deserve the honor of clothing.”) Farek remains disgusted by the Betazoid women, but Tog is still smitten with Lwaxana.

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Not wanting to risk her daughter’s life, Lwaxana plays along with Tog, pretending to return his interest. Troi is returned to the cell with Riker. While Tog and Lwaxana play house, Riker tricks Nibor into letting him out of the cell for a 3D chess rematch, followed by a quick knuckle sandwich for Nibor. However, they can’t communicate with the Enterprise without Tog’s access code. Lwaxana tries to get Tog to reveal it so she can give it to Troi telepathically. Just as Tog is about to do so, Farek walks in. He insists that Tog give Lwaxana over to him for study or he will report Tog’s breach.

Reluctantly, Tog agrees, and Farek puts Lwaxana in a machine that will study her brain to determine how her telepathy works, so perhaps Farek can duplicate it. This tortures Lwaxana, and by extension Troi as well. Without the access code, Riker manages to hide a message within subspace static, in the hopes that the Enterprise will find them.

Back on the Enterprise, they’re scanning Ferengi subspace signals, trying to locate Tog’s ship. Wes is the one who figures out Riker’s “message” — he embedded the Algolian rhythms from the reception within the Ferengi ship’s Cochrane distortion. Wes does so in lieu of boarding the Bradbury, thus missing his oral exams.

Riker and Troi are able to shoot Farek and get Lwaxana out of his torture chamber, but then Tog gets the drop on Riker. Lwaxana then offers to stay with Tog, but only if he lets Riker and Troi go — pointing out that as long as he holds the two of them, Starfleet won’t stop chasing Tog.

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Tog agrees, sending Riker and Troi back to the Enterprise. Picard contacts Tog, wanting Lwaxana back. Lwaxana then insists that it’s over between her and Picard and he must get over her. Troi realizes that she’s setting Picard up to try to win her back, so Picard starts throwing the Greatest Hits of Shakespeare’s Sonnets at her. But Lwaxana insists that she’s with Tog now, and he must stop killing her other lovers, that just has to stop. Tog is sufficiently frightened by the possibility of a firefight with the Enterprise that he sends her back with all due haste.

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Meanwhile, Wes has missed the oral exam, and therefore has to wait another year to apply to the Academy, since apparently the notion of a makeup exam gets lost over the course of the next four hundred years. Given his service to the Enterprise over the past three years, Picard decides to give him a field promotion to full ensign, allowing him to stride onto the bridge in a red uniform instead of gray pajamas.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Cochrane distortion is generated by warp fields, and is normal background noise in subspace. It’s named after Zefram Cochrane, first established in “Metamorphosis” on the original series as the creator of warp drive (and whom the Enterprise crew will meet in Star Trek: First Contact).

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: As usual for a Lwaxana episode, Troi is reduced to being her mother’s foil. She’s also the subject of a lengthy tirade about settling down and having a family and being happy. Ironically, she might have been more successful if she’d left well enough alone, as Riker and Troi were well on their way to a romantic getaway when she interrupted with her picnic. (Lwaxana at one point says that Deanna is all she has left, a hint at the true reason for her overprotectiveness, to be revealed in “The Dark Page.”)

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There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf refers to Lwaxana as “an admirable woman,” a position he will reverse as time goes by. He also looks vaguely nauseated during Picard’s rhapsody in Shakespeare.

The Boy!?: TNG continues its contrivances to keep Wes on board the ship by making Starfleet Academy pretty much impossible to get into. Seriously, they have visual subspace communication — why does the applicant have to be there in person at a particular time? Is there no accounting for sickness or injury or distance or trying to save the life of a crew member?

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No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: We first learn of oo-mox, the revelation that Ferengi ears are erogenous zones (something Deep Space Nine will make excellent use of). Also Riker and Troi make their first move toward rekindling their long-ago romance, but it gets derailed by the kidnapping.

Picard attempts to convince Tog that he’s in love with Lwaxana, and fails pretty dismally until he hits upon using Shakespeare. He cherrypicks from assorted sonnets (#18, 116, 141, and 147), as well as Othello, and then throws in some Tennyson for good measure (“Tis better to have love and lost, than never to have loved at all”).

I Believe I Said That: “The Sacred Chalice of Rixx is an old clay pot with mold growing inside it.”

Troi taking the piss out of her mother.

Welcome aboard. Besides, of course, the return of Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi and Carel Struycken as her valet Mr. Homn, following their debut in “Haven” and return in “Manhunt,” this episode also marks Frank Corsentino’s second appearance as a Ferengi, having played DaiMon Bok in “The Battle.” Barrett and Struycken will next appear in the fourth season’s “Half a Life”; Corsentino will appear again as a third Ferengi, Gegis, in Voyager’s “Inside Man.” (Ironically, when Bok returns in “Bloodlines” in TNG’s seventh season, he’s played by Lee Arenberg, as Corsentino wasn’t available.)

This episode marks the Trek debut of Ethan Phillips, who would go on to play Neelix on Voyager. (In addition, he’s a holographic maître d’ in First Contact and another Ferengi, Ulis, on Enterprise’s “Acquisitions.”)

Also in this episode are Rudolph Willrich, who makes no impression whatsoever as a Betazoid official, and Peter Slutsker, who’s fairly amusing as the hard-luck Ferengi Nibor.

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Trivial Matters: Riker makes a brief mention of Lwaxana’s pursuit of a husband from her last appearance in “Manhunt,” but Lwaxana brushes it off, saying she’s more concerned with her daughter’s happiness. However, that pursuit will resume in several of her subsequent appearances whether by accident (“Half a Life”) or design (“Cost of Living,” Deep Space Nine’s “The Muse”).

The scenes on Betazed, which we see for the first time, were filmed at the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens in Pasadena, the same location where the planet scenes in “Justice” were filmed.

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During the filming on this episode that saw his character being promoted, Gene Roddenberry presented Wil Wheaton with his second lieutenant bars from his days in the Army Air Corps. General Colin Powell, then chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later Secretary of State, was there for the presentation.

Tog’s access codes included the terms “Kei” and “Yuri,” the names of the two main characters in the anime Dirty Pair.

In the “too much information” category, the title is a play on a French term generally used to indicate sex among three people. The episode was co-written by Susan Sackett — who was Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s personal assistant, and with whom he had a long-term affair — and guest starred Roddenberry’s wife. That isn’t at all weird.

Sackett and Roddenberry cowrote a 25th anniversary coffee-table book about Star Trek that was never released due to various legal issues involving use of photographs and such. However, your humble rewatcher received an advance galley of the book to review for Library Journal, for whom he reviewed books at the time. This episode was cited as the best of the Lwaxana Troi episodes, which seemed a little disingenuous coming from the episode’s coauthor. (Of course, the episode’s competition at the time was solely “Haven” and “Manhunt,” so there is that...)

Make it So: “My love is a fever!” It’s kind of amusing to watch this back to back with “Sarek.” In both you have the return of a recurring character played by an actor from the original series; in both we have the Enterprise orbiting an established world that hadn’t been seen on screen on TNG before; in both the climax involves Sir Patrick Stewart being somewhat over the top.

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Yet the episodes couldn’t be more different, as there’s almost nothing to redeem “Ménage à Troi.” Tog is a ridiculous character even by Ferengi standards, the plot is contrived and tiresome, and the whole thing is just generally painful to watch.

Having said that, I gotta say that I can watch Stewart histrionically throw Shakespeare at the wall all the live long day. That scene alone almost makes the episode worth watching. But y’know what? DVDs can go to particular scenes, plus we have YouTube. You can just watch that scene and ignore the rest.

There are other saving graces here and there — Ethan Phillips’s Farek is a very good villain, much more menacing than the ineffectual Tog, it’s nice to see Riker and Troi acting like a couple, and Wil Wheaton looks good in red — but ultimately this is one of the low points of an excellent season.


Warp factor rating: 3

Keith R.A. DeCandido has written Lwaxana Troi in the novels The Brave and the Bold Book 2 and A Time for War, a Time for Peace and the short story “The Ceremony of Innocence is Drowned” in Tales of the Dominion War. Go to his web site and order his books, as they are incredibly brilliant.

Mike S.
1. Mike S.
This episode does have one thing going for it, Keith:

I think it's a wonderful cure for insomnia! Lord knows, I had trouble staying awake watching it.

You're right about Farek being a more villanous character then Tog, and while Ethan Phillips's character is a high point of the show, it's also possibly the shows biggest fault. After all, Tog is supposed to be the villian in this one. Instead, he comes across as a silly antagonist. Also, since Farek wants to basically lobotomize Lwaxana, anything Tog toes after that seems tame by comparison (especially since I don't think sex/rape was his first motive - he wanted use of her telepathy, and if she gave him sex as part of the ride, he'd take it, but I don't think it was his first priority.

I wonder what Frank Constentino was thinking when he took this role, and what he was thinking when he didn't play Bok in "Bloodlines." Those two characters couldn't be more different.

Also, to build on you're Wesley point, why did he even have to go back to the bridge. Yes, he misses the Bradburry anyway, but time was of the essence here. Why not just communicate his idea to the bridge from the transporter room's com panel. Instead, he wastes precious time presumably waiting for the turbolift to take him to the bridge. STUPID! Yet, the academy, and Picard, can't live without him.

Most of the time Keith, when you write these reviews, I'm envious of the job you have here, being payed (I'm guessing you are, anyway) to watch and talk about this show. Not here. This time, I have nothing but sympathy for you.

Definatly one of the 10 worst post-season 1 TNG episodes, IMO.
Mike S.
2. Mike S.
Of course, it's why did Wesley have to go back to the bridge? (I put a period at the end). They have an edit function on here, after you post something. I should really make use of it, don't you think?

BTW, everyone on here enjoy the Super Bowl, and GO GIANTS (for me, anyway)!
Mike S.
3. Mike Kelm
Could Cmdr. Riker come up with a more obscure way of trying to send out a distress signal? He's playing random Algolian music in the hope that someone who is listening to subspace static picks up on the fact that it's Algolian music? Why not morse code or it's 24th century equivalent. I think dit-dit-dit, dash-dash-dash, dit-dit-dit would be much more obvious that some random melody.

And why is it Wesley that picks up on this, not Data, who has a perfect memory and should be able to recognize this melody much easier. Is this the 24th century music equivalent of the opening of "Crazy Train" or "Sweet Caroline"; something that everyone knows?

Once again we get a random crazy Ferengi who apparently this is the first time he's been off the Ferengi homeworld because he has no idea how the universe works. He is a wacky comedic bad guy who is completely cowardly and not at all bad guy. This isn't Daimon Bok who has a specific grudge and is actually a bad guy, this is a goofball. It's weak writing with a weak plot point (the clicking music) and an ending that's only remotely saving grace is a trained Shakespearian actor saying Shakespear. Otherwise it's useless.

Oh, and why is starfleet academy so damn hard to get into? The tests happen at exactly a specific time at exactly a specific point and apparently are written, oral, psychological and presumably physical. For a fleet that presumably has hundreds of ships, each with hundreds of crewmembers, and a couple of hundred starbases and planet stations each with a few thousand crewmembers, it seems that becoming an officer in Starfleet is the most complicated thing in the universe. Lastly, what is so important about the meeting with the Zapata that Captain Picard can't put the pedal to the metal and have his top of the line starship catch up with the Bradbury, beam over Wes and have him get to school on time?

Very weak episode with horrific writing and horrific plot holes. I think a 3 is being generous.
Mike S.
4. Seryddwr
I rather liked this one as a kid (maybe it was the idea of Marina Sirtis in the nude!), but it seems pretty grim now. Plus I always thought that the idea of Wes picking out a rhythm amongst all that static was pretty far-fetched. Still, it always has the fabulous Shakespeare mashup at the end when Picard is busily mangling quotations, as well as giving the Ferengi a countdown or he'll blow his ship up:
'When I have plucked the rose, I cannot it give it vital growth again; its needs must wither!... nine... eight...'Like Krad says, though, DVDs have scene selection for a reason. Still, I think it's the only bad episode in season 3 (I really like 'A Matter of Perspective'...), and even this has plus points compared with, say, 'Code of Honor'.
Michael M Jones
5. MichaelMJones
I love the expressions of the crew as Picard recites his poetry. It's a wonderufl mixture of WTF and them attempting to stay serious. There are days when I marvel that an actor like Patrick Stewart spent so long in the Star Trek franchise. :)
Mike S.
6. Christopher L. Bennett
I'm surprised by how strong the negative reactions are. It's not one of the greats, and the parts with Lwaxana having to make nice with Bok are rather squirm-inducing, but overall it's a fairly fun episode. And it has a strong Ron Jones score, especially in the final minutes. And it has Deanna naked, which is never a bad thing.

@#3: Riker's signal in the Cochrane distortion was supposed to be obscure. If it was an obvious pattern or signal, the Ferengi would've detected it. It had to be something subtle that only someone on the Enterprise would be likely to recognize as a meaningful pattern, so the Ferengi would dismiss it as just a harmless engine knock.
Jenny Thrash
7. Sihaya
krad, I'm in agreement on this one. The episode really should be reduced to a very good "best of" clipshow. But I do like its best bits alot.

Mike S., normally I'm indifferent about the Superbowl, but as a Houstonian I will cheerfully root for the Giants this time. I'm glad that David Carr has found a team that appreciates him as a QB, even as a backup.
Mike S.
8. Brian Eberhardt
To quote Stan Lee "Nough Said!" Everything I would have said about this episode has been already said.

Does the question: 'How does one actually get into Star Fleet?" ever get answered?
Mike S.
9. Strigophilia
The gender politics in this are appalling, enough that it makes the entirety hard to watch. The (potential) rape of Lwxana was played for laughs, with an implication that it wouldn't be rape because the gun was at her daughter's head, not hers; the naked women were played for laughs. Plus the idea that Starfleet would chase down Deanna and Riker, but perfectly happily leave her behind, is both sexist and ludicrous. Yeah, not one of the high points of the TNG ouevre - it's not a show I go to for its uniformly awesome gender treatment, but it usually does a lot better than this. (The ghost rapist in the 7th season is worse yet, but this is pretty frickin' bad).
Mike S.
10. don3comp
I think one knows the episode is in trouble the moment the Ferengi falls for the seduction trick ("yeah, I'm perfectly fine with giving you top-secret access codes if you'll stroke my ears and make me some booze!"), and then--wouldn't you know it--the Ferengi's cohort comes bounding in just in the nick of time. Talk about rotten luck!

Fortunately, everything is redeemed by the sight of...Wesley in a RED uniform! (KIDDING!)

I have to say, I do think the Lwaxana episodes got better after this one. At least you could start to feel for the character once they let her be more than the "Auntie Mame of the Galaxy."

Yeah, the Shakespeare at the end is beautiful. But beyond that, the writers of the Doctor Who "Discontinuity Guide," writing about a weak episode of that series, said it best: "plod, plod, how many episodes til the end of the season, lads?"
David Levinson
11. DemetriosX
What jumps out to me here is what a rich source this episode has been for Internet memes. That last shot of Picard you used is the "WTF is this shit" Picard, that first shot of Picard could easily be a "Who's awesome? You're awesome.", and of course we have here the original of the terrifying velvet Wesley. So I guess it's got that going for it.
Mike S.
12. John R. Ellis
The only thing I can enjoy about this episode is that they did seem to realize Lwaxana had gone from obnoxious cartoon to a veritable fountain of off-putting oddments and took pains to humanize her later.
john mullen
13. johntheirishmongol
The biggest problem with this episode is Majel is playing this at one level and the rest of the cast at another. The only time anyone attempts to match her energy is at the end when Patrick gets to play with the sonnets. Love the oomlox, and it's a good way to find out if a girl is really into ST, just ask for one!
Jenny Thrash
14. Sihaya
I like oomlox with a nice bagel and cream cheese.

Sorry, johntheirishmongol, couldn't resist.
Justin Devlin
15. EnsignJayburd
At least the rest of the Lwaxana Troi episodes would be good ones, including her appearances on DS9.

BTW, I wrote a song based on the Algolian ceremonial rhythms. So this episode has that going for it. At least for me, anyway.

Mike S.
16. Sanagi
I guess "saved the flagship of the Federation on multiple occasions" just doesn't have the cachet it once had.
Mike S.
17. ronnyc
About the only part of this episode I like is Picard trying to convince Tog he's in love with Lwaxana. Doing bad acting seems like the hardest kind of acting and I think Patrick Stewart does a great job as usual and it just makes me smile when he vears into Shakespeare.
Mike S.
18. DianeB
I haven't watched this episode in a long while, but I remember enjoying the heck out of it, appalling gender politics aside, simply because Lwaxana was in it. I adored the way she could reduce her daughter to babbling inside a second. Always liked that about Lwaxana; heck, I've always liked that about *any* mom who could do that to a daughter, and I mean that in the kindest of ways.
Mike S.
19. JohnC
@9- didn't get that gender politics thing at all. So nakedness is "played for laughs", and it happens to be two women, Big whoop. If the same thing happened to Picard and Riker it would have been even funnier, so I'm not quite sure of the point. That said, I'd put this episode at a 1. A Lwaxana/Ferengi plot with Ensign Doogie Howser saving the day. Pretty much the only three things I loathe about the TNG franchise. Excruciating.
Mike S.
20. TDV
Hey, great catch on the Lovely Angels/Dirty Pair reference!

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