Fri
Jul 27 2012 3:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Power Play”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play“Power Play”
Written by Paul Ruben and Maurice Hurley and Rene Balcer and Herbert Wright & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston
Season 5, Episode 15
Production episode 40275-214
Original air date: February 24, 1992
Stardate: 45571.2

Captain’s Log: The Enterprise is investigating a very faint distress call from an uninhabited Class-M moon of Mab-Bu VI. There is magnetic interference from storms and such on the planet, which makes it impossible to localize the distress call, nor be sure if the lack of life-sign readings is accurate.

Data recognizes the distress signal as belonging to the U.S.S. Essex, a Daedalus-class starship under the command of Captain Bryce Shumar, which went missing in the area some two centuries earlier. Given the elapsed time, Picard assumes it to be an automated signal for a crew that must be long dead.

Troi, though, isn’t sure that it’s as simple as that: she senses life on the planet. Riker, Data, and Troi take a shuttle down, as the magnetic storms make transporting impractical. The shuttle turns out to be just as impractical, as the very bumpy ride into the atmosphere results in a crash landing. The away team survives, though Riker has a broken arm. They can’t contact the ship from the surface. Troi’s guess that any survivors might be living underground is scotched by the ground itself, which is nonporous rock.

And a wavefront is coming in that’s registering high on the EM spectrum. While the tricorders don’t sense life, Troi does—on the wavefront.

They can’t beam the team up, as there’s nothing to lock onto. O’Brien, though, can beam down by himself—one person can punch through the storm—with a pattern enhancer that will enable transport. Before O’Brien can activate the enhancer, though, lightning strikes the entire party, knocking them down. They’re insensate—and then little balls of energy head toward them, and disappear inside the bodies of each, except Riker. The one headed for the first officer suddenly flies away.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

Riker gets up and stumbles over to the enhancer, turning it on with his good arm.

The team is brought to sickbay. Everyone is fine—Crusher fixes Riker’s broken arm with magical 24th-century technology—and they head to the bridge. O’Brien goes with them for no reason that is adequately explained, nor does anyone comment on his accompanying them.

Data and Riker discuss possibly retuning the sensors in a way that will penetrate the storms, since whatever life Troi sensed was close by. Troi then asks to speak to Picard in private, while Riker orders Data to adjust sensors. Data—while looking unusually squirrelly—suggests they start the search at the southern polar region, using the EM properties of the moon as a (rather feeble) justification. Riker, however, thinks they should start with their crash site.

Meanwhile, Troi tells Picard that she sensed something like a telepathic communication—like voices being carried on the wind, she says semi-poetically—calling them to the southern polar region.

On the bridge, Ro is locked out of the helm, and the ship’s moving to a polar orbit. When Riker questions Data about it, Data responds by punching him in the chest. Worf’s attempt to retaliate is stopped by O’Brien, who knocks Worf over the tactical console. Ro fires on O’Brien, but he’s unaffected by the phaser beam—the same cannot be said for Ro, whom O’Brien stuns. Riker manages to transfer bridge control to engineering before O’Brien can stun him, too.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

Picard hears the alert, and moves to leave the ready room, at which point Troi clubs him in the back of the neck.

With the bridge now useless, Troi, Data, and O’Brien go to the turbolift. Troi angrily asks what happened, and Data says Riker wouldn’t move to a polar orbit, prompting Troi to angrily say that Picard would have done it for her if he’d just been patient. (While it’s obvious at this point that all three are possessed by other entities, I’m just going to refer to them by their real names to make everyone’s life easier.)

Once they’re gone, Riker re-enables bridge control. Worf stops their turbolift at deck ten. Then it moves again, and this time Worf uses bulkheads to stop the ’lift at deck thirteen. Worf and two other security guards go to the ’lift—only to find three combadges on the ’lift floor.

Data, Troi, and O’Brien, meanwhile, are still on deck ten. They’re stopped by a forcefield, but Data is able to use “my entity’s artificial substructure” to short out the field. They then go to Ten-Forward, which conveniently has a whole mess of hostages—two of whom are Keiko and Molly.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

Worf and his team come in the other set of doors, and a phaser fight ensues. It’s pretty one-sided, though, as the trio are unaffected by phaser fire, which puts Worf and his team at a distinct disadvantage.

Now it becomes a hostage negotiation—and a fight for control. O’Brien manages to get some computer control, shutting down internal sensors and transporters. Data isolates the room with force fields while O’Brien takes everyone’s combadges.

On the bridge, they discuss options. Anesthezine gas won’t work, as it won’t affect Data. Picard orders Crusher to go over the biofilter readouts from the transport up.

In Ten-Forward, Data tries to provoke Worf while Picard tries to make contact. Troi eventually answers, saying that no discussions will happen until the Enterprise moves into a southern polar orbit.

Picard agrees to that, but does so very slowly. Crusher detects an anionic energy surrounding their central nervous system. But it didn’t affect Riker—he was the only member of the team who was in physical pain, due to his broken arm, so that might provide a way to stop them. Ro suggests a plasma shock, which would cause pain, but not do any permanent damage. She and La Forge go off to implement that, while Crusher tries to figure out a way to contain the anionic energy once the plasma shock knocks it out of them.

Picard then contacts Ten-Forward, hoping for an update on the medical condition of his people now that he’s moving the ship as they asked. Troi says that five people are injured, but when Picard asks for specifics, Troi tells Worf to report. The Klingon says that several people have phaser burns that require medical attention. He also manages to let Picard know that phaser stuns have no affect on their captors before Data shuts him up.

Then Picard goes for broke: if they let those five go to be treated, Picard himself will take their place as a hostage. Riker objects to this on the bridge, and Data is skeptical in Ten-Forward, but Picard points out to Riker that he’s already a hostage no matter where he is, and Troi tells Data that Picard is the most valuable hostage they could have.

Picard arrives with the medical team. Data brings him in at phaserpoint and removes his combadge. Troi then introduces herself as Captain Bryce Shumar of the U.S.S. Essex. Data and O’Brien are her (his?) first officer and security chief. They have lived as disembodied consciousnesses for two centuries, an agonizing existence. Troi can’t explain how it happened—the Essex was caught in an EM storm, just like the shuttle, ripping apart the ship. When Picard asks why the deception, the violence, Troi insists that it was necessary because Picard wouldn’t believe her—she knows he still doesn’t.

Ro and La Forge clamber through service crawlways with a doohickey that will deliver the plasma shock. They drill a microscopic hole in the ceiling over Ten-Forward. Now Crusher just needs to set up a way to flood Ten-Forward with iogenic particles, which will trap the anionic energy.

In Ten-Forward, Picard and Worf discuss options, Picard making it clear that he doesn’t buy for a second that these are Starfleet officers.

La Forge and Ro try the plasma shock, but Data steps out of range of the shock at the last second. Data lifts Picard by the throat and gets him to abort, pretty much killing Plan A.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

The Enterprise arrives at the southern polar region, where Troi claims the wreck of the Essex is. All they wish is to beam their skeletal remains on board and then take them to Earth for a proper burial—to finally put themselves to rest. When they arrive, La Forge can’t pick up anything through the EM soup down there. Riker doesn’t want to beam up whatever might happen to be down there, and La Forge says he’s got a good excuse for him: the transporters won’t work any better than the sensors.

In Ten-Forward, Picard reminds them that the transporters haven’t been working properly since they got here—and that O’Brien’s the best qualified to make them work. O’Brien agrees that he can modify the transporter to work—but not from the limited computer access at Ten-Forward. Picard offers all of them safe passage to a cargo bay, where they can use a transporter. When Troi questions Picard’s motives, he responds honestly: if they go to the cargo bay, they’ll release some of the hostages. Their safety is his primary concern.

They agree, but first O’Brien requests all transporter functions be transferred to Ten-Forward, reinforced by Picard ordering Riker to provide safe passage between Ten-Forward and Cargo Bay 4.

With transporters in their control, they each take a single hostage for protection. Data takes Worf (gleefully declaring, “The Klingon!”), O’Brien takes Keiko (but lets her leave Molly behind), and Troi takes Picard (angrily stating, “you’re mine!”).

The six of them head to Cargo Bay 4, observed by some very tense security personnel. Once they arrive, Picard baits Troi with several questions that make it clear he doesn’t believe that she’s possessed by the ghost of Captain Shumar. O’Brien and Data adjust the transporter, and then they beam up what looks like another one of the wavefronts that approached the away team.

Troi finally admits that she’s not Shumar. (Big shock.) They’re criminals who had their consciousness forcibly removed from their bodies and then imprisoned on the moon as disembodied energy. They almost escaped on the Essex, but it couldn’t survive the storms. Picard incredulously asked if he really thought claiming to be Shumar and his crew would elicit their sympathy, but Troi points out quite rightly that it was a better approach than trying to get him to allow a mess of condemned prisoners on board.

However, Crusher’s iogenic particles will work just as well on the energy beings in the transporter. With that, Riker gives Picard another bargaining chip, as the prisoners are now trapped in Crusher’s containment field. Picard will blow the cargo bay hatch—his whole reason for leading them to Cargo Bay 4 in the first place—killing all the prisoners. True, it will also kill them, but Keiko asserts that she’d gladly die to save her daughter’s life, and Worf reminds them that Klingons just love to die in the line of duty. Picard reiterates that he, Troi, Data, and O’Brien are equally willing to die for the ship.

Troi, knowing that she’s beaten, warns Picard to stay the hell away from Mab-Bu VI’s moon, and the three entities depart the bodies of our heroes. Worf then beams all the prisoners back to the surface, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Somehow, the people of Ux-Mal found a way to rip people’s consciousness from their bodies and leave them drifting on magnetic storms on the Mab-Bu VI moon. Doesn’t sound like any fun at all, which makes it fairly ideal as a punishment. But they can possess people—presumably, they tried this on the Essex as well—showing up on scans as anionic energy, which can be isolated by isogenic particles. However, this anionic energy also conveys an immunity to phaser stuns. Also if a person is suffering pain, they can’t be possessed. Lucky them.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: The criminal possessing Troi tries to use Picard’s relationship with Troi to get him to trust her, and it might have worked if the criminal possessing Data hadn’t jumped the gun.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf and his security team do quite well, and probably would’ve been able to take back Ten-Forward if the possessed crew weren’t plot-conveniently unable to be stunned by phasers. He also is able to let the bridge know of that ability, which kills Riker’s notion of blasting in with a wide-angle phaser beam that stuns everyone.

If I Only Had a Brain…: The criminal possessing Data is particularly nasty, impatient, cruel, and snotty.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

In the Driver’s Seat: Ro is at conn, and gets to kick ass on several levels, starting with being the one to track the shuttle’s position based on their angle of descent. She’s the one to suggest the plasma shock—which almost works—and she also thinks to not transfer control of shuttle transporters to Ten-Forward near the end—which O’Brien sees through, to her annoyance, though Riker tells her it was a nice try. Ro runs tactical after Worf’s taken hostage, leaving an unnamed ensign (played by regular extra Christina Wegler Miles) to take over flying the ship very very slowly to a southern polar orbit.

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: The criminal possessing O’Brien knows that Keiko is the wife of the person he’s occupying, and he at one point uses that to try to mack on her, to Keiko’s disgust. The episode ends with the happy couple reunited, and Molly much happier that Daddy’s now Daddy again.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

I Believe I Said That: “Lieutenant, I must apologize for my inadvertent misconduct toward you.”

“No apology necessary.”

“Your restraint was most remarkable.”

“You have no idea.”

Data and Worf after it’s all over.

Welcome Aboard: No real guest stars in this one, just recurring regulars in Rosalind Chao (Keiko), Colm Meaney (O’Brien), and Michelle Forbes (Ro).

Trivial Matters: While the Daedalus-class Essex was never seen on screen, a design for the ship was created for the Star Trek Chronology based on some of Matt Jefferies’s early designs for the Enterprise in the 1960s, and built by Greg Jein. That model of Jein’s was later seen as decoration in Benjamin Sisko’s office on Deep Space Nine.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

The Daedalus-class ships, including the Essex, are seen in their heyday in the novels Starfleet Year One by Michael Jan Friedman (in which Bryce Shumar is a main character), as well as the Enterprise novels Last Full Measure by Michael A. Martin & Andy Mangels and the two Romulan War novels by Martin. In addition, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and Vanguard series both established that the S.C.E. had retrofitted three old Daedalus-class vessels for their use in the 23rd century. One in particular, the U.S.S. Lovell, was seen in the S.C.E. stories Foundations, Where Time Stands Still, and Distant Early Warning, all by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, and most of the Vanguard novels, which were written by Ward, Dilmore, and David Mack.

La Forge is surprisingly chummy with Ro, given that he told Guinan back in “Ensign Ro” that he didn’t want her on the ship and wouldn’t turn his back on her.

Director David Livingston came up with nicknames for the possessed crew: Marina Sirtis was referred to as “Slash,” Brent Spiner was “Buzz,” and Colm Meaney was “Slugger.”

This episode is a rare case where we see seatbelts, in this case on the shuttle as it’s bouncing around in the moon’s atmosphere. Speaking of the shuttle, it was named Campbell after legendary science fiction writer/editor John W. Campbell.

Make it So: “Everyone, get down on the floor!” I simply adore this action-movie of an episode. It has absolutely no redeeming social value, the plot isn’t all that and a bag of chips, but so what? I wouldn’t want TNG to be like this all the time, but it’s nice every once in a while to do a straight-up action piece.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Power Play

A lot of why it works is superlative direction by Livingston, aided by some of the best music in the show’s history by Jay Chattaway. (The latter isn’t much of a distinction, as TNG’s incidental music has never been its strong suit, but Chattaway blew the doors off with this one.) The pacing is tight, the action scenes well done (the phaser fights on the bridge and in Ten-Forward are very nicely done), the tension high.

Points also to Sirtis, Spiner, and Meaney, who get to play around a bit. Sirtis actually does nasty quite well, and Spiner does a particularly good job of playing a bastard that is different from Lore.

Beyond that, the whole cast gets something to do, there are some great lines, and it’s just a lot of fun.

 

Warp factor rating: 7


Keith R.A. DeCandido knows who put the bop in the bop-shu-bop, but is still trying to work out who put the ram in the rama-lama-ding-dong.

23 comments
Mike Kelm
1. Mike Kelm
How exactly does having your brain taken over by a criminal make you impervious to phaser fire? As I understand it a phaser on stun setting works by disrupting the electric signals from the brain. It shouldn't matter who or what is controlling the brain, the body should just shut down. I'd actually think it would be doubly effective on the criminals, since they are nothing but energy. If nothing else, the part of the body that is hit by the energy should be damaged.

Other than that- fun episode. Crewmember gets taken over by alien is sort of a Star Trek fallback, but the episode itself is enjoyable, something we don't really see much of, and has a traditional Star Trek "noble end" where the goodness of the characters overcomes the evil du jour.
Mike Kelm
2. Ender
Great episode! Agreed about the pacing and the overall direction: Simply flawless. Red Letter Media did great reviews of all the TNG movies (mostly ripping them apart for being so blatantly violent and non-philosophical compared to the show), and in one of them, they point to this episode as a great example of how to generate tension without needing to blow things up. The scene where they are walking down the corridor is more exciting and tense than any of the action sequences in the movies.
Mike Kelm
3. Electone
Holy two-straight-weeks budget bottle show, Batman! Did someone chop the show's budget during the 5th Season?

This one is just way too cheap (plot & budget) for my liking.

Warp factor rating: 2
Michael Burstein
4. mabfan
When Nomi and I first saw the series of the last few episodes, we realized that the episodes formed a quadrilogy of Troi stories, and we summarized them as follows:

Violations: Troi gets attacked
Masterpiece Society: Troi gets dumped
Conundrum: Troi gets mindwiped
Power Play: Troi gets even

-- Michael A. Burstein
Mike Kelm
5. Christopher L. Bennett
Not much to say, except it bugged me when the official TNG blueprints came out and they forgot to include the Jefferies tube above Ten Forward (among other things, like the arboretum that was supposed to be under those window arrays on the rear of the saucer).

And it's kind of interesting how this episode is one of our main pre-ENT sources of information about the 22nd-century Trekverse, even though it ultimately has nothing to do with that era.
Mike Kelm
6. Sanagi
You can poke all kinds of logical holes in this one, like how does Data get possessed and does he really feel pain? On the other hand, it does a great job of portraying the Enterprise crew as a team of competent, intelligent people trying to outmaneuver an equally sharp villain. And in a weird way, it may be the best of the Good Troi Episodes.
Mike Kelm
7. Paul K. Bisson
Love, love, love this action-oriented episode. A plot that would have been taken for granted in the first season is richer and more exciting here because we (and the actors) know these characters so much better.

Right-on, Keith - Livingston's direction is pitch-perfect; wide angles and extreme close-ups are used to great effect. That long, uncut bridge scene in the cold open - as the camera moves from Picard to Riker to Data then subconsciously tracks Deanna in the background as she comes down the horseshoe - brilliant.

Also agree with your assessment of Chattaway. I still hum his urgent stuccato action motif - it's simple, dangerous, and thrilling - topping his earlier subdued but equally effective music for Wesley-on-the-run in "The Game."

Great performances, great tension, great character interactions. I know the cast enjoyed the shake-up. One of my favorites.
Paul Bisson
8. bisson
Love, love, love this action-oriented episode. A plot that would have been taken for granted in the first season is so much the richer and more exciting here because we (and the actors) know these characters so much better.

Right-on, Keith - Livingston's direction is pitch-perfect; wide angles and extreme close-ups are used to great effect. That long, uncut bridge scene in the cold open - as the camera moves from Picard to Riker to Data then subconsciously tracks Deanna in the background as she comes down the horseshoe - brilliant.

Also agree with your assessment of Chattaway. I still hum his urgent stuccato action motif - it's simple, dangerous, and thrilling - topping his earlier subdued but equally effective music for Wesley-on-the-run in "The Game."

Great performances, great tension, great character interactions. I know the cast enjoyed the shake-up. One of my favorites.
Mike Kelm
9. Seryddwr
A nice little episode, though I always felt the bit where Data walks out of the range of the plasma shock was a little weak - this episode's equivalent of the guy who ducks just as the sniper pulls the trigger. Still, a minor criticism of a pretty taut ep.
Mike Kelm
10. John R. Ellis
Yeah, this one was just a lot of fun. And I think it's telling just how much of a blast these "And Now For Something Completely Different" episodes are, so many years later.

I remember this one a lot more fondly than the tinhorn, well-intentioned, poorly-executed message show coming up soon.
Alyssa Tuma
11. AlyssaT
Loved O'Brien in this one. Really showed us a bit more of Meaney's capabilities and was one of the more effectively disturbing aspects of the episode, particularly his exchanges with Keiko and Molly. Sometimes it feels like TNG shies away from creepiness (while inadvertently being creepy elsewhere: I'm looking at you, holopervert Geordi!), so I thought this was a good move.

Keith, I'm so glad you called out how Spiner playing a bad guy in this one was very different from how he plays Lore. We all now Spiner is one of the strongest actors in the series, and it's this kind of range that really proves it.
Rob Rater
12. Quasarmodo
I love the still photo of Troi about to club Picard in the back. I have to remind myself that she's being possessed in that pic!
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
13. Lisamarie
I love Brent Spiner, that's really all I have to say about this episode...

That and...if Riker was unconscious, would his pain synapses still be firing?
Joseph Newton
14. crzydroid
I'm glad the "stun everybody, sort it out later" plan was never tried. They would need the highest stun setting to get Data, and I don't think that would be good for an infant. Granted, they have the magical 24th century medicine.
Mike Kelm
15. Yakko
Always enjoyed this one - but when Worf and his security team are bounding down the corrider to intercept the invaders on Deck 13 (somewhere around the 13 minute mark) they run past an average looking early 1990s guy wearing a casual button up shirt tucked into pleated khaki pants with an ordinary black belt. It always takes me out of the episode for a second because it literally looks like some dude in Gap clothes just wandered into the shoot from the Paramount lot. Is it supposed to be an off-duty crewman? Is he one of the civilians that have hardly appeared on the ship since the first season when Roddenberry was trying to convey the Enterprise as a city in space? If so why isn't he costumed better? Is it just a rehearsal shot with a stand-in that got used because production was up against a deadline?
Rob Rater
16. Quasarmodo
The 24th Century medicine just seems magical because it's so advanced. This was explained in Thor. ;)
NICKOLAS POLISKEY
17. jlpsquared
@Krad,

This music was the best of the post-Ron Jones era....Counting Jones, this soundtrack wouldn't crack the top 40.

@Yakko, you know I never noticed that before, but I think you are right, the enterprise did seem to slowly get emptier of non-dressed crewman as the show went on. For all the flaws of the 1st season, it did at least seem like a city in the stars....
Mike Kelm
18. General Vagueness
re: 6. Sanagi, IIRC someone asks "what about Data?" and someone else (LaForge I think) says he doesn't feel pain per se but the blast should overload his circuits for a minute
re: 13. Lisamarie, I think most of them would; have you hurt yourself and gone to sleep and it still hurt in the morning? the pain doesn't go away, your conscious mind just shuts off, and AFAIK your subconscious can't feel pain, hence the pinch test
Mike Kelm
19. NullNix
I was unimpressed by the Enterprise's lack of internal imaging cover. When all hell breaks loose in Ten-Forward, all Picard can do is ask for a verbal report. We've got better CCTV coverage in a British town centre than Picard has in major communal areas on the Enterprise! (Sure, such sensors should mostly be locked out except in emergency situations, but they should still *exist*. This is a persistent problem with the Star Trek universe: the internal sensors are always awful. B5 has the opposite problem, with magic internal sensors that can apparently pick up anything if asked to do so.)

(Of course, this is just a sign that Star Trek is a creature of its time: CCTV was barely getting started when this episode was produced.)
Mike Kelm
20. Himself
How could Data have emotions in the episode "Power Play"? According to Episode 11 "Hero Worship" he explained to boy pretending to be an android that his positronic brain could not produce emotions, so how could a spirit entity over right this design flaw?
Mike Kelm
21. Ashcom
Interesting you say "no guest stars". Admittedly she had no lines in the episode, and was not credited in the cast, but surely worth noting that Pat Tallman (Lyta Alexander from Babylon 5) was one of the security team Worf took to try to take back Ten Forward?
Mike Kelm
22. MDS
Good catch on Patricia Tallman. She had a parallel career doing stunt work as witnessed in this episode, with acting. I always liked her work on B5 as Lyta.
Mike Kelm
23. Tom Green
Frankly, I'm surprised the prisoners "willingly" go back to the surface at the end of the episode. They've been stranded them disembodied for 500 years? Death would probably be preferable to living in that state.

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