Star Trek: The Next Generation “The Battle” (part 1 of 4)
[Webmaster’s note: Special thanks go out to Joshua Hutcheson for helping to proofread and edit this recap!]
So, I had this conversation with Albert the other day:
Albert: Sure! We’ve been doing a lot of ‘80s TV lately, you know, The A-Team, Family Ties…
Kevin: Hmm… Well, Star Trek: The Next Generation started in the ‘80s, how about I do some of that?
Albert: Star Trek recaps?! On the Agony Booth?! That’s… brilliant!!
Okay, it might not have gone precisely like that. But at any rate, here I am, and off we go!
This was the ninth episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation to air, and like most first season episodes, it had writing that you could charitably describe as “choppy”. I think it’s fair to say that if it wasn’t Star Trek, there’s no telling if it would have actually seen a second season. But of course it was, it did, and it did get better. But that’s another story.
As the episode opens, Captain Picard logs that Starfleet has ordered the Enterprise to some random star system, because a Ferengi ship has “requested a meeting”. Now, that might strike you as a bit… accommodating on the Federation’s part, but it gets even better: as Picard notes upon arriving, they’ve just been sitting there for three days [!], with the Ferengi doing nothing more than telling them to “stand by”.
Picard is passing the time in his ready room, getting some reading in, when Dr. Crusher enters in response to his summons. Picard is reluctant to elaborate on what’s up, almost to the point of suggesting that the problem is that nothing is “up”, so to speak. But he finally spits out that he’s been feeling fatigued lately (uh-huh), and now he’s got a headache. Well, I suppose that in the perfect gender-equality universe that is the 24th Century, men are as entitled to use the “headache” excuse as… oh, he actually has a headache. Never mind.
“A what?” is Beverly’s reaction to the word “headache”. Picard preempts my snark by getting her to clarify that of course she knows what a headache is; it’s just that they’re incredibly rare in the 24th Century. Not to worry, though, Dr. Crusher will have ample opportunity to display incompetence before we’re done here.
Picard chalks it up to stress over being jerked around for three days by the Ferengi with no clue as to what’s going on. Dr. Crusher insists it has to be something, though naturally, she can’t find anything wrong.
She’s nevertheless about to order him to sickbay for more tests, asserting significantly that she does have the power to order the captain around. Remember that, because Crusher sure won’t. Just then, Commander Riker calls in to announce that the Ferengi have finally decided to get on with things.
Picard steps onto the bridge and learns the Ferengi captain’s name: DaiMon Bok.
Oops, sorry. That was DaiMon Bok-Bok-Bakok. This is Daimon Bok.
So the Federation apparently has a policy wherein not only can some random vessel demand an audience with their flagship, then stall the meeting for three days without explanation, but they don’t even have to give out the captain’s name first. Good to know.
Communications are opened. Bok appears, and tells Picard that they have a “mutual problem” that he’s only willing to discuss in person with the captain. Actually, he’d probably want to talk to Dr. Crusher about that… Okay, I’m going to drop that now.
Putting Bok on mute, Picard huddles with his team, and Counselor Troi earns her pay by announcing that she senses “great deception” from Bok. Thanks for that, Deanna, because nothing else about this setup has been remotely suspicious. Nevertheless, they agree to let Bok beam over to find out just what he wants, but not for another hour, because again, the time of Starfleet’s flagship crew is apparently of little value.
After the title sequence, we find Picard using the convenient hour to undergo the sickbay scans Dr. Crusher wanted done. This gives Crusher the opportunity to indulge in a common pastime of first season TNG crew members: Namely, talking about how much better things are in the 24th Century than they were in ancient times, like, say, the late 20th Century. Unexplained headaches, Crusher insists, should be as much a thing of the past as the common cold.
Crusher: I haven’t the slightest idea.
This is followed by a lengthy pause which, not coincidentally I think, is the perfect length for inserting the old muted trombone sound effect. Crusher then gives Picard something that “cloaks” his headache, and tells him she’ll do more tests after the business with the Ferengi is done. In other words: Yes, even in the 24th Century, doctors are still giving their patients the “take two aspirin and call me in the morning” line.
In a scene needlessly featuring Wesley Crusher’s Radar O’Reilly act, the Enterprise detects another ship on its long range scanners. It’s an older style Federation ship, not transmitting or responding to hails. And then Picard suddenly gets another headache, though I’m sure this happens pretty much every time he deals with Wesley.
Before they can puzzle out the appearance of the older Federation ship, the hour is up, and Bok and his two senior officers beam onto the bridge.
Introductions are made, and Bok’s officers promptly, well, act like Ferengi: First, they ogle Troi (which Riker is all too happy to go along with, and let’s face it, as a teenager in the ‘80s, I was too), and then they make an offer to purchase Commander Data, which Riker is awkward in deflecting (I guess because the landmark episode establishing Data’s “personhood” won’t happen until the second season).
Lieutenant Yar breaks in to note that the older vessel is still approaching, and is still not transmitting any signals, but Bok is quick to explain that they’re the ones controlling it.
Picard naturally wants to know where they got their hands on an old Federation starship—a question he might well direct to Starfleet, who you’d think would be better at keeping track of these things—but Bok tells him not to worry his pretty bald head over it. It’s simply a gift for the “hero of Maxia”, i.e., Captain Picard.
Picard has no idea what Bok is talking about, but with Data’s help he quickly learns that it refers to an incident nine years ago in the Maxia Zeta system, in which Picard destroyed an “unknown ship”. Bok suddenly goes into a rage at this, which really should raise a lot more suspicions than it does, before explaining that the “unknown ship” was a Ferengi vessel.
Picard backpedals, saying the name “Battle of Maxia” was a much more dramatic name than he’d have given to the incident. Per his side of the story, it was a simple event: unknown vessel shows up, refuses to identify itself, attacks, is then fired upon and destroyed. However, as will be eventually revealed, Picard is not exactly being forthright here.
Bok then has the Enterprise put the approaching ship, now just 1000 km away, on the viewscreen. Picard asks once more what this is all about, but is interrupted by the return of his headache. Bok, again not hiding his motivations very well, suggests this might be Picard’s “conscience” kicking in. Although, come to think of it, I’m a bit surprised to learn the Ferengi actually have a word in their language that translates to “conscience”.
Troi remarks—potentially helpfully for once—that she felt something at the same time as Picard. But she clouds it with useless remarks about it being “from his past”, which, given that they’ve just been talking about an incident from almost a decade ago, isn’t exactly a revelation.
Picard asks for a viewscreen zoom-in, and now he recognizes the ship: it’s his old vessel, the USS Stargazer. Bok declares it “a gift of friendship” to Picard, and pointedly insists that he’s giving it to them at no charge, not even a finder’s fee, over the vocal protests of his two officers.
The sad part here is that not only should this really be suspicious to Picard and company, but there’s no real point to Bok’s un-Ferengi-like generosity, other than to set up something that comes back to bite him in the ass later on.