Sunday, January 15, 2017

ST:TNG - Peak Performance

In an effort to relive my early teens, I am re-watching old episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is both better and worse than I remembered it, as was my youth most likely.

Seriesdate 2.21
Peak Performance

Ah, the last episode of season 2. Well, technically there's one more after it but that's a silly little clip show and not worth mentioning. Obviously all of the real effort in keeping their audience's interest for next season went into this one instead. You could achieve that with a breath-taking, game-changing cliffhanger (can everyone say "Locutus of Borg"?) yet in this case TNG's writers perhaps more wisely opted for cramming as much Star and Trek into one thrilling installment as they could, to leave off on a high note. Unfortunately, this leaves no room for introducing any sort of novel SciFi concept or plot but hey... everybody loves a plain Jane car chase scene every once in a while, right?

The Enterprise engages in a war game scenario, with Riker, Worf, Geordi and Wesley (plus assorted redshirts) taking control of a derelict Federation ship and squaring off against the Enterprise with the rest of its remaining crew. No sooner do they start, of course, but a Ferengi ship butts in demanding loot and plunder!
Our brave heroes aboard both Federation ships must outwit their more conveniently antagonistic new opponents instead of putting each other down. The episode's got everything: engines warping, torpedoes exploding, officers giving orders and panicked ensigns giving reports, snarling aliens and technobabble by the barrel full! No matter who you liked among the crew, the script makes sure to feed every major character at least a minute or two of dialogue. It falls into some plot holes, to be sure. Worf hacks the Enterprise's sensors because (being its security chief) he knows its codes, but no way in hell should he have been able to do the same to an unknown Ferengi ship. Various Enterprise systems fail without explanation to create necessary tension and plot hooks. Still, we get to see Worf as more than a growling thug and Troi doing her schtick as ship's counselor and best of all one of those classic scenes of Data doing his super-speed mechano-man routine.
Look, special effects! The secondary plot involves the Federation observer for the war games being a really obnoxious, very hateable nerd who thinks he's smarter than everyone else. Thus, Pulaski recruits Data to kick Poindexter's ass at video games. Data loses. Cue several inspirational speeches to boost Data's confidence. At the end of the episode, Data "wins" by dragging the game out, harassing and cockblocking his opponent without seeking any further goals until the other simply flips the board in rage and frustration and gives up.

Now, look.
Star Trek's often been ridiculed for failing to accurately predict the technology of the future. In this case, however, they were freaking prescient, because almost three decades later anyone who plays computer strategy games will still tell you this is exactly how it feels playing against the AI.
Kinda hilarious that 24th century video games have no better graphics than Tetris... but they're holographic!

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