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Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Battle

by Wil Wheaton, posted Feb 12th 2007 10:53AM
Star Trek TNG the battle Title: The Battle
Original Air Date: November 16, 1987
Teleplay By: Herbert J. Wright
Story By: Larry Forrester
Directed by: Rob Bowman
Episode: S01E09
Stardate: 41723.9
Synopsis: On an order from Starfleet (official directive #9: Justify the Plot of the Show), the Enterprise has rendezvoused with a Ferengi ship in the Xendi Sabu system, famous across the entire galaxy for its delicious paper-thin slices of Targ, cooked at your table in boiling water and served with tasty noodles.

However, it's been three days since the Enterprise arrived, and the only message they've picked up from the Ferengi ship is, "Stand by, Enterprise." That's an awfully long time to be listening to music on hold, but Picard knows that his starship will be hailed in the order it arrived, and jumping to warp speed and coming back will only lead to further delays, so he waits.

This is where we come in, and we discover Picard in his quarters with Dr. Crusher. He is extra cranky and has a mysterious headache. It's so mysterious that even Dr. Crusher doesn't know why he has it, and she wants to give Picard a special examination. However, before the porn music can begin, Riker calls Picard to the Bridge; the Ferengi are ready to talk.

Picard arrives on the Bridge and talks with the Ferengi DaiMon Bok, who seems to know Picard. Picard doesn't remember him but wants to know why he requested a meeting and kept the Enterprise waiting for three days, and why in the world they chose Chicago X as their hold music, because "If you Leave Me Now" is cool once, but every 38 minutes for three days is a little much.

Bok tells Picard that Chicago is a righteous band, citing '25 or 6 to 4', but if he wants to know anything more, he'll only talk to him face to face. He asks if they should talk on the Enterprise or on the Ferengi ship. Troi tells Picard that she senses great deception and danger from the Ferengi (clearly she hasn't seen 'The Last Outpost'), so Picard decides they should meet up on the Enterprise. This really pisses off Worf, who can't believe the Ferengi will so willingly come to the ship. However, he controls his anger; instead of blasting a hole in the viewer, he just breaks a crewman in half and eats his bones.

With an hour to spare before the Ferengi show up, Dr. Crusher takes Picard to Sickbay to, uh, investigate his headache a little bit more. Audiences expecting a little wakka chikka wakka chikka are instead given a 24th century future history lesson: we don't have headaches anymore. However, we still have pain killers.

The scene cuts to the Bridge, and Trekkies reach for their own pain killers and anti-nausea medication when newly-minted acting ensign Wesley Crusher, in his brand new gay pride space suit, storms into the Bridge, walks right up to Geordi's console, and tells Riker, "Commander, you'll soon be getting an intruder alert." Riker's irritation with Wesley is slightly less than the audience's, and he says, "Uh, listen, kid, if you have a report --" but before he can finish, Wesley interrupts him, ignores him, and tells Geordi to use the sensors to scan heading something or other. (See Behind the Scenes Memories, below, for more on this scene and its significance in TNG history.)

While the audience picks themselves up off the floor, and the official scribes of fan fiction spontaneously devise seven thousand different ways to shove things up Wesley's ass and kill him, Picard arrives. He gives Wesley a mild dressing down about Starfleet procedure, as a Constellation class starship (which hasn't identified itself) approaches the Enterprise under impulse power. By pure coincidence, the Ferengi are about to beam over to the Enterprise, but nobody -- not even Mary Sue himself Wesley Crusher -- bothers to ponder if these events are in any way connected to each other.

DaiMon Bok and two Ferengi beam directly to the Enterprise's Bridge (heeding Ferengi Official Directive #16: skip the Transporter Room and save a day's worth of lighting and set dressing.) Bok introduces his first officer, Kazago, who appears to have had a stroke, and his second officer, Rata, who is clearly related to the bouncing, leering, cowering Ferengi we all know and laugh at from 'The Last Outpost'. DaiMon Bok tells Picard to sit back and chill out, because the approaching starship is under his control. It's a gift, to honor "the hero of Maxia."

The thing is, Picard doesn't know who the hero of Maxia is, and is surprised to learn that it's him. (It's like when my friends told me I was the hero of Tijuana when we were in college.)

During the battle of Maxia, Picard destroyed a ship which would not identify itself, but was eventually discovered to be of Ferengi origin. DaiMon Bok is a little pissed about this whole thing, but is willing to let it go as a "mistake." (This is like the time my roommate drank the last beer in our fridge, and eventually discovered it belonged to me . . . though I didn't give him a free starship as much as I dropped his toothbrush into our toilet. Tough love. Tough love.)

The starship arrives, and Picard succumbs to one of those Brain Clouds that Tom Hanks had in Joe Versus the Volcano. Troi leaps up and tells Picard that she feels something from his past. A closer look at the starship clears up that mystery: it's Picard's old command, the Stargazer. DaiMon Bok says he found it drifting around this star system, and he wants Picard to have it as a gift. What could possibly go wrong?

After a commercial break -- spent by much of the audience furiously posting to Usenet, no doubt -- Picard tells his Bridge officers about the Battle of Maxia, and how he used what's become known as "The Picard Maneuver" to defeat his enemy. During the retelling, Picard has a bit of a flashback but stops just short of pooping himself, so everyone just sort of acts like nothing weird happened (this is like that one time I visited with my grandfather on Pearl Harbor Day in the early 90s, and is the end of this joke.)

All kidding aside, it's actually a cool scene. Patrick really gets into retelling how the maneuver worked, and it's clear that all the other actors enjoy listening to his performance, and the whole thing comes alive. Patrick the actor can clearly see the whole thing in his mind's eye, which gives real life to Picard the character reliving it, and is a very good example of how a great actor can take something as simple as thirty seconds of otherwise expository dialogue and turn it into something really special and memorable.

Picard then beams onto the Stargazer's Bridge -- a fairly obvious redress of the Enterprise Bridge from the original series movies (that's not a bad thing) -- looks around, and says, "Hello, old friend." It's a genuinely moving and emotional moment, which a lesser actor (like the 15 year-old version of me, for example) would have ruined by overplaying. As a result, when Data reads Picard's last Stargazer log entry, "'We are forced to abandon our starship. May she find her way without us'" and adds, "apparently she did, sir." It's not maudlin or schmaltzy at all; it's touching.

Picard heads into his old quarters for a ride on the Nostalgia Bus, where we discover the source of his mysterious headaches: a glowing red ball (a Star Trek tradition, dating all the way back to the 1960s) with a matching red ball being controlled by DaiMon Bok aboard the Ferengi ship. Anyone who is surprised to discover that the headaches, the mysterious arrival of the Stargazer, and Bok's mention of the Battle of Maxia are all connected . . . was probably sitting in the writer's room three months before this episode was shot, congratulating themselves on how clever they were.

Back on the Bridge, Riker takes possession of the Stargazer from the Ferengi, and Picard continues to complain about his headache. He gives control of the Bridge to Riker and leaves. Riker looks at Troi and very seriously asks what's wrong with his captain. Oh! Cool! We're finally going to get to see Troi use her Betazoid abilities to tell us something more intriguing than "Pain! Pain!" This will be the moment when Troi transitions from useless one dimensional plot device into a real character! What's she going to say?!

The camera dramatically pushes in on her, as she looks at Riker and quietly says . . . "I wish I could say."

WHAT?! ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?! Why doesn't she just say "Be sure to drink your Ovaltine!" Can someone please tell me why the creators would give Troi the power to divine emotions and help guide people through situations exactly like this one, only to have her do nothing when the situation arises? Honestly. This is like signing a .380 pinch hitter, putting him into game 5 of the playoffs with the bases loaded, down by two, and refusing to let him swing the bat. (If you're keeping score in this episode, the Writers are 0-2, and the Actors are 3-3. I'd also like to point to this moment as an example of why Trekkies should have trained their phasers on the writing staff, and not on us actors.)

In his quarters, Picard grabs a little sack time and climbs Jacob's Ladder as he remembers the Battle of Maxia. Meanwhile, in the Ready Room, Data tells Riker that Picard's personal account of the battle differs greatly from the official version, and it doesn't look pretty for Picard: according to his personal logs, the ship he destroyed was flying a flag of truce, the fire on the Stargazer was an accident, there were no WMDs, new Coke was his idea, it was a load-bearing flask, they're going to need a new boat, Soylent Green is people, and the Frogurt was also cursed.

Riker plays the confession for Picard, and though he suspects that it's a fake, he has to report it to Starfleet HQ. Before he does, though, Riker calls Kazago on the Ferengi ship, and asks him, first officer to first officer, if he thinks his captain might just be full of shit. Kazago honors the first officer's code of direct honesty, and tells Riker to go fuck himself. Then he turns around and shoots his buddy in the face.

In his quarters, a very cranky Picard bitches at Dr. Crusher, while DaiMon Bok cranks up the glowing red Super Headache Master 8000 (available on flex pay, with the bonus car wax and miracle chamois if you call in the next twenty minutes!) Dr. Crusher suggests that maybe the emotional pressure of seeing the Stargazer again and reliving the Battle of Maxia may be contributing to Picard's headaches, and encourages him to talk about it, which he does, revealing that he's reliving the battle in his nightmares and that he's haunted by the memory of destroying another ship. He's not sure if he was in his right mind then, and he's scared that he may be losing his mind now. Dr. Crusher listens to this raw outpouring of emotion and naked, vulnerable honesty, and responds . . . by drugging Picard with a sedative.

(Man, if I were Marina, I would have been furious about this; this is a scene which unquestionably should have played out with her, deepening the character of Troi, and strengthening her relationship with her Captain, but instead she got "I wish I could say.")

Picard falls asleep, and DaiMon Bok cranks the Headache Master 8000 up to 11, which sends Picard onto the Bridge of the Stargazer, as it cruises straight into Bat Country.

Meanwhile, in the Ready Room, Data tells Riker and Geordi that one of the logs is a forgery. Geordi helpfully declares the new log is a fake, just in time for Picard to show up, skipping and jumping and waving around his glowsticks. Before he breaks out his rave whistle, he kicks everyone but Riker out and tells him to release the Stargazer from the tractor beam, which Riker dutifully does. What could possibly go wrong?

In Sickbay, Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi check out Picard's brain scan, which looks really weird. Before Troi can get too crazy with the Technobabble, Wesley shows up (boy, he really likes barging into scenes, doesn't he?) and shows her what real technobabble sounds like. Oh, and he also tells them that he "glanced" at the scans while Dr. Crusher was researching them and, in that brief moment, magically divined exactly what the rest of the professionally trained crew -- including the hypersmart robot -- hadn't noticed: the patterns in Picard's scan are identical to the low-intensity transmissions picked up from the Ferengi ship. Wesley cements his relationship with Trekkies by muttering, "You're welcome, Ladies . . . heh. Adults." after they leave the room. Oh, that's pure fucking genius writing there, guys; that's not going to alienate a single fan. Bravo.

Dr. Crusher and Counselor Troi race up to the Bridge, where they share Wesley's brilliant insights with Riker, just in time to find out that Picard has beamed himself off the Enterprise and onto the Stargazer, where DaiMon Bok and his glowing red ball of terror are waiting. It turns out that DaiMon Bok's son was the commander of the Ferengi ship that Picard destroyed in the Battle of Maxia, and Bok's spent the last nine years scheming and developing a proper "blood revenge" against Picard, spending his entire life's wealth on the two glowing red balls of hallucinatory headaches. If you didn't see this coming, the producers of LOST would like to meet with you.

Riker contacts the Ferengi ship, and has another first officer to first officer talk with Kazago, who reveals that the writers sought to balance out the technobabble in the rest of the episode with their official description of the happy fun ball: "It is a forbidden device . . . a . . . 'thought maker.'" Woah, woah, woah. sloow down there, egghead. What's this about Gabbo?

Picard is now, as they say, tripping his balls off, and turns the Stargazer around to pull the Picard Maneuver on the Enterprise. Data counters with the First Season TNG Writer's Maneuver: If you're in trouble with less than five minutes left in the show, use a stunning display of expository technobabble and some spiffy visual effects to wrap things up.

Picard's safety assured, Riker has a first officer to first officer chat with Kazago, who tells him that DaiMon Bok has been relieved of his command for being a dick. There's a nice long look between the two of them, and Eye of the Tiger begins to play as the episode ends.

Quotable Dialogue:

RIKER
How was it, Captain?

PICARD
Very strange, Number One. Like going back to the house you grew up in, but no one's home except phantoms of the past.

Obligatory Technobabble:
"I don't know much about brain scans, but I glanced at these when you were studying them and I noticed that these patterns are the same as those picked up from the low-intensity transmissions from the Ferengi ship. I went back and checked, and they're exactly the same." -- Wesley Crusher, solving the big problem, saving the day, and earning a spot in every fan's personal airlock.

Behind the Scenes Memory: I haven't watched this episode in over a decade, but it's probably one of the most important for me to see, because it clearly illustrates exactly why Wesley Crusher went from mildly annoying to vehemently hated character so quickly: First of all, acting ensign or not, having Wesley rush into the middle of the Bridge and effectively tell Riker, "Hey, I figured this out before you all did because I'm so fucking smart" is quite possibly the worst way to help the audience accept that this kid is going to be part of the main crew. Having Wesley interrupt the ship's first officer, and then ignore the chain of command to tell another senior officer what to do is equally brilliant. Then the writers go for the win and have Wesley spout off some technobabble about being in Engineering and "playing around with boosting sensor output," because everyone knows that "playing around" with something as important as the long range sensors is always a good idea.

Look, introducing Wesley -- a teenager -- as part of the main crew is like introducing a new product that consumers may not like. How the new product is framed and presented is incredibly important, because they must be convinced that the new product doesn't threaten the things they are used to and love. I don't think it is possible for the writers to have failed more spectacularly on any of those points than they did in this episode. We only get one chance to make a first impression, and what's the first impression of Wesley as Acting Ensign Crusher? He "plays around" with things, which implies a lack of respect for them. He barges onto the Bridge, where Picard has made it very clear until the previous episode that he's unwelcome, which implies a lack of respect for Picard. He interrupts and then ignores Riker, and breaks the chain of command to tell Geordi what to do.

Because that's not bad enough, Wesley comes in at a crucial point in the 3rd act, points out that he "glanced" at some brain scans which he doesn't "really know anything about" and magically deduced exactly what their origin is. To complete Wesley's perfectly brilliant introduction to the audience, they actually have him say, to himself after Troi and Dr. Crusher have left the scene, "You're welcome, ladies . . . Heh. Adults." When they get back to the Bridge, Troi -- who is supposed to be an intelligent, qualified Starfleet officer -- doesn't even know what Wesley was talking about! Gosh, writers, what's not to like?

The damage is done and it's irreparable; we've made our first impression on an already skeptical audience (who, don't forget, have had to endure some truly atrocious episodes) and we can't ever take it back. After watching this episode, I finally understand -- no, I grok -- exactly why so many people hated Wesley so much. Hell, I played him for seven years and probably have more invested in him than anyone else in the world, and even I hated him after this.

The Bottom Line: Hey, remember when this was in theaters, and it was called Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan? Once we get past that, it's actually not that bad of an episode, owing almost exclusively to Patrick Stewart's acting.

First, the bad: The writing is very weak. The audience is once again way ahead of the characters, who seem to swap their credulity and incredulity at exactly the wrong times, appearing stupid and naive. There's a ton of exposition and technobabble that's made even more annoying than usual by having characters finish each other's thoughts like they're in a 60s beach movie, making the plan come together to save the malt shop from the evil developer. There's the whole Wesley thing, too, but I think I've covered that in depth.

However, there are some good things: Audiences would have been entirely justified in rolling their eyes, or tuning out entirely upon learning that this was another Ferengi episode, but Rob Bowman directed Frank Corsentino (who played DaiMon Bok) to be much more subtle, menacing and quietly evil, than the clownishly hyper Ferengi we saw before. Other than the appearance on the bridge of the Enterprise, Doug Warhit (who played Kazago) is also much more subdued and his "first officer to first officer" scenes with Riker make us believe that the Ferengi could actually be an adversary that we can take seriously.

It's too bad the Ferengi were initially portrayed in The Last Outpost as such complete idiots. Had their introduction not been such a laughable disaster, they could have been a formidable enemy, similar to what the Cardassians eventually became on Deep Space Nine. However, they suffer from the same first impression issues that plague Wesley Crusher.

Finally, I believe this episode is the first time we saw any hint of what Patrick Stewart could really do once they took the training wheels off, and it was real and spectacular. so viewers who were on the fence about TNG -- if they hadn't been knocked off by the weak writing and the Wesley Crusher bullshit -- may have been intrigued enough to keep watching.

Final Grade: C+

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Tommy Munch

i know this might be crazy but i really didn't mind wesley in this episode. Yes he still has the annoying quirks but i see signs of potential. potential wasted of course...

for example. he does break the chain of command like you pointed out. but he accepts picards correction with humility which is a good sign for his character. a sign that soon he may be able to grow up and fall in line like everyone else. imagine how cool he could have been?! well. imagine how much cooler he could have been?!

October 16 2012 at 9:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ji

Yee gods, I missed this episode, no wonder everyone despises Wesley! I always thought he could be a bit annoying, but this! Now I understand. I'm glad I didn't see this episode because I liked Wesley but I would have hated him here.

April 30 2007 at 11:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark P

Wil,
I've been enjoying your blogs for some time now. You've shown considerable wit and skill.
I have a question for you...Back in the dark ages of computing - when you were playing Ensign Crusher - did you ever log onto the BBS known as GEnie? (for those of you who wonder, this is pretty much before the Internet)
Back then, part of my job was providing technical support for Microsoft products on GEnie and I had a nice chat with someone who claimed to be you. This was despite the fact that I started the chat with "Care for a space-walk, Wesley?"
That person (whether it was you or not) managed to convey his frustration with the writing without sounding the slightest bit defensive or annoyed with a rather impertinent fan.
Thank you, Wil.

April 23 2007 at 11:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dempsey

Rock on Wil. Love these reviews, especially when you point out the great acting moments. Now question Stewart nailed that role. Can't wait for the review of that episode where Picard get tortured. One of the best acting moments in TV history.

March 23 2007 at 6:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LisaD

Keep them coming Wil Wheaton! You are a superbly gifted writer.

Hey, and sorry about idiot fans who "hated" on you as Wesley. They are just jealous, you are obviously very talented!

March 12 2007 at 3:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Terri

Sorry for going off-topic...but...Wil Wheaton was effing awesome in "The Buddy System". One of my favorite flics of all time. Glad to see he's doing fine.

February 28 2007 at 11:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
e

Jesus, poor Wesley! You're so hard on him yourself him .... uh.

Anyway. You should be a little nicer to him, or he's gonna come around and drop-kick you out the Enterprise.

/dork.

February 24 2007 at 5:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AMP

Frickin' funny stuff.

I admit I hated Wes... but rest assured I didn't judge Wil by my blind, burning, raging loathing of Wes.

Anyhoo. This was a great episode for a "HeadOn, Apply directly to the forehead" joke. :)

February 20 2007 at 9:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Wade

My only complaint is that these articles are so few and far between. Seriously, calling attention to the fact that the misery that was first season STTNG was due to the writers rather than the actors is something that's not done nearly enough--and in it's own way, such thoughtful and honest analysis does more to honor and continue the Star Trek legacy than every Voyager and Enterprise episode combined.

February 20 2007 at 6:32 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
HistoryGeek

Wow! I just discovered this site and this blog, (thanks to Nodwick) and I have to say, I am tickled pink. I took several hours out of my homework time to read every entry.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I was vaguely aware of the fact that Wil was roughly the same age as I am, (36) but it took reading this to have it reach out of those depths and smack me in the head. While I was never a fanatic nor am I in any way a trekkie, I did enjoy TNG when I my channel surfing turned it up. My wife and I both developed a loathing for your costumes, which were goddamned awful, and in some strange disconnected way that colored our perceptions of you. (Sadly..)

However, after reading this, (and finding out that you are an unashamed D&D'er) I have to hand the major kudos to you. I'll be a regular reader from now on.

Thanks for the laughs.

February 17 2007 at 9:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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