Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Battle For Mediocrity: "The Battle" Is Still All Right.

The Good: Well-acted, Interesting plot, Character development
The Bad: Continuity, Obviousness
The Basics: An unextraordinary - but not bad - episode that pits Picard against a Ferengi captain in a psychological examination of both characters.

Star Trek The Next Generation continued its shaky first season with "The Battle," which sounds more interesting than it actually is. If you're expecting a lot of action, this episode will not provide.

Instead, "The Battle" is a psychological examination of the usually stalwart and steady Captain Picard. The episode finds the Enterprise off exploring and Captain Picard experiencing, of all things, a headache. Headaches, by the 24th Century, are a thing of the past and Dr. Crusher is reasonably baffled that he is having them at all and is at a loss to explain why they are happening or why they persist. Relatively quickly, the Ferengi arrive and the leader of the Ferengi ship, a Daimon Bok, presents Picard with a gift. It is his old starship, the Stargazer, and after the Stargazer arrives, Picard's headaches get worse and he begins having hallucinations.

We, the audience, are privy rather early on to the link between Picard's malaise and the Ferengi. Daimon Bok is torturing the captain using a remote device and the reason for the act refers to the title.

"The Battle" plays strongly on Patrick Stewart's ability to act alone without the support of the ensemble cast. He creates the episode's most vivid moments while alone. His physical agony, emotional frustration and psychic stress is played quite well within Stewart's range. This is a good thing, because most of the episode hinges on his performance. That's not to say the other actor's aren't giving it their all. Jonathan Frakes comes out for a change as Riker, becoming stronger as Picard becomes weaker. The dichotomy is wonderful and it usually takes more than one viewing to realize that that is what is occurring between the two characters. But Jonathan Frakes, the actor, brings Riker up, supporting some occasionally shaky writing for the character with his stage presence.

It's refreshing to see some of Picard's backstory fleshed out, especially as he is an unusually reticent character - at least in the first season. Seeing his old command gives him a chance to show us - the viewer - his history and how it fits into his present. Despite the way Picard is being manipulated, the episode reads as quite real. The writers were sharp in focusing on Picard; as captain of the Stargazer for 22 years, it seems reasonable that he could forsake his current crew for his past one.

The real flaws with the episode are in the larger picture. It will not detract from the casual viewer, but the attentive viewer is left wondering, "Where has Picard been for the last nine years?!" The Stargazer was lost nine years before the Enterprise began its mission, what has Picard been up to in the interval? According to the Star Trek Chronology, nothing. Picard spends nine years of his life between the destruction of the Stargazer and getting the Enterprise as his command. What kind of organization gives the flagship of the fleet to a person who hasn't accomplished anything for nine years? Apparently, StarFleet. As well, the question ought to be asked, "Why did it take Bok so long to get his revenge?"

In truth, the episode is fine, it entertains and it is rewatchable. Despite being somewhat predictable, it's enjoyable to see the Ferengi again and here they are more worthy adversaries than in the first go around. Easy for fans and non-fans of Star Trek The Next Generation to watch.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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