Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Let the Games For Survival Begin! "Peak Performance" Teases The Borg Menace!

The Good: Acting, Plot, Special effects
The Bad: Uneven characterization
The Basics: In an episode better for those who are not fans of the series, Riker and Picard square off in a war games exercise.

Only a few episodes ago, the Federation encountered a new menace, the Borg. Realizing that the Borg from "Q-Who?" (reviewed here!) represent the greatest threat to Federation security ever, our heroes in the 24th Century are determined to adapt. They'll need to. The first step toward acknowledging the Borg Threat comes in "Peak Performance."

When a Zakdorn (don't worry, we haven't heard of or seen them before this episode) strategist is brought aboard the Enterprise, his mission is to conduct a series of war games between Picard and the Enterprise and Riker and the barely functional U.S.S. Hathaway. Riker assembles his crew using many of Picard's best people: Worf, Geordi and Wesley Crusher. Picard and Data set out to win the games, though Data experiences a bout of self-doubt when the Zakdorn beats him at a holographic game. Once that dilemma is solved, and it is - rather quickly -, Data returns to duty and the war games commence, though not without complications.

The only real problem, and it's a serious one, with "Peak Performance" is that none of the characters read as true in the piece. Picard makes a one-line protest to the war games in general, defending that StarFleet is not a military organization. The Zakdorn strategist Kolrami seems to only know how to surrender. And Data's self-doubt is pathetic and obvious, predicated on the idea that Data has never failed before. Now who's being naive.

But the character inconsistencies continue; Picard cites Riker as a great challenge, though Picard has had vastly more experience and an actual practical knowledge of combat tactics. Until this episode, the only known military conflicts any Enterprise officers have served in was Picard's battle with the Ferengi. Why then does Picard think Riker is a cunning strategist? Picard has been calling the shots (which there haven't been many of) in space combat on the Enterprise. That whole aspect of the episode does not "read" right.

Moreover, the doubt Data feels is distracting, especially considering he was dealt a far worse blow in "Elementary, Dear Data" (reviewed here!) and he didn't blink an eye. Wesley's duplicity in this episode works for the character, but fails on a level of common sense. He is being guarded by a security officer and still bamboozles him.

So the episode doesn't work very well in the context of the series and it's an episode by it's nature, alluding to the Borg Threat, that demands series attention in order to understand the magnitude of the activity. Without "Q-Who?," "Peak Performance" would be even more baffling.

While their characters are riddled with faults, the acting is good. Brent Spiner plays the pride-wounded Data well, adding more to the character than we've seen him do in many recent episodes. Patrick Stewart uses some range with making Picard envious of Riker's abilities.

And, at heart, the plot is a pretty solid one. It's nice to see StarFleet preparing for an invasion. It makes sense. It makes even more sense in the future of the series when we see just how far the Federation got in its preparations.

All in all, this is a very accessible episode for fans of television in general. It tells a story and it has a habit of telling it well here, even if the characters don't make much sense in the long run.

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


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my index page!

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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