Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Humor, Horror And Patrick Stewart's Performance In "Menage A Troi!"

The Good: Well-acted, Amusing in points, Characterization in the b-plot
The Bad: Plot is fairly obvious, some a-plot characterization
The Basics: A mostly-fun episode, "Menage a Troi" finds Lwaxana tortured, Riker and Deanna not in love and Wesley Crusher preparing to leave the Enterprise.

For the first few seasons of Star Trek The Next Generation, the show did an excellent job of a few things: spreading philosophy, keeping Riker interesting and vital and having Patrick Stewart playing Picard in a manner very different to who Patrick Stewart is. That is to say that while Picard was something of a curmudgeon, Patrick is reputed to be friendly, Picard was highly literate, but asocial. "Menage a Troi," changes that in its final scene by having Picard pull a Patrick Stewart, which is a wonderful, dramatic moment that ought to be left best to the professional Shakespearean actors. Picard was never that.

"Menage a Troi" is not, however, a Picard story. It's a Lwaxana Troi story in the a-plot, a Wesley Crusher b-plot. The Enterprise visits Betazed, which gives Riker and Troi a chance to visit places they did when they were in love. Lwaxana walks in on them and they are all three promptly captured by the Ferengi. It seems a Ferengi DaiMon has fallen in love with Lwaxana Troi and wishes her to be his consort to aid him in negotiations; with her telepathic powers, he believes he could get riches beyond compare. When Riker and Deanna Troi attempt to escape and rescue Lwaxana, Dr. Farek, the DaiMon's assistant, comes up with a better plan; brain scans and obscure torture to get the biological secrets needed to enhance the Ferengi brain without Lwaxana's help. In the meantime, the Enterprise searches for the Trois and Riker while Wesley Crusher prepares to leave the ship to go to StarFleet Academy.

"Menage A Troi" very effectively combines humor with a sense of urgency. After all, Lwaxana is not a regular, so there is the possibility that she could be killed. And Dr. Farek seems like a pretty good villain to do it. But the horrific concept of killing a middle aged woman with a brain scan is balanced by the humor of Lwaxana's babbling, Riker's chess games and the almost hazing quality to Data and Wesley's discussions about going off to StarFleet Academy.

What works even better is the acting. First, Ethan Phillips (who would later play Neelix on Star Trek Voyager) gives a great performance as Dr. Farek. He's a very intelligent villain and one who is refreshing to see on Star Trek The Next Generation. It's nice to see a doctor who understands the consequences of things (i.e. giving out computer codes even for minor things).

Majel Barret does a great job as Lwaxana Troi in this outing, sparkling as she usually does with energy that only she could bring to the role. But the best acting moments come in the b-plot. Wil Wheaton does a great job playing Wesley Crusher as mature, confident, yet flappable. It's a delicate balance and Wheaton does it phenomenally here.

And Wheaton's character, Wesley Crusher, has a great arc in this episode. Here Wesley makes the transition from childhood to adulthood, making choices that have real consequences. His is a character that seems to have real growth here and it feels worthwhile.

Unfortunately, in the main plot, Riker and Troi do not advance anything in their relationship. Lwaxana Troi comes out of the whole torture experience pretty unphased. And those are two somewhat unsatisfying results of an episode that places the light tone over the real effects of something like what occurs here.

Still, it's worth watching. It's funny and it's good television. People who are not fans of Star Trek The Next Generation are unlikely to appreciate Lwaxana Troi as she is more a shocking foil to fans, more annoying to those who are not regular viewers of the show. In fact, the elements of transition with Wesley Crusher that dominate the b-plot also make the episode inaccessible to non-Trek fans. I suppose those who like action adventure shows might enjoy this. Otherwise, I say either become a fan of Star Trek The Next Generation or hold out for season four's "Half A Life." And even if Picard behaves a little like Patrick Stewart here, it's still worth seeing.

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


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please check out my index page for an organized listing.

© 2011, 2008, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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