Thursday, June 23, 2011

Playing With Fire On Star Trek The Next Generation: "Power Play"

The Good: Great acting, Intriguing plot, Overall sensible
The Bad: Ultimately, a lack of real character development
The Basics: When three members of a landing party become violently possessed, Riker must defuse a hostage situation or sacrifice six people.

When Gene Roddenberry died, the writers and directors of Star Trek The Next Generation did not take long to acknowledge that fact. When Spock showed up for a two-part episode, they made tribute to the creator by putting an acknowledgment before each episode began. And a few weeks later, the hand phasers came out. Alas, I do not exaggerate: Roddenberry died during the filming of episode 111 and by "Conundrum" (reviewed here!), the solution to the problem was killing the new guy. The episode that followed "Conundrum," "Power Play," breaks out the hand phasers and perhaps as acknowledgment that Roddenberry is truly dead, several people are shot, one character is strangled and one of the solutions to the problem is to shoot everyone and sort it out later.

That said, "Power Play" is quite a bit of fun. While investigating a strange electrical storm on a planet, a shuttlecraft crashes and Commander Riker is wounded. Counselor Troi, Data, and O'Brien are touched by light particles from the storm prior to being beamed up. When attempts to get the Enterprise to move to the polar region of the planet fail, the trio violently reacts and attempts to move the ship by force. Caught and fearing capture, Troi, O'Brien and Data end up in Ten Forward, taking hostages. Their hostages soon include Captain Picard and Worf and Troi reveals that she is in fact the Captain of a Federation ship lost long ago in the same area. Unable to resolve the discrepancies between her behavior and that of a starship captain, Riker, Troi and Picard move into an end game with few options.

Despite the increase of on-screen violence, "Power Play" has a lot to recommend it. It's a nice change from the overly philosophical episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation that defined the early seasons of the series. While it openly defies the spirit of Gene Roddenberry's vision for what the future could be, it's refreshing to those of us here in the 21st century. "Power Play" illustrates that even in the future where talking is the preferred solution, people still act at times. And when faced with a violent situation, the crew of the Enterprise steps up and does something about it.

More than doing anything with character, this is a chance for the actors to stretch their wings and really act. In some ways, this is a disappointment. O'Brien undergoes a violent transformation and menaces his wife and baby daughter and there are no lasting consequences to it. Similarly, Troi and Data are instantly returned to duty following the resolution to their possession. While noble in ideal, this seems an entirely impractical way to run a quasi-military organization. And while StarFleet is ideally not a military, it is structured like one and when push comes to shove, they are the weapons that are forced to protect the citizenry. That this episode is resolved with too much ease, too much idealism. It's impractical.

The acting, then stands out. Colm Meany is given the chance to illustrate he can do more than simply say "yes sir" and "energizing." Here he becomes a fully menacing villain, completely changing his body language once "possessed." Similarly, Marina Sirtis leaps out of the screen with her performance as the leader of the adversaries. Here she takes command and her stride completely changes to illustrate the change. Moreover, she is given a chance to be tough and cruel and she pulls it off convincingly.

The best acting, though, comes from Brent Spiner. Spiner has the daunting task of creating a villainous character that is distinctly different from his recurring baddie, Lore. Spiner manages to do that quite well by creating an uncertain ruthlessness that Lore never had. Instead, Spiner's altered Data comes across as more unpredictable and potentially vicious. Spiner makes his character work and it's refreshing, because he has done so much work as Lore that it would have been easy to slip into that trap here and simply reprise that performance.

This episode is very accessible to those who are not fans of "Star Trek The Next Generation," but might be difficult for those who are not fans of science fiction as it has a rather direct "body snatcher"-type plot. Instead, this is a great episode for anyone who likes action and it moves at a very rapid pace.

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


For other Star Trek episode, movie and DVD set reviews, please click here to visit my index page!

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

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