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WARNING:  The following post contains spoilers for this week's TNG episode, "Power Play". Those not wishing to see how PP plays out really ought hang back right about now...

Hmm. Something of a mixed bag.  Definitely not "Conundrum" level, but I enjoyed it...

...to a certain extent. We'll have to see on this one. More after a synopsis:

The Enterprise follows a distress signal to a deserted moon. The signal turns out to be from a 200-year-old starship, the USS Essex; and although the surface is so unpleasant that no one's likely to be alive, Troi feels the presence of *something* alive down there. Since transporters can't cut through the electromagnetic storms on the surface, Riker, Troi and Data take a shuttle down. The shuttle crashes, however, leaving all shaken and Riker with a broken arm. As Troi senses the life-forms coming toward them with a storm front, O'Brien boosts the transporter enough to beam down with a pattern enhancer; but while there, all are struck down by lightning, and all but Riker are entered by strange energy. Once they're back aboard, Beverly makes short work of their injuries and returns them to duty.

Data, however, strongly suggests that they assume an orbit around the southern polar region; when Riker demurs, he programs it in anyway. When discovered, he, O'Brien and Troi attempt to take control of the bridge. Riker manages to transfer controls to Engineering, however, locking the three out, and they leave in a turbolift. As those remaining on the bridge (Picard, Riker, Ro and Worf) attempt to stop them, the three make their way to Ten-Forward, where they take the entire group inside hostage (including O'Brien's wife Keiko, and their child). Worf arrives with a security team, but the team is made short work of, and they become prisoners as well.

As the threesome quickly cement their position by isolating Ten-Forward from the rest of the ship, Picard puts Beverly to work on possibly finding out what happened to them on the moon below. Troi demands a polar orbit (threatening the hostages' safety if balked), and Picard agrees, but ordering the helm to do so as slowly as possible. Beverly quickly discovers traces of extra synaptic activity in the threesome's brainscans, and theorizes there's a second entity controlling each of them. Riker was somehow immune; she theorizes that the pain from his arm was the cause, and further suggests that causing them pain will force them to leave. She works on a way to contain them, while Geordi and Ro leave for the deck above Ten-Forward to set up a scanner and a plasma inverter for the rescue attempt.

To insure the prompt medical treatment of the injured hostages, Picard takes their place, assuring Riker that he will attempt to offer them another rescue opportunity if Geordi and Ro fail. "Troi" introduces herself to Picard--as the captain of the USS Essex. According to her, the bridge was struck by lightning just as the ship was ripped apart in the atmosphere, and it somehow trapped them in permanent "spirit" form. Picard quizzes her on details, and she passes with flying colors, but Picard remains privately skeptical.

Geordi and Ro arrive above Ten-Forward and begin calibrating the inverter, as Bev applies the finishing touches to a containment field. As Data's possessor shows increasing sadism, O'Brien's terrorizes Keiko. Finally, as the ship reaches the polar region, Troi orders Picard to beam up their bodies and return them to Earth. Picard refuses to cooperate without the release of the hostages, and Data threatens to make Picard choose between killing Worf and killing Keiko. As he does so, however, all three are within range of the inverter, and Ro fires.  The shot is a second too late, however, as Data leaves the circle, and while the other two writhe in pain, he puts a stranglehold on Picard and forces the Enterprise to abort the attempt.

The storms' interference near the Essex is so great that transporters will not function at the present time; Picard suggests O'Brien work with them, and offers all three safe passage to cargo bay 4 if they release the hostages. After ensuring that the transporter cannot be used against them, they agree, but take one hostage apiece for safety: Picard, Worf, and Keiko.  As O'Brien prepares to beam up the "bodies", however, Picard coaxes the truth from Troi: they're not from the Essex, they are three out of hundreds of convicted prisoners, set adrift there five centuries ago as punishment. Riker, however, having taken the hint from Picard's choice of location, orders the containment field used just as the other entities beam up. Picard, seizing the opportunity, convinces Troi that her only options are to give up, or to die when the bay hatch is blown minutes later. Angrily, Troi agrees, and the three officers are freed, as all the prisoners are beamed back to the moon.  

Well, that's a lot shorter than *last* time, I must say. Of course, I left more out.  Anyway:

Y'know, I hate to say it, but the more time I spend thinking about this, the less attractive it becomes. I enjoyed it, and it had a lot of really good things about it, but...well...something's missing here.

The plot was both tighter and looser than that of "Conundrum". I think there are two types of "holes" one can find in a plot: plausibility holes, i.e. suspension of disbelief in accepting the premise; and regular holes, which make one or more characters look daft in missing the obvious. I tend to not worry much about the first (I've seen and read enough fantasy and SF in my time that suspending disbelief is not generally a tough thing for me to do), but the second can rankle.

The objections I've seen others raise about "Conundrum" are of the first group, and this really didn't have any of those. "Power Play", however, had a few of the latter kind, which *is* a problem for me.

The biggest one that comes to mind is the arrival of Picard in Ten-Forward with the medical team. The forcefield needed to be dropped to let him in (and to let the team out a few minutes later with the wounded), and *everybody* knew it.  It's an obvious spot for a rescue attempt.  Now, it makes perfect sense that Riker would decide not to try then (it's TOO obvious, after all), but it makes *no* sense that the troika would take absolutely no steps to prepare for or defend against an attack. That's sloppy.  Another one, though much smaller, would be why the bridge didn't try to use transporters on the troika *before* they reached Ten-Forward. It should have been tried, but that's heat-of-the-moment enough that I can overlook it. And one last:  um, maybe it's just me, but given all the banging around Geordi and Ro were doing above Ten-Forward when setting up the inverter, isn't it just a tad silly and unnecessary for them to then *whisper* back up to the bridge. Guys, if they could hear you talk, they
already have a bead on you...

On the other hand, aside from the minor transporter problem, the rest of the journey from the bridge to Ten-Forward was put together well. (Worf and a team actually *running* for a change, for example.) And the complaint by O'Brien that "I said *all* transporter controls, including those in the shuttles!" was a good attention to a detail that I'd missed entirely. After all, we've only seen the shuttle transporter once; it's about time its presence was acknowledged again.) That part was sharp.

(Oh...one plausibility argument, I think. I've finally seen the "someone seizes control of the computer" bit one too many times, I guess, because I admit to distinct curiosity about how lower officers can completely isolate the computer from the commanding officer. They probably shouldn't be able to do that. On the other hand, the same applies to "Brothers", and I managed to rationalize that one away.  :-) )

Other things, while sound enough, seemed a little...pointless. While I thought the Data/Worf interplay was generally marvelous, most of the O'Brien/Keiko material fell flat for me. One exception was O'Brien's whole "I gave you that..." scene, up to the attempt to kiss her. *That* disturbed the hell out of me, and was meant to, I think. Nice. But the rest...well, I don't know, but it just seemed kinda there.

Surprisingly, given the writers, a few bits of the dialogue here and there were downright *grating*. The one thing in particular that finally got to me was the persistent, and repetitive, use of "our people". It's a fine enough term, but when Beverly uses it *three times* in a two-minute period, it's overkill. Please, enough. (Speaking of grating, but in a different vein...I understand the reason Molly "As Seen Only on Ten-Forward" O'Brien was in the show, but having a significant amount of screen time devoted to hearing a crying baby is simply Not a good Idea [TM]. [Has it been scientifically proven yet that that's the most annoying sound known to humanity?  :-) ])

However, as I said, much of it was nice. Characterization was fairly strong, particularly of the possessed Data and Troi. Troi's been getting better writing recently, and it appears Marina's honed up her acting skills as well; when you compare her menacing possession here to that by the Paxons in "Clues", the difference is impressive. I don't know exactly what Data's possessor had against Klingons [or maybe just big, strong aliens], but he had a very consistent, and *very* watchable, character throughout. [Colm Meaney...well, I think he hit his stride playing the regular O'Brien a ways back, 'cos this didn't quite grab me. Sigh.) The regular regulars were fine, although fairly standard. Nothing wrong, just nothing jumping out as superb either. (Let me backpedal: one line really did something there. Worf's simple "you have no idea..." [about his forbearance] was priceless, and wholly in character.  Grin.)

[Aside:  all right, what particular group of Norns intervened to ensure that just as bits of the rec.arts.startrek.* groups started up a conversation on the Star Wars films almost out of the blue, a show with a *blatant* tribute to the beginning of the first film airs?  I mean, I was expecting to hear James Earl Jones asking Picard "if this is a consular ship, *where is the
ambassador?*" before that particular chokehold was through...:-) ]

On to presentation. The direction of the scenes was, for the most part, amazing. This isn't overly surprising to me, though, since the other show David Livingston directed was "The Mind's Eye", which is probably one of the five best-directed shows they've ever had (along with, say, "Q Who", for starters).  Lots of rather bizarre camera angles [can we say "fun with wide-angle lenses", boys and girls?], nearly all of which worked, and even a sound trick or two. The hollow echo of voices in the turbolift ride up to the bridge had to be intentional; and it was strangely effective. Something tells me Livingston might not be much for directing "a day in the life", deeply personal shows, but for "something is very wrong here, and we're going to horribly abuse your senses as much as possible" stories such as this and TME, he's effective. Keep 'im.

I'm not sure if this is a directing or a writing quibble, but I had one problem with a *choice* of scene which really hurt a little. When Troi had her "they're coming..." line down on the moon, and then they'd all moved back towards the shuttle by the time O'Brien beamed down, I fully expected them to have been taken over by the entities by the time he got there. Given the preview, I should have known better; but that's the impression I got from the scene. I think it would have been very nice to somehow arrange it that way; let those who haven't seen the preview *really* wonder what the hell is going on when the mutiny begins, and slowly add the pieces in later. Remember how effective showing Riker walking up to Bev in "Conspiracy" was? This could have been equally so, I think; and I think actually showing the lightning strike was a bit much. (Actually...hmm. Perhaps showing the four struck by lightning and flattened, and then cutting back to the bridge getting the pattern enhancer without any idea who turned it on, and simply having them beamed up after being hit. Yeah, that might do it...)

One thing which helped a bit in making up for that IMHO poor choice, however, was the initial "I'm Captain Bryce Shumar of the USS Essex." Okay, so in retrospect it's probably not too surprising that they'd choose such a tactic, and it was fairly transparent (as Picard knew).  Regardless, it caught me flatfooted, and got my attention focused a bit higher. Nice work there.

On to short points, since I'm rambling.

--Music: Jay Chattaway's picking up steam again. I don't know if there were any real, new themes, but the music really heightened the tone of the show this time around. He managed to jump between heavily foreboding [O'Brien's move on Keiko, for instance] and heavy action [Worf's run to the turbolift with the team, for example], and rather nicely.  

--FX: Nothing special, really. The "Tinkerbell" possessors brought back too many unpleasant memories of "The Child", I guess. (The storm front was nice, though, particularly since I'd just reread the old Wollheim short story "Storm Warning".  Brr...)

--Seatbelts on a shuttle? Hey, 'bout time!

--"Lunchtime, Miles!" This was probably the best line indirectly related to Molly O'Brien all show. Something about it just rang true.

--Credits-watching note: someone noticed last week that Susan Sackett, late of the ST offices, was no longer in the end credits, but that Richard Arnold was still around. Wait no more; Richard has left the credits as of "Power Play". [I, for one, shed nary a tear.]

Well...I think that's about it. 'Twould seem to be most of the bases, anyway.  It was interesting, and I enjoyed it, but I have this nasty feeling it's not going to age all that well. Ah, well.  The numbers, then:

Plot: 6. An interesting concept, but a little more solidity would help.
Plot Handling: 9.5. Just drop the one explicit "here come the bad guys" scene on the moon. Characterization: 7. Lose O'Brien and Keiko, the rest are fine.

TOTAL: 7.5, after I round up a bit for music. Not bad, but not spectacular either.

NEXT WEEK:

Another delay for me due to travel, and Worf faces the return of the dreaded Cardinal Center for Cardiac Corrections. (You remember them, from "Samaritan Snare"...:-) )

Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjuliet
INTERNET:  tly...@juliet.caltech.edu
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!tlynch%juliet.caltech....@hamlet.caltech.edu
"They're coming.  They're coming with the storm..."
                        --Troi
--
Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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