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WARNING:  This article contains spoiler information regarding this week's TNG episode, "The Game".  Those not wishing to have the plot and related beasties spoilt for them should probably move on.

Hmm.  Well, it had its moments...

...but not necessarily many of them.  I'll have to mull this over for a bit.   Fortunately, I can mull and write a synopsis at the same time :-) :

A few days after Riker is introduced to a strange new game while vacationing on Risa, he brings it back to the Enterprise, which is running a little ragged with a large science investigation underway.  The game quickly spreads (to Deanna, and then to Beverly), as Wesley comes back on board for a vacation from the Academy.

Wes and Data talk for a bit about their mutual experiences at the Academy (among other topics, the Sadie Hawkins dance and practical jokes), and Wes then meets and quickly takes a shine to Ensign Robin Lefler, who has friends back at the Academy who've mentioned Wes to her.  Meanwhile, Beverly calls Data to sickbay to help her with something--but when he arrives, she deactivates him, moves him onto a med-table, and begins positronic brain surgery.

Picard and Wes talk for a bit about Wes's experiences at the Academy, only to be interrupted by a call from Bev about how Data's suddenly gone into the android equivalent of a coma.  Geordi and Riker check Data's quarters to see if he's left behind any records about what to do in cases like this, but find nothing--and Riker says that Geordi looks tired, and needs a break--and he has just the thing...

Wes's and Robin's relationship is taking a turn for the better--enough so that Wes, hurrying for a dinner date, doesn't have time to try the game, despite Beverly's best efforts.  At dinner, conversation eventually turns to the game (everyone but the two of them seem to be playing it), and they eventually get a copy and test it on a med-simulation, which reveals that it stimulates the pleasure centers of the brain directly, and is highly addictive.  (It also is somehow affecting the brain's higher reasoning centers, although they're not sure how.)  Wes runs to tell Picard about this, who promises a full investigation--but as soon as Wes leaves, Picard straps on his own copy...

Wes and Robin, besieged by requests and demands to try the game, decide to see what's wrong with Data, correctly reasoning that his sudden injury was just a little too convenient.  They find that a few of his positronic pathways have been severed--severed so finely, in fact, that only Beverly or Geordi would
have the expertise to do it.  Something more than a simple addiction is clearly going on.  As a ship comes into range, Picard orders copies of the game distributed shipwide, including to Wesley.  Worf and Beverly find Wes and Robin hooked already, and leave--and Wes and Robin remove their fake games,
relieved.  Robin heads for Engineering (she's on duty), and the nearby ship comes close enough for Picard to hail her.  "The Enterprise has been secured.   We await your further instructions."

Those instructions involve spreading the game to other ships and starbases--and, with Wes's presence, the Academy.  Wes eventually goes to Engineering with a plan, but finds Robin hooked, and Riker and Worf in wait.   He eludes them for a while, but eventually is caught, taken to the bridge, and forcibly made to "play".  Just then, the lights dim, and a very functional Data (whom Wes managed to repair) shines a palm beacon with a particular series of flashes that snaps everyone out of it.  The Kitarian ship is captured easily and taken to starbase 82, and Wes and Robin bid each other fond farewells as Wes returns to the Academy.

There, that should do.  Now for my thoughts (such as they are).

I must admit to very mixed feelings here.  On the one hand, this show had a fairly old and tired premise (addictive games, as were pointed out back when the preview aired, have appeared similarly in both "Max Headroom" and "Red Dwarf"), and rejuvenated a cliche I hoped long dead (Wes saving the ship).  On the other hand, in between that, there were some nice character bits--and much of the plot was executed well.

First, a few plot holes (though not many...certainly not nearly as many as in "Disaster", although that's not exactly high praise :-) ).  Firstly, how did Data (and/or Wes) know that the bright flashes were going to work?  How did they even think to try them?   Secondly, since the game was clearly visual in nature (the addiction wasn't, but the initial "hook" was), how was Geordi suborned?

Most of my other particular plot complaints (specific details, that is) center around Wes.  Wes was just too much the wonder kid and not enough the bright teenager in many places.  Let's see--he's an Engineering expert (no problem--that's old news), a medical expert (he knew everything that game was
doing to the simulation), and suddenly enough of an expert in cybernetics to fix Data (something which he couldn't do in "Datalore" for a much simpler problem).  It was just too much for me.  

It could have been worse--Wes did have feet of clay in a few places, to be sure (mostly in his tactics--going straight to Picard and telling him everything was a bad move, but a very welcome one).  But given that the primary reason for the antipathy some fans (though not I...I happen to like Wes, thank you very much) have for Wesley is that "he's always the one who saves everything!", I think this was poor judgement.  Having him be involved in solving it, yes.  Having him use some experience from the Academy to help himself out of a situation, yes.  Having him be almost singlehandedly responsible for saving the Federation--no.  No thanks.

On the other hand, I rather enjoyed the non-Wonder-Boy bits of Wes, which were numerous.  All but one of the scenes between himself and Robin, in fact, were probably the best "casual" scenes of Wes that TNG has made [the one exception being their examination of Data, when Robin suddenly turns into Ensign Plot Exposition, unfortunately].  Wil Wheaton's come a long way since the dark days of the first season (and occasional throwbacks like "The Dauphin"--the difference between his scenes with Salia there and his scenes with Robin here is phenomenal), and I do welcome his return.

While I'm on the subject, kudos to Ashley Judd, the actress who played Robin Lefler.  Her delivery was a little weird here and there (but then again, so is the character, deliberately so :-) ), but she and Wil played off each other extremely well.  (It also helps that I thought she was *very* cute, but that's not a fair criterion.  :-) )  I'd like to see a few more supporting characters here and there--with luck, we'll see more of Ms. Lefler.

Most of the other character bits were good as well.  Wes's conversations with Data and Picard were both about what I'd expect to hear from him, and both well done.  (I cheered up a lot as soon as Wes mentioned Boothby and "A.F."   :-) )  The Riker/Troi scene in Ten-Forward began and ended well, although I have to ask who made the decision to suddenly turn Troi into Space Bimbo from Hell--I mean, that chocolate scene was *waaaaaay* too much to swallow, pun not intended.  (The beginning was great, though--"Would you like me to leave you two alone?"  :-) )  

(And I want to hear more about Wes's practical jokes.  An antimatter regulator that sprays chili sauce?  *That* I want to see.)

A couple of other things that bugged me involved Geordi.  Given the events of "The Mind's Eye", I think he should have had a slightly wary reaction to things from Risa (although since he presumably knew about Riker's trip before he left, I'll forgive this), and should have had a *much* stronger reaction to being brainwashed again.  "I can't believe what we almost did," indeed--that's way too calm.  If they redeem this by having him react very strongly to Romulans in "Unification", I'll forgive it--but if not, they've dropped the
good Geordi threads from "The Mind's Eye".  Sigh...

If I seem to be skimping on discussing the plot, it's deliberate--I don't have much to say about it.  The plot itself was tired, as I've said, and not enough new stuff came out of it to really justify it.  Some of the execution, however, was excellent.  Both Bev's ambush of Data and Data's appearance on the bridge come to mind--both were a little bit telegraphed, but were presented well enough that I still seemed a little surprised--and Data's silhouette in the 'lift doorway was a striking image.  To a lesser degree, the same applies to the "revelation" about Picard being hooked--it was telegraphed so far ahead that anyone who hadn't guessed it before he strapped on the game had to be brain-dead, but Picard's spinning chair somehow added a little flair to it for me.  I'm not sure why.  :-)

The chase sequence was well done (aside from its beginning--I find it a little hard to believe that Wes could get away with the old "run around the table" trick, but whatever).  Wes's two decoys [the site transport and the repeating phaser] were ones I could readily accept, and he got about as far with it as I'd expect him to (i.e. he bought a few minutes, but that's all).  Wes isn't Data--if the whole ship's against him, he should lose--and if he'd lasted much longer than he had, or actually escaped, I'd have been rather annoyed.   Fortunately, the writers were bright enough not to do that.  (The chase sequence was also good in that it was the only time the music caught my attention this go-round.  Maybe Chattaway *is* slipping, if he only made five minutes or so of it that worthwhile.)

(One quick gripe--the teaser. Okay, I think I see what they were *trying* to do with this, but it really didn't work.  This was probably the most boring teaser I've seen in a long time.)

I really don't know that there's much else I can think of to say here.  My mind's not really into this this week, I guess.  (I'm sure I'll come up with things once I've seen some other posts about it.  :-) )  I was happy to see Wes back, and look forward to his next visit--but I wish they hadn't fallen back on the old cliches.

So, the numbers:

Plot:  4.  Old, but at least fairly well-knit.
Plot Handling:  8.  The surprises were only slightly telegraphed, and the whole thing was certainly presented well.
Characterization:  6.  Using Wes as the panacea hurt (and the Geordi problems didn't help either), but the bits NOT relating to the "jeopardy" angle were very nice.

TOTAL:  6.  Very watchable, but spectacular it's not.

NEXT WEEK:

Spock.  Sarek.  Vulcans.  Romulans.  Klingons.  Shit.  Fan.  Mix ingredients, stir vigourously, and watch the ratings soar...yep, it's sweeps month, and "Unification"...

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
"Chocolate is a serious thing."
                --D. Troi, "The Game"
--
Copyright 1991, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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