The Battle (TNG Rewatch, Season 1, Episode 8)

I’m rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break. Apparently I missed this episode; I must have seen clips elsewhere, because I remember the premise.

A Ferengi set on revenge tricks Picard into lowering the Enterprise’s shields and unceremoniously beams him into space.

Uh, no, actually the Ferengi plan involves finding a derelict starship Picard abandoned nine years ago and slipping a beach-ball sized “thought maker” into his personal effects, so that when he stops by his old cabin and gets a headache he can’t finish packing, so his uninspected trunk is brought to his quarters on the Enterprise, where opening the lid tips over a bucket, causing a marble to flip a little man into a tub, in which Picard re-enacts the Battle of Maxia and triggers the jittery vengeful descent of a little plastic cage.

While this wasn’t a strong episode, I enjoyed seeing the chemistry between Picard and Dr. Crusher.  Seeing Riker beaming with pride while describing the “Picard Maneuver” was memorable.  I think the scene would have worked better if Picard hadn’t been there — he’s clearly uncomfortable, and Riker looks like he’s sucking up. At any rate I enjoyed Stewart’s believable, subtle portrayal of a Picard who is off his game — having headaches, losing his train of thought, even calling his officers by the wrong names.

In order to pantomime the position of the Stargazer, Picard uses a pen-like device. Props to the prop folks for showing him working with a table full of random devices elsewhere in the episode, though it’s still obvious they just decided they needed an object for Picard to manipulate in the air to illustrate his tactics lecture.

Twice Wesley bursts onto the scene with a random bit of exposition. The first time, Picard scolds him for delivering his news to the bridge in person, rather than going through proper channels; the second time, his technobabble is exactly what Troi needs to confirm her suspicions that Picard is under external influence. In front of Wesley, she tells Crusher that they need to conceal this information from the captain and tell the first officer instead. That’s a rather important conspiratorial call to make in front of a civilian.

I’m puzzled by a few things.

Was turning over the Stargazer with its faked logs the official Ferengi plan, and Damon Bok mucked it up by using the illegal “thought maker” devices?

There are a lot of dots to connect, but Picard seems a bit slow on the uptake.

First the crew learns that an unidentified Constellation class starship is en route.

Then the Ferengi greet Picard as “the Hero of Maxia,” which, with a little audience-friendly exposition from Data, Picard understands as a reference to the battle that forced him to abandon a Constellation-class vessel.

That is the very ship Picard has been dreaming about for three nights, he later tells Dr. Crusher.

If these dreams about Picard reliving events on the Stargazer started before the unidentified Constellation-class vessel appeared out of nowhere, and before the Ferengi mentioned the battle in which Picard abandoned a Constellation-class vessel, then our good captain is pretty slow to connect the dots.

Wasn’t Crusher’s husband an officer on the Stargazer? If teenaged Wesley was old enough to remember Picard returning his father’s body, and Picard abandoned the Stargazer 9 years ago, the timeline suggests the “Battle of Maxia” happened not too long after Jack Crusher died.  Wouldn’t going on an away mission to her late husband’s ship have prompted at least a comment from Beverly?

With all this going on, complicated by the necessity to inform the audience about the “Picard Maneuver” (a faster-than-light defensive tactic that Picard improvised during the battle, and that is now a textbook Federation maneuver), the investigation into Picard’s supposed confession is just another layer of digression in an overly complicated script.

Having said all that, because I had never seen the full episode before, I enjoyed the performances.