In the ninth episode of the first season ofÂ The Next Generation, Picard must relive a traumatic moment from his past. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watchÂ Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For talk of trauma, triggers, manipulation, gaslighting, and consent.
This is aÂ really unnerving episode the more I think about it, y’all. It would be easy to say it’s a story of revenge, but there are a lot more layers to thisÂ because Bok’s vengeance is so horribly manipulative. It’s a stunning demonstration of what gaslighting can do to a person; it shows us how traumatic memories can be triggered by present events; and it gives us one of Patrick Stewart’s best performances on the show thus far, AND THIS IS ONLY THE NINTH EPISODE.
I’m not ready.
So, let’s jump into this, as I’ve got a lot I want to address.
I appreciate that this species doesn’t seem as silly or frivolous as they did the last time. Which isn’t to say I disliked the last episode they showed up in, but I think this worked better to demonstrate their place within this universe. They’re still not a very intimidating force, but I also get the sense that we’re not supposed to beÂ scared of them. I was disturbed by what I watched in “The Battle,” but that’s because Bok’s desire for revenge led him to do somethingÂ awful. Well… perhaps in his mind, he was justified. Did his son make an honest mistake when he fired upon theÂ Stargazer? Was there another part of this story that no one ever got because that Ferengi ship was destroyed by Picard in self-defense? There’s a moral messiness to some of this because we never quite know why Bok’s son ordered his ship to fire on theÂ Stargazer.
That being said, I’m less shaky on my feelings towards Picard’s dilemma, but WE’LL GET THERE.
The Supporting Cast
One thing I’m enjoying aboutÂ The Next GenerationÂ in this first batch of episodes is how muchÂ fuller the supporting characters feel. WhileÂ The Original Series would often go two or three episodes without an appearance by Sulu or Uhura, everyone seems to get a chance to play a part in these stories. Both Deanna Troi and Dr. Crusher have large roles here, and it’s a joy to see how influential they are in matters. Dr. Crusher in particular is great in “The Battle” because the writers allow her to hold power over Picard, and since we know there’s an emotional history between these two, all of their scenes have an undeniable chemistry and intimacy to them, something we don’t get between any of the other characters and Picard. Not even Riker! And I WANT SO MUCH MORE OF THIS, Y’ALL.
I’d like more of Worf and Geordie, too. Wesley is… fascinating to me? Because he’s both irritating and kind of adorable here. He’s writtenÂ exactly as a overzealous teenager acts. OfÂ courseÂ he’s looking over his mother’s shoulder and being nosy. Of course he’s experimenting down in Engineering! And ofÂ course he’s going to try to be on the bridge when the Ferengi transport over. That kind of young excitement is both typical and expected of someone like Wesley, particularly since he’s so eager to move up the ranks. I don’t dislike the writing or acting here, and I’m not even bothered by himÂ being annoying. I feel like that’s the point! Sure, it’s a little convenient that he figures out what’s going on before literally ALL the adults, and I think his line about ADULTS and LADIES was gratuitous, but hey. He’s a teenage boy, he’s going to be awful. I just hope that the show doesn’t go into territory thatÂ validates that behavior. It’s clear that Wesley’s trajectory is heading towards him becoming more than an ensign, but he also needs to grow a lot before he’s promoted again.
But really, y’all, this whole episode is like one giant example of why having Patrick Stewart as the head of this cast is PERFECTION. WeÂ have to believe that Picard is consumed by guilt. WeÂ have to believe that he’s certain he is back on theÂ StargazerÂ as it is being attacked by the Ferengi ship. It’s a lot to ask of an actor, and Stewart absolutely sells it. I’d even say that it’s fairly bold to put the captain in a position like this because it’s one that is so emotionally vulnerable. This is not his finest moment, and yet the crew never questions his competence. Oh, they’re certainly concerned. Dr. Crusher refuses to accept that he’s perfectly healthy, but she doesn’t treat him in a condescending matter. Riker and Troi trade a lot of looks of concern, but their interest is in keeping both Picard safe and the rest of the crew of theÂ Enterprise. It’s a careful balance that’s demonstrated here, and it’s fascinating to watch it unfold.
Of course, this is all a slow burn that builds up to the final scene, and y’all know I love slow burn thrillers. AND EMPTY SPACE SHIPS FLOATING IN SPACE. Gods, that trope always gets me, y’all. And yet, the writers of “The Battle” don’t take this in the direction I thought this was going. We watch as Picard’s memories are toyed with remotely by Bok through his thought device, which… well. It doesn’t explainÂ why he was getting a headache prior to coming across the Ferengi, does it? Regardless, this episode details how Picard’s trauma is used against him. He’s intentionally triggered by Bok, who manipulates him so expertly that Picard begins to question what really happened in the Battle of Maxia. That’s gaslighting! Bok’s actions force Picard to doubt his own perception of reality, so much so that in the final act, he believes he’s in the past. It’s scary to watch because, as I said, I never doubted that Picard believed this.
I don’t think the final scenes are quite as strong as what came before it, though I did love that Data came up with a method to use Picard’s titular maneuver against him. It’s a rapid conclusion, though, and the episode feels like it justÂ ends. Still, there’s a lot that I liked about it along the way, from Stewart’s acting to little touches, like having Bok’s crew be so unaware of what their captain was doing. It made me wonder if the FerengiÂ could ever be friendly to the Federation! I suppose it’s possible, and Kazago’s thinly-veiled respect for Riker felt like it had a lot of potential. Regardless, this was a very solid episode of the show, and it was another chance for me to get closer to understanding whyÂ The Next GenerationÂ is so beloved amongstÂ Star Trek fans.
The video for “The Battle” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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