In the eighth episode of the third season of The Next Generation, the crew of the Enterprise deals with an intense negotiation for a wormhole (while the entire Farscape crew shouts at them viciously), and Troi finds comfort in one of the negotiators. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of consent and manipulation
YOOOOOO THIS WAS SUCH A GOOD EPISODE. A few holes, but otherwise? One of the stronger stories of the the show’s run, and UNSURPRISING, it was all about Deanna Troi. This show needed to have an episode about her. I feel weird that the first Deanna-centric episode in a long while was a romance while everyone else gets more action-oriented plots, but in the end, “The Price” is more of a moral journey than anything else. AND IT’S SO GOOD.
Let’s talk about the other subplot first before we get into the meat of Deanna Troi’s story.
Geordi and Data
I’m just so deeply in love with The Next Generation’s willingness to put these two characters into one ridiculous situation after another. I don’t even know that “The Price” treads new ground here, and guess what? I don’t care. Their chemistry as friends is so solid and entertaining that practically any scenario in which they get to spend time with one another is all that I need. That includes willingly flying into a wormhole. Now, I don’t know that any of the science here makes sense, but I suppose it didn’t need to make all that much sense. The tension comes in knowing that all these parties are bidding over an unstable wormhole that’s worthless. I don’t think they have much of a story beyond this, since we expect both Data and Geordi to survive. There’s no risk to the wormhole plot other than that. STILL REALLY ENTERTAINING JUST BECAUSE THESE TWO GOOFBALLS ARE SO MUCH FUN.
Did anyone else feel like these characters were not all that impressed with a wormhole? I don’t mean that in the sense of how Troi reacted, which was BRILLIANT. She chose a chocolate sundae OVER A GODDAMN WORMHOLE. Will your fave ever? But it seemed fairly commonplace that a wormhole existed and that someone was willing to travel into it, not certain of where it would dump them. Why wasn’t anyone freaking out about that???
But not the point, I get that. The point of the very existence of a stable wormhole – a key distinction here – is that it could provide an untold number of benefits to whichever party controls it. In a world where the galaxy is split up and divided between groups who are perpetually close to war, this one wormhole doesn’t actually seem insignificant. So I understand why this mattered, and the ongoing worldbuilding of the show helped to explain that. There are a lot of little moments that were great along the way, most of them dealing with Picard’s annoyance. (HIS FACE IS SO GREAT.) But even when trying to analyze the complicated negotiation itself, it’s clear to me that this whole episode is also tied up in that other plot, so there’s not much I could say here.
BECAUSE DEANNA TROI RULES THIS EPISODE. And since Ral is such a vital part of the negotiations, too, it seems fitting to talk about the bulk of “The Price” under her banner. Again, this show really needs to use Deanna Troi a lot more than they do, and it mystifies me why the writers wouldn’t. An empathic counselor who often provides some of the most engaging and thoughtful stories??? I DON’T GET IT. It’s kind of infuriating, isn’t it? And yet, I did have reservations about this episode at the beginning because it seemed that after such a long time without a Troi-centric episode, we’d get one where she falls in love with someone in a matter of hours, much like many of the characters in the Star Trek universe do.
What is ultimately compelling about this is that the writers then peel away all the layers of expectation due to the tropes invoked, and that makes this an unnerving and disturbing tale, but one with an incredibly satisfying ending. I knew something was wrong with Devinoni Ral in that first scene where he was alone with Troi because HOW WAS HE ABLE TO DO THAT TO HER? I mean, I should have figured out that someone who could manipulate an empath was an empath, but ALAS, I did not figure this out at all, nor did I suspect who Ral really was. All I knew was that his demanding behavior creeped me out. It just felt wrong, and it felt especially wrong that Troi was taken in by this man. Which is a weird thing to say, I admit! People can fall for whomever they like, and you can’t really control who you are initially attracted to.
But my gut told me that something was off about this man. The way he kissed her. The way he made the computer create two drinks. The way that he seemed to manipulate every situation so that it seemed perfect, and IT WAS TOO PERFECT. And that’s why it was so upsetting to watch. This is not Deanna Troi’s romance. It didn’t feel like something she’d be into, and again, I know that’s such a weird thing to say! It comes down to characterization, honestly, and it’s why I’m able to say something like that.
SO IT WAS SO VALIDATING TO FIND OUT THAT RAL WAS A LIAR AND A MANIPULATOR AND WAS TOTALLY AWFUL. Well, relatively awful, I suppose. That’s part of the problem here, since Ral immediately evokes a morality game once Deanna calls him on his shaky ethics. I have no problem stating that he manipulated her into a corner and that he did so in order to try and make her feel guilty for her own abilities. This whole episode made me rethink the way Troi approached her empath nature, and you know what? She really has been open about who she is, as much as she can. Does that mean she’s perfect? No. But that also doesn’t mean that she’s an unethical person in times of duress, much like Ral tries to say that she is. It’s a false equivalency for him to say that his behavior is the same as hers. (Well, he actually argues that she’s worse, but I wasn’t going to entertain that for a second. NOPE, WRONG, DO NOT PASS GO, GO DIRECTLY TO JAIL.)
The brilliance of “The Price” is in the title. What price is Ral willing to pay to get what he wants? Is Troi paying a price for her abilities? The show demonstrates to us, quite clearly, that Ral is an asshole, first through Riker’s gorgeous destruction of him at the bar, and then later when Troi publicly embarrasses Ral for his misdeeds. I like that this isn’t subtle because it deliberately tears down his womanizing persona and his manipulative tendencies, you know? And in the end, Troi delivers one hell of a rejection. She refuses to be the one to make Ral a better person. She’s not his counselor, nor his baby sitter. That’s something he’s got to do on his own.
And goddamn, it’s such a good ending to a fantastic episode.
The video for “The Price” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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