Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S05E06 – The Game

In the sixth episode of the fifth season of The Next Generation, an old friend returns to the Enterprise and unknowingly walks into a quiet takeover. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Trigger Warning: For consent.

I like this episode, I really do! It’s a lot of fun because it’s like an old pulp horror novel or a Twilight Zone episode on the Enterprise. It’s creepy, and I am not even remotely ashamed of my reaction to it. It’s entertaining to be able to shout at my television for a story like this! It perfectly lends itself to the kind of shit I do.

There’s just this thing the show does whenever Wesley is onscreen that I’ve been struggling to work out. For a story as creepy and dark as this one is, there’s a strange tone to “The Game.” In the midst of such a nightmare, Wesley arrives on the Enterprise, gains the attention of a gorgeous young woman who is perfectly his age, courts her and goes on a date, and through it all, they remain romantically compatible. Granted, Wes leaves at the end of the episode, so I don’t imagine that Robin and he will maintain a relationship. But still. How did such a saccharine plot end up in the middle of one of the creepiest episodes in the show’s run?

I think that because Wesley had been gone for a sizable batch of episodes, I was actually able to determine what it was that bugged me about the writing for his character. This show seems unwilling to criticize him or give him a truly negative storyline. He’s the boy genius who always gets things right. Even when he’s utterly wrong – like at the beginning of season three – no one actually does anything about it. (Interestingly enough, Riker is given the exact same treatment here. Is no one going to yell at him for bringing that horrifying game onboard the Enterprise???) So even within “The Game,” Wesley is still the savior. He’s the only one able to resist the pull of the device’s appeal; he’s the only one to figure out something is wrong, and he directs his and Robin’s actions; and in the final scenes, he’s the character rushing through the ship’s internal passages while the rest of the crew hunts him down.

One of the things that’s been so great about season four and these few episodes of season five is that the show’s writer’s have been willing to give us more gritty character studies of the main cast. People can make mistakes or be wrong; there’s more interpersonal drama; we can have episodes like “Silicon Avatar,” where there is no happy ending. So to suddenly switch to such a heroic story surrounding Wesley and his perfect boy genius characterization? It makes his character stand out even more than it did before, especially since he hasn’t been around for a while.

Again, I don’t think this is a bad episode at all. The horror of “The Game” feels very real, and I love how the script escalates that horror. There’s a sense of inevitability to it. Who will be next? Can we trust what anyone is saying, or have they already been taken under control of the game? Additionally, part of the suspense comes from the mystery of the game itself. Straight up: THE GAME SEEMS TERRIBLE. It’s childish and simple and it cannot possibly be that good. So why is everyone so obsessed with it? Why can’t they stop? What horrible twist is waiting around the corner? And even when Wes and Robin figure out that the device induces an addiction and stimulates higher reasoning, we still don’t know what the hell is going on. Why? Why take over the whole ship? What is the point of it all? WHEN WILL IT END?

So: fun to see the crew basically turn into a bunch of villains. My god, it’s so creepy. And for the record, I don’t dislike the Wesley/Robin plot; I actually think it’s sweet. It just feels a bit out of place here, that’s all.

The video for “The Game” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

Mark Links Stuff

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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