Mark Watches ‘The Next Generation’: S02E21 – Peak Performance

In the twenty-first and penultimate episode of the second season of The Next Generation, the crew splits up for training via war games, only to have some very real-world incidents affect their performance. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

This was a great episode! There’s a lot going on here, so I’ll split this up.

I’m actually going to start with my favorite subplot in “Peak Performance”: Data’s struggle with losing. As someone who has been playing video games since he was a kid, I wasn’t exactly surprised that Kolrami was able to beat Data in his first attempt. It’s not an impossible scenario, especially with a player as talented as Kolrami. What I didn’t expect was Data’s reaction to this loss, which is FASCINATING to me. Without an ego or a sense of pride, Data still spirals into self-doubt. Why is that? If he does not contain the capacity for human emotion for the most part, why does he react the way that he does?

Data’s sense of accuracy is so clinical here, and that’s sort of the point. He views his loss through the lens of his programming. If he didn’t win, that meant that something was wrong with him. While that’s a very Data-like reaction, I also see a valuable lesson in this for humans, too. Don’t many of us believe the same thing when it comes to competition? Don’t those of us with self-esteem issues often fear the same thing? So I don’t see Data’s story here as one of android self-awareness. It feels remarkably human to me, something we all eventually have to learn how to cope with. Picard’s parting words to him are so fantastic, too, because it’s a great way to consider how competitive losses work. Data never did anything wrong, and he never made a mistake. Loss is still possible. And look what happens once Data considers this viewpoint! He re-examines his technique so that he can win against Kolrami in another way, by humiliating him. AND HEY, HE KIND OF DESERVED IT AFTER HIS BEHAVIOR THROUGHOUT THIS EPISODE. Actually, let’s talk about that character!

Kolrami

Oh lord, THE BEST ACTOR FOR THE JOB. Roy Brocksmith is able to make Kolrami slimy, arrogant, annoying, and immensely condescending, and it’s a joy to watch. This character has to be this way, though, for “Peak Performance” to work. It’s the impetus for the conflict, even if the Ferengi ultimately provide the biggest threat to the Enterprise. These characters needed the motivation to outperform themselves in order to prove Kolrami wrong. Sure, I think that Kolrami is largely a foil and nothing else, but I’m fine with antagonists or one-time characters being one-note if it serves the story well. I think that’s the case here. Kolrami, as a Zakdorn, has a certain reputation because of his people’s prowess for military strategy. Therefore, his actions are deliberately provocative in that sense. It’s why he’s so arrogant. He knows he’s good, and we know he’s good. He insults Riker (which honestly does not bother me a bit), he insinuates that Picard has failed as a commander for choosing him, and he spends most of his time making catty, biting comments about literally everyone around him.

Therefore, his downfall is all the more satisfying. SO SATISFYING.

War Games

The war games themselves are entertaining, and as much as Riker gets on my nerves at times, I do like seeing his cunning as a captain come out while he and Worf fool Picard. But there’s one aspect of this that I really want to address more than anything else: WHY IS NO ONE FREAKING OUT ABOUT WESLEY CHEATING??? Like, I get that the warp drive actually saves the lives of those on Hathaway, so… good on that? But Wesley honestly cheated, and I feel like that should have been addressed beyond Riker claiming it was just an act of improvisation. Yes, it was, but what kind of standard does that set? I don’t even know why this bothers me as much as it does because I DON’T EVEN LIKE FOLLOWING THE RULES MYSELF. I mod video games when I suck at them, I turn on cheat codes all the time, and I think that the idea of getting every advantage possible in such an absurd scenario is great.

I think that Riker’s sort of boyish acceptance of Wesley’s bending of the rules is what irks me. It doesn’t feel like there’s an acknowledgement of the implications of this kind of cheating; instead, it becomes an acceptance on Riker’s part that there’s this boys’ club that Wesley now belongs to, one where they can sort of get away with whatever they want by virtue of who they are. I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM OVERANALYZING THIS SHIT, but here we are, in the year of our lord 2015, and this is what I do.

Regardless, it’s not a moment that takes away from the entertainment value of “Peak Performance,” nor does it dilute Data’s incredible story within the episode. Gods, I’m just now realizing how much character development there’s been for Data in season two. It’s neat to reflect on that as I move into the finale for this season. That’s been one of many things this season that’s made The Next Generation such a fun experience for me. I definitely think season two is way, way better than the first season, though I miss both Tasha Yar and Dr. Crusher. I wish they could come back. 🙁

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

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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