Friday, November 15, 2019

Star Trek: The Battle

Episode: "The Battle"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 1, Episode 9
Original Air Date: November 16, 1987
DaiMon Bok, a Ferengi captain played by Frank Corsentino, offers Captain Picard an extraordinary gift: the USS Stargazer, Picard's old starship.  In time, we learn Bok's true motivation: revenge upon Picard for the death of his son in a famous battle.  Included with the gift is a mind-control device intended to manipulate our poor captain.

As noted before, with all of its early stumbles, TNG still managed to quickly outpace TOS on character development from the beginning.  To be fair, character was never the point of the earlier show (see here).  We learn precious little about the past of even Captain Kirk.  Here, in Episode 9 of the new series, we are granted insights into the heroics of Picard's previous military exploits.  We see his ability to be self-effacing in recounting the tale of his most famous (or infamous, if you ask Bok), career-making moment.  We are able to understand important aspects of his crew's deep admiration for him.

This story is also a big improvement for the Ferengi.  They still don't work as the primary adversaries but we are offered a clear demonstration of their driving motivation: profit.  Eventually, this characterization will allow for a more meaningful narrative role for the Ferengi within the Trek universe.  Also, the sincerity of Kazago's "Good luck, First Officer Riker" sign off late in the story is far more worthy of the "Balance of Terror" legacy than anything in "The Last Outpost."

Alas, "The Battle" is a disastrous episode for Wesley Crusher.  Wil Wheaton points to this story as the one that cemented Wes as a hated character rather than a merely annoying one.  After showing off his know-it-all, save-the-day prowess with his mother and Deanna Troi and receiving an inadequate pat on the head, he slumps against the wall and whines, "You're welcome, ladies.  Adults..."

The trouble with Wesley, for me, is that he pulls me out of the moment and cuts into the credibility of the world.  Even when I know he's going to be there on the bridge in the thick of things, there's always a little voice in my head asking why.  Sure he's smart but he doesn't deserve his honorary promotion and we all know it.  The shame is the lost opportunity: the life of an ordinary teenager aboard the Enterprise could have been genuinely interesting.  It's the wunderkind characterization that doesn't work.  One can imagine not only fans but crew members being resentful: "I bust my hump every day for years and never get within ten feet of the bridge.  Yet Picard hands Crusher's brat kid the steering wheel because he solved a problem once."

Again, it's not the actor's fault.  It's the writers' fault.

Acting Notes

Image result for young brent spiner
via Wikipedia

Brent Spiner (Data) was born February 2, 1949 in Houston, Texas.  As a high school student, he won a national championship in dramatic interpretation as a member of the speech team.  For college, he attended the University of Houston.

Once again, success came first on the stage.  Pre-Trek Broadway credits include Sunday in the Park with George, The Three Musketeers and, one of this blogger's favorite musicals, Big River (see here), based on Mark Twain's Huck Finn.  In fact, there's a deep connection between Big River and Trek, particularly through Spiner's part, that of the Duke.  The original Broadway actor in the role was Rene Auberjonois who would eventually play Odo in Deep Space Nine.

In 1981, Spiner had a starring film role in Rent Control.  Numerous television guest appearances included a recurring role on Night Court as Bob Wheeler.  In addition to Data, Spiner has played the parts of his twin brother Lore and his creator, Arik Soong.


  1. I don't see where that would be a problem. If anything, it should've made Wesley more relatable. Here was a genius who really just wanted basic acceptance but had no idea how to get it. Ironically, this characterization would've fit in nicely with the characters of The Big Bang Theory (instead of the dead meemaw thing...). This is probably why the writers started shifting over to his pathetic social life in the later seasons, something he shared with La Forge. And La Forge formed a friendship with Data, and was also known for his lack of romantic prowess. This whole series turned out to be full of characters who were lousy lovers. I don't know if this was a deliberate spin on Kirk's reputation or not. But it's pretty funny to think about. DS9 had a much better track rate, and Voyager had at least one hugely successful relationship, while Enterprise had a TNG-worthy hopeless romance, and Discovery seems headed in that direction, too.

    1. I think it might have been a more interesting story if Wes never quite got what he wanted. In the real world, people have to work hard to get the keys to the kingdom and that's as it should be - unless they inherit them and that's not an interesting story at all. He doesn't deserve to be on the bridge. It's impossible for me not to think that whenever I see him there.

      The friendships he develops with Geordi and Data are genuinely interesting. There's no reason why they shouldn't take a personal interest in him. It's the professional relationship that rubs the wrong way.

      To your other point, I love the fact that none of the TNG relationships quite works out... save one. Sam and Diane, the sci-fi edition would not have been good. The spinoffs (and I don't know DS9 as well as VOY or even ENT) were great for exploring other aspects of the Trek universe, including romance.

      Speaking of spinoffs, I have long thought that a Starfleet Academy series would be fun - but definitely hire some writers who know how to write for younger characters!

    2. (Right. Forgot Riker and Troi get married.)

      The thing is, Wes ultimately doesn't get what he thinks he wants. Even when taking the entrance exams for Starfleet Academy, he discovers he's not as much of an outlier as he always thought he was. And once he does get it, he discovers his intellectual skills still aren't enough to compensate for his social skills (though in a different way, still one of the most interesting things to happen to the character).

      That he got on the bridge goes to prove much more about the isolated lives this crew was living. The most striking thing about Data is really that nobody outside of the crew really seems to think he's remarkable. We get "Measure of a Man," but then also the admiral in Insurrection, who thinks nothing of deactivating "the android." We tend to assume that anyone will automatically see what we see in the people we know. But it's a logical fallacy. Wes was brilliant if you had a limited comparison sample. Probably he was smarter than the average Starfleet officer serving in the crew. But in a much wider pool, which wouldn't necessarily produce officers serving aboard starships (whether or not they're also the flagship), the results are necessarily going to be different. That's one of the things I love about Carol and David Marcus in Wrath of Khan. They're smart people, and they can't fathom operating as members of Kirk's regular circle. As fans, we of course assume that Kirk has the best of what's around. But there are other venues for genius. It just happened that the original series tended to feature such figures after they'd been compromised in some way, such as Richard Daystrom (who later had a famous institute named after him).


    3. It's an interesting perspective. I don't hate Wes the way so many do but it's still hard for me to accept him in the way the storytellers presumably intended. I appreciate your long-game analysis.

      Interesting thoughts on Khan, too. I think of that wonderful scene when the Marcuses, Spock and McCoy all lay out Kirk's flaws plainly. Kirk's vulnerability in the story is a big part of what makes the movie so good

  2. You hit the nail on the head with Wesley. Bad writing!

    1. Yup! Unfortunately, it's the actor who has suffered for it.

  3. Yup, indeed you nailed it. It seemed that many episodes should have been "Another one about Wesley". Bad writing, bad decision. Did the producers think the show needed a teenage following?

    1. Creator Gene Roddenberry saw Wes as a projection of his own teenage self. Maybe there was something in wanting to indulge the childhood fantasies of the audience, too, but I don't know if that ever quite worked. The consensus of the devoted is pretty strong: Wesley was a mistake.

      That said, the Fan Boys don't know everything, nor do they speak for everyone.

  4. Replies
    1. Do you remember a mind control device giving Picard bad headaches and bad dreams?

    2. No great loss. There aren't many must-see episodes in Season 1.

  5. I haven't seen it, but have a lovely week ahead☺