Star Trek: The Next Generation: The Battle   Rewatch 
May 1, 2020 12:33 AM - Season 1, Episode 9 - Subscribe

(MA short synopsis): “When a group of Ferengi present Captain Picard with the derelict remains of his old starship, he begins to lose himself in the past.”



Our battlin’ bruisers are set to lock horns across a tapesty of tragedy and contested memory! ONLY ONE CAN WALK AWAY! WHO SHALL IT BEEE?


(forgive me)

(I have broken up the post into three due to length, LMK if you guys feel that that’s the right call.)
posted by mwhybark (26 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

The Enterprise has rendezvoused with a Ferengi vessel but has not received informative communication from the Ferengi for three days, just the instruction “Stand by, Enterprise.” The tension of the wait appears to have given Captain Picard a headache and he consults with Dr. Crusher just as the Ferengi leader, DaiMon Bok, hails the Enterprise. A meeting on the Enterprise is arranged. In the interim, long-range sensors identify a Constellation-class starship inbound.

DaiMon Bok refers to Picard as the “hero of the battle of Maxia,” to the Captain’s puzzlement. Data quickly realizes that the DaiMon may be referring to a military engagement in which Captain Picard, in an earlier command aboard the Constellation-class USS Stargazer, destroyed an unknown assailant in the Maxia system. DaiMon Bok’s son was in command of the destroyed vessel. The Ferengi explain that the inbound vessel is the Stargazer, and DaiMon Bok offers it as a gift to Picard, to the shock and dismay of his underlings.

One thing leads to another, and we learn that Picard’s headaches are being caused by DaiMon Bok, wielding an illuminating orb that we later learn is a forbidden “thought-maker”. An Enterprise away team including Picard beam over and take possession of Stargazer, only to find that the ship’s logs do not match extant records or Picard’s memory of the incident at Maxia that led to the ship’s abandonment. The away team returns to the Enterprise bringing a trunk of Picard’s effects from his old quarters. The trunk contains a thought-maker, and Picard becomes irrational, beaming back to Stargazer and experiencing hallucinations of the battle. He turns Stargazer to make an attack pass on Enterprise, preparing to use a tactical maneuver he invented during the event nine years prior, now known as “the Picard Maneuver,” in which an instantaneous move to warp and back to normal space causes the warping vessel to appear to simultaneously be in two positions at once.

Riker opens communications with DaiMon Bok’s first officer, Kazago, and the revelation of the thought-maker, plus Enterprise analysis of the doctored logs, plus DaiMon Bok’s outlandish disinterest in profit, lead Kazago to relieve DaiMon Bok of command. Picard snaps out of it just in time, and the Enterprise continues on, Stargazer under tow once again.

Forgive my longer-than usual synopsis; this episode has a lot going on, and please forgive any accidental elisions, I’m trying to keep it short!

In this episode:

We first meet DaiMon Bok, who returns in season seven’s “Bloodlines”
Wesley’s triple-striped sweater appears for the first time, in place until he dons the grey cadet’s uniform. Wesley’s sweaters, rated!
We first are introduced to the /Constellation-class USS Stargazer, initially set to be a Constitution-class vessel, according to Memory Alpha’s entry for this episode. Captain Picard commanded the Stargazer for twenty-two years.

We first see the Captain’s quarters in this episode.

The bridge of the Stargazer appeared briefly in “Encounter at Farpoint” as the Enterprise-D’s battle bridge, and is a redress of the TOS movie Enterprise bridge, including a console and the command chair used in the filming of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, according to MA.
posted by mwhybark at 12:42 AM on May 1, 2020


Poster’s log:

I very much enjoyed this episode, certainly more than I expected to. This is one of the rare first season episodes I have seen since initial broadcast prior to this project due to seeking it out, in part due to the return of DaiMon Bok in season seven’s “Bloodlines”, and in part due to trying to figure out more about the Ferengi during my watchthrough of DS9.

I was quite surprised again to find little to really pick at in the depiction of the Ferengi here. The essentially problematic conception of their culture and species is a little more evident in this episode than it was in their first appearance, in part I think because the actors were more effectively directed, and we are shown that Ferengi can exhibit relatable motivations that are not simply cartoonish. DaiMon Bok is an antagonist motivated by the tragic loss of his son, and Kazago exhibits a desire for military - and profitable - order in his willingness to remove his DaiMon from command. We still get the obligatory cringe-inducing reference to Ferengi cultural restrictiveness on the activities and state of dress of Ferengi females, and we even get a one-off self-deprecating joke about Ferengi anatomy, but the depiction of the Ferengi is a step up.

Now is as good a time as any to introduce a formal statement of the well-founded critique that the Ferengi function as a regrettable use of anti-Semitic tropes. This is not my original observation, but it seems to me to be absolutely true. Ferengi culture is conceived of and presented as comically driven by grasping profit. Individual Ferengi display repeated use of deception, trickery, and deceit in personal and military interaction. The design of the species includes the comedic exaggeration of a prominent feature of the anatomy of their heads.

This is nearly a one-to-one remapping of the European theatrical and propaganda conception of the grasping, untrustworthy Jew, the exaggerated nose become two large ears. It seems inconceivable that people working on TNG and DS9 were unaware of this potential reading, and yet, it is a fundamental feature of the franchise. It is, simply put, problematic, and it can’t be dismissed or handwaved away.

In later episodes which feature Ferengi, we will see further evidence of this, and I want to be sure to note it when we do. It’s possible to observe, even to grant outright, that anti-Semitism is almost certainly not what was intended by the creators. However, it’s not possible to say that the presentation of the Ferengi, their motivations, their actions, their culture was unintentional. They are the result of intentional creative activity. Observing this honestly and directly, to me, is a more productive style of engagement than ignoring it or disputing the subtext.

With regard to the creative process which developed the Ferengi, this in-depth look at them at Forgotten Trek uses quite a bit of direct quotation from Herb Wright, who was tasked with leading the creation of the Ferengi. The cited quotes and references would tend to indicate that the objective was to create an alien culture founded on values perceived as wholly oppositional to the Roddenberry-envisioned post-scarcity, post-sexist, post-religion Federation. The article also states that a specific character in Western theatrical canon was a direct inspiration: that of Shylock, the Jewish moneylender in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice.

So what predominates? The satire on the avariciousness of capital, or the deceitful grasper with exaggerated anatomy? I mean, look at other pop culture expressions of capitalist critique and satire from the era. I suppose the best example of what I have in mind is (the also mark-missing, and I am thinking primarily of the novel) American Psycho. Why not make the Ferengi tall, suave, handsome devils with an impeccable sense of style and a finely tuned brand consciousness? Well, that’s latinum on the dabo table, and the show’s team made the choices that they made. Anyway, I will be exploring other aspects of TNG that have not aged as well as one would wish over the course of this rewatch, and this here topic is one of the more egregious.

Looking at other readings for this episode, I found it very interesting that Picard is tossed on to the bridge of his old ship, where he sees the ghosts of his old crew, and he mobilizes the ship into an attack on the Enterprise-D. A metatextual reading of this, taking into account the real-world conditions of production, can produce the view that Picard on the Stargazer is an expression of the dilemma of the writers and producers of the first season of The Next Generation. Sewart is literally on the bridge of the movie Enterprise, physically sitting in the same chair occupied by William Shatner, and the writers have been desperately pawing through a pile of recycled plot elements seen in prior incarnations of the show, re-enacting old battles and chasing ghosts. I think the initial production intent to make the Stargazer a Constitution-class ship supports this reading further.

The Picard Maneuver creates the illusion of two ships where there is only one. The recycled plot elements of TOS in TNG remind us over and over again in this first season, of another Enterprise, another time, another crew. Can this script exorcise those ghosts from the rest of the season?

Seeing this as I considered this episode deepened my experience of it, and I must say I really enjoyed it, for all its faults.

Finally, thanks for indulging my Ferengi Bowl silliness. The Clegane Bowl nonsense in the GoT threads never failed to make me chuckle.
posted by mwhybark at 12:47 AM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

This may be the best episode so far. The Ferengi seem like a credible threat with a hint of an ethos. DaiMon Bok is a creditable villain (if a little over the top in his IRB-caressing and cackling), and I like that Kazago is glum rather than excited at his chance to unseat his boss. Having the Ferengi be reflexively treacherous was one of the dumber ideas of their first appearance. Maybe as their depiction develops, it will move away from the precipice of antisemitism? (I haven’t watched the series in decades, so I’m legitimately curious; trying not to read ahead.)

The story still suffers from that glacial inertness — whereas TOS would unwisely pack too much story into their episodes, season one of TNG has the opposite problem, this one needed a good B plot or maybe just a scene of Riker and Kazago developing a mutual understanding of the differences in their roles and their differing reactions to their commanders’ increasing instability. If Bok was not criminal with his banned device, merely obsessive and increasingly unhinged, having the show hinge on why Riker and the crew supported their captain while Kazago and his crew discarded theirs would have had more impact than lingering shots of Picard wincing while deciding to shoot a beachball.
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:07 AM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

The story still suffers from that glacial inertness — whereas TOS would unwisely pack too much story into their episodes, season one of TNG has the opposite problem

Oh, this is definitely the problem with sooo much of TNG. It seems like they just start a script with a single premise, then stretch the hell out of it until they can get to 38 minutes. So many of the episodes are just 20 minutes of building up a single moment in the opener ("hey, what was that? Weird. Oh well, nevermind, I'm sure we can just forget about it now"). Sometimes they hit upon a good enough idea to build a good show on, sometimes they at least add in enough B-plot elements to break up the monotony of incredibly slowly developing main-plot issues. On rewatch, many of the weaker episodes are just unbearable for this reason--nothing really happens for the first 30 minutes of the show, just a bunch of scenes with that week's main character being increasingly puzzled and meeting-room scenes.

Anyway, even to a 10 year old me, the Picard Manuever seemed pretty overhyped. I mean, if it was technologically feasible for a ship to do this, it's hard for me to believe that this wouldn't be one of the first thing cadets try to do when learning how to control the helm during battle. (Or is that control the conn? I could never figure out.)
posted by skewed at 6:37 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

(Or is that control the conn? I could never figure out.)

My stab at understanding this, after some puttering around online, is that "having the conn" means being the one calling the shots with regard to where the ship is going, even if you're not the person directly on the relevant controls. So if the captain is on the bridge, attending to whatever the larger mission is, whoever "has the conn" is the person managing how the ship is moving about. Whoever has the helm is the person who is holding the actual wheel or levers or touchscreens that adjust the rudder or engines or whatnot.
posted by pykrete jungle at 10:11 AM on May 1, 2020 [5 favorites]

I agree with pykrete jungle, but TNG does not (At leafy not consistently), ref the binary episode coming up soon, where Piccard references directly controlling the helm as “having the conn.”

Then again TNG also doesn’t follow radio discipline: “[recipient], [sender], message” is typical in contemporary radio comms, whereas TNG so far has gone with “This is [sender] to [recipient], [message].” It’s a minor nit but it’s really hard to un-hear.

In conclusion, Trek is about telling a story, don’t stare too hard at the minor details!
posted by Alterscape at 11:50 AM on May 1, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's a verbal flub in this episode when Data expounds on the Picard Maneuver by saying that a ship executing the maneuver "may seem to disappear". No, Data, it appears to be in two places at once!

DaiMon Bok returns in "Bloodlines" because the writers asked Patrick Stewart as Season 7 was winding down if there were any hanging plot threads for Picard he would want to see resolved and Stewart chose Bok. That's a deep cut for sure compared to all of the other lingering, more interesting stories in later seasons.

And finally, I feel that the first half of this episode is obsessed with the phrase "Ferengi beam-over". The crew talks about the Ferengi beam-over, they schedule the Ferengi beam-over, Wesley hangs around on the bridge because he wants to be there for the Ferengi beam-over... I don't think we ever hear "beam-over" again as a noun meaning the transport arrival of someone.
posted by Servo5678 at 11:58 AM on May 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

One of the things that we came up with during the Enterprise rewatch is the idea of grading episodes on a curve, specifically against the general quality of that season, because of how generally dismal the first two seasons in particular could be. That's how I feel about "The Battle"; the bar was set so low by the first several episodes that some recognition should be made that they seem to have started to get their act together. (It helps that I've watched several of the episodes further into the season, and corrected my general impression of S1 correspondingly.) The Ferengi are not as obnoxiously silly as they were in "The Last Outpost", and Bok's preoccupation with vengeance even mitigates against the whole Planet of Hats trope, since he's giving up a lot of potential profit for it (the substantial gains that could be made by a device that can influence someone's thinking across thousands of miles, by itself, are kind of mind-boggling, literally and figuratively). It also has some good background on Picard; this isn't his first ship or crew (I'm pretty sure that Kirk never had a command in canon aside from the NCC-1701 and its same-class successor), and the Stargazer gives us a glimpse at a different sort of starship between the time of TOS and now.

My only real problem with the episode is that Bok's intentions were telegraphed just a bit too blatantly. Picard is suffering from a bad headache, which is apparently almost unknown (which itself seems a bit odd; I can understand their having cured migraines, but headaches in general are more of a symptom, and we know that there are plenty of alien diseases which have replaced the terrestrial ones that have been cured), and then out of nowhere comes this Ferengi who knows Picard (but Picard doesn't know him), and refers to this battle (that Picard doesn't think of as a battle proper), and just happens to have Picard's old ship (which seems to be at least partly working, and would probably be worth a metric buttload of bricks of gold-pressed latinum to the generally-seeming-to-not-be-too-friendly-to-the-Federation Ferengi). From that point on, it's really just a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and wondering, for example, why Picard never notices the big glowing red ball in his old footlocker. None of this is unfixable: the Stargazer could have been given to Picard by a hired intermediary (per a comment that I made on the thread for "The Last Outpost", the Ferengi acting through intermediaries would explain why no one in the Federation really knew what they looked like up to that point), the gizmo could have been way more subtle, and Bok could have been a heck of a lot cannier in how he interacted with Picard and the crew.

Oh, and speaking of the Ferengi and antisemitic coding, here's Armin Shimerman talking about it at a con. That really says nothing about the species' creators' original intention, but we know that Shimerman was unhappy about how they were presented in "The Last Outpost", and he arguably helped fix at least some of that.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:28 PM on May 1, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'd forgotten that 'The Picard Maneuver' had a ship-related meaning -- I remembered it more from when fandom adopted the phrase to refer to Picard's shirt-tug mannerism after they switch to the two-piece uniforms.
posted by oh yeah! at 6:08 PM on May 1, 2020 [6 favorites]

It’s only been one episode since the last time Picard was giving nonsensical orders and being kind of a jerk about it under some alien influence, they must be getting used to this kind of thing.

I enjoyed how Dr. Crusher just gave Picard a heavy sedative without asking and only told him what it was after.
posted by rodlymight at 7:58 PM on May 1, 2020 [2 favorites]

Still several clunky and weird moments here—e.g., you don't inspect the gifts from the Ferengi? The Trojan Horse metaphor didn't occur to you Starfleet types who are always referencing antiquity?—but yes, this is not a bad episode. Even grading without any curve at all, this is decent Trek, though by no means above-average. By season 1 standards, yeah, probably the best yet. For that, I chiefly credit Stewart taking the material seriously in his performance. I also perceived that Sirtis was starting to settle into her role a bit, though they've got to do something about the clown makeup.

This also might be the first episode where nothing Crusher did made me go "what the hell." She even seems to have figured out that everybody knows Wesley is her son. I can half-seriously excuse preemptive nonconsensual sedation here because Picard was just possessed and she might be extra-cautious in the event of him demonstrating inexplicable behavior/symptoms.

I chuckled at the line "As you humans say, I'm all ears," though it's slightly surprising since first contact between Starfleet and the Ferengi only happened a few episodes ago. All the same, plenty of evidence (in- and out-of-canon) suggests that the Ferengi have been movers and shakers in the quadrant for quite some time prior to this season (Maxia itself being one data point in favor of that), so it makes sense to assume that independent human merchants or colonists have had prolonged interactions with the Ferengi. This also accounts for apparently-apocryphal accounts of them eating their enemies.

I mean, look at other pop culture expressions of capitalist critique and satire from the era. I suppose the best example of what I have in mind is (the also mark-missing, and I am thinking primarily of the novel) American Psycho. Why not make the Ferengi tall, suave, handsome devils with an impeccable sense of style and a finely tuned brand consciousness?

One possible explanation (not intended as an excuse) is that they might have considered the style of alien you describe to be too potentially appealing to audiences for a species that was designed to be the new antagonists of the franchise. Not to mention possibly too human-like in appearance to seem very alien, or to sell very many toys.

(And very good choice of comparison. American Psycho is, like the original Ferengi, built on an interesting idea, but built terribly offensively. I only saw the movie once, but IIRC it greatly downplayed the awfulness of the book. (And not to further digress, but you just gave me a great idea for a Trek RPG character: a human raised on Ferenginar.))

The Shylockian-ness of the Ferengi is maybe actually worse than what they did with the Ligonians, since the latter were not originally scripted to be "Black Planet." I mean, I don't care how much you consider yourself to be Federation-style post-racist: you don't stop to think about choosing Shylock as your model?

we know that Shimerman was unhappy about how they were presented in "The Last Outpost", and he arguably helped fix at least some of that.

Yeah; between his conversation with Sisko in "The Jem'Hadar" and the way Jake and Nog overcome their differences, it's both an actual embodiment of Federation ideals and a textual and meta-textual…redemption's too strong a word; reflection? maybe atonement!…for what happened with TNG Ferengi.

Anyway, even to a 10 year old me, the Picard Manuever seemed pretty overhyped. I mean, if it was technologically feasible for a ship to do this, it's hard for me to believe that this wouldn't be one of the first thing cadets try to do when learning how to control the helm during battle.

The CODA system version of the Trek RPG (and possibly others) turns the Picard Maneuver into the Trek-RPG equivalent of a spell, which is fitting since it's just mirror image.

(I have broken up the post into three due to length, LMK if you guys feel that that’s the right call.)

I'm curious about this too, naturally. Mobile users: does it make a difference usability-wise if a lengthy initial post is instead split into initial post-plus-comment?
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:45 AM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

Speaking of Troi: here's a must-see MeFi Project, as highlighted in the current MeFi podcast.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 9:05 AM on May 2, 2020 [3 favorites]

FWIW, the word count was about 1400 in Docs when I was composing it. I was prompted to do this after seeing folks expressing concern over the initial format and length of a TAS pst by hamov3r which was adjusted before I saw it - I gather that in that case, they’d basically copied and pasted the entire MA entry. I don’t know if the paste was of source and therefore retained elements of MA’s formatting or not. I don’t think this post was as long as an MA entry, it just got my gears turning.
posted by mwhybark at 10:53 AM on May 2, 2020

The point about the TAS post was that just copying and pasting MA entries is pointless when the link is there for anyone who wants to read it all. If your content is original and not just brought over from MA, I don't think you'd have an issue. At least not from me.
posted by Fukiyama at 11:46 AM on May 2, 2020 [4 favorites]

Yeah also the Copy/paste on that post was like quadruple the length of your three comments combined which made mobile access very bad.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 2:12 PM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

well OK, but neither of you have expressed a preference w/r/t to length on this post. Is 1400 words OK with you for a starter post? Please advise.
posted by mwhybark at 9:59 PM on May 2, 2020

and “hanov3r” not “hamov3r”, apologies
posted by mwhybark at 10:00 PM on May 2, 2020

I was 100% fine with this post and comments, mwhybark. Long-form is kind of what we do with sci-fi rewatches, innit? I'm more a lurker than a regular, though, so I yield to others' opinions, of course!
posted by Alterscape at 10:22 PM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

All 3/3 of your comments if properly formatted into the initial post would have been fine. It's if you start getting longer then that, then you run into "cannot read on mobile" issues.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 11:17 PM on May 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

mwhybark, I appreciate your expositions and especially your Poster's Logs.

If Data could figure out a counter to the Picard Maneuver on the fly, it's odd that no one else could have figured out the same counter (or countless other ones) before. Or that counters wouldn't be remembered by the time PIC comes around.
posted by porpoise at 10:37 AM on May 3, 2020

Oh FFS, I missed the tag thing to get it hooked up to the previous / next thing. HOPE ME ADIMS
posted by mwhybark at 8:05 PM on May 3, 2020

For what it's worth, I much prefer long descriptions and analysis of the items put up for fanfare, then the far more common "Here's this movie/TV/Book and nothing about it."

For a lot of the stuff I see put out here I have no idea why the OP even thought it was interesting. Give us something to work with - have an opinion at least!
posted by happyroach at 12:02 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd prefer a giant-sized 'More Inside' section rather than splitting the text into multiple comments though. These ST threads make for a lot of scrolling through Recent Activity as it is, but normally at least 'more inside' isn't part of RA.
posted by oh yeah! at 3:18 AM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Recent Activity factor! Oh yeah! Thanks, oh yeah!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 6:14 AM on May 4, 2020

That metatextual analysis is brilliant!
posted by meese at 9:42 PM on May 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

The idea that there's no easy way to tell which one is the real one in the picard manouver is a little odd. The current location of the ship will always be the one closer to you. If you warp further away then you vanish for a time and re-appear. If you warp but stay equidistant, then you appear in your new location as you disappear from the old one. It's only moving closer to the viewer that causes the ship to appear in two locations at once. The current location is also the one which it wasn't already occupying.

As a rare trick, and a desperation move, it's not a bad one, but it's not especially tricky if you're expecting it. And even if it were, an effective counter if you're expecting it would be to just warp a little yourself. Ships in warp moving away are (visually) invisible, so you could buy yourself a little time that way, let the visual double of your opponent resolve, and then continue.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 1:30 AM on August 2, 2021

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