Star Trek: The Next Generation: Peak Performance   Rewatch 
September 11, 2020 6:38 AM - Season 2, Episode 21 - Subscribe

It's Picard vs. Riker vs. some Romulans vs. Quark's least-successful cousin in the Brawl at Braslota! And now, your master of ceremonies, Sirna Kolrami!

A fan wiki of limitless dimensions can often be quite diverting:

• Snodgrass recalled, "I loved that script. When I came in, I thought it was a wonderful vehicle for Jonathan and I had a lot of fun doing the rewrite. I really enjoyed writing action, but we had a hard time selling it, because it costs a lot of money to have spaceships fight."

• Kolrami himself was described in the script notes as "a slender weasel-like creature." According to Michael Westmore, in the case of designing the Zakdorn: "Sometimes it's hard to design a humanoid makeup until we actually know who the actor is and what he looks like. [...] There was nothing in the script telling me what the character would look like, and it wasn't until I started sculpting over the cast of Roy's head that I was able to come up with an idea."

• Armin Shimerman, who played the Ferengi captain, Bractor, in this episode, first played a Ferengi in "The Last Outpost"--the first (aired) episode to depict the species. He later played Quark, a regular on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who also appeared in TNG: "Firstborn" and VOY: "Caretaker".

• Riker tells the Enterprise "Captain Riker's never lost." In "A Matter Of Honor", Riker, as acting captain of the Klingon vessel IKS Pagh, forced the surrender of the Enterprise.

• This episode marks the first Star Trek appearance of Glenn Morshower.

• Director Robert Scheerer remarked, "That was the one where Riker took over the old ship. That ship was fun to play with. God, I had more fun ripping wires out and making it look like an old, junky ship. The art director on that show was a joy. Jonathan had fun with that episode, too, going up against Patrick. It was competitive, and on top of that, we had the wonderful comedic character running the show; he was wonderful, Roy Brocksmith [as Sirna Kolrami]. I've used him since then on other shows, like Matlock."

"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life."
- Jean-Luc Picard

"Starfleet is not a military organization. Its purpose is exploration."
- Picard

"So you're gonna beat him, huh?"
"Well, then it's gonna be a close one?"
"But... you have got a chance?"
- La Forge and Riker, before the latter's Strategema match with Kolrami

"On the captain's command, we will fire four photon torpedoes directly at the Hathaway. One millisecond after its detonation, the computer will trigger your warp jump."
"Wait a minute, I think I hate this plan. Data, we are not even sure our warp jump will work."
"If the warp engines fail to function, the result could be... unfortunate."
"Very unfortunate. We will be dead."
- Data, La Forge, and Worf

Poster's Log:
I agree with Scheerer about Brocksmith—really good comic performances by guest actors is a hit and miss prospect on TNG and really on Trek in general, but here IMO, it works. It's a bit silly and broad, but only a bit, and Kolrami is allowed to retain some gravitas, which the character needed. Interestingly, the next Zakdorn character with a speaking role is also a really good comic performance, though it's quite different in style and it's not until season 5's "Unification I."

Apart from Kolrami, this one is memorable to me in that the whole wargame setup, and our heroes' resolution of the Ferengi complication, amounts to a heapin' helpin' of classic Trek competence porn, with plenty for everybody to do, and with good quick pacing. Riker comes off really well here, most entertainingly in his assessment of his odds against Kolrami. "Peak Performance" really should have been the season finale; it's another standout of this uneven season, and in comparison with the actual season finale (our next episode), well, there's absolutely no comparison.

It's nice too that Pulaski is treating Data better; I no longer outright dislike Pulaski as a result of this rewatch, and I'd even go so far as to say that a degree of appreciation has developed. (Speaking of Pulaski: according to MA, "Michael Dorn expressed that had the character continued, [Pulaski] may have taken up a romantic relationship with Worf, given the chemistry that developed between the two characters." Guess Worf's got a thing for older women.)

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
"Greatest Gen" episode.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (16 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life. One of the best lines of the series, and words to live by. Tough love from Papa Picard.
posted by Mogur at 6:50 AM on September 11, 2020 [9 favorites]

That line from Picard helped me through some rough times a few years ago. It's such an important lesson for Data, and really anybody.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:15 AM on September 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

The thing that pulled me into the episode wasn't just the competence porn, but a very specific flavor of smarts smut: let's get this old heap running and see what it can do. It's an itch that is felt by any kid who played in a rusted-out old wreck and fantasized that maybe all it needed were some new tires and a coat of paint, and can be scratched by stories as disparate as Star Trek Beyond and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and this is a fine exhibition of such, especially given that Wesley's science project bears a suspicious resemblance to a slightly-gussied-up potato battery. Of course, the pay-off in a lot of these stories is that the rehabilitated junker ends up saving the day; C2B2 can fly, the Franklin succeeded where the Enterprise failed by blasting the Beastie Boys; the Hathaway triumphs in part because Worf apparently has l33t h4xx0r sk1llz. (He was able to do that with the E-D because he knew their computer systems, an advantage that he wouldn't have with the Ferengi ship, but that's like complaining that the C2B2 had inadequate wingspan.) Yay underdogs!

Also liked the guest stars; I previously liked Brocksmith as Kira's disreputable friend Razka, and I knew that I'd seen Morshower somewhere else, and not just Trek; Amazon Prime has a thing where you can see the most current headshots of the actors in any given scene, so they showed a more contemporaneous picture of Morshower, and after breaking down and looking at his Wikipedia article, I finally got it--he played General Sam Lane on Supergirl.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:01 AM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've seen this one a bunch, and still not tired of it. I like how they really get down to business in the cold-open. Captain's log tells us we're doing a wargame, the heavy is going to be a Starfleet observer, and GO!

I think Wesley should have been more upfront about his plan with Riker, you don't hide your strategic espionage plan from your captain.

Strategaema looks like a great game. If they had a bluetooth version without the wires, I'd definitely try it.
posted by skewed at 8:13 AM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Cards of the episode from the Star Trek CCG:
Sirna Kolrami, a bog standard Premiere card. Like all those one-skilled personnel, he retroactively became a 'mission specialist' and could score you extra points on Leadership missions, relatively useful.

Incidentally, the master strategist's name was adopted as a forum handle by a player turned designer Brad Defruiter. He was working on the Second Edition game when Decipher lost the Star Trek license, and worked with other fans on the Continuing Committee project to to support the game with new cards for quite some time. A number of finished cards from the Decipher's 'cut file' eventually made it into the game this way.

Military Exercises was an automatically included card for the 1998 "Starter Deck II". The original STCCG starter had truly random cards, it was highly likely that you wouldn't get missions, outposts, a ship, etc to really play the game. Starter Deck II included a full compliment of six missions, including this one. The mission represents a genericized version of military exercises, rather than the episode itself, to some extent.

This is the first opportunity I've had to discuss Ferengi cards in the rewatch! Speaking of the Starter II, it also included this nifty Ferengi Trading Post CGI'd from scratch by Decipher's art team. I like how the docking ports look like they're really made to house the D'Kora.

The Ferengi affiliation was a relative late-comer to the CCG, post license update, in 1999. By my count, they were the 9th full affiliation in the game, not counting preview cards. Owing to the changing nature of their portrayal in DS9, the lion's share of Ferengi officers and ships are from TNG, as exemplified by Bractor, Falar, and the Kreechta. Kreechta had the highest weapons in the Ferengi fleet and her captain could download Commandeer Ship, making her the vessel of choice for more aggro Ferengi decks.

Falar could also retrieve your Ferengi Energy Weapon, also from the episode, could further advance the Ferengi player's tactical objectives. Great flavor text on that guy.

Last and in my opinion very least is Strategema, a heavy handed denial card which outright prohibits some admittedly powerful effects from occurring. Many of which already had other, more interesting counter-plays. This is another card from the game-concluding All Good Things set, in effect this card is meant to be the final punctuation on the STCCG metagame. This was, however, the height of the promotion of Second Edition, the 1E tournament scene where this type of card prevailed was massively diminished by 2003. Still, this card's flavor of unsubtle metagame tinkering is definitely part of the essence of STCCG - as we will continue to see.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:36 AM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Proposed rule: for the next episode, the only comments permitted will be verbatim from the discussions of previous episodes.
posted by Spathe Cadet at 12:41 PM on September 11, 2020 [4 favorites]

Way ahead of ya there Spathe ;)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 2:04 PM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I had no idea what the next episode was, and I was happier for it.
posted by skewed at 2:12 PM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Strategaema seems like the super APM-based great great grandchild of Real-Time Strategy games, which is impressive since the episode came out almost a year before Herzog Zwei and several years before Dune II. They basically invented a genre of game that involves both strategy and quick reflexes long before such a genre would ever appear in real life. I wonder how good Sirna Kolrami would be at Starcraft.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:29 PM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I will definitely be talking about some clips - which were missed out on by starting the card retrospectives on "We'll Always Have Paris". Some cool, important stuff (as important as you can get for a decade-plus defunct game, at least).
posted by StarkRoads at 5:43 PM on September 11, 2020

Fun episode! Junkyard Wars: starship edition (god, I miss Junkyard Wars), except one of the starships is not junk. I do wonder what Starfleet was imagining would happen in the exercise, in Kolrami’s mind it probably should have been over in seconds.

Strategema looks kind of like a rts version of Qix, which is making me think of Gridz, an obscure old Mac game that was like an rts version of Qix, that looked nothing like Strategema.
posted by rodlymight at 8:45 PM on September 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Proposed rule: for the next episode, the only comments permitted will be verbatim from the discussions of previous episodes.

What about the framing sequence, though?
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:17 PM on September 11, 2020

Okay, hands up: who was rooting for the episode to end with the Enterprise ramming the Ferengi vessel, destroying both, and the crew beaming over to the Hathaway for several seasons of jalopy hijinks? It's such a sweet ship. It's got four warp nacelles! You just know it's gotta go fast.

I was excited for a character to show up who had earned smugness, and was kind of hoping their purpose would be to show up the unearned smugness of the occupants of the USS Smuggerprise (look, i love 'em, but this is a crew that puts themselves in danger on the regular just by fucking around with their own holodeck) but alas it was not to be. The "comeuppance" and the end was... kind of terrible? Playing strategic games for the purpose of a draw has been considered lame and insulting for millenia, and the back-slapping at the end just made the crew look dumb.

Thanks for the phrase "competence porn". I feel like there have been a bunch of episodes hinging on the crew making stupid decisions lately (oh hai Samaritan Snare) so I think a little competence porn was needed.
posted by phooky at 6:17 AM on September 12, 2020

One thing about rewatching episodes like this, after years and years of not watching the show at all (except my top three), is that I'm seeing some things I didn't appreciate as much before. One of them is the Riker-Worf bromance, which delights me. This episode really brought that home for me, and I'm going to enjoy seeing it from time to time in future ones.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 2:43 PM on September 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

One thing about Data and Strategaema I thought of the other day is how Data's relationship and how he "defeated" Kolrami is an inversion of chess and computers.

When computers started to get really good and start winning against top grandmasters, one strategy that worked versus the computer was to play for a stalemate. Data finesses his play and is able to "win" despite being the computer one would expect to brute-force a way forward to an actual win.
posted by Fukiyama at 10:41 AM on September 16, 2020

This is one of my favorite episodes. I'm a sucker for a Down Periscope plot (even though this predates Down Periscope). Picard's advice to Data is very good if you're the sort of kid who's had things come easily to them when you run up against something that you expect to come easy and it doesn't (even if I keep thinking that strictly speaking, if Strategema is a fair game then it's not strictly applicable in that case). Wesley's role is important but reasonable. Pulaski's getting along with Data (just in time for her to disappear). Clever and competent people being clever and competent.
posted by ckape at 9:27 PM on September 19, 2020

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