Star Trek: The Next Generation: Power Play   Rewatch 
May 6, 2021 3:23 AM - Season 5, Episode 15 - Subscribe

Hostile noncorporeal aliens body-snatch critical Enterprise crew members, and also Chief O'Brien.

Memory Alpha's got the power:

• "Power Play" was previously a working title for the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "This Side of Paradise".

• The basic story went through several treatments by freelancers before being assigned to Brannon Braga and Herbert J. Wright.

• Braga recalled "The first time I wrote it, I thought, bottle show: Ten-Forward, Picard and Troi talk. Mike Piller said don't be afraid to write seven or eight page scenes with Picard and Troi. I said, 'Okay, Mike, I won't.' Jesus! Seven or eight pages? I had a tough time writing that and when I turned it in, Piller said he felt that we'd taken it as far as it could go and we shouldn't produce it. If it had been produced as I had written it, the episode would have been a little too familiar as a hostage show. So what happened was Herb Wright had just come in and Mike said we need some new blood, and gave it to Herb. Together we came up with the twist of them claiming to be the ghosts and that's what I think brought the show level up and gave it a dimension of mystery and twists that it really needed."

• Director David Livingston recalled that the most enjoyable part of the episode "was taking three of our continuing characters and having them play something entirely different. It was a chance to work with them and create totally new characters, and that was a lot of fun. We came up with names for them on the set. Marina was Slash, Data was Buzz, and Colm was Slugger."

• Livingston noted that the crew encountered difficulties while filming on the "Planet Hell" set on Paramount Stage 16. "It was tough because we had atmosphere and wind and lightning. One of those elements is hard enough. Just being on Stage 16 is enough. But we had all of those elements and eventually all the actors had to lie down in them. The stage floor had a sandy surface, so when you have the wind blowing, the sand starts blowing around and I was real concerned about it getting into people's eyes. In fact, Marina's make-up became so messed up that she had to have a complete redo before we could continue shooting that day. We had to go over to Stage 9 and wait for her make-up to be done. Not through any fault of hers, just the fact that she wasn't presentable on screen, because the sand had sandblasted her and she looked like a house after the guys come through with their hoses."

• In the scene where the crew is thrown backward by the force of the storm, Marina Sirtis (doing her own stunt) "flung [herself] back, onto [her] coccyx," breaking it. She was the only cast member in the scene to do the stunt herself, despite her face being barely visible in the finished shot. Marina later claimed, "It could have been Worf in Troi's costume and we wouldn't have known the difference."

• Brannon Braga remarked, "In the end it turned into a really great action show. To me, it was a breath of fresh air. It had no pretensions. Instead of exploring some theme or idea, it was just action and phaser blasts. What are you going to do, deny that and say it's not fun?"

• Michael Piller was not as pleased with the final result. "'Power Play' had the distinction of being one of the best directed episodes of the season, but only made me angry because it was empty […] It was meant to be a show that was dark and brooding, and the shows I've always used as prototypes were Key Largo and The Petrified Forest. Very contained situations. We had a hard time making that work and making it interesting for five acts. It's not a difficult premise, it's been done on a lot of shows, a lot of times and television has found a way to make those premises kind of work […] Ultimately it became a major action show and instead of helping us get even, knocked us into the stratosphere. I wasn't very fond of that show, but very fond of David's direction. If that show had any merit at all, it was because he directed it with an extraordinary sense of style. The three actors who were given the job of being the aliens carried it with wonderful performances […] Brent, Marina and Colm really put together interesting performances, but I was not happy with the script."


"I have no fear of death."
"And I have no fear of killing you!"
- Worf and a possessed Data

"You have thirty seconds to change your course, or else additional members of your crew will require medical attention."
- A possessed Deanna Troi, to Captain Picard


Poster's Log:
I forgot how much of an ensemble piece this one was, which greatly amps up the enjoyment factor. Two big ensemble eps in a row, actually! I see Piller's point about the unmemorable writing, but the general scenario is tense and exciting enough to make up for it. Not every Trek episode needs to be Shakespeare; even the Picard show knows that.

I want to call out Marina Sirtis's performance here; she's so good when she gets dark and intimidating. We'll see more of that in the excellent season 6 episode "Face of the Enemy."

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
The tables will be turned in the O'Brien family when Keiko is similarly overtaken by a hostile entity, and is actually a whole lot meaner about it, in DS9: "The Assignment."

Bernd of Ex Astris Scientia points out that "Ten Forward is Keiko O'Brien's room of disasters."
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (20 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Previously, on Star Trek: The Next Generation fanfare threads...
And yes, I would have loved a B-plot about the O'Briens. What is this? Who left it in our room? Why is it crying?

[dramatic music cue] [camera cuts to monkey's paw, which slowly uncurls]
...and now, the thrilling conclusion!

I liked the hyper-competent evil aliens in this one. Even when they were bickering they were always on task and 100% Getting Things Done. The laughing-down-their-sleeves "oooh, we're spooky space ghosts" bit was brilliant, and by the end I was half hoping Picard would let them stick around, because possessed Troi was fierce and awesome. I remain befuddled regarding why threatening to blow floating, disembodied aliens out an airlock was a credible threat, though.

But back to the key point of this episode. Keiko. Why. You know I've always kind of been in your corner, more out of reflex than anything else, but why, why are you bringing a crying baby to Ten Forward. This is the ship's (only?) bar, where everybody goes to relax after their shifts. This is where noncoms come to weakly hit on each other and be consoled by an alien space mom; home of a thousand tepid first dates and awkward conversations about desserts. Maybe you need a drink, sure, but why did you bring Molly with you? What was the thinking here? "Look, baby, it's the place you were born!" Yes, I remember. People were bleeding out all over the place, the ship was about to explode, and the first thing I saw was a panicking Klingon. See how happy Molly is at the end? It's not because her parents are there and well; it's because she's in sickbay, which is a caring, nuturing place, and not Ten Foward, which is basically baby PTSD all the time.

It's pretty telling that when the alien begins accessing Miles' memories, Keiko's reaction is eeugh. If this had been a Riker/Troi moment, as in the previous episode, Troi would have been all like yes, Will, remember! Remember our connection! You can fight this thing! but Keiko is all ugh, on top of everything else, it's Miles. Man, these two. Sorry, Molly, you were better off with the Klingon.
posted by phooky at 6:40 AM on May 6 [6 favorites]


I find these kinds of episodes a bit frustrating but I admire the way Marina Sirtis made the most of this opportunity to play against type. I especially like the way she makes a 3-course meal of her speech finally explaining where the aliens came from...

"We were brought to this moon over five centuries ago from a star system called Ux-Mal"

The way she says "Ux-Mal" is really something.
posted by wabbittwax at 7:50 AM on May 6 [5 favorites]


Card of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:
Endangered saw a lot of competitive play, allowing you to trade points for extra dilemmas/cost on an opponent's mission attempt. Quite good. TNG players have cards like Guinan, Listener for extra points that are handy to spend this way.

Incidentally, the fan Continuing Committee is er, continuing to release new virtual cards for the game. Tomorrow marks the release of Heroes and Demons feauring cards primarily from the films Generations and Insurrection. Last month, they released Dogs of War for 1st Edition, focusing on the 10-part final arc from DS9.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:37 AM on May 6


I've always loved this episode: Marina Sirtis is completely On Point with her acting choices. My favorite Data is steely, I-will-brook-no-bullshit Data. Dead-eyed Miles O'Brien! Ghosts that can't possess somebody with a broken arm! The unanswered question of Worf's honor if Data kicked his ass up and down Ten-Forward...
posted by rocketman at 8:59 AM on May 6


I want to highlight Troi’s makeup. When she picks herself up from the floor after the aborted rescue attempt, and her face is all shadows and angles and smolderingly angry eyes… top-notch.
posted by hanov3r at 9:08 AM on May 6


Does anybody else get a whiff of the Xenu mythology from this episode? I think it's the souls of tormented prisoners attaching themselves to otherwise good people to make them do bad things, mostly.

I also have a vague recollection of Antarctica being important in that mythology, although I am not able to find anything online to confirm that. But the repeated references to the southern polar region in the dialogue are what first made the connection, for me.
posted by gauche at 9:10 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


There are a whole lot of aspects to this episode that I really liked, and maybe a couple of really minor quibbles. First, yes, Sirtis gets to act against type--I too thought of "Face of the Enemy" as another ep where she gets to play against the Human Mood Ring/unlucky-in-love rut that she's usually stuck in. TOS had "Return to Tomorrow" as its own disembodied-aliens-inhabit-people ep, and Leonard Nimoy likewise got to play against type as the one who's not too keen on being given an android body. (In general, Trek characters who usually play a character with a fairly closely defined set of personality traits--Data, Seven of Nine on VOY, Odo to some extent, just about any Vulcan--who get to play against type are almost always fun to watch.) I was pleased to see that taking over the ship from the bridge, as Data did in "Brothers", is no longer the quick and easy option that it was there. They updated their security protocols! Not enough to keep the trio from taking hostages, but hey, baby steps. Also, I was thinking to myself, "But do they remember the transporters in the shuttles?" Yep! They also brought back the Cargo Bay o' Doom. Finally, the headfake of the disembodied minds being survivors from a Starfleet vessel reminded me of the revelation in
Star Trek Beyond.


The minor things: the end seemed a little abrupt, with the bodyjackers being a little too willing to go back to their jail. And, speaking of which, just the concept of that jail is pretty disturbing, with the disembodied minds being stuck there seemingly forever. It may not be as bad as the virtual prison in DS9's "Hard Time" (also featuring O'Brien, of course), but it's still pretty bad, especially as there's no indication of the minds ever being paroled; it's not unlike the Phantom Zone in various Superman stories. It's not even really a quibble, just a sort of disturbing implication.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:16 AM on May 6 [2 favorites]


Memory Alpha's got the power

Memory Alpha says it would be best if you begin the search around the southern polar region.
posted by Servo5678 at 10:11 AM on May 6 [3 favorites]


Sirtis and Spiner's different body language were super competent.

A bit of a shame that Ro Laren didn't end up being a regular, Forbes has good action instincts.
posted by porpoise at 10:38 AM on May 6


I thought The Greatest Generation was in top form for this episode. FYI gauche, I believe they did cite this as the Scientology episode. I liked their joke about how maybe O'Brien wasn't posessed--he's just playing along because he sees his chance to get out of his dreadful marriage.

What I liked most though was their discussion of the ending. What we got was Miles saying "Glad that's over! Now back to normal". What we should have gotten was a scene of the O'Briens going to bed and Keiko can't get any sleep--will probably never sleep again--because she can never forget that Miles was going to shoot the baby.

I think the discussion of ghosts was badly written in. I'm sure I'd need more than two hands to count the number of times Picard has been body-snatched or has encountered omnipotent beings. That one mad scientist guy uploaded his mind into Data's body, and was thereby going to have eternal life. I think Picard is well prepared to believe whatever he needs to believe, and "ghosts" is a weird way to frame it.

I was pleased to see that taking over the ship from the bridge, as Data did in "Brothers", is no longer the quick and easy option that it was there.

The way Data smoked everyone in "Brothers" came to my mind too. If you're saying that they have improved their security, I'd say nah--they never seem to learn anything from their lousy security. I read this as being part of the limitations of the competence of the body snatchers. This was one of the things I really liked about the ep, because in the past it's often seemed like the body snatchers automatically know everything that their victims know. These guys seemed to struggle with it. Like the Troi one had to explain to the others that the rest of the crew would follow the captain, and the O'Brien one was struggling to understand how Miles was connected to Keiko and the baby. So evidently the Data one didn't quite have all of Data's super memory and super fast thinking.
posted by polecat at 2:29 PM on May 6 [5 favorites]


The thumbnail on the Prime page for this episode is hilariously unspecific--just this sheet of bright white light, probably when they were hit on the planet, so I could not figure out what this episode was until probably just before the entities took over their bodies. I was also seriously hung up on the fact that they beam down to this planet they know is roiling with harsh conditions, and no one is wearing anything protective, especially Troi because women always have to be presented for the male gaze: she shows up with literally nothing but her headband, shoes, and skin-tight jumpsuit, no weapon, not even a jacket or perhaps something to wear on her face/head for protection. It's just wild. No wonder her makeup was destroyed; her hair and makeup are so over the top already that all it would take is a light tropical breeze and she'd be a hot mess.

I enjoy this one a lot, though, because it's always so much fun to see them step into other roles, but I think I'm an outlier about the acting in it, because there are many times where I laughed out loud at the teeth-baring, growly attempts at being bad, especially Sirtis and Spiner. Even if he hadn't given away the game by going rogue on the bridge, Data's grimacing twitches would have been caught eventually, even by the monumentally unobservant Riker. They were much better here when they dialed it down to 8 or 9 instead of 11. Bless you, phooky, for putting my reseravations about Keiko bringing a squawling baby into Ten Forward so much more entertainlingly than I could have done.

Is this another planet where they put up a no-fly-zone-type warning to keep other Federation vessels from being taken over again? I didn't catch anything about it at the end, but possibly I missed it. It's either that or they have to make sure to injure every crewmember on an away team before landing.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:50 PM on May 6 [3 favorites]


As a DS9 fan I'm getting kind of peeved with all the "the O'Briens are insufferable/Miles is useless" stuff. Admittedly they became richer characters on DS9 and I haven't re-watched TNG for a few years, so maybe if I watched it now I'd see the characters differently.

But on DS9, and here too to some extent, their whole deal was that they were a real, flawed, basically 20th Century couple who'd somehow ended up in Roddenberry's shiny happy future. When everybody else on the show was getting along with zero conflict, the O'Briens were scrapping about dinner. When I hear people talk about how they hate the O'Brien couple scenes, I feel similar to the way I used to feel when the normies would gripe about how they couldn't stand Barclay being such a neurotic mess. These characters may annoy you, but they make some of us feel seen.

Being a couple can be hard work. Two people can be profoundly different but committed to making it work. You can spend your whole life with somebody, loving the hell out of them while you argue about jobs and kids and taking out the trash. That was O-Brien and Keiko. They had differences that some outsiders would say were irreconcilable, but they wanted this marriage, they loved each other and they stayed together even if they made each other crazy sometimes.

Also, O'Brien routinely saved the day on DS9. Maybe he hasn't found his calling as an engineer yet on TNG, but once he settles down this is a guy who gets shit done. I feel like a idea is settling in that he's this useless guy and he and Keiko are toxic, and I want to push back against that. These characters deserve better.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:32 PM on May 6 [7 favorites]


The minor things: the end seemed a little abrupt, with the bodyjackers being a little too willing to go back to their jail. And, speaking of which, just the concept of that jail is pretty disturbing, with the disembodied minds being stuck there seemingly forever.

Supposing the prisoners eschewed the whole bodyjacking/grand theft starship attempt, would the Federation recognize such imprisonment as legitimate? It's not clear that the Prime Directive applies to (apparently) extinct civilizations.

Federation archeology is stymied at every turn by like, the Kelvans, that thing from Beyond the Farthest Star, etc. being incredibly hostile and possessing anything or anyone handy given half the chance.
posted by StarkRoads at 5:56 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


That shuttle shrank, right? I mean, the shuttle model was always charmingly wee, but it looked like the crashed shuttle prop was even a few sizes smaller. Like it went from kei van to Power Wheels Barbie Dream Camper.
posted by rodlymight at 6:49 PM on May 6 [1 favorite]


Is this another planet where they put up a no-fly-zone-type warning to keep other Federation vessels from being taken over again? I didn't catch anything about it at the end, but possibly I missed it. It's either that or they have to make sure to injure every crewmember on an away team before landing.

That sounds like a great idea for a Lower Decks episode. (And, even though LD was played for laughs, the premise is solid--that, after the marquee starships have been through a sector, the Cerritos goes through and does the unsexy follow-up work.)

When I hear people talk about how they hate the O'Brien couple scenes, I feel similar to the way I used to feel when the normies would gripe about how they couldn't stand Barclay being such a neurotic mess. These characters may annoy you, but they make some of us feel seen.

Yuuuuup. And DS9 was much better about embracing those sort of flaws as being OK instead of making the person next to useless or worthy of mockery.

Supposing the prisoners eschewed the whole bodyjacking/grand theft starship attempt, would the Federation recognize such imprisonment as legitimate? It's not clear that the Prime Directive applies to (apparently) extinct civilizations.

The flipside of my comment above is that another disembodied bodyjacker in TOS was Redjac, aka Jack the Ripper. Absent some list of their crimes that their jailers had left on the planet, I'm not sure how the Federation would know what they did, and what they might do if they were released or even reincorporated. "Who, me? Oh, I, uh, cut the tag off a mattress, that's what I was in for. Any chance you could find me a body? Preferably someone like that Klingon over there, with a good bladed weapon collection. Got catching up to do!"
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:15 PM on May 6 [2 favorites]


after the marquee starships have been through a sector

My brain went "no, that's spelled wrong, it's 'marquis'.... oh, wait".

> When I hear people talk about how they hate the O'Brien couple scenes, I feel similar to the way I used to feel when the normies would gripe about how they couldn't stand Barclay being such a neurotic mess. These characters may annoy you, but they make some of us feel seen.

Yuuuuup. And DS9 was much better about embracing those sort of flaws as being OK instead of making the person next to useless or worthy of mockery.


I'm rewatching DS9 along with this TNG rewatch (almost exactly alongside, actually - just watched S5E11 "The Darkness and the Light"). The DS9 version of "the O'Briens as normal couple" is so much better written than the TNG version. I think the TNG-related complaints are valid, but that's an issue with the writing of the show, not the couple itself (prime example: go back and watch "The Wounded" and see married Miles and Keiko having no idea what the other eats for breakfast).
posted by hanov3r at 8:04 AM on May 7 [3 favorites]


My brain went "no, that's spelled wrong, it's 'marquis'.... oh, wait".

Mayquees?
posted by EarBucket at 9:24 AM on May 8 [1 favorite]


We haven't gotten to Maques yet.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:15 PM on May 8 [1 favorite]


I think finding the disembodied spirits of the Essex crew, and finding that they had turned evil over the last 200 years would have been a lot more interesting in dealing with prisoners who are evil because they're prisoners.

Michael Dorn's reaction to Data'a challenge is pretty good, very economical acting. He wordlessly dismisses Data's challenge by nodding to his phaser. Data offers to drop the phase, but Worf is nonplussed because he knows that even if won hand-to-hand, Troi and O'Brien still have phasers to subdue him. Data is frustrated, and Worf smiles, letting him know that he wont' be instigating anything, but is down for whatever.

Brent Spiner's evil prisoner acting is a lot like his possessed-by-Ira-Graves acting, which is pretty similar to his evil-brother acting. Sirtis is kinda over the top here, but I thought she did a good job seeming to be someone new and different.

500 years imprisonment in an endless storm, trapped as a formless point of light is pretty harsh punishment. So, they're just going to leave them to swirl for another few millennia? I guess they wouldn't want to interfere with some other culture's atrocity.
posted by skewed at 11:20 AM on May 10


That's two episodes in a row where I found myself asking, "Where's Guinan?"

Even though they had mostly been lying, I still got the impression that dying would be preferable to their disembodied existence, so that resolution seemed pretty forced.

Also, a synchronous polar orbit isn't ... a thing.
posted by ckape at 10:51 AM on May 14 [1 favorite]


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