TNG: S1E09: “The Battle”

In which headaches are rare enough to be worrying, Picard meets an old friend, and the visual effects are wrong, damn it!

Plus, the Ferengi ship looks like it could actually land.

Plus, the Ferengi ship looks like it could actually land.

Despite their rather antagonistic behavior of stealing a piece from a communications outpost earlier in the season, the Enterprise is peacefully cruising alongside a Ferengi ship. These ships are pretty big, and it kind of makes me wonder what the crew functionality is. Ferengi are kind of a caricature of Objectivists and I have a fun time imagining what the internal politics on a ship whose size rivals a Galaxy-class look like. The Enterprise has been waiting on the Ferengi ship for three days, because Starfleet told them to. Picard has Crusher in his quarters and complaining about a headache. Headaches are not common in the Federation, apparently, and Crusher can’t find any physiological symptoms. Picard is fairly stressed by the Ferengi presence, and convinced it’s a trap.

Daimon Bok of the Ferengi is finally ready to talk, and recognizes Picard by name. Bok demands to meet in person, and Troi senses danger and deception. While it’s not a real stretch given his shifty body language, it’s good to have confirmation. Worf is not pleased, and it’s really tragic that Bok’s statement that a new era of cooperation between the Federation and the Ferengi can begin.

In sick Bay, Crusher goes off on a tirade about how humans have charted the brain, understand how pain works, and have all but cured the common headache and cold, and is really miffed she can’t figure out Picards. Wesley somehow senses the approach of an old-style  Constellation-class ship before anyone else because he was screwing around with the long-range sensors, because he’s a magic child. Picard is still being screwed over by his headache, but prepared to receive the Ferengi aboard the bridge. Riker navigates some cultural difficulties and it turns out that the Ferengi control the Federation ship, but are presenting it as a gift to “The Hero of Maxia.”

Nothing funny to say. I just really like how it looks like Picard tastes butthole whenever he's talking to Ferengi.

Nothing funny to say. I just really like how it looks like Picard tastes butthole whenever he’s talking to Ferengi.

It turns out that Picard himself is the Hero of Maxia. In the Maxia Zeta star system, Picard destroyed a Ferengi ship that had attacked unprovoked. Kind of odd that the Ferengi would refer to Picard as a ‘hero,’ for the incident, but as the conversation continues on it does seem they’re kind of bitter. If one were being charitable, one could assume that after their sound embarassment in “The Last Outpost” they see that the Federation isn’t going to be so easy to knock over and pillage and are trying to set up favorable negotiations, but I think we all know that if it were that simple, they wouldn’t have made an episode about it.

Picard gets another stabbing pain as the Stargazer, his old ship, moves closer. Apparently, it was adrift in space, which raises some really interesting questions. Mostly, ‘how the hell did Starfleet lose track of a ship? Bok’s officers seem really confused that Bok isn’t selling it, though. Seems that whatever the hierarchy aboard a Ferengi ship is, it doesn’t include briefing his diplomatic attaches.

The Stargazer's primary hull looks about the size of a Constitution saucer, but with four nacelles attached and no engineering hull like on any of the Enterprise-designated classes.

The Stargazer’s primary hull looks about the size of a Constitution saucer, but with four nacelles attached and no engineering hull like on any of the Enterprise-designated classes.

A moment on starship design. The Saucer, Struts, and Nacelles design is pretty common and gives the Federation a visual signature across the whole fleet while allowing for variable configuration. Most of the ships we see (including shuttles) have two nacelles, but the Constellation has four and no engineering hull or deflector dish. That seems pretty odd, since the Deflector Dish has the fairly important purpose of.. .well… deflecting microdebris that may be going arbitrarily fast relative to the ship.

Anyway, Picard is now in sick bay and kind of hallucinating about being on the Stargazer, and Troi chimes in that she can sense feelings that seem ‘mechanical.’ I will not say this is stupid because, well, have you ever tried to describe a smell you couldn’t quite place? You end up using all sorts of weird descriptors that more or less get the point across. With Picard more or less stabilized he goes up the the bridge to brief the senior staff on the last mission of the Stargazer, with Crusher not letting him out of her sight. He gets caught up in the retelling and explains the Picard maneuver: going to high warp for microseconds so that their ship appeared to double on the Ferengi sensors. And now, some very brief math. In order for that to work for even a second, the engagement distance between the two ships would have had to be about 300,000 kilometers, orabout 23.5 times the diamater of Earth. Slightly under the distance from the Earth to Luna, in fact. This isn’t a particularly stunning distance in Star Trek’s universe, but usually we see ships engaging from a lot closer.

The Stargazer is in a fairly sorry state when Yar and Data go aboard to check it out. It’s kind of surprising that they’d send the chief of security over rather than a squad of marines, though. There seems to be a tendancy toward this type of thing – sending senior staff into danger. Then again, if the Captain wants to go aboard, you should send your best and brightest to clear the way of potential traps.

Who would invent this technology, though?

Who would invent this technology, though?

Picard spends some time on a trip down memory lane in his old cabin, when a little plastic ball starts glowing and screeching and he doubles over in agony. Bok appears to be playing with a device on the other end and being sullen and bitter about the ‘Hero of Maxia’ appellation that Picard didn’t even use for himself. He’s adjusting some sort of transmitter, and it’s definitely having an effect on Picard.

There are some administrative duties to take care of, and Data reports that a tugboat is on its way to rendezvous with the Enterprise to take the Stargazer back to Xendi Starbase 9. Could this be a mispronounciation of Xindi, and provide us with some evidence that the events of the Enterprise series aren’t entirely orphaned? Nah, probably not, but I’m going to roll with it anyway. What can I say, I’m a Star Trek apologist. In going through the logs, Data discovers that the Stargazer records indicate that the Ferengi ship approached under a flag of truce before Picard set upon it without mercy and blew it to slag. Yeah, that sounds like something Picard would do, but it’s logged in Picard’s voice. Riker obviously assumes it’s a fake, but the Enterprise is a day away from Starfleet by subspace so they have two days to figure out doubleyou tea eff.

Riker calls up the Ferengi first officer to ask a question. First officer Kazago is, and I quote, all ears. It’s a great line delivered perfectly. But Riker has a very good question: why, if the records were genuine and Bok knew about them, were the Ferengi just giving the ship away? Of course, we know that Bok is screwing with Picard’s brain, or else his confession to Crusher that he thinks he might be going crazy (or have been crazy on the Stargazer at the Battle of Maxia) would have more impact. We could have made this episode a psychological thriller with probably not a lot of changes thus far, and I consider this a wasted episode. A show doesn’t always have chances like this: we’re ready to believe the best of Picard because we know Kirk’s record and therefore Starfleet’s record. Picard has a decent track record so far, but it’s still the first season, and if we were shown some crippling flaw about his past it could really set the tone for his character. But since we know Bok is just using some sort of mind control device, the impact is lost.

I see dead people again.

I see dead people again.

Anyway, Picard tries to get some sleep but Bok jacks up the controls and soon Picard is dreaming of sitting on the bridge of his old ship, surrounded by hallucinations of his old crew and reliving the battle in his mind. He’s also lit by real firelights, which is funky and cool.

Data, doing some forensic analysis, examines the pixels and determines that the Stargazer logs were ‘shopped. He actually throws out some real CoSci jargon like checksums. Pretty cool.

Next morning, Picard orders Riker to release the tractor beam, because inertia will keep it going. The Enterprise shouldn’t be low on energy, but then again, inertia will do the trick. Wesley walks in on Crusher and Troi discussing Picard’s brain scans and points out that his experiments on the sensors discovered those same patterns coming from the Ferengi ship. They bring this to Riker just as Picard leaves the Enterprise. Now Picard is actually aboard the Stargazer, which is functioning again, and is met by Bok, who gloats like a Bond villain.

Turns out Bok’s son was in command of the Ferengi ship Picard blew up, so he spent a decade buying the mind control device and refitting the Stargazer to respond to Picard’s voice commands, so that Picard can relive the battle of Maxia against the Enterprise. Riker is slowly working on the Ferengi first officer Kizago but Picard is under full control of the thought-making sphere and reliving the battle. Riker knows what’s coming and asks what the defense against the Picard Maneuver is, which should be a really simple process: if you see a ship suddenly come into existence off your bow, make sure your shields are up, or go into warp yourself for a moment.

Think for a moment: the Enterprise is capable of detecting things coming towards them at warp from long range, so they must have sensors that operate via subspace. Those might not have a very high resolution, but you should be able to key the ship to detect a warp signature via those subspace sensors and trigger any action you want to queue up. However, instead Data comes up with the idea of checking for gaseous compression in the interstellar medium, and at that point they can use their tractor beam and hold it like a tall guy pushing away a flailing child by the forehead.

Problems with the way this effect is portrayed: we see the warp burst of the Stargazer at its old location, a flurry of lines heading toward the new image, and the new image appearing. What we should see instead is the new ship just blinking into existence, followed by a flurry of lines tracing backwards as the reflected and running lights from the ship at progressively farther points from the Enterprise reach the outer cameras. Finally, we should see the warp burst from the distant image flare and the ship vanish. Which would have been so much cooler!

I mean, okay, I recognize that this sequence makes more intuitive sense, but that’s the point. The Picard maneuver is supposed to be confusing. It’s supposed to confuse trained tactical officers and targeting computers. If you saw that, you would think “oh, yeah, the ship just moved closer to me, better target it and fire.”

Grr. This is a really good skeleton of an episode, but not quite well executed. Riker manages to keep Picard’s attention long enough to get him to destroy the mind-control device and edn the crisis, and Bok has been incarcerated by his first officer for an act of unprofitable vengeance.