In which negotiations are tense, Troi has a fling, and wormholes are finicky things.
I am on the other side of a move now. I live in a completely different place. You probably didn’t notice because I didn’t miss any updates, because I care about you people. Please keep that in mind if I ever stop being too lazy to put up a donate link. For now, though, on with the episode.
We are in orbit over a green planet, and Troi is checking her email. She got three letters from her mother and needs to deal with that using chocolate. This must be the first time she’s ever asked for a ‘real’ anything from the replicator, because she’s surprised when the computer doesn’t know what that means in context. She demands an un-enhanced foodstuff, and the computer refuses because she asked for a chocolate sundae that’s not specially tailored vitamin and nutrient concoction specially formulated to look, feel and taste almost like chocolate. This explains both why Riker thinks homecooked food is better despite failing to make scrambled eggs and why nobody on the Enterprise has a weight problem despite no shortage of food or restrictions on diet. The computer handles all that on the back end and carefully tailors your calorie and nutrient intake, probably based on what you’ve eaten in the last 48 hours. It’s a damn shame we need matter editation to actually implement that.
Before she can scream at the computer to override the settings, Picard calls her to Ten-Forward to meet some dignitaries and take a look at ‘the wormhole.’ We haven’t heard much about wormholes yet except for that one time the Enterprise refit accidentally created one while jumping to warp for no scientific or literary reason. She of the interesting lip jewelry seems to be selling it, and the Federation is interested in buying. Despite the fact that the Federation is competing with several other people, it appears the Enterprise has been permitted to host either a diplomatic reception or the actual negotiations. Also, Deanna Troi appears to be undressing one of the negotiators with her eyes. The best we can say is it’s probably consensual.
The wormhole opens regularly every 233 minutes because of reasons. And this wormhole is apparently the only stable wormhole known to exist. This could be incredibly valuable if it exits somewhere interesting, or basically useless if it exits into, say, the middle of territory held by a xenophobic militaristic alliance bent on domination or extermination and not particularly caring which. I like to imagine that if the Federation knew that was the case, they might buy it cheaply just to prevent other species from drawing negative attention to it, but of course that’s not really how things could possibly go.
So the people of Barzan II have a toxic atmosphere, which is why the Enterprise is hosting, and the Barzan don’t have any way to exploit the wormhole effectively, hence they’re selling it. Also, the Ferengi have shown up to bid uninvited and plunk down a sack of gold in a rather aggressive negotiation tactic – anyone else’s best offer plus some gold. Given that the writer of this very episode has taken into consideration that replicators are magic, I wonder when the Federation negotiator is going to offer as much worthless gold as the Barzan premier could possibly ever want?
Troi is facebook-stalking her new crush’s (Ral’s) personnel file when he shows up to mess with her hair. Either the Federation has no sales jocks or none of them have ever been interested in Troi because she’s completely unprepared for him. Imagine – a future without call centers. The Federation really is a utopia, no matter what you have to say about ubiquitous personal monitoring and space being controlled by a military organization.
The wormhole appears to have delivered a probe to the Gamma quadrant, over a hundred years away at Warp 9. Really useful, as far as stellar real estate goes. But there’s no solid information about how stable the wormhole actually is, so Picard and the Federation negotiator want to double-check it for safety. Meanwhile, the Ferengi are concocting some sort of nonlethal bioweapon to take out the other negotiators. We have so far gotten sympathetic Klingons, Romulans, and even a glimpse at Q being more than just a straight-up antagonist. The Ferengi are still being billed as too disorganized and selfish to be a major threat, but only barely, since they have access to technology that lets them slip near-fatal disease vectors past the Enterprise scanners.
The bioweapon seems to have worked, too, and the Ferengi also insist on sending their own probe. I think the only purpose of the Ferengi is to show how much more patient Federation humans are than us, because they’ve definitely earned themselves a good punching. The two shuttles line up for the wormhole as it opens, and the Ferengi let Geordi and Data go first. Foul play seems likely. Also, the wormhole appears to interfere with communications due to its energy fields.
Ral is taking a very specific tactic in the negotiations, and, without putting too fine a point on it, Troi can’t get a read on him because her ‘human physical responses’ are overpowering her empathic senses. This is actually setting off a few warning bells, because when she was involved with Riker the relationship actually made them clearer to each other, telepathically speaking. Either ‘just sex’ is bad for Betazoids (which doesn’t seem to be a problem for Troi’s mother) or Ral is up to something sinister. Well, it’s probably not sinister to not want your mind read in the middle of high-stakes negotiations, but you know what I mean. Well, as it turns out, he’s a quarter betazoid, and the mind powers scale fairly linearly. Apparently that’s just how genetics works in Star Trek.
While the two of them are having foot massages with scented oils, Geordi, Data, and the two Ferengi exit the wormhole, but they actually wound up 200 light-years away from their expected destination, in the Delta quadrant. That’s only 27 days at Warp 9, so if both readings are correct, this end of the wormhole has moved a fair distance that just happens to be right on the arbitrarily-defined border. Geordi is detecting some energy readings through his visor that confirm it doesn’t look like it’s expected to.
Okay, just because I can’t ignore it, Crusher and Troi are doing space-yoga in what absolutely looks like a corridor with a couple of mirrors set up in what can only be described as cupless leotards worn over spandex bodysuits. And Crusher opens the conversation with, basically, “wow, you look like you got pounded hard.” I’m not sure who thought this scene was necessary. It’s a cute moment but it’s kind of ruined by the circumlocution required for late-80s-early-90s broadcast television. Imagine this scene but written for Showtime or HBO. I’ll be in my bunk.
Ral is working on getting the other negotiators to drop out of the bidding war and basically take over their bid. Meanwhile, Geordi is trying and failing to convince the Ferengi that the wormhole is not as advertised. He throws out 70,000 light-years as their distance, which, at Warp 9, is 25 years. This is another one of those things I’m going to have to try to remember because of some foreknowledge. However, when they hang up, Geordi just takes the shuttle back home, just prior to the wormhole appearing and then moving directly away at superluminal speeds.
Now that Troi knows Ral is an empath, she has ethical concerns because he hides it. Good question. In a galaxy full of species with superhuman abilities, should someone disclose if they have nonhuman ancestry? If there’s a species without a sense of smell, should Picard have to disclose the advantage that he might have in a negotiation? Also and much more creepily, if Ral used undisclosed mental powers to get Troi into bed with him, even if those powers are informative rather than coercive, is that even remotely okay? Then again, Troi uses her powers tactically against people who aren’t on her crew. It makes for uncomfortable dinner conversation. Jump cut to Ral going head to head with Riker, and disclosing that he’s just going to make the deal before the expedition comes back, and tries to play the ‘I boinked your ex’ card to rile Riker up. It almost works.
The Ferengi make a move towards trying to destroy the wormhole, the Enterprise destroys it, and Ral swoops in while Riker is called to the bridge to talk terms with the premier. The Ferengi say they’re willing to destroy the shuttles as ‘casualties of war’ indicating that they think they’re at war with the Federation, but Troi calls him out as lying. It’s pretty clear that Ral probably either gave the Ferengi false information or bought his actions to knock out the Ferengi and the Federation. In fact, after he does a backroom deal with the Barzan Premier, Ral offers free access to the Ferengi. Troi outs him and his negotiating tactics, but before we get to see the fallout of what would have come out, Geordi and Data come back to tell all negotiators what’s up. Ral is getting called back to face the consequences of spending a huge sum on a nearly worthless acquisition, and we fade out to slow, sad music because Troi had a bad break-up.