Written by Brannon Braga, Susan Sackett, and Fred Bronson
Directed by Corey Allen
This episode brings Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton) back aboard the Enterprise for a visit while on vacation from Starfleet Academy. Unfortunately, the pattern of the writers of Star Trek: The Next Generation has not changed, and they cannot resist the temptation to have him save the ship once again.
The Enterprise is on a particularly tight schedule for the next few weeks as Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) returns from shore leave on Risa with a new “game”. It is a highly addictive game that he soon introduces to the entire crew. About fifteen minutes into the episode, it becomes apparent that there is more to this game than meets the eye as Riker, Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Dr. Crusher(Gates McFadden) disable the android Data (Brent Spiner).
Wesley, meanwhile, has taken an interest in a young Mission Specialist, Robin Lefler (portrayed by Ashley Judd – yes, that Ashley Judd). Of course, the two of them are the only two who do not become addicted to the game. I can’t really believe that two teenagers (or early twenties) wouldn’t become addicted to a video game, but whatever.
The writers also missed a chance for a good bit of continuity when Wesley asks Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) about the initials A.F. which he was once caught carving into an elm tree on Starfleet Academy grounds. This does not refer to Jenice in the first-season episode We’ll Always Have Paris whom Picard once thought of leaving Starfleet for. Nor do the writers pick up on this line for the sixth-season episode Tapestry, which also explores Picard’s years in the academy.
Once Robin succumbs to the game’s influence, all that is left is Wesley to save the day – which he does, of course. This is unfortunately the problem with this episode and so many others in which Wesley is featured – the writers seem to want to force fans to accept him as something beyond a whiny teenager and end up with a character that is a turn-off because he is almost always portrayed as being smarter than the adults around him. This episode is a magnification of what is wrong with just about every Wesley episode, only here it is so blatant that it is impossible to ignore or dismiss.
It’s a shame too, because the premise is not a bad one. There are many of us who can identify with having video games (or websites, for some) take over our lives in an obsessive manner. Would it be possible for an alien race to use this as a way of entering our psyche and exerting their influence? It is an interesting premise that, if it had been explored properly, could have turned out at least a four-star episode. It would have been interesting to see how the game affected the Klingon Worf (Michael Dorn) since it’s hook is stimulating the pleasure sensors of the brain to induce continued play.
However, as it stands it’s just not that good of an episode. It’s unbelievable that the Captain of the ship would be so easily seduced by the game, but not the teenager on board. Fans of the series will cringe through most of the episode, and non-fans will just be confused by the whole thing.