Written by Rene Balcer, Herbert Wright, Brannon Braga, Paul Ruben, and Maurice Hurley
Directed by David Livingston
The Enterprise stumbles upon the solution to a 200-year-old mystery when they encounter an emergency transponder signal from the U.S.S. Essex, a vessel that disappeared in the area of space they are currently exploring. The planet the signal is coming from generates tremendous electrical interference, and Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is at first not about to explore the planet for details into what happened to that ship.
However, Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) who is half-Betazoid and empathic, senses that there is someone alive on the planet. She, along with Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and the android Data (Brent Spiner) shuttle down to the surface since the electromagnetic interference won’t allow the transporters to work. The shuttle crashes on the planet’s surface.
Although there are no life-sign readings, Deanna still senses someone alive and says they are coming in the electromagnetic storm that is approaching. Miles O’Brien beams down with a pattern enhancer and engineers a way for all of them to be beamed back to the Enterprise. However, right before they can trigger the pattern enhancer, an electromagnetic shock strikes the four of them, rendering them unconscious. Some sort of glowing entity seems to enter Data, O’Brien, and Troi, but backs off of Riker.
When the four of them are back on the Enterprise, Riker goes on about his merry way. Troi, O’Brien, and Data try to take over the bridge and have the Enterprise shift its orbiting pattern to the southern polar region of the planet. When they are foiled in this attempt, the trio falls back to the 10-Forward Lounge, where they take hostages.
Like Conundrum, the episode prior to this one, Power Play is a terrific watch until the very end, when it disappoints. Once again characters viewers have known for years and are invested in are acting in a very untypical manner. It’s distressing for their fellow crew as well as fans for this change is one that, unlike Conundrum, is more violent.
There is good acting here by the three lead characters. Of particular note is Colm Meaney’s O’Brien, as his wife, Keiko (Rosalind Chao) and infant daughter had been waiting for him in 10-Forward. The somewhat violent change in O’Brien’s personality is almost immediately picked up on by Keiko, and she knows that’s not the man she loves inside that body. Watching the interaction between the two, I had to wonder what lasting effects this would have on their relationship. Sure, it was easy at the end to show them all nice and loving, but the residual emotional effects would have been hard, possibly made even harder by the fact that the Ship’s Counselor seemed to be the leader. To whom could Keiko go to talk about her feelings when Troi was too close to the situation?
Spiner also creates another villainous character. He’s stretched so much before, creating the character of his “brother” Lore, as well as portraying their creator, Dr. Noonien Soong, that it’s hard to imagine Spiner managing to pull out another distinctly different personality for Data. Yet, Data possessed by this spirit is distinctly different from Lore. Where Lore was cunning, this one is vicious and prone to fits of violent outbursts. The possibility of a spirit being able to inhabit an android body was explored in the episode The Schizoid Man, another place where Spiner managed to adapt Data to another actor’s personality. How he never got nominated for an acting award during the seven-year run of this series is beyond me.
This is an episode that begs for a follow-up, at least in one of the Star Trek novels.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
The ending I found was quite disappointing, much the same as Conundrum was. After Troi leads her cohorts – along with three hostages which now includes Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) – to the cargo bay, she reveals that the planet the Enterprise stumbled on was actually a sort of spirit penal colony. What they want with the Enterprise is a way off. However, when the three hostages immediately state that they would rather open the cargo bay doors and die than give over control of the ship to them. The three “spirits” react with a sort of an “oops – you got me – okay, I give up!” They just abandon the bodies they have been inhabiting and slink on back to where they came from.
I expected a bit more of a scenario where they were outwitted by the Captain and crew, so the abrupt ending was rather disconcerting after all of the build-ups.
END MAJOR SPOILER ALERT
While I don’t have hesitation recommending this as I did with Conundrum, I was still disappointed with the ending enough to lower my rating of it. Had the ending been a bit more intriguing, this would have easily been a four-star episode.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Conundrum
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Ethics
For evil/criminal spirits it does seem that they gave up too easily. Why Riker was rejected was never clear – it would seem he would have been a much more logical choice to effectively take over the ship…