Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Price"

**1/2

Air date: 11/13/1989
Written by Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Robert Scheerer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise hosts the negotiations for acquiring the custody rights of the only stable wormhole known to exist (prior to the discovery of the Bajoran wormhole in DS9, of course), discovered by the Barzan, whose representative (Elizabeth Hoffman) wants to sell it to whomever offers them the best benefits. The Federation sends their negotiator (Castulo Guerra) to the table while Geordi and Data venture into the wormhole to run tests and confirm its value.

Also at the negotiation table are the Ferengi (always annoying), and the Chrysalians, who are represented by Devinoni Ral (Matt McCoy), whose reputation as a brilliant negotiator precedes him. Ral and Troi fall in love at first sight, in swift romantic scenes that are earnest but less than believable (to say this relationship moves fast would be understatement of the year). Their connection might be explained by the fact that he is one-quarter Betazoid and has empathic abilities similar to hers, which might explain some of his success as a negotiator.

"The Price" is a passable episode because it strikes a workable balance between the Ral/Troi romance and the negotiations, and even ties the two together thematically. There's a good dinner-table dialog scene where Troi calls Ral out for unethically hiding the fact that he's a Betazoid, and Ral counter-challenges by calling Troi's own conduct into question. Meanwhile, Riker finds himself pushed into the negotiations when the Federation's negotiator is poisoned; an ensuing scene between him and Ral discusses the matter of Troi and ends in a way that sheds light on the way both Riker and Ral think.

Unfortunately, the presence of the Ferengi threaten to turn the whole thing into a farce. The Ferengi are too obnoxious to be entertaining, and too rude to be taken seriously as negotiators. That Picard allows them in the game at all is a testament to his acceptance of inappropriate behavior. When two of the Ferengi get stranded on the wrong side of the wormhole (which turns out not to be stable and thus, ironically, worthless), we're glad because that means there's two less Ferengi we have to see in the episode. Bringing such broad caricatures into an otherwise workable story is nothing short of sabotage.

Previous episode: The Enemy
Next episode: The Vengeance Factor

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10 comments on this review

Dimitris - Sat, Dec 8, 2007 - 11:21am (USA Central)
A comment on the episode "The Price". The adventures of the two Ferengi who get stranded on the wrong side of the wormhole continue in Voyager's 3rd season episode "False Profits"!!

Jammer, are you still "glad because that means there's two less Ferengi we have to see in the episode", when you think there are now 2 Ferengi in the previously Ferengi-free Delta Quadrant?

:)
Matt - Fri, Jul 16, 2010 - 12:16pm (USA Central)
While not as great as "Lessons" or "Rejoined," "The Price" is better than I thought it would be.
As you pointed out, the argument between Troi & Ral was memorable because he actually calls her own professional behavior into question.
Can you imagine Voyager doing this with any of its characters? Having them experience humility? HELL NO, because that would undermine our perfect, plastic heroes on that show and we couldn't have that happen.
Kefka - Tue, Jul 10, 2012 - 6:29pm (USA Central)
This is one of the worst episode of the season, terrible corny "romantic" music and ever worse dialog.
William B - Mon, May 6, 2013 - 5:33am (USA Central)
There is a good episode in “The Price,” buried deep down somewhere, and that is the episode about the type of person Troi could be, and perhaps even is sometimes, but mostly chooses not to be. Her job is to keep watch over the crew’s emotional well-being and take care of them, and her own emotional needs get put on hold as a result. Being a literal empath whose job it is to take care of other people emotionally probably means that at some point her feelings and needs become buried; in “The Bonding” Troi talked about the benefits of her work primarily in terms of the thrill and elation of bringing another person to a state of joy, and it’s undoubtedly the case that she feels this, but that’s still only second-hand joy, and the far more usual thing we see her experience is the second-hand pain that occupies her (most infamously in “Encounter at Farpoint,” but hey) nearly every week. Ral is attractive to Troi because he is what she could be if she dismissed her ethics, turned off her visceral response to other people emotionally and used her empathy in order to use other people as tools to get what she wants, having their problems become her gain instead of her problems. The one thing that works particularly well about the seduction scenes are Ral’s emphasis on Troi needing someone to care about her for her.

The two scenes Jammer singles out—Ral’s chat with Troi about empath ethics and his scene with Riker about negotiations ending with the talk of Troi—are the two things that make this episode worth watching, shedding light on what makes Troi and Riker tick by providing a contrast with Ral. Ral is not only what Troi could be if she let herself, but also what Riker could be—Riker, poker player extraordinaire is also willing to gamble and bluff with other people’s expectations, and his flirting (which we get to see at greater length in the following episode) has huge swaths of emotional manipulation attached to it. However, despite Riker’s womanizing, usually avoids viewing women as prizes and actually cares about Deanna personally; and (as he points out to Ral) actually has values and, while he can be a shark, stops far short of lying or deceit. (Interestingly, the fact that Ral has traits in common with both Troi and Riker, and those traits are being used to develop those two, might hint at things that the two have in common—something to do with emotional intelligence maybe—that make them a compatible potential couple as well as what broke them up; but despite Riker/Troi still being the elephant in the room that not-relationship doesn’t get much development.)

Even better is the ethics question in Troi and Ral’s conversation. While it’s true that empathy gives Ral an especially unfair advantage when he hides it (and Troi, as Ral points out), I don’t think that Ral’s entirely wrong that their psychic powers are just another manifestation at what all negotiators (or people who deal with people) do, which is to read people’s signals. Most of the time, Troi doesn’t actually supply information that couldn’t be gleaned by an acute observer. While this is sometimes pointed out as a flaw in Troi’s characterization (and it sometimes is), I usually don’t mind it because Betazoid empathy and emotional openness is as much a reflection of real-world human concerns as Klingons’ traditionalism, Vulcan’s logic or Cardassians’ arrogance. The question here is when it is ethical to manipulate people for your own gain, and this is something that comes up in both business and personal relationships, especially romance (especially seduction, for that matter) all the time, and it’s good to have Ral point out that despite Troi being generally better intentioned she does it too. It’s an issue I wonder about all the time—where exactly it is that “people skills” becomes outright manipulation, even if the manipulation is, as Troi’s attempts to counsel people are, for the people’s own good and entered into largely willingly. That Ral may have ambiguously used his Betazoid powers to entrance Troi is a creepy suggestion the episode doesn’t follow through all the way (to its discredit, I think) but it suggests the extent to which all relationships can potentially be emotional power plays. It’s nice that Ral brings up that Troi does this type of thing, but the episode doesn’t really carry over into changing Troi’s behaviour.

I guess ultimately the difference between Troi and Ral is the same as the one between Riker and Ral. She may use her Betazoid gifts, but it is in service of The Truth rather than strict personal gain, hence why she blows up Ral’s plot at the end. Ral doesn't just manipulate, he also lies outright, and frankly a little transparently. Of course, as nice as this is as an episode finale, Ral’s not wrong that Troi has a conflict of interest, and that while exposing the secret Ral gave her in confidence For The Truth, exposing it because he’s just cheated the Federation specifically and she’s pissed that he called her a hypocrite is a lot less so. I think Troi did the right thing ultimately and it is nice that she gave Ral a chance to come forward before exposing him herself (“Do you have anything to say?”), but the ending is a tad limp because rather than having Troi have to make a difficult moral decision Troi only really “has to” decide between her feelings for Ral which Ral himself has seemingly partly manipulated into being and a combination of her loyalty to the Federation, annoyance at Ral and duty to the truth. It’s not that hard a decision really and the fact that that is all the episode really builds towards makes it not all that fantastic a closer. I did like the last notes before Troi and Ral went their separate ways -- Ral's standing by his loss as he said he would shows that he does have a certain integrity, if a self-involved one, and Troi recognizing immediately that running away with Ral would basically mean she'd have to play counsellor to him only is right on point.

This means the episode’s good points aren’t quite good enough, and the bad things in the episode are quite bad. I guffawed most of the way through the Ral/Troi “falling in love” or whatever it was; my favourite moment was when Ral messed up Troi’s hair and this was meant to be romantic or something. Ral/Troi chemistry is frankly never there, and pretty much every Ral/Troi scene before the ethics dinner conversation is painful to sit through. The goofiness of the Ferengi knocks the episode down another notch. Still, there is enough interesting here for me for the episode to hold onto the 2.5 star rating Jammer gives it, albeit just by a hair (probably a romantically messed up one).
Doug Mataconis - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 2:57pm (USA Central)
This episode's final scene is almost ruined by a massive continuity error. Troi says that she didn't sense any hostility from the Ferengi Daimon. Well, given everything TNG had established about the Ferengi, we "knew" that Betazeds, even full telepaths like Lawaxana, were unable to sense anything from Ferengi.

A nitpick, perhaps, but a sign of weak writing in what was supposed to be the episodes climactic scene.
William B - Thu, Jul 4, 2013 - 9:54pm (USA Central)
I am pretty sure that Betazoids' inability to read Ferengi wasn't established until "Menage a Troi," which comes after this episode -- so that episode is to blame (as it is for many things).
Reverend Spork - Thu, Aug 22, 2013 - 7:42pm (USA Central)
Mathematical formula: TNG episode + ferengi = zero. Only DS9 was successful in writing an episode with Ferengi in it. Troi romances are problematic, but the B-story is serviceable. Two stars in my opinion.
Rikko - Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - 11:16am (USA Central)
You know, I have this rule of thumb that if I don't recall much of an episode after a while it means the episode was bad.

And I don't remember much about this...

The "romance" of Troi and the disposable guy of the week must have been laughable, but I do remember he was like a selfish version of her.

I agree with William B when he says Troi didn't have to make a hard choice in the end. Since most of the TNG characters hold such pure values, going the moral way is a given. What we see it's a faux hard choice.

What's always more intestesting to see is morally grey stuff like what Worf did just one episode prior.
Rikko - Wed, Jan 22, 2014 - 11:23am (USA Central)
@ Reverend Spork (clever name, hah! I read it Spok the first time): I forgot to add this, you're totally right!

I have yet to see a good Ferengi episode in TNG. Worst permanent new race ever. It's a shame they never simply stopped doing episodes about them, just like they did with the many races and aliens of the week from the first season.
Gooz - Sun, Feb 2, 2014 - 11:05am (USA Central)
@WilliamB, great review. Regarding your response to Doug M, that the Ferengi's minds were closed was alluded to in "The Last Outpost"

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