Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Price"


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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17 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"
grumpy_otter - Mon, Aug 18, 2014 - 10:20am (USA Central)
Matt McCoy is one of those utterly-dependable character actors who has been working steadily for more than 3 decades, and I think he delivers in this episode. He is so obnoxiously confident and smooth i want to slap him, and yet it works. I liked his pairing with Deanna and didn't think that he was completely morally bankrupt.

I disagree that Riker's reaction shows an aspect of his personality--I think he was lying to simply one-up Ral. In reality, he doesn't want Deanna to be with anyone else--he wants her to wait around for him until he is ready to retire. His duplicity in this, and many other episodes relating to Deanna, really irritates me.

I also disagree about the Ferengi--I like them in this episode, and the beginning bit about "Then who gets the chairs?" always makes me laugh.
Dusty - Sat, Dec 27, 2014 - 11:51am (USA Central)
I have problems with this one, and the biggest is Devinoni Ral. He's a smug, smooth-talking, manipulative lump. That would be fine if he was a straight villain, but it's clear that I am meant to like him or at least identify with him on some level as a viewer, and I don't.

The romance is another problem because it comes out of nowhere and progresses at warp speed (pun intended). It's barely plausible, and not because it's "love at first sight." (I don't get what Troi would possibly see in the guy before that one scene where he lets down his defenses, and by then they're already intimate.)

Throwing a character like Ral AND the Ferengi into one story is asking a lot of the audience's patience, especially when the storytelling isn't inspired enough to make up for them. Both parties do get what they deserve in the end and I think that salvages things to some degree, but I don't see myself going back to this one often. Two stars at the most.
CPUFP - Thu, Jan 15, 2015 - 8:22am (USA Central)
I thought that this episode was mostly quite good. The wormhole negotiation story gives an interesting insight on the trade relations between the Federation and other powers. The negotiation scenes were done well and we get some clever dialogue between Riker and Devinoni Ral. Matt McCoy looks and acts sufficiantly sly to be convincing as Ral, even though I was thrown off by his accent, which sounded as if someone had told him: "Do an imitation of a stereotypical US American!". It's also nice for once to see the Ferengi as intentionally funny and not just as morons.

The Troi / Ral romance was a good idea, since it shows us that she could connect in a different way to someone with the same empathic abilities as her. His roasting of Troy's hypocrisy regarding the use of her abilities was also were welcome to me. However, the romance moves on way too fast, the way it is depicted looks like a bad soft-porn movie, and there is no chemistry between Sirtis and McCoy. If they would not have shown everything so explicitly, the episode might have worked better.
Luke - Thu, May 28, 2015 - 1:50pm (USA Central)
So, after a really good offering with "The Enemy," they follow it up with this turd.

What precisely did Ral do that so unethical? He was hired by the Chrysalians to represent their interests and.... he represented their interests. What's the problem here? Oh, he uses his empathic abilities to gain an edge. So what?! Like he says to Troi, negotiation is all about gaining an edge. Oh, he conspired with the Ferengi to manipulate the negotiations. Again, so what?! I'll grant that that really toes the line, but I don't think he crosses any ethical boundaries. After all, the Federation and Ferengi are antagonistic and that's what the Barzans are worried about. He just put on a little demonstration for them. I know an episode is bad when it goes out of its way to paint someone as the villain only for me to end up agreeing with him over the "heroes."

If they really wanted to make Ral look bad, maybe they should have focused on the fact that comes off as a creepy-ass stalker in his early scenes with Troi. But, no, we'll ignore that. Speaking of which, what is Troi's reaction to his creepiness? To jump right into bed with him. Way to damage her character in the process of ignoring your own bad writing there guys!

But you know what is really the saddest thing about this episode? The fact that the Ferengi - THE FERENGI - in only their fourth appearance on Trek are the most enjoyable part. That's not to say that the Ferengi are used well (because they still suck with their unfunny "comedy" and wild gestures), but at least they're not as bad as the dreck around them.

The only thing this episode has going for it is the wonderful bit of world-building it presents in the whole Alpha-Beta-Gamma-Delta Quadrant division of the galaxy.

Worst episode of the season thus far!

Diamond Dave - Wed, Sep 2, 2015 - 2:44pm (USA Central)
Well, on the good side this introduces the concept of the wormhole that basically the entirety of DS9 is based off, and the Delta Quadrant for Voyager. And there are a couple of good scenes - notably Riker smiling off Ral's attempt to needle him.

But overall this is a shocker. Ral's seduction of Troi is profoundly creepy, and the dialogue clunky and unintentionally comedic. The bizarre girl talk aerobics session comes out of nowhere. And the Ferengi neither amuse nor entertain. 1.5 stars.
IIII - Tue, Oct 6, 2015 - 1:35am (USA Central)
The episode is so, so. But Troi was a hypocrite, she uses her abilities to give the crew an edge and Ral flat out called her on it. Her only excuse is that Troi believes she's on the side of the good guys. When Troi lost her ability for a short time in one episode, she was useless and she knew it...
Kiamau - Sat, Oct 10, 2015 - 7:02am (USA Central)
Again, Dr. Crusher's ever-changing hair...

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