Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Power Play"


Air date: 2/24/1992
Teleplay by Rene Balcer and Herbert J. Wright and Brannon Braga
Story by Paul Ruben and Maurice Hurley
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise crew receives a distress call near the site of the loss of the USS Essex, which went missing two centuries before. Surely the crew is long dead, but Riker and a team take a shuttle down to the moon's surface to investigate whether there may be any life. When they find themselves stranded with an approaching energy storm, O'Brien does some fancy transporter work to rescue them, but not before some mysterious energy enters the away team's bodies.

Data, Troi, O'Brien, and Riker return to the ship, but it quickly becomes clear that their bodies have been taken control by hostile entities — except for Riker, who for some reason has not been possessed. The other three go to Ten Forward and take hostages, ordering Picard to take the ship closer to ... oh, who am I kidding? I don't care about the details of their demands, and I've already forgotten what they were.

"Power Play" is a watchable and competent but by-the-numbers hostage situation as filtered through various sci-fi/fantasy conceits. It's also an example of the tried-and-true Trekkian standby that allows the regular characters to act outside their normal personalities because of those sci-fi/fantasy conceits. Troi is the leader of the hostage-takers. (Insert Troi-bashing joke here, such as, gee, she makes a more credible leader here while possessed by an alien influence than she did as herself in "Disaster.")

There's an alleged notion here that the body-possessors are actually the souls of the Essex crew, trapped in some sort of purgatory. Picard & Co. mostly scoff at that notion, but the story seems to want to play out that string anyway. (The body possessors actually turn out to be disembodied prisoners in a disembodied-alien penal colony.) But mostly, the episode is content to simply deal with this as a straightforward hostage situation, documenting the crew's progress and setbacks in their attempts to negotiate with and/or thwart the hostage-takers. Your mileage may vary, but for me it was hard to be either excited or much disappointed by something that mostly achieved what little it set out to do.

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27 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 6:22am (USA Central)
Aw, I'm disappointed. When you posted the previous batch of reviews, you stopped right before this one, which is one of my favorite episodes of TNG. But then after the waiting, you didn't like it all that much.

I think, if you can suspend your disbelief successfully ( broken arm stops possession, but not being an android?), that this is one of the most "edge-of-your-seat" episodes. On first viewing, I really didn't know what was going to happen or how it was to be resolved.

On repeat viewings, I enjoy the different personas--especially O'Brien. His interaction with Keiko while he is possessed, and her reaction, is very well done.

And stop being mean to Deanna! Have you forgotten all the great things she has done? There was that time. . . hang on. Okay, never mind the great things she has done--she's just nice. :-)
angel - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 11:48am (USA Central)
grumpy_otter, don't bother changing Jammer's mind about Troi. He just hates her for no damn reason, even though she's no more 'useless' than Dax (Terry Farrell obviously thought so)
Nic - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 5:34pm (USA Central)
I agree with J. This episode was good but not great. I liked some of the character interaction. But the "mystery" of finding out who or what was posessing them had un unsatisfying resolution.

An interesting trivia is that Marina Sirtis did her own stunt on the moon sequence, and then they ended up cutting the close-ups. She jokes that "it could have been Worf in Troi's uniform and nobody would've noticed" :P
startrekwatcher - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 7:43pm (USA Central)
Once again I disagree. It is a solid 3 star episode--another fun and entertaining episode. And yet another example of why I love TNG's Brannon Braga. His high concept shows are so great.

This body possession story was done back before they were over used in sci-fi and even Trek. It was probably Trek's best body snatcher show outshining DS9's Keiko pagh'wraith episode, VOY's "Warlord" and ENT's "The Crossing.

Loved the atmosphere. They did a good job with the planet set. The action sequences of the trio to Ten Forward were thrilling. Troi got a chance to shine. Brent was downright terrifying. Liked the misdirection with the episode suggesting they were the ghosts of the Essex then liked the idea of them being disembodied prisoners.
bigpale - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 11:40pm (USA Central)
To me, the Essex-purgatory would have been a killer idea. Instead the story feels bland, like the writers were unable or unwilling to take it to another level. Oh well, it's not a horrible hour, just an uninspiring one.
Paul - Thu, May 12, 2011 - 11:04pm (USA Central)
@angel"grumpy_otter, don't bother changing Jammer's mind about Troi. He just hates her for no damn reason, even though she's no more 'useless' than Dax (Terry Farrell obviously thought so)"

I respectfully disagree. Although I think that Dax is definitely one of DS9's weaker links, her existence on the show at least has a point. She's Sisko's old man! :) They could play really well off each other from time to time. Even if there was nothing else, their relationship alone makes her presence worthwhile.

Troi, unfortunately, is a completely superfluous character that really has no place on the ship. She's clearly a bad counselor, she's sitting on the bridge all the time God knows why, her empathic abilites just torpedoed the plots (so screenwriters started removing her from "sensitive" scenes)... She's a complete mess of a character.
Ian Whitcombe - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 10:08pm (USA Central)
@bigpale, your list of body possession episodes isn't exactly respected company.

Though "Warlord" can be a hoot provided you're in the right mood.
angel - Tue, May 17, 2011 - 11:02am (USA Central)
@Paul: "Troi, unfortunately, is a completely superfluous character that really has no place on the ship. She's clearly a bad counselor, she's sitting on the bridge all the time God knows why, her empathic abilites just torpedoed the plots (so screenwriters started removing her from "sensitive" scenes)... She's a complete mess of a character."

Oh, is that why Terry Farrell left her show? Troi also had a nice relationship with Riker, & later Worf (just like Dax, go figure)
pviateur - Mon, Aug 15, 2011 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
This episode brought up one of my pet peeves about the show: ie the lack of other officers heading specialized sections of the ship. Why is it only the regulars we ever see in conference? Why is that Ro, a lowly ensign is in on the big meetings and not say, officers in charge of xenobiology, planetary geology, ship's structure/integrity, stellar physics, etc? Why is Georgi, ostensibly ship's engines engineer called on to conduct research in everything from rototics to planetary geology? In this episode we see him and Ro in a jeffreies tube with the spy gizmo. There weren't any experts in such a device available in the ship? No structural engineers familiar with the ship's layout? Aside from the half dozen officers we see every week and a handful of security officers and waiters in ten forward, who is it that comprise the 1,000+ other people aboard?
TH - Thu, Sep 8, 2011 - 9:20pm (USA Central)
And then we get to Power Play and you’ve underrated it, IMO.

I enjoyed this one thoroughly. It let O’Brien Data and especially Troi go out of character and be some really badass characters. I really enjoyed their performances.

I understand that there’s some conceit that the crew probably wouldn’t take a shuttle down just to have O’Brien beam down 5 minutes later. Kinda silly, but from there, the plot made sense for the most part. The race to outsmart each other made for a good episode in my opinion.

I agree that it might have been stronger for the Essex claim to have played a bigger role in the end of the episode, but I enjoyed the episode. Yes it’s a Trek hostage episode, but the twist is that the hostage-takers are also crew (and hostages themselves). Unlike Time Travel, I don’t think Trek really overdid hostage episodes; at least not by TNG season 5. It had unique bits to it that I enjoyed, and a somewhat unique solution – that Worf, Keiko and Picard would willingly die to save the ship. It didn’t come down to a sniper shot or secreting the hostages away from the bad guys as hostage situations often do.
Jay - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 6:51pm (USA Central)
I found it ridiculous that Picard dismssed the possibility that it could be Captian Shumar because a starfleet captain shoudl behave better, as if Picard would know what it's like to be disembodies for two centuries, Starfleet officer or not. Between that and his rather selfish behavior when being strangled by Data (abort immediately!), Picard annoyed me in this episode.
Jack - Sat, Oct 15, 2011 - 11:10pm (USA Central)
Indeed Jay...at the end of this very episode, they make a point of saying that a Starfleet officer, including the ones possessed, would gladly give their lives, but Picard aborts a mission because he's being choked.
TH - Fri, Oct 28, 2011 - 3:07pm (USA Central)
@Jay/Jack - I think that once the beam missed Data, Data threatened to kill everyone. Even if Picard was willing to die, that wouldn't have resulted in Data being incapacitated, so it would have served no good. He would have just been able to kill everyone in the room and go on a rampage around the ship.
Jack - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 6:53pm (USA Central)
If they rid the beings from the organic lifeforms, the crew as a whole should have been able to handle Data. Somebody could shut him off...Worf even developed a tool to do so remotely in Insurrection.
Louis - Sun, Jun 3, 2012 - 6:35am (USA Central)
Even granting that, Data still would have killed at least some people before the crew as a whole could restrain him.
Phl - Thu, Aug 2, 2012 - 8:19am (USA Central)
Always enjoyed this one - but when Worf and his security team are bounding down the corrider to intercept the invaders on Deck 13 (somewhere around the 13 minute mark) they run past an average looking early 1990s guy wearing a casual button up shirt tucked into pleated khaki pants with an ordinary black belt. It always takes me out of the episode for a second because it literally looks like some dude in Gap clothes just wandered into the shoot from the Paramount lot. Is it supposed to be an off-duty crewman? Is he one of the civilians that have hardly appeared on the ship since the first season when Roddenberry was trying to convey the Enterprise as a city in space? If so why isn't he costumed better? Is it just a rehearsal shot with a stand-in that got used because production was up against a deadline?
Patrick - Sun, Sep 30, 2012 - 12:37am (USA Central)
I liked how the possessed-Data wasn't a riff on Lore. Where Lore was a swaggering psychopath mugging for the camera most of the time; the co-opted Data was played as a harried, pragmatic thug, with a short fuse. I have to hand it once again to the mucho talented Brent Spiner.
Freddy - Fri, Nov 16, 2012 - 10:05am (USA Central)
Very entertaining episode and a great score by Jay Chattaway by the way ( which can't be said about a lot episode this season )

And i agree about the always reliable Brent Spiner. An incredible performance on his part
Grumpy - Fri, Mar 29, 2013 - 9:22pm (USA Central)
Liked this one; easily 3 stars from me, probably more. Loved the mental chess game -- not just between good guys and bad guys but between writers and audience, trying to get around all the ways the transporters could end the plot in, like, three seconds.

The ending is too abrupt, unfortunately, and another problem just occurred to me: the Essex distress signal has apparently been pinging for 200 years! Either it has super-duper batteries or the ghost prisoners kept it going. Whichever, the episode ends before the crew locates and salvages a genuine antique shipwreck.
mephyve - Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - 10:27pm (USA Central)
Decent episode . It struck me as odd that with all that atmospheric disturbance, they did not take pattern enhancers with them just in case. They've had them in similar situations. It should be standard equipment on a mission like this.
As for Troi, she wasn't really useless, she was just written that way.
Andrew - Sat, Mar 29, 2014 - 12:46pm (USA Central)
Marina Sirtis was fantastic in this episode. I actually really enjoy this ep, it's a very good "possessed character" kind of show. All three of the possessed characters did a great job.

Everyone seemed to have a place in this episode too. And you have some nice phaser action and nice usage of Ten forward. Solid episode.
Guy - Fri, Apr 11, 2014 - 3:18pm (USA Central)
When O'Brien beamed down with the pattern enhancers he materialized behind a rock formation. Was it my imagination or was this rock formation a piece of set salvaged from the original series? It appeared to me to be the gateway to the past from City on the Edge of Forever.
NCC-1701-Z - Sun, Apr 13, 2014 - 2:09pm (USA Central)
The ever-reliable writers at fiveminute.net wrote up a hilarious take on this episode, well worth reading:


I liked this episode, it was quite fun. I loved seeing Marina Sirtis play the ruthless type, it was quite refreshing.

(Small quibble: When Riker sent the bridge controls to engineering, couldn't the bad guys have just left someone on the bridge while the other two took over engineering? Answer: Because we wouldn't have had much of an episode then. I'll let that one slide.)

SkepticalMI - Fri, Jun 13, 2014 - 7:24am (USA Central)
I have a couple nitpicks to get out of the way first:

1) This is minor, but I'm surprised Picard didn't try to negotiate for Molly and possibly Keiko's release as well. I would assume in hostage situations that getting infants out of harm's way is pretty high up on the list of things to do.

2) More importantly, the Miles ghost's characterization seemed off. It was pretty clear that the ghosts had access to all of the memories and personalities of the people they were possessing. But Miles kept looking at Molly and Keiko as if he was confused and kept talking about them as if he couldn't entirely remember it. Why? The Troi ghost was interacting with Picard normally in his ready room, why was Miles acting all weird? My guess this is a relic of an earlier draft, and is supposed to provide tension and drama (will he remember his kid? Will that trigger the real Miles to take over the body?). So it just seemed awkward and out of place here.

But other than that, this was a rather fun episode. As others have said, Picard stopping the assault when Data threatens to kill him didn't bother me. After all, Data did threaten to kill everyone in the room, and Picard thought that he would still have the upper hand. After all, he did eventually manipulate events so that he would only have to sacrifice himself and 5 others (well, 4 probably; Data would presumably survive being sucked out to space). And in the end, that was an effective strategy. Hostage situations only work if the other side cares about the hostage's lives. And when Picard points that out to the Troi ghost, she knew that she had lost. Simple and effective.

Another nice aspect was the Troi ghost. She was rather reasonable, all things considered. Willing to compromise, willing to show mercy. Definitely a far cry from Data's ghost, who appeared to be a sadist. It was smart to give them some different personalities, instead of just being generic bad guys. The fact that Sirtis and Spiner did quite well portraying these characters worked too.

So overall, it wasn't groundbreaking or brilliant, but it served as an entertaining hour. Good enough for me.
Taylor - Sat, Aug 30, 2014 - 2:39pm (USA Central)
Worth it to see Spiner do mean and angry. And no, it's not the same as Lore, it's another different performance from him.

Sirtis is indeed more convincing in this role than she was playing captain as Troi. Go figure.

And I'm with Phl regarding that early '90s dude in the corridor - WTF? Was that an inside joke?
Grumpy - Sat, Aug 30, 2014 - 3:19pm (USA Central)
"...regarding that early '90s dude in the corridor - WTF? Was that an inside joke?"

Pretty sure the same extra, wearing a similar if not the same outfit, appears in a couple other episodes. Enough to have made an impression.
chris - Sun, Nov 23, 2014 - 9:10pm (USA Central)
I'm surprised nobody mentioned Troi beating Data in chess. I can't imagine the likelihood of that.

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