Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Man of the People"

**

Air date: 10/5/1992
Written by Frank Abatemarco
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise provides transport for Ambassador Alkar (Chip Lucia), who is on a mission to broker the peace between two warring factions on a distant (or nearby, I guess, if you are traveling on the Enterprise) world. He travels with an elderly woman that he claims is his mother; when Troi meets them in the transporter room, the mother immediately sees Troi as some kind of threat and warns her to stay away from Alkar. Soon after, the mother dies of unknown causes. Alkar asks Troi to perform a sacred ceremony with him, after which Troi starts behaving rather ... bizarrely.

"Man of the People" is a hodgepodge stew of tired Trek cliches, perhaps the most tired one being the perfunctory iteration on the "two warring factions to which the Enterprise is bringing an ambassador." These two cultures, never seen on screen, are completely arbitrary placeholders, giving us no plot to invest in.

The other cliche is the reliable "crew member behaves strangely because of unknown alien influence"; in this case Troi slowly begins to lose her mind and turn into some sort of oversexed crazy person. There is, to the episode's credit, a priceless scene where Riker shows up to Troi's quarters, sees what she is wearing, and starts smiling ... and then just as quickly stops smiling once he sees the random crewman in her bed. The scene at least knows that it's funny — as does the scene where Troi "counsels" a crewwoman and tells her, basically, to stop complaining about trivial crap or transfer off the ship.

The bizarre behavior is about the only real fun to be had here. Much of the rest is a slog and a bore, especially once Troi begins aging rapidly and the crew must then race against the clock to figure out what Alkar has done to her, and why, before she dies. Turns out Alkar is using Troi (as he used the woman before her, who was not his mother) as a "receptacle" to telepathically shunt off all the negative emotions that he experiences during his oh-so-taxing political negotiations. This is a pretty lame plot explanation, if you ask me. It's made no better by the fact that Alkar attempts to justify it with an ends-versus-means speech that's a completely obvious straw-man argument. (And when Picard immediately rejects said straw man, Worf then has his phaser conveniently pickpocketed.)

I also tire of countdown clocks (especially of the Sickbay Suspense [TM] variety) that are so difficult to buy into. The clever solution to the problem is to kill (yes, kill) Deanna long enough that Alkar will be forced to "release" his hold over her. She can then be revived, but only within 30 minutes. Inevitably, we have dialog informing us there's (gasp) only 1 minute and 45 seconds left to revive Deanna! Couldn't the Enterprise simply have warped really far away to break the connection? I guess Alkar can maintain this telepathic connection over light-years of space. Of course, once the telepathic connection is broken, Troi automatically de-ages and is perfectly fine. I should keep that in mind the next time I decide to drink a bottle of bourbon every night for the next 20 years. As long as I stop at year 21, I'll be fine!

Previous episode: Realm of Fear
Next episode: Relics

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27 comments on this review

Ian Whitcombe - Sun, May 27, 2012 - 3:26pm (USA Central)
The scene in the transporter room with Picard getting stabbed has to be one of the most unintentionally hilarious scenes ever done in TNG-era Trek.
Latex Zebra - Mon, May 28, 2012 - 10:10am (USA Central)
This is not a great episode. I couldn't remember what it was by name and only your review has reminded me.
I found Troi episodes more annoying than Wesley.
Jay - Sun, Jun 3, 2012 - 12:09pm (USA Central)
Yeah, it's a Star Trek staple that the medical officer makes some arbitrary estiamte of how much time something will be, and then suddenly that random spur-of-the-moment estimate becomes to-the-second accurate to accomodate said countdown...
grumpy_otter - Mon, Jun 4, 2012 - 2:32pm (USA Central)
Once again, I rather like this because I like Deanna. Even thought I hate that possessor guy--how dull! He's no Devinoni Ral, that's for sure!

But I disagree, Jammer, that Deanna turns "into some sort of oversexed crazy person." She turns into her MOTHER. And this is why I like this one--we get to see Deanna if she were a bit more loose (until she gets old--yeah I agree there).

And her clothes are smokin'!
Dan L - Tue, Jun 5, 2012 - 1:00am (USA Central)
Ian-

This episode provides several moments of unintentional hilarity. The opening scene, with the old woman screaming at Troi.

Ambassador Alkar stating, matter-of-factly, that "most of my receptacles last longer than this...."

Picard's response, with proper English accent: "rrrrrrrrrrrreceptacles!"

And then the talk Picard has with the Ambassador about how the Ambassador's desire to clear his head of negative thoughts does not justify "brrrrrrrrrrutalizing her [Troi]." (The whole notion that a mediator can only be effective without having to deal with all those messy background emotions is patent nonsense, if you think about it - which is more than the writers did). The notion that the Federation would grant the Ambassador immunity from prosecution even if he killed someone is likewise idiotic.

And then Dr. Crusher stating something to the effect of "We haven't got long... He may find another receptacle" (what are the odds she would use the Ambassador's ludicrous description of the people he used to "flood with psychic waste" (another hilarious line).

And then the Ambassador gets his traveling companion to undergo the "receptacle" ceremony with him in such a hurried manner that if she had half a brain she'd realize the guy was a lunatic.....

Unfortunately, the moments of hilarity (even the intentional one with Ensign Janeway) do not make up for the fact that this episode is essentially on auto-pilot, with no sense of urgency, poor line readings and complete illogic (how can a mediator empathize with either side if he refuses to invoke any feelings from which to draw upon?)



Ian Whitcombe - Sun, Jun 10, 2012 - 10:51pm (USA Central)
I think Tim Lynch put it well in his review: *everyone* in this episode seemed they were under alien influence!
Elliott - Thu, Jun 14, 2012 - 4:44pm (USA Central)
This episode was awful, of course---but....it showcases something important about TOS, TNG and Voyager that ENT and DS9 missed out on--namely that the nature of the characters makes even terrible episodes enjoyable to watch. I crack up every time I see Riker's face when he notices the yellow-shirt in Troi's room. It's not because the script is good, it's not really because the acting is great (though it is), it's because of who Riker (and Frakes) is and the self-parody that comes with it. It's the same sense one gets out of episodes like "Captain's Holiday" or movies VII and IX--they aren't good, but it's such a joy to see Picard (Stewart) annoyed, sitting in a speedo, or Data and Worf singing "A British Tar"--it's nerdy, 4th-wall breaking fun! I can say the same for TOS episodes like "The Way to Eden" or VOY episodes like "Body and Soul" or "Tsunkatsi." I cannot make the same indulgence for episodes like "Dramatis Personæ," "Take Me Out to the Holosuite" or "Bound."

Beyond that, this episode is emblematic of the kind of crap TNG would mostly put out from here until "All Good Things..."
Paul - Tue, Jun 19, 2012 - 7:22am (USA Central)
@Elliott
"This episode was awful, of course---but....it showcases something important about TOS, TNG and Voyager that ENT and DS9 missed out on--namely that the nature of the characters makes even terrible episodes enjoyable to watch."

I have to disagree with your opinion where it concerns DS9. I think DS9's character work is unparalleled in Trek. It had an enormous, not to mention great, cast of supporting characters -- even bad episodes were elevated because of it.
Elliott - Fri, Jun 29, 2012 - 6:27pm (USA Central)
@Paul :

I agree: DS9's large supporting cast was great (for the most part). It's the main cast I take issue with--save Odo and occasionally Quark, anything resembling affection for those people is nothing but artifice.
Nathaniel - Mon, Jul 2, 2012 - 12:13pm (USA Central)
@Elliott

Nothing but artifice? You don't like the characters, so anyone who does like them are pretending or lying?

Same to you, pal.
Niall - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 1:27pm (USA Central)
As a kid I loved this episode because it was completely campy and schlocky. Haven't seen it since.
Rachel - Tue, Aug 21, 2012 - 5:04pm (USA Central)
This episode, which I've watched tonight, was much better than I recall. It's far from a TNG classic, but I think worth more than two stars, and oddly, I enjoyed it more than the highly rated 'Darmok', from earlier in the season.

There are unintentionally funny bits in the episode - the rather hokey and unusable martial arts
- Picard somehow being pushed over and nearly injured by the 'old' Deanna
- the fact that Picard doesn't really know what is going on with Deanna until much later in the story

But it is still good. Riker's face at seeing the dress, and then the crewman, is priceless.

Deanna's blue dress? She looked amazing.

So I rate it higher than two stars. I think Deanna has only one truly stand out episode - when she is made to look like one of the Tal Shiar..otherwise she is rather one dimensional. But I still think she is great.
grumpy_otter - Fri, Feb 15, 2013 - 3:04pm (USA Central)
Just saw this again and noticed something else idiotic about it. Why did Riker have to lsoe 50 IQ points for this one?

If he wasn't suspicious that something was wrong with Deanna when he caught her with the youngster, he certainly would have marched her straight to sick bay after he found her in 10 Forward behaving like a crazy woman.

Instead he seems to think Deanna (who he has known intimately for YEARS) is having a momentary lapse into inappropriate hotness.

I don't think I'd give this even 2 stars.



T'Paul - Sun, Jun 16, 2013 - 10:21am (USA Central)
I think the Deanna in her first "transformed" scenes (the crew review with Riker and counselling the ensign) and in the bar would make a good mirror universe Deanna, something which I believe TNG never explored. Using her empathic abilities to humiliate or manipulate others, sensual, etc.
mephyve - Fri, Jul 26, 2013 - 5:37pm (USA Central)
Yeah, this guy certainly had a lot of bad thoughts for someone who was supposed to have jettisoned his bad thoughts.
William B - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 11:47am (USA Central)
So: an update of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," except where the picture is another person. Why not. The title, "Man of the People," identifies this as a political story, and the subtext to the episode is about political leaders and celebrities, primarily men, who have a public image to maintain, and do so by using up and spitting out people in their domestic life, taking out on them whatever anxieties and neuroses they cannot display to the public. That's not a bad concept for an episode or allegory. Alkar's speech to Picard, admittedly on autopilot, does actually have some resonance: how much bad behaviour are we prepared to permit in our leaders and icons in their personal lives, when they accomplish so much in their public lives? Especially if somehow it turns out that their ability to be exactly who they needed to be publicly was *because* of the way they used and discarded people privately?

The episode's failure is that it doesn't push this far enough: we don't get any real sense of why Alkar is as essential as he is to these peace talks, or why his "negative emotions" are so overwhelming to him personally that he can't negotiate without them. It would be possible for the episode to go there: "Sarek" even covers some of the same ground, where Picard essentially consents to take on the role Troi does here, though for whatever reason Picard didn't go around sleeping with goldshirts and scratching Riker's face, as much fun as that might have been. The focus is on how much Troi suffers, which is the correct focus, if we could take any of her suffering seriously. The plot is hokey and half-hearted. My favourite moment of unintentional (?) hilarity that no one mentioned: when Troi, white-haired, runs screaming after Alkar when he leaves his quarters, and a redshirt just walks by without stopping or even seeming to register that anything weird is happening. Just another day on the Enterprise!

But yes, there are some priceless scenes. Troi dragging the goldshirt into her quarters, and his stuttering "yes ma'am" as he leaves the room, with the vague implication that evil!Troi used her rank to control him, as well as Riker's awesome, what-the-hell-okay-awkward reaction. And I love the scene of Troi letting loose on that ensign. Even these moments are ludicrous, but, well, what can you do? 2 stars is still extremely generous for these pleasures; the episode is probably closer to 1.
Esther - Mon, Feb 3, 2014 - 1:55am (USA Central)
What? And not one mention of the TOS ep this is taken from? Great idea for TOS but Troi makes the whole ep collapse.
Smith - Thu, Feb 20, 2014 - 12:31pm (USA Central)
One of the few I guess who actually liked this episode. It's a great metaphor for how people feed on others psychologically.

Braga wanted to emphasis Troi going evil more, but that would have missed the point and deviated the focus away the receptacle analogy.
Pollyanna - Sat, Mar 29, 2014 - 12:42pm (USA Central)
I would like to point out that Troi's transformation is accurate physical/emotional portrayal of one besieged by a physical vampire. I hope no one ever encounters one...they take a huge toll. I didn't care for the episode because it reminded me of old injuries.
shevon - Mon, May 5, 2014 - 5:06pm (USA Central)
So why did most of the negative emotions manifest themselves into sexual behavior? troi was a little impatient, snippy, but what was really overpowering was the sexual aggression. Like the writers were saying that agressive sexual behavior in a female must be a psychological problem.
Picard from USS Phoenix - Wed, May 14, 2014 - 7:58am (USA Central)
And once again, I have to respectfully disagree with Jammer - it was a good episode. A little bit silly at parts, but overall it provides, an interesting moral dilemma: it discusses utilitarianism, in a new, interesting light - I don't recall if "Star Trek" ever did that before, it was always pro-utilitarian, not against, like it is here. And it's definitely the most interesting thing about this episode.

"It's made no better by the fact that Alkar attempts to justify it with an ends-versus-means speech that's a completely obvious straw-man argument."

How is this a straw-man? Quite the contrary, it's logical consequence of Spock's utilitarianism - remember, this whole: "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one?". By Spock's standards Alkar is right! Hell, I don't know if he is not right?! Philosophers discussed this problem for centuries - whole kantian vs. utilitarian ethics - so this is not trivial episode at all...
SkepticalMI - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
Picard of Phoenix, TNG (rightly) never stood for that particular strand of "utilitarianism", and in fact directly opposed it. I have no love for Roddenberry's utopia, but even I would admit that his vision at least doesn't directly support dictatorial powers (even if it is the inevitable end of such utopias). TNG always held the classical liberal view of unalienable human rights as seen in episodes such as Hunted or Masterpiece Society. In fact, in my comment on the latter episode I specifically contrasted Spock's axiom between an individual choice and a tyrannical oppression; the latter of which you seem to support here. But the clearest rejection of such an idea is in the Borg: the ideal centrally organized utilitarian utopia. And joining it is considered, in universe, as a fate worse than death. So no, Trek doesn't stand for the abilities of elites to persecute minorities for the supposed good of the whole.

To put it simply, if you really aren't sure if it is "right" for the elite to torture and kill innocent bystanders for the supposed good of the whole, well, you ought to start thinking very thoroughly about your moral philosophy.

In any case, I didn't consider the real world ramifications of the episode that WilliamB pointed out. But even if that was their intention, the episode still fails. The sci-fi analogy is just too far out there to work. I mean, regardless of if you are ok with, say, Clinton's or JFK's womanizing ways, at least they didn't use their psychic powers to torture women before killing them off (ok fine, the other Kennedy did kill a woman and get away with it, but that's a horrific outlier to most of politics, and even then that was manslaughter and not murder). We can all see that there's a slight difference there.

So was the intent to show the "slippery slope" version of this? Maybe. The problem is, going to the "logical" extreme in such a case will often get you accused of being anvilicious and distorting the true debate. For example, if the women in question chose to make themselves used by Alkar, then that would at least be closer to the real world situations. Instead, Alkar tricks them into it. And, of course, there's no recovery, no next chapter in the sci-fi story; these women are killed by Alkar. So the premise in the story is far enough removed from the real world implications that even someone who is sympathetic to such arguments would roll their eyes at it.

So was it just to "raise questions"? Well, if so, they did a sloppy job of it. Picard from Phoenix aside, it doesn't look like anyone took Alkar's side here. And it's pretty freakin hard to. So basically, you're debating something that is already universally agreed on. And when you do something like that, you essentially insult the viewer's intelligence. And if you end up trying to be "fair", you had better do a darn good job of showing subtlety on the other side, or you can end up looking like an apologist for evil.

So what was the point? Alkar's actions were so clearly wrong that we simultaneously can't side with him but also are so far out there that we can't analogize him to someone like Clinton or JFK. Trust me, I have no love for either of those two, and even I don't see it as a fair comparison.

So the episode fails as a modern allegory. And it fails on its own merits. We saw Troi fall in love with an immoral empath before in The Price. We saw a visiting empath violate Troi last season in Violations. And we saw a crew member rapidly age in Unnatural Selection. This isn't just cliches, it's cliches within the same show!

And the stupidity just keeps coming:

- Just how did Alkar control these women? We know that they still have free will; the first lady kept shouting out stuff that embarrassed Alkar, and Troi was still performing her duties (sorta). So why did none of them ever speak up? Why didn't the first one ever say that she wasn't his mother? How did Troi not realize that aging 20 years in a day is probably a slightly important medical issue?

- Meanwhile, Troi, the person who's sole purpose on the ship is to tell Picard that others are hiding something, apparently couldn't figure out that Alkar was hiding something.

- We also have to love Worf's compassion and Starfleet training. When Alkar starts to magically age, why didn't he call to sickbay? Just because Alkar's the bad guy doesn't mean you just sit there and watch while he goes all Walter Donovan on us.

- And of course, when Alkar dies, Troi magically de-ages. At least use the magical de-aging transporter trick; it's the slightly less ridiculous of the two options!

- I was kinda hoping that the episode would at least provide a nice bit of continuity by implying that Troi's behavior was due to her system becoming middle aged and thus having her sex drive overload (as described in Manhunt). But she also was exhibiting the same behavior as the first woman, so that probably wasn't the intent. Sigh...

- It's probably just me, but when evil Troi was counseling Janeway, was I the only one that thought it was good advice? I mean, the snarky "you annoy me too" line aside, telling a professionally trained officer assigned to a plum position that she should be able to suck it up and deal with a mildly annoying supervisor isn't an evil thing to do. I'm thinking when they were handing out spines in the Janeway clan, Kathryn stole this poor ensign's share.

But at least the episode wasn't a total loss. After 5 seasons of looking ridiculous in that catsuit, Marina Sirtis finally got some real sex appeal with that blue dress!
William B - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 3:01pm (USA Central)
@SkepticalMI, first of all, I forget if I've mentioned how much I enjoy reading your comments.

Second, in case it's not clear, of course I am against powerful people hurting others in their personal lives in order to maintain their public image. The episode comes down very firmly against Alkar -- the merit in the story, had it genuinely chosen to go the route I suggested (rather than halfheartedly gesture at it) would not be in showing why it's okay for leaders to treat people terribly in private life, but to shine on a light on the temptation to do so. Picard rightly should rise above it, not just because it's Troi who's being used up but because he's a good man.

Actually one detail that I think the episode gets right is that Alkar's "mother" seems initially to be a madwoman. Alkar gets to appear as a charming, put-together man, who is burdened with a connection to a crazy person who drags him down. This maps very well onto the way it very often happens that when a respected public figure is revealed to have hurt and abused another person in their private life, the victim of that abuse is immediately smeared by large groups of people to preserve their image of the public figure as sympathetic. Because Alkar gets to "take out" his "negative emotions" on another person, he gets to seem the calm and collected one in public which makes it very easy for him to hide his guilt and responsibility. I think the episode could have done well with this element -- for example, show people from the whatever planet Alkar's helping with their war thing and how great the temptation is for them to place all the blame for any apparent dysfunction between Alkar and his companions on the companions and ignore or disbelieve any evidence that Alkar is even doing anything to them. Could be interesting. As is, obviously, the episode is a mess, terrible, and coasts on one or two half-formed interesting ideas and a lot of Marina Sirtis walking around without many clothes on.
SkepticalMI - Tue, Jul 22, 2014 - 5:25pm (USA Central)
I think you have mentioned your appreciation before, and the feeling is mutual. For the record, I did not intend to imply that you agreed with Alkar in any way. I simply meant that if their intention was to make this a social commentary episode, they did a poor job of it (which you seem to agree with too).

I'm thinking that if they did want to go with this angle, of using this episode as a springboard to discuss whether or not it was ok for a politician to have moral failings if their cause is just, then changes would need to be made. For starters, I'm guessing that someone else (perhaps from the same species) would need to make the argument that Alkar was justified in doing this, rather than Alkar himself. That would fit with how politicians act; they try to avoid the subject entirely and if forced to discuss the matter, usually offer a hollow apology and say they are working on improving themselves (while the "machine" politicians work in the background to set the proper narrative). When Picard talks to Alkar and he defends himself, there's simply no denying that he looks like a common criminal offering lame justifications for his crimes.

Not that this one change would make it a good episode...
kmfrob - Wed, Sep 24, 2014 - 3:13am (USA Central)
Just the "cat that got the milk" look on Riker's face when he walked in to Troi's room when she was wearing that dress, followed by the sudden change when he saw the other crewman was payoff enough for me for this episode!

Frakes' finest moment without a doubt.
digitaurus - Wed, Sep 24, 2014 - 4:57pm (USA Central)
The thing I love about this episode is that it is the only time Troi gives some decent counselling advice.
Nonya - Fri, Dec 5, 2014 - 7:13pm (USA Central)
This episode was painful, but not stab-oneself-in-the-eyes painful. Not that I'll ever watch it again.

So why did dude's negative behavior result in sexual deviance? Watching Deanna be a whore wasn't enjoyable, and it only makes sense if Alkar is a total perv who wants to mess around with everything he sees. She doesn't appear to feel wrath or revenge, and only the "counseling" session demonstrates any emotion other than desire.

While most of you seem amused by crack-Deanna, that was the part of the episode that was the biggest problem (though it was pretty funny how much like her mother she was). The only way the "greater good" aspect of this episode could work would be to actually focus on it, as well as the conflict between the aliens. Shrinking Deanna's role in the episode would have provided it the ability to actually do more in that direction. And it wouldn't have been so stupid.

Then again, Jammer was definitely right about the tired tropes, so who knows if that would have actually fixed the problem?

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