Star Trek: The Next Generation
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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72 comments on this post
Wed, May 11, 2011, 6:22am (UTC -5)
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. :-)
Wed, May 11, 2011, 11:48am (UTC -5)
Wed, May 11, 2011, 5:34pm (UTC -5)
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
Wed, May 11, 2011, 7:43pm (UTC -5)
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.
Wed, May 11, 2011, 11:40pm (UTC -5)
Thu, May 12, 2011, 11:04pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, May 13, 2011, 10:08pm (UTC -5)
Though "Warlord" can be a hoot provided you're in the right mood.
Tue, May 17, 2011, 11:02am (UTC -5)
Oh, is that why Terry Farrell left her show? Troi also had a nice relationship with Riker, & later Worf (just like Dax, go figure)
Mon, Aug 15, 2011, 1:04pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Sep 8, 2011, 9:20pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Sep 25, 2011, 6:51pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Oct 15, 2011, 11:10pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 28, 2011, 3:07pm (UTC -5)
Sun, May 27, 2012, 6:53pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Jun 3, 2012, 6:35am (UTC -5)
Thu, Aug 2, 2012, 8:19am (UTC -5)
Sun, Sep 30, 2012, 12:37am (UTC -5)
Fri, Nov 16, 2012, 10:05am (UTC -5)
And i agree about the always reliable Brent Spiner. An incredible performance on his part
Fri, Mar 29, 2013, 9:22pm (UTC -5)
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.
Tue, Jul 23, 2013, 10:27pm (UTC -5)
As for Troi, she wasn't really useless, she was just written that way.
Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 12:46pm (UTC -5)
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.
Fri, Apr 11, 2014, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Apr 13, 2014, 2:09pm (UTC -5)
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.)
Fri, Jun 13, 2014, 7:24am (UTC -5)
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.
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 2:39pm (UTC -5)
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?
Sat, Aug 30, 2014, 3:19pm (UTC -5)
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.
Sun, Nov 23, 2014, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 24, 2015, 9:40am (UTC -5)
My one quibble was O'Brien's involvement in the first place. Why does he beam down with the gadget that will strengthen the transporter signal? Never mind that he is the father of a newborn taking a 50/50 chance (according to LaForge) of getting his atoms scattered everywhere -- can they not beam down a piece of equipment without a person holding it? That's just silly.
I'm also liking Ro more and more this season. She's intelligent, tough, and sexy (witness her seduction of Riker during "Conundrum"). Her character seems to embody everything Yar was supposed to have been but failed to become.
I also noticed the strong score in this episode. A good score always enhances the mood and action, while a bland or forgettable one detracts from it. Hard to believe a producer actually wanted weak music on this show. Glad he was overruled.
Fri, Apr 24, 2015, 11:03am (UTC -5)
Never thought of it that way, surprisingly. Seems an obvious comparison, now that you mention it... yet I tend to disagree. Yar was supposed to be a competent department head, not a woman with something to prove, like Ro. While Yar took no guff from outsiders, she was fully loyal to the Starfleet agenda.
Wed, Jul 1, 2015, 5:05pm (UTC -5)
I must agree with one of the comments above stating that hellish disembodiment will rewrite anybody's personality after 200 years. Surely enough to drive anyone insane in but a fraction of that time.
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 10:27am (UTC -5)
Season Five really seems to have hit a pretty big snag here in the last few episodes. It started out reasonably well but once "A Matter of Time" rolled around, it hasn't been the same. The only good episode since then was "New Ground" and "Power Play" doesn't help that streak. Of course, Maurice Hurley getting a story credit doesn't exactly help. I can, sadly, almost sense the man's fingerprints on this episode.
The problem is that the episode wants to be a standard hostage situation tale but fails at that rather low-set goal. The main reason for that is that the villains are not credible. These entities are not intimidating. They're not even threatening. I'd go so far as to say they're not even competent. What they are, ultimately, is annoying. And that's the worst thing a main villain can be.
It all goes downhill once they start to implement their plan to move the Enterprise to the southern polar region of the planet. Apparently, their plan was for Evil-Troi to convince Picard to voluntarily move the ship there. Okay, fine so far. But then, Evil-Data, for absolutely no discernible purpose, decides to take matters into his own hands and attempts to force the Bridge crew to move the ship, thereby ruining their plans. Evil-Troi even scolds him for it as they leave the bridge! Is this entity seriously so hostile that he couldn't even wait five minutes before having to hit something? Then, they decide to take hostages in Ten Forward and Evil-Troi decides they'll pretend that they're the ghosts of the Essex crew. Okay, just a quick question here - why? What did they possibly think this would get them? A ruse like that might have worked if they weren't, you know, taking hostages. Or, if Evil-Data wasn't acting like a sadist with A.D.H.D. This doesn't make Evil-Troi out to be a rather wise leader; it makes him (her?) look like a fool who is flying by the seat of his pants.
Let's compare "Power Play" to what is possibly the apex of the standard hostage situation story - "Die Hard." One of the main reasons why "Die Hard" works so well with it's admittedly thin plot is that it has one of the most iconic movie villains of all time. Hans Gruber is suave, sophisticated, competent and charismatic as fuck! None of these villains have any of those qualities. They're blunt, coarse, stupid and not charismatic in the slightest. Evil-Troi is rather dull. Evil-O'Brien waffles between being dim-witted and unappealingly arrogant. And Evil-Data, well, he's the worst offender of them all. Why did they feel the need to make him so brutal. From his needless attempt to take over the bridge, to his pounding on the Ops console, to his non-nonchalantly smashing a wall panel in the hallway, to his glee at shooting people in Ten Forward, to his borderline obsessive compulsion to pick a fight with Worf, to his inability to tolerant two people talking, to his chocking of Picard even after the rescue attempt has been thwarted - I could go on, but you get my drift. He's so over-the-top that it's farcical - especially given the fact that he and his compatriots are trying to pass themselves off as poor suffering souls just looking for a release from their purgatory.
While I'm at it, was it really necessary to put Keiko in what can only be called a near-rape scene? God-damn was that uncomfortable, needlessly so!
What can I say in the episode's defense? Well, the procedural stuff with the remaining bridge crew attempting to end the crisis was pleasant enough for what it was. And I really liked that they gave Michelle Forbes some good scenes and dialogue to sink her teeth into with Ro. That's about it.
Sun, Aug 16, 2015, 10:50am (UTC -5)
As SkepticalMI said above, I find possessed-O'Brien's characterization to be a little off compared to the other two. This was more than made up for by Keiko, though, who was remarkably strong in an incredibly trying situation and showed her commitment to the best interests of both her child and her ship.
Sat, Sep 26, 2015, 7:47am (UTC -5)
As an action piece there's nothing really to dislike, but once again for a series 5 that seems stuck in these perfectly serviceable but broadly unremarkable episodes this doesn't really push over the edge.
"Your restraint was most remarkable" "You have no idea" is a great line though. 2.5 stars.
Thu, Mar 10, 2016, 12:16am (UTC -5)
Fri, Sep 23, 2016, 11:52pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 5, 2016, 5:45pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Nov 5, 2016, 6:37pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Nov 29, 2016, 10:54am (UTC -5)
Sun, Jan 22, 2017, 10:38pm (UTC -5)
From the enterprise crew side :
*they discovered very early that pain prevented body snaching, surely giving everybody a mild pain (drugs, mechanical (pain stick-bracelents for everybody) or fysical induced) would have be a common idea.
*worf told them normal stun settings would not work, so why not blast in with something stronger? Disruptors cause a lot of pain, as well as large wounds (that would be fatal if left untreated, but would cause short term a lot of harm) and would be perfect.
*17 hostages, minus 5 traded for 1 captain, leaves 13 hostages + the 3 that were bodysnatched, killing off 16 to save the entire crew of over 1000 should be simple sence, and be done much much sooner bluntly refusing ANY demands what so ever.
*why would you keep your word, evil bodysnatching alien criminals, they left your crew, why would you keep your word? beam them into space, kill zhem all, kill zhem with fire.. ehh well you get the idea...
(sorrie I have no problem with eliminating such a treat, perhaps I am more a mirror universe/section 31 guy.
(am I really the only person thinkin this? is it just me?)
From the snatchers point of view :
-you have the ability to snatch any unharmed body, that stupid captain nor any of the crew had taken measures against you swopping for some other body, switch to the captain, kill your earlier host (or stun him if you want too), and instantly know all commands and plans against you...
(cannot believe they haven't used this ability, just as the crew failed to imagine the need and and the means to mount any defence against it)
Fri, Feb 17, 2017, 5:55pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Apr 1, 2017, 10:02pm (UTC -5)
Trivia: the Essex was the early 1800s whale ship rammed by a sperm whale - the real-life germ of the Moby Dick story - and some of its crew did in fact survive. They were disembodied down to skin and bones by starvation, and they floated around in the vast ocean for (what must have felt like) 200 years.
Mon, Jul 17, 2017, 1:26pm (UTC -5)
I found the episode lacking in its analysis of the predicament of the prisoners on the planet. They were trapped there for hundreds of years. Can we justify such a sentence? Can Picard? Can we send Wesley Crusher there for a few hundred years to finally be punished for crashing that garden at that weird "perfect" planet?
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 9:10am (UTC -5)
Also, instead of the exposition in the cargo bay the other "ghosts" could have immediately taken over Worf, PIcard and Keiko and perhaps things could have been different. Yet they stayed on the pad. This is before they trapped them with the containment field. But that did not interfere with my enjoyment of the episode.
Mon, Sep 4, 2017, 1:21pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 19, 2017, 3:45pm (UTC -5)
It is basically a hostage situation -- the reasons why and the who/when etc. are not that important to the writers although I find that more interesting from a sci-fi/creativity point. So unfortunately that's why it's not fleshed out. What is this disembodied penal colony, for example? How did they get to be that way?
"Power Play" gives Troi, Data, O'Brien a chance to act out of character and each does a credible job. For Sirtis, she does this better than her counselor schtick. The whole hostage thing was reasonably well acted, but it wasn't clear until the very end just what exactly the hostage-takers wanted so as the hostage scene is going on, I'm wondering what the point of this is...
There's the usual technobabble solutions which don't work -- the sort of huffing/puffing the bridge crew go through. Picard was good as one of the hostages, how he sees through the lies of Troi (that she's not the captain of the Essex). There's also the willingness to sacrifice themselves to save the lives of the crew which didn't make the impact it should have because the reason for the hostage taking was so nebulous and far-fetched. In the end they beam the disembodied prisoner aliens back down to the moon when (I guess) the aliens are convinced Picard and the others in the cargo bay will sacrifice themselves.
Barely 2 stars for "Power Play" -- pretty unambitious episode - mainly created to give 3 cast members to act tough as hostage-takers with Picard as a hostage trying to figure out what they want. And what they want is something nobody is going to care about.
Sun, Oct 1, 2017, 6:33pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Apr 30, 2018, 1:59pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 3, 2018, 4:45pm (UTC -5)
Marina Sirtis benefits the most from the outing. And I thought Troi/Data/O'Brien made a potent trio.
Wed, Oct 3, 2018, 4:38pm (UTC -5)
I quite enjoyed that book.
So Brent does a variation on Lore while Colm just plays a heavy and Marina actually does quite a decent villain.
The possessed characters foiled again by some technobabble solution or other is tired by now though and overall I felt this was a thumbs-down episode.
Wed, Jan 2, 2019, 2:10am (UTC -5)
So basically Evil-Data is the 24th century reincarnation of a GTA Online player.
Sat, Apr 20, 2019, 4:39pm (UTC -5)
+1 for seeing the alter egos of Troi, Data and O Brien so to speak. Other than that, it was pure technobabble wasn't it? I did like Ro. She is great character.
Mon, Feb 10, 2020, 5:19pm (UTC -5)
"Computer, transport O'Brien, Data and Troi to the brig. Erect a level 10 forcefield around the brig."
Or "Computer, lock O'Brien, Data and Troi inside the transporter data."
BOOM problem solved. But instead EVERY SINGLE writer of every single episode REFUSES to acknowledge or let the crew make use of the technology to solve the problem and instead requires the crew to constantly rely on a deus ex machina solution to save the day.
Considering how often the crew gets possessed or brainwashed or mind controlled you would think that Starfleet would have protocols in place to address these sorts of problems so really the only reason why the writers can keep on writing these kinds of ridiculous episodes is because the writers refuse to write logical episodes.
It also makes zero sense that the ghosts could control Data. If the ghosts could control Data then they could just directly control the ship's computer.
Mon, May 25, 2020, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
O'Brien: If I could have killed that thing, I would.
Keiko (to Molly): Ooooo Daddy says he would have killed that thing. Isn't he a GOOD Daddy?
Sat, Jun 27, 2020, 6:50pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Aug 16, 2020, 4:23am (UTC -5)
Sat, Aug 29, 2020, 1:48pm (UTC -5)
I quite liked it - interesting mystery, quite suspenseful. I do think it would have been better if the alien entities had actually turned out to be from the crew of the Essex, as we'd been led to believe. But I quite like the idea of a penal colony for disembodied cosnciousnesses. A bit like the Phantom Zone, and I suspect that Superman II might have been the inspiration for this episode. The three villains do remind me of Zod and his two sidekicks.
Speaking of which - it makes no sense that an Android could be inhabited and controlled in exactly the same way as Troi and O'Brien, but it does give Brent Spiner an opportunity to indulge his mean side. I think he has a penchant for villainous roles.
The solution to the problem - a containment field - seems a bit easy. It's an anti-climactic conclusion.
That shuttle looks tiny on the surface of the planet. Nice to see Ro again. Very odd that Picard so easily lets O'Brien risk his life in what Geordi says is a 50/50 risk of death.
Not a great one, not bad.
Mon, Sep 7, 2020, 4:16am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 21, 2021, 10:35am (UTC -5)
Thu, Apr 8, 2021, 3:29pm (UTC -5)
Simple and effective cat-and-mouse plot guided by a commanding performance by Sirtis, a strikingly menacing role for Data, and a truly unsettling turn for O'Brien (nicely turned on its head later in DS9 when Keiko experiences something very similar).
No pretensions and just a good solid hour.
It's also nice to see mention of a Daedalus-class ship.
Sat, May 15, 2021, 11:21am (UTC -5)
Fun because few main characters act totally different.
Fri, Jun 11, 2021, 8:15am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 29, 2021, 2:55am (UTC -5)
The biggest absurdity was that an android - with no emotion chip in his positron brain - could be “possessed” by an alien consciousness. Oh please. As soon as that emerged, a large part of my mind switched off and I spent much of the episode shaking my head and laughing at the ridiculousness. Self-defeating storytelling.
The weird thing is, I remember really enjoying this first time around. I think it’s the unexpected shock of seeing familiar crew members acting so out of character. But it only works once - repeated viewings simply highlight the flaws. But I guess once is enough with a syndicated TV show that relies on hooking its regular viewers.
Yeah, 2.5 stars is about right.
Thu, Oct 7, 2021, 8:23pm (UTC -5)
Sat, Feb 12, 2022, 3:18pm (UTC -5)
The pitched battle over control of various ship systems was pretty solid and mostly free from arbitrary new technobabble. It was quite believable because of the particular crewmen possessed.
Very happy to see that both sides remembered the shuttles have transporters.
I wasn't so happy with Picard so readily dismissing the notion that Troi was possessed by the Captain of the Essex. Worf was right, they could have easily gone insane.
It seemed like that was just done so Picard could be ultimately the heroic one who saw through it.
Tue, Apr 12, 2022, 8:14pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Apr 13, 2022, 4:22am (UTC -5)
Fri, May 13, 2022, 10:04am (UTC -5)
It was dynamic and filled with action, overlaid with the sci-fi stuff a sci-fi fan watches shows like this for. As someone mentioned, the O'Brien and wife+baby angle was overdone and extraneous, but that can be overlooked.
Three stars for me, maybe eke out another 1/2 there; not four due to the hurried and underwhelming conclusion.
Thu, Aug 11, 2022, 9:10pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Aug 19, 2022, 12:49pm (UTC -5)
Why is it the computer can only identify people if they are wearing a combadge and if you take them off you can totally fool it, like it can't tell that there isn't a living person in the turbolift, but in other episodes it can identify people just fine who aren't wearing one, like Alexander a few episodes back.
Sun, Jan 22, 2023, 10:46pm (UTC -5)
Wed, Apr 12, 2023, 4:26pm (UTC -5)
Feels like two stories merged into one, and we're left with a tedious unspooling of what happens when energy felons can't stop from being unstably homicidal for 2 minutes. Smile! Thank Picard for rescuing your crew's souls! Ask nicely to skim over that southern polar region. Almost there!
Sun, Apr 23, 2023, 6:44am (UTC -5)
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