Episode: s5, ep 6
A mind controlling game spreads virulently through the Enterprise. Also Wesley's back, but that's OK.
Riker is on Risa, enjoying the company of a orange-haired lady. He's expecting sexytimes but she distracts him with a game that projects shapes into the eyes and rewards
the player with a burst of pleasure. When Riker returns to the Enterprise it is going somewhere with a load of unseen scientists who are going to study... something. Riker needs to sort out the scientists in a reduced timescale; it's going to be a scheduling nightmare. Wesley Crusher is coming for a visit so Riker decides he can help. In Engineering Geordi explains to Riker that all the equipment is booked solid, he delegates the task to a bright young Engineer called Robin. Riker tries to interest Geordi in the game, but the Chief Engineer is busy. Then Riker joins Troi in 10 Forward and mentions the game to her.
Wesley arrives and gets a surprise party in the Meeting Room. At the party Troi mentions the game to Beverly. Wesley is sent to help in Engineering where he meets Robin and shakes her hand for far too long. Data is called to sickbay by Beverly, she deactivates him then she Troi and Riker do something to his head. Wesley is chatting to Picard about the Academy when Beverly reports that Data has malfunctioned. Riker offers to show Geordi the game. Wesley and Robin work together, turns out she has friends at the Academy so she's heard about him. They arrange to meet for dinner. Wesley walks in on his mother enjoying the game, she tries to get him to play it, but he's busy. At dinner Robin and Wesley see more people playing the game and decide to investigate it. They test a headset and find it stimulates pleasure in the brain and may be addictive. They decide to tell the Captain, but unbeknownst to the young people Picard has already been corrupted.
The game spreads and people keep trying to get Wesley and Robin to play, so they wear fake headsets to get some peace. They realise Data is the only one who would be immune to the game, seeing as how he doesn't have serotonin. Wesley finds that some crucial wires have been precisely cut, which only Geordi or Beverly would have known to do. They realise that the game isn't just about pleasure and the mystery becomes a conspiracy. Meanwhile the Enterprise meets with an alien ship and the woman who gave the game to Riker instructs the Bridge crew to spread the game to ships and stations. Wesley goes to see Robin, but she's been compromised, it's a bodysnatcher moment. Worf and Riker approach Wesley so he transports away and the chase is on.
Wesley evades security teams, sensors and force fields while the rest of the crew hunt him down. He's caught in a vent and hauled to the Bridge where he's held down as they
put the game on him. Then the
lights dim and Data bursts in flashing a light in everyone's eyes. This
breaks the spell and Data points out the small ship, which the Enterprise takes into custody. Data explains that Wesley reactivated
him and distracted everyone while the android figured out how to snap
everyone out of it. Data set up the pattern of strobing lights
on all the monitors across the ship.
Oh Captain My Captain
Picard and Wesley chat about the Academy. Wesley took Picard's advice from Final Mission and met up with the old Academy groundskeeper-sage Picard knew. Wesley asks Picard what AF stands for (he should ask his mum really, it'd be awkward af for Picard to explain). Turns out it's the initials Picard carved into a tree and Picard warns Wesley about not letting a crush distract him from learning (foreshadowing??). Later when Picard is infected he acts normal and reassures Wesley and Robin about the game, waiting until they're gone to play again. Even under the influence of the game the crew hierarchy is intact with Picard in charge. He suggests to the alien that they could send the game to the Academy by using Wesley.
Riker: adventurer, lover, middle-manager
Will is on Risa for a sexytimes holiday and is engaged in some sexy chasing.* She puts the game on his head when they're on the bed and it's so good that he forgets about doing anything sexy. I wonder whether this could be seen as a metaphor for STIs with Riker as patient zero? For all that Trek suggests stigma around sex is old-fashioned there's nothing about safe sex or sensible precautions within the show.
When Riker is back at work Picard tells him to organise the unseen scientists and Riker comments on the juggling act it will take. The next scene has Riker talking to Geordi who comments that he's up to his neck in scheduling. This shows that Riker's skilled at delegating; he even ropes Wesley into the project because I guess cadets are kind of like interns.
Does Not Compute
It's sensible that Data is taken out of action early, basically as soon as the game has spread to someone who has the knowledge to deactivate him. Dr Crusher even stops Wesley from looking at Data earlier, as she's aware he has the skills to fix him. The game seems to direct people's will but doesn't remove their knowledge or instincts. Data appears to be functioning internally but not able to do anything externally (so a hardware issue??). Wesley describes it as being like a coma. I don't know if Data can sense anything outside of his body/brain or not. Either way it sounds really horrible, but I have to wonder whether Data would experience any feeling about his state? It doesn't seem like frustration, anger or fear would be his reaction, but maybe he'd feel concern for what's happening beyond the confines of his brain. The sabotage must be serious and/or precise since last episode demonstrated that Data can still function as just a head.
Beverly is happy to see her son, but she doesn't crowd him. They're both pretty independent and have been for years. After the party she's under the influence of the game. Now I get the impression that the game itself is meant to be pleasurable without being sexual, but the way that it's introduced to Riker, and some of the faces and noises people make while using it belie this. Bearing that in mind, it's super creepy that Wesley interrupts his mother while she's playing it in a darkened room. She's all flustered and embarrassed, so it's all a bit icky. Then she tries to get Wesley to play too, or bring his date back to their quarters so they can all play together. Eww no!
What's with Troi and the chocolate? I assume her description of eating a sundae is meant to be sexy? Not my thing, but fair enough. Though I have to say that fudge is not a type of chocolate, it's a separate food, even if they go together well. That Riker goes to his ex to spread the game and there's a vaguely erotic conversation adds to my STI theory. It's also sensible to get Troi converted early as her empathy could have detected something suspicious (or maybe not, who knows, her powers are very plot-dependent).
Return of the Wes
On returning to the Enterprise Wesley is asked to help out, I guess being a cadet means you're everyone's intern. Of course Wesley spent a chunk of his youth helping out, and he seems to enjoy it. At least this time he's not being annoyingly precocious or acting superior to qualified adults, this is Wesley being competent and working well with others. When he meets Robin the chemistry between them is strong and their dialogue doesn't get cheesy. It's nice that they're both the same kind of nerdy and mutually decide to interrupt their dinner date to do a scientific investigation of a popular fad. The romance gets overshadowed by the mystery and conspiracy plot, but I think that works as it shows them bonding while working together. Plus single episodes about people falling deeply in love tend to strike me as rushed and superficial. The way Wesley runs through the ship using his smarts to escape detection feels like a paranoid thriller. Wesley being held down by the adults who are closest to him, including his own mother -who reassures him about the brainwashing- is pretty powerful stuff. In an earlier series Wesley would have been the one to swoop in and save the day, possibly with a cheeky grin, so it feels better that he worked with Data to fix things.
Here we have guest stars playing both the antagonist and a major supporting role. The alien lady's motivation and agenda are unclear, just a bland antagonist with mind control technology. Robin is a much better character with more depth and her own ideas and idiosyncrasies. Though it seems like she's mostly there as a romantic interest for Wesley she's given plenty to do; again TNG shows that they can write women well as one-off characters. I've heard Ashley Judd mentioned quite a bit, but I don't think I've seen much else she's been in.
So all those force fields in the corridors, were they always there? I don't think they've been used much before and I can think of several times those would have been useful. Perhaps it's new innovation of Worf's? Actually I think Data used the force fields when he hijacked the ship while his higher functions were disabled. Do people only remember the force fields are there when they're being controlled?
Future Is Better
A game projected into your eyes doesn't seem too far-fetched nowadays, it's a type of augmented reality. Though the headset is super ungainly and the graphics of that game are pretty crappy. I guess all the money went into the mind-altering, brainwashing stuff rather than design; you can really tell.
Staff Meetings: 0
When Wesley arrives on board O'Brien tells him his mother is in a senior staff meeting, but he is allowed to stop by. When he arrives it turns out that it's actually a surprise party for him. As well as seeing his mother Wesley is greeted in Latin by Picard, complimented by Troi and gets a cake from Worf. Data questions him about whether pretending to be too busy to see him before the surprise worked, because Data's just a hoot at a party.
Wesley and Robin kiss as he is preparing to leave. She gives him a present, it's all of her personal laws she's been quoting throughout the episode. They agree to stay in touch, though there's no definition of their relationships, so I don't know how serious things are. There's a mixture of happiness and wistfulness.
* I almost said something about chasing not being that romantic/sexy, but that would be wrong of me because:
a) each to their own, who am I to judge as long as it's all consensual
b) even if it's based on a male-as-hunter type of thing the overall plot of the episode subverts that as she's the one actually trapping him (you can tell because once she's got control of the ship she's all serious business)
c) I remembered the Bugs Bunny opera episode with Elmer Fudd as a viking and Bugs in drag, which involves lots of chasing and, now that I look back, was confusing.