Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Menage A Troi

Review James Hunt 29 Aug 2014 - 07:50

A comedy episode starring the Troi family? Don't mind if we do. Here's James' latest Star Trek: TNG look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

3.24 Menage A Troi

The episode opens at a diplomatic reception on the Enterprise following a Betazoid trade summit, which – for the first time – was attended by the Ferengi. In Ten Forward, Commander Riker and a Ferengi crewman are playing Tri-Dimensional Chess, which is like our regular Bi-Dimensional Chess only completely incomprehensible. After Riker humiliates his opponent, he claims to have been distracted by the Algolian Ceremonial Rhythms which are being played in the background (oh yeah, that old chestnut.)

Across the room, Counsellor Troi is having dinner with her mother, Lwaxana, who berates her over her lack of a husband. When Riker and Deanna step away for a moment, Lwaxana is approached by Daimon Tog, leader of the Ferengi delegation, who offers to buy her (literally). She very publically calls him a troll and storms out, much to Deanna's embarrassment. But it doesn't matter. Tog is smitten.

After Picard orders Riker to take shore leave, he and Troi head out for a romantic walk on Betazed. They kiss, but Lwaxana and her aide, Mr. Homn, suddenly arrive and join them for a picnic. This interruption is then again interrupted by Daimon Tog, who arrives bearing flowers but kidnaps all three of them when Lwaxana refuses to co-operate. Though he does leave Mr Homn.

When they awaken, they're in a Ferengi holding cell, apparently far away from the Enterprise. Even mashing Riker's communicator badge as hard as possible doesn't help. Learning that they have awakened, Tog transports both Trois to the bridge, leaving their clothes behind. Because in Ferengi society, women are not allowed clothes. Luckily this is a PG-rated show, so everyone quickly covers up again. Let's just be glad they didn't transport Riker as well. Although I'm not sure he'd count as naked with that much hair.

Lwaxana convinces Troi that she can manipulate Tog, so he sends Deanna to the Brig, where Riker is locked in a battle of wits with the Ferengi guarding him. It's the chessman from earlier, and when he demands a rematch, Riker uses all of his Starfleet cunning to convince his jailer to let him out of the cell then punches him in the face. Unfortunately, they can only get in touch with the Enterprise if they have Tog's PIN number.

Lwaxana uses all of her feminine wiles to convince Tog to give her the access codes, and he's about to crack when his second in command, Farek, stops him. Farek wants to use science to duplicate Troi's Betazoid telepathic powers (unfortunately no-one explained that they're just magic that do whatever the plot demands). Troi is horrified but Tog allows her to be taken away.

Knowing that the plan has failed, Riker finds a system not blocked by Tog's codes and decides to send out a low-level signal that the Enterprise might be able to detect. It's not quite clear why he doesn't just storm the Ferengi, given that there only appear to be about four on the entire ship and guest stars are always terrible shots, but he must have his reasons.

Back on the Enterprise, they're picking up an odd signal but don't know what it is. Wesley is about to leave forever to go and have his final Starfleet Academy entrance exam (because they have to deal with this once a year to explain why he's still hanging around) when he realises what the signal is. Instead of going to his exam, he returns to the bridge to explain that it's Commander Riker broadcasting the Algolian Ceremonial Rhythms from earlier. The Enterprise picks up the trail and speeds towards the Ferengi ship.

Eventually Riker decides to stop tapping musical notes into the vast emptiness of space and figures they can just storm the Ferengi. They stop the experiments on Lwaxana, but get into a stand-off. Appealing to Tog's business acumen, she negotiates herself as payment for Deanna and Riker's release, vowing to serve Tog as he pleases.

Seconds later, the Enterprise arrives. The Ferengi return Riker and Deanna, claiming Lwaxana must honour her word. Which she does. Only then she pretends that Picard is her ex, come to get her. Patrick Stewart then gives us the spectacle of a good actor pretending to be a bad actor doing lines from Shakespeare (it's amazing.) which convinces Tog that, in the immortal words of the Black Eyed Peas, he don't want no drama. He transports Lwaxana to the bridge and steps on it. Picard then instructs Wesley to do the same before Lwaxana can continue the charade.

This would normally be the end of the episode, but there's more! Picard calls Wesley to his Ready Room and commiserates that he's missed his chance to enter the academy once again. He them gives him a field promotion to full ensign, granting him the freedom to do the job he already does but in a better uniform. And clearly, he deserves it. In his short time as an acting ensign he's saved the Enterprise countless times, independently created new life a couple of times, and even once kissed a girl who turned out to be a living column of light. Wesley, we reluctantly salute you. What's that? Written out in Season 4? THANK CHRIST.

TNG WTF: A lot of this episode goes completely off-piste. Betazed fashion, for one (although it does sort of explain Troi's counselling jumpsuit, if this is what they consider casual clothing.) As an aside, the last scene of this episode is the first time Troi wears her grey and lavender counselling jumpsuit, which makes me wonder if she wasn't supposed to have picked it up at Counsellors R Us down on Betazed.

Of course, the main WTF moment of the show is Lwaxana Troi giving oo-mox to Tog. I appreciate that it's not exactly explicit, but in context she is quite definitely giving him a form of sexual pleasure against her free will. The fact that she doesn't consider it so arguably excuses it, but it's the sort of thing that would (appropriately) come under a lot more scrutiny if it happened on a TV show today.

TNG LOL: This is one of TNG's alleged comedy episodes, so there's already a lot to laugh at. Personally, I find it funny that Patrick Stewart presumably badgered the writers into finding another reason for him to do Shakespeare.

Mistakes and Minutiae: This episode reveals that Betazoids can't read Ferengi thoughts and emotions. So any time Troi claimed to be doing that in the past, she was just lying. But given the transparent nature of her evaluations, it's not surprising she got away with it for so long. What's that? The guy threatening to shoot us is aggressive? Thank you, Lieutenant Commander Obvious.

Who's That Face?: Daimon Tog is Frank Corsentino, the original Daimon Bok (from The Battle), and who later plays the Ferengi Gegis in Star Trek Voyager. BUT! His second in command, Farek, is played by Ethan Phillips, who is Star Trek's most beloved character, Neelix, from television's most beloved series, Star Trek Voyager.

Time Until Meeting: No meetings in this episode, but they are having a reception at the start of the episode, which is a bit like a meeting, only with drinks.

Captain's Log: Before I started this rewatch, I used to think I hated Lwaxana Troi episodes. Now that we've just had the third, I'm starting to wonder if I was completely wrong about her. She's a really strong character and her presence invariably interrupts the usual crew dynamic in interesting ways. At the very least, Deanna's never so interesting as when she's arguing with her mother, and it's really hilarious to see her getting petty and being the patronisee rather than the patroniser.

That's not to say it's an unmissable episode. It has its moments, but in many ways it's a return to season one's slightly meandering structure. Troi & Co. don't get abducted until pretty far in, when that would seem to be the larger premise of the episode, and then that plot ends before the end of the episode so that they can do a couple of tacked-on scenes about Wesley.

Still, there are things about this episode that make it special to Star Trek's overall continuity. We get to see Betazed and it's the start of relations with the Ferengi cooling, which paves the way for Quark, Nog and Rom to be series regulars in DS9. I wouldn't say these things are essential to your understanding of the show, but they're certainly interesting. Wesley's field promotion is also important because it gets him out of that awful grey uniform and into a regular uniform. It's about 8 sizes too big, but still. They're small shifts, but if you can't appreciate the small ones as much as the big ones, what's the point?

Watch or Skip? A tentative encouragement to watch, assuming you can stand the family Troi.

Read James' look-back at the previous episode, Sarek, here.

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