Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Peak Performance

A war game goes awry and Armin Shimerman pops up in this week's Star Trek: TNG look-back...

This review contains spoilers.

2.20 Peak Performance

The Enterprise welcomes on board a Zakdorn strategist named Sirma Kolrami, a snooty, arrogant man who appears to be a cross between Hans Moleman and Kim Jong Il. Although Picard and Riker protest the exercise, he’s here to oversee a war game between Picard and Riker to help Starfleet evaluate its crew in light of the Borg threat.

Learning that Kolrami is a master of the game Strategema, Riker challenges him to a match, fully aware that he’ll lose. Despite the support of the crew, Riker is thrashed, much to Pulaski’s annoyance.

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Riker is given command of the Hathaway, a beat-up starship that’s barely functioning, and allowed to assemble a crew of 40. With Data excluded, Riker picks Worf, La Forge, Wesley (eh?) and 36 nobodies and they set about rebuilding the ship.

Meanwhile, Pulaski challenges Kolrami to a game of Strategema in Data’s name. Kolrami is intrigued by the idea of playing a sophisticated computer and accepts. He unexpectedly thrashes Data, which makes our android friend to relieve himself of duty and go into a loop attempting to discover the cause of his “malfunction”. Even Troi and Pulaski, the two most useful and helpful crew members, can’t snap him out of it!

After Wesley sneaks back onto the Enterprise and steals some anti-matter, the Hathaway gets a trump card in the fight: a single second of warp drive. Ooh, that’ll be useful, right? Well, maybe. Picard tells Data to get over himself, so he does, and the fight commences.

As it happens, fighting your ex-crew means they’ve got all the dirt on your ship, and Worf uses a sensor trick to make the Enterprise think they’re being attacked by Romulans. With Picard wrong-footed, the Hathaway scores a few hits. Picard is rounding on them when suddenly a Ferengi vessel approaches. This time Picard won’t be fooled, but HANG ON! It’s real! What a twist.

The Ferengi ship takes a few pot-shots at the Enterprise, conveniently disabling it in some specific ways (weapons set to fake mode, transporters down) leaving them unable to aid the virtually defenceless Hathaway. The Ferengi think there’s something on board the smaller ship, and with the Enterprise out of action they’ve got no way to prevent their foes from boarding!

Instead, they formulate a plan whereby the Enterprise fires photo torpedoes at the Hathaway, which warps away the moment they explode giving the impression that it’s been destroyed (which works, because most starship destructions are explosions superimposed over model shots, so it won’t look any different!). The plan succeeds, but the annoyed Ferengi are about to attack the Enterprise anyway, so Worf uses his sensor trick on them, causing them to flee.

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With the threat ended, Data plays Kolrami at Strategema again. This time he plays to draw, causing Kolrami to do the futuristic equivalent of flipping the board over and storming out. Everyone congratulates Data on his win, and we get the greatest of all TV conventions: the cast laughing out into the credits like it’s an episode of Thundercats. Oh, Snarf, what’ve you done this week?

TNG WTF: Worf’s viewscreen trick is bizarre. Apparently the screen isn’t a visual feed of anything, but an image reconstructed from sensor inputs. Worf tricks the sensors, which causes them render a fake ship onto the image, presumably in full realistic detail. Sounds… convoluted. Personally, I wouldn’t want to use a security-sensitive piece of equipment that gives me less accuracy than looking out of a window…

TNG LOL: Worf: “I have wagered heavily in the ship’s pool that you will get past the sixth plateau.” Riker:”And if I don’t? Worf: “Then I will be… irritated.”

Who’s That Face?: The Ferengi captain Bractor is Armin Shimerman, making his second appearance as one of three Ferengi characters. Roy Brocksmith, who played Kolrami, shows up in basically every major series on TV during the 80s and 90s.

Mistakes and Minutiae: There’s a pretty hard-to-miss fluff in this episode, which is that Worf is able to fool the Enterprise’s sensors because he’s got the ship’s security codes. But he later does the same to the Ferengi ship. So, er, chalk one up to Starfleet espionage?

Time Until Meeting: 00:29. RIGHT IN! Although it’s not a big meeting (just Riker, Picard and Kolrami) it does take place in the meeting room, and that makes it count.

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Captain’s Log: Lots to like! Humorous guest-star, great dialogue throughout the episode, ship-to-ship battles, Riker Rikering it up and Data learning a lesson about being human. Everything you want out of a TNG episode.

Personally, I enjoyed the scene of Picard chewing Kolrami out over his anti-Riker prejudice and the idea that Picard wasn’t keen on war-games because they were supposed to be a peaceful organisation on an exploration mission. Always nice when someone remembers that (not like Captain “Arm all Phasers” Janeway).

The only really weird thing about this episode is the way a Ferengi ship just sort of shows up out of nowhere. It’s not exactly deus ex machina, but nor is it foreshadowed or discussed at any point prior to it happening. Perhaps I’m sticking to some platonic ideal of storytelling, but personally I think if you’re going to have your villains turn up in the last fifteen minutes, you should at least have discussed the possibility earlier on.

But that aside, it’s a good episode. Fun characters, good plot, reasonably clever resolution. It’s not a classic, but if a Picard Vs. Riker battle doesn’t sound like fun, what does?

Watch or Skip? Watch. Just for Brocksmith.

Read James’ review of the previous episode, The Emissary, here.

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