Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Next Generation 2x21 "Peak Performance"

rating: ***

Memory Alpha summary

via Tim Lynch Reviews
Picard vs. Riker...
need I go on?
Consider this, if you are going to be a fan terminally disgruntled with the clip show season finale "Shades of Gray," the real end of the second season.  The fight that seems to have been pitched metaphorically between Picard and his first officer, Riker, finally happens.  Sort of.

"Peak Performance" boasts significance for a number of Next Generation creations aside from the leading officers of the Enterprise.  The whole episode is predicated on preparations for further Borg encounters.  It's also the only Ferengi episode of the season.  (Fun fact!  The Borg were created to make up for how lousy the Ferengi turned out to be, at least initially.)  And that strategist from the Zakdorn.  Yeah.  The episode didn't quite nail the strategist or the Zakdorn, unfortunately.  If you have an unfavorable opinion of the episode, it's because of that guy.

But you can almost ignore him, because the crew rises to the occasion, easily the best ensemble effort of the season.  The stars, however, are the ones simulating war in opposing starships, Picard and Riker.  I've been postulating in my thoughts throughout the season that it seemed somewhat likely that the creators had seriously entertained the idea of finding a fix for the series by replacing Picard with Riker as the lead character.  Riker had an excellent head-start with "A Matter of Honor," and generally came off better than Picard throughout the season, though they notably both shined in the series standout "The Measure of a Man," which may have also been the point where they started to realize, maybe Picard is not such a lost cause after all.  And so both are put to the ultimate test at last in "Peak Performance."

Picard retains the Enterprise in this scenario, while Riker is given command of a far lesser ship, which again puts the emphasis on where they currently stand, Riker having to prove himself while all Picard has to do is prove competent, a little opposite of the dynamic from the rest of the season, but by this point completely earned, and exactly as it should be.

And the funny thing is, much as in "Measure of a Man," standing between them, as it were, is Data, who also finally has a culmination of the odd relationship he's had with Pulaski throughout the season.  Data is challenged to defeat the master strategist (never mind that the challenge itself looks silly), can't do it (leading to a precursor of his self-doubt in Star Trek Generations and even The Doctor's internal conflicts in Voyager), but finally manages a draw, a novel solution to what is otherwise something of a variation on the famous no-win scenario known as the Kobayashi Maru test (as featured in the second and eleventh films).

Well, as I said, an excellent alternative for concluding the season.

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Diana Muldaur
Armin Shimerman

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