Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “The Price”

The Price“The Price”
Written by Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Robert Sheerer

Season 3, Episode 8
Original air date: November 13, 1989
Star date: 43385.6

Mission summary

Troi has a fight with the replicator over chocolate, because she’s had an exhausting day or has her space period or whatever. But she can’t even enjoy it because Picard summons her to a diplomatic reception for a first look at a wormhole owned by the Barzans. The Barzan Premier, Bhavani, plans to auction off rights to the wormhole and so the Enterprise hosts delegates from several interested parties: the Federation, represented by Mendoza; the Caldonians, represented by Leyor; and the Chrysalians, represented by a humanoid named Devinoni Ral, with a sexy lady hanging off his arm. He and Troi lock eyes with the kind of vapid, sultry looks Calvin Klein models wear, making it really uncomfortable when Bhavani says “There it is, ladies and gentlemen, the first and only stable wormhole known to exist. It’s yours, for the right price. ”

I hope she means the space anomaly.

Negotiations begin, and are interrupted by a new delegation: the Ferengi. The leader, DaiMon Goss, takes a seat at the table and at Picard’s request dismisses his two consuls, Kol and Dr. Arridor. Goss offers to beat any price on the table with a bag of gold, which I guess he hasn’t realized is worthless yet. Meanwhile, Troi is Facebooking Ral in her quarters when he comes in. They exchange some smalltalk but he launches into full-out creeper mode, running his hands through her hair and asking for dinner at 8. Sexy!

The first round of negotiations didn’t end well for the Federation, who are concerned about the Ferengis and Ral, but that’s okay, because they want to learn more about the wormhole before throwing all their chips in. An initial probe shows that the wormhole leads to the Gamma quadrant, but Geordi and Data plan to run a manned test of their own the next day to kick all the tires first. You know those snake-oil wormhole dealers in the future… Well, they’re at negotiations, too, and because they’re Ferengis they distill some “pyrocytes” to cause an allergic reaction in the Federation representative and get a competitive edge. It works, and Mendoza is out for the count for the rest of the episode. Naturally the ship’s cardshark Riker takes his place because poker is basically the same thing as diplomacy, right? As we all know Kissinger was a killer poker player.

While the men do the real work, Troi invites Ral into her quarters for dinner. He goes straight to dessert and carries her off, romance-cover style.

The manned probe is well underway (in both storylines, I guess…) and so Geordi and Data leap through the wormhole, with a separate Ferengi pod in close pursuit behind them. But they find themselves nowhere near where they’re supposed to be. They’re in the Delta quadrant, not the Gamma quadrant, and if they don’t get back through that wormhole soon they’re going to be meeting Captain Janeway before they ever see the Enterprise again.

Ral’s own, um, survey has ended in a foot massage, body oil, and some totally casual needling about Troi’s relationship to Riker. She assures him they’re just friends now and tries to change the subject to him. He admits that he’s not really what he appears–he, too, is part Betazoid–and he uses that quarter of himself to gain a competitive advantage at the negotiating table to exploit others’ emotions. Like Troi’s, because she totally falls for his isolated quarterling persona. But she’s loving it, and the next day she and Dr. Crusher meet for calisthenics to talk about relationships, like an 80s version of a Upper East Side spinning class. Crusher tells her to go for it, proving her internal BFF red alert system is clearly down for repairs.

Ral, meanwhile, is off doing tough-guy real-life poker. He senses Leyor is nervous about the administrative aspect of running an interstellar toll booth, and so convinces him to drop out in exchange for a deal with the Chrysalians. When Troi learns what happened, she gently confronts him about being a con-man, and asks why he doesn’t disclose his empathic abilities.

TROI: I think you don’t tell them so you can gain an advantage.
RAL: Well, I gained an advantage by using it with you. You didn’t seem to mind that.

I did, does that count? He then tries to draw a parallel between the way he’s made a career of exploiting people’s emotions for money and the way she uses her abilities in her role as a counselor protecting a ship, saying she’s the more unethical one. This works on her, but no one else. As if to prove her point, he goes to Ten Forward and sits down with Riker. He tries to unsettle him first by insinuating he’s not man enough for his own command, and then going straight to the “guess where I was last night” routine. Riker is disgusted, calls Ral on his transparent attempt at emotional manipulation, and leaves in a confident twirl. Nice.

But Ral’s not done. Just as he and Riker make their final pitches to the Premier, DaiMon Goss, having stolen away in the night on his vessel, starts firing missiles at the wormhole. He claims that the Ferengi bid was never seriously considered. Ral seizes the chance to show the Premier that this is merely a power struggle between the war-like Federation and the war-like Ferengi. The Premier, duped into believing the Chrysalians can offer a more peaceful contract, decides to accept their offer. Ral, then, negotiates with the Ferengi to allow them free passage through the wormhole, leaving the Federation out in the cold.

Of course now everyone thinks something’s fishy, and it’s finally time for Counselor Obvious to shine. Troi outs her empathic boyfriend and his obvious ploy to secure the Barzan contract. But the joke’s on them, because at that moment Data and Geordi emerge from the wormhole and explain that it’s completely unstable and, thus, worthless. On the plus side, the two Ferengi consuls got trapped in the delta quadrant because they wouldn’t trust Geordi.

In the end, Ral packs up to face the Chrysalians and the lemon they just bought. But he wants Troi to share in his humiliation!

RAL: I’m very grateful for what you did, in a way. It’s made me take a hard look at who I am. I don’t like what I see. I once asked you to run away with me. Now I’m asking again. I need you. You could help me change. You could be my conscience.
TROI: I already have a job as counselor.

The Price

Analysis

I need to shower after watching this.

I wish I could just blame Ral, with his soulless dead eyes, total creeper vibe, complete inability to pick up social cues or respect personal boundaries, and general douchiness. But the problem here is Troi. She likes chocolate! And exercising in a leotard with her gal-pal who is the only other female on the ship with a name! And she has emotions and gets manipulated because of them! Any one of these things would be okay, they really would. But together, it’s the most ludicrous stereotype onscreen short of a Lifetime original movie, and given that Troi is given absolutely no other identifiable qualities it’s a degrading, offensive shortcut to character. I was sure the episode was going to end with a “Next time, on Days of Our Lives…” where we discover that Ral is really a twin and Troi has secretly been in love with the other one who’s also a spy and married but she has cancer and must tell her son.

Right.

This is right up there with the Dr. Crusher incubus episode. They both share this misguided idea that just because a main character gets laid, it must be sex-positive. Well, it’s not. First of all, Ral has a disturbing serial killer vibe going on (that voice goes straight to my flight reflex), then guilts her into sleeping with him by daring her to progress faster than she’s comfortable with. So empowering! Then, sex completely addles Troi’s mind such that she can’t see through this complete scumbag’s bag of pick-up artist tricks. Finally, when all was said and done, I felt like applauding. Not because she has that hilarious epiphany and tells him to get someone else to wipe his emotional ass, but because the thing was over. But I am glad she told him to get lost, too.

Aside from the cartoonish sexism (just a wee little aside…), there’s something inherently hilarious about trying to parallel 1) poker; 2) diplomacy; and 3) mind-reading. I love the way Ral does the “I’m not unethical, YOU’RE unethical!” table-turning. How is there even on its a face any kind of equivalency between being a woman specifically hired for her empathic ability to be a therapeutic counselor and a hired con-man? REALLY, TNG? And I love the little poker thing, mostly because it’s obvious that none of these delegates have any kind of “hand” to reveal but rather the Barzans are just picking the race they like the most, so it’s ultimately a meaningless comparison. Riker is just so good! At being… clean and well-behaved such that the Barzans will want him as a neighbor! POKER.

I do like the wormhole concept, as well as seeing various delegations vie for it. Too bad one of them is represented by Norman Bates, Pick-Up Artist, and the rest all drop out before it gets interesting.

Send this back to the daytime soap opera vault.

Torie’s Rating: Dead Stop (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread AlertThread Alert: Our first look at the full-body spandex-plus-bathing-suit ensemble we will see again and again. The best part is Troi’s boob divider. Because who needs a sports bra when your boobs can flap around independently instead! The future, ladies and gentlemen.

Best Line: MENDOZA: You must play poker, Commander.
RIKER: Poker… Is that a game of some sort?

Trivia/Other Notes: If you think what they left in was bad, wait until you hear what they left out. First, a cut scene involved O’Brien getting dating advice about his then-girlfriend “Mitzi” (who I am assured was not a toy poodle). Wesley also got advice on how much his mom totally sucks for not letting him go to a sleepover. Oh, and the last scene was going to be Troi eating a tub of ice cream by herself while watching Gray’s Anatomy. (Okay it wasn’t, but if it had been there, would you have blinked an eye?)

Kol and Dr. Arridor return in Voyager‘s “False Profits.”

The original title was “A Price Far Above Rubies.” As in the Biblical proverb: “Who can find a virtuous woman? For her price is far above rubies.” SHOWER. NOW.

And my absolute favorite: Michael Piller remarked, “As far as servicing the character of Troi, it was quite a wonderful vehicle and she was marvelous.” She got serviced all right. Ugh.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 7 – “The Enemy.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 9 – “The Vengeance Factor.”

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About Torie Atkinson

Torie Atkinson is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.