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

“The Battle”
Written by Herbert J. Wright, Story by Larry Forrester
Directed by Rob Bowman

Season 1, Episode 9
Original air date: November 16, 1987
Star date: 41723.9

Mission summary

Dr. Crusher makes a house call to Captain Picard’s quarters. He has a headache, which is so rare in the 24th century, aspirin is apparently an old folk remedy, and thus no longer an option. The captain’s sudden malaise might have something to do with the Ferengi ship nearby, which summoned Enterprise to the Xendi Sabu system for some unknown purpose and has kept them waiting for three days.

But good things come to those who wait, and finally the Ferengi DaiMon, Bok, unveils a surprise gift for Picard: his old command, the U.S.S. Stargazer. And it isn’t even his birthday. Bok claims the derelict starship is being presented to honor Picard as “the Hero of Maxia,” recalling a battle Picard barely remembers in which he destroyed a hostile Ferengi vessel—unidentified at the time—with a flashy bit of strategy still taught at Starfleet Academy, the Picard maneuver. Better yet, Bok is returning the Stargazer to the man who killed an entire Ferengi crew at no cost. What a bargain! Yes, this all makes perfect sense, so Picard accepts and can’t wait to get back aboard the ship he was forced to abandon so many years ago.

Enterprise’s crack security team determines there is no danger on Stargazer and Picard beams over, even though his headaches are  worsening and vivid flashbacks to Stargazer’s last battle now invade his waking thoughts. While examining the things he’d left in his old quarters, he fails to notice one small addition: a glowing orb in a trunk, which seems to trigger another severe headache. It matches the sphere that Bok is manipulating and cackling over on his own ship, like a deranged psychic with a crystal ball.

Enterprise engages a tractor beam and starts towing Stargazer to a starbase, while the Ferengi tag along for some reason. Picard’s dreams are troubled by revived memories of the battle in the Maxia Zeta star system, visions of the Stargazer bridge burning around him and his crew. Riker is troubled when Data discovers that the Stargazer logs conflict with Picard’s official version of events: his final entry is a confession, in his own voice, that he destroyed the Ferengi ship with no provocation. This is a clear forgery, but they have two days to prove it before they hear back from Starfleet Command.

Nonetheless, Picard becomes tortured with self-doubt and the voices and images in his head. Dr. Crusher has no choice but to knock him out with a tranquilizer and tuck him into bed. Bok continues to play with his shiny toy, strengthening Picard’s memories as he sleeps. “And now, dear Captain, you are ready to live the past,” Bok says to himself. “You will injure yourself as you once injured me.” It’s possible he doesn’t have Picard’s best interests in mind.

Data and La Forge easily prove the log was doctored, and Dr. Crusher may have discovered something interesting and significant in Picard’s brain scan, but the captain dismisses everyone and orders Riker to release the Stargazer to conserve energy. Have you seen the monthly power bill for the Enterprise?

Meanwhile, young Wesley has been noodling with the Enterprise’s sensors and violating doctor-patient confidentiality, so he is the only one who notices low-intensity transmissions coming from the Ferengi ship which match the anomalous patterns in Picard’s brain scan. Dr. Crusher reports this startling revelation to Riker, but it’s too late: Picard has beamed over to Stargazer, where Bok delivers a villainous monologue, powers up his sphere, and leaves a hallucinating Picard to reenact the Battle of Maxia with Enterprise in the role of the destroyed Ferengi vessel.

Now that they’re looking for it, La Forge discovers another transmission from the sphere in Picard’s quarters. Data devises a defense to the “undefeatable” Picard Maneuver and Riker breaks through the captain’s delusion enough to get him to destroy the “thought maker” on Stargazer’s bridge with the phaser he apparently carries all the time. Boom!

PICARD: Bok! Where is Bok?
RIKER: Removed from command, sir. Placed under guard for his act of personal vengeance. Seems there was no profit in it.
PICARD: In revenge, there never is. Let the dead rest. And the past remain the past. Enterprise, lock on. Beam me home, Riker.


This episode is hampered by one significant flaw: it doesn’t make any sense. Picard might argue that revenge never makes sense, but Bok’s plan is more ridiculous than most, nearly on the order of luring Picard over to Stargazer with a barrel of Earl Grey and chaining him up behind a bulkhead. That might even be easier to accept than these thought makers that have supposedly been banned by the unscrupulous Ferengi—another bit of convenient alien technology with a baffling purpose. Move along, nothing to see here.

Once again, the crux of the plot depends on the Enterprise crew being incompetent or acting unbelievably. It’s astonishing that the sensors on the ship are incapable of detecting an anomalous signal from inside, not to mention an approaching ship—until a smug schoolboy enhances their sensitivity. Not only is Wesley Crusher superior to every engineer aboard the ship, he also bests Starfleet engineers and the starship designers at Utopia Planitia!

The moment Picard begins hallucinating that he’s back on his old ship, with accompanying head pain that causes him to periodically contort in agony and black out, it’s time to declare him unfit for duty and figure out what the hell is wrong with him, particularly considering the unusual timing of their Ferengi rendezvous. As you’d expect, Troi continues to be utterly useless in matters of the mind, which is, you know, her job.

It’s at least gratifying to see Picard lecture Wesley on reporting his sensor discovery immediately through the comm, rather than delivering the message on foot to the Bridge. Maybe the eager ensign just wanted everyone to compliment his new outfit. The oversight also may have been genetic, considering his mother makes the same mistake herself later in the episode; when Wesley enlightens Dr. Crusher about the captain’s brain wave patterns, she freaks out and decides to tell Riker right away… So she and Troi rush out of Sickbay to tell him in person, giving Picard just enough time to beam himself over to Stargazer.

But most disappointing of all: No one thinks it’s strange in the first place that Bok wants to present the commander who destroyed a Ferengi ship with a prize to commemorate his “heroism”—especially for free. Has no one read the Aeneid? For the love of God, Montresor, beware of Ferengi bearing gifts!

This whole episode feels drawn out and overdone, trying to engage the viewer with several contrived mysteries. What do the Ferengi want? What’s wrong with Picard? What really happened on Stargazer? But it also cuts all the tension by showing us the answer early on: Bok and his thought maker. The brief confusion over the forged ship logs seems unnecessary. What was the point? Did Bok intend it merely as a distraction? How much more interesting it would have been if he’d spent his life’s fortune on a good forgery, in the hopes of discrediting Picard and embarrassing Starfleet. The whole “You killed my son, now prepare to die” motif is clichéd and the plot is far too elaborate. I mean, why not just shoot Picard?

And yet, I’ve always had a soft spot for this episode, because it reveals more of Picard’s background, shows us a new Starfleet design, and introduces the Picard Maneuver. But this time, I realized that the Picard Maneuver is as forced and ludicrous as the rest of the episode. It’s hardly the brilliant military tactic Starfleet makes it out to be, especially if they can come up with a defense against it in about ten seconds–even if it takes an android to do it and foreknowledge that the maneuver is about to be performed. (At least the solution didn’t come from Wesley this time.) Picard brushes it off with, “I did what any good helmsman would have done.” I don’t think he’s being falsely modest. He may not have known that the warp effect would confuse the enemy ship—he was just trying to surprise them and get to point blank range. Seems like someone at Starfleet simply fixated on it as the best idea ever, just like the writers.

I also would have preferred that the “Battle of Maxia” be something that already plagued Picard’s conscience, a moment that defined his career and character, in the way that killing an entire crew and losing your first ship might. Instead, it takes Bok to dredge the memories up to the surface and force him to confront them, except not really.

I don’t know why I keep getting these Ferengi episodes to review, but I suspect it’s Torie’s revenge for some past re-watch I inflicted on her.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 2 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: This is not the worst thing Wesley has ever worn, but it isn’t good either. It looks like he asked someone to make him a Starfleet costume for Halloween. With rainbows. Best get used to it–we’ll be seeing him in this outfit a lot. Do you think he has just one that he washes often, or a whole closet of them?

Best Line: PICARD: He is not for sale. Commander Data is, um, is, um…
RIKER: Is second-hand merchandise. You wouldn’t want him.

Trivia/Other Notes: Bok will return with another hackneyed revenge plot in the seventh season episode “Bloodlines,” bringing the series full circle: from crap to crap.

This episode marks the only time a member of the crew other than Picard refers to Commander Riker as “Number One.”

Fans commonly refer to Patrick Stewart’s trademark tug at the bottom of his uniform tunic, usually when rising from a seat or making a decision, as “the Picard maneuver.” It would make a much better focus for a Starfleet Academy class, but of course we’ll have to wait until season 2 before we can see it in action.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 8 – “Justice.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 10 – “Hide and Q.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.