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The Game (episode)

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"The Game"
TNG, Episode 5x06
Production number: 40275-206
First aired: 28 October 1991
105th of 176 produced in TNG
105th of 176 released in TNG
  {{{nNthReleasedInSeries_Remastered}}}th of 176 released in TNG Remastered  
212th of 728 released in all
Ktarian game graphics
Teleplay By
Brannon Braga

Story By
Susan Sackett & Fred Bronson and Brannon Braga

Directed By
Corey Allen
45208.2 (2368)
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Wesley Crusher visits the Enterprise only to see everyone behaving strangely on account of an addictive, mind-controlling game.

Summary

Teaser

Commander Riker is on shore leave on Risa, where he's been spending time with a Ktarian woman named Etana Jol. She teases him by taking his combadge, and then, to his disbelief, throws it out a window. She introduces to him a game involving a device that fits over the ears and projects signals into the eyes. This creates in the wearer's field of vision an image of discs going into funnels. When a disk goes into one of said funnels, the player is "rewarded" by receiving pleasure signals from the device. Etana says that the game can go as far as the player will take it, and Riker decides to continue playing.

Act One

"Captain's Log: Stardate 45208.2. Commander Riker has rejoined the Enterprise from Risa, and we are on our way to an uncharted area called the Phoenix Cluster. We're all anticipating this historic first look at the region."

Riker enters the bridge and notices that things are starting to get busy around the Enterprise. He says that five new science teams have just beamed in from the Zhukov with quarters filling fast. Captain Picard adds that on top of everything else, they only have two weeks to complete the exploration -- something that Riker doesn't like, as he thought they had five weeks. This is due to the recent addition of a diplomatic mission to Oceanus IV to the agenda. Picard tasks Riker to ensure that all the science teams have an equal chance to complete their research, which would be a tough juggling act, says Riker. Picard also tells the first officer that they also have a scheduled rendezvous with a shuttle carrying Wesley Crusher, who is vacationing from the Academy and could provide some much-needed extra help.

In engineering, Chief Engineer Geordi La Forge is up to his neck in observation schedules, and explains to Riker the biggest hurdle would be sensor availability, a task made more difficult since two new exobiologists and three stellar cartographers transferred from the Zhukov. Getting down to the business of availability, La Forge tells Riker that the lateral sensors are booked solid for planetary observation, and the gamma ray scanners are being reprogrammed by Ensign Robin Lefler. La Forge compliments her work in engineering, remarking that she's the specialist for this mission. Lefler explains to Riker that they're increasing the available bandwidth of the sensors so more science teams can use the sensors at once. This is done by multiplexing the array, and Lefler assures the first officer that it will be done before they arrive. Riker tells Geordi that he's brought something back from Risa that he has to try. La Forge reluctantly takes a pass as he is running a full sensor recalibration in ten minutes, but promises to see Riker about it later.

In Ten Forward, Riker eyes Deanna Troi, who is enjoying a large chocolate sundae. Jokingly, he asks if she's depressed, to which Troi replies, "I'm fine, commander." She offers him a spoonful, but he politely declines, saying he doesn't like fudge. Troi smiles and tells Riker she never met a chocolate she didn't like. Getting technical, she describes the experience by explaining the best way to eat it and enjoy it, a detailed ritual which amuses Riker. He then tells her about the game he brought back from Risa, which he promises would be "better than chocolate".

Act Two

With the Enterprise and an Template:ShipClass starship parked, Wesley is transported and greeted by Chief O'Brien, whom he congratulates on his daughter, Molly. O'Brien says that she's the spitting image of her father. He informs Wesley that the senior officers are in a meeting, and that Wesley can go to his mother's quarters. At Wesley's request, Miles hails the bridge and confirms that it's alright for Wesley to drop into the observation lounge to say hello.

A darkened room awaits Wesley, who looks around in confusion. The lights go on and Doctor Beverly Crusher greets her son with a big hug, followed by Picard. He speaks to him in Latin and Wesley responds back; Picard credits that his Latin has improved. Troi compliments the uniform as he is looking handsome, and Geordi says the uniform probably "drives the girls wild"". Worf offers him a Tarvokian pound cake which he made himself. Data then asks if their attempts to make him uncomfortable were effective. Wesley admits they were, having wondered if he was on the wrong ship. Riker asks Wesley to assist the crew with the Phoenix Cluster survey. La Forge wants him to settle in first and then to see him in Engineering to get started. Beverly then asks Troi about the game, and she invites the doctor to come by her quarters to check it out.

Wesley and Data talk about his time at the Academy, which Wesley found surprisingly challenging, as there's much more to know than starship operations. Data recounts his early days at the Academy, during which his lack of Human understanding put him at a social disadvantage. One example was practical jokes, of which the android was a victim of several. Wesley completely understands and shares a practical joke that was played on him by fellow cadet Adam Martoni. Another obstacle was the Academy's annual Sadie Hawkins Dance. It was an awkward experience for both. Wesley admits he's not a dancer, and Data shares that he personally learned to dance thanks to Beverly, a talented former dancer. He offers to share what he learned with Wesley.

Getting right to work, Wesley begins to modify the planetary scans while keeping the datalines open for the stellar physicists. Seeing that he's having difficulties with the sensors, Lefler walks over and gives him a hand. They introduce themselves, but before they can chat, Lefler points out that Wesley's neutrinos are drifting, leaving Wesley scrambling to get back to work.

Conflicts arise between the stellar physicists and the planetary evolution team, with both of them wanting to be the first to use the thermal imaging array, Data reports. La Forge suggests they flip a coin, as they won't be able to finish the mission without working together. Data is then called away to sickbay by Beverly, who needs assistance. As he enters, she is working on an experiment using bioactive silicon and needs her tricorder modified to a certain specification. Data agrees to help, but as he works on the tricorder, Beverly shuts him off. Troi and Riker enter sickbay and carry him to a bio-bed, and secure the doors. Beverly begins to work on the android.

Act Three

Enjoying some tea with Picard, Wesley details his instructors at the Academy: Novakovich for anthropology, Walter Horne for creative writing. Picard is pleased to hear that Wesley met Boothby his first week. When asked how he was doing, and mused that Boothby may have told Wesley some stories about Picard in his Academy days, Wesley admits Boothby didn't remember Picard until he saw an old yearbook picture. Boothby was very proud that Picard had become captain of the Enterprise, and showed Wesley a grand tour of the gardens - the very same tour Picard got when he was at the Academy. Wesley asked about the initials "A.F." that Boothby caught Picard carving in his prized elm tree, which Picard admits was an old acquaintance of his. His preoccupation with her cost him a passing grade in organic chemistry. Picard advises Wesley that whenever he meets someone whose initials he would carve in that elm tree, it should not interfere with his studies. Picard is then summoned to sickbay by Beverly.

Beverly explains to the captain that Data was complaining about a servo malfunction, and although her scans came up negative, he collapsed. La Forge determines that his higher signals are intact, but none of them are entering the rest of his body through his positronic brain, almost like a comatose state. Picard wants to be kept up-to-date on the situation.

In his quarters, Riker and La Forge end up with a dead end with no evidence to support a shutdown. The personal, diagnostic, and duty logs all show normal and a standard security sweep shows nothing out of the ordinary. Riker assures the troubled La Forge that Dr. Crusher has everything taken care of, and suggests that La Forge takes a break to unwind. La Forge agrees, which opens the opportunity for Riker to introduce him to the game.

Still working on the sensors, Lefler shares with Wesley her view of conduit configuration quoting her personal Law #36: "You have to go with what works". The laws are her personal rules: Whenever she learns something new, she makes a law so as not to forget it. To date, she has 102 laws. She credits Wesley's reputation for being good. Wesley realizes that Lefler knows more about him than he realizes. She admits she's heard about him from a few friends at the Academy. She also wants to know about the revenge prank he played on Adam Martoni. Wesley mentions there is another side to the story, and then Lefler inquires about his birthmark. Wesley complains he is at a disadvantage, as he hardly knows Lefler. While he needs to work on the sensor relays, he offers a chance to even the score. He invites her to meet him for coffee, but she counters with a dinner proposal, which he accepts.

"Captain's Log, supplemental: We have arrived at the Phoenix Cluster, but it will take us several hours to determine the best possible location for which to conduct our survey. Commander Data's condition remains unchanged with no further indication as to the cause of his collapse."
Wesley and Ogawa

Nurse Ogawa playing the game

Beverly clears a challenging level of the game, but is interrupted by Wesley, who inquires about it. Embarrassed, she concedes that the game was meant for him, she but couldn't resist trying it out. When offered a chance to try it, Wesley passes and instead asks about Data. She says La Forge has everything under control, and stops Wesley from going to help out, reminding him he's on vacation. Running late for his date with Lefler, Wesley promises his mother he will have time to spend with her while he's on board. She then becomes adamant for her son to try one round of the game, but he insists he needs to get ready for his date. She tells Wesley to have a good time and sets the game down on a table.

Lefler begins to talk about her life in Starfleet; her childhood involved frequent moving, as her parents were highly in-demand as specialists. As a child, she enjoyed playing with a tricorder, as Wesley did with a warp coil. She concedes her parents didn't have much time to spend with her, even when she needed them, which prompted her to make her first law: You can only count on yourself. They begin to discuss the game. Lefler says all the engineers are going crazy over it. They glance over at crewman playing the game in a trance-like state. Lefler dismisses it as a fad, but Wesley wants to find out more before playing it. They team up to look into it, and as they leave Ten Forward, another crewman in a command red uniform begins playing.

The two begin to study the game, and what it does to the brain. The highest concentration of activity is in the pleasure center of the brain, a key component in the game: it's addictive. Another unusual reading comes from the prefrontal cortex, which handles reasoning. Wesley concludes he needs to inform the captain about this discovery.

Wesley explains to Picard what he and Lefler discovered, having concluded that the game is psychotropically addictive. Picard is even further concerned when he learns the game affects the brain's reasoning center. Picard says that he'll start an investigation immediately, and thanks Wesley for bringing it to his attention, mentioning how good it is to have him back. As Wesley leaves, he turns around, picks up the game he had hidden when Wesley arrived, and resumes playing.

Act Four

Wesley and Robin investigate Data's mysterious "malfunction", and determine that someone has severed a connection between his positronic brain and the rest of his body. Wesley is disturbed, and tells Robin that only two people on board Enterprise have the training and experience to disable Data in this way: La Forge and his mother.

They deduce that he has been deactivated to be kept out of the way so that the game could be spread throughout the rest of the susceptible crew. To be safe, they replicate fake game devices so that they will appear to have been affected as well. This proves timely when Picard sends Crusher and Worf with a pair of devices to force onto Wesley and Robin, but are fooled into thinking that someone somehow got them to play already.

After ensuring the entire crew has played the game, Captain Picard summons all the senior offices to the bridge. Worf tells Captain Picard that an alien ship is approaching and is hailing the Enterprise. Picard asks Worf to put the message on the video screen. It is Etana Jol, the woman from Risa who originally gave the game to Riker during his shore leave. She is in fact a Ktarian commander, and she now asks Captain Picard for a report. Picard answers "The Enterprise has been secured. We await further instructions".

Act Five

Etana is delighted with Picard's response and we now realize that her encounter with Riker back on Risa was designed to be more than just a romantic interlude, but was part of her plan to addict Riker to the game to the point that he would bring it back to the ship. Over time the game's addictive and mind control properties would allow Etana to gain control of the Enterprise and its crew. We now also learn the true intention of the game - it's part of a Ktarian "expansion project". She now orders various members of the crew to visit nearby Federation outposts and distribute the devices there, and also to make sure that all other ships in the sector get the game. In a reference to Wesley, Picard also informs Etana that they may be able to get the devices to Starfleet Academy. Etana closes the transmision by saying the crew will all be rewarded when the "expansion" is completed.

When the transmission ends, the bridge crew discover that Robin and Wesley have been deceiving them, and attempt to trap Wesley via capturing Robin and forcing her to play the game. Wesley meets up with Robin in Engineering but as they work he comes to realize that she has been compromised, confirmed when in response to Wesley asking if she had performed one of their tasks, she gives him a blank stare and tells him that it's his turn to play the game. He now knows that he is the only person on board who hasn't done so. Wes also realizes that Worf and Riker have traced him to Engineering and are approaching from behind. He escapes Engineering with them in hot pursuit. When further progress is blocked by a force field, he activates a transport program he had prepared ahead of time, just in case. He is beamed to transporter room 3, on deck six. In order to prevent the crew from tracking his where-abouts, Wesley ditches his combadge as he flees the room.

After working through some of Wesley's sabotage, the crew track him to deck six and trap him with force fields. Wesley takes out a type-1 phaser and sets it to randomly fire on the force field. This activity is detected, tricking the crew into thinking he was trying to cut through it and buying him time to get away. He escapes into the Jefferies tubes, but they scan for his body heat in that quarter of the saucer section. Knowing where he's going, Worf and Riker ambush Wesley in the Jefferies tubes and capture him. Even though he grabs onto a grate to anchor himself, they eventually manage to drag him to the bridge, struggling the entire way.

Held down into the captain's chair, he is forced to use the game device, his head held still and at Picard's encouraging, his eyes forced open. Wesley still fights them while his mother encourages him to just relax and let the game play itself. It would seem that he is now addicted - and Ktarian control of the Enterprise is now complete.

Or is it?

At that moment, the lights on the bridge go out, plunging the room into darkness. Data appears from the turbolift and, using a palm beacon, flashes an optical burst pattern into everyone's eyes to disrupt the mind-controlling effects of the game. He reports that he did the same to the rest of the ship, setting all lights and displays to flash as his palm beacon did. When Riker asks how Data is standing after being shut off, Wesley explains that he repaired Data. After learning the situation, Data had set to work on finding a way to dispel the mind-control (eventually developing the coded burst pattern), while Wesley distracted the crew as long as he could with his wild goose chase.

Worf locks onto Etana's ship with a tractor beam. She angrily hails Enterprise, demanding an explanation. When Picard says that her plot has failed, she threatens to destroy the Enterprise, but Worf scans her ship and pointedly reports that her ship is not a threat at all. After making it clear to Etana that she cannot escape, Riker closes the channel on a speechless Etana.

"Captain's Log: Stardate 45212.1. We have delivered the Ktarian vessel to Starbase 82 and are now on course to rendezvous with the starship Merrimac which will transport Wesley Crusher back to Starfleet Academy."

Meanwhile, Wesley prepares to leave the Enterprise. His vacation is over - back to reality and his studies. Riker informs Wesley that his ship is waiting and he should report to the transporter room. Wesley acknowledges that he'll be there shortly. But first he and Robin say their goodbyes to each other, they kiss, and she gives Wesley a going-away gift - a copy of her 102 laws written down. Wesley decides to add "Law 103... A couple of light years can't keep good friends apart". She nods her approval and as the episode ends, Wesley is transported to the ship that will return him to Starfleet Academy.

Memorable Quotes

"Would you like me to leave the two of you alone?"

- Riker to Troi and her chocolate sundae


"I never met a chocolate I didn't like."

- Troi


"Chief O'Brien to bridge."
"Bridge here."
"Wesley Crusher has arrived and wants to know if he can stop by the observation lounge to say "Hi.""
"I suppose that is acceptable."

- Miles O'Brien, contacting Worf on the bridge informing him of Wesley Crusher's arrival on the Enterprise


"Chocolate is a serious thing."

- Troi


"No, thanks. I don't like fudge."

- Riker, after Troi offers him a taste of her sundae


"Your neutrinos are drifting."

- Robin Lefler to Wesley, who is a bit slow in disengaging a handshake with her


"Each wishes to be the first to use the thermal imaging array."
"Well, tell 'em to flip a coin. We've got to work together on this mission otherwise we're never gonna get it done."
"A coin. Very good. I will replicate one immediately."

- Data and Geordi

Background

Story and production

  • Like "Darmok", the story for this episode had a somewhat tumultuous path to the screen. It had originally been pitched by Susan Sackett and Fred Bronson during the fourth season. However, as Ronald D. Moore recalled, "'The Game' kicked around for quite a while and went through lots of permutations." Many writers had taken many approaches to the story, including two drafts that were abandoned. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 230-1)
  • Michael Piller was convinced the premise couldn't be saved. However, Rick Berman reminded Piller that he had been concerned about the lack of science fiction premises on the show. Berman thus suggested giving the story to Brannon Braga, as his first assignment after joining the writing staff. Braga took the pitch in a darker direction, summarizing his treatment as "Wesley's come home and his family's out to get him" (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 230-1; Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 181)
  • Braga compared the plot of this episode to Invasion of the Body Snatchers. (Intergalactic Guest Stars, TNG Season 5 DVD special features) Jeri Taylor commented, "Through an evolutionary process – without really intending to ape that movie – this insidious spread of a game had its origins in kids being addicted to video games now, and what happens to them. That was the original intent and that's what drove the final story and script. That insight followed the development." Braga added, "It's ironic to have the adolescent come back to find all the adults are addicted to a game which is something you'd expect the other way around." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 230)
  • Braga observed, "We were going for fun and high concept. It's an atypical show in some ways and a lot of people had trouble believing Picard would become addicted and all these people would get hooked, but that's the story. Either you tell it or you don't. Not that we didn't give a lot of thought to how the characters became addicted. The characters only become addicted because they were getting the game from people they trusted, which is exemplified in the notorious chocolate scene, which had a very mixed reaction, but I had a lot of fun writing it." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 230)
  • Braga saw this episode as a chance to make the character of Wesley Crusher "a little hipper", by giving him a girlfriend and by showing him to be a cadet capable of pulling practical jokes. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 181) Braga remarked, "When I was writing the teleplay, I tried to relax him a little bit and took the opportunity to make him a more relaxed character with some personality and some spunk. He's more savvy because he was at the Academy and has gone through some changes and he'll pick up on Robin Lefler." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 230)
  • While at Dragon Con 2011, Brent Spiner recalled that during production of this episode, the scene wherein Data is deactivated by Dr. Crusher and falls down onto a bio-bed, Spiner actually hit the bed so hard he cut his chin and had to go to hospital. After returning to the set, director Corey Allen immediately asked Spiner to do the scene again. [1]

Continuity

Production

Allen Spiner Wheaton

Director Corey Allen instructing Brent Spiner and Wil Wheaton

Sets, props, special effects, and costumes

Worf in jefferies tube

The optical extension of the Jefferies tube behind Worf.

Reception

  • Michael Piller commented, "I thought it was a great episode. That was an episode that dealt with my fascination in watching my two sons with their obsession for video games and doing a show that dealt with a non-world shattering issue but people's obsession, almost addiction, to certain types of games." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 230) Piller praised Braga's efforts, and thought it showed that he had promise as a writer. "He delivered that script and did some wonderful things. He wrote scenes that didn't depend on action but went straight to character; and a two minute scene with Troi and a chocolate sundae which was wonderfully written. He has an extraordinary talent to find the moments in [a] script where you can throw in character development and spend the time doing that for the sheer delight of getting to know the character better – and not interrupting the flow." (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 2nd ed., p. 181)
  • Jonathan Frakes also enjoyed "The Game", commenting, "That's a fun episode...It was like O.D.'ing on Nintendo." However, he was disappointed with the computer graphics used to depict the Ktarian game, stating "They told me it was going to be this incredible graphic, and all it was... was a tuba on a checkerboard". (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 231)
  • A mission report for this episode by John Sayers was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine Vol. 18, pp. 38-41.

Video and DVD releases

Links and references

Starring

Also starring

Guest stars

And

Co-stars

Uncredited co-stars

Stand-ins and photo doubles

References

A.F.; anthropology; antimatter regulator; bioactive silicon; birthmark; Boothby; brain; cadet; cherry; chili sauce; chocolate; chocolate chips; chocolate fudge; chocolate ice cream; Cleon system; Cochrane, USS; coffee; coin; coma; cortex processor; Creative Writing; dance; The Dancing Doctor; elm; Endeavour, USS; engineering laboratory; exobiology; Federation; frontal lobe; gamma ray scanner; horga'hn; Horne, Walter; ice cream; internal sensors; Jefferies tube; Ktarians; Ktarian starship; Ktarian game; lateral sensor; Latin; Lefler's Laws; Martoni, Adam; Merrimack, USS; mud; neurological behavior program; neuroreceptor; neutrino; Novakovich; O'Brien, Molly; Template:ShipClass; Oceanus IV; Organic Chemistry; palm beacon; Phoenix Cluster; physics lab; planetary evolution; plasma specialist; positronic brain; positronic link; power cell; practical joke; prefrontal cortex; psychotropic drug; reticular formation; Risa; Sadie Hawkins Dance; security alert; sensor array; septal area; serotonin; servo; shuttle; site-to-site transport; sonic shower; specialist; Spot; Starbase 67; Starbase 82; Starfleet Academy; stellar cartography; stellar physics; stellar physicist; synapse; Tarvokian pound cake; tea; thermal imaging array; three-dimensional chess; tricorder; turbolift; warp coil; Zhukov, USS

Library Computer References

External link


Previous episode:
"Disaster"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5
Next episode:
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