Yep, it’s another ‘Final Frontier Friday’! Welcome as always to our bi-weekly look back at the finest (and sometimes not-so-finest) hours that ‘Star Trek’ has to offer. This week, we’re returning to ‘The Next Generation’ to revisit the fifth season episode ‘The Game’.
‘The Game’ took a rather long road from the page to the screen. It was first pitched by Fred Bronson (whose previous contributions include ‘The Counter-Clock Incident’) and Susan Sackett a year prior, during production of the show’s fourth season. From there, the story was passed from writer to writer, with at least two drafts being completed and ultimately discarded. Showrunner Michael Piller was ready to give up on the story when Rick Berman suggested tossing it to Brannon Braga, who at the time was beginning his transition from intern to staff writer. It was Braga’s darker take (which he summarizes as “Wesley comes home and his family is out to get him”) that finally clicked, leading to the version of the episode that was ultimately filmed.
And really, Wesley is the key to the episode, as he makes his first appearance since departing the Enterprise in ‘Final Mission’ nearly a year earlier. Braga intended ‘The Game’ as a “Wesley Crusher episode,” not merely in the sense of his serving as to the focal character or appearing as a featured guest star, but by taking the opportunity to actually develop the character a bit. Specifically, Wesley was presented as a bit more relaxed and comfortable in his own skin than he had been in the past, his time at Starfleet Academy having clearly done him some good. He also finds himself with a girlfriend (or maybe it’s more of a summer fling?) in the form of Robin Lefler. And while it’s not quite happily ever after, it certainly ends better than his first attempt at dating (if you remember ‘The Dauphin’).
Sounds promising, but did it all come together as a decent episode? Well, that is the question I’m here to answer, isn’t it?
While vacationing on Risa, Riker takes up with Etana Jol, a Ktarian woman who introduces him to a game. Though mechanically simple, it rewards players by triggering an intensely pleasurable sensation.
As Riker returns to the Enterprise, the ship is en route to the Phoenix Cluster to conduct an exploratory mission, though they’ve been given less time to complete the assignment than would be ideal due to the needs of a diplomatic mission. On the bright side, they also have a rendezvous scheduled with a ship carrying Wesley Crusher, who is on vacation from Starfleet Academy. Later, Riker meets Troi in Ten Forward. The counselor is in the midst of an especially sensual bowl of ice cream when Riker tells her he’s brought something back from Risa that’s even better than chocolate. Asked what it is, he grins and replies that it’s “just a game.”
Wesley beams aboard, reuniting with O’Brien, who tells him the senior staff is in a meeting. Wesley decides to drop in, but on arriving in the observation lounge he finds a surprise party waiting for him. As he catches up with the others, Crusher asks Troi about the game. Later, Wesley is helping out in engineering where he meets and is immediately charmed by Ensign Robin Lefler, a mission specialist. Meanwhile, Crusher asks Data to help her out in sickbay. When he arrives, however, she deactivates him and is quickly joined by Riker and Troi. The doctor opens a panel on Data’s head and goes to work.
Wesley and Picard are catching up over tea in the captain’s quarters. On Picard’s advice, Wesley has befriended Boothby, the Academy’s legendary groundskeeper, and a man with no shortage of embarrassing stories about Picard. They are interrupted by Crusher, who needs the captain in sickbay. Once there, she tells him Data came in complaining of some mechanical issue and collapsed. LaForge has examined the android and reports that, essentially, his brain is cut off from his body. While searching Data’s quarters for anything that could’ve caused this, Riker introduces LaForge to the game.