Man of the People

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers regarding this week's TNG offering, "Man of the People". Those not wishing to be exposed to spoiler elements prematurely are advised to keep clear. Ecch. Well, I'll say this for it. It wasn't as bad as it looked. Of course, very little *could* have been as bad as this looked from the preview--and this was still pretty godawful. More after this synopsis from your local station:

After the ship he originally traveled on is damaged in an attack, the respected Lumerian ambassador Ramid Ves Alkar comes on board to journey to a dispute in the Rekag-Cironi system. Also with him is a very aged woman, Sev Maylor, whom Alkar refers to as his mother, and who is by all appearances a mean-spirited, nasty-tempered woman.

As the Enterprise journeys to Cironia, Troi and Alkar hit it off rather nicely. Their friendship is hindered, however, by Maylor, who persistently keeps after Troi, threatening that she will always regret any attachment she forms with Alkar. Troi, disturbed, is distracted when Riker comes to work on the crew evaluations, but cheers up with his reassurance and begins to work. However, just then, Maylor dies--and strangely enough, Alkar seems almost completely undisturbed. He asks Troi, as a fellow empath, to assist him in the funeral ritual, a request she happily grants. However, at the end of the ritual, Alkar touches his (now glowing) funeral stone to Troi's dormant one, and Troi reacts with something akin to shock.

Some time later, Troi seems very edgy and concerned with her appearance. Beverly's examination of Maylor, meanwhile, turns up high levels of neurotransmitter residue and no trace of any disease. She asks Picard for permission to conduct an autopsy, but since there's no obvious threat to the ship and Alkar says it's against Lumerian custom, Picard refuses. Not long after that, a very distracted Troi goes to see Alkar and attempts to seduce him. When Alkar turns her down, saying that their relationship "just can't be that way," she angrily leaves and instead makes a pass at a random ensign in the turbolift with her. When Riker arrives not long after this to work again on the crew evaluations, the ensign hurriedly leaves and Troi badgers and snaps at Riker about perceived jealousy. Riker, realizing Troi is in no condition to work, attempts to make a graceful exit.

Later, with the Enterprise having arrived at Cironia, Picard and Alkar work with two other members of Alkar's delegation (Liva and Jarth). With tentative arrangements made to bring both sides to the negotiations, all seems well. However, Troi shows further signs of strain when she upbraids one of her patients for "whining" and "complaining" all the time, and Geordi and Beverly find evidence of *dramatic* deterioration in Maylor's condition in the three days she was on board. That evening, as Alkar relaxes in Ten-Forward, Troi (who now looks two decades older and is dressed as slinkily as possible) marches in and accuses Alkar of flirting with Liva. She insults everyone she can until marched out by Riker--and then, once Riker has brought her back to her quarters, she attempts to seduce him, then deeply scratches his face with her nails. Riker, decidedly uncomfortable, hastily leaves, as Troi, all but hysterically, begs him not to.

That hysteria becomes even more evident the next morning, when Alkar informs her he's going down to the surface. She reacts with jealous rage, accusing him of going to Liva and then attacking him in the transporter room with a knife when he attempts to beam down. The assault is unsuccessful, although Picard is grazed, and Alkar beams down as Troi and Picard are taken to sickbay. An analysis shows that Troi (now looking as aged as Maylor did) also has extraordinarily high levels of neurotransmitter activity. Now an autopsy is justified, it seems; and as Alkar is incommunicado in negotiations planetside, Picard approves it.

The autopsy shows two mysterious things: first, that Maylor was in many respects a scant thirty years old physically; and second, that her DNA shows she was most definitely *not* Alkar's mother. With Troi's condition deteriorating rapidly, Picard and Worf beam down to confront Alkar. He informs them that he has the ability to channel his unpleasant, distracting emotions into others, thus freeing himself to be the perfect diplomat. Unfortunately, the results are the rapid aging and death of his "receptacles". Although Alkar sees nothing wrong with this, Picard is completely appalled, and threatens to take Alkar back immediately. However, Alkar refuses, and Picard and Worf come under threat. They leave empty-handed, but immediately work to plan a way to bring him back.

In the end, Beverly temporarily "kills" Troi to get Alkar to break his link with her. Alkar, sensing that death, returns to the Enterprise to conduct a new "funeral ritual" with Liva. With time running out, Beverly revives Troi just as the ritual is concluding, and as she begins the neurotransmitter decontamination, Alkar suddenly collapses, then attacks Liva. Liva is beamed to safety, and Alkar, unable to cope with the dramatic overload of emotional feedback, ages rapidly and dies in mere moments. Troi, returned to normal in both appearance and attitude, returns to her duties aboard the Enterprise.

Well, hopefully that should do it. And now, the rest of the review:

First, let me shake you of the belief that I liked nothing about the show. There were a few things I thought were interesting. For example:

--At least in the one scene with Picard planetside, Chip Lucia (Alkar) was very effective in playing someone completely conscienceless and virtually emotionless. That one scene was somewhat shocking.

--The climax was harsh; every bit as harsh as it deserved to be. I found that particularly effective.

--There is one particularly cute bit of name-dropping that I thought was clever. We have a threat whose most prominent symptom is rapid aging; and the name of the ship originally carrying Alkar was the "Dorian". I expected to see a Capt. Gray show up somewhere as well. :-)

That, however, is about it. Now, on to the much longer list of problems I found.

The biggest one has nothing to do with the storyline; it's the writing and acting of the characters. I can't remember the last time I saw a TNG episode with everyone *this* flat; I felt like I was watching a picture of an episode rather than an episode. I don't know if the writing or the acting is more to blame, but given the abilities this cast can do when written well (and that Stewart and Spiner can often turn in terrific performances even from lousy scripts), I'm tempted to blame more of it on Frank Abatemarco, new supervising producer and writer of this show.

Actually, I should amend that point above just a bit. Everyone was flat and lifeless except Troi. Unfortunately, *she* was over-the-top and in major "screaming ninny" mode. I don't know where the decision was made that a show turning Troi into the bride of Frankenstein and letting her occasionally run around in skimpy outfits was somehow a great dramatic idea, but I completely disagree.

Bits of the scenes featuring Troi, in fact, made the show downright *unpleasant* to watch at times. Her scream of abandonment after Alkar leaves had me sorely tempted to go back to grading the papers I had in front of me, and her attempt to seduce Alkar had me wondering if anybody actually talks that way. (Certainly no one I know does.)

Although I think Troi has often been misused as a character, I'll grant that there are a few Troi-focused shows here and there which have succeeded: "Loud as a Whisper" and "The Masterpiece Society" come to mind as two of them. This, on the other hand, highlighted the facets I really *dislike* about Troi: Sirtis is usually rotten at getting across any anger without looking petty and "Hollywood" doing it, Troi is too often used as a token sexpot without any rhyme or reason, and there doesn't often seem to be anything beneath the sexpot exterior. That's not what I watch the show for, folks.

Anyway, enough about that. On to the plot, such as it was. Two words come to mind: "predictable" and "dishonest".

I found the show entirely predictable, in that I could have told you roughly what was going to happen before the opening credits even rolled. Maylor's not really ancient or his mother? Check. Alkar's a manipulative, conscienceless swine? Yep. Troi will be his next target, but miraculously revived with less than three minutes to go in the show? Done. Anything of particular importance that I missed? Not that I can see.

Then, there's "dishonest", which is a word I very rarely use for TNG. I think the show wasn't truthful in setting itself up. From all appearances, both in the preview and throughout the episode itself, the focus of the show was usually on rapid-aging problems. Whoops; but both TOS and TNG have already *had* a rapid-aging show; we shouldn't repeat that blatantly. Hey, how about chalking it up to psychically channeling negative emotions that somehow end up aging the victim in a way that can be immediately reversed? Yeah, that'll work.

No, thank you. If you want to rerun an old technique, do that; but at least be up-front about it, guys. Don't attempt to shoehorn in another problem that's "really" the cause if it doesn't work. (The fact that this meant another "vampire" type of story when we had one just two weeks earlier is also a problem, but that's a different issue.)

Aside from basic issues of the plot simply not being interesting, it was also riddled with inconsistencies. Let's see, this psychic "waste" rapidly ages people to the point of changing *hair color* [you remember, those cells that are already dead and not affected by what the body's condition is?], and is easily curable by lowering neurotransmitter levels, but Bev isn't swift enough to at least *try* lowering those levels if they're known to be dangerous? Alkar is putting all his negative emotions into Troi, yet neither one of them seems to get any remorse? You'd think given the level of his actions, there should be lots of guilt in *one of them*. Riker is shocked to the core by Troi's actions (not to mention physically hurt), yet doesn't say anything about it to anyone until the next morning? What about those scratches?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. (A further point that I'm not too concerned about is that heightening neurotransmitter levels is akin to lowering the enzyme levels that inhibit neural activity; the same effect that LSD has on humans. We're not talking nasty behavior, we're talking a major acid trip here. I'm not going to sweat that, though.)

I talked last week about giving "Realm of Fear" something of an MST3K treatment, but mostly all in good fun. This time, we were MSTing to survive. I recommend you do the same. (Among other things, try as many Norman Bates quips as you can during any scene revolving around Alkar and his mother. They work wonders. ;-) ) Another example which was begging to be attacked:

Bev: "When I examined Maylor, I found her heart, her lungs, her skeletal system..." Us: "Boy, there's just no getting anything past you, is there? That *is* suspicious."

I mean, come ON. What were we to do when given a straight line like that?

That's really about it. I'm hoping this was the season's "Cost of Living", and that it's now out of the way *early*. Given the major problems that both this and "Time's Arrow, Part II" had, though, I'm starting to get worried about the season to come. Let's hope.

So, some numbers:

Plot: 3. The what? Plot Handling: 3. Were we actually supposed to, well, *care* what happened here? Characterization: 2. A bit up for Alkar's one really good scene, but everybody else was just going through the motions.

TOTAL: 3. Not a good sign at *all* here, folks...

NEXT WEEK: A certain Scottish engineer we all know makes a trip to a new century. Now *this* looks promising...

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) BITNET: tlynch@citjulie INTERNET: UUCP: ...!ucbvax! "Um...foreplay's usually more fun with someone else, Counselor." --us, while watching Troi's solo scene on the holodeck Copyright 1992, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note. This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.