“Just tell me there’s some chocolate here.”
It never fails that when an underutilized character is given the spotlight, it more often than not results in that character’s undoing. Like “The Galileo Seven” with Spock, “The Price” nearly destroys Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis). The same thing happened two episodes earlier with “Booby Trap” and Geordi LaForge. I know “Booby Trap” is considered one of the stronger episodes of the show’s third season, but it isn’t for the revised characterization of LaForge.
Indeed, as he is transformed into a neurotic lovelorn man-child seeking the advice of Guinan and later, Worf, he becomes retroactively immature like a preening adolescent. The opposite transformation occurs with Troi. One of my main complaints about Star Trek: The Next Generation is the lack of conflict among characters, and I figured if you couldn’t have the conflict (one of Roddenberry’s mandates), you could at least have duplicity. You could have neuroses, maybe even a little fetish.
What happens when the uniforms come off and our heroes wander around in their solitude? Who are these people? “The Price” aims to shed a little light on Troi. She’s congenial but lonely, emotional yet solemn. She gets into an argument with the computer about a chocolate sundae, and dreads a meet-and-greet in conjunction with the discovery of the galaxy’s first stable wormhole. Here she meets Devinoni Ral (Matt McCoy), a charming negotiator with baby blue eyes with whom Troi is instantly smitten.
I can’t, for the life of me, understand what she finds so deliciously awesome about Ral. He has all the smooth, greasy sex appeal of a used car salesman. “The Price” weakens Troi in revelatory passages that characterize her as gullible and naive, but also retaliatory and vindictive. It’s never properly explained why Troi can’t see through Ral’s skullduggerous hide. I don’t buy her explanation that her orgasms throw up some kind of shield for Ral’s psyche.
It was claimed by the staff that the original script was much better than what made it to screens. How does that happen? How do we go from a masterpiece in potentia to dime-store Skinemax? Sex is the problem. I remember a week before the episode premiered, a news item appeared in TV Guide touting explicit sex as “going where no Star Trek has gone before.” Classy, right? I think they knew they had a dud on their hands and tried to sell some implied eroticism.
Yet Sirtis’ scenes with McCoy are not particularly erotic, neither explicit nor sexual. Basically both parties rub each other with oil in bed. It’s pillow talk, and it goes nowhere except that Ral reveals he’s got some Betazoid blood, and that he has partial empathic abilities. Troi should’ve been able to pick this up, considering she did the same with the genetically-engineered children in the episode, “Unnatural Selection.” I can’t believe I’m going to say this but this story needed less sex and more scenes underscoring Ral’s “abilities” as well as his subterfuge in pretending not to have empathic powers.
I don’t think being a Betazoid or an empath can be used as a weapon, and if he had revealed his powers early on, it would most definitely influence people’s perceptions of him. As it stands, Ral is a one-dimensional shades-of-gray kind of guy, and because McCoy puts so little into his performance (he honestly seems bored), the character isn’t worth analysis. The wormhole turns out to be a dry well, and will lead indirectly to a sequel episode for Star Trek: Voyager, “False Profits,” produced seven years later.
Troi is not an adaptable character. What I mean is that her job; her specific skill-set defines her as a character. Most episodes involving Troi usually center around her mother or her empathic powers, and when efforts to include her are made, it is usually in the most unbelievable of circumstances (“Face of the Enemy”). Notably, she is conspicuously absent from episodes where her abilities would have solved a mystery very quickly.
When she is absent, someone else is usually filling in for her, thus making her redundant. This is why, I suspect, she was “promoted” to command status in later seasons. Troi becomes an easy character to dispense with when others have similar abilities (the ability to listen and give advice in a non-threatening way), such as Guinan, and in later franchise shows, the whole notion of a Counselor was removed almost completely.
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