A close-up of a glass chess set


In these posts, we discuss a non-“Free as in Freedom” popular culture franchise property, including occasional references to part of that franchise behind a paywall. My discussion and conclusions carry a Free Culture license, but nothing about the discussion or conclusions should imply any attack on the ownership of the properties. All the big names are trademarks of the owners, and so forth, and everything here relies on sitting squarely within the bounds of Fair Use, as criticism that uses tiny parts of each show to extrapolate the world that the characters live in.


I initially outlined the project in this post, for those falling into this from somewhere else. In short, we attempt to use the details presented in Star Trek to assemble a view of what life looks like in the Federation. This “phase” of the project changes from previous posts, however. The Next Generation takes place long after the original series, so we shouldn’t expect similar politics and socialization. Maybe more importantly, I enjoy the series less.

Put simply, you shouldn’t read this expecting a recap or review of an episode. Many people have done both to death over nearly sixty years. You will find a catalog of information that we learn from each episode, though, so expect everything to be a potential “spoiler,” if you happen to have that irrational fear.

Rather than list every post in the series here, you can quickly find them all on the startrek tag page.

Ménage à Troi

This episode will hurt. One character comes out looking reasonable, and the episode repeatedly wants you to know that it doesn’t like her.

Captain’s log, stardate 43930.7. The Enterprise has been in attendance at the biennial Trade Agreements Conference on Betazed. For the first time, the Ferengi are present, and I have reluctantly consented to their boarding the Enterprise for the closing reception.

Picard has reluctantly agreed to permit official delegates into the event that he has an obligation to host. What an open-minded, diplomatic officer…

Note that we finally get some music that doesn’t come from 1930s Earth.

RIKER: Check and mate.

Somehow, I don’t believe that Riker actually plays chess. He doesn’t seem like a “planner.” I can believe his smugness, though.

WESLEY: Perfect. The queen’s gambit finished off with the Aldabren Exchange.

Well, now I can’t believe that Wesley plays chess, either, because the queen’s gambit starts the game, and so probably had little to nothing to do with Riker’s win, here.

I can’t find an “Aldabren” that doesn’t call back to this episode, though.

WESLEY: Noise? It’s Algolian ceremonial rhythms.

Notice that the only time Wesley has praised another culture, he has done so in service of belittling members of a different culture.

PICARD: A toast to the success of the trade conference, Reittan. I must admit, I had some doubts when you invited the Ferengi.

He won’t let the Ferengi thing go…

PICARD: Thank you, Mister Data. It was thoughtful of you to invite Lwaxana Troi to be part of the Betazed delegation.

…Don’t they keep making an issue of her impressive status?

FAREK: She’s as repulsive as the rest of them.

You might recognize Farek as Ethan Philips, at the time primarily known for his role on the sitcom Benson, but since that time, Star Trek fans have learned to recognize him more as Neelix from Voyager, plus a couple of smaller roles.

PICARD: Perhaps later, Lwaxana. Mister Data and I were just about to show Reittan Grax the er, the er, the new door mechanisms on the aft turbolifts. If you’ll excuse us?

We can’t have Majel Barrett guest star in an episode without the show going way too far out of its way to remind us that it—but especially Picard—hates and objects to the existence of middle-aged women.

LWAXANA: Let’s get one thing straight, little man. I am not for sale. And if, by some chance I were to become available, I would rather eat Orion wing-slugs than deal with a toad-faced troll like you! So go away and find someone else to become your property.

Note the double-standard, here. When Picard insults a Ferengi, the show wants us to cheer. When Lwaxana stands up for herself to a Ferengi, the surrounding characters make it clear that we should cringe.

WORF: I hear she handled the situation quite skillfully. An admirable woman.

Thank you, Worf!

TROI: I’ll be sure to tell her you said so.

She won’t.

TROI: The Sacred Chalice of Rixx is an old clay pot with mold growing inside it.

Remember, kids, nobody on this show has any materialistic tendencies.

TROI: Little One? You called me that when I was five. Now stop demeaning me and address me as an adult!

Do you know what does not make someone look like a mature adult? Whining about someone treating you like a child and talking about how much you’ve grown up…

PICARD: Indeed. Fine work. We shall miss you, Mister Crusher. As you’ve guessed, final entrance examination scores from Starfleet Academy have arrived. Congratulations. As soon as you have completed the oral exam, you’ll be formally admitted.

Wait, didn’t he need to confront his greatest fears and go through all the other hazing and torture? Did Starfleet lower its standards?

RIKER: I remember a certain junior officer meeting a very serious psychologist. The best part about being assigned to Betazed.

Troi spent the entire previous scene whining about how she no longer had a romantic interest in Riker, and…I guess that she lied.

TOG: Why continue to search for perfection once you have found it?

TROI: I don’t believe this.

You kept insisting that I exaggerated, but here Troi wants us to know that she finds it ludicrous that someone would find her mother interesting, useful, or desirable.

RIKER: From the smell of things, I’d say we’re aboard a Ferengi vessel.

I see we have plenty of racism to slog through.

LAFORGE: Fifteen hours from Gamma Erandi, and already the subspace static is playing hell with communications.

“Erandi” seems original to this episode, though the name resembles gamma Eridani or Zaurak, which would go well with the various other z-sounds that we get at the end of the episode.

WESLEY: I never thought of that. I always assumed I’d be coming back to the Enterprise.

Wesley always assumed that the world would grant him the best possible assignment. I know, you all feel as shocked at his entitlement issues as I do.

LWAXANA: Then don’t.

Troi feeling reviled by knowing that her mother might have sex feels so emblematic of the problems with the politics of this series.

PICARD: Yes, yes, yes. Perhaps, Data, but that takes away none of the wonder.

Right. We need to make time for Picard to hate the introduction of science into his scientific meeting.

WORF: When you have finished here, survey in that direction.

DATA: Lieutenant Foley discovered this in the pond. The species is Zan Periculi. It is not indigenous to Betazed, but to Lappa Four. A Ferengi world.

Does Betazed not have investigators of their own? I can’t imagine that Worf’s team would have more skill at this than trained detectives.

LAFORGE: Thanks for your help, Wes, but you’d better get aboard the Bradbury. They were ready to break orbit an hour ago.

While other possibilities exist, I have to assume that they named the Bradbury after science fiction writer Ray Bradbury.

TROI: I think I know what she’s doing. You have to fight to get her back, Captain.

Why, though? Why would anybody interpret this situation as a reason to improvise a con game? Don’t get me wrong. Patrick Stewart plays out a delightful pile of nonsense. But all the same, this feels like the writers thirty-five years ago have read my blog posts and said “oh, he thinks that Troi helps Picard scam aliens…?”

Anyway, Picard’s unhinged monologue includes Shakespeare’s Sonnets #147, #141, and #18, plus Othello Act V Scene II, and Tennyson’s In Memoriam, Canto XXVII.

PICARD: Such as my reporting this incident to your superiors who may question your competency as DaiMon? I will think about it. Screen off.

He always needs to push these scams one step further than he needs to, you’ll notice.

PICARD: Perhaps another time. Please. Mister Crusher, set course for Betazed. Warp nine.

This time around, they really want to hammer home how objectionable everybody finds Lwaxana’s company.

PICARD: The Academy must make you wait, that’s true. But, when I review your service to this ship, your crewmates, I cannot in all conscience make you wait for the Academy. You see, Wesley, in my eyes you’re an acting ensign in title only. I hereby grant you field promotion to full Ensign, with all the commensurate responsibilities and privileges of that rank. Congratulations. You’re dismissed.

He blatantly violated orders and risked his career, so that he could play hero, instead of working remotely on the trip back to the Academy.

Also, skipping ahead a bit…why does his uniform not fit? I guess that this could qualify as foreshadowing, though I don’t know that I would trust these writers to do anything so sophisticated. It could also mean that they didn’t know whether Wil Wheaton would remain for the fourth season, and so they scrambled to assemble this final scene. Or maybe Wheaton, as an awkward teenager, didn’t know how to stand in those uniforms.

PICARD: Notify Starfleet we are en route to the Xanthras system for our rendezvous with the Zapata.

I can’t find any references to a Xanthras outside this episode, but one imagines that they named the Zapata after Mexican Revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.


Probably surprising nobody, we don’t get much insight into the Federation with this episode, though if you have an interest in the Ferengi, this somehow manages to perpetuate the same racist tropes that I’ve mentioned before without engaging with them…

Actually, we do get some music that doesn’t come from the 1930s or European classical names, but it comes from some random alien culture that we’ll never talk about again as far as I know, and possibly not even from a Federation world.

The Good

Worf comes out pretty well, in this episode, taking a beat to praise Mrs. Troi for speaking her mind, when everybody else looks down on her.

Starfleet may have removed its must-undergo-psychological-torture requirement for entering the Academy, though we admittedly don’t get a full spectrum of evidence.

The Bad

Picard will still tell anybody who will listen about how much he hates the Ferengi and wishes that they would go away. In his official logs, he tries to make himself look gracious, even, because he allowed the Ferengi delegation to the trade conference on “his” ship, and spends the end of the episode making sure that he looks dominant over them. Similarly, Wesley comes to the defense of another culture, for the first time since we’ve known him, in order to demean the Ferengi. And Riker wants you to know that he doesn’t approve of their smell.

And similar to their disdain of the Ferengi, they also make a point to constantly remind us how much they loathe middle-aged women, especially those who have ideas and opinions, like Lwaxana Troi. The dislike of her, interestingly, trumps the dislike of Ferengi, because when the two come into conflict, they make her out as the problem for defending herself. Everyone also finds it laughable that anybody would desire her company or assistance, and disgusted at the idea that someone might find her attractive.

Meanwhile, Deanna Troi lies to her colleagues about conveying praise to her mother, and she finds her family heritage insulting because the ancient tokens of office have no material value. She also whines about how mature she sees herself.

Wesley also, once again, shows off his self-entitlement, believing that Starfleet will ultimately assign him to wherever he prefers to go—and he sees that natural result as the most prestigious post available—rather than where they might consider him useful. He also abandons his post because he’d rather everyone see him as a hero, instead of advising the search from the Bradbury where he belongs. Wesley’s new uniform also doesn’t seem to fit him, suggesting that they don’t make them custom for each officer’s body.

We also see Picard objecting to a scientific discussion in his meeting about a scientific issue, because he doesn’t want to lose “the wonder” of not knowing how things work.

Starfleet may have the power to override local law enforcement on Federation worlds, replacing Betazoid detectives with random members of their security team.


Coming up in a week, the crew stumbles across a race war and pats themselves on the back for doing little to no work, in Transfigurations.

Credits: The header image is POTD 16/3/2008 by Peter Corbett, made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.