WARNING: The following article contains spoiler information regarding this week's TNG episode, "Liaisons". Those not desiring a liaison with spoilers should probably jump over this article now.

The Enterprise is receiving a delegation of ambassadors from Iyar. As Picard prepares to return with Voval, the Iyaaran pilot, to meet with the head of state, the two ambassadors, Loquel and Byleth, stay behind to explore the human culture. Loquel works with Troi, and Byleth works with a very reluctant Worf.

Things quickly take, if not a negative turn, at least a decidedly strange one. Loquel quickly becomes fascinated with desserts, a foreign concept to his world, while Byleth appears to be one of the only people who has fewer social graces than Worf, who does not respond well to the treatment he receives. Meanwhile, Picard's trip is rudely interrupted when the power to the Iyaaran shuttle fails and they crash-land on a deserted planet. With Voval wounded, Picard leaves to try to find help, but is struck by plasma lightning and dragged away unconscious.

He wakes to find himself in a crashed Terellian freighter, with only one rather bedraggled woman for company. The woman, Anna, seems somewhat unfamiliar with speech, and claims to have been a passenger on the freighter when it crashed. (Almost as an aside, she also mentions that Voval is dead.) They both find out that she's been on the planet for seven years, and she reacts very badly to the news. Picard, trying to be as reassuring as possible, says that if they work together they can manage to leave the world. She is grateful, but cautions him not to exert himself or even move very much -- he has several broken ribs, and the restricting field she's placed on him to help the bones knit will impede his motion. She offers to go to the crashed shuttle and pick up equipment they can use, and then leaves him alone, locking the door from the outside.

When she returns, she insists that the door had to be locked for his protection, and Picard then finds that she accidentally damaged the equipment she was getting beyond repair while extracting it. She is despondent at this new setback, but Picard reassures her that things will still work out. Anna then surprises him by saying that she doesn't ever want to be alone again -- and that she loves him.

As he works on a power cell they might be able to use, he tries to convince her that she's simply a bit confused about how she feels. Meanwhile, on the Enterprise, Riker decides to ease tensions by inviting both ambassadors to a friendly poker game. Unfortunately, Byleth steals chips from Worf, and the tensions rapidly escalate into a fight between the two. They seem evenly matched, but Byleth stops abruptly, thanking Worf for a wonderful "demonstration" and leaving to "write up this experience."

As the power cell is finally charged, Picard tries to get ready to return to the shuttle, but Anna stops him, saying it's too dangerous. In the ensuing argument, he removes the restraining field on himself and finds that he never had any broken ribs at all. Now quite annoyed, Picard accuses Anna of holding him captive. She says merely that she wants him to love her, and jumps him. He, however, continues to resist, prompting her to get very depressed about having "failed". She leaves, locking Picard in the freighter again. As he attempts to get out, someone else approaches, yells hello, and enters.

It's Voval, who only appeared dead. He quickly brings Picard up to date on the situation, and then encourages Picard to go search for Anna before she does herself harm. The two search a nearby cliff, and just after they separate Picard finds Anna, ready to jump unless he loves her.

He, however, spots a necklace around her neck which was broken when she ran out of the freighter, and realizes that he's being manipulated. He refuses to love her, and Anna reverts back to her true form -- that of Ambassador Voval. Voval informs him that after finding records of a crash survivor on this planet, three representatives were sent out to experience the concepts of pleasure (Loquel), antagonism (Byleth), and love (Voval). While Picard points out that their actions are technically criminal, he is content to merely return home. They return, and Picard calls it "intriguing" to see a race that experiences a concept to such an extreme.


That takes care of that. Now for some commentary.

As I said, the story idea here had some interesting concepts in it. Picard's right, in that it is somewhat interesting to see a race so interested in taking an experience to its limits. Given the right framework and execution, "Liaisons" could have been very interesting indeed.

However, neither the setup nor the execution really worked very well. For starters, amazingly enough, the acting from nearly all comers seemed incredibly off, especially from Stewart. His final speech to Anna, about being manipulated and how all the timing seemed convenient, felt like someone trying to pull off an impression of Patrick Stewart rather than the man himself. I haven't gotten that impression about his Trek work in almost two years, and I'm not thrilled to have to say it now.

Also, and perhaps I'm merely revealing myself as being completely unromantic where food is concerned, but the Loquel/Troi angle of the ambassador plot fell completely flat for me. I also have a little difficulty understanding why Loquel focused only on food and dessert -- given that his mission was to study pleasure, one would expect other aspects of the feeling to come into play. (Sexual pleasure, for instance, might be a significant part of the deal.) When someone says "pleasure" to me, "Yum, chocolate!" is not the first idea that pops into my head -- or the second, or the third, or even the tenth, for that matter. I can vaguely see why they might have wanted to restrict the focus solely to food, but Voval's explanation really doesn't hold up where he's concerned.

The Byleth/Worf plot was somewhat better -- probably the highlight of the show, actually. Even though the line was telegraphed from kilometers out, I will confess to laughing a lot in the banquet scene when Data reassured Worf that common ground should be easy to find -- after all, *he's* "demanding, temperamental, and rude", too. I also have to say that we got some cute Worf/Riker interplay here, ranging from the gleeful denial of Worf's request for reassignment to the "besides, you look good in a dress" quip from the teaser. This was fluff, but it was amusing fluff, and I've no objection to being amused. :-)

I do have to say, though, that Worf's one line about ripping out Byleth's esophagus rang false for me. Not because he wouldn't think about doing it; certainly he would. I just think that when Worf is that mad, he wouldn't use words with that many syllables! (I'd expect something more along the lines of Klingonese for "I'll rip off his nuts and feed them to tribbles", but I suppose this is still a family show...)

Then, there's the Picard plot, which was presumably the showpiece of the episode. I didn't particularly dislike it, but I didn't particularly warm to it either. This, much like "Liaisons" in general, left me feeling profoundly neutral about the idea.

Barbara Williams, however, was fairly good for most of the scenes she was in. Despite the fact that I knew from moment one that things clearly weren't as they seem, she did a good job of presenting herself as someone who's been out of human contact for a long while and as someone who now has no self-confidence left, and who defines herself in terms of others. About the only problem I did have with her were in the climactic scenes, where she jumps Picard and where she threatens to kill herself. Those were making me cringe -- and naturally, those were the ones in the preview. Bah.

There were a couple of bits which made me wonder about how well the whole idea was thought through, however. Firstly, it's awfully convenient that Picard happened to be struck by lightning when he left the shuttle -- would Voval have done something himself if he hadn't? Secondly, there's a major dose of idiocy involved right after the crash. Picard wakes up, bruised, crawls over to a badly wounded Voval, _moves him around_, then tells him not to move because he might have a concussion. That's a directing error, I think -- moving Voval around wasn't necessary and should have been cut.

That's about it, I think. The subplot with the ambassadors was pure fluff, half of which worked; and the plot with Picard was generally solid and competent, but pretty uninspiring and uninspired. Nothing significantly good or bad about this show.

A quick short comment or two, then:

  • Once Worf and Byleth start going at it, Riker grabs him and says "That is an order, Mr. Worf!" or words to that effect. WHAT is an order? I couldn't hear any lines from him before that -- was a line dropped?
  • Just out of curiosity, why didn't Picard wear a dress uniform? From a dramatic standpoint, I can see why they wanted the far more stylish jacket ensemble :-), but given that he's going to see the premier of Iyar, you'd think he'd want something more formal. Hmm.
  • Finally, having seen "Dave" over the summer, I have to say that Troi's guided tour kept making me think of the White House tours presented in that film -- "We're walking, we're walking..." Just a thought.
  • We saw virtually nothing of either Geordi or Data. I suspect that "Liaisons" was a "sandwich" show, made almost to give the rest of the cast something to do while Brent Spiner did the heavy lifting for "Descent, Part II" and LeVar Burton worked on "Interface".

That's really it. So, to sum up:

Plot: Interesting premise, but not much development.

Plot Handling: Not good. Very little turned me off on the show, but nothing turned me on to it, either.

Characterization: Okay, such as it was -- but a lot of bad acting.

OVERALL: Call it an even 5. Very middle of the road.


NEXT WEEK:

Geordi tries to find his mother, presumed lost. The flip side of "Birthright?" :-)

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
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"Well, you're certainly not a Terellian, unless you've lost two of your
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                        -- Jean-Luc Picard
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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