|Random Operations Crew Lady is my kindred spirit here.|
Stable wormholes! Galactic quadrants! Trade negotiations! Sexy romantic tension! The Ferengi! Almost feels like we’re on another show, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, looking at “The Price” just made me wish I actually was watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine instead. Or really anything other than this.
I would have so many questions about this episode were I actually inspired enough to bother to ask. Why is everybody treating majestic celestial phenomena like natural resources under late stage capitalism? According to their own ideals, the Federation should be staunchly opposed to any kind of wheeling and dealing involving the Barzan wormhole unless they’ve been lying to us through their teeth which, OK, but the Enterprise crew at least shouldn’t be on board with this plan. I can’t think of a *worse* group of people to host these negotiations: They should be firmly arguing for the wormhole to be left in the galactic commons where it belongs. This isn’t even me just projecting my own ideology onto the show-The whole philosophical model the show’s universe is built on is one of post-scarcity where material wants and motivations no longer exist or apply. It’s *told* us this *explicitly* a number of times. Why do the effects shots all look universally cheap and unappealing? And why is the Enterprise crew still hosting negotiations of any kind in the first place? They’re supposed to be scientists and explorers, not diplomats!
Then there’s the episode’s crux, the one-off romance between Deanna and Ral. Oh My God. This might be, in all seriousness, one of the single worst television romances I have ever seen. There’s the obvious fact Ral is transparently a sleazy manipulative womanizer (one sort of gets that feeling when he makes his appearance prancing onstage with a model hanging off his arm) who bullishly strongarms Deanna into falling for him: She gets little to no agency in the relationship, simply being swept off her feet by overwhelming masculine guile. Ral is a 24th century pickup artist, and the mere thought that this was supposed to be a story to flesh out Troi as a character sickens me. Was something this rote, hackish and frankly offensively sexist really the only thing this team could come up with to give Troi something to do? Apparently so, considering they got rid of her suboplot in “The Enemy”. I guess the only thing women are good for is cheesy dimestore romance novel stories. Except no, wait, this isn’t even a cheesy dimestore romance novel story-This is a *parody* of cheesy dimestore romance stories that doesn’t realise it’s a parody and isn’t remotely funny: The dialog and plot beats are so stilted and cliche it defies belief and there’s an absolutely staggering, and deeply uncomfortable lack of irony and self-awareness at every possible level.
Aside from its general terribleness, “The Price” comprehensively fails at being romantic *or* sexy, and you kind of need to hit at least one. Every time Ral is onscreen I want to punch him, the dinner and sex scenes are shot in about as ungainly a manner as possible and the entire production seems to be actively trying to go out of its way to make everything visually unappealing to the point of actually being nauseating to look at. The cinematography is awkward, forced and joyless, just like the script itself, and the costume and makeup design are in my opinion among the very worst in the series thus far: Special demerits go to the Barzans and the Caldonians, who all look astonishingly repugnant, anything Ral wears (of course) and that ridiculous tin-foil bedsheet in Troi’s quarters.
And oh yeah, there’s that *fucking exercise scene*.
Midway through this slog, the show decides to try and throw the most blatant (and blatantly bombed) attempts at fanservice since William Ware Theiss’ planet of neo-hippies in “Justice” by trussing Deanna and Doctor Crusher up in workout leotards and having them do stretches in front of a mirror in a last-ditch effort to keep us from changing the channel and/or throwing ourselves out of a second-story window and I have never been left so aghast and horrified at something meant to be erotic. Those leotards are the most spectacularly unflattering things I’ve ever seen and I really have to wonder what in the name of the Prophets Bob Blackwell was thinking putting Marina Sirtis and Gates McFadden in them, and combine that with Marvin Rush’s ill-advised use of bright exposures in this scene the whole thing comes across as sickeningly clinical and sterile.
The one borderline redemptive moment in this Galaxy-class shitstorm comes during, of all things, a conversation between Ral and Commander Riker. The diplomat is being as classy as tactful as ever, meaning the opposite of those things, as he boasts he’s going to take Deanna away from Riker and make her happier than he ever could. To which Riker calmly responds that whatever makes Deanna happy makes him happy too. The reason why this stands out is because it’s the first instance in awhile where we get a good look at what Will and Deanna’s relationship on the show really is. It’s altogether too easy to just ship them and assume they’re romantic soulmates destined to end up together someday (indeed, by the looks of things, even the writers and producers seemed to think that at times). But that’s not the kind of relationship Will and Deanna actually have: Theirs isn’t a story of ex lovers vacillating about whether or not to get back together again, they’re pretty explicitly, at least at this stage, ex-lovers *period*.
Their whole story is an example of Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s utopianism, because they’re former lovers for whom things didn’t work out and *that’s perfectly OK*. They have no hangups or regrets and get along fine with each other today, even if they’re no longer involved. When Will and Deanna say they’re “just friends”, they *actually mean it*: They used to have one kind of relationship and now have another that, while it’s maybe not intimate in the same way, is still close in its own right. And this is something someone as broken as Ral can’t understand because Ral can only frame things in terms of winning and losing, which is why it’s so impactful to have this come from Commander Riker. Here, Will is demonstrating the same nuance and respect for agency that’s been so attractive about him in the past (most notably in “Peak Performance”), and that we’re going to get an even better look at in the next episode. So naturally, “The Price” then has to go and ruin everything by twisting the whole thing into a commentary on Deanna’s role as counselor, tacitly setting up the stereotypical and heteronormative assumption that the “feminine” part of a romantic couple has to be a doting, supportive healing figure.
(Yes, Deanna does eventually reject that label, but no, the episode doesn’t do nearly enough to problematize this wildly sexist assumption about social norms.)
There is absolutely no reason for any of this to be as bad as it is. It’s as if absolutely everyone showed up that week and promptly, simultaneously forgot how normal fucking human beings look and behave. Even Paula Block and Terry J. Erdmann in Star Trek: The Next Generation 365 write as if doing sex and romance was some new, unfamiliar ground for the show to be treading on which, I’m sorry, but what? By their own admission, sex was everywhere in the Long 1980s and *plenty* of shows knew how to do it in an actual mature manner that people could actually stomach and even Star Trek: The Next Generation has handled it with more class than this in the past. Hell, “Booby Trap” was more risque than this. Not to mention about ten thousand times better. For what it’s worth, Micheal Piller said he got a ton of hate mail before this episode went into production by people accusing him of “sexing up” Star Trek, though none after it aired (which is actually hilarious, because you just know all those people who took the time to complain to the Star Trek: The Next Generation production team about too much sex in an episode they *hadn’t even seen yet* were all shut-in Star Trek fans uncomfortable with their own sexuality).
It probably doesn’t help that my patience is at a bit of a low as I write this, but I can’t help being reminded of why I always skip this episode. But really, the most offensive part of the whole ordeal is how much of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine can trace its lineage back to this limp, damp squib of mediocrity.