A key scene at the end features Troi stating that neither Ral nor Goss were tense during the Ferengi's attempt to destroy the wormhole. However, we will later learn that Betazoid empathy doesn't work on Ferengi. Did she really base what she said on tone of voice and body language?
Ral claims that part of how negotiation works is "I don't know what the other side is offering, and they don't know what I am offering." But Riker made the Federation's bid for the wormhole public knowledge - he even put it up there on the screen for Ral to see in the conference room. So what's Ral talking about?
The scene where Troi and Ral go to bed together was hyped up somewhat before the episode aired, causing a degree of controversy. In the event it proved pretty tame and once the episode aired nobody who had seen it ever complained.
The two lost Ferengi, Arridor and Kol, will reappear as a central part of the Voyager episode "Profit Motive".
The exercise room which Troi and Crusher work out in is a redress of the main engineering set.
The Barzan themselves are relatively primitive, and not really able to administer the wormhole themselves - hence selling the rights to another group. As the negotiations begin a Ferengi team led by DaiMon Goss arrives to bid for the rights. Bhavani agrees and Goss comes to the meeting whilst his assistants, Arridor and Kol, take quarters on the ship. Troi does some research on Ral, finding that he was born on Earth but moved to Hurkos III when he was 19. Ral arrives to talk to her, informing her that his female companion has left. He is very flirtatious with Troi, and although she protests a little she seems more flattered and interested than anything and accepts his dinner invitation.
Picard, Data, Riker, and Mendoza examine the readings from a probe the Barzans sent through the wormhole. The other end of it appears to be in the Gamma Quadrant, tens of thousands of light years away. Data suggests that a shuttle be sent through to gather more information and Picard agrees, ordering Data and Geordi to go the following day.
Goss, meanwhile, has hatched a plan; he puts a substance on his hand which, when he shakes hands with Mendoza, will transfer a poison to him causing a severe allergic reaction. With this they will be able to remove their main competition in the negotiations.
Ral continues to flirt with Troi as he arrives for dinner. She returns his attraction and the two decide to skip dinner as he carries her into the bedroom. Meanwhile Mendoza collapses after being poisoned and is treated by Dr. Crusher. The Ferengi argue that they should send their own team through the wormhole alongside the Enterprise shuttle, and Picard agrees. In response to Mendoza's illness, Picard asks Riker to assume his place as Federation negotiator, pointing out that it's really nothing more than a big game of poker, a game Riker plays exceptionally well.
Data and Geordi travel through the wormhole in a small shuttle, alongside a Ferengi shuttlepod with Arridor and Kol aboard. They both quickly pass out of communications range with the Enterprise as they speed across the galaxy. Back in the negotiations Ral tries to undermine Riker, but it doesn't work. He intimates to Bhavani that if she deals with the Federation her people will be seen as Federation allies, which will make them both friends and enemies, whilst his own people are entirely neutral. Riker accuses them of being more uninvolved than neutral. Later Ral asks Troi about her relationship with Riker and she confesses that they were once very close, but are just friends now. Ral admits to being a quarter Betazoid, which gives him empathic abilities which he uses to gain an advantage in negotiations.
Both shuttles emerge from the wormhole, but Data instantly notes that they are 200 light years from where the Barzan probe came out. He speculates that although the Barzan end of the wormhole is stable, this end must move around periodically. Both Data and Geordi detect odd sensor readings from the wormhole itself.
During a break in negotiations Ral talks to Leyor, 'surprised' that they want the wormhole when they are usually more interested in passive scholarly pursuits. Leyor admits his own unease, and when negotiations resume he announces that they are withdrawing. Riker tries to negotiate with him to gain their resources to add to his own bid, but Ral has already made the same deal and now adds the Caldonian offer to his own Chrysalian bid.
On the shuttles, Geordi tries to warn the Ferengi about what is happening but they sneer at what they take as his panic, refusing to listen. As the wormhole becomes visible again the Federation shuttle flies into it, but the Ferengi remain for a few minutes to collect more sensor data - only to watch in dismay as the unstable exit rushes off at tremendous speed, leaving them stranded 70,000 light years from Barzan.
As Troi and Ral have dinner together she notes that everybody is talking about the coup he pulled off, and accuses him of using his empathic powers to his own advantage. He freely admits this, seeing nothing wrong with using his own talents to his advantage just as she does. Troi points out that she doesn't hide her gift but he does, and accuses him of doing so not through fear of making others uncomfortable but to give him a secret advantage. He walks out on her. Later he chats to Riker in Ten Forward, trying to needle him - he says Riker will lose because he won't take the risk of making a serious offer for the wormhole until the shuttle returns with more information, whilst Ral is prepared to take a gamble. With the hint of a sneer he states that playing it safe in this way is why Riker is still second in command of the Enterprise rather than having his own ship, and why he will lose Troi to Ral as well.
Riker merely smiles and counters that this is the first serious misjudgment he's seen Ral make - if Troi can find happiness with Ral he's all for it, and he thinks that she would be just the person to bring a little meaning into Ral's own empty shallow existence. Riker walks out, leaving Ral looking crestfallen.
When negotiations resume Goss has departed for his own ship, complaining that the Federation is acting unfairly. He fires a missile at the wormhole, which the Enterprise shoots down. Ral uses the opportunity to point out to Bhavani that this kind of situation will become the norm if the Federation take control of the wormhole. She agrees, and completes the deal with him.
On the bridge Goss continues to threaten to destroy the wormhole. ral comes to the bridge and calms the situation by explaining that he now has the deal himself, not the Federation, and will give the Ferengi free access to the wormhole if they back down. Goss accepts, and it seems a clear victory for Ral all around - until Troi points out that neither Goss nor Ral were at all tense during the standoff. She reveals Ral's gift to the others and suggests that he did a deal with Goss to stage the confrontation, allowing him the chance to close the deal. Although it's clear that this is true it's too late to do anything about it - the deal is done already and there is no going back. However, at that moment the shuttle arrives back and explains about the other end of the wormhole being unstable - the Barzan still get all the benefits of the deal, but the Chrysalians have bought a proverbial lemon.
Ral visits Troi in her quarters, admitting to what he did and saying that he sees the dishonesty in his actions. She worries about what his bosses might do but he shrugs it off - they asked him to make the deal and he did, he figures they will just have to accept the consequences. Ral asks her to stay with him and become, in effect, his conscience, but Troi declines.
But that's the issue - you can only get rid of money by changing your society in fundamental ways that make money pointless. So for example you make production so abundant and widespread in your society that trade becomes meaningless, impossible. Where Trek falls down is that it takes the view that a society could abolish money as a sort of collective decision that it's not a very nice thing... and then go on operating just as before with a few tweaks here or there. It's absolutely nonsensical, and it leads to the kind of absurdity we see in this episode - you have trade negotiations in which nobody uses money, but rather they resort to barter. Barter! The endpoint of all this is that we show the Federation not as a society that has made a genuine and revolutionary cultural advance (or at least change), but rather as one that has taken a giant step backwards. Absurd.
They also bring up the idea of people gaining unfair advantage through metal powers. This is interesting, but once again it shows up an aspect of Trek that was never very well thought through. Just what are the rules regarding what telepaths and empaths can and cannot do? Suppose Ral uses his abilities to win "resources" in a poker game; everyone seems to agree that this would be unethical. Okay... but is it illegal? If it is, how can that law be enforced when nobody can possibly prove that he did it?
And look at Troi on the Enterprise. Yes, the crew know she can read their emotions and they accept it. But she frequently reads the emotions of the people they meet on their travels, very rarely telling them that she can do so and never asking their permission. How is that any different at all to what Ral does? This makes it seem clear that Ral's actions are indeed legal - but if so, why are they even considered to be unethical anyway? The presence of genuine empaths and telepaths in society would cause seismic changes in law and culture, probably in how we viewed the very concept of privacy. But again, Trek simply assumes that it happens and that with one or two little tweaks everything will go on much as before. It's absurd, and all the more so when you take a look at how something like Babylon 5 took that concept and spun a hundred interesting ideas out of it.
These problems weigh heavy on the episode, especially the second one. Still and all, it's a decent enough story. It's certainly nice to see Troi take a more prominent role - I absolutely love her grumpy response to Picard asking her to come and see the wormhole; for once somebody on the ship would rather kick back and relax rather than go stick their nose into some esoteric scientific phenomenon! Her scenes with Ral are also pretty a pretty convincing portrait of a woman who is normally so controlled deciding to just let her hair down for once and indulge herself. It's nice to see, and Sirtis plays it well.
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