21. Peak Performance

What’s up with…

…Klingon eyes? How sensitive to light are they ? Every Klingon ship we see is poorly lit, and then we get to see Worf in his quarters and the lights are practically off. There’s no way putting together a model in that kind of light would be healthy for human eyes.

… Riker’s game face? When he faces off against Zakdorn Master Strategist Sirna Kolrami–a cat so good at this game Riker knows he has no chance of beating him–Riker stares at him like he’s Gore at a Bush debate.

…all the wires? When a ship is abandoned, do people just go around ripping out wires and hanging them on railings and arm rests? This is an imagery versus realism problem.

…how nervous Burke is as he waits for Wesley to finish with his experiment? He keeps looking back and forth like any second something awful might happen.

…”bust him up” meaning “take the shortest route to victory?” Best interpretation ever.

…the fact that the person in charge of security always has to start a game of Strategema?

…with Picard complaining because he has to handhold an android? That something he would never say.

…with them saying things like Kamen Maneuver and Talupian maneuver? Was anyone else thinking of the Princess Bride? (“You’re using the Bonetti’s Defense? I thought it fitting, considering the rocky terrain.”)

…Picard’s bluffing about refraining from firing back because he wanted to resolve the conflict diplomatically? His weapons were gone. Is this a continuation of the theme from last episode?

The Zakdorian

people have been perceived by many in the galaxy as amazing strategic minds for the past 9,000 years. We learn about them through Sirna Kolrami. He has heaps of negative physical qualities (shifty eyes, fidgetiness, rodent like movements), and he is self-assured, confident, and smug.

Data tells us Kolrami deserves to be confident because of his strategic ability. Worf isn’t convinced. They debate the value of the Zakdorian reputation.

Data argues that perception is truth: if everyone believes them to be master strategists and avoid conflicts with them, the reputation is true.

Worf argues there is truth that can only be found through experimentation: if the reputation goes untested, it has no meaning.

They’ll eventually find Worf is right because Kolrami’s strategic thinking is focused on statistics and not style, but style is the personal qualities of an individual that lead to success.

Thus in the end, they prove that what you are (Zakdorian or not) doesn’t matter for success. Who you are does.

The Federation

isn’t taken as a whole like the Zakdorians are. They’re a crew made up of individuals, some focused on the what of a person and others focused on the who.

Dr. P and Data

are both focused on the what. Dr. P’s part in this story shows two things. 1) the importance of personal qualities to success, and 2) it’s wrong to focus on the what.

  1. the importance of personal qualities to success – in collective endeavors, people must be willing to work together. But Dr. P sees the smugness in Kolrami and wants to deflate him. She puts Data in competition with him in hopes of frustrating him. So Kolrami’s smugness and Dr. P’s reaction to it is detrimental to their working well as a group. Compare this to Riker’s joviality, and you see how Riker inspires people to work well with him, and how Kolrami could dislike it.
  2. it’s wrong to focus on the what – Here I mean it’s factually wrong (not morally). Dr. P doesn’t believe an organic person can defeat a mechanical person in a game of Strategema. She never thinks about the personal qualities like Kolrami’s spending his entire life at perfecting his skills at this game.

Once an organic person defeats a mechanical person, she is forced to reassess her thinking. Proving Worf’s assertion that preconception is invalid if it is not tested.

Data’s part in this story also shows two things. 1) preconceptions about a race of people can’t be used to judge a person, and 2) it’s wrong to focus on the what.

  1. Preconceptions about a race of people can’t be used to judge a person – When the crew meets Kolrami for the first time, Data believes Kolrami has every right to be confident because of what he is (Zakdorian). (Admittedly, there is also a component of who he is in fact that they know he’s a master of the Strategema.) Once the episode proves that Kolrami’s focus on statistics and his different goals are not the best for them, we see he’s wrong to have these preconceptions.
  2. it’s wrong to focus on the what – From the game of Strategema on, Data’s story in this episode is about learning this fact. He starts with the belief that he is infallible because he is an android. When he loses, he cannot change that premise. He thinks he’s a faulty android, and that’s the only way to explain it. Picard teaches him that you can make no mistakes and lose, and what he realizes is that it’s not what you are that helps you be successful, it’s who. Thus he examines the game from a different perspective. What does the person, Kolrami, want, and how can I beat him. He learns to think of himself and Kolrami as individuals. In so doing he approaches the game differently and succeeds.

(Moreover through his experience, others in the crew, Dr. P and Deanna, realize he has emotions. They aren’t the same as an organic person, but they’re emotions nonetheless. They learn he’s more than an android.)

The Rest of the Crew

either supports the lessons we learn from the episode or to teaches the lessons.

Geordi and Wes

are examples of characters providing support. Geordi’s done his research and packed his equipment even before Riker asks him to join the Hathaway team, showing how Riker’s personality has secured Geordi’s loyalty and provided a key part of their success.

Wes is inspired by Riker’s instruction to cheat (or improvise I guess) depending on your point of view. However I can say without a doubt, guile was used. They both show how Riker’s personal qualities, his leadership, leads to success, not what Riker is.


serves a more important function since he was the character who set the theme of action as experimentation in motion. He continues this when in his quarters he says the training exercise is a waste of time because with nothing to lose there is nothing to gain. He is establishing the parameters of the experiment, and Riker posits pride as something to lose or gain. Worf accepts this.

He also suggests that guile is the best means by which a weaker opponent fights a stronger one.

Most importantly, he says we expect a weaker opponent to lose, but there’s always a chance that they can win. The action proves it one way or the other.

Put another way, hypothesis requires verification through experimentation.

Put another way, that’s why they play the game.


serves as an example of good leadership, a collection of individual characteristics that help direct collective effort. Check out his leadership:

  1. not a micro-manager: he believes in the people he works with and he always lets them control their own missions. (We see this in Riker’s leadership too. Riker believes in the work Geordi and Wes did.)
  2. Preserves other’s dignity: he doesn’t chew Kolrami out in front of everyone, but instead asks him into a private meeting before demanding an explanation for the constant Riker dissing. (We also see Riker preserving dignity. He talks to Geordi before promoting Worf to first officer.)
  3. Adapts to situation: Picard doesn’t blink or in anyway hesitate between the first hit from the Ferengi ship and raising the shields. It marked a complete change in the situation, and he adapted in milliseconds. (And Riker… he just can’t stop adapting.)


more than the other characters, drives this episode. He is a man of action (“When I say I’ll do a thing, I’ll do it.”), and through him, we see something is gained in action.

In action, we don’t lose anything because, as Riker says, effort counts. He sees honor in losing and in facing a worthy opponent. And he loses gracefully.

But action should be sincere. Riker is a fierce competitor (as his game face shows). He improvises and bends rules to succeed, and the weaker his position the more aggressive he is.

He cannot change these individual characteristics. That’s what Deanna explains to Data. Riker will always be this person.


is the form of action used to prove or disprove the truth of perceptions in this episode, and in the way it’s used, we see that it is a special form of action. It is a thrilling way to judge the truth of our own abilities. What we are makes us want to gage ourselves against others, and that helps us avoid self-deceit.

When the competition is mismatched, it can be entertaining for the stronger person and a privilege for the weaker person, but when both sides give it everything they’ve got, even guile, all possible outcomes can be explored, and the truth of things can be discovered.

Morals, Messages, and Meanings

  1. if a reputation goes untested, it has no meaning
  2. individual qualities are important to success
  3. the who of a person is more important than the what
  4. preconceptions about a race of people can’t be used to judge a person
  5. loyalty improves chances of succeeding
  6. guile is the best means by which a weaker opponent fights a stronger one
  7. don’t micro-manage
  8. preserve other’s dignity
  9. adapt to situations
  10. there is honor in losing and in facing a worthy opponent.
  11. lose gracefully
  12. win graciously
  13. When everyone does everything they can do, we can see all that is possible.

Does it hold up?


About midway through watching this the first time, I realized it was compelling and I only suspected there were complex ideas below the surface, a sure sign of storytelling with a light touch.

In my subsequent viewing, I still found it watchable and I wasn’t at all disappointed by the messages and meanings, which I would summarize as a reaffirmation of Individuality and action as the course to finding the truth.

The only thing that bothered me was the portrayal of Kolrami (I wish it had even more subtlety) and the wires irrationally left strewn about the Hathaway.

I could still easily watch it again.

This is my second to last post here and it’s the second great episode in a row. I feel like TNG has finally hit its stride. I can’t wait for the grand finale next week.


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