(written from a Production point of view)
With the Borg threat in mind, Starfleet stages a war-game simulation pitting Captain Picard and the Enterprise against Commander Riker and the eighty-year-old starship Hathaway. However, when the Ferengi suddenly attack, the Enterprise is crippled, forcing Picard into a seemingly no-win situation.
The USS Enterprise-D has a rendezvous with a shuttlecraft carrying the famed strategist Sirna Kolrami en route to a battle simulation in the Braslota system in which Commander Riker will command an inferior ship, the eighty-year-old USS Hathaway. Kolrami is a Zakdorn, a race which has been feared for nine millennia as having the most innately strategic minds in the known galaxy.
Captain Picard and Riker are at first reluctant to take part in this simulation as they believe diplomacy and exploration are the more important mandates of Starfleet. However, because of the newly-discovered Borg threat, they decide it is a good idea to hone their tactical skills so as to have as many options as possible in crisis situations.
Picard gives Riker his choice of officers (save Data, who will be his first officer while Riker is absent). Riker goes down to engineering to ask Geordi La Forge to join him. La Forge has already prepared the necessary engineering tools to join Riker on the Hathaway. Next, he goes to Worf's quarters, where Worf is attempting to build a wooden ship. Worf thinks the exercise is a waste of time, but Riker convinces him to join the team after remarking that he has a hopeless chance of winning, which piques Worf's interest. Finally, Riker asks Wesley Crusher to come along as an observer.
Before starting the simulation, Riker challenges Kolrami to a game of Strategema, of which Kolrami is a third level grandmaster. The challenge takes place in Ten Forward, with a large audience. Worf informs Riker that he has wagered heavily that Riker will take Kolrami past the sixth plateau. If he does not, Worf tells him he will be irritated.
Data is intrigued by the Human urge to compete. Dr. Pulaski and La Forge suggest that Data challenge Kolrami to a game of Strategema. Both of them would like to see Kolrami's smugness taken down a notch. Riker assumes his seat opposite Kolrami and the game begins. However, it is over almost as soon as it begins, Kolrami winning by a large margin (100-23).
Riker and his team beam over to the Hathaway, and are given only forty-eight hours to get the ship into working order. On seeing the condition of the Hathaway, Worf is not enthusiastic, but Riker is. Crusher and La Forge are in engineering. La Forge doesn't think they can attain warp speed as there are not very many dilithium crystals and no antimatter to power the warp drive.
Back on the Enterprise, Kolrami challenges Data to a game of Strategema (after Dr. Pulaski goads him into it). He has nothing to gain by beating a computer, but everything to lose if Data wins.
Worf suggests using the Enterprise's sensors against it to create a false image of another hostile ship. Crusher wants to beam back to the Enterprise, under the guise of shutting down a science experiment for his plasma physics class. Picard and Kolrami allow it as long as he has no other contact. Crusher tells his escort Burke that his antimatter experiment is ruined and that he will have to dispose of it by beaming it into space. However, he instead beams the experiment onto the Hathaway's engine room, surprising La Forge.
Data and Kolrami prepare to play Strategema. The game is more evenly matched, but Kolrami again wins (100-81). He offers Data a rematch. Deanna Troi consoles Data as Pulaski is amazed as Data is supposed to be infallible. Back on the bridge, Kolrami displays a lack of confidence in Riker. Picard takes him aside in his ready room and Kolrami says that he has found Riker "wanting". He does not think that Riker will make a good captain because he makes light of serious situations. Picard sticks up for him, saying that his joviality is his leadership style.
Data has removed himself from bridge duty because of his loss to Kolrami. Troi tries to counsel him to learn from his mistakes. But Data has performed a diagnostic of his systems, and found that he has made no mistakes, and therefore his deductive capabilities should be questioned. Pulaski later tells Data that he should rebound from his loss rather than sulking and licking his wounds.
But Data is still concerned about giving unsound advice. Troi and Pulaski approach Picard about Data's condition. He is not pleased, but goes to see Data anyway. Picard tells him that he might make a mistake, but that does not alter his duty and that it is possible to lose without making mistakes. He tells Data that that is simply a part of life.
Wesley and La Forge are hooking up Crusher's experiment, which can be used to fuel their warp engines because it contains antimatter. Riker walks in and accuses him of cheating, to which Wesley says he was told to improvise. La Forge thinks that they can use the rig to achieve warp 1 for less than two seconds, but there is a chance that they could stall the Hathaway.
An hour before the battle, Data briefs Picard and Troi on Riker's past use of tactics. This dissolves into a circular debate over whether Riker will play into their knowledge of his tactics, or their knowledge that he knows they know. Troi interrupts with some practical advice concerning Riker's temperament, and suggests that he will fight to the bitter end, and that the more desperate his situation, the harder he will fight.
The battle commences. Picard initiates the Kumeh Maneuver to get Riker to tip his hand. At Worf's suggestion, Riker counters with the Talupian Maneuver and readies one of their tricks. Suddenly, a Romulan warship appears, and the Enterprise attacks it, but it is only a hologram. The Hathaway scores several hits as the Enterprise is otherwise engaged. Picard changes the access codes on the Enterprise, and prepares to fire.
The Hathaway prepares the warp jump. A Ferengi D'Kora-class warship appears, and the Enterprise ignores it. But this time it is real, and scores several real hits on the Enterprise, weakening its shields and disabling the transporters. Neither ship can attack the Ferengi, as neither has any real weapons that are operable. Picard refuses to abandon the crew on the Hathaway and retreat (as Kolrami orders).
The Ferengi are confused why the Enterprise was attacking (and now defending) the Hathaway. They believe they have the upper hand, as both ships are unarmed, and that the Hathaway has some secret value. The Kreechta's commander, DaiMon Bractor, gives the Enterprise ten minutes to surrender the Hathaway and leave in peace. Picard confers with Riker who informs him about the warp capability of the Hathaway.
Data formulates a plan to fire photon torpedoes at the Hathaway, which will jump to warp right only a millisecond after the torpedoes detonate, thus making the Ferengi momentarily think that the Hathaway has been destroyed. Riker agrees to the plan despite the possibility that they will be destroyed if their warp drive doesn't function. The plan works.
As Picard negotiates with the Ferengi, the Hathaway projects a false Federation starship image on the Ferengi warship's sensors, making the Ferengi think they have been outmaneuvered. They retreat, and Kolrami admits to greatly underestimating Riker.
As the Enterprise tows the Hathaway to the nearest starbase, Data and Kolrami engage in a rematch of Strategema. Kolrami is intent on the game, but Data is calm. Both players have made over thirty thousand moves over the course of the record-setting game, and the numbers are still climbing rapidly. Finally, Kolrami throws down his controls in disgust. He accuses Data of making a mockery of him, and storms off.
Data explains that instead of playing to win the game, he played for a stalemate, passing up obvious avenues of advancement and simply countering Kolrami's own advances again and again until Kolrami finally ran out of patience. Thus, Data declared that though he had not strictly defeated Kolrami, he had "busted him up".
- - Ensign Burke
"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life."
- - Jean-Luc Picard
"Starfleet is not a military organization. Its purpose is exploration."
- - Picard
"Less than one hour away from a battle simulation and I have to go hand-hold an android."
"The burdens of command."
- - Picard and Dr. Pulaski
"I enjoy a challenge."
"Very well. An opponent of limited dimensions can often be quite diverting."
- - Riker asks Kolrami to play a game of Strategema
"So you're gonna beat him, huh?"
"Well, then it's gonna be a close one?"
"But... you have got a chance?"
- - La Forge and Riker, before the latter's Strategema match with Kolrami
"Use their moment of indecision to escape."
"I have forty crew members aboard the Hathaway..."
"Who should be sacrificed to save a thousand; acceptable tactical losses, considering the circumstances."
"Not to me."
- - Kolrami and Picard
"My, what a charmer."
- - Pulaski, on Sirna Kolrami
"Thoroughly enjoyable, Mr. Data. I'm at your disposal for a rematch."
- - Kolrami after beating Data at Strategema
"Our shields will not withstand another assault, sir."
"Then, there are no options. Retreat... or die."
- - Data, reporting to Picard after the Kreechta opens fire on the Enterprise and Kolrami's response
"As the Starfleet observer I am ORDERING you to withdraw!"
"I am the Captain of this vessel! Your order is nullified!""
- - Picard reminds Kolrami who is in command
"Present context, what did she mean by 'bust him up'?"
"In her own way, Dr. Pulaski was instructing you to take the shortest route to victory."
"As opposed to what?"
- - Data and Deanna Troi, prior to Data's first Strategema match against Kolrami
"On the captain's command, we will fire four photon torpedoes directly at the Hathaway. One millisecond after its detonation, the computer will trigger your warp jump."
"Wait a minute, I think I hate this plan. Data, we are not even sure our warp jump will work."
"If the warp engines fail to function, the result could be... unfortunate."
"Very unfortunate. We will be dead."
- - Data, La Forge, and Worf
"I have wagered heavily in the ship's pool that you will get past the sixth plateau."
"And if I don't?"
"I will be... irritated."
- - Worf and Riker
"Where am I going to get the opti-cable?"
(Worf grabs a fistful of cable from the ceiling of the Hathaway)
- - Ensign Nagel and Worf
"In the strictest sense, I did not win."
"I busted him up."
- - Data and Enterprise crew members
Story and production Edit
- The episode received an uncredited page one rewrite by Hans Beimler and Richard Manning, which was further revised by Melinda Snodgrass (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
- Snodgrass recalled, "I loved that script. When I came in, I thought it was a wonderful vehicle for Jonathan and I had a lot of fun doing the rewrite. I really enjoyed writing action, but we had a hard time selling it, because it costs a lot of money to have spaceships fight." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- The dilithium pieces were in reality wax from a blue candle. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
- The footage of the USS Enterprise-D towing the USS Hathaway is recycled from "The Battle".
- The Hathaway's main bridge is a minor redress of the Enterprise-D's battle bridge, last seen in "The Arsenal of Freedom". The original battle bridge set was itself a redress of Kirk's Enterprise bridge, from the first three Star Trek films, and had previously served, with some subtle differences, as the Stargazer's bridge in "The Battle". (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
- First UK airdate: 25th September 1991
- Armin Shimerman, who played the Ferengi captain, Bractor, in this episode, first played a Ferengi in "The Last Outpost" – the first (aired) episode to depict the species. He later played Quark, a regular on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who also appeared in "Firstborn" and "Caretaker".
- Roy Brocksmith also appeared in "Indiscretion" as Razka Karn.
- This episode presents the first look at the inside of a non-Galaxy-class Federation starship since "The Battle". It is notable for featuring the series' only shots of a Constellation-class's main engineering section.
- The Ferengi refer to the Hathaway's warp drive as the "lightspeed drive". This is the first and only time that warp drive has been referred to in this way.
- This episode marks the first appearance of the Zakdorn species.
- Picard makes reference to the "Borg threat" introduced in "Q Who".
- Riker tells the Enterprise "Captain Riker's never lost." In "A Matter Of Honor", Riker, as acting captain of the Klingon vessel IKS Pagh, forced the surrender of the Enterprise.
- The chair in Worf's quarters was also seen in the episodes "Family", "Reunion", "Redemption", "New Ground", "Cost of Living", "A Fistful of Datas", "Birthright, Part I", "Parallels", "Genesis", and "Firstborn" and was used as the command chair aboard the Tarellian starship in the first season episode "Haven". It was designed by Peter Opsvik. 
- Maurice Hurley commented, "A good idea that worked. The war games were fun, and the characters were good." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
- Director Robert Scheerer remarked, "That was the one where Riker took over the old ship. That ship was fun to play with. God, I had more fun ripping wires out and making it look like an old, junky ship. The art director on that show was a joy. Jonathan had fun with that episode, too, going up against Patrick. It was competitive, and on top of that, we had the wonderful comedic character running the show; he was wonderful, Roy Brocksmith [as Sirna Kolrami]. I've used him since then on other shows, like Matlock." (The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine Vol. 20, p. 32)
- A mission report for this episode by Robert Greenberger was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine Vol. 9, pp. 60-63.
Video and DVD releasesEdit
- Original UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 24, catalog number VHR 2507, 7 October 1991
- UK re-release (three-episode tapes, Paramount Home Entertainment): Volume 2.7, catalog number VHR 4743, 5 July 1999
- As part of the TNG Season 2 DVD collection
- As part of the TNG Season 2 Blu-ray collection
Links and references Edit
Also starring Edit
- LeVar Burton as Lt. Geordi La Forge
- Michael Dorn as Lt. Worf
- Marina Sirtis as Counselor Deanna Troi
- Brent Spiner as Lt. Commander Data
- Wil Wheaton as Wesley Crusher
Special appearance by Edit
Guest stars Edit
- Roy Brocksmith as Sirna Kolrami
- Armin Shimerman as Bractor
- David L. Lander as Ferengi Tactical Officer
Uncredited co-stars Edit
- James G. Becker as Youngblood
- Tim McCormack as Bennett
- Richard Sarstedt as a command division ensign
- Guy Vardaman as Darien Wallace
- Unknown performers as
- James G. Becker - stand-in for Jonathan Frakes
- Darrell Burris - stand-in for LeVar Burton
- Dexter Clay - stand-in for Michael Dorn
- Jeffrey Deacon - stand-in for Patrick Stewart
- Nora Leonhardt - stand-in for Marina Sirtis
- Tim McCormack - stand-in for Brent Spiner
- Guy Vardaman - stand-in for Wil Wheaton
9,000 years ago; 2285; Achilles; antimatter; Avidyne engines; away team; betting pool; blind spot; Borg; Braslota system; clutch; Constellation-class; Copernicus Ship Yards; dedication plaque; D'deridex-class; D'Kora-class; Federation; Ferengi; Grenthemen water hopper; Hathaway, USS; Hathaway dedication plaque; Kei; Kreechta; Kumeh maneuver; laser pulse system; Luna; master strategist; Milky Way Galaxy; number one; observer; Oneamisu sector; Operation Lovely Angel; opti-cable; plasma physics; Potemkin, USS; prejudice; rabbit; Sakharov; sensors; star cruiser; Starfleet Academy; Starfleet battle simulation; statistics; Strategema; strategist; tactician; Talupian maneuver; Tholians; Totoro; warship; Yoyodyne Division; Yuri; Zakdorn
- "Peak Performance" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Peak Performance" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Peak Performance" at Wikipedia
- "Peak Performance" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
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"Shades of Gray"