**** (4 stars out of 5)
Wargames in the Braslota system, overseen by snooty Zakdorn strategist Sima Kolrami. The Zakdorn have a reputation for the last 9 millennium as the greatest strategists in the galaxy. Also, they have cheek pouches to store up their disdain for winter.
Riker will captain the 80 year old antique starship Hathaway. It will battle the Enterprise with harmless laser lights. Combat skills are not a high priority is this era, but with the Borg threat looming Picard agreed: they need practice.
Pulaski (hypocritically?) thinks Kolrami needs an attitude adjustment, and forces Data to take him on in the game Strategema. It's like Battleship, but with a milking machine instead of Nintendo Power Gloves. Kolrami wiped the floor with Riker in seconds.
Riker calls Worf away from assembling a tiny model ship with his powerful fists. They will be the underdogs, outflanked and outgunned- so what will they have left? "Guile," intones Worf. Will also recruits Wes, Geordi and a bevy of young ladies. Presumably for their skills and stuff.
"What's the Zakdornian word for mismatch?" Riker snarls.
"Challenge. We do not whine about the inequities of life," chirps Kolrami.
Wes improvises some antimatter for the Hathaway warp drive by pretending to 'dispose' of a school project in plasma physics under the impatient semi-watchfulness of security guard Glenn Morshower.
"It's gonna be fun," Riker grins. Kolrami finds Riker's joviality inappropriate. Picard believes it is a style which encourages loyalty.
Data's loss at Strategema and Pulaski's inability to shrug it off undermines Data's confidence catastrophically. He has never seen himself as fallible and feels he might give the Captain unsound advice. Troi and Pulaski can't persuade him back to his post.
But Picard has the right stuff. "It is possible to commit no mistakes, and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life."
Worf lies to the Enterprise sensors- has them distracted by a holographic Romulan warbird as the Hathway strikes from behind.
Unfortunately, Ferengi notice the battle and swoop in looking for an attack opportunity. Daimon Bractor of the Kreechta is convinced Hathaway must have value. He plans to shake it until gold falls out.
Data concocts a scheme: Enterprise will fake-torpedo Hathaway in the midst of a warp jump. It will look convincing, because the torpedoes will be real.
"I think I hate this plan." moans Geordi. But of course it works.
And in the Strategema rematch, Data plays not to win, but to standoff, until Kolrami storms off in a huff. Or a minute and a huff, whichever comes first.
"Peak Performance" overflows with action and fun, camaraderie and zeal. Why they didn't save this one for the season finale is beyond me. Up next: the worst thing TNG ever made.