After a hard day's counselling, Troi wants nothing more than to relax in her quarters with one of her favorite, obscenely rich chocolate desserts. Sadly, she doesn't get the chance, and is called away to Ten Forward, where a formal reception is taking place. The Enterprise has arrived at the planet Barzan II, a resource-poor world which has just figuratively struck gold: in orbit of the planet is a stable wormhole, which leads all the way to the Gamma Quadrant. Premier Bhavani, the leader of the planetary government, tells the assembled parties that the wormhole could be theirs—for the right price, of course.
Three parties are interested in the wormhole: the Federation, the Caldonians, and the Chrysalians, the latter of whom are represented by the suave Devinoni Ral, a notoriously slippery human negotiator. However, Troi is quite taken with him, and the two agree to spend some "informal" time together later. No sooner do the formal negotiations begin than trouble shows up in the shape of the Ferengi, who at this point in the series are still very much Card-Carrying Villains. Their leader, DaiMon Goss, gets all upset that the Ferengi weren't invited, and so is allowed to join in the bidding process. They soon demonstrate that their intentions are less than honorable when they discreetly take the Federation negotiator out of commission, forcing Riker to take over.
During their date, Ral makes a confession to Troi; like her, he's part-Betazoid. Only one-quarter instead of the one-half that Troi is, but this is still enough to give him much the same range of empathic abilities that she has, which he has no problem using in the negotiations. Troi is a little surprised by this, especially because she never sensed anything odd about him, but is confident that Riker is a good enough negotiator that it won't matter.
The following day, Data and La Forge take a shuttlecraft to travel through and analyze the wormhole, though after more bitching and complaining from Goss they're forced to allow a Ferengi shuttle containing two of Goss's crew, Arridor and Kol, to accompany them. In the meantime, Ral manages to corner the Caldonian representative, and points out that the Caldonians are a race of mostly scientists, with little military force or administrative experience, and that they probably won't be able to effectively manage all of the claims on their new interstellar real estate, let alone handle any hostile aliens that want to use the wormhole in either direction. Sure enough, the Caldonian representative announces at the next round of negotiations that they're withdrawing their bid, and joining forces with the Chrysalians, leaving the other two representatives annoyed.
At the other side of the wormhole, Data and La Forge make an alarming discovery: they haven't emerged in the Gamma Quadrant, but rather the Delta Quadrant. La Forge immediately realizes that even the Barzans aren't stupid enough to confuse two entire quarters of the galaxy, and that the wormhole isn't actually stable at all. He tries to persuade Arridor and Kol to come back through the wormhole, but the two Ferengi are having none of it, convinced that the two Starfleet officers are just trying to disrupt their research. Data and La Forge fly back into the wormhole, seconds before it shifts again, leaving the two Ferengi stranded. In that little, non warp-capable shuttle of theirs, too. Sucks to be them, they'll probably starve to death and certainly never bother anyone in the Delta Quadrant, right?
Back in the Alpha Quadrant, Riker is trying his best to hold the Federation bid together, when Goss suddenly goes apeshit and opens fire on the wormhole; he can't directly destroy it, but could easily hit Data and La Forge's shuttle as it returns. Riker leaves to deal with the situation, leaving Ral and Bhavani alone together. Picard and Riker fruitlessly try to talk Goss down, but the Ferengi seems utterly convinced that the negotiations have been rigged for the Federation to win. At that point, Ral walks onto the bridge and announces that the Chrysalians have just been named the winners of the bidding process. He then offers Goss and the Ferengi Alliance free use of the wormhole, which Goss happily accepts. However, Troi reads the thoughts of both Ral and Goss and realizes that the entire thing has been a set-up. Ral and Goss were in cahoots from the start, in order to persuade Bhavani that the Federation would not be able to protect the wormhole.
The mood of the two cohorts is further deflated when the Enterprise shuttlepod returns through the wormhole, and La Forge informs everyone that the wormhole doesn't work as advertised. Goss now has the problem of two of his crewmen being stranded on the other side of the galaxy, while Ral has the much bigger issue of needing to explain to the Chrysalians (and presumably the Caldonians) how he just squandered a ton of their resources on a worthless wormhole. All told, the Federation definitely seems to have gotten the better of the whole mess. Who knows, maybe one day they'll find another wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant and won't even need to pay for it?
Before leaving the Enterprise, Ral speaks to Troi one last time, admitting that he does have genuine feelings for her, and asks her to run away with him. Unfortunately however, Troi consigns him to the Friend Zone and says that she wouldn't want to be a full-time counsellor for just one patient.
"The Price" provides examples of:
- All for Nothing: As Geordi and Data discover, the wormhole is essentially worthless, with the other side regularly shifting locations. Everyone's time is wasted, but Ral comes up the big loser in this, while Goss loses two of his men.
- "Ass" in Ambassador: DaiMon Goss, of course, makes an ass of himself as soon as he shows up, simply by incessantly demanding a chair at the table.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Ferengi blood contains "pyrocites" (literally: "fire cells"), which when distilled and touched by a human, provoke a severe allergic reaction.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Arridor and Kol are pretty minor players in this episode, but become much more prominent when they show up again in Star Trek: Voyager. The Barzan Wormhole itself also serves as a Chekhov's Gun, as it appears in the same episode of Voyager.
- The Barzans as well. While they never appear prominently in the TNG-era of Trek shows, the Barzan Commander Nhan will become a recurring character on Star Trek: Discovery.
- The Chessmaster: Ral sets up a complicated scheme to guarantee victory in the auction, but kind of screws it up by closing the deal before getting a report on whether or not the wormhole actually works.
- A Day in the Limelight: This is the series' first real "Troi episode." The only prior episodes where she had a central role were "Haven" and "The Child," but the former was really more a vehicle for her mother, while the latter was shared pretty evenly between Troi, Wesley and Pulaski.
- Early Installment Weirdness: The Ferengi try to make their bid in gold nuggets rather than gold-pressed latinum. This was also a point when the Ferengi were considered outright enemies of the Federation instead of just interested in business.
- The Empath: Ral is one-quarter Betazoid to Troi's one-half; of five siblings, only he inherited empathic abilities. Using his powers, Ral knows every person's buttons and how best to exploit them, which he's put to expert use in his career as a negotiator-for-hire. He only makes one mistake when interacting with Riker, but he otherwise manipulates everyone consistently.
- Fanservice: Dr. Crusher and Troi have some girl talk while doing yoga. Complete with tights.Crusher: You're unusually limber this morning.
Troi: I'll say!
- Freudian Excuse: Ral says that he never had anyone to guide him in his empathic abilities, therefore he wound up exploiting them for personal gain.
- Graceful Loser: Ral takes his failure here in stride, saying it's all part of the risks of his job.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Ral tries to get under Riker's skin by talking about his failed relationship with Troi and how he (Ral) can take her away for good. To Ral's surprise, though, Riker smiles at that. As he says, nothing would make him happier than Troi being happy.
- Ignored Expert: The Ferengi completely blow off Geordi's warnings about the rapidly closing wormhole, to the point where he finally leaves them behind to get himself and Data back to safety.
- Informed Attribute: For all Riker's supposed negotiating skills, and Ral's fears that Bhavani is buying into Riker's bid, he never actually comes across as a serious rival in the bidding process; Ral appears to thoroughly kick his ass throughout, even before pulling his Batman Gambit. While this is somewhat justifiable, as Riker was inserted into the negotiation table at the last minute after the Ferengi took out the official Federation envoy, and even he himself says that he's ill-prepared for the negotiations, it ends up making Ral and Goss's plan seem like a case of Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat, as Ral should have easily won the negotiations anyway going by what we see on-screen.
- Innocuously Important Episode: Not so much in terms of the overall storyline — albeit the two stranded Ferengi later appear on Star Trek: Voyager, and the Barzans would pop up again on Star Trek: Discovery — but the episode does establish several franchise conventions, most notably the Alpha-Beta-Gamma-Delta Quadrant system.
- Insult Backfire: Ral asks Troi if she tells everyone she meets that she is an empath to make a point about his secret psychic powers. Troi actually does frequently spell it out to everyone she meets.
- Large Ham: While Betazoids aren't supposed to be able to read Ferengi minds,note Goss is so spectacularly bad at hiding his emotions that it comes across as no surprise that Troi can read his thoughts.
- Love at First Sight: Discussed. Beverly recalls falling hard for a guy she barely knew (they broke up after a week), while it took quite some time for her to realize her feelings for Jack (the one she actually married).
- Male Gaze: Deanna Troi, stretching in a tight-fitting leotard, and with her ass pointed directly at the screen.
- Morality Chain: At the end, Ral asks Deanna to run away with him so she can be his conscience. She doesn't take very long to reject this tempting offer.
- Oh, Crap!:
- Geordi has a major moment when he realizes the full ramifications of the wormhole not actually being stable, and even Data has about as much of an "oh crap" reaction as his emotionless nature permits. Arridor and Kol, unsurprisingly, are completely gobsmacked when the wormhole shifts away from their position.
- Ral has one of his own when Troi is about to out his ruse with Goss, along with his empathic abilities.
- Our Wormholes Are Different: In-Universe—the Barzan Wormhole is supposed to be the first stable one discovered. Too bad it's not.
- The Silent Bob: Kol doesn't get any lines in this episode, but gets upgraded to a speaking role in his next appearance.
- Smug Snake: Ral, big-time. He actually comes across as somewhat genuine whenever he's with Troi, but outside of that it's obvious that he's relishing the fact that the negotiations have been effectively rigged for him to win.
- Too Dumb to Live: Arridor and Kol's refusal to listen to Geordi's warning leaves them stranded on the other side of the galaxy, and in danger of starving unless, by some chance, there just happens to be a planet of easily-exploitable humanoids nearby...
- Uneven Hybrid: Ral is three-quarters human and one-quarter Betazoid. He notes that his four siblings did not inherit any empathic powers.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The Federation's original negotiator is never seen or mentioned again after getting rushed to sickbay. Arridor says that any reaction he has to the pyrocites shouldn't be fatal, but we don't find out whether or not he actually made a recovery.