After a hard day's counselling, Troi prepares to tuck into some space mail from her mother. To ease the pain, she decides to have a "real" sundae, but the computer won't let her. Before she can finish this fight, she's 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 that has just 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 mercenary human negotiator. Troi seems quite taken with Ral, and the two agree to spend some "informal" time together later. Just as formal negotiations begin than the Ferengi crash the conference. Their leader, DaiMon Goss, wastes no time taking the Federation negotiator out of commission, forcing Riker to take over.
During their date, Ral and Troi quickly develop an attachment. Troi confides in Doctor Crusher that she may be falling in love. Crusher admits that she fell in love at first sight, but the relationship lasted only a week.
The following day, Data and La Forge take a shuttlecraft to travel through and analyze the wormhole. Not trusting to Federation to be forthcoming with their findings, the Ferengi insist on sending their own shuttle containing Goss's minions, Arridor and Kol. The negotiations continue. Riker holds his own as a negotiator and presents a persuasive offer to Bhavani bolstered by the Federation's massive resources. However, Ral argues that the Federation's size and importance make it a dangerous ally, as the Barzanians risk getting drawn in their various conflicts with other superpowers. Later, Ral manages to convince the Caldonian representative to withdraw their bid and strike a deal with the Chrysalians.
Ral is on a hot streak and continues seeing Troi. After they consummate their relationship, he admits that he is one-quarter Betazoid and empathic, like her. She accuses him of using his abilities in an underhanded manner to gain an advantage over his adversaries. He points out that she must uses her abilities to get her ship out of jams all the time, leaving her without a retort. Ral asks Troi to keep his abilities a secret, but the pair separate without coming to terms.
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 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 don't believe him. Data and La Forge fly back into the wormhole, seconds before it shifts again, leaving the two Ferengi stranded.
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, to no avail. 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. The Chrysalians, Ferengi and (presumably) the Caldonians must now all reconcile that they've just partnered up on a worthless deal. 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 to answer for his actions, 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. He's accusatory and argumentative towards Picard through the whole episode, and then he poisons Mendoza and conspires with Ral.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Ferengi blood contains "pyrocites" (literally: "fire cells"), which when distilled and touched by a human, provoke a severe allergic reaction.
- Cassandra Truth: Geordi begs the Ferengi to believe him that they'll be stranded if they don't enter the wormhole immediately, but they refuse.
- Category Traitor: Ral is a human who negotiates against the Federation.
- 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 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, although we do see the first step towards the Ferengi that we eventually come to know, with Goss and his men being interested in business first and foremost, and only resorting to military force as part of a Batman Gambit with Ral.
- Picard claims that the Ferengi's missile will have no effect on a wormhole. However, this would be contradicted in Deep Space Nine, in which numerous attempts are made (including one by the crew) to collapse the Bajoran wormhole using explosive weaponry, with every indication being that this would work.
- 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.
- Hollywood Density: That large bag of solid gold nuggets sure doesn't seem very heavy. Then again, it's rather ambiguous as to whether Ferengi have Super Strength.
- 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: Riker is said to be a crushing poker player and a natural negotiator. In his previous scenes playing poker, he didn't seem to be any more talented than the other players (save Data). And the only thing we see him do in the negotiations is present the Federation's offer, which pretty much sells itself.
- 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.
- 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.
- Manipulative Bastard: Ral has absolutely no qualms about using his empathic abilities to play on others' emotions, both to manipulate competitors into dropping out and ultimately to lure the seller into accepting his bid. It becomes clear just how low he's prepared to sink when he tries to use his relationship with Troi as a tool by rubbing it in Riker's face — though this promptly backfires when Riker tells him that, if Ral can make Deanna happy, it will make him happy also. Ral then proceeds to throw any remaining hint of ethics out the window when he has the Ferengi stage a military confrontation with the Enterprise, just to play on Bhavani's concerns about the Federation's struggles with its enemies.
- 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. Turns out it's only stable on one end.
- 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.
- Villain Has a Point: Troi objects to Ral using his empathic abilities to get an upper hand in negotiations, but he persuasively points out that Troi uses her abilities to give the Enterprise crew an edge in its own dealings. While Troi's usage is obviously based more on nurturing and protection, Ral at least shows that the issue is not as black and white as Troi suggests.
- 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.
- Workout Fanservice: Crusher and Troi chat during a workout that involves lots of bending over and stretching in space leotards.