An interesting episode. It's somewhat low-key, and the political angle is kind of foreshadowing the kind of episodes we will experience frequently in Deep Space Nine, especially as it's about a wormhole. However, it's also quite neutral, which is also interesting.
In terms of Devinoni Ral, pretty much everyone here said it: He's smarmy. Not only that, his interest in Troi comes across as not only somewhat creepy in terms of his behaviour, but I'd go as far as to say he acts disrespectfully - not really like a true gentleman at all - and treats her in a sexist manner. It's like he must have been thinking: "Boy, I'm on this starship, I'm gonna get the best deal for my clients so I can be...well, rich and successful, and hey look! Here's a gorgeous woman who just happens to be a partial telepath/empath like me! I'd better start doing my worst James Bond impression and see if I can score!" - quite seriously, that's how it came across to me, both when I originally saw this as a kid, as a teenager again, and now as an adult. He never comes across as genuine. And of course, we all know he isn't...so I guess that worked, one could say.
Still, wouldn't it have been better if we weren't suspicious of Ral and his motivations from the very start? Wouldn't the episode have been more powerful had his character been handled a with a little more subtlety? I think so. Any thoughts on this?
Despite the groan-inducing 'romance' scenes, especially the one with the foot massage (nothing wrong with Marina Sirtis's feet, it was just a cringe-worthy scene IMO. Star Trek never goes the whole hog in 'sex' scenes - the people are always half-clothed and don't do very much, which is quite amusing but still cringe-worthy), there is some genuinely good dialogue throughout the episode. Some of it, in fact, is within those very scenes. The dinner table scene between Troi and Ral was really well done, I thought, as it showed that neither of them is perfect - yes, she was right, he does use his empathic abilities to manipulate people and situations to his advantage. Technically speaking however he was, in a way, quite right when he called her out for doing the same thing. The difference is, he equates what he does as harmless simply because it's just business, and no one gets killed, whereas Deanna's job potentially leads to decisions being made which may result in peoples' (or aliens') deaths.
On the other hand, her job is based around using her abilities to help others and to protect the Enterprise, while his are based around taking advantage in situations to benefit himself and his clients politically or economically. So really, even though his job is more 'harmless', it's also less honourable and far more deceitful and dishonest. An interesting scene.
I also love the scene in ten forward where Riker absolutely lets him have it, but in an intelligent way rather than a vulgar one.
Riker can see that Ral is really quite pathetic and dishonest, but he isn't exactly mean to him - he just tells it how it is, which is great.