Monday, January 31, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: Elementary Dear Data


Airdate: November 28, 1988
28 of 176 produced
28 of 176 aired

Introduction

The Enterprise is waiting for a rendezvous with the USS Victory and thus has some unexpected free time. Data and Geordi use theirs for a trip to the holodeck to play out Sherlock Holmes mystery. Since Data knows them all by heart, however, it presents no challenge. After Geordi unsuccessfully tries to explain why solving a mystery in the first thirty seconds is no fun, Dr. Pulaski states that Data couldn't solve a true mystery. Challenging her, they all return to the holodeck to try to craft a mystery, and an opponent, that could defeat Data. Little did they know how successful their attempt would be...


I've grown accustomed to the tune that she whistles night and noon...


Writing

Kevin: This is one of my favorite episodes of Season 2. I think there's a lot of nifty ideas here. In a way, this is the improved version of "The Big Goodbye." It focuses more heavily on the philosophical implications of holodeck creations, and the episode is better for it. Sadly, like "The Big Goodbye," it still falls short on creating a consistent and stable set of rules for what the holodeck does and how it works. Still, there's a lot to like here. I enjoy any exploration of how Data perceives the universe. I think, via Dr. Pulaski, they tried too hard to make it appear as if Data problem solves by rote memorization. I think that was the wrong tack to take. I think the conversation with Geordi was more on point. The enjoyment comes from the process, and Data can't understand the distinction. Using his knowledge of the Holmes novels to solve the case is no different that using his knowledge of chemsitry to solve it. Data doesn't understand the emotional enjoyment of solving the mystery inside certain constraints. Much more than cheap jokes or inability to grasp verbal irony, these are the moments that really serve to make Data's desire to be human interesting and complicated.

Matthew: Definitely, this is a better holodeck outing than "Goodbye." Why? For one thing, the story doesn't take away from a putative "A" plot - namely, the rather pointless and totally undeveloped meeting with the Jarada in "Goodbye." For another, a random malfunction doesn't disable the whole thing - it's a slightly more interesting malfunction, anyway. The plot gets moving owing to Dr. Pulaski's casual prejudice, but at least she puts her proverbial money where her mouth is. I wish they had wagered something tangible, to give us an insight into future economics. Oh well. Either way, it gives us a chance for costume drama, which is always nice.

Kevin: This episode has a few plot holes that in concert are enough to drive the viewer a little crazy. Why does the drawing of the Enteprise survive leaving the holodeck? While everyone was wandering around trying to figure out how to beat Moriarty, no one seemed concerned the Enterprise computer can create sentient life on command. It frankly strains credulity that Enterprise computer would be capable of this. Also, it sets off several more issues of how the holodeck works. Moriarty seems aware of the presence but not the significance of the arch before his transformation, as does the...let's call her a "flower girl." How can Troi sense Moriarty, but not Data? It's these little things that bog down a nifty idea. I'll let Matt dive into the really meaty philosophy stuff in a second, but I'll say this. This episode does a really good job of provoking questions, but fails to answer them in a satisfactory way.

Matthew: Let me put it this way - how hot can a flame of 1000 degrees Fahrenheit make a piece of iron? If you guessed "always less than 1000 degrees, no matter what," give yourself a gold philosophy star. See the problem? If the Enterprise can create a sapient consciousness, it must possess at least that much sapience on its own. This is especially apt given the way it is represented - as a usage of processing power that shows up on Worf's tactical (?) console. Clearly it is a matter of processing power. So why hasn't the Enterprise computer already attained consciousness? Why doesn't it retain said consciousness after this episode? Why doesn't the replicator start saying things like "You don't really want that Thalian Chocolate Mousse, do you, Ensign Big Butt?" Why could the Enterprise computer not have contained at least some of the "flavor" of Dr. Ira Graves' consciousness, from a scant few episodes removed? As far as the holodeck goes, we get yet another inconsistent object leaving the premises (the paper with the Enterprise drawing), and some logic issues with spatial relationships. How can Picard and crew come from all the way outside and go deep into Moriarty's lair, all while Pulaski is already there?The holodeck either has to be WAY larger than ever depicted in "wireframe" scenes, or it has to create independent fields of view for separate users, something which, in addition to contradicting established information, would essentially just be "VR" anyway.

Kevin: One element I certainly enjoyed in this episode is that this is the first real example of Geordi and Data's friendship. The actors play well off each other, and like other pairings, it provides a nice through line for the series.

Matthew: This episode is one of the first with that duo. Before this, it had seemed as though they were trying to build Worf and Geordi into friends. After this, we see the fake beard in "Schizoid" as well as plenty of other Geordi/Data interactions that took advantage of the actors' chemistry. Theirs is probably the single best friendship in TNG.

Acting

Kevin: We talk about this in the podcast, but it's worth repeating here. Everyone seems more at ease with their characters now, and everyone has dialed it down a little in terms of delivery. There's certainly less shouting. All in all, it's a clear signal early on that season 2 is going to be a lot more watchable. Like I said above, Geordi and Data have some nice moments in the episode. I also have to praise Daniel Davis as Moriarty. He never chews the scenery, and I really bought his self-exploration as exhilirating and terrifying. Whatever logical flaws the plot has, Davis really sells the conflict emotionally, and it brings the episode up, when a lesser performance would have dragged it down.

Matthew: Daniel Davis is American. I just want to put that out there and let it sink in when you consider his performance here, in "The Nanny," and in "The Prestige."  Mad props go to not only a pitch perfect accent, but never once having the appearance of going too far with it. There were lots of terrific extras and bit parts here, too, such as Inspector LaStrade, the whole crowd during the "murder" scene, and the "Let it go, Guv!" guy. Diana Mulduar has a good episode, here, too. Despite getting some bitchy dialogue regarding Data yet again, she cuts a fine figure in her Victorian gear, and plays "dumb" with Moriarty quite nicely. It's too bad there was no opportunity for seduction. It might have been fun. But perhaps "Capable of defeating Data" combined with "Horny" would have just been going too far.

Production Values

Kevin: This is certainly one area where the episode shines, pretty much without reservation. The London sets, all the way from Holmes' apartment to the streets, are really well acheived. There's lots of nice detail, and while I'm sure the fog was a trick to make the same stretch of set look bigger, it never felt that way. The twisting and turning alleyways also served to make the space seem vast. I loved the detail put into the chalkboard in Moriarty's lair. The drawing of the Enterprise with the parrallel shading lines looks nifty. The percolationg organic chemistry set was a little on the nose, but still looked neat.

Matthew: I liked the "Victory" boat prop that Geordi was working on. Why was it in Engineering? Who knows. Maybe that was the set with the biggest door? I assume they got it as a loan from a museum. The device Moriarty builds to shake the ship, despite being utterly preposterous (why would the computer indulge him in creating it, if he could just mess with the Arch?), is totally cool.

Kevin: Costumes were also fantastic. Data, Picard, and Pulaski in particular really looked awesome in their costumes. It was clear they didn't just grab costumes from some period piece, or if they did, they did the extra work to not let it show.

Matthew: Theiss got to design a bunch of nifty period costumes, and these are just as good if not better than those in "The Big Goodbye." Picard looks like a dandy going to the opera, Pulaski looks lovely in her prim ensemble, and I like Geordi's color-coordinated outfit. It looked really great with his dark skin and gold visor.

Conclusion

Kevin: The ideas and discussion this episode provokes are pretty interesting. The performances and sets are top notch. The lack of truly exploring or resolving the obvious logical and philosophical issues is what holds this episode back. Still, it's a hoot to watch. I'm giving it a 4.

Matthew: This episode starts in a comedic vein and almost morphs into a really interesting examination of consciousness. Almost, but not quite. Nonetheless, the actors and the period dressings really make this one consistently fun and entertaining. I agree that it goes beyond merely average Trek and into "quite good but flawed" 4 territory. That makes an 8 overall.



3 comments:

  1. I know I've been a good influence on you when you start referencing The Nanny in a Star Trek review. :)

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  2. So I have to ask. Do you guys like the holodeck at all? I feel like every time we have an episode with it you have a serious complaint about it. I admit I have always wondered about this episode where the Doctor is when she is kidnapped but I would rather just ignore that and enjoy the episode.

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  3. Well, I can only speak for myself, but:

    1. When you've watched as much Trek as I have, nitpicking is one of the key entertainment factors, at least for lesser episodes, and even for some of the good ones.

    2. Sure, there are plenty of good "holodeck" episodes. "Hollow Pursuits," "Fair Haven," and "Booby Trap" spring to mind. These are "holodeck episodes" in the truest sense of the word - they revolve around the holodeck and what it means for the people who use it. "Ship in a Bottle" is another good one, in that it goes deeper than this episode with the Moriarty character. This episode is good for reasons other than its being on the holodeck. It's got fun costumes, a good guest star, and some great character moments. But its use of the holodeck raises more questions than it answers.

    So basically, I want the use of the holodeck to be logical and consistent. When it's not, it does tend to drag me out of the story a bit. But that is probably a bigger problem when I've seen an episode 5-10 times already :)

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