Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 2: The Schizoid Man

Airdate: January 23, 1989
30 of 176 produced
31 of 176 aired


Sent on a desperate mission to heal the ailing Dr. Ira Graves, the greatest living mind in the Federation, the crew of the Enterprise discovers him suffering in the final stages of Darnay's Disease, an incurable ailment. What they do not know is how close he is to achieving a breakthrough in the transfer of human consciousness into machines - and the nefarious designs he has on his unexpected guest... Data.

Dr. Selar probes Dr. Graves from behind... this must be what led to her being left out of every other TNG episode.


Matthew: Although I'm leery of stories that start with "This is the greatest mind in the Federation" (According to whom? By what standard?), overall this tale begins pretty well. We get the seemingly inconsequential sight gag of Data's beard, but it actually ties into the theme - Data's inability to "feel" human, contrasted with Ira Graves' monomaniacal desire to maintain that feeling at any cost. This isn't to say that everything about the setup works - the "near warp" transport seemed both needlessly tacked on as well as wholly unimpressive.

Kevin: Both the near-warp transport and the disaster on the Constantine felt really tacked on. It's almost like they needed some filler and just threw together some scenes to artificially ratchet up the tension. I agree the set up is good, and a neatly Star Trek one at that. Star Trek's narrative through-line is how humanity adapts to the technology, and this is certainly one of the more explicit explorations of it.

Matthew: Some things that didn't work as far as characters and plotting go were Counselor Troi butting into Graves' and Brianon's private lives by telling her that he would like to bone her. Another idea that failed to seem relaistic was Data taking the "Psychotronic Stability Examination." The very fact that a physical test could measure a psyche based on physical responses raises issues with this story, but I will discuss philosophical problems below. Mainly, I was a little annoyed that there was not much mystery that Graves took over Data. It would have been fun to toy with the viewer's expectations a bit more, especially since we solve the "case" so much earlier than the characters.

Kevin: I agree that there was no real mystery as to what was going on with Data. The entire crew should crew should have realized, pretty much at the memorial that Data was acting strangely. It's additionally absurd that Geordi is the one defending him. He should have been the first one to see such a dramatic change. Also, I don't understand how watching a bunch of one-second clips of The Wrath of Khan is supposed to reveal detailed information about your psyche. If I took it, the readout would probably just say, "Subject really enjoyed Star Trek II and appreciates that the opportunity to watch it again."

Matthew: No one should feel as though this episode is wanting for Science Fiction. Reminiscent of TOS episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of," this show explores issues of transferring human consciousness to a machine, ethical concerns such as whether machine intelligence counts for less than the human variety, and the potential for a certain level of immortality. Like "Little Girls," it might be said that this episode fails to go deep enough into the issues. For one thing, an achievement of this magnitude should be studied, instead if ignored.
I felt as though the story lacked philosophical consistency, in that the soul was treated as completely separable from the body, but various manifestations of it within the story contradicted this (implausible) conceit. If the "consciousness" of Graves could survive the transfer to Data, and be sensed by Counselor Troi somehow while inside Data, why could she sense nothing when it was transferred again into the Enterprise computer? Indeed, given that the computer can create a conscious being capable of defeating Data, why is the "flavor" lost when Graves is transferred there? I sense a lack of communication between episode writers and editors. I think the story would have worked better if Graves-in-Data were more violent and unhinged because his mind could not interface with Data's physical being, and elements of his personality were being progressively lost because of the incompatibility. I think this would have made both more dramatic as well as more philosophical sense.

Kevin: It's interesting you reference "Elementary, Dear Data," because if memory serves, a lot of our criticisms of that episode centered around an inconsistent concept for the holodeck and unanswered philosophical questions relating to Moriarty. It's not enough to have a nifty idea then through platitudes about the soul out as a means of resolving it. I will acknowledge that the questions this episode raised are unanswered and maybe unanswerable by any philosopher, but if you want to base an episode around it, you have to at least really engage the problem rather than avoid it.

Matthew: Despite any issues listed above, I was entertained and interested throughout the episode. The story is based on a very strong concept, upon which a lot of good scenes can hang. This episode to me really displays the beauty of the Trek framework - sci-fi stories of relatively high-concept natures can be told within the given characters and the settings. 


Matthew: This is obviously a tour de force from Brent Spiner. I like this performance better than the one in  "Datalore." Spiner very effectively portrays two different people, despite looking the same. His eulogy for Graves is very funny, but he is genuinely scary when he portrays Graves' unslakeable lust for power, recognition, sex, and life.

Kevin: What I found most stunning was the physicality that he infused the two different personas with. He carried himself differently as Graves in a way that was immediately recognizable, even if you couldn't point to exactly what was different. The only problem is it made the crew's ignorance all the more unforgivable.

Matthew: W. Morgan Sheppard was great. He is probably the single best guest actor who's been on TNG thus far. He's funny, crochety, a little creepy, and well-realized enough to make Spiner's turn as the same character more interesting.

Kevin: W. Morgan Shepherd is indeed the crotchetiest of the crotchety. He's been at least four different crotchety old men in this science fiction franchise alone. He is the gold standard against which all other recluse scientists are judged. Paul Manheim...this is how it's done.

Matthew: Speaking of guest cast members who should have been regulars, we get Suzie Plakson as Dr. Selar. Sigh. This is one of the great missteps of TNG - not finding a way to get Plakson on with regularity. They waited until their crappiest show to even entertain the notion, and then Enterprise got cancelled before it could happen.

Kevin: It always baffled me. It can't be that the crew or cast found her wanting as a person or actress because they brought her back several times as other characters and knocked those out of the park too. Selar would have been an awesome opportunity to explore Vulcan philosophy and society from the perspective of its women, and Plakson clearly can handle a range of character moments. As an aside, the collected staff of Treknobabble met Suzie Plakson at a convention last year, and she is precisely as awesome as you would think. 

Production Values

Matthew: I thought the planet set was pretty good. It looked like a real place, and had nice textures throughout. The funeral for Graves was strange (and not just because it wasn't on the planet), we get a torpedo-like tube, but on the transporter pad? I guess they must have struck the torpedo bay set from STII. Or was it back in VI? Either way, I guess the tube looked nice.

Kevin: I liked Graves' lab, and I almost never like the distant isolated lab set, so well done. It looked like someone really lived there and accumulated stuff over time.

Matthew: On the bridge, we get a side view shot of the viewscreen that seems to indicate that it can be seen "on center" from multiple viewpoints. Is it 3-D?


Matthew: Whatever its flaws are, the fact that a story can bear discussions of mind-body dichotomy, immortality in practice, and Kantian ethics, says that it is at least a worthwhile episode. Add to that a few very nice performances, and we get a 4. It's not perfect, it could have gone further in several spots, but overall it's decidedly above average. Season 2 is shaping up nicely with episodes like this, "Elementary,"  "Measure," and so on. It seems as though the "quality of life" is becoming a theme for lots of Season 2 shows. That's not a bad thing at all.

Kevin: I'm going with a 3. The crew had to be stupid to progress the plot and that's a pretty big sin for me. That being said, even if the execution is wanting, it's certainly not bad. This hits the average part of the distribution for me, but it says something about the quality of season 2 that this is what the new average looks like. That makes for a total of a 7.


  1. While the dialog around the near-warp transport was somewhat klunky, the concept has an odd staying power. To this day, I occasionally roll our car forward (very slowly!) when my wife is getting in, and she grins and says, "Near-warp transport!"

    It was certainly unnecessary for the plot, but it did flesh out the Trek universe in a possibly unintentional manner. It was the equivalent of a group of people commenting on how Vegas limos are a better deal than taxis: very human chatter about transportation, mundane in the setting and a neat concept for the audience.

    The scene for me is as unnecessary as Livingston, but serves the same purpose (again, probably by accident): reminds us these are real people wandering through the galaxy. I found a bit of small talk rather than alternating between hushed tones in Engineering and stentorian bellowing at aliens on the viewscreen to be both refreshing and curiously memorable.

  2. I think what bugs me is that the concept was cool sounding, but the execution was lame. They spent 2 minutes building it up, and then the payoff was merely a line of dialogue ("it felt like I was inside the wall").

    It would have been better with an optical effect, like a blurred transport beam or something.

    Either way, it's cool that you and your wife use it as a cute Trekkie joke :)

  3. The disaster at the top of the episode is not pointless, it's there so that they cannot beam Graves back to the ship immediately, giving him time to spend with Data alone on the planet. The means and opportunity to transfer his consciousness from organic to machine is dependant on that.

    Second, the reason Graves gives up Data's body is mostly that he repeatedly proves unable to control Data's superhuman strength. He really isn't a violent man, just as he says. Picard's speech helps, but it is primarily that he sees the damage he's doing and realises he has to let go of what isn't meant for him.