Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 3: A Matter of Perspective

The Next Generation, Season 3
Airdate: February 12, 1990
61 of 176 produced
61 of 176 aired


On a mission to check on the progress of a new Krieger Wave converter, Commander Riker runs afoul of the lead scientist on the project, Dr. Nel Apgar. Things get really dicey, though, when the research station explodes, killing Dr. Apgar and casting suspicion on Riker for murder. Complicating matters are the conflicting testimonies of the survivors. Now, Captain Picard must make a ruling on whether Riker is to be extradited to the planet and possibly subjected to harsh alien justice.

We hope, when all is said and done, that this is not Star Trek's most enduring contribution to the Internet.


Matthew: OK, right out of the box I want to acknowledge that this isn't heavy sci-fi. The angle of the holodeck being used to recreate the scene of the crime is interesting and somewhat science fictional, but we don't get into deep issues of how this way of doing things would change our society. Still, the way that the holodeck idea interfaces with the Krieger waves, and ends up proving exculpatory to Riker, was neat. So I'm not feeling too bad about this show in terms of its sci-fi credibility.

Kevin: I'm starting to notice a trend in this part of season 3, where science fiction elements are woven, pretty decently I would say, into larger non-sci-fi stories. In earlier seasons, there was a bit of an either/or to the science fiction. It was all sci-fi or none. Here, like "Court Martial," another good courtroom episode, a new technology and its effects on familiar legal proceedings are explored.

Matthew: What this episode is good at, in my opinion, is a fun "he said-she said" sort of story. It is genuinely fun to see the story from the sides of the opposing characters, and having the holodeck create the visual for everyone to see. It provides for interesting reaction scenes, and it's always clever to see scenes shot from different angles (later shows like "Cause and Effect" take this even further). The story presents interesting questions. How honest is Riker? Is the reality somewhere inbetween Riker's self-portrayal of complete blamelessness, and Manua's depiction of his utter moral turpitude? Tayna relates that both parties were feeling a bit randy. It raises interesting questions, to me anyway, of how the holodeck simulates these aspects. Do the deposition questions include things like "was Manua rubbing her chest seductively," and "was Riker making bedroom eyes?" All told, a lot of fun for a viewer.

Kevin: I enjoyed the "Rashomon"-style storytelling here. The changes in each version were really well done, and I liked the few threads that ran through each. It gave the recreations as a whole some great credibility. I really liked and wished they had explored more Troi's assertion that Manua believes her own testimony. It would have been nice to see Troi actually portray some self doubt, or maybe Riker acknowledge his bit of a playboy reputation is working against him. Still, overall, it was really well done, and it's pretty much only our knowledge and affection for the Riker character that make us certain of his innocence, but the show did a good and credible job of portraying how someone could think he would do such things.

Matthew: There are some story questions. How could they have determined the trajectory, but not the composition, of a "phaser blast" on a destroyed station? Couldn't they determine if Riker had a sidearm, and if it had been fired? When it comes to the testimony, why don't they examine Riker to see of he'd been punched in the stomach and face by Apgar, to show that Tayna is a liar? If Riker and Geordi had already made arrangements for lodging on the planet, why not establish that to show that Manua is a liar? What about the super lie detector from TOS? Has it been debunked? It might have been nice to have a line of dialogue.

Kevin: My issue was how the holodeck recreation actually created Kreiger waves. It raises a few questions. When reviewing the schematics, or even the actual lab during the original survey, shouldn't Geordi have realized it was more than a non-working prototype? Also, if the holodeck recreation is so faithful it can process external material into finished products, why not have a holographic phaser bank or even warp core? All you need is energy, which is functionally infinite, and then there are fewer moving parts to manage.

Matthew: The teaser was a fun little intro. It relates mildly to the theme (the same scene interpreted by multiple artists) and it had some funny dialogue between Data and Picard. Apparently, there was a deleted scene in which Picard destroyed his painting after Data left the room. Also, there was a bare-assed naked chick in the scene. So it's all good.

Kevin: I tend to be a little picky when the writers play fast and loose with legal procedure, but I'm pretty satisfied here. Picard had issues with things like hearsay, and that was good. Also, the slightly looser procedure hear is fine, as an extradition hearing doesn't have to find guilt or innocence, merely that there is enough evidence to proceed, a much lower burden. My issue is never really that Federation legal procedure doesn't match 20th Century American procedure, just that it's obvious the writers are cribbing from legal dramas and creating a system that lacks internal coherence. But like I said, this episode does a pretty good job.


Matthew: The fun thing about a setup like this is it gives the actors the chance to play scenes three ways. All of the actors called upon to do so did a fine job with it. Frakes was leering and lascivious in his "Manua" scenes, a veritable boy scout in the "Riker" scenes, and a dopey doofus in the "Tayna" scenes. Similarly, Mark Margolis and Gina Hecht were good in their various portrayals of Nel and Manua Apgar.

Kevin: From both primary and guest cast, each run through felt credible. No one was tipping their hand they treated it as a "fake" scene. It ramped up the tension and makes Picard's job actually difficult. Like he said, he doesn't have to find Riker guilty, just that there is enough evidence to proceed to a trial, and the recreations are played well enough, it looks like that's where Picard is going to have to do so.

Matthew: I really liked Craig Richard Nelson as Investigator Krag. He was a little snotty and overbearing, but he played it well enough to remind us that he was in the right, as far as his suspicion of Riker, and his desire for extradition. Patrick Stewart played well against him, trying to balance loyalty to his officer with fairness and justice. Marina Sirtis should have had a scene with Riker alone - her concerned support was nice, but two more minutes of them discussing his feelings and his personality would have been most welcome.

Production Values

Matthew: Aspects of this show were a mixed bag. The planet and ship effects were a step back. The planet looked like a poor digital projection, and had no land masses. The Enterprise never really looked like it was truly there in front of the planet. The explosion of the station (another re-use of Regula One) was ho-hum.

Kevin: I'm guessing the backslide in planets and the reuse of footage of Regula One might have been to save money for the sets and composition shots in the holodeck, but I agree, they are lackluster at best.

Matthew: On the other hand, the station set was pretty good. I liked the converter itself, and the rooms on the station looked nice. The optical effects were middling to good on the holodeck scene transitions. They had a lot of practice with this episode, and they finally got the lighting on the characters to match reasonably well with the backgrounds. You could still tell there was an optical effect, of course, but that was more due to the degraded "rescanned" film than mistakes on the part of the effects and lighting crew.

Kevin: Just when I was sitting down to watch this one, I read another article about the possible HD reissue of TNG, and I think, unexpectedly, that this episode might really benefit from it. I agree, Matt, that the basic construction of the holodeck scenes is sound and well executed, it was just the limitations of the medium that make the optical effect obvious.


Matthew: I always enjoy this episode thoroughly when watching it. It never bores me. It's a clever "courtroom" style drama, that mixes in just enough sci-fi with the holodeck to keep the Trekkie in me satisfied. And so, even though this may seem a bit high to you, Kevin, I'm going with a 4. It's good enough to raise above the average mark for me.

Kevin: I actually agree on the 4. The legal drama and conflict is well set up, and the episode deftly handled what easily could have been its downfall, the repetition of the scenes on the station. It could have either been boring or silly and it was neither. Coupled with solid acting, and hobbled only by a few weaker effects, this is still a solidly above average episode. That makes a total of 8.


  1. What irks me about this episode is that Manua's and Riker's accounts of what happened are so contradictory, so mutually exclusive, that I do not buy that both are kinda right and believe it to be the truth, as Troi says.

    In Riker's recalling, Manua is the one going after him, she is the one seducing him. In Manua's recount, Riker is not just the one propositioning her, he forces himself on her and wants to violate/rape her. In Riker's account, Abgar hits Manu, in Manua's he doesnt. That is not a matter of perspective, that is tow completely different things. You cant misinterpret hitting someone: it either happened or it didnt.

    Someone was lying and knowing Riker, obviously it was Manua but strangely enough, the story didnt go there. They really made it so that she was actually telling the truth.

    If this was matter of perspective, then shit, every rapist has a point and is innocent. Both Manua and Riker cannot be right at the same time, even remotely. Their accounts are mutually exclusive.

    1. Having personally been through a moderately similar situation (but far less severe, since it did not involve physical violence or attempted rape allegations), I can definitely tell you that a divergence of opinion to this degree is both possible and realistic.

      I think one thing to take from this episode (and the experience) is that a "neutral" third party seeking to construct a narrative has an extremely difficult time comprehending all aspects and motivations when trying to arrive at "truth." The very act of choosing pieces of testimony to emphasize almost invariably elides major moral and factual aspects of any situation.

  2. I just want to add that I adore what the teaser says about these people and this society. These people want to explore their potentials as creative beings, and will dedicate time and resources to it.