Monday, September 19, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: The Mind's Eye

The Next Generation, Season 4
"The Mind's Eye
Airdate: May 3, 1991
96 of 176 produced
96 of 176 aired


En route to Risa, Geordi's shuttle is accosted by a Romulan Warbird. The Romulans have designs on turning Geordi into a "sleeper agent" who executes secret instructions. The crew of the Enterprise now must try to unravel the mystery and discover what has happened to Geordi in time to prevent him from assassinating a Klingon dignitary and plunging the Klingons and the Federation into war.

Silik interrogates Kunta Kinte as Tasha Yar looks on. Waaaah?!?!


Matthew: I can imagine someone questioning whether this episode is sci-fi enough. I think it is. The clearest influence is of course "The Manchurian Candidate," and both that movie and this episode fit my personal definition - brainwashing is a technology like any other, and if you could do it this effectively (probably not the case today or in the 1950s), the implications would be very interesting. So I think this episode has enough going for it on the "big idea" front. It's also an effective thriller, just as "Candidate" was. Whenever one of our characters is turned into a "Villain," especially against their will, the potential for drama is great.

Kevin: I agree on both counts. The Romulans, since their introduction in Balance of Terror, have provided a great platform for Star Trek to explore other genres of storytelling. Moreso than the Klingons which are typically seen as the Cold War Russian avatar, the Romulans definitely inhabit the brinksmanship that came to define Cold War politics. Aside from the technological aspects via the VISOR, the allegorical value of the story remains, even if it isn't as urgent, given the then pending collapse of the Soviet Union.

Matthew: As far as the story logic of the thriller goes, I was mostly satisfied. The phaser test was a neat scene showing our heroes being scientific and analytical. This sort of "crime scene" stuff is cool. But then, I do wonder why they're searching the isolinear chips for "any trace" of who altered them. Uhh... Geordi wasn't wearing gloves, folks. I think people in the 24th century still have fingerprints... There was a nice continuity mention of Work killing Duras, and his discommendation. It was cool that the Romulans used Geordi's VISOR interface ports to feed images directly into his brain. I would have liked them to go even further, having set up the AI conference or at least his invitation specifically to lure him. The introduction of Sela was fun - Trek rarely does recurring villains, especially ones who get a slow buildup. I kind of wonder about the plot, though. Wouldn't Geordi be much more useful as a spy mole than as an assassin?

Kevin: My only niggling complaint about the phaser scene is another "only one species uses this technology" conclusion, and that always bothers me. It's slightly more effective here as I could see something like a power source being more species specific and harder to obtain on even the black market. The opening scene using Geordi's neural implants is pretty awesome and terrifying. I found myself really unnerved as a child as the idea of being unable to look away from something or close my eyes because the images are being implanted directly in my brain. Also, not describing the "horrors" made them even more disturbing.

Matthew: The scenes where Geordi was under the influence of the conditioning were genuinely chilling, especially his casual killing of Chief O'Brien, even in simulation. The evolution of the story worked really well, and the climax was nice and tense. It was really cool how Data sussed it out and ordered Worf to take Geordi into custody. Stuff like this is a good example of what TNG does very well - building tension slowly but surely.  I was never once bored, even without people running around yelling at each other, or having their hands inflate. The episode wound down on a really nice coda, too, showing Geordi in therapy with Counselor Troi.

Kevin: Chief O'Brien was the perfect choice for those scenes. He's a congenial everyman, who we've known forever, and by not using a main character, it's somehow worse. Geordi trying to kill Data would feel absurd in a way that breaks the tension. No one could believe Geordi would really kill Data once back on the ship. But he might kill O'Brien. Also, it feels worse to do it to him than a lead. The leads risk death on a weekly basis. Miles is just a nice guy who we watched get married that one time. Also, Data's solution is pretty organic. The computer is a tad overhelpful, but Data asked intelligent questions, and it felt like Data solved not because he is a perfect machine, but because his previously established intelligence is well applied. The last scene with Troi was great, and the sideways feint into talking about the Romulans played nicely for Gerodi's unease and made Troi seem really good at her job.


Matthew: Geordi has gotten loads of episodes this season, and it's easy to see why. LeVar Burton has a real leading man quality - easy to identify with and root for, but enough acting chops to sell everything he's asked to do. His unemotional response to his conditioned tasks was well done, but then so was his torture response (Burton has, of course, had practice at this).

Kevin: There's something about his wailing that always gets me. A lot of actors grunt or yell their way through pain, but shrieking or wailing is far more disturbing, and Burton really nailed it. His scene with Troi was great, too. They don't get a lot of scenes together, and they managed to have very nice rapport.

Matthew: Larry Dobkin was really good as Ambassador Kell. There's a very "politician" quality to his performance, while still remaining very Klingon. He played very well against Governor Vagh, too, portrayed by Ed Wiley. Their energies were very different and had a nice contrast. John Fleck as the brainwasher, Taiback, was really good. His voice is creepy and his presence is very tangible on a set. It's easy to see why he was brought back as Enterprise villain Silik.

Kevin: Fleck returns as Chairman Koval of the Tal Shiar in DS9, and I always wondered why they didn't make him the same character. But I agree, the guest stars all nailed their parts. Particularly for guest actors, it's a credit to them that they did not get swallowed by their make-up.

Production Values

Matthew: There was a lot of really nice stuff in this episode. We got a nice view of the Romulan Warbird while it was tractoring the shuttle. The Romulan brainwash lab sets were reminiscent of the stuff in "Future Imperfect." The matte painting of Krios was a re-dress of the oft-used matte from "Angel One," with Klingon accouterments pasted onto the buildings.

Kevin: I liked that we got another look through Geordi's VISOR, particularly with the Romulan script additions. The master systems display was also a neat-o Okudagram with lots of moving parts.

Matthew: The costumes were nice, especially the Klingon clothing on the Ambassador. He also had a really elaborate forehead, probably the most elaborate thus far in the franchise. I want to single out the music as a real integral part of this show, too, it was creepy and cinematic.

Kevin: The sound effect for the brainwashing machine was awesome. The higher pitched whir when it changed horrors was really effective. It sounded like a dentist drill and it just made want to curl up in a ball. I agree on the costumes. Kell is wear the same sash as the ambassador from Voyage Home, and it's a nice touch.


Matthew: This episode is very entertaining, and has good atmosphere. I think the story had a few minor holes. It adds a nice dimension to the Romulans, indicating their devious nature. I think it's a 4, all told.  

Kevin: Agreed. TNG has really nailed a string of political-themed thrillers this season. It's about to pay dividends in the season finale. This is an enthusiastic 4 from me as well, for a total of 8.

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