Monday, November 7, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Hero Worship

The Next Generation, Season 5 
"Hero Worship"
Airdate: January 27, 1992
110 of 176 produced
110 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is sent after the USS Vico, a missing science vessel. They find the wreckage in the interior of a large black cluster. There is only one survivor, a small boy. While trying to comfort him, they must determine what happened to the Vico and stop the same fate from befalling the Enterprise.

The ghosts of X-mas past and future creepily observe schoolchildren. 


Kevin: Unlike "The Bonding," I thought this episode had a little more life to it. The boy reaching out to Data was a nice twist on the idea of detaching from one's emotions in the face of tragedy. The individual scenes of Timothy learning to imitate Data were quite charming. I like the arc it gives to Data as well. He, of course, continues to be unable to feel emotions himself, but he has increasingly shown himself capable of recognizing and responding to the emotional needs of others. It's a continuation of the ideas of "In Theory," and I like that.

Matthew: Indeed, any discussion of this episode has to involve a comparison to "The Bonding." It is practically the same emotional story, after all. "The Bonding" had an interesting sci-fi angle with buried land mines and repentant non-corporeal aliens. What it really lacked was an interesting emotional tale - the relationship between Jeremy and Worf felt really tacked on. Here, it's the reverse. The sci-fi plot is kind of lame, but the emotional story is actually quite good. I would have liked it to go further, inasmuch as it is impossible for Timothy to actually emulate a emotionless automaton, and what the psychological repercussions of that would be. But for what it was, it provided a lot of interesting scenes. As a kid, we all fantasize about being this or that hero. So there's a real ring of emotional truth to what transpires.

Kevin: This is the second episode in a row where Counselor Troi has gotten some serious counseling to do, and she really shines at it. Seeing her decide when to indulge and when to push back on Timothy's story, and to do so with empathy was really nice. The episode is not without its flaws, but over the last few episodes, even when it's been weaker, there has still been a pretty strong emotional core to an episode, and some solid to excellent characterizations of the main cast. It's the inversion of the earlier seasons where a plot could be interesting, but characters would act out of character or not respond realistically.

Matthew: Yeah, Troi's role was the most interesting. I liked how Picard was incredulous at first, but then relented to Troi's psychiatric advice. I think this could have been a greater source of interesting drama than it was utilized for, however. I find it kind of odd that Timothy was given his own guest quarters. He didn't look much over 12 or 13, and I think it probably isn't good care-taking to give a kid who just lost his parents on a starship his own lonely quarters on a starship, with a window looking out on the vastness of space, etc. There should have been a more explicit "foster care" situation.

Kevin: The science fiction plot here is pretty pedestrian. The black cluster is ill-defined and it seems odd that no one has encountered this phenomenon before. Also, by the same token that Timothy would not be able to harm the ship, he should also not be privy to conversations about how the ship is utilizing warp power. That being said, I did find his "confession" to be quite moving. His grief was affecting and their attempts to reassure him were touching.

Matthew: The "science" is definitely the weakest part of the story. For one thing, I'll never understand why a show like Star Trek, given its relatively high level of production value and the number of passionately interested fans in the scientific community, has to resort to making up so much bullshit when it comes to astronomical phenomena. There are plenty of extreme deep space environments that could have been just as threatening to a starship, and been used as the dramatic crux of an episode like this. If you wanted to keep things black, you could have even gone for a "cluster" of black holes orbiting one another. Instead, we get this fictional thing which creates dramatically convenient but ultimately stupid effects. How many more times is the solution to a problem going to be "fly into the center" or "stop resisting, because that's what caused the problem in the first place?" My point is that it wouldn't really be that much more difficult to read a magazine article or watch an episode of "Nova" and then dramatize the effects of something real, or at least theoretically postulated.

To be fair, at least they didn't commit the sin of the 2009 movie - taking a real astrophysical phenomenon and getting every single detail wrong.


Kevin: Joshua Harris did a good job as Timothy. I think the actor is a little too old to be seen as retreating into the android fantasy, but that was more a casting decision than an acting ability. I think he did portray the grief and self-blaming really well. I also enjoyed watching him imitate Data. He did a great job of getting Data just slightly wrong in the right way.

Matthew: Yeah, Josh Harris definitely brought a realistic childhood energy to the role. As you do, Kevin, I also dislike preternaturally precocious actor-kids, and Harris is definitely not one of them. I also dislike kids who look immaculately coiffed as if from the pages of an Old Navy catalog. Again, Harris looks pretty much like a real kid. His acting was at least adequate, and his breakdown scene was not laughable. Was it a preview of the next Olivier? No. But it didn't hamper the episode in the slightest.

Kevin: Like I said, I loved Counselor Troi in this episode. She was competent and compassionate, and while I have no idea if her psychological pronouncements were valid in reality, I bought them when she said them. Brent Spiner was also at his best. One of Data's strengths is his ability to evoke the emotions in the audience he cannot feel himself, and he did that in buckets here. Also LeVar Burton, the grand master at this point of working what little they have been giving him, really sold his scene with Data about the fire in his childhood home.

Matthew: Indeed, this was a nice understated Spiner outing. He was funny not due to mugging to the camera, but due to established characterization. When he criticized the temple model, it really worked. His character's emotional gulf (like Spock's) is all the more poignant when it is respected and not violated by any acting choices - and it is well done here.

Production Values

Kevin: The dark cluster was okay, but predictable. I did like the damaged Oberth class model for the Vico. That looked pretty neat. The phaser refraction was also pretty nifty. Also praiseworthy were some of the Okudagram stuff during the investigation into the Vico.

Matthew: Yeah, the kit-bash of the Oberth was really interesting. I think they didn't in fact distress the model, but painted or masked parts of it with blue material, and then composited in paintings of damage. Anyway, it looked cool. You could see individual decks in the exposed portions of the saucer section, which I always dig. The interior sets were nice enough. I liked the ODN data transfer thingie - sort of like a laser-powered thumb drive. Cool!

Kevin: I liked seeing the school again, especially since they always manage to fill it with actual people. And I totally wanted that temple model when I was a kid, for what that's worth.

Matthew: I agree it was nice to use the school set again. I do kind of wonder about the observation window - a little creepy. The model... didn't work for me. It looked too flimsy by half, as if it were designed to fall apart. The sped up Data looked nice, though. I wonder how long it took to film the assembly scene. Ten minutes?


Kevin: This is a solid 3. The science fiction threat is a little too thin to push to episode into higher territory, but I wouldn't call this a bad episode by any stretch. The emotions on display are credible and interesting, it gave many of the main cast an opportunity to shine in their scenes with Timothy.

Matthew: Yeah, I'm with you. As annoyed as I was by the science, it wasn't really integral to the plot. A deeper investigation of space psychology, or android emotional stuntedness, would have brought this above the middle of the curve. But as it is, it's at least average. So that's a 6 total.

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