Friday, June 8, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Masks

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Masks"
Airdate: February 21, 1994
168 of 176 produced
168 of 176 aired


Introduction

The Enterprise encounters an alien archive that begins transforming the Enteprise into its own culture. Data is affected as well, manifesting dozens of personalities of a long dead civilization. Can the crew figure out how to save Data and reverse the changes before it's too late?

Ooh, Jamaharon. Can I watch?





Writing


Kevin: This episode is bit of a puzzler. The idea is interesting. Almost too interesting. I think it suffers in the execution, but let's start at the beginning. The set up is fun. I like Data taking art classes and Counselor Troi being involved with Data's emotional exploration. After they find the comet, the initial set of events is pretty well done. The mask comes out of nowhere, and it's just weird enough to be notable, but not an event that should necessarily raise a red flag with the command staff. I thought Troi was a little under-concerned that someone she didn't know had been in her quarters, but that aside, the initial round of the transforming of the Enterprise was pretty good.

Matthew: The core idea is interesting. What they do with it is about as far from interesting as it gets. I can image about a billion other things that the alien library from 87 million years ago could talk to you about. Recapitulating a simplistic astronomical myth, with no personal stakes or consequences isn't one of them.

Kevin: Once we get to the smorgasbord of Data's personalities, the episode begins its tilt off the rails. According to Spiner, he was getting shooting scripts for this one in the wee hours of the morning after wrapping up a midnight shoot for "Thine Own Self." I don't think it affected Spiner's job per se, but I do think it added a to a general sense of careening about this episode had. Joe Menosky was apparently in France at the time and sent the script in and all the producers took a swing at getting the script ready. Once Data goes cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs, the episode really loses focus for me. We have another "Data possession" episode and, even for me, it's getting a bit much. Maybe had then been fewer personalities with more time spent on developing the people's history from them, the story would have worked better, but it got, if you'll pardon the term, schizophrenic.

Matthew: This episode was pretty good until minute fifteen, when the Ihat voice begins. After that, I just sort of checked out. I was thinking "please don't make him play Masaka, too..." and then they did. Blargh. Just more Spiner-service for a fanbase that's had its fill. But really, the overuse of Spiner, and even the recycling of the "Data's been hijacked" plot wasn't what killed this for me. It was the total lack of stakes or consequences. Things just sort of lumber along, story-wise, then Picard acts out (apparently improvising, which is hard to believe) the part of the moon, and then a giant reset button gets pressed, Data included. Yawn. Maybe if the library were irreversibly reprogramming the living members of the crew, and only Data could handle it? I'm not calling for a red-shirting necessarily, but there was a lack of stakes that lent a general air of boredom to the proceedings. Troi isn't worried at all that a secret admirer has broken into her quarters to deposit phallic statuary. Picard doesn't find the notion of interrogating a mega-strong being with no self control at all troubling.

Kevin: Where the episodes completes its departure from the rail is the resolution of the archive's culture. What was the archive really doing? Was it just a library with a screw loose? Was it an ersatz Genesis device that was supposed to recreate the culture? Why then, would Corgano taking his natural place in the progression remove everything from the Enterprise? The solution itself is pretty simplistic too. This is clearly not just a tribal culture with rudimentary god concepts; its an advanced civilization. That could have been fun. What would a technologically advanced society look like that had retained its earliest religious beliefs and traditions completely. Instead, it's just a soup of ideas about cultural development and politics and....yeah...I can't even finish the sentence cleanly.

Matthew: This is what I mean. If we salvaged our civilization by putting it in a giant cosmic library, what would we program it to do? Maybe it could remake our world. Maybe it could deliver our genome to a cloning device. Maybe it could recite Plato. But would we really have it act out, say, the Jain creation myth? That just seems like kind of a waste. So let's say that this Masaka myth is a truly foundational guidestone for this culture. Wouldn't it be a little less... mundane? The answer was all but revealed by minute 20. At least the bible has some personality conflict. Ancient Greek myth has loads of adultery and betrayal. The sun chasing the moon? Talk about a snoozer.

Kevin: There are some nice moments in the episode. Troi and Crusher on their way to mok'bara class, Geordi and Worf with the torpedo, and any number of individual scenes with Data's personality with the crew. The plotting does not really use the personalities well, but the individual scenes had some atmosphere.

Acting


Kevin: I think Brent Spiner did not get the time he needed to work on the characters, and everything felt a little slapdash as a result, but I think Spiner is a good actor and he did what he could with what he had. He can't say he didn't commit the parts. I will say the one weak point in the acting was the Masaka character herself. Maybe it's hard to act such a one dimensional character, but the odd, sleepy accent just made the final scenes even more boring.

Matthew: I appreciate Spiner's range. I just don't appreciate any of it in this performance. The Ihat voice is just grating. Masaka was a really lame effemanite twist on it. The old guy was OK, but it didn't lend itself to the overall excitement of the proceedings. I liked his scene in the sculpture class. That's what it's coming down to, really. I like Data when he is Data. I don't really enjoy Spiner doing anything else, at least in this context.

Kevin: The rest of the crew was okay. Stewart was good in his scenes with Spiner, and the rest of the crew got nice little moments. Nothing to write home about.

Matthew: I thought Patrick Stewart did yeoman's work attempting to inject the story with interest and wonderment. It didn't work, but he gave it a good try.

Production Values


Kevin: This is by far the strongest point of the episode. The comet was awesome, and done by the people who did DS9's opening credits. The mask Data made himself looked great, and taken as a whole, I like the pictograph motif of the alien archive. All the transformations were fun. The final scene of Masaka's temple looked good, and it will be reused as the Albino's fortress on DS9.

Matthew: The comet looked great and the library had a cool design, but the CGI was a bit crude. The sculptures looked good, as did the giant room. I didn't like how the pictograms floated over the LCARS. It reminded me of "P for Picard."

Conclusion


Kevin: This is between a 2 and a 3 for me. I am going with the two. Ambition can't always compensate for lack of execution. The episode is unfocused and fairly boring to watch. If nothing else, it really showed its seams insofar as it felt like everyone expected Brent Spiner's acting to carry the episode, and the supporting material just wasn't there for him.

Matthew: This is a 2 all the way. There is a strong idea that is botched in execution both on the writing and acting fronts. The director should have reined Spiner in and asked him to do a less annoying voice. Joe Menosky should have come up with an actually interesting message for the alien library to deliver, and should have upped the stakes. Instead, it's a grating, boring mess. It's not as bad as "A Fistful of Datas," because it's less stupid. It looked pretty, and no one is out of character. That brings our total to a 4.

1 comment:

  1. No matter how simplistic the "sun chases moon, then the moon chases sun" setup might be...

    ...I can't find it in me to dislike this episode, even for the reasons stated. I spent too many hours as a kid drawing the symbols in my notebooks at school, and making up my own, and studying other similar sun/moon worshiping cultures. I even tried to make that mask.

    I think that Picard's fascination really pulled me into the storyline. Then again, I'm an anthropology nerd, so this was kind of designed to be fun for me.

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