Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Thine Own Self

The Next Generation, Season 7
"Thine Own Self"
Airdate: February 14, 1994
167 of 176 produced
167 of 176 aired


Data has been dispatched to Barkon IV to retrieve some radioactive probe fragments that threaten harm to a pre-industrial indigenous civilization. An accident, however, robs him of his memory and puts everyone in danger, himself included. Meanwhile, Counselor Troi struggles with her Commander's Exam.

He's there, the Phantom of the Opera!

Beware, The Phantom of The Opera! 


Matthew: I can imagine many criticisms of this episode. It's a "Frankenstein" retread. Its A and B stories bear no relation to one another. The alien of the week is just a bunch of middle age Europeans. But you know what, something about this episode just works for me. To answer the above criticisms, well, first of all, great stories bear repeating. Second, the A and B stories are both good regardless of their relationship, so there's that. Finally, Trek has a long history of thinly veiling its antagonists.

Kevin: See, I kind of have the reverse opinion. I don't mind the Frankenstein element. Many a Trek story have been built on a literary reference. I really enjoyed the Troi plot. I liked the continuity nods as well as the idea that Troi is concerned about her career and its progression. I really liked how the relationship with Riker was worked in. I even like that the plots are unrelated. Reading Memory Alpha, it seems that was a conscious choice to avoid the crew having to be stuck in a "Let's find Data" plot. They had a plausible, if somewhat pat, reason for why Data going radio silent was not a cause for concern and went about their day. For me, though, something about the episode as a whole just doesn't work for me. I've asked rhetorically on this blog before if an episode can be less than the sum of its parts, and I'm asking it again here. Maybe it's pacing, maybe the payoff on the Data story is a little...expected, but somehow, the finished piece doesn't quite grab me. By the time we got to the end with the hushed voice, cloak-wearing, Phantom Data, I was kind of over the story.

Matthew: I like the idea of having a future person deal with a culture less advanced. It's been done before of course, but under different circumstances. Here we have the rescue of a probe with no intention to make contact at all. The radioactive probe pieces add a nice tension to the episode, because we in the audience know how dangerous they are, but no one on screen does.  Data's amnesia is a bit spotty, I must say. The fact that he can sound out the word "radioactive" kind of implies that he should be able to deduce its meaning. But when all was said and done, I liked how Data eventually used science (which he apparently remembers parts of) to discover the danger of the radioactive metal and its cure was cool. Anyway, I thought the Barkonian culture was well fleshed out in writing. The village scholar and the blacksmith were tropes to be sure, but tropes exist for reasons. They were solidly entertaining. I do think that Garvin and Gia were perhaps a bit too trusting of Data too quickly.

Kevin: I agree fully on Garvin, but maybe a tad less so on Gia. Winrich Kolbe, the director, also directed "Pen Pals," and he commented on Data's seemingly repeated easy rapport with little girls, and not in a creepy way. It makes sense. There is something child-like about Data's earnestness and several episodes have successfully used his unexpectedly easy rapport with children for dramatic affect. I really liked the attempts at deduction by Talur. It was peppered with very realistic unfounded leaps. "You came from the direction of the mountains and are pale, therefore you're an iceman." I also really liked the lecture on the nature of matter. I was reminded of a lot of early Greek and Roman philosophy stuff from college on humors and whatnot. I agree if data can understand celluar biology, he should also remember what radioactive means. I also find it a bit credulity stretching that Data apparently developed liquid hyronalin or some analogue with medieval tools and materials. Also, they should probably left a pamphlet behind entitled "Cancer: The New and Terrifying Condition You Are All Going to Have in Ten Years." Just saying.

Matthew: The B plot was interesting, and I think it led to some really nice scenes. I just have a big problem with it conceptually. Why is every other kind of promotion a matter of evaluation and discussion by superior officers, but this one is a test you take? It's like being a full Commander is akin to getting your commercial drivers license. Why are there any lieutenant commanders at all? Don't like the orders you're being given? No need to fret - just take a quick correspondence course and you can tell that jerk what for! That said, I loved the scene between Crusher and Troi, talking about their career goals. The Riker/Troi scenes were also good, but I again must take issue with the "deceptive test" model of evaluation (previously seen in "Coming of Age." Is the "engineering qualification test" really always just a "kill your subordinates" test? If so, how is this fact kept secret? Would it really be administered by another Commander, too? If this hadn't come immediately after "Lower Decks," in which we saw a much more rational promotion process, it might not be quite as jarring. But it's still iffy to me.

Kevin: I think that problem could have been fixed by a line of dialogue about how she may have otherwise qualified for the promotion through additional evaluation, and but for this one element, would have already been granted the promotion. Also for an officer who is not directly in the chain of command, this seems less jarring. All the rank really seems to entail is the ability to take a bridge shift, which would seem to be a matter of qualified/not qualified. It's not like she has any more actual day-to-day authority on the ship that her position as counselor did not afford her. I did love the scenes with Riker, top to bottom. He was genuine and warm and professional, and it was great to see Troi and Crusher discuss something other than men for a change.


Matthew: I thought this was a really good Spiner performance. I'm very happy the script did not call for Data to have his ethical subroutine get fritzed, emotions activated, or anything else of the sort. Maybe I'm a bad person for wanting to keep Brent Spiner in a specific character box. Maybe he'd hate me for it. But he's so good at being the "real" Data, and this level of skill makes the "fake" Data just creepy and wrong. Sirtis was good. She really seemed invested in her personal growth, and it was fun to watch her grow, and be proud of herself by the end. Any problems I have with the script concept do not carry over into her performance of it.

Kevin: I thought Sirtis did a really good job of combining the genuine desire to push herself with the far less loftly vanity that inspired this particular quest. It read as very credible and relatable. We've said it before and I'll say it again. Marina Sirtis is a very good actress, and not even in a "with the right material" kind of way. She is a very good actress. Full stop. Given the chance to do something other than sense deception, she really shines. I agree that keeping Data restrained kept the story from going off the rails. My issues with the plot are certainly about its set up and not how Spiner delivered the material. Apparently, Riker calling Troi Imzadi during their conversations was Frakes' idea, and I want to publicly thank him for caring about the show and his craft. It's those little touches, as always.

Matthew: The guest casting was typically excellent. Ronnie Claire Edwards (of The Waltons) seemed like she was born for the role of the somewhat snotty, superior Talur. But she played her with considerable warmth, too. Michael G. Hagerty is one of "those guys," a character actor you feel you've seen a thousand times before. He was excellent as Skoran the blacksmith. Kimberly Cullum was really natural as Gia, too.

Kevin: I liked the way she acted being confronted with evidence of things she couldn't explain in the scene with the photosensitive filter. It was haughty, but showed she would probably come around once she figured out how to save face doing it. And particularly in her scenes with Gia and Garvin, her attitude read more as "matriarch" of the family than busybody and that made the character far more likable.

Production Values

Matthew: The Barkon sets were really superb. They were an excellent blend of location shots, village soundstage sets that seemed really expansive, and truly detailed, rich interior shots of the Garvin home. It was really lush and visually interesting, and I think it went a long way towards making this episode interesting. The makeup was pretty "meh," and could have been dispensed with entirely. These people are clearly Medici-era Europeans. Just go with it.

Kevin: I certainly have no complaints on this front. The village had lots of locations, detail, and people. It certainly felt like a real place. That place was clearly a Renaissance Fair, but I've been to those, and they're a hoot, so I can't be too mad.

Matthew: The planet shots with the Enterprise were pretty ho-hum - the seams were easy to see. The opening of this show was a straight up re-use of the opening shot of "Farpoint"... which means I suppose that it will look smashing in Blu-Ray. I liked the look of the radioactive case, and the metal fragments. They added to the story. The side-smashed Data head was also quite nice looking.

Kevin: I liked that they went with a smaller holodeck instead of the photoshopped larger one. The cut and pasting of the optical effects there was pretty well done. Also, Mike Okuda, if you are reading this, I want to know what happened to that lucite diagram of the Enteprise in Troi's quarters. I can think of only one or two other pieces of Okudagrammery that I want more than that one.


Matthew: If this didn't have the problems with the promotion bit, I'd give it a 4. In fact, I think this could have stood to lose that subplot entirely. That way, we could have had some more natural development of Data's relationship with his hosts, and the story could have been emphasized the superstition vs. science aspects even more. Even so, I think this is a solidly entertaining 45 minutes, and I never dread watching it. It's a 3 for me.

Kevin: I actually enjoyed the promotion story more than the Data story, probably because the actors carried the emotional core and I responded to that. The Data story itself has always left me a little flat. Like I said, maybe the problem and solution were a little too predictable, and by the time we got to the climax, I was already over the story. Still, there is certainly nothing "bad" about this episode, and the things I do like, I like a lot. That levels out to a 3 for me as well, for a total of 6.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah I have always wondered about the promotion bit. BTW I have always liked the episode... however I have some serious issues with the promotion stuff.
    1 Why aren't Data and Geordi commanders yet. They seem much more qualified than Troi and Data is 2nd officer.
    2 How is sending a hologram Geordi off to die any indication that she will be able to do that in real life. She already proved otherwise in the disaster that precipitated her deciding to take the test. They were testing her on qualities that not every commander needs to have. Beverly is never going to order someone to their deaths and she is a commander as well.