Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 7: Emergence

The Next Generation, Season 7
Airdate: May 9, 1994
174 of 176 produced
174 of 176 aired


An ordinary trip to holodeck and a Shakespeare play turns near-deadly when a train, the Orient Express to be precise, barrels through Prospero's island. As the crew investigates, even more strange occurences begin happening around the ship. Eventually, the ship even begins to exhibit a nascent personality. What is going on? Why are people even allowed to use the holodeck anymore?
 I sense dueling banjos, Data. Let's get out of here!


Kevin: You know what the worst job in the world is? It's the poor unpaid intern at Consumer Reports who has to write the article about the holodeck. It is simultaneously a civilization-altering technology but has simply the worst safety record of any human endeavor, with the possible exception of a factory worker in Victorian England. Every time the holodeck has factored into a story for like the past four seasons, it has malfunctioned in a life-threatening way. At what point is the holodeck so dangerous that it loses its appeal as a recreation device? Never, apparently.

Matthew: To me, this episode threatens to break not just the holodeck as a story device. When the very ship itself displays an emerging intelligence, isn't it time to just pack it in? If other Galaxy class ships are identical copies of the Enterprise, shouldn't they all be experiencing this stuff right about now? It's a big can of worms which is, naturally, never explored.

Kevin: This is a classic Braga story, problems and all. The initial idea was a grand amalgam of holodeck stories, and the story of the emergent sentience of the Enterprise kind of "emerged" from that story. Once again, we get a neat concept with a mediocre follow-through. Since the Enterprise is represented by a host of two-dimensional cariactures, I never really end up caring about the emergent identity. I think a more interesting tack would have been the one referenced in "Measure of a Man." Maddox compared Data to the Enterprise computer refusing an order. What if the ship were genuinely sentient and refusing commands? What are the ethics? What if it refused to fire at a Romulan warbird or something? That would have been more interesting that the vaguely muddled outing we ended up with.

Matthew: Yeah, even if you want to go there (and I don't) there has to be something more interesting to do there than "medieval knight, gangster, and hillbilly work on a puzzle together." You get the feeling Braga thought he was being clever and symbolic. Instead, he was being obtuse and boring. I think this plot would have worked much better if the cause of the emergence had been some sort of outside force, whether for good or ill. That way, we wouldn't be faced by the sorts of practical questions mentioned above (if you leave a replicator on too long, does it start spitting in your burger?), and you could have a personality to care about on the other end.

Kevin: In addition to finding the set up a little odd, I found the resolution problematic as well. First, the solution was the worst iteration of the "nick of time" solution. They needed it, and they didn't have it until the last moment. It just felt lazy. Also, Picard's blandness at the new life is a little off as well. If the lifeform were really based on the Enterprise's holodeck programs, shouldn't we be really, really worried? Between Worf's calisthenics, Barclay's masturbatory fantasies, Picard's noir Dixon Hill stories, and Data's Sherlock Holmes, I think we're just going to end up with deviously clever, uber-violent, sexual deviant on our hands. Just saying. 

Matthew: There was some pretty tortured logic for me here. How did the ship create new pieces of machinery (e.g. "nodes") and where did they all go when things were done? The transporter? Nanites? Why did a sentient ship waste time and energy letting the holodeck run, except to give the audience a convenient story representation of its mind? Picard is hurt by a fall on the holodeck. Is that a thing, or are the safeties already off? Why in hell wouldn't something capable of rupturing the warp core be detected as a matter of course? They seem to establish that it is never scanned for only to demonstrate the ship's uncanny prescience in scanning for it.

Kevin: One truly positive note I have for the show is the choice of The Tempest for the opening scene. It's not my favorite Shakespeare play by any stretch, but having a soliloquy about the end of an era was a nice touch.

Matthew: I didn't find the Tempest stuff particularly entertaining. If a character in scene mentions that it is too dark and that his attention is flagging, maybe that should be saying something to the writers and directors.

Kevin: Everyone was...okay. I think I have a solid case of senioritis for the writing, but certainly not the acting. Especially for Marina Sirtis, everyone seemed game for the unsual set up and seemed to really engage the pantheon of character actors they encountered.

Matthew: Yeah, I liked Dorn's straight-man routine, too. Shoveling coal, as silly as it is for the story, is fun to watch a Klingon do. I think Stewart was phoning it in a bit, personally. He had a look on his face like "I know I've done a story similar to this before... but whatever."

Kevin: The guest stars were pretty good, which makes the script all the more wasteful. For those with long memories, David Huddleston, the Conductor, was the other Lebowski in the The Big Lebowski, and is a good actor and I would have loved to see him sink his teeth into something meatier than what he got.

Matthew: Yeah, it was a real shame that the guest cast had to portray symbols, and not characters. It could have been interesting to give at least one of them a role as either stand-in for the intelligence, or the villain. Instead, you have a sort of improv class without a direction.

Production Values

Kevin: The use of Paramount's standing New York set was fun, and was well populated by cars and people. The Orient Express itself was nice and detailed and fun to look at. The nodes were nice and bright and visually fun, and I kind of wanted that puzzle of the node when I was a kid. I can't believe they never marketed that.

Matthew: On the backlot, I felt like we were back in "A Piece of the Action" or "Miri." Not that there's anything wrong with that. The train looked superb. The finishes and details were really rich. The CGI on the emergent... whatever-the-hell-it-was... was just OK for me. It was pretty clear that the actors were playing against an empty room.


Kevin: This just squeaks into a 3 for me. It's not an exciting episode, and I don't really care about the outcome but none of the sins committed were even attention-grabbing enough to somehow merit a 2. This episode definitely suffers from the attention shifted to the finale and film. The kernel of the idea is fun, but it just kind of laid there on the screen. The home stretch is proving to be a bit of a yawn, all told. 

Matthew: Nope. Too boring to be a 3. I was nodding off just like Captain Picard. The story is flawed in its premise, the execution is bland and boring, and the acting was merely adequate. This is a snoozer, and our total rating with my 2 is a 5.


  1. "Emergence" was basically the proto-Voyager episode. It was filled with technobabble, bizarre imagery, & made no sense whatsoever. The only difference is that TNG had more sympathetic characters than Voyager, as well as more good episodes.

    1. Them's fightin' words, Anonymous.

    2. Yeah, I'm willing to accept that Voyager's stories were on the whole inferior to TNG's. But that the characters are less sympathetic? Nope. TNG is peopled by near-superheroes, as per Roddenberry's dictates. Voyager has a much more flawed and human feeling cast of characters.