So I’m still doing this. This meaning my sporadic attempts to recap and vaguely review episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, rating each one by how bobbins it is.
The Big Goodbye
There’s so much that is iconically absurd about this episode. Essentially Picard has a vital diplomatic task to perform, which if he does not execute it flawlessly could lead to the destruction of the Enterprise or even plunge Starfleet into a terrible war. Like a child avoiding homework, Donald Trump preparing for a presidential debate or me getting ready to write blog content, he decides to prepare for this by completely ignoring the task in front of him and instead throwing himself furiously into displacement activity. Picard’s procrastination method of choice is cosplaying ineffectually as a 1940s gumshoe.
So yay, this is the first proper holodeck episode. I have so many things to say about the holodeck. And, having tried to say some of these things, I realised they’re all variants on two broad themes. A) Why has nobody realised how powerful and versatile this machine because, seriously, they way under use it and b) It sure does malfunction with near fatal consequences a lot, doesn’t it? To be fair, maybe b) has something to do with a).
Just off the top of my head things I’d really expect to see in a universe where holodecks existed would include:
- Some form of artistic expression based around the holodeck that isn’t cheesy roleplaying or just sort of using it as a musical theatre venue. I mean I don’t want to get all wanky about videogames as an artistic medium but we’ve done some pretty cool things with interactive storytelling in the last twenty years without the benefit of a machine that can flawlessly fabricate entire realities.
- For that matter, some kind of gaming that isn’t just using the holodeck as a squash court or dojo.
- Some really sleazy shit (although to be fair, at least at this stage it’s fairly clear that Star Trek is a universe with the sexual mores of an aging hippie who hasn’t quite realised that Woodstock is over so maybe they get enough of that in real life)
- A whole lot less exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilisations because, honestly, given the choice between fighting the Borg and being God of a universe of my own design I think I’d take omnipotence. (OMG fan theory which I’m sure already exists: what if the whole Star Trek universe is a holodeck simulation being run by Q)
- Actually just coming back to the first point on this list, I’d expect to see some kind of artistic creativity somewhere, anywhere, in the entire culture whether holodecks existed or not. I mean, not only do they use the holodeck exclusively for exploring places they’ve already been or kitschy pastiches of 20th century Earth, but I can’t think of a single example of anyone in an episode of Star Trek consuming a new cultural artefact of any description created by a human. I mean, I think Jake Sisko tries to become a novelist in DS9 but otherwise people seem to be exclusively building models of ships, reading books from centuries ago and putting on Shakespeare plays. Maybe it’s a really subtle and damning exploration of cultural imperialism from within since we encounter a lot of people who listen to Klingon opera or read Vulcan poetry or otherwise are interested in the culture output of alien civilisations. But humans don’t seem to make shit of their own any more.
Anyway, the holodeck. It is underused, stupid and dangerous. And, I’ll be honest, I sort of love the holodeck episodes if only because they suggest that this is a society so advanced that even people on extremely important intergalactic missions still spend large chunks of their lives just kind of dicking about with stuff that they obviously don’t take particularly seriously. And maybe I’m being a bit unfair because I suspect if I had to make up all my dialogue on the spot then I’d play videogames much more awkwardly too but I think if I was actually into the holodeck as a thing then I’d get a bit more invested in my fake-40s PI persona than Jean Luc does. I mean, he doesn’t even do a voice or, peculiarly, display any knowledge of the genre in which he has chosen to participate, despite the fact that it appears to be based on books that he has personally read and enjoyed.
Basically, being on the holodeck with Picard is like watching TV with my dad (and, if I’m being super honest, increasingly like watching TV with me): who’s he? what’s going on? why did he just do that? have we seen this person before? why are there space ships in this? Is this a flashback? didn’t she just get shot?
Like every other holodeck episode, something goes wrong with the holodeck, they get stuck on the holodeck, they fix it, they get out the holodeck. Picard then delivers his extremely important diplomatic message and war is averted.
Oh, one more thing. And sorry I really will recap another episode soon. It bugs me far more than it should how inconsistent they are with things being able or unable to leave the holodeck. People always seem to vanish when step out the door but crew members pick stuff up off the holodeck and take it onto the bridge with distressing regularity. Even more confusingly, when the crew go into the holodeck they’re usually already in costume so while everything in the holodeck is a hologram created with force fields, the crew’s costumes are real clothes that are apparently stored elsewhere on the ship. So not only do they have a holodeck, they also have a holodeck props cupboard.
One final bonus of this episode is that Dr Crusher looks amazing in her femme fatale getup.
I don’t know how many bobbins to give his because I personally love holodeck episodes but the holodeck itself is a giant bobbin. Three bobbins just so I don’t have to make a decision.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single android in possession of a positronic brain will be in want of the ability to feel emotions and have a plot relevant problem using contractions.
This episode is sort of brilliant, although mostly only because Brent Spinner is sort of brilliant. The crew goes to the planet where they discovered Data and finds the ruins of the research facility in which he was built. They also find a de-activated Data-like android named Lore, who turns out to be exactly like Data except much more human and btw also totes evil. He claims to be a more advanced model of android because he is capable of having human feelings but he turns out to be a less advanced model of android because his human feelings make humans uncomfortable. This is the developmental cycle of all androids in science fiction. It’s even in an episode of Red Dwarf.
Oh, also, d’you see, he’s called Lore because Data, right, is all about hard facts and numbers whereas Lore implies a more abstract and intuitive wisdom. Because Data, right, doesn’t have emotions and Lore, right, does.
Anyway, it turns out that the colony where Data and Lore were created was destroyed by a crystalline entity called The Crystalline Entity. It turns out Lore was working with The Crystalline Entity because Reasons.
Lore de-activates Data and tries to take his place on the crew because of course he does. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any being in possession of an exact duplicate must be replaced by that exact duplicate and for the ruse to be revealed only by a minor and inadvertent slip and/or a failure by the duplicate to exhibit the same qualities of nobility and self-sacrifice as the original. Lore gets rumbled, primarily because of Wesley, there is a gun fight in the transporter room, Lore … escapes? I think? I’ll be honest, I lost track of this episode a bit.
This episode also features the iconic “shut up, Wesley” segment which pretty much killed any sense of credibility Wesley Crusher could ever have had. I’m scoring the episode an extra bobbin for that alone because it’s weirdly out of character for both Picard (who isn’t particularly shouty) and Wesley (who is making perfect sense at the time).
Interestingly, this was an entry on the Brunching Shuttlecocks’ “Star Trek episode or Christian Rock Band” quiz. Um, it’s a Star Trek episode.
I seriously do not know where to begin with Angel One. Apparently it was supposed to be a comment on apartheid South Africa which I actually think makes it worse. It’s also yet another planet run by hot blonde women who want to bang Riker. So. Yes. The planet of Angel One, which for some absurd fucking reason is called Angel One (apparently this is what Gene Roddenberry thinks women would call a planet if you let them run it) has a highly gender normative but matriarchal society, in which—oh d’you see—the men are smaller and expected to dress sexy while the women are bigger and more aggressive and dress sexy in a slightly different way.
The crew of the Enterprise are there to pick up the survivors of a crashed shuttle or something and the Angel Oneians (what is the correct demonym for people from a planet called Angel One – answers on a postcard, please), after initially being hostile for no particular reason, then accept the Enterprise’s offer of support because, well, why wouldn’t they? The Enterprise is literally offering to solve a problem that they want solved.
The away team on the planet does basically nothing except Riker bangs the head of their government, who is something completely ridiculous like The Elected One, because of course he does. He’s the Kirk of the series. There is an “I can’t tell if it’s fantastic or problematic” sequence where he dresses in the diaphanous and revealing clothing that is considered appropriate for males on Angel One and Troi and Tasha laugh at him, despite the fact that they live in a post-sexist society where men wear mini-skirts as part of their formal dress uniforms.
While a retro part of me sort of likes the “Riker bonks something on every planet” trope because it’s a call back to the days of classic Trek, this one makes particularly little sense. It’s made very clear that on Angel One not only are cultural expectations of male and female behaviour different but physical norms and beauty standards are the other way round as well. I will remind you that Jonathan Frakes is six foot four (one of my favourite mini-games to play during an episode is the ‘Huge Riker’ game—mostly they’re quite good at choosing camera angles that downplay how enormous Frakes really is, but every so often you just get him towering over someone and once you start seeing it, it’s really hard to stop so the best thing to do is shout HUGE RIKER and laugh hysterically). This means that by the standards of Angel One he is basically Brienne of Tarth. And, don’t get me wrong, I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with being Brienne of Tarth but, then, I’m not a fictional character whose whole function is to reinforce the fact that I come from an incredibly gender normative society. The Elected One, by all in-world logic, should be patronising Riker and making condescending comments about his figure—not telling him he excites her like no man she’s ever seen.
Anyway. They track down the shuttle survivor people by this roundabout method where they realise there’s no platinum on Angel One and therefore the only platinum that could exist on the planet would come from someone off world. I’d sort of assumed, when they described this strategy, that they’d be testing for trace elements, which would be quite a cool concept. Your body is ultimately made up atoms that you acquired from the food you ate. Food you ate on earth or, well, any other part of the Federation could have trace quantities of platinum in it and those trace quantities of platinum could conceivably show up on a starship’s sensors (although that would mean that starship sensors were sensitive enough to detect maybe a few hundred atoms on an entire planet). Instead, it turns out their leader is literally wearing a platinum necklace which, y’know, coincidence.
There’s this sort of really weird bit where they show up and the survivors tell them that they want to stay on Angel One and then the crew of the Enterprise say “no, you’ve got to come with us” and the survivors say “we don’t actually work for Starfleet and because the governmental structure of the Federation is incredibly poorly thought through it isn’t particularly clear how you have any authority to get us to do anything whatsoever.” To which the crew say “fair point.”
Then it turns out that basically all of the shuttle survivors are married to or banging influential members of the ruling council of Angel One because of course they are. And this is really difficult because on the one hand it’s an empowering narrative about how members of a marginalised group successfully advocate for change within their society. On the other hand, it’s also essentially about how a bunch of hot white guys from out of town come to the planet of the womenz and show them how to do things properly.
Picard makes a big speech about how institutionalised inequalities are unsustainable and they all fly off into space. The end.
Bizarre trivia point: according to Wikipedia another title considered for this episode was 10101001. I’m kind of not sure why they changed it or how the conversation about changing it might have gone. I’m aware I’ve referenced Red Dwarf more often in this post than in all the rest of my collected works combined but this is a lot like those episodes where Kryten will have strong opinions about jokes in binary or about whether 2X4B is a jerky middle name (although it is, of course, far preferable to 2Q4B).
So this is the one with the binars. I’m aware I’m saying this a lot, but there is so much that is weird about this episode. I was having a conversation with a friend recently about re-watching TNG and they were saying that, like me, they’d found it much better than they’d expected, although they had qualified that comment with the observation “apart from the first season and a half, of course, which is unwatchably terrible.”
Where to begin. Okay, so you know how I spent the first thousand plus words of this post talking about the holodeck and, in particular, how a) nobody uses the holodeck for anything apart from daytrips to bits of 20th century America and b) how I’d expect people to get up to a lot of skeevy shit on the holodeck? Well, this is the episode where Riker goes to the holodeck, creates a simulation of a jazz bar from, you guessed it, 20th century America and then commissions a holographic woman to creepily detailed specifications who he proceeds to—and I’m aware that I’m spinning this for comic effect—ask how functional her vagina is. Okay, I’ll admit that’s not the actual line. The line is: “just how real are you?” (suave Riker voice) “how far can this go?”
While Riker is preoccupied trying to fuck a hologram, two tiny, tech-savvy aliens hack the Enterprise, creating a catastrophic malfunction in its warp core, causing the ship to be evacuated. Picard somehow manages to miss this, possibly because he’s chilling out under the “personal relaxation lamp” he makes a big deal of having in another episode, and also winds up in the 20th century American jazz bar, possibly about to have the world’s weirdest threesome with his six foot four second in command and a sexy forcefield.
To be fair, I should highlight that the binars deliberately influenced the creation of the sexy holodeck lady in order to entrap Picard and Riker on the holodeck. This also goes some way towards explaining why both Picard and Riker seem so utterly thrown by the basic functions of an item of technology that exists in their universe and is on the damn ship where they actually live and that they have used before. I think the implication is supposed to be that part of what makes Sexy Hologram Lady (I’d feel bad about not using her name because it’s a little bit dehumanising but given her name is Minuet and she was specifically created as a honeytrap for a giant I’m not beating myself up too badly) so enticing is that she is more sophisticated than other holodeck programmes are capable of being.
How this explains all of the other equally sophisticated holodeck programmes that you encounter in other “stuck on the holodeck” episodes across the entire series, I don’t know. I’m also not completely sure it explains why Riker is quite so keen to neglect his duties in favour of exploring the depth of realness afforded him by the lady in the red dress.
Having said all of this, however, and even allowing for the fact that this is not only a “stuck on the holodeck” episode but a “stuck on the holodeck” episode in which the characters who are stuck on the holodeck don’t even realise they’re stuck on the holodeck and only get stuck on the holodeck in the first place because the holodeck was sabotaged by the people who were brought in to fix the holodeck to stop people getting stuck on the holodeck, the weirdest thing about the episode isn’t even holodeck related.
The episode ends when Picard and Riker escape Minuet’s sexy jazz party of doom to find that the binars have stolen the Enterprise and taken it back to their homeworld where they intend to use the ship’s computers to reboot their planet’s mainframe. The binars have integrated so completely with digital technology that they have, in essence, put their entire species at risk of being wiped out by a stack overflow or a bad driver update.
Picard and Riker save the binar homeworld with some delightfully 1980s computer sequences, including the fabulous observation that binars always work in pairs and that they therefore have to sit next to each other and type together. Then they kind of tell the binars they’re okay with the ‘you stole our starship’ thing. Again, I find Picard weirdly subversive in moments like this. The whole concept of the action hero is so grounded in unexamined notions of masculinity, rugged individualism and, for that matter, personal property that it’s bizarre and almost moving to see an episode of a TV space adventure series in which the hero (who, let’s not forget is an actual ship’s captain) responds to the theft of his ship by saying “it’s okay, I understand, you had good reasons for what you did and your actions made sense given the situation. Goodbye and good luck, I’m going to pick up my crew.”
Also the episode ends with Picard piloting the Enterprise really awkwardly, like when your granddad has to type on a modern keyboard, or you lend your Mac to a PC owner. Well, technically, it ends with Riker going back to the 20th century jazz club and being all disappointed that Minuet has vanished and that he, therefore, has lost his opportunity to get his bone on with her.
But Picard piloting the Enterprise is legit adorable.
This could be anywhere from two to four bobbins, although what am I saying. Apart from Picard being subversive at the end and piloting the Enterprise with charming ineptitude this a silly, silly episode.