Plot Synopsis: While a group of technologically advanced aliens board the Enterprise to update the ship’s computer systems, Riker discovers just how real a holodeck character can be. But is everything as it seems?
Plot A and B Analysis: A pretty well-constructed teaser here: the Enterprise docks with a starbase for upgrades to its computer systems, which will be conducted by the Bynars. They are a pretty cool little race of folks that are about as close to a computer as organic folks can get (heh, they haven’t met the Borg yet). They seem a bit startled to only have 48 hours to get everything done, but go to work. Still, the groundwork is laid to make us a little suspicious of them. Plot A deals with the Bynars and the holodeck, there is no plot B. When we return the next 10 minutes are mostly taken up with getting all of the crew off the ship for some shore leave. Riker starts up a holodeck program that takes place in a bar in New Orleans, and gets sucked in pretty quick–I can’t blame him, judging from his company. Picard joins him and thus neither one are aware of a ship-wide emergency that has the entire crew evacuated. From here on the plot moves along at a pretty good pace, and every twist and turn does seem to logically flow from one to the next. There is real tension in the episode when they abandon the ship, even more later when Picard and Riker realize they’ve lost control of the Enterprise. Everything moves toward a reasonable, if underwhelming, conclusion.
Favorite Scenes: Worf has some cool lines when they’re talking about playing a friendly game of Parisi Squares:
Worf: Rest assured commander we will be victorious, at whatever the cost.
Riker: Worf, it’s just a game. A friendly little competition…
Worf: If winning is not important, then commander, why keep score?
Most of the best scenes are with Picard, Riker and Minuet in the holodeck. We get some really good interaction with Picard and Riker, and in fact my favorite scene by far is when they go to regain control of the ship. Patrick is flawless as the captain, knowing exactly what to do and Frakes is excellent as first officer, in perfect unison with his captain. They work together to solve a problem and it’s a real pleasure to watch.
Use of Cast/Characters: Marina Sirtis had this episode off. Riker gets some really good character development here, establishing his love of jazz and musicianship, and we really get to see how he and Picard relate to each other off of the bridge. It’s one of the first steps toward the crew becoming like a family. Picard’s French heritage is brought up here briefly, which largely gets forgotten as the series progresses. Data has some character development here, this is the first episode where we see him and his painting; this will be a recurring theme over the course of the series. He and Geordi have some development to their friendship which is nice to see, it fleshes them out a bit more for us. Tasha, Worf and the Crushers all have about the same to do, which is not very much. Carolyn McCormick, the actress who plays Minuet, just works on every level. After watching her, it kind of makes you wish every woman could be a bit more like her. She made such a believable connection with Riker that they use her again in season 4.
Blu Ray Version: Starbase 74 has never looked this good; it’s a thing of beauty, as is the planet and moon nearby. The clarity here is great enough that you can easily see the little purplish hair the Bynars have, which I hadn’t noticed before. Overall it’s not as clear as some other episodes, however. Take a look at 22:20. Remember the black cards I mentioned in the back of the Bridge? To the right of what Geordi is looking at is maybe the biggest black card ever, clearly held in place by three pieces of tape. There is also a flaw from the Blu Ray version that occurs at exactly 25:39. Pause it when you see Data and Geordi beaming in, and long before they materialize you’ll notice their reflections waiting for them on the command console the commander is touching. I believe this is corrected in the Netflix version.
Nitpicks: Before 30 seconds have passed we see one of those black cards on the back of the bridge, and some kind of X with a circle around it on the left of the screen? I don’t get it. It’s kinda weird that the voice of the ship switches from female to male halfway through the episode. I guess it’s because the regular Enterprise computer is offline? Later when they’re abandoning ship and using the transporters, if they’re in a hurry why don’t they actually use all of the pads? Finally, even though you later understand the title of this episode, it’s still a bit lame.
Overall Impression: This was the 14th episode aired, but the 15th one made. This is a good example of your basic, ‘just above average for season one’ episode. Nothing really wrong with it, with one or two scenes that are compelling. The tone of this episode is getting to know the crew a bit better when they’re off the bridge, and you do. Even though Tasha, Worf and the Crushers don’t have a lot to do we get to see their personalities, as well as those of Data and Geordi. Picard and Riker deepen their relationship here which is crucial given how close a captain and his ‘number one’ need to be; we believe it a bit more following this episode. The Bynars work well as an alien species too, and their motivations do make their actions plausible. I rate this episode 3 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: The upgrade to the holodeck was mentioned in an episode previous to this, The Big Goodbye. This episode was originally supposed to be filmed before that one but they ended up switching the order, so you do get a line in that episode that refers to events in this one. While in some episodes music is dubbed over, Jonathan Frakes can actually play the trombone, and was actually playing it in this one–he’s been playing the ‘bone since fourth grade. The name of the tune he was playing was “The Nearness of You.” Starbase 74 was originally seen in Star Trek III. Minuet was originally the name for the female android in the first drafts of Datalore. Frakes really enjoyed this episode, saying “A fabulous show. Those were the kind of chances we took first season that when they worked, they worked great. It was a very chancy show and I loved it.” I’m not exactly sure what was chancy about this episode though. This episode won an Emmy for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series. Finally, this is the first episode where Majel Barrett-Roddenberry starts voicing the ship’s computer, at least as far as I can tell.
Missable/Unmissable? It is missable, but if you’re watching the first season anyway it’s certainly better than the average season one episode. If you’re one of those that can’t wait to get out of the first season go ahead and skip this one. If you do skip this one skip the next one too, it’s terrible.