Plot Synopsis: An amoral trader fakes Data’s death to add him to his collection of rare and unique objects.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here is quick but effective. The Enterprise is picking up some volatile chemicals from a trader to treat a Federation colony that’s had its water supply poisoned. Data has been shuttling the unstable chemical back and forth. He gets incapacitated by the trader’s crew as he’s about to leave, and the last shot we see is Data’s shuttle exploding in its way back to the Enterprise, and his apparent death. Plot A is about Data’s captivity, plot B is how the Enterprise crew deal with his ‘death.’ Plot B isn’t quite as good but allows us a touch of sentiment for the impact Data has had on his crewmates, and the way they discover how they’ve been deceived is believable. As you’d expect plot A is the most interesting, with Data attempting escape while at the mercy of his manipulative captor. Things build to a climax that seems inescapable, and pushes the boundaries of what we think Data is capable of.
Favorite Scenes: My favorite line is from the final scene of the episode, after Fajo is caught, and asks Data if it gives him pleasure to see him in a cage. Data replies, “No, sir, it does not. I do not feel pleasure. I am only an android.” The best scene, as it should be, is the climax. Data and Varia are caught trying to escape, and after Varia is killed Data picks up the disruptor and points it at Fajo:
Fajo: You won’t hurt me. ‘Fundamental respect for all living beings.’ That’s what you said. I’m a living being, therefore you can’t harm me.
Data: You will surrender yourself to the authorities.
Fajo: Or what? You’ll fire? Empty threat, we both know it. Why don’t you accept your fate? *more confident now* You will return to your chair and you will sit there. You will entertain me and you will entertain my guests. And if you don’t, I’ll simply kill someone else. Him perhaps. *pointing at a random crew member* It doesn’t matter. Their blood will be on our hands too. Just like poor Varia’s. Your only alternative, Data, is to fire. Murder me. That’s all you have to do. Go ahead. Fire.
*Data hesitates, lowering the weapon*
Fajo: If only you could feel rage over Varia’s death. If only you could feel the need for revenge, then maybe you could fire. But you’re just an android. You can’t feel anything, can you? It’s just another interesting intellectual puzzle for you. Another of life’s curiosities.
Data: I cannot permit this to continue. *points the disruptor at Fajo*
Fajo, suddenly fearful: Wait, your program won’t allow you to fire. You can’t fire. NO.
Use of Cast/Characters: This is clearly a Data-centered episode. Here pressure is applied to him in a way that it never has before, eventually forcing him into an impossible choice. Watch Brent’s performance here, this is why the cast thinks so highly of his abilities–so controlled, yet he is still able to connect emotionally with the audience about what his character is going through. Picard doesn’t do much except be a captain, and Riker is about the same as first officer. Geordi gets a lot of screen time, and we see him just unable to accept that Data could have died in such a way, which is a key part of seeing through Fajo’s deception. Troi is useful again, questioning Worf about filling in again after the death of a friend–wonderful, if brief. Worf gets screen time, but other than Troi’s question there’s not much time for characterization. Doctor Crusher gets a bit less than Worf, but she’s out of the sick bay here and actually doing something. This is a good use of Wesley Crusher. He’s helpful without being an instant problem-solver, and IMO it’s a lot better than not seeing him in episodes at all. Saul Rubinek as Kivas Fajo is fantastic. The mercurial glee with which his he imbues his performance makes him even more despicable. He asks questions like, “have you killed yet?” to Data with such delicacy it’s as if he’s asking him about his virginity. Later when he shoots Varia, it’s obvious from his performance he’s never fired the thing before. Jane Daly plays Varia and does a competent job.
Blu Ray Version: Originally David Rappaport was cast to play Fajo, but he attempted suicide over the weekend after a few days of filming. He was replaced as a result, but a 5-minute special feature is included with the episode that shows his original footage. Unfortunately he continued to suffer from acute depression and committed suicide two months later. There’s a scene at the 21-minute mark where Fajo cried that I never saw before, due to the excellent Blu Ray transfer. Part of the double-edged sword though, at the 33-minute mark we can see that the ‘rocks’ of the colony are pretty fake.
Nitpicks: Geordi is up on the bridge like he was in season 2, a relic of the ‘engineering transfer to bridge.’ Never been a fan of it. Also, I can’t fault Picard for reassigning Worf to ops, but who could really replace Worf at tactical?
Overall Impression: This is such a good episode, and all these years later it still hangs together thanks to tight plotting and the wonderful battle of wills by Data and Fajo. Fajo’s plan was actually pretty brilliant, and the audience can see how it would have worked if the Enterprise crew weren’t as good at their jobs as they are. Fajo may also have been able to keep Data indefinitely as well, if it weren’t for a timely betrayal. The moments as well as the plot make this episode great: Data trying to emulate the Mona Lisa’s smile, the two Tasha Yar references, Roger Maris, etc. This is just a wonderful episode, another highlight of an already great season. I rate this episode 4 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: Yet another episode where a character is kidnapped; the trend will accelerate if anything before season’s end. This episode was based on another spec script, a writer who had a great idea for a story and just sent it in. Isn’t that awesome? Michael Piller was a big Yankee fan growing up and loved Roger Maris, so he put the Maris reference in the episode. Then, because of the episode Piller started collecting baseball cards. If what I’ve read is true his collection eventually numbered in the hundred-thousands, and was the reason why Captain Sisko of DS9 was a baseball fan. You may know Saul Rubinek from several episodes in Frasier, Warehouse 13, and the outstanding film Unforgiven. He and Brent Spiner knew each other way back from their stage acting days, and in fact Brent has said he’s Brent’s favorite guest star they ever had on the show. Wil Wheaton worked with Saul on an episode of Leverage years later and told him that Brent just called him up and asked him if he’d do it, and he said he’d do it without knowing anything about it. Saved the episode.
Missable/Unmissable? Technically missable, but this is a really good episode, and anything 4 stars and higher I very much recommend. The next episode is just as good.