Saga of the Jasonite

The continuing adventures of that eternal man of mystery…

Review of Episode 28: Elementary, Dear Data

Holmes is here baby!

Holmes is here baby!

Plot Synopsis:  The Enterprise is threatened when a character in Data and La Forge’s holodeck simulation becomes sentient.

Plot A and B Analysis:  A good teaser here, though not particularly compelling upon first viewing. The Enterprise is early to rendezvous with another starship by three days, so what are we going to do with our time? Geordi shows Data his replica of an old sailing ship then invites him to a holodeck adventure playing Sherlock Holmes, with La Forge as Watson. Plot A revolves around the Data’s Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, there is no plot B in this episode. They barely get started in a really great looking set of Sherlock’s home when Data screws things up, solving the mystery in about five minutes. As they are discussing it in Ten Forward, Dr. Pulaski says Data couldn’t solve a Holmes-type mystery if it came up and bit him in the buttocks, then she proceeds to insult him, his buttocks and androids everywhere. Data decides to come up with something that is in that style but unknown. After this fails also, Geordi calls upon the computer to “create a mystery to confound Data, with an opponent who has the ability to defeat him.” The wording of this is important, as it prompts the computer to create a computer character with real consciousness. Now the plot’s underway, as Data, Geordi and eventually Picard are pulled into Moriarty’s web, who has begun to influence the workings of the Enterprise. I’m honestly not sure how I feel about the ending of this episode, but I can’t imagine a better way for it to have ended, so I suppose that in itself says a lot.

Favorite Scenes:  There’s either a lot of good short scenes, or one or two good long ones. One of my favorite things Spiner does is create Holmes with so much flair that you can actually see him in the role. The writing is just as good, giving him a great canvas to work with. Here’s an example:

Data:  Watson, the doctor has been carried away by two men. One is tall. The other is shorter, left-handed, and is employed in a laboratory.

Geordi, surprised:  And how do you know that?

Data:  One set of footfalls is widely spaced. The other is evenly spaced, closer together. Further, on the ground you can see the swirling scrapes made by his left shoe as he twists behind, presumably to see if he’s being followed. Left-footed means left-handed. The dark coloring of the scrapes are the leavings of natural rubber, a type of non-conductive sole used by researchers experimenting with electricity. Finally! There can be no argument:  the game is afoot!

Just look at that face!

Just look at that face!

Use of Cast/Characters:  Wil Wheaton had this episode off. “Your artificial friend doesn’t have a prayer of solving a Holmes mystery that he hasn’t read.” This is the beginning of Dr. Pulaski saying Data is a machine with no soul, and it will persist throughout this episode. This challenge is the driving force behind the plot, but still she doesn’t do much in this episode except insult him, get kidnapped, and have a few lines with Moriarty. Fine with me. This is a Data-centered episode and Spiner just rocks. The concept of Holmes that had its genesis in Lonely Among Us is expanded and given validation here so greatly that TNG will return to it yet again later on. Geordi’s character is given some development and the Data/Geordi friendship is deepened here. Their chemistry is such that their friendship will be a part of TNG for the rest of the series and into the films. Picard has some lines (he says merde again, probably for the last time) and deals with Moriarty but doesn’t really have a lot to do here, and Riker, Troi and Worf have almost nothing. I will not list Guinan’s absence in every episode since she is on the show less often than she is off it. Daniel Davis is the guy playing Moriarty and he does a first class job. You’d never believe he wasn’t a British actor, and he reaches for the sort of depth that few guest stars do.

Blu Ray Version:  Take a look at the books in Holmes’ library, it’s clear enough to read more titles now. Most of them are authentic books that would be in Holmes’ library, such as Whitaker’s Almanac. There are a couple of anachronisms, such as the book Close-Up (from 1972) and Childcraft (from the 1930’s).

Nitpicks:  Are you telling me Troi can be in the conference room and sense a new consciousness in the holodeck, among the 1000 people on the ship? Also, call me a nitpicker, but no matter how brilliant Moriarty is, I doubt he can learn 500 years of computer language, override protocols and safeguards and actually take control of any part of the Enterprise within a matter of hours. Nope. Sorry. Finally, how could the paper Moriarty wrote on leave the holodeck? It should be just as insubstantial as everything else, right? Read on for a possible answer. Oh, and one other thing:  Moriarty was given consciousness/life by the Enterprise computer. So now the computer can create life? If we’re defining intelligent life by the criteria that define Data (self-awareness, consciousness, self-determination, etc), should the ship’s computer really be that powerful? Hypothetically it can create life whenever anyone tells it to, then.

Overall Impression:  What an enjoyable episode. This entry is smooth as silk from start to finish. There is very little fat here, every scene is necessary and advances the plot, and 45 minutes are up before you know it. Credit the writer, the director and the actors, all of whom did great jobs. Watching this episode makes me wish there were more than two Holmesian episodes, but I guess if I got my wish they probably wouldn’t be as good. It’s not the very best of Trek, but it’s only one tier down and it’s a lot of fun. They take the whiff of philosophy from the very end of The Big Goodbye and turn it into something more at the end of this episode, and in fact make it the focus of Ship in a Bottle, but we’ll have to wait a long time to see that one. I rate this episode 4 out of 5 stars.

Professor Moriarty himself

Professor Moriarty himself

Behind the Scenes/Trivia:  The Big Goodbye was so good it inspired this episode according to Maurice Hurley, head writer of seasons one and two. The original ending to this was very different from what was filmed. Let me quote him here:

“In that ending, Picard knew how to defeat Moriarty. He tricked him. He knew all along that Moriarty could leave the holodeck whenever he wanted to, and he knew because when Data came out and showed him a drawing of the Enterprise, if that piece of paper could leave the holodeck, that means that the fail-safe had broken down. In turn, this means that the matter-energy converter which creates the holodeck, now allowed the matter to leave the holodeck, which was, up to that point, impossible. When he knew that paper had left the holodeck, he knew that Moriarty could as well, so he lied to him.”

I’m glad they didn’t go with this ending, because it would be a huge headache to have holodeck characters in future episodes running all over the ship; you don’t want to open that Pandora’s Box. If, however, you do want to read how it would have gone click here and check scene 62B. This ending also explains how the piece of paper was allowed to leave the holodeck earlier in the episode. Rob Bowman, the director of the episode was ticked at the producers for abruptly deciding to shorten the shooting schedule from seven days to six to save some money. It threw everything off and he credits the experience directing this episode as when he started to pull away from Star Trek. Also, the actual reason there were only two Holmesian episodes was that after this show aired they were contacted by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate and told they would have to pay a huge usage fee for using the character. Hence the four-year gap between Holmes episodes. This episode was also nominated for two Emmys, Outstanding Art Direction for a Series and Outstanding Costume Design for a Series. And do you recognize the ensign that points Data to where Geordi is at the beginning of the episode? That’s Anne Ramsay who also appears in The Emissary and will go on to star in Mad About You as Helen Hunt’s sister. Brent Spiner evidently was riffing on 40’s characters between takes, some of which you can see on season 2’s Blu-Ray special features.

Missable/Unmissable?  This is the first excellent episode of season two. Unmissable in my book. Do whatever you can to miss the next episode though, it’s a colossal step down.

Updated 5/10/13
Previous:  Where Silence Has Lease                           Season Two Menu                           Next:  The Outrageous Okona
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4 thoughts on “Review of Episode 28: Elementary, Dear Data

  1. The paper could’ve easily been replicated. Remember, the holodeck acts like a giant replicator as well. Remember Encounter at Farpoint when Wesley falls into the water and then exits the holodeck still wet? Replicated water.

    • Sorry for the delay in my response. I’d say that the whole approach to the holodeck episode is that nothing the holodeck replicates as matter can exist outside of it. IMO both the paper and the water were mistakes (at least the paper makes sense now, given the rewrite). If inanimate matter can remain but living matter can’t, then what about The Big Goodbye? If that theory is correct then both Redblock and his henchman would have dissolved but their clothes would have remained.

  2. I love the “holodeck episodes.” Yes, the premise of a malfunctioning holodeck is tired and overused, but it lets us see the characters in a different environment. That’s fun.

    And, even though Data isn’t my favorite character, Spiner is my favorite actor in TNG.

    • Cool, thanks for commenting! I love episodes that let us learn more about different sides of the main characters, it fleshes them out and makes us care about them more.

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