Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “A Matter of Perspective”

Due to Christmas there was no rewatch on Monday, and this one’s a bit late due to holiday cheer, but we should be back on track next week/next year with “Yesterday’s Enterprise” on Monday the 2nd and continuing every Monday and Thursday in 2012.

For all of you who’ve been rewatching with me, reading, commenting, and so on, thank you so much. It’s been tremendous fun to re-live the glory days of TNG with you all, and I look forward to continuing it into 2012, assuming the world doesn’t end. (Stupid Mayans…)

Onward:

“A Matter of Perspective”
Written by Ed Zuckerman
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 3, Episode 14
Production episode 40273-162
Original air date: February 12, 1990
Stardate: 43610.4

Captain’s Log: Picard is among those attending an art class. Data comes in and reports that the away team has returned from their mission to the Tanuga IV research station. La Forge, however, has beamed back alone — Riker stayed behind because Dr. Apgar, the head researcher, wants to have a word. Just as O’Brien beams Riker back, the station explodes. Apgar was the only one on board.

Krag, an investigator from Tanuga, comes on board wanting to take Riker into custody for murder. Two witnesses have come forward testifying to threats Riker made against Apgar, which, in Tanugan jurisprudence, is enough to arrest.

While they are under Tanugan jurisdiction, it is up to Picard’s discretion to accede to the extradition request. Krag insists he must interrogate Riker and the other witnesses on the surface because he must re-create what happened. Picard suggests a compromise: he use the holodeck to literally re-create the events, which Data assures them can be done, supposedly with a “nominal” eight percent or so margin of error.

Krag agrees. La Forge, Data, and Wes do the holodeck work, programming the holodeck with depositions from all the witnesses. Picard, Troi, and Krag will watch all the re-creations and Picard will judge — with Troi’s help — whether or not extradition is warranted.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

First we get Riker’s story: he and La Forge beam onto the station and meet Apgar and his assistant Tayna and his wife Manua. Apgar resents Riker’s presence, as he’s only suffered a few setbacks — but Riker assures him that they’re just checking up, there’s no pressure.

Manua insists that they share a drink. He mentions that the Enterprise has returned to its scientific mission. Apgar isn’t thrilled that they’re staying overnight, but Riker assures them that they made arrangements on the planet. Manua insists that they stay on the station. Krag makes a point of verifying that it was Manua’s idea that they stay on the station, not Riker’s.

When she shows Riker the guest quarters, Manua immediately starts hitting on Riker, who resists every forward pass. Apgar storms in, unsurprised by his wife’s attempt at infidelity, and he slaps Manua and takes a swing at Riker (and misses completely, Riker having easily ducked it). They both leave; the next morning, Riker insists it was a misunderstanding, but Apgar is completely paranoid about his work, and is concerned that Riker will give Apgar a bad report if Apgar files a grievance regarding Riker’s behavior.

Riker beams back. Krag, however, has a wrinkle: their scans based on the telemetry from the ground computer on Tanuga indicate that a focused energy beam hit the reactor from where Riker was standing. That suggests that he fired his phaser on the reactor just before transport.

La Forge, Data, and Wes verify Krag’s findings, then Worf picks up a radiation burst that puts a hole in a bulkhead. They can’t identify the source or type of radiation.

Next we get Manua’s story: Where Riker’s version of Manua was flirty and frustrated, Manua’s own version is demure and supportive. Also in her version it’s Riker who hits on Manua. Apgar’s concern is more confusion than paranoia. Also, Riker asks to stay on the station. (It’s never mentioned that, if La Forge and Riker made arrangements to stay on the planet, that could be verified with whoever they made arrangements with.)

Riker then tries to rape her, which Riker points out is patently absurd, before Apgar interrupts. He takes a swing, but this time Riker beats the crap out of him and threatens him.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Another radiation burst hits sickbay, exactly five hours, twenty-three minutes, and six seconds after the last one — which was four times that interval after the station exploded. That’s too precise an interval to be coincidence, but they don’t know much beyond that, except that they know when the next burst will probably hit.

Next, Tayna testifies as to what happened in the guest quarters, based on what Apgar told her. Picard and Riker are dubious, as this is hearsay. In this version, Riker and Manua are in a mutual embrace, with neither resisting, and it’s Apgar who beats the crap out of Riker (which is fun to watch, but also patently ridiculous). Riker then threatens Apgar’s life. Apgar goes and tells Tayna what happened, tells her to take Manua to the surface, and stops her from calling the authorities, as he says he’ll take care of everything.

At this point, Picard has to allow extradition. There’s enough evidence to support it, though there is not, in Picard’s opinion, sufficient evidence to prove his innocence.

However, Data then reports that he, Wes, and La Forge have found the source of the radiation bursts. There’s a lambda field generator on the surface that fires an energy burst, then needs five hours, twenty-three minutes, and six seconds to recharge. It was left running after the station exploded.

Everyone is gathered on the holodeck for the final re-creation, from La Forge. It turns out that the radiation that has been hitting the Enterprise are Krieger waves. Far from being delayed in his breakthrough as he claimed, Apgar had already figured out how to create them. The converter that he said didn’t work actually worked just fine — and they re-created it on the holodeck. The bursts from the planet were being altered into Krieger waves by the holographic converter, and striking different points on the Enterprise, depending on their orbital angle relative to the field generator.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Picard hypothesizes that Apgar and Manua’s talk of great rewards — seen in both Riker’s and Manua’s testimonies — indicated that he had another client in mind besides Starfleet for Krieger waves. La Forge does the end of Riker’s testimony over with the Enterprise in the spot where the space station was, the holographic converter in the same place when the field generator hits it again.

Sure enough, the energy is converted into Krieger waves by the holographic generator and strikes Riker in mid-transport. It was an attempt by Apgar to kill Riker, making it look like a transporter accident, but instead the focused Krieger wave hit the transporter beam and reflected back onto the generator, causing the explosion.

In light of the new evidence, Krag withdraws the extradition request, the Enterprise leaves, and everyone lives happily ever after. Well, except for Manua, who’s lost her husband and then found out he was a traitor and a murderer, and Tayna, who’s out of a job, but hey, at least Starfleet has their Krieger waves…

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The holodeck doesn’t actually create the Krieger waves, simply provides a means by which the energy can be converted into it. The show’s scientific advisor at the time was David Krieger, and he suggested the solution of having the holodeck create a converter so they wouldn’t violate the rule that the holodeck can’t create anything harmful. In return for this assistance, the radiation was named after him.

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Riker pleads with Troi after Manua’s testimony that she can’t possibly be telling the truth, but Troi says that she’s telling the truth as she remembers it — as is Riker. She senses no deception from either of them.

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data struggles initially with commenting on Picard’s painting, but then jumps whole hog into a rather brutal critique, to wit…

I Believe I Said That: “While suggesting the free treatment of form usually attributed to Fauvism, this quite inappropriately attempts to juxtapose the disparate Cubistic styles of Picasso and Leger. In addition, the use of color suggests a haphazard mélange of clashing styles. Furthermore, the unsettling overtones of proto-Vulcan influence — ”

Data’s commentary on Picard’s “Nude In an Awkward But Appropriate For Broadcast Standards & Practices Position,” which is interrupted by Picard not really wanting to hear anymore for some odd reason.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: We never do find out how much of the flirting was on Manua’s part, how much on Riker’s, and how much was mutual. Neither Manua’s nor Apgar’s portrayals of Riker were remotely in character, but his discomfort at the beginning of the episode very much gives the impression that he was macking on Manua too. If he was as innocent as he claimed in his deposition, he had no reason to be so concerned.

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: The use of the holodeck to re-create events based on depositions is actually a useful tool for this sort of inquiry. It wouldn’t really work as evidence, but it’s good for this grand-jury-style investigation.

Welcome Aboard: Craig Richard Nelson is nicely snotty as Krag, but he’s the only worthy guest star. Mark Margolis is flat as Apgar, though he does manage to convey the differences in tone depending on the deposition in question. Gina Hecht and Juli Donald are relentlessly mediocre as Manua and Tayna.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

Trivial Matters: The model for the research station is a reuse of the Regula I model from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, itself a reuse of an orbital office complex in Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

This is the one and only time we see Picard painting. Based on Data’s commentary, that’s probably for the best. (The original script called for Picard to respond to Data’s critique by splashing red paint all over the painting, ruining it, but it was cut — which is for the best, as that’s a very un-Picard-like move.)

Make it So: “She’s lying, that never happened!” One of the greatest films ever made is the 1950 Akira Kurosawa classic Rashomon. It has three people sitting in a shelter waiting out a storm. Two of them — a woodcutter and a priest — tell the third person the story of what they just experienced. We then are told the story of a couple (a samurai and his wife) who encounter a bandit in the forest from four different perspectives: that of the bandit, the wife, the samurai (through a medium who speaks to his spirit), and the woodcutter who saw the whole thing go down.

What’s great about the movie is that we don’t know which is the “real” story. There are reasons not to believe aspects of any of the stories, and the truth is likely some combination of all of them.

Pretty much every TV show in the history of the universe has done their own riff on Rashomon, from The Dick Van Dyke Show to All in the Family to Good Times to Farscape to CSI to Leverage. The mistake that far too many of them make is to miss the point of the movie: that every narrator is unreliable. The woodcutter is just as unreliable a narrator in the original as the samurai, the bandit, and the wife, and we don’t know the full story of what happened, though we can take a shot at putting it together.

“A Matter of Perspective” fails utterly in this, made all the worse by the fact that it apes the general structure of Rashomon so meticulously. Riker is the bandit, Apgar is the samurai, Manua is his wife, and Tayna is the medium who provides the dead man’s testimony. The final story is from La Forge who, like the woodcutter, was there also.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

But it misses the point. For starters, we know William Riker after two-and-a-half years, so we know how he’ll behave, so we absolutely know that Manua and Apgar’s portrayals of Riker are wrong. Further, La Forge’s reveal that Apgar tried to kill Riker and failed, killing himself, takes the wind out of the sails of the entire plot. By establishing a final truth, all the sops to unsurety — Troi’s insistence that Riker and Manua are both telling the truth as they remember it, for example — become meaningless.

Worst of all, the issue of Riker’s possible dalliance with Manua is glossed over. Manua’s claim of rape (though Riker’s the only one who uses that word) is never finally addressed, and it’s the one bit of uncertainty that remains: did Manua hit on Riker, as the latter claimed, was it the other way around as Manua claimed, or was it mutual as Apgar claimed?

You’d think this would make the episode more palatable to me, but it doesn’t because we’re going to continue to see Riker for the rest of the series and four movies, and this will never be brought up again. Meanwhile, Manua has lost everything (since, on top of everything else, this gives us the tired, outdated cliché of the scientist with the pretty wife who apparently has no identity beyond that of scientist’s wife that was tiresome in 1950s sci-fi alien invasion flicks) and gets no justice on any level.

The scientific solution to the problem is rather elegant, and Picard’s conflict between duty and friendship provides a few good moments, but ultimately this is a dull, flat episode that doesn’t live up to the movie it’s imitating.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch by Keith DeCandido:

 

Warp factor rating: 1


Keith R.A. DeCandido lists Rashomon as one of his three or four favorite movies of all time, so this episode holds a particularly low place in his regard. Go to his web site for links to his blog, his Facebook page, his Twitter feed, not to mention ways in which you can buy his incredibly awesome books like the fantastical police procedurals SCPD: The Case of the Claw and Unicorn Precinct.

28 Comments

Subscribe to this thread