Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Silicon Avatar”

“Silicon Avatar”
Written by Lawrence V. Conley and Jeri Taylor
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 5, Episode 4
Production episode 40275-204
Original air date: October 14, 1991
Stardate: 45122.3

Captain’s log: Riker is in command of an away team that’s helping setting up a colony. His flirting with Carmen, the colony leader, is interrupted by the arrival of the crystalline entity that destroyed the colony Data was created on. Riker, Data, and Crusher start to evacuate the colonists to subterranean caverns. Carmen tries to help an old man who fell, and they’re both killed while Riker watches. However, the rest of the colonists make it to a cavern, where they’re safe.

The Enterprise picks up a disturbance on the colony and can’t raise them, so they increase speed to return sooner. Worf and La Forge lead a rescue team that breaks into the caves. Riker and Data return to the surface to find the once-verdant world devastated, with all life—both plant and animal—destroyed.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

Starfleet sends Dr. Kila Marr to the Enterprise. A xenologist who has made the study of the crystalline entity her life’s work, she is detached to the ship to help in their pursuit of the entity. Marr points out that this is the first time out of eleven reported attacks by the crystalline entity that there have been any survivors. She is also frosty toward Data to say the least, blaming him for Lore’s collaboration with the entity on Omicron Theta and again against the Enterprise.

Data theorizes that the cave system they hid in protected them due to the presence of kelbonite and fistrium. Marr has a theory of her own: that the entity left them alone due to Data’s presence, that Data, like his brother, collaborated with the entity. Data assures her that is not the case.

Marr then drops the other shoe: her son was killed on Omicron Theta. It was his death that prompted her to become an expert on the entity. She then threatens Data, saying that if she finds any evidence that he collaborated with the entity, she’ll have him disassembled.

Data, La Forge, and Marr then are able to come up with a method of tracking the entity. Data credits one of the Omicron Theta colonists with the scanning methods, which surprises Marr, as she knew of no such work in that scientist’s papers—but he was working on it at the colony, and Data’s been programmed with the logs, journals, and some memories of the colonists.

Marr is also surprised and outraged that the Enterprise‘s mission isn’t to kill the entity, but rather to communicate with it—though they will defend themselves if necessary. But Picard insists that they’re not hunters, and they’re not on a mission of vengeance. (Marr, as we shall see, doesn’t quite get with that program…)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

Data has been working on methods of communicating with the entity, and while Marr discusses them with him, she also apologizes for her attitude toward him—then asks if Data has her son’s memories stored. He does, and he assures Marr that there’s no record in those memories of his blaming her, as she feared—on the contrary, he was proud of her work.

The entity attacks a freighter called the Kallisko, destroying all life on board, including plant life they had in storage. Marr is particularly affected by the sounds of the Kallisko crew’s screams as they were attacked, wondering if her son screamed the same way.

Riker talks with Picard, saying that he agrees with Marr that the entity should be destroyed, as it’s already killed thousands. The fact that one of those thousands was a woman he’d planned a dinner date with has nothing to do with it, of course…

As Marr and Data work, the former asks about her son. She’s rather surprised to find out that he had a girlfriend. At her request, Data speaks one of her son’s letters to her in his voice.

When the Enterprise reaches a position five light-years from the entity’s likely next target, Marr and Data start broadcasting the graviton pulses they think will help communicate. It serves as a lure for the entity, which moves alongside the ship.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

The entity responds to the graviton pulses, opening the door for communication. But then Marr tries a consistent graviton beam—which she isolates so nobody else can shut it down. The beam eventually destroys the entity, which she says she did for her son. (To Riker’s credit, he’s just as outraged as Picard—the attempt at communication was working.)

Data escorts her to her quarters, to which Picard has confined her. He tells her that—based on what he knows of him—her son would not be happy with what she did, as he was very proud of her career as a scientist, and she has just destroyed that along with the entity. This news rather devastates Marr.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: Apparently the combo of kelbonite and fistrium is enough to shield a cave from the crystalline entity. (Kelbonite will be established in Star Trek Insurrection as also being impossible to transport through, which explains why Worf and La Forge needed to blast their way into the caves to rescue the away team and colonists instead of just beaming them up.)

The Enterprse is also able to use gamma radiation scans to detect the anti-protons that the entity leaves in its wake. (Said scans do not turn the entity into the incredible Hulk, which is actually kinda disappointing.)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi tells Picard that you don’t need an empath to tell that Marr is initially hostile toward Data—which is true. Ellen Geer’s overstated facial expressions do the trick nicely.

There is no honor in being pummeled: When Worf rescues Riker, Data, Crusher, and the colonists from the caves, Riker says that he’s never seen a more beautiful sight than Worf. If he had a nickel for every time he heard that…

If I only had a brain…: Data’s ability to access the memories, journals, and log entries of the Omicron Theta colonists is mentioned and used for the first time since “Datalore,” and his ability to impersonate people is seen again (after being used to impersonate Picard in “Brothers,” not to mention repeating back Q’s mock trial in “Encounter at Farpoint“) as he channels Marr’s son.

He has also added the guitar to his musical lexicon, in addition to the violin and oboe. He’s seen playing “Prelude #4 in A-Minor” by Francisco Tárrega in his quarters.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet: Riker and Carmen set a dinner date in what, of all the Riker-hits-on-women scenes, is quite possibly the most painful to watch. (Its primary competition for the dear-God-make-it-stop prize being his falling into bed with Beata in “Angel One.”) After Carmen boasts about her “most memorable desserts,” and Riker proclaiming dessert to be his “favorite part of dinner,” the crystalline entity showing up to kill everyone frankly comes as something of a relief…

I believe I said that: “The sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish. It is not evil; it is feeding.”

Picard pointing out that the entity may not be malicious.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

Welcome aboard: Ellen Geer as Dr. Marr and Susan Diol as Carmen have a competition to see who can perform worse in this episode, with Geer “winning” only by virtue of having more screen time. Diol will fare a bit better in her two appearances on Voyager as Dr. Denara Pel in the episodes “Lifesigns” and “Resolutions.”

Trivial matters: This is obviously a sequel to “Datalore,” bringing back both the crystalline entity and, after a fashion, the Omicron Theta colony.

It’s not clear when Marr became an expert on the crystalline entity, since the cause of the colony’s destruction wasn’t revealed to the galaxy at large until “Datalore,” yet she says she devoted her life to studying the crystalline entity since the colony’s destruction. Then again, it fits the pattern of things revealed for the first time in “Datalore” being retconned into common knowledge (like the fact that he was created by Noonien Soong, which was a revelation in that episode, but treated as being always known going forward).

The U.S.S. Titan, under the command of Captain William Riker, will encounter more crystalline entities in the novel Titan: Orion’s Hounds by Christopher L. Bennett. In that novel, Riker is successful in communicating with the entities.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

Make it so: “We are not hunters, Doctor, nor is it our role to exact revenge.” Jeri Taylor’s fetish for middle-aged people who become unhinged due to reminders of the loss of family members continues. First we had Ben Maxwell in “The Wounded,” then Norah Satie in “The Drumhead,” and now Kila Marr here. It’s already gotten tiresome, not aided by a script that—like “The Drumhead“—calls for so many changes in personality in the guest character that it practically strips the gears, with the added bonus of a truly dreadful performance by Ellen Geer, who plays Marr with all the subtlety of a nuclear explosion.

The character’s horrendously scattershot, too. She starts out utterly unsympathetic, treating Data more horribly than anyone has since Kate Pulaski, then as soon as she realizes Data has the memories of her son, she suddenly becomes his best friend. Her logic for treating him like crap is specious but understandable (blaming him for Lore’s crimes)—later, when she confesses in the turbolift that she’s comfortable talking to Data, it’s utterly unconvincing, especially given that she threatened to have him disassembled not that long ago. Then at the end, she’s obviously completely lost it, smiling obliviously, treating Data like her son—but there’s been nothing to prepare us for quite this level of psychic break.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 4

It’s all too extreme. At first, she’s totally hostile to Data, then she’s totally friendly with him, then she’s totally binky-bonkers, cluck-cluck, gibber-gibber, my-old-man’s-a-mushroom nuts. It’s impossible to even get a handle on the character, much less sympathize with her, and since she’s pretty much the focal point of the episode, this is a major problem.

It also undermines her perfectly legitimate argument with Picard over how to treat the crystalline entity (Riker’s leaden flirting with Carmen likewise undermines his similar argument, as it feels like he mostly wants to blow up the entity because it kept him from getting laid).

The episode’s just a complete mess. There was a good episode to be made about the entity’s return, but this wasn’t it.

 

Warp factor rating: 2


Keith R.A. DeCandido is a writer. No, really!

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