Written by Maurice Hurley & Robert Lewin
Directed by Paul Lynch
Season 1, Episode 14
Production episode 40271-116
Original air date: February 1, 1988
Captain’s log. The Enterprise arrives at Starbase 74 for maintenance. Part of the team includes a Bynar pair. The Bynars are the ultimate computer geeks, even speaking in binary code to each other. They all come in pairs, and when told that they only have 48 hours to complete the computer refit, they bring two others on board to assist.
The crew is preparing for a couple of days off. Picard plans to lose himself in a novel, Yar and Worf are playing Parrises Squares, Crusher is meeting with a cyberneticist on the starbase, La Forge is helping Data with creativity by advising him on how to paint, and Riker decides to try out the Bynar-enhanced holodeck.
Riker creates a jazz club on Bourbon Street in 1958 New Orleans, with an audience of one: a woman named Minuet. Because Jonathan Frakes plays the trombone, Riker sits in with the jazz band, then dances with Minuet, who captivates Riker.
While keeping an eye on the Bynars on the bridge, Wes discovers that something’s wrong with the magnetic containment unit. Data and La Forge verify that the antimatter will be released and destroy the ship inside of five minutes. Data orders the ship abandoned, and sets the Enterprise to fly away from the starbase. As it does so, the containment unit somehow regenerates, but by then the ship’s en route to Bynaus.
However, Riker and Picard, who joined Riker on the holodeck, are still being distracted by Minuet. They are kept from learning about the containment unit. When Picard tries to leave and Minuet is forceful in her desire for them to stay, they ask for the exit that much more anxiously. They quickly discover that the ship is at red alert, and the computer fills them in on what they missed, with some more filling in by Minuet, who was designed to keep Riker on board in case something went wrong.
Picard and Riker arm themselves and set the autodestruct, then beam to the bridge—only to find the Bynars unconscious. It takes some time, and some exposition from Minuet, but Picard and Riker figure out that Bynaus is being hit with an electromagnetic pulse, and they needed to core-dump their world computer into the largest mobile computer available: the Enterprise.
The captain and first officer manage to restore the Bynar computer by working in tandem. The Bynars explain that they didn’t just ask for help because Starfleet might have said no.
What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. Riker totally falls for Minuet, whom he describes as “too real.” (The bass player retorts, “Too real is too right.”)
Also, the Bynars specify that their maintenance will prevent malfunctions like the one in “The Big Goodbye.” Would that it were so… (Amusingly, the episode was intended to take place prior to “The Big Goodbye,” with the Bynar tampering being responsible for the holodeck malfunction in that episode.)
If I only had a brain… Data decides to try his hand at painting—which would continue to be a recurring theme throughout the series. La Forge provides advice, leading to Riker’s suggestion that they take notes for posterity. “A blind man teaching an android how to paint? That’s got to worth a couple of pages in somebody’s book.”
The boy!? Wes keeps an eye on the Bynars and is the first to notice that the containment unit is going blooey.
There is no honor in being pummeled. Worf goes with Yar to play Parrises Squares, and assures Riker that they will win at all costs. When Riker says that the point is to have fun, Worf pointedly asks, “If winning is not important, then Commander—why keep score?”
Welcome aboard. Carolyn McCormick is simply radiant as Minuet, which makes up for how dull Gene Dynarski is as Commander Quinteros. Katy Boyer, Alexandra Johnson, Iva Lane, and Kelli Ann McNally are all nicely alien as the Bynars.
I believe I said that. “Hey, man, the chick digs you.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Hey, look at her.”
“Maybe it’s my music.”
“Yeah, well, about that, don’t give up your day job.”
The jazz musicians and Riker discussing Minuet’s very obvious interest in him.
Trivial matters: The Bynars would return in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers eBook series; a single Bynar whose mate was killed is one of the regular characters. The S.C.E. eBook 10 is Better than 01 by Heather Jarman provided the full backstory on Bynaus, establishing that they were organics that were enslaved by an artificial intelligence that they eventually overthrew.
The footage of Starbase 74 was a reuse of footage of Spacedock from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Make it so. One of the strongest first-season episodes, this one has it all: romance, jazz, adventure, suspense, a potential tragedy, and one of the finest alien species Trek has provided.
The nascent relationship between Riker and a hologram is disturbing if you think about it for too long, but while you watch the episode you’re too busy being totally charmed by Minuet. McCormick’s chemistry with Frakes is letter-perfect, and you have no trouble believing that Riker falls for her. It’s also fun to see Frakes play trombone with the jazz band….
Brent Spiner and LeVar Burton provide an intensity that makes the evacuation of the Enterprise tense, a nice modulation from the whimsy of the painting scenes. (“I am awaiting—inspiration!”)
Most impressive is director Paul Lynch’s maintaining of the binary theme. We see people in groups of two—not just the Bynars, but Yar and Worf, Data and La Forge, Picard and Riker. Of particular note is the way Picard and Riker move in near-perfect unison when they try to take the ship back.
In a series that all too often resorts to slapping latex on a forehead to create an alien species, the Bynars are truly alien aliens. Best of all, this lives up to one of Trek’s finest ideals: what appears to be a threat turns out to be a tragedy, and Picard and Riker show compassion rather than anger when they learn the truth.
One thing that has always bugged me about this episode: Quinteros is very obstructionist to the Enterprise crew when they try to go back to the ship once they realize it’s been stolen. He’s very sympathetic to the Bynars, and one wonders if he was covertly helping them with their plight. Food for thought, anyhow….
Oh, and it’s a joy to see an episode in which the autodestruct is turned off, not with five or fewer seconds left, but with a full two minutes left. Nice avoiding of cliché there.
Warp factor rating: 7.
Keith R.A. DeCandido has a new novel out: the Dungeons & Dragons tome Dark Sun: Under the Crimson Sun. You should buy it. Really. You can follow Keith online at his blog or on Facebook or Twitter under the username KRADeC.