“A Fistful of Datas”
Written by Robert Hewitt Wolfe and Brannon Braga
Directed by Patrick Stewart
Season 6, Episode 8
Production episode 40276-234
Original air date: November 9, 1992
Captain’s Log: The Enterprise has some down time due to their rendezvous with a supply ship being delayed by two days. La Forge and Data interrupt Picard playing a Mozart piece on his Ressikan flute with a proposal to see if they can hook Data up to the engineering computer, and use him as a backup in case of a catastrophic failure. (One wonders if this was inspired by Riker using Data’s head as the engineering computer in “Disaster.”) Picard approves the plan then throws the two of them out.
He’s interrupted again, first by Crusher trying to get Picard to play a role in her new play, “Something for Breakfast,” then by Worf, who insists on using the extra time to create more work for himself. Picard all but orders Worf to go have fun.
Worf returns dolefully to his quarters, where we find out that he was supposed to have been asking Picard for time off, and his attempt at finding more work to do was a way to get out of spending time on the holodeck with Alexander. Because he remains the worst father ever.
Alexander has written an “ancient West” (really?) program that claims to take place in Deadwood, South Dakota even though it’s in the middle of the desert. (The real Deadwood is at the foot of a small mountain range known as the Black Hills. Also, the sheriff’s office has a map of the Arizona Territories.) Worf and Alexander are the sheriff and deputy of Deadwood – Worf’s mood improves marginally upon realizing that they’re law enforcement.
Gunshots get their attention. They head to the saloon (which has all the usuals: upright piano, poker games, varmints), to find that the shots came from Eli Hollander, the “butcher of Bozeman,” who is unhappy with the wanted poster, as the likeness is inaccurate. (“I’m ten times uglier than that, ain’t I?”)
Worf and Alexander enter the saloon, causing most everyone to leave—Alexander explains to Worf that they don’t want to get hit by bullets—and Worf places him under arrest. Eli isn’t willing to go quietly, and he has friends, one of whom hits Worf with a chair. However, the time Worf spends in hand-to-hand with one thug allows both Eli and another thug to have the drop on Worf with their revolvers.
But before they can rob Worf and Alexander of their money and jewelry, a stranger comes into the saloon, shooting Eli’s hat right off his head with a Winchester rifle. It’s Troi, as “Durango,” the inevitable stranger who helps our heroes. (Turns out she’s a big fan of westerns, thanks to her father reading them to her as a kid.)
Reluctantly, Eli holsters his gun, with a nifty twirl, and surrenders, saying that they’ll regret what they’ve done.
In engineering, Data and La Forge’s test is working out very nicely, until an energy surge hits. As a precaution, Data deactivates the interface. La Forge worries that the interface isn’t as stable as they thought it would be. They go to check the program – and Data “holsters” his tricorder in the same manner as Eli.
On the holodeck, Eli’s in jail, shuffling a deck of cards by spreading them out and sloppily shoving them back together. He’s confident that his pa will break him out. Worf asks “Durango” if she’ll assist him and Alexander in holding off the Hollanders, and she agrees – for a price. Worf sends Alexander to the bank to withdraw some money, and then Worf is visited by the saloon owner, Annie, who invites him out on a date. Worf declines, as he has a prisoner, and Annie immediately assumes he’s seeing another woman, slaps him, and leaves.
Elsewhere on the ship, Picard tries to listen to his Mozart trio, only to have it play instead a Dvorak piece that Data’s been studying. Crusher is in rehearsals for “Something for Breakfast,” but the padds with the scripts suddenly change from Crusher’s dialogue to Data’s poetry, as they discover when Riker reads “Ode to Spot” instead of his part. And Data, when getting Spot off his desk, at one point says, “Vamoose, y’little varmint!” in a comedy Texas accent.
While returning from the bank with Durango’s fee, Alexander is kidnapped by Frank Hollander. This results in three surprises for Alexander: 1) he wasn’t supposed to be kidnapped until later in the program, 2) he can’t get the computer to freeze the holodeck program, and 3) Frank Hollander is inexplicably being played by Data in a silly mustache.
Seeking out Alexander, Worf comes across Frank in the saloon. Frank offers Alexander in exchange for Eli. Worf refuses, and is surprised when Frank grabs him with Data’s full strength. When Worf tries to freeze the program, the holodeck does not respond, and Worf winds up getting shot by Frank’s thugs. Upon returning to the sheriff’s office, Troi bandages Worf’s wound—which means the holodeck safeties are disengaged—and they’re both shocked to see that Eli is now Data also.
Troi figures their best bet is to play the program out as intended and hope that that will bring it to a natural conclusion. Worf goes to question the townspeople, see if anybody saw Alexander get taken. She stands guard on Eli, and sees that he is now shuffling the cards quickly and efficiently, exactly the way Data does. (Meanwhile, on the ship, Data is becoming more and more “western” with each passing moment, up to and including spitting in a flowerpot.)
Worf returns to the sheriff’s office having learned that witnesses saw Hollander’s men take Alexander, but nobody knows where. Then Frank shows up, requesting to see his boy. Worf and Troi keep their pistol and rifle on him as they disarm him and let him talk to Eli. Then Worf agrees to an exchange: Alexander for Eli. The problem is, Frank is sure to break the deal and shoot Worf – and he has Data’s speed and accuracy.
So they change the game: using their combadges and tools from a telegraph machine, Worf is able to fashion a forcefield that will work for 15 seconds to protect him against Frank’s revolver fire.
Worf and Frank confront each other, with Eli and Alexander, respectively, in tow. They walk across to the other side, then Frank takes his shots. Worf activates the force field, which protects him. Then Hollander’s thugs, who now all look like Data, try to fire on him, but Durango gets the drop on them. Another thug throws a fresh revolver to Frank, which takes long enough for Worf to draw down on Frank and shoot the weapon out of his hand. He then tells Frank never to show his face in town again, the computer eventually ends the program (just before Annie, now also Data, can kiss Worf), and all’s right with the world. Worf assures Alexander that, despite what happened, he’s game for doing that program again, and when Alexander isn’t looking, he tries on the cowboy hat again.
And the Enterprise warps off into the sunset....
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: The power surge Data experienced only affected Computer Core Subroutine C47, which is for recreational and library files. Nothing essential to ship’s systems, but it causes all the music programs to be Data’s, all the library files to be his poetry, and a whole mess of food replicators to only provide cat food. And, yes, cause a melding between Data and a holodeck program.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi throws herself into the part of Durango, and her knowledge of this type of story is helpful once Alexander is kidnapped. She’s also apparently a damn good shot with a Winchester rifle, shooting Eli’s hat off.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Though Dwight Schultz does not appear, Barclay is mentioned as having helped Alexander with the writing of the program, which is by way of explaining the prostitute who tries to get their attention. Wah hey!
Worf also makes a pig’s ear of the sheriff’s flirtation with Annie, to the tune of some hilarious facial expressions from Troi.
What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Okay, seriously, why does the holodeck even have safeties that can be “disengaged”? Shouldn’t those safeties be hardwired ?
There is no Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf is still the worst father ever, but he does go from actively working to avoid spending leisure time with his son to a willingness to someday in the future again spend leisure time with his son. So that’s progress.
Oh, and after they jail Eli, he hilariously queries Alexander about 19th century jurisprudence: “Is there a trial? Or shall I execute him?”
If I Only Had a Brain...: Brent Spiner, not satisfied with playing three roles in “Brothers,” gets to play seven this time ’round, as Data infests the holodeck program. And this time he gets to use the same silly accent he used in his recurring role of Bob Wheeler on Night Court.
I Believe I Said That: “I’m beginning to see the appeal of this program.”
Worf, coming around to the coolness of the scenario once he gets into a fistfight.
Welcome Aboard: About a year before his recurring role as Pete (“Don’t touch Pete’s piece!”) on the tragically short-lived western The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., John Pyper-Ferguson guest-starred here as Eli (you can see him currently on Alphas, on which this episode’s writer, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, serves as a producer). Joy Garrett and Jorge Cervera Jr. fulfill the stereotypes of their roles as Annie and the Bandito, respectively, while Brian Bonsall is considerate enough to get kidnapped, thus limiting his screentime, as Alexander.
Trivial Matters: This is the first script by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, who would go on to become a producer on Deep Space Nine, before departing after the end of the sixth season to develop Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda. He has since worked on several genre shows, including The 4400, The Dresden Files, and the aforementioned Alphas.
Picard’s Ressikan flute from “The Inner Light” makes a triumphant reappearance. In the time since that episode, Sir Patrick Stewart has, to his credit, learned how to play the recorder/tin whistle on which the flute is based. Not only does he get the fingering right during the teaser, he also breathes properly. (This effort will be on display again when the flute returns later this season in “Lessons.”)
The title, obviously, is derived from the famous Clint Eastwood film A Fistful of Dollars. That film was one of Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns,” and it was based on the Akira Kurosawa film Yojimbo (a favorite film of your humble rewatcher).
LeVar Burton was given permission to grow a beard (having been previously denied it around the filming of “ The Outcast ”) so he could have one for his wedding. La Forge and Data discuss the beard a bit during the episode, and it’ll be the subject of conversation again next week.
Your humble rewatcher wrote a novel called The Art of the Impossible, which featured Troi’s father, Ian, in a good-sized role. At one point, he is chatting over subspace with his wife Lwaxana and his seven-year-old daughter Deanna, and he calls her “Durango” as an affectionate nickname, derived from the westerns he read to her, as established in this episode.
The script had a scene with Alexander and his kidnappers that was an homage to the great short story “The Ransom of Red Chief ” by O. Henry, but it was cut for time. The original script also called for Troi to be Annie the barmaid instead of the mysterious stranger.
Make it So: “We’ll have this all fixed up in time for supper.” A diverting, silly, ridiculous, pointless episode that mostly serves to give Michael Dorn, Brian Bonsall, Brent Spiner, and Marina Sirtis a chance to play dress-up (Spiner several times over, including drag). All the Western tropes are touched on, albeit perfunctorily. The plot is dumb—and spoiled by the episode’s title—the laughs are surprisingly thin on the ground, and the directing is, as ever with Sir Patrick Stewart, lifeless (cf. “In Theory” and “Hero Worship”).
I dunno, not much to say about this episode. It’s pretty much “The Big Goodbye” with less snappy costumes and a reduced fun content. It says something that the funniest scenes in this comedy Western are, in fact, off the holodeck: Picard constantly being interrupted while trying to play music, Riker reading “Ode to Spot,” Crusher’s anxiety over losing her play to computer failure, Data struttin’ and spittin’ and talkin’ like a Texan.
Honestly, Red Dwarf did this better a year later with “Gunmen of the Apocalypse.”
Housekeeping note: There will be no TNG rewatch on Friday the 12th of October due to New York Comic-Con, where I will have a table in Podcast Alley—booth 3364—to promote Dead Kitchen Radio: The Keith R.A. DeCandido Podcast , and also sell/autograph books and stuff. We’ll be back with “The Quality of Life” in a week’s time.
Warp factor rating: 5
Keith R.A. DeCandido also was gnashing his teeth every time they called it “the Ancient West,” which is lazy “sci-fi” writing, and also is an American-centric term that likely wouldn’t be used by non-humans in a multiplanet Federation 500 years hence. Sheesh.