Mar 26 2013 3:35pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Emergence”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence“Emergence”
Written by Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 7, Episode 23
Production episode 40276-275
Original air date: May 9, 1994
Stardate: 47869.2

Captain’s Log: Data is performing Act 5, Scene 1 of The Tempest for Picard, the discussion of which is curtailed by the pair of them almost being run over by a locomotive. Data discovers a malfunction that linked Data’s theatrical program with Crusher’s re-creation of the Orient Express and takes all the holodecks offline pending repairs.

The Enterprise is performing a survey to search for sites for Federation colonies when the ship suddenly goes to warp. Neither the bridge nor engineering has helm control. Just as La Forge is about to start an emergency warp-core shutdown, the ship goes back to impulse.

Data and La Forge discover that there was a disruption at their previous location that would have destroyed the ship if they hadn’t gone to warp when they did. They go into a Jefferies Tube and find a large, colorful silly straw that is connecting the sensors to the warp drive, and which is protected by a force field. They find a bunch more after that, and they seem to be centralized in Holodeck 3, which is running despite Data having shut it down. Riker, Data, and Worf enter the holodeck to find several programs running at once. At first, they’re on the Orient Express, but with an armored knight cutting up pieces of paper with a pair of scissors, some Old West characters, people putting a jigsaw puzzle together, and more. A conductor comes through to collect tickets—and tries to stop Riker and Data from depolarizing the nodes, which are centralized under the train. The engineer tries to convince the conductor to let them do their work, but he’s then shot by a gangster, who retrieves a brick from the engineer’s overalls. The conductor urges the gangster to take good care of the brick.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

The navigational relay overloads, the explosion from which nearly kills La Forge, and then the ship goes into warp. On the train, the conductor is pleased to announce that they’re going in the right direction. Riker, Worf, and Data leave the holodeck for the time being, as the safeties are disengaged, and so the gangster’s pistol is potentially lethal.

At this point, the nodes are all over the damn ship, and Data recognizes the configuration of them as similar to that of his own positronic brain. There is an emergent consciousness forming out of the ship itself, which seems to be using the holodeck as a platform for exploring its new intelligence.

Worf and Data return, this time with Troi, who will attempt to interact with the characters and maybe learn what this new intelligence wants. The occupants of the train remain bizarre (I think my favorite is the gangster playing cards with a tied-up cowboy). Two people are continuing to put the jigsaw puzzle together and both the puzzle and the playing cards have the same image on them: a helix that resembles the nodes La Forge and Data found. The gangster also is guarding the brick closely, saying it’s incredibly valuable. He gets off at Keystone City (“The beginning of everything,” he calls it) and Troi, Data, and Worf follow him to what looks like New York City in the 1940s or so. Data takes another shot at depolarizing the nodes while Troi and Worf follow the gangster to a building. He places the brick in the building, saying he’s laying the foundation, at which point it glows briefly, then becomes part of the wall.

Cargo Bay 5 depressurizes, forcing everyone to leave. When La Forge brings a team inside, they find another colorful helix design like the ones on the jigsaw puzzle and the cards. When Data starts depolarizing the nodes, the ship starts to go crazy, endangering everyone until Data, at La Forge’s urging, stops the depolarization, at which point the ship settles.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

Troi thinks that something is being constructed, based on the imagery on the holodeck, and the object in the cargo bay is being created using the ship’s power. Attempts to curtail the beings have failed, so Picard suggests cooperation. Troi, Data, and Worf return to the train, and they offer to help. Worf shovels coal into the engine, which improves warp power somehow. They arrive at a star from which the ship then absorbs vertion particles, which are absorbed by the object in the cargo bay, but the ship uses up the sun’s supply of particles before it can finish what it’s doing.

The ship then goes to warp 9 to find a new source of vertion particles, but all ship’s power—including life support—is going to propulsion, and their destination is distant enough that they’ll all die before they get there. La Forge might be able to create vertions using a nebula, but they need to stop the ship. When Data, Worf, and Troi try to go to the engine, everyone on the train tries to stop them. Troi convinces them that they want to help, but they’ll only let one person through—as the one least likely to be affected by gunfire, Data goes, insisting to the gangster and the conductor that he knows a shortcut. Reluctantly, and against the gangster’s advice, the conductor gives Data control of the train.

La Forge’s modified torpedo fires into the nebula and creates vertion particles. The object in the cargo bay becomes fully active and pootles off the ship, while the nodes all deactivate, returning control of the ship to the crew.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Apparently, the ship can create an intelligence. Well, the holodeck already did that with Moriarty, so what the hey, right? There’s nothing philosophically or morally problematic with that at all....

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi has the huge challenge of deciphering the incredibly complicated metaphors on the holodeck, and never once mentions the significance of a train that has a destination.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

If I Only Had a Brain...: Data’s attempts to understand the human condition via acting are still going strong, though his Prospero is a little stilted (his King Hal and Scrooge were far stronger). When the holodeck tries to stop him from depolarizing the nodes by running him over with a cab, he borrows from Superman and stops the car by holding it in place with a single hand, which is actually kind of awesome.

There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: There’s something inherently hilarious about Worf being goaded to shovel coal into an engine by the Big Lebowski....

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: A random collection of folks’ holodeck programs includes the Orient Express (which we know is Crusher’s), images from the Old West (Alexander?), a guy in a suit of armor, and a gangster. Apparently, the emergent lifeform only does PG-rated stuff....

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

I Believe I Said That: “But this rough magic/ I here abjure, and, when I have required/Some heavenly music, which even now I do,/ To work mine end upon their senses that/This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff.”

Data doing Prospero (Shakespeare provides the only interesting dialogue in the whole thing).

Welcome Aboard: Thomas Kopache returns as the engineer, having previously played Mirok in “The Next Phase.” He’ll be back in Star Trek Generations as well as episodes of Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. Two of the other holographic characters are played by Arlee Reed and Vinny Argiro.

But this episode’s Robert Knepper moment is the great David Huddleston as the conductor. Huddleston’s probably best known for playing the title role in The Big Lebowski, though he’ll always be the bombastic Senator Lobell on The West Wing to me. I had totally forgotten he was in this....

Trivial Matters: The correlation between the acting careers of Data and Sir Patrick Stewart continues: after Henry V (Stewart is a longtime member of the Royal Shakespeare Company) in “The Defector” and A Christmas Carol (Stewart did a one-person ACC on stage for years, and also played Scrooge in a TV-movie version) in “Devil’s Due,” we now get Data as Prospero in The Tempest, a role Stewart would play in New York (both for Shakespeare-in-the-Park and then for a run on Broadway) in 1995, and again in London for the RSC in 2006.

This episode is the 25th directed by Cliff Bole, and the last, obviously, and makes the man after whom the Bolians were named the most prolific of TNG’s stable of directors.

Make it So: “Tickets, please!” If you want any more evidence that TNG had (you’ll pardon the expression) run out of steam, both in the writers room and in front of the camera, you need look no further than this dreary episode that has all the energy of a dead fish. Where early TNG would have had at least some awkward moralizing about the possibilities of a new life form, and middle TNG would’ve had some incisive philosophical and ethical quandaries, latter TNG can barely be arsed to make a fuss about the fact that the ship created a friggin’ lifeform! Aside from the occasional furrowed eyebrow at some of the holodeck combinations (like an Orient Express passenger repeatedly hitting the guy in armor with a gold chalice), nobody seems to be overly affected by this rather major thing that the ship is doing on its own.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Emergence

To make matters worse, in the final scene, Data points out the biggest issue with the whole thing, which is that they just let this new lifeform bugger off without any notion of whether or not it’s harmful. (Keeping in mind that its creation endangered the ship.) Picard brushes it off with a very Roddenberrian bit of moralizing (it grew out of their ship, their experiences, their mission reports, their personal logs, and their holodeck fantasies, so it should be just as honorable as they are, a leap in logic I wouldn’t bet the farm on), which falls completely flat.

It’s painfully obvious that nobody really gave much of a damn about this episode while creating it, so I have no great reason to do so now (beyond the entertainment value inherent in the Big Lebowski being the conductor). I will only add that the nodes and the lifeform itself both look like a bunch of silly straws put together, which makes it that much harder to take them, or the episode, seriously.


Warp factor rating: 1

Keith R.A. DeCandido wonders if anybody ever reads the bio.

1. DavidEsmale
I read the bio. Every time.
2. bhebert
@1: So do I.
3. perplyone
I like this episdode, but I don't know what to say other than, "You're right". It could have been so much better, more "in your face", instead it just fizzled out and left us shrugging our shoulders.
Jay Hash
The CGI in the episode is just so glaringly bad for the new lifeform, it was hard to take seriously even then. I mean compare it to CGI used in TV at the time (e.g. Babylon 5) and you can see how cringeworthy it was. The premise was interesting, and yeah, it is odd how they sort of brush off the creation of sentient life by way of the Enterprise, but I don't find it much more ridiculous than giving the Enterprise computer a wrongly worded command and having it create something like Moriarty.

This was definitely a budget show, though. One step away from a Bottle Show by using pre-existing Paramount sets and raiding the old costume wardrobe. TOS used to do this type of stuff all the time. So you'd think all the money would have gone into having an amazing script to offset the glitz factor. I think you're right, Keith: TNG just ran out of steam for this one.

Though probably, most of the focus was on "All Good Things..." by this point, and thus why this episode and "Preemptive Strike" were so lackluster...
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
I liked this one. I didn't love it, but since Godel, Escher, Bach is one of my favorite books, I quite liked the idea of emergent consciousness in a computer network. I tried my hand at writing a story on similar themes once or twice (original, not Trek), but was never quite able to make it work. I grant that the execution was a little lackluster, but I give it full points for the concept. I suppose the weakness lies in the fact that the concept deserved a fuller exploration and didn't get it. Had this show been made in more serialized times, maybe we could've gotten an arc about the Enterprise developing sentience and the crew having to deal with the ramifications and the changed relationship with their vessel. (The ST novel Titan: Synthesis by James Swallow touches on a similar idea, and has the opportunity to flesh it out more at novel length.) Instead this really nifty and fascinating science-fiction idea ended up just as fodder for Yet Another Holodeck Episode.

I did find it a little contrived that the AI's thought processes were so literally represented by holodeck constructs. The thing about emergent behaviors is that there may be no evidence of them on a lower level of organization. Follow the behavior of one bee and you can't deduce the larger patterns of behavior of the whole colony. But I can understand why they needed to use that conceit for the sake of a television story, and I do kind of like the idea of the holodeck serving as the ship's subconscious, and the dreamlike quality of events there.

The biggest annoyance for me was the latest particle-of-the-week, "vertions." For one thing, it's annoying in general when they just make up new particles and elements and types of radiation and whatnot all the time. Nature is more efficient than that, using a limited number of basic ingredients in many different forms and combinations. For another thing, the name is far too similar to the already-coined "verterons," so why didn't they just use that?
Rowan Blaze
6. rowanblaze
I read the bio, too.

My only objection here is that this got a lower score than "Bloodlines." It's also episodes like this that give me reason to disregard fans who object to "JJTrek." Hey folks, Trek is hardly Shakespeare, and sometimes they all just phoned it in.
Jay Hash
@5: Christopher, I second your thoughts on Titan: Synthesis. Swallow wrote and exceptionally awesome book, and it is one of my favorites.

If you folks haven't read that novel, I suggest you do so PDQ.
8. perplyone
On reading the bio: Made me look! I did read your innaugural PSB piece though.
Lee VanDyke
9. Cloric
Of course I read the bio... most of the time.

I'm kind of surprised that, as poorly executed as the episode was, it was never followed up on in print.
Margot Virzana
10. LuvURphleb
@1,2,6,8,9 Me too!
This is kind of a 'just there' episode. Ill watch it when im in a TNG funk rewatch but never when I feel like watching a single episode. Have yet to read synthesis because the B&N is always out and i have yet to order it. Perhaps ill put in more effort from these new reviews.
11. Tesh
I can't remember... did anyone even give the new life form a name? Missed opportunity if not.
12. Tehanu
How could you forget that David Huddleston was Olson Johnson in Blazing Saddles? The man who led the way in describing "authentic frontier gibberish"? And although the movie was a bomb, he was actually a terrific St. Nick in Santa Claus the Movie.
Joseph Newton
13. crzydroid
When I got to the part about the gangster shooting the engineer, I seriously read it as "gangsta."

I think your summary about it not giving a damn is pretty accurate. On reflection, this could've been an interesting episode if it even had some of that season 1 "Roddenberry moralizing."

Is anyone else bothered by the fact that if it weren't for the silly-straw lifeform, the E-D crew would be dead?
Richard Dickson
14. DailyRich
With the crew performing The Tempest and Picard's comments about the new life form being a product of all their experiences, this episode is nothing less than an acknowledgement of the role of the fans in the life of the show, a life that is now ending. The show is laying down its staff, so to speak, and hoping that the life it created -- its fans and its legacy -- will be well remembered.
Keith DeCandido
15. krad
Tehanu: I didn't forget, but I didn't want this to turn into a discourse on Huddleston's career. I focused on my two favorite roles of his, as the Big Lebowski and as the shit-kicker senator on The West Wing.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
16. RobinM
This episode is silly and just a bit odd. By now I realize the holodeck is a magic place but no one is freaked out that the ship is creating new life forms every few years all by itself? The lifeform always reminds of Tetris more than anything else but silly straws works too.
alastair chadwin
17. a-j
Have a soft spot for this one. I remember enjoying it at the time and, like 'Masks' (I think, the one where the ship turns into a temple), it has a "what the hell, it's the end of term" feel to it that I find rather fun.
18. Rancho Unicorno
I admit it - I read the bio the first time I check out an author's work, but I usually don't bother afterwards. I wouldn't have read it this time if I hadn't seen the first comment.

Also, I don't think you managed to capture how utterly forgettable this episode was. I finished my rewatch a few months ago (I've had time to rewatch DS9, rewatch Community, and get started on B5) and I already can't remember this episode. I mean, I must have seen it. I just flat out don't remember any of it. I remember Bloodlines, I remember Preemptive Strike, but this writeup is like discovering a lost episode.
19. TribblesandBits
@14: You're making me think this is another Valentine to the fans. Whatever Braga's future holds his track record does not seem to indicate he will end up at Hallmark in February.

I really hate this one. If you gave Spock's Brain to Sub Rosa and let the Children Lead it on the Way to Eden: land at the Threshold of Profit and Lace, I still would not hate that as much as this episode. If linguists hate 'Darmok' and biologists hate 'Genesis', then I guess it follows that a network engineer would hate this one. I suppose I am less inclined to give a poorly executed story partial credit for being based on a promising concept...in someways that makes it a greater shame.
Jack Flynn
20. JackofMidworld
When I watched this one, I remember wondering what the hell everybody was thinking when they didn't even bother trying to talk to it or figure out where it was going. Definitely felt the whole "just created a new life form oh there it goes" was pretty weak. At the very least, it seemed it'd be worth trying to figure out where they were unleashing it rather than just saying "OkayILoveYouByeBye" and heading on to the next episode...er...mission.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
21. Lisamarie
When we were watching the episode, especially the parts on the train, I had the strongest feeling of deja vu. This isn't one of the episodes that my husband had on tape, so we had never watched it together - so I must have seen it on TV or at a friend's house. Because I really felt like I had seen some kind of TV or movie that involved people on a train with lots of anacrhonistic features. Is there something else out there like that?

Anyway, I kind of like the train scenes just for the weirdness, but agreed that they were pretty blase about the whole new lifeform thing.
22. sypher
I know Picard says the species is based on them so it must be good, but.... that crew is all kinds of messed up. Plus, you know there's some poor ensign's porn collection just hanging out the back of this new creatures mind.

I didn't realize how much S7 was like S1. A lot of good ideas, some absolutely amazing episodes, but the clunkers were really clunkers. I'm not sure I would have rate this one so low, but then again, a mangled good idea is still a mangled idea.
23. Bob A
The Dude will abide... but not this episode. What a stink-burger! Makes me want to watch TOS' "Spocks Brain"...
Rob Rater
24. Quasarmodo
At some point I must have checked out of S7 during the first airings, then came back for the finale and its awesomeness retconned my memory into thinking I'd watched it all the way through. Because when I watched my DVDs, I knew I'd missed Masks, but then I found all these stinkers just lined up waiting for me. I felt I'd walked into an ambush.
@22, a mangled good idea may work with a movie budget, but not a TV one....

@24, I feel the exact same way.....This is one of those episodes that whenever I read the plot summary, I think "Man, that sounds pretty good", but then when you watch it it is just flat, lifeless, soulless, boring.......Soon enough this torture of season 7 will end.
Phil Parsons
26. Yakko
I'm with Christopher and others who think the concept of emergent consciousness is absolutely fascinating and I don't think it strains credulity that given the rapid advancement of IT that some form of this phenomenon could occur in our lifetime. Even in applications as lowly as console videogames there are already incidents of unanticipated emergent behavior in AI characters. However if any presentation of such a notion could kill all enthusiasm for it then this episode is it.

The mid nineties were a time of critical mass for Star Trek. At no time before or since has the franchise been so popular. Rick Berman was presiding over a juggernaut the likes of which Roddenberry had never seen. Between Ds9, the impending launch of Voyager and the transition of Picard and crew to feature films I wonder if getting through the last season of TNG just wasn't a high priority for all the overworked people involved.
Phil Parsons
27. Yakko

You beat me to it. David Huddleston has had a very long and respectable career as a character actor but my favorite role of his (after Jeffrey Lebowski) is that of Olson Johnson. His rendition of the line "Never mind that s**t, here comes Mongo!" makes me laugh just thinking about it.
Christopher Hatton
28. Xopher
"The mountains are in labor, and a ridiculous mouse will be born." All that elaborate metaphor and mental struggle to create what looks to me like an Everlasting Gobstopper that's been through a blender.

My current favorite version of The Tempest is the one where Helen Mirren plays Prospera (maybe just because I love Helen Mirren).
29. TribblesandBits
@26 It is a facinating idea but is not even breaking new ground within TNG. The ExoComps were an example of the same concept in a well executed story.

It also seems to me that while this was definitely emergent behavior, it may not actually be emergent conciousness. The Enterprise comes alive but behaves more like a salmon than a sentient being. Artificial animal rights could be an interesting idea too, but the writing is not equal to the concept because it wants to be a holodeck episode more than anything else.
30. bweasel
Watching it the first time, I was hopeful it would meaningfully call back to all the other holodeck episodes - explaining that the reason the holodeck had so many catastrophic and bizzare malfunctions was that this evolution had been happening for years. It could have provided nice closure and an explanation for why Enterprise's holodeck was so dangerous.
Phil Parsons
31. Yakko
@30 Now that could have elevated this episode into something fitting for the final season. If we'd seen Worf's training monsters in Dixon Hill's office with Victorian characters from Data's Holmes program led by Minuet and holo Leah Brahams, etc. But clearly in your idle speculation two decades later you're putting in more creativity than the writers were. Is Jeri Taylor largely to blame for these phoned in 7th season dregs?
Christopher Bennett
32. ChristopherLBennett
@30: Ohh, what an awesome idea. Although it wouldn't explain why Voyager's holodecks malfunctioned just as regularly.

@31: I think that if there's any "blame" to be assigned, it's what you yourself already said in post #26 -- the producers were overextended, concentrating on the TNG finale, the movie script, the ongoing production of DS9, and the development of VGR, and so the remaining pre-finale TNG episodes got less attention than they needed. So you had it right the first time.
Kit Case
33. wiredog
@32 Maybe Enterprise uploaded its holodeck code to the Starfleet CMS regularly and Voyager did a "svn get" just before it left... In which case every holodeck in Starfleet is compromised.
34. Ashcom
The ship may have saved everyone's life initially, but it also essentially attempted to kill them all (or at least not care if they died) when trying to get more vertions.

What disturbs me most, for that reason, is not that they created a new life and then didn't give much thought to what happened to it. It's more that at the end the characters weren't totally freaked out and asking what if it happens again?
Dante Hopkins
35. DanteHopkins
Okay. This was (and is) one of my favorite episodes of TNG in general, precisely because its so light-hearted and fun. The mystery of the emerging intelligence of the ship is great, and the characters on the holodeck add to the mystery and good time had by all (well, by some, including me.) I completely agree with DailyRich about the episode being an acknowledgement of the fans in the life od the show, with that life at this point ending, which is how even my 14-year-old brain interpreted this episode when it first aired on 7 May 1994. I was sad the show was ending, and I knew even then this episode was a tip of the hat to us, saying "we hope we leave you with good memories," which TNG did. The fantastic score of the episode underscores this, particularly as the multi-colored- lighting- swirly- thing is leaving the ship. The music at that part is some of my favorite in all of TNG, and very poignant for the end of this great series. My rating is an 8.
Chin Bawambi
37. bawambi
Just catching up to back reviews now but I can't agree with the hatred of this episode. Meh is my commentary on it which rates 3 or 4 on my scale. It was better than SubRosa and 1's are only a special class of awful like the clip show during the writers strike. YMMV.
Christopher Bennett
38. ChristopherLBennett
@37: It's a widespread myth that the writers' strike had anything to do with the clip show "Shades of Gray." The strike was actually a year earlier, and the episodes whose writing it affected were "We'll Always Have Paris" and "The Neutral Zone." It also delayed the beginning of the second season by a month. But "Shades of Gray" was at the end of the second season.

Clip shows are done strictly to save money. The producers asked the studio for more money for big episodes like "Q Who," and to make up for that overage, they were required to shoot one episode in only 3 days so it would cost half as much. The only way to do that was to construct a clip show so that they only needed to film half an episode's worth of new footage.
Jack Flynn
39. JackofMidworld
Random side note, but the clip shows on Stargate: SG-1 seemed to actually be have some thought behind them, or at least some semblance of plot-furthering.
Christopher Bennett
40. ChristopherLBennett
@39: Yes, in recent decades there's been more of an effort to make clip shows interesting or substantial when they became necessary -- perhaps partly as a reaction to the infamy of "Shades of Gray." A lot of series from the late '80s onward have tried to make their clip shows meaningful rather than just slapdash wastes of time. I remember the syndicated Superboy series that ran around the same time as TNG was pretty good with that, using the flashbacks as a means to explore the characters' emotional lives.

(And really, the ubiquity of clip shows in TV is part of why it's so bizarre that so many people assume "Shades of Gray" was the result of the strike. Writers' strikes are rare, but clip shows happen all the time. And of course clip shows still need to be written, since there's still got to be a newly created frame that ties the clips together. It would be just as impossible to write a clip show during a strike as it would be to write a regular episode.)
Bryan McMillan
41. bmcmolo
@35 - well-put. I am constantly baffled by people's misinterpretation and lack of affection for this episode. Not only is it an intelligent and warm tip of the cap to the viewer, it's a meta-textual masterpiece.
42. RudiMentry
Funny how one mans "deep" is another mans "crap". On the techno side, I find it hard to believe they just glossed over how easily the ship should have been destroyed, by some anomaly the sensors can detect, and there is no warning light requiring immediate action, or a built in safety feature, like an auto jump to warp, to avoid the complete destruction of the ship. Why not? Cost savings? Maybe Leah Brahms has that lined up to be incorporated into the next generation of starships?

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