Elementary, Dear Data (TNG Rewatch: Season 2, Episode 3) When a holodeck bet spawns a fictional threat, that’s a-cosplay

Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

LaForge works on his model ship in main engineering (?) and invites Data to enjoy a Sherlock Holmes holodeck adventure. Sounds fun, but a slow start, with low stakes.

We can forgive the director for spending a lot of time showing the characters reacting to the richly detailed Victorian set. It was probably not cheap to build. I have to remind myself that computer graphics in 1989 were blocky and cartoony, so the original TV audience would have needed time to get used to, and been much more impressed by, the idea of an immersive computer simulation. Sadly, all that happens in this cool setting is that Data jumps to the climax instead of enjoying the story, which annoys LaForge, who storms out of the holodeck. Dr. Pulaski overhears the costumed bros arguing, and the act ends with the three of them heading back to the holodeck.

When Data recognizes the random canonical story bits that the computer has used to synthesize a nominally “original” mystery, Pulaski cries “fraud.” The actress remains impressively pleasant while dishing out her mean-girl anti-android bigotry, but this far into the episode it’s a thin philosophical gloss over a 24th century fanboy genre squabble.

What saves the show is the introduction of Holmes’s nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Daniel Davis). His interactions with Dr. Pulaski are well done, as is his divergence from the fictional character we expected him to be.

I think the director was trying a little too hard with a sequence where Moriarty draws something on a piece of paper, Data-as-Holmes is clearly upset by it and takes off without telling LaForge-as-Watson why; LaForge runs after him asking him what’s going on, then when they are in the hallway outside the holodeck Data hands the paper to LaForge upside down, so that LaForge can dramatically flip the page along its horizontal axis so the camera can see it. Obviously that sequence was important to the director, and we do find out later why Data doesn’t want to answer in front of Moriarty, but the whole sequence is awkward. Likewise, the moment when Picard enters the holodeck in costume and dramatically pops open his tophat is fun, but at that moment I felt I was watching Patrick Stewart, not Jean-Luc Picard.

While I’m bothered by the stupidity of supplying a starship with a holodeck that lacks an “off” button, and the silliness of the notion that there aren’t failsafes that would prevent LaForge’s slip of the tongue (saying “Data” when he should have said “Holmes”) from having such dire consequences, I remain impressed by what the story does with the Moriarty character. This flawed but enjoyable episode raises the big-issue questions that make Trek so appealing, and it also shows off the humanitarian values of TNG’s resident philosopher-captain.

4 thoughts on “Elementary, Dear Data (TNG Rewatch: Season 2, Episode 3) When a holodeck bet spawns a fictional threat, that’s a-cosplay

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