Rewatching Star Trek: The Next Generation after a 20-year break.
In his final hours, an arrogant, crotchety cybernetics genius takes a liking to Data. After the genius dies, Data starts acting arrogant and crotchety. Hmm.
This early in the run of TNG, we’ve already seen the trope of a brilliant, older professional man supported and in some sense idolized by a female companion in Too Short a Season, We’ll Always Have Paris, and it was done in TOS in Requiem for Methuselah. We very briefly see a similar setup in the original Star Trek pilot The Cage, and for that matter we’ve seen it in Forbidden Planet and The Tempest.
I seem to remember at least one episode of TNG that features a female guest star who’s notable for her professional expertise. But even though Dr. Pulaski appears prominently in the teaser, this episode goes out of its way to make sure she is not the medical expert on the away team.
While Pulaski is not anyone’s favorite character, actress Diana Muldaur guest-starred in romantic pairings with William Shatner in the original Star Trek, not once but twice, and I continue to be impressed by what she does with her thankless role as Dr. Crusher’s temporary replacement.
I would have liked to see how the crotchety Pulaski interacted with the crotchety Graves, but I guess the script required Graves to give off the creepy uncle vibe. Of the younger Selar he says, “for a doctor you’re not a bad looking woman,” and calls Troi “another lovely specimen of womanhood.” Maybe the script had been written with Dr. Crusher in mind, and the producers felt that Dr. Pulaski was too old to interest Graves?
When Graves, speaking through Data, confesses his love for his young assistant Kareem, and we realize that, despite the creepy chauvinism we just saw him display to the female crew members, he’s apparently never acted on his desire for Kareem, I found myself feeling sympathy for this man who has just commandeered the body of one of the lead characters. So this episode worked for me on that level.
Brent Spiner gives an impressive performance, as Graves makes some effort to mimic Data’s personality, but we see Graves’s arrogance and surliness emerging, first comically, then more seriously.
I appreciate that the script didn’t conjure up an external crisis; because we’ve gotten to know the crew well enough now, the scenes where Picard talks to Data, Troi, Pulaski, and LaForge, trying to get to the bottom of what’s happened to Data, are well done.
The climax, which involves Picard talking to Graves/Data alone — unarmed, with no backup — and letting himself get punched unconscious, then waking up to find it’s all over — is a deus ex machina, or perhaps since it involves Graves leaving Data’s body, homo ex machina, but it got the job done.
The opening bit with Data trying out a beard was amusing. I remember attending a Star Trek convention where one of the producers said that episode was supposed to end with the bridge crew stifling giggles, an annoyed Picard saying he doesn’t see what’s so funny, and giving the order to leave orbit, and the camera pulling back to reveal that Data is now bald. (According to the producer, a certain cast member objected to that scene, so it was never filmed.)
Spotted on Graves’s desk: a tablet computer. We don’t get a good look at it, but it’s a lovely detail that still looks good 30 years later.