Riker does some seriously exposition-friendly flirting with a civilian engineer whose fledgling colony turns out to be the next target for the Crystalline Entity, a big Space Thing that slurps up all life on a planetary scale.
We spend just enough time here on Melona to care about the colony, which, fortunately for the on-location filming budget, is mostly a bunch of jumpsuited extras in park with random blinking props stuck into the ground. (Carmen’s high-tech drafting table in the middle of a field is a nice touch.)
The “trees shaking in wind during a storm” special effect doesn’t extend to the completely still trees in the background, but the action sequence gets the job done, and the big reveal when the survivors emerge from the cave is effective, even if it’s just a matte painting.
The story takes a new turn with the arrival of Dr. Marr, a civilian xenologist dispatched by Starfleet, who has a personal reason for distrusting Data: he originated on the colony where her son was killed in a previous attack by the Crystalline Entity. Although we’re already about 12 minutes into the 45-minute episode, the script still takes time to credibly dramatize Dr. Marr’s change in attitude, and then takes another turn when the story shows her warming up to Data, whose positronic brain is a conduit to the journals and stored memories of her son. (Presumably, it’s Data himself who’s the titular “silicon avatar,” though I really only noticed that this time around.)
In s1e12 “Datalore,” several characters watch as Lore speaks directly to this same Crystal Entity using English, so it seems strange that the script is structured as if it should be a big surprise that Picard treats the entity as a sentient being rather than a monster; nevertheless, his motives are consistent with TNG’s optimistic view of the Federation.
Overall a decent episode, but other than supplying a bit of Data’s backstory, and a rare instance of Data’s skill as a voice mimic, this episode is okay but nothing special. Here in Season Five, the characters are all so well developed, and even the take-it-or-leave-it episodes like this one are overall very well done.
I liked the contrast between Picard’s evident disgust with the disgraced Dr. Marr, vs. the allegedly emotionless Data’s offer to stay with her. The guest actress brings a Blanche Dubois / Norma Desmond gravitas to the character, but the premise is a bit dated. It was notable when the original Trek cast the computer specialist Dr. Daystrom as a Black man (s2e34 “The Ultimate Computer”), but never referenced his race — he happened to be nonwhite, and happened to be a flawed expert. But Dr. Marr doesn’t just happen to be female; her identity as someone’s mother is central to her flaws, just as a handful of episodes ago, Admiral Satie’s identity as a legendary man’s daughter (s4e21 “Drumhead“) was central to her flaws.
Carmen offers us a memorable glimpse into the psychology of an adventurer who wants to create a new home and raise children, but her promise of offering Riker “the most memorable desserts” kind of reduces her to the latest of Riker’s conquests.
It’s good that TNG is straying from its formula of relying upon a stream of brilliant but troubled male experts who are humanized by their affection for a devoted female companion, but it’s not so good that the female experts seem to be undermined by, not humanized by, their relationships.
One nice touch was showing Picard, with his foot up on his desk, casually lower his leg when his door chime rings.