Masks (#StarTrek #TNG Rewatch, Season 7, Episode 17) Ritual symbols start appearing on the ship and mythological figures inhabit Data’s personality.
This script is a mess.
The comic opening is good. During an art class in the children’s center, Troi encourages Data to explore his imagination, but his sculptures are comically literal.
The ship encounters an uncharted rogue comet, which causes a scanner glitch that will take some time to resolve. That’s good news for the plot, because it provides the characters with more downtime, during which they can notice odd things, like a tabletop obelisk appearing in Troi’s quarters, or strange symbols appearing on a child’s computer.
It’s of course perfectly reasonable at this point to phaser away the surface of the comet, revealing an ancient probe that has somehow hacked into the ship’s replicator systems and started turning random bits of the ship into totems and foliage. Data starts to channel mythological figures from the ancient probe’s long-dead culture, as parts of the ship start turning into a Myan-inspired temple.
Spiner’s acting gets a workout that’s enjoyable to watch, but the story is just too bizarre.
Of course we know that the Enterprise is not going to be turned permanently into a mythological queen’s stone palace, and Data is not going to be permanently taken over by a reborn mythological god, so it’s hard to react to the developing plot at any level other than go “Well looky there, the helm console just turned into a stone altar, I wonder what’s going to happen next.”
We’re not asked to believe that mythological gods are involved in any way; this is all some kind of cultural simulation, and though we’re told it puts the ship at risk, the lighting and gravity and automatic doors and other routine systems are completely unaffected, so we just have to trust the dialogue that tells us how much time is left before the ship is totally converted to ritual objects.
Picard seems to be thoughtfully working his way through an enjoyable intellectual puzzle, rather than acting on any urgent need to save the ship.
Troi has some nonsense lines about how it’s obvious that the Sun and Moon symbols cannot both be ascendant at the same time, which makes no sense whatsoever if you think in astronomical terms, since she must have visited hundreds of different planets with moons that have various orbital patterns that have a wide arrange of relationships to the planet’s rotational daily cycle. Why does she assume this civilization comes from a planet with just one moon?
Overall this storyline is pretty much a mess, though I did enjoy the art class, where I spotted a random kid that had a bit part in s7e2 “Liaisons,” and I appreciated the effort that the art department put into the mythological designs.
Picard’s big deduction that he himself must take on the role of the one of the mythological characters is a lazy plot device borrowed from I don’t know how many episodes in which characters who realize they are trapped in a rogue simulation conclude they have no choice but play out the storyline through to it’s resolution.
Jim Carrey’s movie “The Mask” came out the same year as this episode. I didn’t really care for that either. Coincidence? I really have no idea.