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Retro Review: A Fistful of Datas

Posted by Michelle - 26/02/10 at 02:02 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 08 (s06e08)

Original US airdate: 11/09/1992

When Data is connected to the ship’s computer while Worf is playing out a Wild West scenario, the holodeck safety protocols go offline.

Plot Summary: Picard orders Worf to use his free time to relax, so Worf reluctantly agrees to accompany Alexander to the holodeck to play sheriff and deputy in historic Deadwood, South Dakota. Meanwhile, LaForge and Data carry out an experiment to see whether Data’s neural network can serve as an emergency backup for the ship’s computer. While Worf and Alexander are attempting to arrest the notorious holographic criminal Eli Hollander, Data experiences an energy surge. Soon Crusher finds that her play script has been replaced by Data’s poetry, Riker learns that the replicators will only produce food for Data’s cat Spot, and Data himself is talking in Old West dialect. Within the holodeck program, Alexander is abducted by paternal outlaw Frank Hollander – who resembles Data – and tries to end the program, but the controls are unresponsive. Worf assumes at first that Data, like Counselor Troi, has been invited by Alexander to participate in the scenario, but when Data injures him, Worf too finds that he cannot shut down the program. When he seeks out Troi, he finds that Eli Hollander, too, now looks like Data. Troi guesses that the program will end once Worf plays the scenario to its conclusion, so Worf agrees to free the prisoner Eli in exchange for Alexander’s safe return. But Troi believes as well that no stereotypical gunslinger can be trusted and advises Worf to prepare for a shootout with a man with android abilities. Worf uses his communicator to set up a temporary shield around himself while LaForge works to extract Data’s programming from the ship’s computer. Though Worf finds that he must fight numerous Data lookalikes, he is able to protect Alexander with Troi’s help, and the program ends just before barmaid Annie – yet another Data – manages to kiss him.

Analysis: Once again in “A Fistful of Datas” Worf is not a merry man, which tends to make for a very merry episode even when it’s silly. In this case the storyline is quite ridiculous but also quite entertaining. We get to see what goes on during a slow stretch of space travel: Crusher tries to recruit the entire crew to appear in her play (with Picard insisting that he’s not a very good actor and Riker demonstrating that he’s always over the top), Data and LaForge tinker with engineering experiments, Picard practices the flute he learned to play while under the influence of the probe from Kataan – a lovely bit of continuity – and Worf looks for something, anything, to do other than let his son drag him to the holodeck for some costume play. I’m not sure why Picard doesn’t demand that LaForge take some time off as well, but maybe, after umpteen interruptions in his quarters on his afternoon off, Picard has simply had enough by the time Worf appears. Only a Klingon would scowl so much about being given free time.

So hat and all, Worf lets himself be led to the holodeck, where not even the appearance of a brothel added to the program by Reg Barclay can improve his mood. Neither can Deanna Troi, also invited by Alexander to participate since she likes Westerns – delightfully, she does not take on a traditionally female role in this reenactment full of stereotypes, but has her own weapons and no interest in saddling herself to the new sheriff. Of course it seems perfectly logical that Data might join in as well, given his ongoing project to understand human emotion and behavior. It doesn’t even seem improbable that Data would choose to play a villain. Alexander’s response to being kidnapped is not to become fearful, but to get annoyed that it has happened at this particular point in the scenario and try to fix the programming. Even discovering that the computer won’t obey him doesn’t make him panic, since he doesn’t yet know why Data has turned up in his scenario.

Even though we see the explanation unfolding, it makes little sense, but I doubt anyone really cares unless they have as little sense of humor as Picard appears to have when Data – whose recreational programming has somehow been crossed with that of the holodeck – spits in a planter on his way out of a briefing. It’s hard to say which is funnier: Worf’s scowling refusal to find reasons to smile, or Data’s complete obliviousness to them. Personally, I’m partial to the scene where Data tries to reason with Spot as if she were human, while Spot behaves like a cat, refusing to eat her new nutritional supplement and jumping up onto a keypad while Data is trying to type, resulting in her being lifted and dumped and called a varmint. Worf is entirely cognizant of how silly he may look, whereas Data doesn’t have a clue and wouldn’t be embarrassed if he did. Nor would Data be embarrassed by his appearance as a conniving gunslinger, the gunslinger’s cocky son, a cliched Western Mexican, even the barmaid who tries to lure Worf with her charms. Worf, of course, looks like he’d rather be attacked by Romulans than snuggled by Data in barmaid’s clothes, though he does promise Alexander that should Deadwood face danger again, the sheriff and deputy may return.

Having nothing to say about the science by which Data’s gears cross with the ship’s – only nonessential circuits, fortunately, so that all the results are comic – I can only mention the numerous wonderful character moments. Like the look on Worf’s face when asked whether his father was an armadillo, or Riker giving a melodramatic reading of Data’s poetry about Spot, or Troi leaping in with her big gun and saving Worf from all the villainous Datas. I always wanted Troi and Riker to end up together, yet I find the slow development of Troi and Worf’s romance very satisfying, all the more so since Worf thinks of Riker as his best friend on the ship. A Betazoid and a would-be-traditional Klingon aren’t a great bet to go the distance, and I’m not sure that Worf ever loves Troi the way he will come to love Jadzia (nor that Troi ever loves Worf the way she once loved Riker and will again). Yet their gradual recognition that more than friendship is between them, followed ultimately by their decision that the friendship matters more than the romance, is one of the most adult explorations of a relationship in this franchise where relationships often seem stuck in adolescence.

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