The Good: Acting, Easily the acting, Plot, Special effects
The Bad: Character, I suppose
The Basics: When the Enterprise encounters a mysterious artifact, the ship is put in danger when it begins to recreate the ship in its ideology.
Every now and then, fans of the Star Trek franchise compile lists of favorite and least favorite episodes of the different series' and the franchise as a whole. "Masks" frequently ends up on the worst list for Star Trek The Next Generation. I, personally, believe that the low-water mark for the series was with the ridiculous, though nobly-intended, environmental themed "Force Of Nature" (reviewed here!) which had such a distressingly stupid plot as to make it unwatchable. "Masks," on the other hand, is a somewhat clever idea, executed fairly well using decent actors.
The U.S.S. Enterprise discovers a giant interstellar library in space when it finds an object in space and burns away its exterior. Ever the inquisitive types, the intrepid crew of the Enterprise seeks to learn from the library and they activate the ancient device. Soon, the ship is being transformed into a temple and Commander Data is plagued by a weird schizophrenia that leads Picard to square off with him.
The cool thing about this episode is that it is essentially a myth. "Masks" tells the story of one planet's mythology by reprogramming Data and the Enterprise. Picard's showdown with the possessed Data takes place using symbols and masks and that's a clever, nonviolent resolution to the story. That makes "Mask" atypical for television, both when it aired and now on video.
What sells "Masks" as a show worth recommending is the acting. Here Brent Spiner is playing at his very best. Spiner, within frames and seconds, convinces the viewer that he is at once an old man, then a child, then someone else entirely. Spiner uses his voice, his body language and his eyes to convince the viewer of his possessions. We believe rather quickly in his experiences, in his changes of character, though he moves very little. Certainly, there are make-up changes providing a visual clue, but far more impressive and expressive of the character changes is in Spiner's acting.
Spiner's impressive acting gives the rest of the cast something to work off of. In the scenes where Spiner and Patrick Stewart interact, Stewart does an excellent job of letting Spiner carry the scene. That is to say, that in the acting give and take, Stewart bolsters Spiner's performance by withdrawing some and not allowing his character to dominate. That's professionalism. And it works to the benefit of the story.
"Masks" is not for everyone. There is little or no action here, it is a cerebral adventure. Indeed, those who might enjoy this would be academics and those who enjoy an archaeological mystery. Essentially, this is a story for those who appreciate the importance of mythology as a trait of a culture. As someone who loves mythology, I recommend this episode. I fully acknowledge that this is not great science fiction. On the other hand, I applaud Star Trek The Next Generation for mixing soft science fiction with a more liberal dose of drama and mythology.
If you are game for that, "Masks" is for you.
[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season by clicking here!
For other Star Trek episode, DVD or movie reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!
© 2011, 2010, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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