Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reasoning Light Makes Life, That's "Elementary, Dear Data."

The Good: Amusing Moments, Philosophical Aspects, Acting, Costumes
The Bad: Certain Character Aspects
The Basics: In one of the series' overplayed episodes, "Elementary, Dear Data" makes a successful holodeck gone wrong adventure.

When Star Trek The Next Generation suffered a writer's strike during its second season (along with the rest of Hollywood), "Elementary, Dear Data" was an episode that was shown several times in reruns before the strike was resolved and new material was produced. I suspect that many fans of Star Trek The Next Generation experienced this fine episode so many times that it became mediocre to them and that is the only reason so few people have written a review of it (and none on the site I used to write for!) until now.

"Elementary, Dear Data" puts Data, LaForge and Dr. Pulaski on the holodeck in a Sherlock Holmes scenario where Data is paying Holmes to LaForge's Watson. Pulaski joins the pair when LaForge laments that Data ruined the mystery they were playing by solving it before searching for the necessary clues. In the process of programming the holodeck for an adequate challenge to the android, LaForge inadvertently creates a holographic Moriarty who not only is Data's equal, but his intellectual better. Moriarty quickly takes control of the ship from the holodeck and menaces the ship making Data's little day adventure into something impressively deadly.

The real strength of "Elementary, Dear Data" is that it poses the imperative moral question, "What is life?" Moriarty quickly evolves from a background player into something that has a broader understanding of who and what it is. As Moriarty gains control over the Enterprise, he wonders about his existence, his purpose in the universe and creates a fairly cognizant argument for his self-determination.

The other way "Elementary, Dear Data" succeeds where other holodeck episodes fail is that it very effectively uses the humor innate to the characters. In simple language, this is an episode that has some humorous moments, without going over the top (as occurred in the first season episode where Data is first introduced to Sherlock Holmes).

As well, the costumes work well to enhance the feeling of time and place, creating the illusion that the illusion is real, which is necessary to make this piece work. As well, the actors come alive. Diana Muldaur gets her first chance to truly shine as Dr. Pulaski here. LeVar Burton reminds us that, not only is he alive, but he's a worthwhile and drastically underused actor in this series. Brent Spiner, often neglected for airtime in the first season, gets his first of many attempts to shine.

The problem, then, comes not in the acting, but in the character movement. Diana Muldaur plays Dr. Pulaski well, but Pulaski is written to be a Dr. McCoy (a la Star Trek) character opposite Data. The conflict feels forced. This episode serves as a sterling example of how Star Trek The Next Generation took a step backward in the second season to try to rewrite Star Trek as opposed to playing with the wonderful character ensemble unique to this series.

Still, this is a very accessible episode, making it ideal for viewing by non-fans. It's basically a little playtime in space and when viewed as fun meets philosophy, this episode works.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Second Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the sophomore season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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