Monday, March 28, 2011

The Ultimate Collector Gets His Prize In "The Most Toys!"

The Good: Moments of humor, Well-acted, Interesting characters
The Bad: Predictable plot, Special effects
The Basics: A mediocre episode is saved by excellent acting when Data is captured by a ruthless collector.

Whenever most shows do a kidnapping plot, you have to figure it has a predictable plot. Unless you've heard something about a main character leaving, odds are the abduction will be resolved by the end of the episode. Still, some shows do abduction episodes well; "Ascension" (reviewed here!) in the second season of The X-Files comes immediately to mind. So too does "The Most Toys." For viewers watching the episode on video, the producers of the show ask the viewer to believe that the crew would lose Data.

"The Most Toys" finds the Enterprise negotiating with Kivas Fajo, a space pirate, for a substance to cure a water contamination on a nearby colony. In the process, Lt. Commander Data is killed while transporting the cargo when his shuttle explodes. The Enterprise leaves in mourning to rescue the colony. And Data wakes up on Fajo's ship, a prisoner. But he's not entirely a prisoner. He is a part of a collection that includes the Mona Lisa, a rare baseball card, and an endangered alien animal among other things. Fajo expects Data to live and be happy in his menagerie. Data, naturally, resists while the Enterprise slowly figures out all might not be as it seems.

Despite the plot being predictable in its resolution, it is a worthwhile story. For all of the time StarFleet spends reasoning out if Data is a sentient life form or a commodity, it makes sense others would come to the conclusion that he is a piece of machinery that is invaluable as a collectible. It makes sense. Too infrequently in the Star Trek franchise is value associated with the technology, objects and machinery of the universe that has been established.

As fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, viewers became accustomed to viewing Data as a viable individual, a character who was indispensable to the stories of the U.S.S. Enterprise 1701-D. In "The Most Toys," the view of Data is turned on its head by Fajo. Fajo recognizes the simple truth that in a galaxy where virtually anything can be duplicated by a machine (the replicator), the most valuable things in the universe would be those things that cannot be created by a machine. The endangered specie in Fajo's collection is particularly clever as a concept for such a menagerie. Data is as well.

What makes the episode worth coming back to is that the writers take a fairly simple plot and make it a character developing episode. Data takes a step toward being more human when he essentially learns to kill in self defense. As he attempts to escape, he bonds with one of Fajo's crew and they begin to conspire together. Data here overcomes the limitations of his lack of emotion and instead capitalizes on his cunning. Data's attempts to escape are interesting to watch and the machinations that keep him captive are certainly character-building. Moreover, the timing of his unfortunate growth to kill in self defense comes at a very realistic moment (i.e. when no one else's life may be leveraged against his own). Data also illustrates a selfless quality that foreshadows future acts of self-sacrifice by the character.

It's a step of growth that comes at an appropriate time.

Moreover, the acting is worthwhile. Spiner plays Data with his usual dispassion and for the first time, Data must resist someone he is not able to physically overpower. That makes for good drama. Spiner has an almost claustrophobic quality to him in this episode as he is ordered to sit in a chair and he attempts passive resistance. Spiner has to make Data stiff, limp and essentially dead, alternatively and he rises to the acting challenge without making it feel like an actor who is going through a number of acting exercises.

The binding force of the episode is Saul Rubineck who plays Kivas Fajo. He has a wistful quality to him that he brings to the role, making Fajo a strange combination of funny little man and menacing trader. He alone makes it worth coming back to repeatedly. Unlike most of the straightlaced regulars, Rubineck adds an element of whimsy and weirdness to the show that shakes up the chemistry and instantly creates a memorable character.

The main cast does fine with its half of the plot, slowly figuring out that the planetary disaster might not be what it seems and that Data might not be dead. Sirtis and Dorn have a great Worf/Troi scene that both play with an emotive resonance that neither character has thus far displayed. As well, the writers are quite clever with such things as Fajo adding the precise amount of the raw elements that comprise Data to the shuttlecraft in order to stymie our heroes for a while. That attention to detail is nice.

There's not much here for the non-fan of Star Trek The Next Generation; it's a simple abduction story. Then again, there's not much to complain about, either. Sometimes, that's the most we can ask for.

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


For other Star Trek franchise film, episode or DVD set reviews, please visit my index page, where they are nicely organized for readers!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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