Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Possible Perfection In A Strange Mystery: "Clues" Resonates Strongly.

The Good: Well-plotted, Interesting character angle, Fun to watch and rewatch
The Bad: Hard to say . . . I'm not certain there are
The Basics: An intriguing episode puts the Enterprise in a mystery revolving around a missing day and Data's apparent lies to the crew about it.

Star Trek The Next Generation does many things well and usually when it has a perfect episode, it is pretty obvious. In the fourth season of the series, "Clues" made for intriguing watching and a pretty consistent fan favorite. I recently bought the DVD and watched it, yet when it was on television while I was on a trip this past weekend and "Clues" was on, I sat down and gave it my attention.

"Clues" finds the Enterprise in unexplored space when it encounters a wormhole. The intensity of the spatial phenomenon renders the crew unconscious and Data informs them that they have been out for thirty seconds. However, as the Enterprise leaves the area they found themselves in, discrepancies surface: Dr. Crusher's mold has a full day's growth, Worf's arm shows signs of having been broken and set and Troi is convinced someone is underneath her face. Throughout it all, Data maintains the crew was out for only thirty seconds and defends every possible theory of why the events occur. Picard insists the Enterprise return to where the wormhole was and Data seems to be on the verge of destruction . . .

This episode is one that is very easy to look at and suggest that it is a good episode, but will not hold up upon repeated viewings. Indeed, most mysteries are that way: you can watch them once, twice, maybe three times, but the truth is, most people don't own many of them because once you know "whodunnit," the novelty wears off. "Clues" isn't quite that way. Because our preconceptions (i.e. Data telling the truth, Dr. Crusher's mold growing at the rate she says it does, etc.), this episode is very re-watchable. While the surprise of the initial watching wears off, the steps that lead to the conclusion are fun watching over and over again.

In short, the plot to this episode is original enough that it is pleasant to watch over and over again. It keeps us coming back to appreciate the intricacies of the events even after we know them.

What makes the episode magical is the character work. Worf approaches Dr. Crusher and his annoyance at himself for seeking medical attention is a gem. Dr. Crusher's adamant insistence about her botanical experiment adds a new depth to her character. Picard's reluctant disappointment over Data fits perfectly with the growing motif of Picard and Data sharing an uncommon bond. And the scene which opens the episode with Picard and Guinan on the holodeck expands Picard's appreciation of a mystery and makes the rest of the episode viable. Moreover, it makes sense that Guinan would have had limited experiences in the holodeck or around mysteries.

But the episode is primarily a Data episode as far as characterization goes. Here we see the lengths Data will go to to honor his Captain and to keep the ship safe. The literal way he interprets orders and the emotionlessness with which he executes them in this episode make a great deal of sense. It's refreshing to see both this level of character consistency and growth.

The acting, however, is superlative as well. This is an episode where the entire ensemble comes together. Colm Meany plays his brief O'Brien scenes with good humor, which balances Gates McFadden's unusual earnestness in portraying Dr. Crusher. Similarly, Frakes plays Riker as overcautious - not only in language, but in the way he holds himself when he talks about returning to the site of the wormhole - which works even better in the episode with Worf's protective instinct towards Troi. And Patrick Stewart gives a great performance as Picard balancing well the curiosity over the mystery with the difficult badgering of Data.

The episode's performances hang on Brent Spiner and Marina Sirtis. Sirtis makes Troi distinctly different from how she usually does when Troi is normal. Her character work here is enhanced by Sirtis' performance. But Spiner does a great job of being actually unemotional as Data. He delivers each of his lines with pure lack of affectation, a rarity for Spiner. Too often, a glint in the eye or a subtle facial gesture will ruin the appearance of lack of emotion. In "Clues" he works perfectly.

So, who will like "Clues?" Anyone with an imagination who enjoys a good mystery. This is a clever mystery that may keep a viewer guessing up until the end. If you enjoy good science fiction with character and a good mystery, "Clues" is for you!

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


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

© 2011, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission

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