Monday, June 20, 2011

The Boy Who Would Be Data: Why "Hero Worship" Flops.

The Good: Special Effects? I'm stretching for something good
The Bad: Lame acting, Horrible plot and character development, inane attempts at humor
The Basics: In a disappointing episode, a young boy emulates Data to avoid dealing with a trauma.

Every once in a while, a series will go off and experiment in order to keep itself fresh and new. Often, this may result in a truly great episode of television, like the hilarious "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" (reviewed here!) in The X-Files or the disturbing "Dreams" on M*A*S*H. However, not all attempts are successful and some are outright horrible. "Hero Worship" qualifies as an attempt to try something different and falling flat. It is the low point of the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation.

"Hero Worship" finds the S.S. Vico adrift in a spatial phenomenon called a black cluster. The Enterprise locates the Vico and finds only one survivor aboard it, a boy named Timothy. Rescued by Data, who frees the child from the ship by using his android strength to lift a heavy beam, Timothy begins to emulate Data. The rest of the episode follows Timothy as he withdraws from the trauma into impersonating Data to his acknowledgment of the truth of the Vico's destruction and his healing.

First off, let it be known that I am a huge fan of stories about reactions to trauma. I like stories about multiple personalities and especially shellshock. So, I can live with Star Trek The Next Generation stepping outside its bounds and doing a decent story about trauma. Unfortunately, "Hero Worship" is not that.

Rather quickly, "Hero Worship" gets mired in the minutiae of Timothy identifying with Data and the threat the Vico (and Enterprise) faced falls by the wayside long enough to become completely focused on this aspect of the story. Instead of being at all clever, the episode comes across as banal and overstated. Counselor Troi's place in the episode seems to only serve to give long passages of exposition on psychology to the audience and it is delivered in such a way that it feels like just that.

Timothy is not an interesting character and Data de-evolves in many ways to deal with him. Moreover, the problem is ultimately resolved ridiculously quickly and without a sense of realism. That is, when the Enterprise begins to experience the same difficulties as the Vico and Timothy begins to relive the experience, he becomes more coherent and psychologically together than at any point in the episode. It seems to convenient and it "reads" as completely inaccurate.

What sinks the ship even further is the acting. Most prominently, Brent Spiner plays Data horribly in this piece, which is almost inconceivable considering he is being directed by fellow castmate Patrick Stewart. For some inexplicable reason, Stewart has Spiner act even more like an android, which makes no sense for the character. Add to that, Spiner's performance comes across like an android playing an android or a man impersonating an android. There is an awkwardness to Spiner's body language and line delivery here and it goes a long way to killing the episode.

But even worse than Spiner is young actor Joshua Harris. Harris never convinces the viewer he's a wounded ten year-old. It's horrible to say (considering I do not know his age when playing the role), but he never convinces us he's a ten year old, either. The old rule in Hollywood is don't work with children and animals and Harris' flat performance goes a long way toward illustrating why.

The episode is not utterly horrible: the special effects are decent. Unfortunately, it seems Patrick Stewart got the short end of the directing stick when he was called to direct episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation. His first one was the terrible "In Theory" (reviewed here!) and now the even worse "Hero Worship." It won't be until the sixth season's "A Fistful Of Datas" that Stewart is given a great script and a chance to develop it wonderfully. Until then, there's always the next episode.

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


For other television series or episode reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2008, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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