The Good: Well executed plot, Main cast acting
The Bad: Obvious character conflicts, Guest acting
The Basics: When the Enterprise arrives at a genetically perfect colony, they bring both salvation and chaos to the ordered society.
Perhaps as a reflection of the times, Star Trek The Next Generation had more than a few episodes that focused on cloning and genetics. While there were some episodes that focused exclusively on the medical aspects of cloning, more often, genetics was explored in combination with the societal dangers of tampering with nature. "The Masterpiece Society" is an episode that seeks to deal almost exclusively with the type of society that is designed around genetic engineering.
When a stellar core fragment is due to pass rather close to a colony on Moab IV, the Enterprise arrives to try to save the people on the planet. There they find a society of genetically engineered humans who are created for specific occupations, thus keeping their colony in perfect order. The colonists, led by Aaron Conor, reluctantly allow Enterprise personnel to beam down to fortify the colony while they work hard to change the trajectory of the core fragment. Conor and his people soon find the colony integrity corrupted and it appears the entire society on Moab IV will collapse as a result.
The best part of the episode is the plot and main cast acting. The plot is an interesting idea, which begs the question: what action is too far to try to save a culture? At what price should a planet be saved? Here, the answers are not easy and they are not portrayed as easy. Despite having a genetically perfect design, Conor finds himself falling for someone who is genetically repulsive to him, Counselor Troi, who is half-human, half-Betazoid. And when colonists want to leave, an act that will destroy the balance of the society, the solution is not evident or treated as obvious. This episode does a very good job of establishing a complicated scenario and realizing it with a lack of a simple solution.
As well, the regular stars pull a lot of weight in "The Masterpiece Society." Levar Burton steps up as Geordi LaForge. While working with clever lines, Burton once again overcomes not having the use of facial expressions to convey a sense of irony. Here he delivers and he comes across as more rational for his observations than vindictive.
The real star here is Marina Sirtis. Sirtis has the daunting task of making Troi seem reasonably attracted to Conor and she does it admirably. As difficult as it is to make attraction viable in an hour program, Sirtis manages to do that. Moreover, Sirtis creates the real sense of being conflicted. Here, Sirtis is given the chance to shine without leaving the limits of her character, unlike the majority of the times that Sirtis is given a starring role.
The problem with "The Masterpiece Society" is that it sets up the most obvious character conflicts possible. Scientist Hannah Bates is paired up with the blind chief engineer and Aaron Conor is put together with the genetically imperfect counselor. Why Riker or Picard are not the chief adjuncts to Conor makes a lot less sense than Bates and LaForge working together. We have the sense right away that there is going to be conflict because it is set up with the most obvious conflicts possible.
Add to that that the guest actors are all so bland it's almost impossible to see why they would be considered genetically perfect. John Snyder, who plays Conor, is especially uninteresting and even his supposed chiseled good looks are tiring to look at. His deliveries are listless and unemotional, his body language is far less dignified than one would expect from a planetary administrator. Snyder is far to empty a vessel for what is supposed to be a compelling character.
Similarly, Ron Canada gives a painfully bad performance as Conor's administrative nemesis, Martin. But Dey Young, who plays Hannah Bates is disturbingly bad. Young may have been cast for looks that were supposed to represent genetic perfection, but she plays Bates as unimaginative and dull, traits one would not aspire to any decent engineer or scientist.
Ultimately, "The Masterpiece Society" is a piece with a good idea plagued by obvious execution and laughably bad acting from the guest stars. One of the few disappointments in the fifth season of Star Trek The Next Generation.
[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 Star Trek episode and DVD reviews, please be sure to visit my index page with an organized listing! That is available by clicking here!
© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.