Friday, June 10, 2011

"Silicon Avatar:" Crazy Communicators Kill Crystals . . . And Other Fun Things

The Good: Acting, Character, Special effects
The Bad: Staggering lack of psychological knowledge, Plot
The Basics: Exploring more of Data's heritage, "Silicon Avatar" marks the return of the villainous Crystalline Entity.

As Data's character became more and more important in Star Trek The Next Generation, there came the desire to explore his origins and capabilities more. Very quickly, the writers and producers realized that there was only so much they could do with Data's evil twin, Lore, or the unique capabilities Dr. Soong had provided the android. Still eager to explore his origins, the writers made Data's creation a bit more of a collaboration than it previously had been. Part of that process was introducing and exploring the idea that Data possessed the memories of the colonists on Omicron Theta, the planet Data was found on.

"Silicon Avatar" marks the return of the Crystalline Entity which had destroyed Omicron Theta and killed the colonists there before Data was found. This is a de facto sequel to the first season episode "Datalore" (reviewed here!). While Riker and his Away Team barely escape death at the Crystalline Entity's beams, the Enterprise arrives with a scientist who has been following the Crystalline Entity and sees an opportunity to learn a great deal about it. Dr. Marr exhibits an immediate distrust of Data and it is soon revealed that she had a son on Omicron Theta. As the episode progresses and the Enterprise moves toward being able to communicate with the Entity, Marr displays more and more grief over the loss of her son all those years ago.

While it's a wonderful loose end in the Star Trek universe to attempt to tie up, this outing with the Crystalline Entity feels a little forced. It is almost as if the writers said, "We ought to do something with that Crystalline Entity" and they all agreed and then didn't know what to do with it. I say that because the beginning is a phenomenal beginning. When Riker is on the new colony before it is attacked, there's a sense of menace and it's refreshing to see the old nemesis return. When Dr. Marr appears, the episode steadily loses momentum and focus.

Part of the problem here is that the episode has an excellent amount of character, with little respect for the sensibilities of the Star Trek universe. So, for example, Dr. Marr is an interesting enough character and she is portrayed with a very real, 20th Century notion of grief. She's a broken woman filled with hurt, loss, love and hate and that's interesting to those of us who watch this stuff.

The problem is, this particular character does not make as much sense in the context of the 24th Century that Star Trek The Next Generation creates. While it is believable that Captain Picard would be shocked by the way Dr. Marr snaps, it's utterly senseless that Deanna Troi does not recognize the problems that motivate Dr. Marr and stop her. That is, the depth of emotion Dr. Marr is motivated by ought to be instantly recognizable to Troi and she ought to be able to easily stop Marr before she accomplishes what she does. Barring Troi, even Data ought to have been able to recognize how imbalanced this person is.

It's almost sacrilegious to be so critical of the lack of sensibility this episode has toward the brilliant character work that is so well acted. Brent Spiner plays Data wonderfully as compassionate and oblivious to Dr. Marr's emotions. Spiner sells us on the idea of an emotionless individual in a situation where a cold foil character is almost necessary. In fact, some of the scenes where Marr is becoming more and more unhinged are made more unsettling by Spiner's affectless performance.

The real acting talent is in the form of Ellen Geer who plays Dr. Marr. She manages to create a character that is on the verge of insanity, flowing over it without appearing over-the-top. Geer makes Marr into a woman of deep pain using hunched body language and a deceptively soft voice while making a snap without going into a fury. She's expertly portrayed as an ideal image of what grief may possess one to do and it works wonderfully. In the early moments of the episode, she makes Marr intelligent and reasonable in a way that makes us believe how far she might fall and how and why she does what she does.

The final aspect that finally pushes this episode over the "recommend" threshold is the special effects. Here we have an episode that improves greatly over the original, bringing the Crystalline Entity back with easy recognition while clearly illustrating the progress made in the effects department in the four and a half years between "Datalore" and "Silicon Avatar." The destruction scene at the beginning is a cool effect and a nice bit for the viewer to see. The fans of Star Trek The Next Generation will appreciate seeing the devastation as opposed to simply the effects of it (a la "The Best of Both Worlds").

Impossible to recommend to those who have not seen the episode "Datalore," "Silicon Avatar" is a fine hour of television which nicely creates a woman on the edge of insanity who is pushed over. Too bad it was not done in a way that makes sense in the universe in which it is set.

[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, movie or DVD set reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

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

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