Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Final Star Of The Series Gets An Episode At Last In "Emergence"

The Good: Interesting plot, Decent acting
The Bad: No character development, Philosophical sellout
The Basics: When the U.S.S. Enterprise begins to exhibit signs of intelligence, an episode that could be brilliant gives up and goes for the standard.

As the series Star Trek The Next Generation wound down, the producers tried to tie up as many loose ends and character arcs as they could. While they never tried to explain what happened to Dr. Pulaski, by this point (three episodes from the end), the show had wrapped up a lot of stories, including those of Alexander and Wesley Crusher. Now, the producers decided to take a side trip and give an episode of the show to the only star who had not yet had an episode devoted to it: the Enterprise.

As the Enterprise is going about its mission, it suddenly begins to malfunction. On the holodeck, various programs begin to mix together, causing those there to be caught in a surreal experience. As Data, Worf and Troi try to determine the cause of the problems, they end up fleeing for their lives. It soon becomes evident that the U.S.S. Enterprise, the starship itself, has developed a consciousness and is trying to evolve.

The episode is called "Emergence" and it seems like it may actually be daring for a little while, taking over The Matrix territory well before The Matrix was ever conceived. The question that this episode tries to raise is: If we create intelligent machines, why wouldn't they evolve? And what are our obligations to them as they do?

The question is an intriguing one, but the answer this episode provides is less than satisfying. While the ship defends itself from the biological entities attempting to stop it (in dialog somewhat reminiscent of Star Trek The Motion Picture), the people aboard seem to have little moralizing about what they are doing.

The problematic aspect of this episode is that it portrays the use of creating intelligent computers as roughly equivalent to creating a slave race. This is a compelling idea and one that would be worthy of exploration. After all, how could we - as humans - create a slave race to exploit? It's unconscionable and inhuman. Instead of actually grappling with that idea, though, the episode escapes it by discovering that the Enterprise itself is not responsible for the evolution. It's cowardice like that, cheaping out when the going gets really hairy that makes Star Trek The Next Generation hold up less well on reflection than it did in its initial run.

What "Emergence" does nicely (other than copping out at the ending) is create an intriguing surreal vision to keep the viewers interested. On the holodeck, Data, Troi and Worf find themselves on a train where the passengers are headed to New Vertiform City. The train is something out of the Old West and the passengers are an eclectic mix of holodeck characters ranging from a Black Knight to a gold digger. As the artificial life form evolves and begins to fail, the holodeck scenario becomes much weirder and it's intriguing enough to keep us watching.

What keeps the show together outside the surreal imagery is the acting. This is an episode that illustrates well that Star Trek The Next Generation can be an ensemble piece. Here we see Brent Spiner, Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis each getting about the same amount of airtime and all putting in good - even if not groundbreaking - performances. Given how much the final episode forces the actors to act as different incarnations of their characters, "Emergence" is the last chance for these four actors to play as their actual characters they have spent the last seven years establishing.

Unfortunately, this episode has almost no character work. This is a science fiction episode that does not attempt to go beyond that. It skirts the philosophical and does not dig into the meat of the issue that could make this episode great and change the entire series. It is not likely to be enjoyed by anyone other than a fan of hard science fiction or surrealism. Fans of Star Trek The Next Generation may enjoy that the Enterprise, the least likely "character" of the series finally gets an episode.

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


For other Star Trek episodes and movies, click here to visit my index page of just Star Trek reviews!

© 2011, 2007, 2004 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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