June 22, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Silicon Avatar"

It is 14 October 1991 and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

An Enterprise away team is assisting the colonists on Melona IV when the Crystalline Entity appears in the sky above the colony site. Riker (Jonathan Frakes) manages to lead the colonists to safety, but two of their group are killed in the process. Back on the Enterprise, Data (Brent Spiner) collaborates with the Federation's expert on the Entity in an attempt to track it down and - if possible - communicate with it.

Well this is one of the most unexpected sequels that Star Trek has ever done. The Crystalline Entity is back, last seen collaborating with Data's evil twin brother Lore in Season 1's "Datalore". Of all the enemies previously showcased in the series it seems one of the less likely, not in the least because back in "Datalore" it was basically a plot mechanism and not really an antagonist in its own right.

After the initial attack is over, the episode shifts gears to focus on Data's interactions with the xenologist Dr Kila Marr (Ellen Geer). Dr Marr's son was on the colony Omicron Theta - Data's workplace - when it was decimated by the Entity, and as such she harbours a vengeful rage against the creature. She also openly distrusts Data, since it was his brother who betrayed the colonists and sided with the Entity beforehand.

Dr Marr eventually warms to Data, particularly when she learns her son's journals and diary entries were uploaded into Data's brain before the Omicron Theta colony was destroyed. It shifts her attitude towards him from irrational loathing to a sort of cloying obsession. It is actually rather difficult to nail the character down. Ellen Geer does the best she can but the character is so inconsistently and illogically developed that it is pretty much impossible to take her seriously. By the episode's end it is clear that Marr has completely lost her mind, and just babbles incoherently at Data with a weird smile on her face.

That messy character development extends to her backstory. Dr Marr has purportedly dedicated her life to studying the Crystalline Entity, yet its existence - and its responsibility for murdering everybody on Omicron Theta - was only discovered in "Datalore". Either everyone is exaggerating, or nobody developing this episode paid attention to what had happened earlier.

The episode does dabble with a moral debate over whether or not the Entity has the right to exist, but the script feels as if nobody (the teleplay is credited to Jeri Taylor, story to Lawrence V. Conley) wants to really commit to the argument. Thankfully in the end nobody has to, since Marr takes matters into her own hands and re-purposes Data's communications set-up to vibrate the Entity until it explodes. Everybody stands around passively asking her to stop, but no one seems particularly enthused about interfering. This is fairly odd, since it is patently obvious she is going to attempt to kill the creature from the moment she steps onboard. It is a weirdly passive climax to a very messy and confused episode. There was possibly some potential in bringing back the Entity, finding a way to communicate with it and helping it feed without killing intelligent life forms. Assuming that potential was there, this episode completely failed to find it.

The episode has one saving grace, which is its epilogue. A deranged Marr speaks to Data as if he was her dead son, looking for redemption from him for killing the Entity and avenging his death. Data calmly explains that, from his understanding of her son's personality and opinions, he would instead be very sad at what she has done. It is an unexpectedly bleak and miserable ending, which despite having seen this episode before managed to catch me off guard. It's nowhere close to saving the episode, but it is a nicely thought-out conclusion.

Season 5's first bad episode drops the quality ratio down to 75 per cent: three good episodes and one bad. It had to happen sooner or later.

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