Investigating a thousand-year old call for help, the Enterprise is pulled into the same booby trap that killed the alien crew.
The A plot of this episode is one of those classic Star Trek 'what if...?' scenarios, beefed up with some nice character work on Picard and a really effective early scene on the alien ship. The dead ship, the corpses of its crew still there, echoing with the 'ghost' of the captain's last message, is wonderfully creepy and makes a great early sequence. It's also lovely to see a less grumpy side of Picard's personality, expressed through his interest in the history of starships and on ships in bottles.
The most memorable story from this episode, however, is the sub-plot about Geordi and the hologram version of engineer Leah Brahms he creates to help him work out how to escape. The existence of the holodeck naturally lends itself to stories about characters falling in love with holodeck characters. In real life, we might 'fall in love' with a fictional character, but since we cannot interact with them, there's a limit to how far this can go (interacting with their actor is not interacting with the fictional character). In Star Trek, however, it is possible to interact (physically as well as in conversation) with fictional characters, opening up the possibility of developing a more serious crush on them if they're sufficiently well written - though it's notable that the previous Next Generation story on this topic implied that the hologram, Minuet, might be a mouthpiece for living aliens rather than an entirely fictional creation.
There are a couple of differences between other 'character falls for a holodeck character' stories and this one, though. One obvious major difference is that Leah Brahms is a holographic simulation of a real person, based on the real Leah Brahms' knowledge, appearance and even personality. To be honest, I find the idea that Geordi falls for - and kisses - a hologram of a real, living person who's happily alive somewhere out there a little bit creepy (I wouldn't mind if she were an historical person). I think that mainly reflects my real life discomfort with Real Person Fan Fiction, which I understand others enjoy, but I find a bit odd (as opposed to fan fiction based on fictional characters that just look like real people, which I don't mind!). So your mileage may vary on that one.
But beyond that, Leah Brahms is a hologram produced by the ship's computer of one of the ship's engineers, so to a degree, Geordi is falling in love with the ship. This isn't new of course - the idea of the captain being married to the ship and the engineer being in love with it recurs throughout Star Trek (Scotty's passionate defence of the Enterprise over the newer and fancier Excelsior is one of more fun aspects of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock as well as some of the other films). Still, this is a fun and new way to do it. Lots of us might describe ourselves as 'falling in love' with our cars - now imagine the beloved vehicle turning up in attractive, human form of the gender(s) to which we are sexually attracted. It's every petrolhead's fantasy!
The two sub-plots come together rather beautifully at the end, as the episode becomes a story about using human ingenuity and human tactics to escape an automated booby trap, tying in with Geordi's confusion over being attracted to a creation of the ship's computer designed primarily to help him with its engineering. Plus, Picard actually gets to fly the ship! Awesome. Data aside, I'm rather fond of the idea that, ultimately, we possess an instinct that doesn't come down to calculations that can be reproduced by a computer, so this solution really appeals to me. It's also one of the best contained stories, in which everything comes together to create one complete story rather than splitting into entirely separated A and B plots, which makes a really satisfying viewing experience.
Bits and pieces
- Geordi's bad date in the cold open is hilariously awful. It highlights how useful the holodeck could be for thinking of interesting dates, as long as you make sure to avoid cheesy gypsy violinists (seriously Geordi, why?!).
- Chief O'Brien spotting: he reassures Picard he used to build ships in bottles, and then assures Riker he really did and wasn't just sucking up. Chief O'Brien really improves the humour and human interaction quotient of any episode he's in. He is his own special brand of quiet awesome.
- I had a go at building model aeroplanes as a child. Not in a bottle though.
- Guinan says she's attracted to bald men because a bald man was kind to her once. Guinan/Picard is an undersung but very sweet Star Trek ship.
Picard: Didn't anybody here build ships in bottles when they were boys?
Worf: I did not play with toys.
Data: I was never a boy.
Leah Brahms hologram: I'm with you every day, Geordi. Every time you look at this engine, you're looking at me. Every time you touch it, it's me.
Nicely structured with some memorable scenes and a coherent theme. Three out of four only slightly creepy holograms.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.
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