Star Trek The Next Generation: A Matter of Perspective

Picard: "Investigator, in our system of jurisprudence a man is innocent until proved guilty."
Krag: "In ours, he is guilty until he is proved innocent and you are under our jurisdiction."

Based on the old theme of a story told from multiple perspectives and epitomized by the 1951 Akira Kurosawa movie Rashomon, this episode tried to tackle a murder mystery with Riker as the primary suspect. Pretty much every show has some version of this particular plot at some point during its run. Some have been great, some not so much. Here, the results were mixed.

The primary problem with this episode was the fact that there was no possible way Riker was guilty of the crime. That immediately robbed any potential tension from the scenario. Add to that the awkward and occasionally hilarious ways the other witnesses described Riker's actions, and you have an uneven mix of forced tension and an inevitable last minute solution.

While the final explanation was decently well constructed using bits from all the various versions of the story, it felt a little unsatisfying. Perhaps if it had been a junior member of the crew accused, it might've been engaging. Someone we met in a previous episode that was a semi-established character. Like O'Brien maybe? That way the story would have had a tangible 'what if?' aspect to it. Perhaps even ending on a sad note, with the character being guilty of the crime.

Yet, there were some fun parts to the episode. Playing up the Riker as a womanizer thing was almost believable (even though he hasn't been that way since season one). Using the evidence of a focused energy pulse originating from Riker's position was damning, and made for some form of mystery for the crew to solve.

Then there were the actual holodeck re-enactments which was, at least superficially, a truly fascinating idea. It could be a rather effective, albeit strange, form of criminal prosecution to use the holodeck for that kind of purpose. Thinking about how people react on a basic emotional level to a fictional play or movie, imagine having a case presented in full motion, indistinguishable from real life simulations, right in front of a jury?

The ups and downs of guilt versus innocence would be impossible to measure, and far too easily manipulated. Take for example Krag the Tanugan investigator. He was shown a solution from the Enterprise crew, who were most definitely biased to think their commander innocent, and instantly dropped the charges. To be fair, the evidence was pretty convincing. But still, shouldn't there have been independent testing of that evidence... and I may be going too deep into this one now.

Back on topic. What I really liked was the way Picard had to go the distance, despite his conviction that Riker was innocent. And maybe that was the point, that Riker was so clearly not guilty. The conflict was another aspect of the Prime Directive, explored here as yet another moral question. The Captain could have easily dismissed the accusation, refused the request for extradition and left the planet without much the Tanugans could really do about it. Perhaps the Federation might have gotten upset by those actions, and relations with the Tanugans would've been complicated moving forward.

But instead, Picard gave into Krag's demands, and let the situation play out. What would have happened if there wasn't an easy answer? Would he have really let Riker face a lifetime in prison, or potentially death depending on the laws of that world? Maybe that could have been the final resolution, but that might have been a touch too messy for Star Trek.


Stardate: 43610.4
Location: Tanuga IV

Doctor Nel Apgar was played by Mark Margolis, who had a recurring role as Hector Salamanca on Breaking Bad. Ding! Ding!

Dear lord, the hair on Krag (what a name) was kind of amazing. Actually, all the Tanugans had totally ridiculous hair. Plus we have yet another bumpy headed face alien.

The bizarre art scene at the beginning of the episode was, of course, trying to illustrate that perspective was subjective to the individual. But mostly, it told us that Picard was not a very good artist.

In yet another long tradition of television, this episode was considered a bottle show, where time, energy, and resources were saved on the production side of things by using limited sets or a previously established set and a minimal cast.

A couple of my absolute favorite versions of Rashomon on television are: the fabulously funny Supernatural episode "Tall Tales", and the X-Files episode "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'". I know there are a ton of them out there. What are some of your favorites?

2 1/2 out of 4 versions of the same story told from different perspectives.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.


Billie Doux said...

A terrific review of a not-so-great episode, J.D. I absolutely love that top photo of Riker with the face palm. :)

The recreations of the not-at-all-like-Riker Riker relentlessly hitting on what's her face were so implausible. I really wish that Riker's version had shown that he was attracted to her but that he didn't cross the line, instead of making him super virtuous. I was thinking of the way he acted in season one, too.

Juliette said...

I like this episode, it does what it does pretty well and I like that it's actually an adaptation of Rashomon. I love comedic multiple-perspective stories like the X-Files and Supernatural episodes you mentioned, but I also admire the fact this is actually a literal adaptation of Rashomon, with similar issues and perspectives (I really must actually watch Rashomon someday!)