Star Trek The Next Generation: Silicon Avatar

"You can't feel anything, can you? Nothing I say to you hurts you."

The Crystalline Entity which once destroyed a colony for an android named Lore makes a reappearance in Federation space, and Picard, Data and a scientist named Kila Marr must work together to find a solution before the numbers of dead mount again.

This episode was very powerful, very real and very disturbing. Maybe it's the determination of a mother — maybe it was the quandary of life and death which hit Riker and Picard so differently. Maybe it's because this seam of the Trek universe — the rivalry between Data and Lore, the destroyed colonies, the edge of Federation space — is also some of its least safe, and the general beneficent Federation life isn't so in evidence here. That's visible from the beginning, when we meet Riker's friend Carmen Davila and she so quickly dies.

It's probably Dr. Kila Marr, however. Ellen Geer does a tour de force in this episode, moving from emotion to emotion — in fact, if there's anything wrong here, it's that she in some places overperforms, a stark contrast with the pleasantly-stiff-upper-lip Federation folks. Starting with the strange and powerful distrust which she holds for Data in the beginning which opened into clear and justified prejudice, she moves through a slow process of opening up to the thing she once hated, and finally arrives at the flowering of insane obsession in her eyes as she probes Data for the memories and relationship she used to share with her son, killed by strange alien life for no understandable purpose. What would you do if your child had been killed by an alien, as a scientist? I've met obsessions like this in real life, and they terrify me in fiction as well. I'm still not sure whether Marr's expression at the end, when she was rebuked by Data for destroying the scientific career her son had been so proud of, was actual understanding of what she'd done or just frustration that Data didn't understand her. Is she an antagonist here, a protagonist, or just a tragic figure?

Data throughout also gave a fantastic performance, responding to Geer's range. But this was one of the episodes, I thought, where Data showed his inhumanity more than his humanity. The way Marr kept after him about her son's memories and got Data to take the role of her child gave me a sense of abuse — because Data was so sincere and innocent, and Marr was so manipulative in getting what she wanted. Even that scene at the end, where Data confronted Marr — no human would say those things, at least without a lot of cursing to try and wake up the other person. As it is, the final line falls flat. Marr realized early on Data had no feelings and did not respond to feelings or insults. I think the only reason she showed as much as she did was because she thought he was safe, that because of his lack of sensing emotion he could be used the way he was.

The crew of the Enterprise, I felt, rose to the occasion. I was with Riker and his sense of confusion and anger. He struck out at his own Captain, reminding him of the people who've passed. At the same time I was convinced by Picard and his conviction in the Prime Directive and the need to not interfere with other species. The gorgeous and dangerous Crystalline Entity weaves through and around all these events, and it looks like something which could use protection. I got the sense it had intelligence and sentience at the end, though, which made me worry it was just as insane and hungry as Marr herself, and an intentional killer instead of just some feeding space whale. Did the Entity deserve to die? Could the Enterprise have found a way to trap or work with it? Are there other Entities out there? (And if so, do they take revenge?)

A disquieting episode, with no clear and easy answer or sense of justice, but also a more realistic approach to the idea of first contact — probably after a lot of big mistakes.

Bits and Pieces

Ellen Geer is the daughter of Will Geer, who was the grandfather on The Waltons.

I was sick of the phrase 'refractory metals' after a short time.

Troi was useless in this episode as an empath, as she told Picard, but had a lot to say about communications; maybe she's considering a career change?

One thing I kept wondering — why did Dr. Soong put the memories of so many people into Data's mind? Head drive instead of hard drive?

Weird goof I think I may have just caught — they started out talking about using photon torpedoes to attack the Entity, but somehow that became a graviton beam.

I loved the idea of the son idolizing his mother's scientific career. My mother was a single mom too; I recall being overjoyed when she started her own business. A nice touch.

Quotables

Picard: If we can determine what its needs are, we might find other sources to supply it.
Marr: Its needs are to slaughter people by the thousands. It is nothing but a giant killing machine. 
Picard: Doctor, the sperm whale on Earth devours millions of cuttlefish as it roams the oceans. It is not evil. It is feeding. The same may be true of the Crystalline Entity.
Marr: That would be small comfort for those who have died to feed it. We're not talking about cuttlefish, we're talking about people.

Data: Yes, Doctor. Your son's most intense memories revolve around a young woman named Jenina.
Marr: A girlfriend? I never knew about that. Of course, the last person he would tell would be his mother.

Overall

A fairly straightforward but engaging plot. 4 out of 5 scary shooting space snowflakes!

2 comments:

Mallena said...

Very thoughtful review, Joseph. If the Entity was just a creature, well we do kill sharks and other threatening animals. If the Entity was sentient, then it would be no different than an alien coming to a planet and attacking its citizens and stealing its resources. Either way, counter attacks would happen. Just because the Entity is beautiful and mysterious, that doesn't mean that it can be allowed to kill and consume wherever it wants to. Communication is always preferred first, but not while people are dying. IDK, I feel for the scientist mom on this one, even if she was a little whacko.

drnanamom said...

I agree with Mallena. If it was my child who had been killed I don't think I would have been as patient or crafty as Kila Marr was. I would just want to blow it out of the sky. JRS I enjoyed your pieces about Data. It is easy sometimes to forget that he is an android and this episode reminded us. It really illuminated the positive and negative aspects of Data's inhumanity.