|Posted on May 16, 2012 at 7:05 AM|
Every once in awhile, the Trek universe takes its actors out of character and casts them in different roles. In general I love this idea, though I’m not always in favor of what they do with it. This is one of the positive episodes, as are the other two I will mention below, along with the links to my blogs about them.
As “A Fistful of Datas” opens, the Enterprise-D crew has a couple of days to kill before a tardy supply ship arrives. Most of them find ways to entertain themselves, such as Beverly Crusher directing a play titled Something for Breakfast, or Captain Picard playing with a recorded orchestra. In an interesting bit of continuity, he plays the flute he had received at the end of “The Inner Light” (August 17 last year). Geordi LaForge uses the downtime to make Data compatible with the Enterprise’s computer, in case of emergency—which pays off in “Disaster” back on April 18.
Worf, on the other hand, keeps trying to give himself more work to pass the time. Picard is puzzled at his requests, but the real reason is, he doesn’t want to join his son Alexander in a holodeck re-creation of the “Ancient” West. Like the unique pairings in “Disaster,” the great thing about this episode is watching Klingons in cowboy hats try to be cowboys.
The town is Deadwood, South Dakota, Worf is the sheriff, and Alexander his deputy. Counselor Troi also shows up as Durango, a Calamity Jane-type character who smokes a cigarillo. (I hope it’s a holographic cigarillo.) They’re after the brutal gunslinger, Eli Hollander, whom Alexander calls “the Butcher of Bozeman, who has killed 23 men. He’s the meanest and fastest gun in the West.”
Unlike original Trek’s “Spectre of the Gun” (which I will cover next week), Worf and Alexander still look like Klingons to the created images. This is obvious when Hollander threatens Worf at gunpoint. “Was ya born that way, or did your mama marry an armadillo?” Another time he tells Worf “I’m gonna give you a shave” with his bullets.
When Durango Troi shows up and distracts Hollander, Worf fights and wins over him and his henchmen, including the jolly Mexican with the hearty laughs. Worf jails Hollander, who tells him his pa would be looking for him.
So far, so good. Even Worf gets into the fantasy, for after the fight, he cries, “I’m beginning to see the appeal of this program!” But now, the wrinkle.
Linking Data’s systems with the computer’s, he and Geordi deal with an energy surge that causes Data to disconnect himself. He calls it “an energy fluctuation in my neural net,” and helps the engineer looks for the cause. But not before he flips his tricorder like a gun and holsters it.
During rehearsal, Beverly is shocked when Riker reads strange poetry from the handheld script, a device that resembles an iPad. It’s Data’s ode to his cat; in fact, Data’s poems have deleted the play. Picard’s playback of his flute arrangement is suddenly replaced with marching music. And Data himself starts using phrases like “I reckon” in normal conversation. When Spot gets between him and his work, he puts the cat down, saying, “Vamoose, ya little varmint!”
Funniest of all, when Hollander’s pa shows up, he looks just like Data. So does Hollander. So does the laughing Mexican. So does every other computer-generated character—including the barmaid, Miss Annie.
Data Hollander Sr. kidnaps Alexander, which should not have happened in the program. This is the first clue something has gone wrong. They try every command they know: “Computer, freeze program. Computer, end program”; but the Data-peopled fantasy continues. The real danger escalates, much like the Dixon Hill program in “The Big Goodbye.”
Speaking of which, I might as well say a little about this as well. Dixon Hill is a pulp-fiction character Captain Picard loves to read, so he’s thrilled at the chance to become Hill in a holodeck fantasy. Set in a 1940s American city, the story has the feel of detective movies featuring Humphrey Bogart as Philip Marlowe, from about the same era. Several major crewmembers also join the adventure, including Data. So does a historian named Whalen.
But in “The Big Goodbye,” the glitch is caused by an alien scan of the starship. Though a holo-fantasy is supposed to be perfectly safe, even if weapons are involved, suddenly the bullets are real—as Whalen discovers when he’s shot. The villain, Cyrus Redblock, interrogates Picard as Hill, and at first the captain naturally assumes it’s part of the game. But the threat does not alleviate, and he realizes something is wrong. They can’t quit the program, Whalen lies dying, and the sultry city suddenly becomes a snowy wilderness.
Well, eventually Riker and others outside the holodeck resolve the glitch, and the door opens. The only way to leave is to tell Redblock the truth about his nonexistence. Should he step out that door, he would vanish, but the villain doesn’t believe him. Instead, Redblock envisions a whole new world ripe for him to plunder, but as soon as he and his henchman Leech step into the corridor, they dissolve from the feet up. I would think the disappearance would be instantaneous, but of course it’s more dramatic to play it this way.
Yep, this is another episode that allows the actors to play different parts, which is presented in fascinating format. I think it also illustrates another point: When we watch sci-fi and fantasy, among other genres, it’s okay to accept them as the fiction they are. Even “true-story” movies are often enhanced to entertain. But never use them to define your reality.
I used to work for an outsource tech-support business, where I took calls from people wanting advice on Hewlett-Packard printers, and often ordered drivers for them. Another agent loved to go by another name—but because I’ve forgotten both names, I will call him Tim; and his alterego, Grapplor.
Tim bragged he was an ordained minister, just because he had downloaded and printed out a diploma in his name. But he was also heavily into the punky style of sci-fi which has always repulsed me. I admit, I liked him as a person; he was a charming, handsome fellow who could make many women swoon. But when I asked about Grapplor, he said it was his “persona.”
I said, “Oh, you’re an actor.”
He replied: “No … I am Grapplor, in another life.” Excuse me?
Another time, Tim mentioned times when he could walk into a room, and the whole place would darken. More than the other disturbing details, this one struck me with an unmistakable conclusion: “That sounds demonic.” He rarely spoke to me afterwards.
I believe this is very much like holodeck programs gone wrong. What should be an innocent fantasy became a trap, a recipe for death, as Whalen and Worf discovered. Sure, they survived, but in real-life examples like Tim’s case, death is a reality. Especially spiritual death.
I’ve quoted these proverbs before, because they’re so very important in my blog world. “He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who chases fantasies lacks judgment” (Proverbs 12:11). Also, a similar one: “He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty” (Proverbs 28:19).
What does it mean by “chasing fantasies”? The King James Version reads “followeth vain [persons],” while the New King James uses “follows frivolity.” This type of fantasy is worthless dreams, fictional personas, getting involved with mock battles assumed to be real. But if these things don’t really exist, of what lasting value is it? No wonder he lacks judgment. No wonder he’s headed for poverty.
Apostle Peter said, “Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). I know, to the rebellious this sounds horribly narrow, yet Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to Destruction, and many enter it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus Christ is our Reality.
Categories: Next Generation