[TNG] Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Masks"
Review by Tim Lynch <>

WARNING:  This article contains spoiler information for TNG's "Masks".  Keep the article well masked unless you wish early exposure.

Well, Spiner got to have a lot of fun -- but I'm getting tired of "excuse to make people behave strangely" shows, and this was definitely one of them.

"Masks" was far from bad, but it really didn't do much to inspire me, either. More, as always, after a synopsis:

The Enterprise has come across a rogue comet that has been traveling for 87
*million* years to get to its current location.  A sensor scan creates a
temporary but giant sensor echo, and suddenly strange things start happening:
Troi finds a pedestal in her quarters, Data is inspired to sculpt a mask with
a similar design, and symbols start appearing on terminals all over the ship.
As Geordi discovers that the symbols have leaked in via the sensors, Data
somehow intuitively recognizes many of them, and suspects his systems have also been corrupted.

The Enterprise uses main phasers to melt the icy shell off the comet, and
discover a city-like structure lurking within.  It is of unknown composition,
and is even older than the comet itself.  Data theorizes that it is a type of
cultural archive, and becomes concerned enough about his own systems to have
Geordi run a diagnostic.  As he leaves, Picard notes the frequent occurrence
of two symbols all over the ship:  a compass symbol possibly denoting movement, and a small sliver of unknown meaning.

The diagnostic suggests Data is fine, but Data begins to feel extremely
strange, as though he is losing his mind.  Geordi tries to reassure him as
much as he can, but Data ... changes.  As Geordi disconnects Data from the
diagnostic set, there is a rush of sound and Data's appearance alters:  now,
not only does he have an eerie grin on his face, but he also has one of the
key symbols appearing on his forehead -- and he tells Geordi very smugly that "Masaka is waking."

Picard makes it to Engineering in short order to talk to Data, or "Ihat", as
he now calls himself.  Ihat tells Picard that soon he will know pain and
death, because "Masaka is waking".  He tells Picard to leave, quickly, and
possibly avoid being found.  Ihat tries to leave, but runs into Troi and falls to his knees, identifying her as Masaka.  

After a conference revealing that Data is being taken over by elements of the
archive, in effect suffering an android version of multiple personality
disorder, Picard goes to talk to him in his quarters (to which Data has now
been confined).  Ihat's personality is dormant until Picard specifically asks
for him, but then emerges and smirks.  He refers to Masaka as being "a lazy
creature", mostly sleeping -- but very, very dangerous when awake.  Picard
suggests that they should keep her sleeping, but Ihat scoffs, saying one
might as well "try to stop the sun from climbing the sky," and informing
Picard that only "Korgano" can do that.  Suddenly, Ihat vanishes, to be
replaced by someone terrified of Masaka, and clinching Picard's wrist to the
point of pain to avoid being left alone.  Ihat briefly returns, then, telling Picard that Masaka is now *awake*.

By now, Ten-Forward has been converted by the archive into a
primitive-looking structure, complete with a totem to Masaka (represented by
the sun-symbol).  The small, crescent-like symbol is also there, but hidden.  
As the data show that the Enterprise is slowly being converted into a city,
Picard orders the archive destroyed -- unfortunately, the inner mechanisms of
the photon torpedo Geordi and Worf plan to use are transformed into snakes
before they get the chance.  With propulsion and weapons systems out, Geordi
suggests that he try to access the transformation program in the archive.  
Picard agrees, and also wants to access Masaka herself.  He leaves once again for Data's quarters.

There, he finds Data in the role of an old man, Masaka's father.  This one
also says that Korgano is the only one who can control Masaka, but that he
"no longer pursues her."  Masaka's father is quickly replaced by Ihat, who
taunts Picard once more, but also agrees to give Picard the symbol to create
Masaka's temple in return for Picard's agreement to take his place as a
sacrifice if necessary.  Ihat is "captured" before he finishes, however, and
disappears, to be replaced by the old man.  Picard convinces Masaka's father
to finish the symbol:  "a line, as the unending horizon; a cure, as the
rolling hillside; a point, as a distant bird; a ray, as the rising sun."  The
old man then collapses into a helpless, pitiful soul, saying only that "she's coming."

The symbol for the temple is input, and a corridor transforms into the
temple.  Picard, Worf, and Troi explore the temple, and find several
instances of the sun-symbol and the crescent-symbol paired, almost as if the
sun is chasing the crescent.  As Data "becomes" Masaka, donning her mask and
breaking out of his quarters, the three realize upon seeing the crescent
"chasing" the sun that they're dealing with a sun/moon myth.  Masaka appears on "her" throne, but will not speak to Picard, or anyone else.

Picard decides to take matters into his own hands, using the symbol for
Korgano to create *his* mask, and bluffing his way through the culture's
legends to appear before Masaka _as_ Korgano.  Korgano convinces Masaka to
sleep once more, so that she can wake as the hunter rather than the prey.  
Masaka/Data agrees, and as Masaka fades into sleep, everything returns to
normal.  With the transformation program disabled, Picard reassures a now
empty-feeling Data that he's had a unique experience:  becoming, if only temporarily, an entire civilization.

That should suffice.  Now, onwards:

Even if I hadn't looked at the credits, I might have guessed that this was
written by Joe Menosky.  It had traces of both "Darmok" [the metaphor/
cultural angle] and DS9's "Dramatis Personae" [ancient artifacts make lots of
strange things happen for no particular reason whatsoever] all over it, and Menosky was at least partly responsible for both.

One might think that the "Darmok" angle would be a good one.  In many
respects, it is -- except for the fact that "Darmok" was the sort of show
that's so unique it can't be repeated.  Given that the core metaphor in this
story was an extremely simple sun/moon myth [one we guessed twenty minutes
in, but figured "nah, it won't be that obvious"], there didn't seem to be a
great deal of ... well, for want of a better word, *texture* in the culture side of "Masks".

There were more similarities to "Dramatis Personae" -- unfortunately, they
were the ones having to do with a lack of justification for the show at all.  
If the characters can be excused in the end by "well, they were possessed by
other people and weren't really themselves", then there's justification for
doing anything you want in the story and handwaving it all away at the end.  
That may work while the story's actually on screen, but it doesn't lend
itself to much of any thought afterwards.  "Masks" didn't have *nearly* the
problems with this that "Dramatis Personae" had, but they were there, and enough to make me notice them.

One of the things "Masks" definitely was, in an external-to-the-universe
sense, was an excuse to let Brent Spiner do a one-man show complete with
hordes of different characters.  While I have my doubts about the tactic they
used to do it, the effects were certainly strong:  Spiner ran the whole show.
I rather particularly like Ihat (who I keep wanting to call "Loki" for some
fairly clear reason :-) ), but Brent did a good job showing off his rather
considerable range.  Anyone who watches TNG primarily as a Spiner Fan [TM] will probably come away pleased based on that performance alone.

Apart from the lack of coherence, "Masks" really had no big problems.  I
thought all the actors (I'd say "all the regulars", but they're the only ones
we saw!) were on fairly good form this time around.  Spiner was clearly the
one who had the most to do, but Stewart seemed in good shape (with the
exception of his "I will not allow the Enterprise to be turned into an alien
city!", which I thought was a little overdone), and pretty much everyone got
in a decent line or scene here and there.  I definitely liked Riker's line
about "we'd better talk out here; the observation lounge has turned into a swamp."  :-)

The direction was, on the whole, fine, especially in Data's quarters -- the
scenes around the fire were top-notch on all counts [although Picard offering
himself as sacrifice out of the blue set off my "what the *hell*?" alarms].   There's one scene, though, which I *must* comment on:

When Riker and Picard are talking in the ready room about the pedestal with
the strange symbol, Picard is holding it in a rather ... well, let's say a
rather provocative angle.  ;-)  Now, I doubt that was intended, and wonder
why it stayed in -- but even more striking, halfway through Picard's speech
in that same scene Frakes starts smirking like all get out for *no apparent
reason*.  Rather, there's no apparent reason for Riker to be doing it; Frakes
had plenty of reason, and apparently did.  If that's the version of the scene
that stayed in, I have _got_ to find a way to see this scene's outtakes.  :-)
[We had a good deal of fun adding comments once Riker said he kept seeing the
symbol appearing on the pedestal:  "everywhere.  Even in my sleep.  
Especially in my sleep.  Actually, I'm not getting much sleep these days..." Don't ask.  :-) ]

I also had something of a problem with the final scene.  Given that Data has,
at the very least, the records of an entire colony within himself, he's a
decidedly odd choice of person to feel empty after this experience.  I think
I can see what was intended in the scene, but it didn't work; I was telling Picard to shush by the end of his reassurances.

Basically, "Masks" works fine when you're actually watching it, but it's not
very filling.  I can't say I didn't like it, because I did, for Spiner's work
if nothing else (especially as Ihat).  It's just something I don't expect to age particularly well.

So, some short takes:

-- I have a feeling some dialogue was cut in the first Picard/Ihat scene.  
Picard refers to Masaka as "her" before her gender is revealed.  For that
matter, there are a few scenes where I had the feeling we were supposed to
notice something as Significant that we hadn't really seen yet.  Maybe some editing glitches are at fault?

-- This may be an odd question, but given that communications were working
even while the transformations were going on, why didn't Picard et al. think about calling Starfleet for help?

-- I want to call attention to the music, which captured the mood of the
culture very well, I thought.  In particular, the music as Data becomes
Masaka seemed very effective (though Lisa was reminded of "Ghostbusters", which I wasn't).

That would seem to wrap that up.  There's not really much to say about "Masks"; it's not bad, but it's a little too simple for my tastes.

So, in closing:

Plot:  Reasonably coherent within, but without much justification for any of
        it happening beyond random chance.
Plot Handling:  Good most of the time; unintentionally humorous in the ready
        room scene.  :-)
Characterization:  Pretty good, though Picard seemed a little out of         character once or twice.  The acting was top-notch.

OVERALL:  A 6.5.  Pleasant, but not something you'll want to go back to again and again.


Troi and Worf get together, and people die.  What causal relationship there is between the two is not clear.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!
"WELL.  Aren't we the persistent one."
"Is anyone else so charming?"
Copyright 1994, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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